Thursday, 15th Feb, Ntcheu
Thu 15 Mar 2012 - Thu 15 Mar 2012 36 °C
This morning we are visiting communities who are part of the LDSP (Local Development Support Programme), which is aimed to benefit over 30,000 households – quite a big one... We are now escorted with staff from the Ntcheu office, which again we had visited before.
We start the tour in Majiri village, where we are first ushered into a small hut filled with 93 two to five year olds. They sit on the ground, reciting numbers (up to 5) and vowels in time with their teacher’s stick on the pre-prepared flip chart. She also shows us their paints and drawings, and a little pile of earth with a plant in it and the sign ‘science corner’. There are two more teachers, who pick up a crying child once in a while. The village has a very high incidence of HIV/AIDS sufferers, and a third of the children are orphans. The nursery was established by the village as the kids were simply running wild in the streets. It sounds miserable but it wasn’t – the kids were sitting nicely and talking to each other, and seem to have quite a nice time.
As we continue with the visit the teaching stops and the kids get impatient (can’t blame them, it took another hour) and as we’re standing just outside their hut, the only shaded area, they set each other off wailing, a great background noise when you try to understand African accents...
Rose Banda, the family planning and malaria prevention community volunteer, did manage to get my attention. A smiley woman in her 40s or 50s, she seems passionate about her activities. She had training from the district council, who also provide her with contraceptives (the pill, male and female condoms) to distribute in the village. They are free, but the local health service is over 10km away, so no-one will go there just for that. She says that only 30 women out of 260 in the village don’t use contraceptives. The project only started two years ago, but I still ask if she feels her work has made a difference. She points out the two or three babies carried by the crowd of gathered women as an indication of the low numbers of new babies born. It’s inspirational to see a woman who understood that in order for things to get better in her village, she needs to take action, and her pride in it.
Next stop is a crop demonstration plot. These are plots of new crops CU hopes the local farmers will adopt, diversifying both for their own food consumption and markets they sell to. The plot is set right by the road, so people can see it and apparently they do show interest. We met Mr Mustafa and his wife (with a baby on back, a toddler and young child in tow) and two other farmers, in charge of the plot. They were raising pigeon peas, soy beans and more.
Another agricultural stop to see an older gentleman’s maize field, ploughed in ridges which are then covered in dried thatch. Although more intensive land preparation, he claimed all the rest of the work involved became much easier. An example is that the plants requires less water as much moisture is being kept by the thatch.
Our last visit in Ntcheu district was at Hellani village. We were led by the dancing, singing women and children through the village’s mud and brick, thatched roofed huts and then out through the maize fields on to the beautifully decorated covered shallow well. The pump is set in the middle of a cement floor (the well’s ceiling), bordered by a rope decorated by pink flower garlands, set in a grassy area with flowers all around. The main speaker, of the village’s water committee, was saying that the animals (goats, mostly) used to drink from the same well, which caused the water to be dirty. She also said people were afraid to fall into the well, which was as deep as her height. The village has 600 people, which is just over the government’s standard for people/shallow well ratio, however she mentioned that people from neighbouring villages are now coming to draw water from this well and so they request CU to build another one. Some shallow wells dry up seasonally, and although this one never did, they are afraid it will now that so many more people are using it.
Going back to the village, we were shown into one family’s compound to have a look at their loos, as you do. It was a good opportunity to see how the rural village house is set up: the compound wasn’t fenced (although some are), and it had the main house on one edge of it, with the kitchen and store-room about 1.50m across from it. The kitchen was a small room with some bricks removed from under the thatch roof, for ventilation, and a three-stone fire in the middle of it, cooking a pumpkin dish. After about 30 seconds of crouching near it, very close to the open door, I had to go out for breath and my eyes were burning.
There were two other small buildings in the compound, which were referred to as boys house and girls house – when they are older, that’s where the kids sleep. This was obviously a more well-off family, as some people will only have the one house. The small yard had chickens in it, and on the edge of it was the new loo house, freshly painted red with a request to wash your hands after using it painted on. The loo has a door frame but no door, and two squatting places – one with a round, flat cement top with footsteps on it for better aim; the other closed off, to be used once the first one is full. The full loo has to be kept closed for 6 months, and then the contents are used as manure. We asked the gathered crowd how people feel about eating food that was manured this way, and there was a big cry of – it’s fine, we don’t mind at all.
And off we went to the village square, sheltered by a huge, shady tree. A few tables were set up on the one side for different demonstrations, including people from another village coming to show us – and the people of Hellani village – the energy efficient stoves they’re making. There was a great demonstration from the Savings & Loans Group of three ladies simulatanously opening the three locks on their cash-box, and another by the village’s nutrition volunteer, showing us 6 different types of porridge (with groundnuts, with pumpkin, with fish...). If you’re interested to read more about any of them, let us know!
And then it was time for the speeches, and we were ushered to the customary row of chairs in front of the crowd. It was quiet surprising to discover a red, soft couch in the middle, where the area’s senior chief was quick to take his rightful place in it, looking like a king.