A Travellerspoint blog

Visiting the loos with the Chief

Thursday, 15th Feb, Ntcheu

sunny 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, family planning and Malaria prevention volunteer, being very serious as her photo is taken

Rose Banda, family planning and Malaria prevention volunteer, being very serious as her photo is taken

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.

The Mustafa familiy and other farmers in their Soy demonstration plot

The Mustafa familiy and other farmers in their Soy demonstration plot

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.

Hellani vilage's covered shallow well

Hellani vilage's covered shallow well

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.

Posted by TattoodDuck 10:27 Archived in Malawi Tagged water africa wash concern_universal development_work sanitation Comments (0)

Energetic in Phalula

Wednesday, 14th March

sunny 40 °C

This was an energy dominated day, where we travelled throughout villages in Balaka district, mainly around the main village of Phalula. We have both visited Balaka a couple of times before and already met most of the staff – Francisco, Lusungu, Hazel, Blessings and Girward – who have all taken a day off from their very busy schedule to show us around. We’ve joined the visitors late, at the end of a demonstration of the making of energy efficient stoves. These are small, portable clay stoves that require less firewood than the traditional three-stone fire (a pile of wood with three stones or blocks in it, which the pots are put on) or other stoves. More about them in another time, as we missed the demo ;).

Moving on to Phalula’s Health Centre, where we saw their patients’ kitchen which CU equipped with Esperanza stoves (see below). You don’t get much of the surrounding services in a rural Malawian hospital, you need to take care of yourself and usually a relative (mother, wife, aunt or older sister) will join the patient to provide food, to help them keep clean etc. The patients’ kitchen we saw was mainly used by the maternity ward. It’s a large, high-ceilinged three-walled space, two walls made of hollowed out bricks for ventilation. On one hollowed-out brick wall was a row of Esperanza stoves, and on the adjacent wall the staff had requested to leave the old niches for the three-stone fire. When we came in, three ladies were cooking on the Esperanza stoves and one older lady was using a three-stone fire. The Esperanza stove is bigger and is set into the room (permanent). It’s about knee/thigh high so the cook has to stand and bend down to use it, unlike the other stoves or three stone fire which are on ground level and the cook squats. They are more fuel efficient as well, and some users mentioned they give out less smoke. The staff had said they now want CU to install more Esperanza stoves instead of the three-stone ones. The main reason was to do with firewood – there is not much of it around, and cooking on the Esperanza stoves requires much less of it.

Ladies and the Esperanza Stoves

Ladies and the Esperanza Stoves

When everyone left I asked the ladies if I can take their picture with the stoves – one declined and moved away, another was thrilled to take part. As I showed them the picture, we started talking in Chichewa/English, not understanding each other but communicating nonetheless. Most people we encounter try to communicate, if by shouting at us from the side of the road, shaking our hands as we get to the villages and say the traditional greeting: ‘Muli Bwanji?’ (How are you?) to which the response is ‘Ndili Bwino’ (I’m fine), and then comes an exchange of ‘Zikomo’s (thank you) – Chichewa seems like a very polite language, saying Zikomo at every opportunity.

Next stop was the local school, housing over 800 students aged 5-18 with 9 teachers. This is a good ratio, although the formal standard is aimed at 30 students per teacher. The school had a solar power system installed by CU. It’s quite small, providing only enough power for lighting, radio, TV and mobile phone charging. It is already starting to make an impact on people’s life though. We heard from the headmaster, one of the teachers, a student, the school’s management committee and parent and teachers association (yes, 5 speeches at least): the headmaster’s house has electricity now, and so the teachers are able to prepare and plan classes; They are able to retain the good teachers, as they have radio and TV – the teacher said it’s better than living in a town; the students use the light in the evenings to study. All the above have had a clear outcome – in the last two years exam results improved, and doubled the number of students being accepted to the District or National Secondary schools – better quality schools which are free, if you can get in. The school’s management committee also mentioned their business of charging mobile phones through the generator – they charge MK35 a pop, and had raised MK117K so far. This is almost the cost of the whole system in under two years! They also mentioned this provides more employment in the community, there’s a need for a guard and a lady who is responsible for the phone charging. From the speeches and also the experience of Lusungu, a CU co-ordinator, the involvement and co-operation of all parties (staff, school management committee and PTA) in the management of the process seemed like a key element for success, it works well when everybody is working together.
The last benefit was mentioned by the student, who among other things talked about being able to get connected to the world and hear about world events through their TV and VCR. She finished her speech by inviting us to visit again in a few years time, to see her working in a good job!

Village Savings and Loans Group Dancing

Village Savings and Loans Group Dancing

We left the school on a high note, with teachers and students singing goodbye, and travelled through the fields to our final visit of the day, at a community centre. As always, we were greeted by the dancing women of the community, with two groups distinctive by their chitengas – the colourful cotton cloth Malawian women wrap around their skirts. The members of the Savings and Loans Group (SLG) wore black shirts and black and yellow patterned chitengas. The village’s dance troupe, unusually compiled by about 7 over-60 year-olds, wore white shirts and green chitengas. During the proceedings, the elderly dance troupe randomly burst into song, dance and kululuing, and the crowds where enthralled. We were led to sit under the customary tree, with the women sitting on the ground in front of us, the children led a bit further away but inching their way to the side as we went along, and some men sitting at both ends. The procedures were led by a community volunteer, who was identified by CU as an informal leader in the community. She is now acting as a ‘middle-person’ between the local district, the various village community groups and individuals. For example, if someone raises a difficulty she will direct it to the relevant group to deliberate on the best way forward, and then contact the local government to ask for supplying the solution decided upon. She receives a low ‘honour’ payment from CU, as they saw she is dedicated and the activities were very time consuming. She is also a teacher of the adult literacy group, who proved to us how they can read the time (better than me!), read a text and most importantly read from the bible (see short video here). The women didn’t explain how this helps them in daily life, but they were obviously extremely proud of their achievements, showing us their certificates and describing how their self confidence had grown as a result. A short prayer (as always) to end the proceedings, and off we go to the Balaka office for a de-brief. At night we are joined by the CU staff for a Braai (BBQ), have our Mosi-guard stolen, and finally have a chance for a good catch up with James.

Adult Literacy in Action

Adult Literacy in Action

Posted by TattoodDuck 19:00 Archived in Malawi Tagged travel africa malawi dancing volunteering literacy concern_universal esperanza_stoves solar_panel development_work Comments (0)

(Entries 7 - 8 of 15) « Page 1 2 3 [4] 5 6 7 8 »