I don’t even know where to begin. I went on a mission trip to Malawi last month, and it blew my mind on so many levels—mixed feelings and experiences night and day. But let’s start at the beginning.
My boyfriend and I joined a group of volunteers, mostly employees of Cisco (which supported the effort), and flew into Blantyre, Malawi, to participate in drinking water safety and education projects headed by Fisherman’s Rest and OneFoundation. After a day of training, we participated in two types of health-related activities: first, go into schools and teach students in grades 8 to 10 about drinking water pumps; second, walk through local villages and record the state of each water pump in an app developed by Fisherman’s Rest.
Large areas of Malawi suffer from water shortage. There are no truly valuable resources on land; many NGOs have come to the country to dig deep (100 feet on average) to get to water and to bring it up to the locals through incredibly well-designed pumps, called Afridev. So, the country has thousands of pumps. Yet, about 30 to 40 percent of them are broken. People wait, often for months and years, for somebody to come back and fix them. In the meantime, the locals, mostly women, walk incredible distances to get drinking water. It consumes hours a day of their time and affects the well-being of entire families and villages.
Little has been done to train the locals to fix the pumps, and even these sturdy pumps break. When a simple and often cheap part breaks and nobody knows how to fix it (or they don’t even know it’s broken), this often leads to a more expensive part breaking and then a large group of people ends up with a condemned pump that cost thousands of dollars to install. This is where school age children can play an important role. Fisherman’s Rest has been training locals, mostly adults, for some time, but they want to reach a whole generation with a set curriculum on the importance of water pump maintenance. In 5 to 10 years, there should be hundreds of young adults who would know how to take the pump apart, replace broken elements, and put it back together and thus take care of their own resources.
Thousands of pumps have been installed by hundreds of NGOs. For these agencies to communicate effectively with each other, Fisherman’s Rest has designed an app called Madzi Alipo and is working tirelessly to encourage NGOs to sign up for it and to feed information into one central system. As part of our mission we walked through the villages and updated the app with valuable information about every single water pump I came across. We confirmed the status (e.g., in need of repair, condemned, working), the members of the committee (e.g., names and phone numbers), and pump surroundings (e.g., clean, surrounded by trash, no drainage).
So, my mind is blown. The water issue is so incredibly complex in Malawi. I am so privileged to have access to water whenever I feel like it. So much money has been put into this effort; so many organizations have gone into the country with the goal of easing the water crisis. There is despair at the state of affairs, and yet hope remains that the situation will improve. I am intrigued with the idea of learning more and keeping up to date with these water pump efforts.
Martina Sestakova has a B.A. in communication from the University of Maryland. She has more than 7 years of experience in intercultural communications, in particular in multinational clinical trials. An avid traveler, Martina documents her experiences in writing and photos. She is a textile/fashion designer who runs RADOST, LLC and an artist featured at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C.
Disclaimer: This blog is a personal observation and all opinions are based on a 2-week stay in Malawi. The author, in no way, aims to make general statements about the activities of water-focused agencies in Malawi.