Monday, July 25, 2011

The Essence of Development

Written by: Sara Thompson (Sara is from Avondale College, Australia and did work experience with us for three weeks)

Development is a great word to throw around – it’s a favourite of politicians and NGO workers alike. Everyone seems to be talking about development now days. As an International Poverty and Development Studies (IPDS) student at Avondale College, I knew plenty about development. But coming to ADRA Malawi to see field work in person brought my understanding of development from head knowledge to a first-hand experience.

The ADRA Australia project in Salima, Malawi, was just one of those amazing first-hand experiences. We headed out towards Suzi village in the truck, with Mercy, an ADRA Malawi staff member; Krystle, an ADRA Malawi intern completing her final year before heading home to Australia; and our driver, Godfrey, who did his best to keep us in relative comfort despite the bumpy dirt tracks. I was filled in about the project as we bumped along.

The Suzi village was one of the villages that had received a borehole as a result of fundraising in Australia, thanks to the Krystle Clear waters project. However, despite having received the bore, the pump had been disabled until the community showed they had learnt their lessons about health and sanitation by cleaning up their homes. Our task – to see how well they’d implemented their training, award prizes for the most sanitary and healthy living areas, and determine how soon we could open the bore.

The checklist – each household needed a pit latrine, a rubbish pit, a kitchen, a dish rack to keep eating utensils on, a smeared house and solid floor, and a bathing area. Through the village we went, checking off items on the list as we came through. This was development first-hand – these people lived in conditions that would be unheard of back home in Australia. A few small children started crying when they saw us and ran to hide. I asked Mercy why – she told me that it was because the children had never been outside this village, and had never seen white people before. They were scared by the colour of our skin!

The conditions were sad, but not hopeless. Thanks to ADRA’s community programs, those in villages such as Suzi are learning health and sanitation skills, despite their living conditions. And they were improving. The homes with the greatest improvements since the last visit were rewarded with prizes such as buckets and containers for water, brooms, and soap. When we left, it was with a hope that it wouldn’t be long before the sanitation of the village would be improved and the bore could be opened, giving life-giving clean water to all.

Our next stop was to a village where a savings and loans bank had been started by 14 women in the community. At each meeting, they would look over the books, pay back some of the money towards their loans, and encourage each other with songs and dances. By contributing a certain amount into the ‘bank’ – a locked wooden box, kept safe by one of the members – individuals could borrow money for improvements or investments, such as metal sheeting for their houses or starting small businesses to raise an income. They would gradually pay back their loan, plus interest, and another member would be allowed to take out a loan and the cycle would start again. It was wonderful to see this process in action, and hear stories about how helpful the savings and loans bank was to the community. The women also decided on their own initiative to set aside a certain amount to buy necessities, such as soap, to be shared throughout the group, and to contribute to other essential projects that would benefit the entire community. This was development in action, and it was great to see just what education and empowerment can do!

These experiences reinforced the essence of development in my mind – offering those in need a hand up, not a hand out. By helping to enable these people to help themselves out of poverty, we can help individuals understand and improve their own standards of living, without fostering dependence by merely giving them the things they need. Teaching people how to improve their lives, and helping them get access to the tools they need, is what development is all about.

Development. It’s not an empty word. It’s active, it’s essential, and it’s happening everywhere, thanks to projects that ADRA and other NGOs are implementing around the world.

Next time you get a drink of clean water, think of those for whom this would be a luxury – and of the things you can do to make developments like this a reality.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Communities for Change

Compiled by: Yankho Konyani
Written by: Sara Thompson

ADRA Malawi has seen some incredible changes due to the implementation of the Communications for Social Change Program (CFSC), and the community-based groups that have followed. The CFSC Program aims to help communities come together for a common goal, to assess the needs of that community, and to engage with the right sources in order to see their goals become realised. This program has helped to empower community members to become a force for change in their own local areas.

Some community-based groups have raised the area of HIV/AIDS as an issue of concern. In some areas, activities have changed from discussions to formal advocacy activities, and many of these activities have fuelled a desire for action. At the Kochilira site, a tremendous change in the area of HIV/AIDS has been brought about through the CFSC training. ADRA Community Development Facilitators helped facilitate the establishment of the Kochilira Network (KONET+) support group for those living with HIV/AIDS, to discuss common issues. The issue addressed was the incomplete implementation of Antiretroviral Treatments (ART) in all health facilities in Mchnji was a key advocacy issue discussed by this community group. During one of the community dialogue sessions, those living with HIV/AIDS brought up the poor accessibility to Antiretroviral drugs (ARV) because of the long distances these patients have to walk for access on a monthly basis to Mchinji District Hospital and Kapiri Rural Hospital. However, there are other rural hospitals in their area which would be far more accessible, if ARV could be obtained there.

The community group first approached stakeholders about the issue of making ARV accessible. When this had no effect, a petition was signed by the group village head, the traditional authority, and all those on Antiretroviral Treatments, in order to raise awareness of the problem and to urge leaders to action. It was submitted to the district communities, who influenced the District Health Office (DHO) to act on the issue, and strive to make ARV more accessible to those living in rural communities.

With an Antiretroviral unit established in September 2010 at Kochilira Rural Hospital in Mchinji District, the fight for treatment has finally been won. Communities who have previously been disadvantaged in the area of ART now have more accessible treatment options available to them, thanks to the effort made by the Kochilira community. This change was made possible due to ADRA’s CFSC program, which enabled those involved to confront the issues tactfully and persistently. As a result, those affected by HIV/AIDS in this area now have access to treatment, and those involved in the campaign have been empowered to stand up for the certain issues in their area, and for the change they wish to see.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Nutrition brings in the money

Story by: Mercy Chakoma
Food Security & Nutrition Officer, TL Project

Employment is becoming scarcer in Malawi. Many people are trying their best to utilize the resources available to them, such as small home garden crops, to help generate income for their households. When soya bean seeds were distributed in Tsogolo Labwino Project impact areas, the beneficiaries were happy to access free seed but worried about its limited popularity. Even though they were told that they would receive trainings in how to grow and produce various products they could not believe that soya could so useful in improving their livelihoods.

When the nutrition trainings began not many people participated, choosing to instead continue with their daily household chores. This was discouraging. However, since then people have started to realize the benefits of using different crops and learning different recipes. Tadala Juma is one of those people receiving great benefits from soya beans.

Tadala was struggling to help her husband provide for their family. She therefore, decided to utilize two recipes that she learnt from the nutrition trainings: soya milk and soya coffee. Acting swiftly, she started making soya milk which was selling at 50 kwacha, half the price of cow’s milk. She also sold the coffee at the same price. Tadala marketed and sold her soya milk to tea room owners who also increased their profit base. After one month of producing these products, she raised 48, 000 kwacha.

Tadala then bought a piece of land at 15,000 kwacha and used the remaining money to buy basic needs for her baby and to pay school fees for her son who is in form 1.

Tadala is very thankful to ADRA through Tsogolo Labwino project and said, “the good future (which is what Tsogolo Labwino means) would be realized long after the project but I am already enjoying the good future whilst the project is still operating.”

Through her obvious success Tadala was elected by her community to be a community facilitator for nutrition. Through her new role she is able to encouraging her fellow women to use soya and to make and sell various products. Her influence and success is helping other women provide for their families and to improve their livelihoods.

The success of this project can be seen through the sharing and implementation of knowledge, knowledge that is providing people with income to improve their livelihoods.

A simple soya bean can make a big difference.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Money can grow...

By Chikondi Madikiza-Madumuse – Communications and Advocacy Officer

The introduction of Village Savings and Loans (VS&L) looks to be a strategy that would enable Malawians especially those from the rural communities to have savings of their own and potentially to invest in small scale business or other investments ideal to them.

Last year, ADRA Malawi introduced this concept to some communities in the district of Mulanje. Mulanje is an area adorned with coffee and tea plantations and crowned by Mulanje Mountain and the Sapitwa peak. Yet, despite its beauty Mulanje is also densely populated; leaving a lot of people with only small pieces of land, while its adornments, the tea and coffee estates and land and wildlife conservation areas occupy most of the arable land.

Since Malawi’s main income generator is agriculture, the small pieces of land have made it difficult to make ends meet for the communities. At the end of the day they find that they do not have enough income to save after selling their produce. With the money they earn they cannot open a bank account; they resort to keeping the money at home and as problems arise the money is used before they can invest it.

But this is slowly changing. VS&L has brought in a different dimension in the attitude of villagers towards money; they realize they can save and make investments with the little that they have. All they need is a group, a cash box with three locks and keys and agreement within their group on the minimum cost of a share.

One group that was formed last year with ADRA Malawi’s efforts is singing praises for VS&L and more groups are emerging. The outcomes are overwhelming.

Secretary for the Sitigonja (literally meaning we won’t give up)VS & L group in Group Village Headman Manyumba, Stella Banda, says she had never received or owned Mk 6, 000 as her own before, but VS&L has allowed her to see and have that much money. The group comprising of 25 women saved their money for 9 months, at the end of these nine months, the members invested up to Mk 103, 360.

Ms. Banda says, “It was unbelievable; the first person – one with more shares- received Mk 10, 000. I received Mk 5, 800 and I was able to pay school fees for my three children two are in form two and one is in form four. One of our friends managed to renovate her kiosk with this money. We are happy that ADRA brought this idea. As I am speaking people are forming their own groups there are over ten groups in this area. Thanks to the training we received from ADRA Malawi we are also able to help other groups organize themselves to begin VS&L."

ADRA’s technical Officer on Food Security and Livelihood Mrs. Elsie Mwimba, says the response from communities has been overwhelming. “More groups were formed, more than we had planned and could physically handle, so instead of stopping these new groups we encouraged the groups that we had trained to share their knowledge with the self organized groups for VS&L," she said.

Apart from Mulanje, ADRA has also introduced this concept in Neno District and intends to do the same in other target areas like Lilongwe, Machinga and Mzuzu.

The popularity of these groups because of the contribution VS&L makes to improved livelihoods has resulted in groups spreading beyond ADRA’s target areas.

Behind the Scenes of Water for All

written by Krystle Praestiin

Monday afternoon we arrived at our first borehole site drilled by ADRA Malawi. I had developed a basic plan for what shots I wanted to collect but I knew that plans on paper aren't always easily achieved in real life. So even though I was excited about this opportunity to film a very pertinent issue affecting many lives in Malawi, I was not sure what we would find. I was worried that we wouldn't meet any women drawing water, especially because at this particular village people were expecting us to arrive on Tuesday.

However, what struck me throughout the whole filming trip was that at every part of the day you could always find women and children using water for various purposes, such as washing clothes and drawing water for drinking, cooking or cleaning. It sure made our filming easier and reminded me of the integral role water plays in all our lives. I was also able to see that it was much easier for women with a borehole to collect water, particularly if one was near their homes, compared to the women who had to walk several meters/kilometres for water from a river, shallow well or stream.

After filming the borehole and its users, we arrived at a village where the people have been drawing water from an unprotected, shallow well. My first thoughts were - "I can't believe people actually drink this water." Some unprotected shallow wells are able to at least provide clear looking water, but this shallow well provided the community of 100 households with muddy soup. Filtering the water requires boiling, cooling, and then pouring the water through a towel into a clay pot. Unfortunately, this process isn't enough to prevent them from contracting water borne diseases like cholera and diahorrea. No one should have to drink that water. And just to top it off, upon further inspection we discovered that on one side of the well was a colony of frogs.

The best part of seeing this shallow well was knowing that in a few weeks time, this community would be receiving a borehole from ADRA Australia and the funds donated by individuals and organisations in Australia from REGEN, COMOS, Avondale College Church and Sanitarium.

Before we left - in true African style - the women and children danced and sang a song of thanks to ADRA for a future without the need of drawing water from the shallow well. It was a wonderful experience, knowing that a big difference would be made in their lives from the soon coming borehole.

Tuesday saw us walking three kilometres away from a borehole to a village where, due to such a distance from the borehole, the community is forced to collect water from a river. Before we left for our walk I drank water from my water bottle, quickly deciding that I would not take it on my journey. I think that decision came from guilt for having such easy access to clean water. It was hot, and the distance seemed to run further away from us the more we walked.

We arrived at the village, where we walked a bit further to reach the river, the main water source for this village. The bank leading down to the river was steep and slippery - to think that women do this in the rain with heavy buckets on their heads! I could barely do it in the dry with just a pen and a folder to carry. As we filmed, I learned from our guide that during the rainy season the river becomes "fierce", rising in volume and speed. At times people from the village have found human bones and clothes washed down from villages further up stream. Not many of us can say we find such things in our drinking water or experience life or death when getting a drink.

When filming was completed for that day, we faced the long walk back to the car and clean water. Water was much needed, as our long journey back saw us all getting very thirsty. I tried not to talk often in an attempt to maintain moisture inside my body. The whole party was very parched by the time we arrived back at the car where my large water bottle of iced water welcomed us all. I cannot imagine having to walk to a river in the hot sun to collect water, and then wait for it to boil and cool before I could drink it. Yet this journey of my own helped me to experience the reality of many communities in Malawi.

On Wednesday we filmed our main actress. We had hoped to film her during the very early morning just as the sun was rising. To do this we got up at 3 am and began our journey to the village, although as it turned out, even as the sun was rising there was not enough light to get a good picture on camera. Sadly our commitment did not show on the water documentary, but despite the lack of footage, it was a good chance to see the village coming alive- from the burst of flames at various households, to the women, bucket in hand, walking in the early morning grey to collect their first bucket of water. At the river we also saw many of the activities that get preformed besides collecting water, such as washing clothes, cleaning food, washing hair and (much to one ladies enthusiasm for being on camera) other body parts (note: this was not actually filmed, and her privacy was somewhat maintained), all of this just within the same area that women were collecting drinking water.

To get somewhat clean water, women will dig out small holes in the river, creating a kind of well, however as we learned from many people that we interviewed the only way to combat water borne diseases is through a borehole which provides protected and clean water.

Our last day of filming was to collect any shots we had missed. Overall, the filming trip was a big learning experience, and it was amazing to see the difference that a borehole can make. Whenever we interviewed people with a borehole, at the end they would always request a borehole for neighbouring communities who did not have access to one. They saw the difference a borehole made and wanted others to share in it.

Currently, ADRA Malawi is drilling six boreholes, three of which were made possible through the support and donations of the individuals/groups and organisations within Australia. Tsogolo Labwino’s Project Manager Francis Zande says, "we are considered to be heroes by these communities. Instead of the planned three we are now drilling six. This is a great thing!"

To watch the water documentary video go to: and see what a big difference you are making and can continue to make to people in need of clean water.

If you are interested in donating go to: and donate to Krystle Clear Waters Project (Malawi).