We have been very busy in Mzuzu! Nothing we can’t handle though!

An umbrella is not much to ask

We organised a talk with volunteers from the child-based care centres (CBCCs) at which we used questionnaires and activities to enquire about the needs of these centres. With a better turnout than expected, we managed to extract a lot of information, which we have analysed and used to make a plan of action.

As well as the predictable aid of children’s books, we will extend our water and sanitation work to the CBCCs by providing big plastic buckets to store drinking water and plastic cups to be used in a 2-cup system. The 2-cup system is a simple method to minimise the spread of disease, where one cup is used to scoop from the communal water supply and a second cup is used to drink from. In addition, we have made contact with a local carpenter to carry out work on the latrines (toilets) of the centres; attaching roofs, doors and also making latrine covers which will deter flies and hence the spread of disease. And finally, the caregivers have requested an umbrella each. This small personal gift is little in relation to the hard work and dedication shown by the caregivers on a day to day basis and will hopefully make the walk to the centres much more tolerable in the pouring rain of the wet season.

Water and sanitation campaign

Our water and sanitation campaign involves forwarding a range of different issues, including the use of: a rubbish pit, a washing line, a pit latrine (with shelter), the 2 cup system, a dish rack and sufficient hand-washing facilities. After assessing numerous houses in Thukutu and taking observations we have devised a talk which we will deliver to the villages. During our analysis, we also included the use of a kitchen and its cleanliness, the use of mosquito nets and access to drinking water.

We are using our village research to personalise the message that we wish to portray to make it even more effective. For example, we found that in one household the mosquito nets were being used by the adults only; where in reality, young children, especially those below the age of five are more susceptible to contract malaria because their bodies have not yet built up a resistance to the disease. We will give our presentations with the help of the Ungweru youth group who have prepared drama pieces and will also conduct a quiz to revisit the information we have given.

One of the most inspirational women I have ever met

We each have interviewed a vulnerable child or family and made our documentaries on their economic and social situations. I have been closely involved in two cases. The first being a four year old female who is HIV positive and an orphan, as her mother passed away due to AIDS. She now lives with her Aunt and nine children, after being removed from the care of her step-mother due to various types of abuse.

The second family,  which I have worked with closest, is an elderly woman who is HIV+ and also has cancer. She is still working full time as a cleaner in a hospital to provide for four of her children and eight of her grandchildren. She is one of the most inspirational women I have ever met. I would like to provide the capital for her son to set up a carpentry business, he already has the appropriate qualifications and work experience.

This, I hope, will provide a more sustainable solution to the financial difficulties of the family, lessening the load on the single breadwinner of the mother and eventually allow her to retire. Essentially, I wish to give her peace of mind. All of the families we have worked with have been provided with immediate aid using funds from Ungweru. This aid included maize, salt, sugar, beans, blankets and vegetable seeds. Presenting the aid was somewhat overwhelming and we were received with the deepest gratitude. Most importantly, it has spurred us on in our plans for sustainabliliy.

The water being cut off makes you appreciate it

We have been plagued by power-cuts every few days since we arrived. At first it was dramatic, an enormous issue which seemed to grind all of our lives to a halt. Now we can proudly say that we have adapted. The water being cut off is another story. It makes us really appreciate our work with Wells for Zoe, another local charity that works to install pumps in the local villages providing them with a reliable and safe water supply. We have been working closely with them to identify and install in areas that are in need of an improved water source such as Thandazya and Dorogba. We have been on hand to help in any way that we can during this process, definitely more passionately given our new experiences of the inconveniences of water rationing.

The Wells for Zoe pumps are made up of simple mechanisms which are designed to be able to be fixed by local villagers, increasing their lifespan. The installation process involves the community physically digging and building the well, as well as providing materials such as bricks, cement and sand. This provides the villagers with a sense of communal ownership rather than mere aid which helps keep the pump in working condition for longer.

Briquettes or Firewood?

Our natural resource management work has involved us looking into the use of briquettes instead of the burning of firewood in individual households. Briquettes are round disks made out of flammable material such as paper, wood shavings and maize shells. The use of this alternative fuel source is to prevent deforestation which has longer term adverse effects such as reduced transpiration which reduces rainfall. In addition, there have been cases were fruit trees such as papaya, which could potentially be a source of great nutritional value, have been cut down to burn. 

We visited Majwani, a local village which has a briquette machine; our first meeting was to make two types, one set out of paper and maize shells and the other out of paper and wood-shavings. We have begun to write a long term plan which involves sourcing paper from a local University and transporting it to Ungweru where it can be collected by villagers in order to make the briquettes. In order for this to work, the University students would need to be educated on the value of recycling paper and also the use of briquettes. The briquettes we hope could be sold perhaps in the local market and used by the surrounding communities.

Our next visit to Majwani is to try to make the briquettes with a greater percentage of maize stalks, an idea which has not been tested with these villagers. The idea being, that the more materials that can be locally sourced independently, the easier the process.

Want to get to know the young people? Have a BBQ!

We held a BBQ at Ungweru as an attempt to get to know the members of the youth group in a more informal and fun setting. Against all of the odds, (a power cut- silencing the massive speakers and a limited food budget) it was actually a raging success and we have received amazing feedback from the members. Our plans were to increase the communication between us and the youth to get them more involved in other areas of work at Ungweru. We hope to motivate them enough so that they will help us in our CBCC and vulnerable family work as we need both rubbish pits and compost pits to be dug. We are hopeful that after the time we have spent getting to know them; they will want to assist us in our work. If not, we should probably start digging now.

This blog is from the end of Aug 2012 and is by ICS volunteer Nneka Cummins