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Shameless Self Promotion

November 22, 2011

Hello blog readers!

It seems the only reason I write blogs while I’m in Canada is for some shameless self (or EWB) promotion.  I don’t feel too bad about it though… hahah

EWB is doing a holiday season campaign to make some money for the organization.  I have written my perspective on why I think donating to EWB is a worthwhile investment and I am writing this blog today to encourage you to check it out. (click here)

If EWB raises $20 000 by Nov. 27th, Shane Smith, the President of Tetra Tech(an Engineering firm), will match the $20 000!  This means, if you skip the procrastination and go right to the donation, your contribution could essentially be doubled! 🙂

Thanks a lot for your time!

Happy Holidays!

Ali

p.s. I have 30 people subscribed to this blog…. so if each person donates $33.33 I’ll achieve my goal of raising $1000….   haha

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Back in Canada

October 3, 2011

Well,

I’ve been in Canada for about a month now.  I’m sorry I completly stopped writing for my last few weeks in Malawi…I was travelling around alot… internet was harder to find.. and, well, I don’t actually have a good excuse.

However,  for those of you that live in Regina, I wanted to let you know that I’ll be doing a presentation tomorrow about my observations on the rural water sector in Malawi and what EWB is doing within it.

The presentation is at 4:00 pm at the University of Regina in Riddell Center, room 286.  If you’d like to come but have no idea where that is, comment on here or email me and I’ll help you out.

Cheers!

Ali

 

 

14 days…

July 29, 2011

Wow.

We just got word that the official end date to our work placement is on the 12th of August. When telling my boss that, he asked, “What’s the date? How many more days do you have left?”

I looked at the calendar and counted…

“14 days” I told him.

Woah. That hit me like a brick. I was instantly reminded of one of my first blog posts I wrote while still in Canada 14 days before my departure from Regina. I was excited, anxious and unsure of what would lie ahead of me.

Now I am ambitious, seasoned and not ready to leave.

Thinking that I only have 14 days left here in Mwanza is almost too much. It’s too soon. I cannot believe that my placement is coming to an end.

Living in Mwanza seems too natural to me now; I go to work on the weekdays, hit up my favourite spots at lunch, travel or chat with friends on the weekend… I’ve really embraced the day to day culture.

I’m going to miss my family here. I haven’t told you too much about them on the blog yet. So I’ll say a bit now.

Mr. Juma is just finishing his contract from working with an NGO called VSO. He is in the beginning stages of starting a printing and copying business in Malawi. Things are shaping up nice for the business as he already has supplies and a few costumers. He is looking to move into a shop in the next week and really get things going.

Mrs. Juma stays at home during the day and takes great care of the house and the animals. There are pigs and chickens staying with us. (outside). She, too, has a small business that she runs from her front porch. She sells small snacks and useful items like matches and advil to the people around the village. There are people knocking on our door day and night to buy things!

The couple has been married for three years and are very much in love! They are not thinking about children yet until they have more of a stable income coming in. They have built their house in the village and it’s quite nice. They have three spare rooms and a nicely furnished living/eating room. They hope to get electricity soon and a more stable water source. Right now they get it piped from the BOMA, but because they are far down the line, there is only water available at night so they get up every night to fill buckets with water for the next day.

As people, they are lovely.

Mr Juma is funny – always telling jokes and laughing. For those of you who know my brother, you could say he has a steve sense of humour .

Mrs. Juma is so friendly. She, too, is always laughing. And singing! She is always humming or singing while she goes about her day.

They have made me feel so comfortable at home. I’m really going to miss them. (Mr. and Mrs Juma, should you be reading this, I hope you’re not embarrassed that I’ve written these things about you!)

I’ll also miss my job.

Last weekend I had a five day weekend and I was actually giddy with excitement to go back to work on Monday. I can safely say that has NEVER happened in Regina!

It’s just been such a great job. I can’t fully explain why… but it’s a combination of amazing bosses in EWB, an amazing job description, and amazing people I’m working with here in Mwanza. The opportunity I have been granted to have this work placement as my fourth co-op is far greater than I would have ever expected.

I feel like I’m just ranting and rambling now…. But maybe that’s okay. It will allow you guys to understand how scattered my thoughts are right now upon realizing that I only have fourteen days left here in Mwanza.

The only saving grace is that 14 days in Malawi are worth about 24 days in Canada because time here just moves slower.

I can’t explain it – it just does.

I’m going to get the most out of my 14 days here so please email, call or post anything you want me to talk about on the blog or anything you want me to find out about life in Malawi. Anything! I’ll do my best.

Take Care,
Ali

p.s. Some of you may be a bit confused that I have fourteen days left but I am not returning to Regina until Sept 1. Here’s the deal; we are finishing our placements on the 12th of august and then going as a group to Zambia until the 25th. There is a bit of unrest here in Malawi that I didn’t want to get too deep into here on this blog. There are some activities planned for the 17th that we want to avoid. If you have questions on that, email me (alim@uregina.ewb.ca) and I’ll get back to you when I can. After flying to Canada, we have a few days in Toronto to wrap up everything then I’m back home!

That extra 50 cents…

July 18, 2011

I’m sure many of you have heard me urging you to buy fair trade products in the past.  Coffee, tea, wine etc.

I’ve been promoting it because it’s something I believe has tangible results.
It’s something I believe is an easy thing for each person to do.
It’s something I’ve researched, and from what I’ve researched about it, I agree with.

Now, I’ll promote it because I’ve seen it work.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit a fair trade tea co-op in the district of Mulanje, Malawi.

Mulanje produces a lot of tea.  A lot.  There are tea farms as far as the eye can see.

I had the opportunity to talk with the chair of a Fair Trade tea co-op.  The co-op is big – 6500 farmers.  Each farmer farms approximately a half acre of tea which produces around 1000 Kgs of green leaf tea.

This is a very well run co-op.  Each farmer is given some training when they join so that they are farming according to the standards of fair trade certification.  There are human conditions that they must abide by – no children farming, for example.  And, equally important, there are environmental factors that they have to abide by such as no pesticides or herbicides.

They are audited yearly by the Fair Trade Labeling Organization (FLO) who goes and asks questions to every farmer.  If they do not pass the audit their certification will be taken away.

The co-op sells their green leaf tea to one of the big estates who in turn process it and sell it.  A fair trade premium of $.50/Kg is given back to the co-op once the tea is sold.  That money is placed in a trust until it is democratically decided what to do with it.

6500 farmers is a lot of farmers – obviously they cannot all meet together for the democratic meeting.  The group is broken up into 19 sections which each have a representative.  These representatives meet once a month and decide what to do with the money in the treasury.

What really struck me were the remarkable things they were able to do with the money in the treasury.  They have constructed a maternity ward, a bridge, a school.  They have created an ambulance system that will travel up to rural villages and pick up people needing medical attention.  They are implementing an irrigation system which will help yield better crops.  They provide one bag of fertilizer to each farmer to start the season with.  And this is to just name a few.

The 50 cent premium that you pay for your fair trade tea is actually making a positive difference in the lives of people who grew that tea.  It was amazing to see that direct link.

There are criticisms of fair trade, and I agree that it isn’t perfect.  Even during this visit I noticed that these farmers are not directly benefiting from the fair trade market price of the tea- only the premium.* However I see fair trade as a good thing that has the potential to be even better.

When I’m standing in a store choosing which tea to buy; now, more than ever there will be no doubt in my mind that I am willing to pay that extra 50 cents (per Kg).

 

* As I understand it, there is a Fair Trade price floor that the tea cannot be sold for less than.  This is to ensure that the farmers are getting a good price for the tea.  On top of that floor is the 50 cent premium.  The premium goes into the trust and is to be used for community development like I saw at this tea co-op.

Water is Life

July 14, 2011

I wanted to give everyone who is reading this and/or commenting a great big THANK YOU! Honestly, it absolutely makes my day to know that people are actually reading this. When I log onto the internet and see that someone has commented, I get a huge smile on my face. (which often prompts my boss to ask me what has made me so happy – little embarrassing, really) I haven’t been replying directly to the comments but it isn’t for lack of interest… it’s mostly because my internet is so so so slow. So keep em coming! And is there is something specific you wanted me to talk about, let me know!

Water is life.

It seems to be a common phrase in Malawi. I hear it all the time – especially when I tell people what I’m doing here.

“Where is it that you are working?”

“At the District office… The water office. You know it?”

“Ah! Ah ha! Water is life! Chabwino*!”

*Great!

Water is the main focus of my placement so I’m learning a lot about how it gets from under the ground into the communities. It’s occurred to me, however, that before I was immersed in it, I really had no idea how the rural water system in Malawi worked at all. Personally, I think it’s interesting not only to understand it, but also to draw comparisons to how it works back home.

So, this blog post will outline how the systems works so that you can have a general understanding of what’s happening.

Here we go…

In the BOMAs and the cities, the water board supplies water through taps. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure how that system works because I am not working with the water board.

I am, however, more familiar with the rural water supply.

Water generally comes from one of three sources:

– Borehole (a drilled hole – usually at least 40 meters deep)
– Shallow Well (a hand dug hole, usually no deeper than 10 meters)
– Gravity Fed Scheme (Using gravity, water is piped from a source with high elevation to villages along the line)

The Malawian standard is that boreholes serve 250 people, shallow wells and taps from gravity fed schemes serve 120 people. Each water point is also to serve a radius of 500 meters so you shouldn’t find water points that are within 500 meters of one another. The water point will be in a central point in the village and people will walk to the water point, fill up their buckets and bring that water back home for use.

There are some private waterpoints that were constructed and are maintained at the dime of the owner, however, the vast majority of villagers rely on the rural water system run by the District Water Office (where I work).

The users of the systems do not pay for implementation or use of the waterpoints. Villages, however, are responsible for operation and maintenance of the waterpoint. At the time of implementation, the DWO will conduct Community Based Management training and form a volunteer Water Point Committee who are in charge of the operation and maintenance of the waterpoint. If the waterpoint breaks down, it is up to the community to raise funds to fix it.

So who does pay for implementation?
The District Water Office.

And where do they get the money?
Donors, mostly.

I can only speak for what happens in Mwanza, but I think that it’s basically similar all across Malawi. A donor will bring waterpoints into the district, the DWO will manage the allocation, villages will receive the water points and the people in the community will have water. Once the water points are in place, the community takes care of maintenance and operation with support from the district.

Ideally, that’s what happens. .. Or some variation of it. I purposely over simplified it because there is no way we can get into the nitty gritty of the entire system.

But let’s dive into “The DWO manages the allocation” part of the system because that’s where I’m directly working.

When the Mwanza DWO has funding, how do they choose which villages will receive water points and how do they choose the appropriate type of water point?

Well, I can tell you right off the bat that Shallow Wells are rarely the answer in Mwanza. It’s too dry. There isn’t water 10 meters below the ground. There have been 122 shallow wells dug in Mwanza and fewer than 30% of them are still in use.*

Gravity Fed schemes have also been tried but they, too, unfortunately failed. I wouldn’t say that the systems are off the table in terms of an appropriate technology; they just need to be more carefully planned and implemented.

This leaves boreholes as the choice type of water point in Mwanza. When choosing the village to place a borehole in, the DWO looks at the populations of the villages, and how many boreholes that village currently has.

The DWO will try to look for villages that have the most people currently unserved. So, for example, in a choice between a village with 1000 people and 3 boreholes and a village with 1000 people and 2 boreholes, they will likely choose the second village.

They also consider terrain issues. As I mentioned above, the Malawian standard is that boreholes should be 500 meters apart. However, sometimes that 500 meter radius contains really rough terrain… a mountain, a river, thick bush. These things can prohibit people living within that 500 meter radius from using that borehole. In cases like this, the DWO wants to drill boreholes closer together.

Ideally, we are working toward 100% coverage so that each person in Malawi has access to safe water. It’s really difficult to know exactly what the coverage rate is currently… but it’s hovering around 80%.

And that’s that.

I hope that made some sense and gave you some sort of idea how people access water in Mwanza. If you have more questions, be sure to ask em!

 

*Careful! That stat is based on common knowledge, not on hard evidence. There is no data right now that can tell us for sure exactly how many shallow wells exist and how many are functioning…. But, after the database system I’m helping to implement comes into action, there will be hard data! Cool!

A Pretty Typical Evening in the Current Life of A. Molaro

June 29, 2011

Ya ya… i’m posting two blogs in one day… faux pas, i’m sure… but, if you knew how difficult it was to have internet around here.. you’d do the same! Enjoy!

I arrive home around 6 O’clock in the evening.  Dusk is just turning into darkness around this time.  Most days I strive to arrive home before the sun is completely hidden by the horizon – because once that happens, it’s dark. 

 And when I say dark… I mean dark.

There are only a handful of houses with electricity in my village… and those that have it are not using it for outside lights.

It gets so dark that you can’t see your feet… and can’t see where you are walking.  This is an important lesson to learn.  Take it slowly when you’re walking… or take a flashlight.  There are many divits and bumps along the path that one should be aware of.

Anyhow, once I arrive at my home I retreat to my room to change out of my office clothes.  I put on my teeshirt and shorts from the morning and wrap a chitenge around my waist.  Sometimes I will take an evening bath as well, however now that the winter months are really settling in I usually opt out of the evening bath.  It’s a cold cold experience to bath outside at night during Malawi’s winter.

The one treat, however, of the evening bath is getting to bath under the milky way.  The sky here is amazing and so different from Canada’s sky.  Orion is sitting differently, the big dipper, everyone!  Even the moon crests and weans up and down rather than side to side.  If the weather permits it, bathing under that night sky in the silence of the village has a calming effect I can’t even describe.  

After changing or bathing, I join Martha on the front porch.  She is usually already through preparing the relishes for supper but I help her with the nsima.  I guess I shouldn’t really call it “helping”.  What really happens is that she sees I’m eager to learn a new trade and she will explain what she is doing and will let me try it out for myself.  Probably my being there makes it a bit more work for her than normal because she is explaining and fixing my improper stirring techniques.  At any rate, we chat about the day or other topics and wait for Mr. Juma to arrive at home.  Once he comes home we eat our dinner in the living room of the house.  The three of us chat about the day – sometimes in English – sometimes in Chichewa.  When it is in Chichewa I just sit and listen and try to follow along based on body language and small English phrases.     

Supper is always nsima and relish.  The relish changes between red beans, white beans, eggs, vegetables, fish, pork, cabbage and potatoes.  The trends in the dishes is that they all contain tomatoes, onions and salt, and they all have been cooked in oil.  It’s very very tasty… probably not super healthy.

After supper we sit and chat for a bit more before all heading to bed.  As I mentioned before, it’s very dark at this point and there is not much more to do in the day.  I brush my teeth outside and use the pit latrine which is also outside, connected to the bath house, to take care of my bladder.  Even if I don’t have to go – I force myself. 

You know when you are camping and you don’t want to get out of your tent once you are inside but if you don’t get out and urinate you will have a restless seep all night?

I go through that every night. 

As precautionary measures I try not to take too much water with dinner and I definitely go once before going into my room for the night. 

Once inside my room I put on my head lamp, hop into bed and tuck in my mosquito net.  I take about 15 minutes to write in my journal and sometimes I will read a novel.  If I stay awake passed 8:30, however, I start to feel far too tired to read and I retire to sleep.

Early to bed, early to rise – life in Africa is good for me that way.

A Pretty Typical Work Day in the Life of A. Molaro

June 29, 2011

The district offices take up quite a bit of space. Each sector of government has its own building and the district assembly (the head honchos) have a building too. It would be the equivalent of an office building, but there are no two or more story buildings, so it’s all spread out on a large plot of land.

I’m not sure why, but the water office is way out in the boonies. Upon arrival to the district offices, I walk down a path, basically through someone’s back yard, to reach my office.

The guards are out front and have already swept the area. Even though the ground is dirt, it’s common to sweep the ground of leaves and garbage to keep the area looking tidy.

I say hello and chat for a few minutes before I head into my office.

I sit down at my desk which I share with a printer and a scanner and greet Edgar, who I share an office with. We chat about the evening or weekend and then get down to business pretty quick. He asks me my plans for the day and I tell him.. sometimes we need to work on things together so we figure out when we can do that, or, sometimes I just need to work on stuff on my own or with other people.

I pull my lap top out of my bag, start her up and hope that she works. Often, I’ll start the computer and the touchpad will not be working. When this happens I’ll shut it down and start her up again. Sometimes this happens three times before success, sometimes I get it first try. Luck of the draw.

Next I get started with my work. I consult my “week plan” that I’ve made either the previous Friday or the Monday of that week. I find week plans are the easiest way to have some direction to my work. It’s a completely self guided project which is something I really love. There is no one to give me assignments… I have to figure out and execute the tasks on my own.

Obviously I’m not working with blinders on as I would have no idea what to do without the help of others. At the beginning of the placemen, Sydney, my EWB coach, Edgar and I sat down and figured out the goals of the placement. I also consult a lot with Sydney about what I’m thinking, and I also consult a lot with Edgar about what we need to get done and how to go about doing it.

At any rate, my day to day tasks are usually set by me and vary greatly depending on the day.

One thing that is consistent is that I text the other JFs a lot during the work day. It might sound like a bad practice, but it’s okay… I’m still doing a lot of work. It’s really nice to keep up with the others and see how their day and their work is going. After all, we are a water and sanitation team!

Airtel, the network provider in Malawi, has this crazy promotion where, if you send five texts a day, you get one hundred free texts to use in that day. I don’t think I have had a day in Malawi where I didn’t receive the free texts.

At lunch time I have a few options. I can buy some fresh bananas from across the street, come back to the office, sit outside and make a peanut butter and banana sandwich using the stock of peanut butter and bread I keep at my desk. I can go across the street and buy some chips (fries) and salad with a fanta. It’s not my healthiest option but sometimes I’m just in the mood. I can walk into the BOMA and go to a restaurant to buy nsima and beans or chicken or whatever. OR, I can go to the market and pick up something to eat there – usually avocado and tomato to make a sandwich.

Most people go home for lunch, but since it takes me 45 minutes to get home, that option doesn’t really work for me. I usually have a book so I’ll sit outside and read… or I’ll go inside and mess around on the computer. Sometimes Edgar has internet which he lets me use… so lunch time is a good time for that.

After lunch, it’s same same as the morning. I work on whatever needs to be done that day and sometimes I’ll start on my next day’s work as well. I also take time to write blog posts, write out emails and do other things to prepare for when I have some internet time.

Also in the afternoon I like to go out and chat with the guys outside. That’s a really good way to learn things about Malawi, about the water office, about culture… about everything really. Plus, I just like talking with them because they are all good people.

 Any time between 4:30 and 5:00 is when I knock off. (Malawians all say “knock off” to describe when they are finishing work – I really like that phrase). I then start my walk through the path, down the main road and through the village to my home. The sun is setting by this time so it’s a nice walk – not too hot. As I’m getting home it’s getting dark… but there is always a bit of sunlight left by the time I arrive at my home.

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