With the start of the New Year here, it is a time when we look forward and set new goals, resolutions and challenge ourselves to think about what we want to achieve with this new beginning.
It is also a time I like to look back and reflect on the year I have just left behind – and what a year it has been.
I had the honour to be able to visit Malawi, the warm heart of Africa, for a second time. It captured my heart all over again.
Now part of the One team for three months, I was thrilled to be told I would host the 2016 World Duty Free trip along with Bewley’s and Manchester Metropolitan University.
The group was brilliant, a great dynamic between them all. All companies mingling together, a true reflection of our partnerships and the incredible people we work with.
The first day, as always, was quite a shock to the system for a lot of the group.
Spending the day with one of our partners, Fishermen’s Rest, we saw and helped with two pump repairs. With a new reporting app that Fishermen’s Rest are now using to document where pumps are located, we were able to record what state the pump was in and if it needed repairing. The app would document what repair was needed, along with how it was repaired and what parts had been used with a GPS coordinate to enable future monitoring of the pump going forward.
The second pump we repaired provides water for 410 people yet had been broken for the last four years. Wiktor from Fishermen’s Rest (an incredible advocate for sustainability) explained clearly the importance of education, accountability and empowerment of the communities and why it has taken four years for this pump to be fixed. A similar story to what he and his team see regularly, it came down to a lack of tools, misconception, lack of basic knowledge and feeling they could not ask for help. This is one of the reasons the pump repair programme was created.
On day two, I had the joy of seeing another side of Malawi. The district of Thyolo is far from the red dusty bowl I’d seen before with its lush, green oasis of tea plantations. Mist hung around the mountaintops adding an eerie feel to our ascend to the village where we were introduced to a water committee. Their pump had been installed 2 years prior and when installed the community had been educated and now had taken full ownership of it. They carried out regular checks on their pump that was scheduled across all the local families by a rota system as well as them paying a tariff to help raise funds for replacement parts and maintenance when needed. What an example?!
As part of this second day in Thyolo with another one of our partners UP (formally Concern Universal), we also had the joy to see a drilling rig in action drilling a borehole for a brand new pump. Here the community explained how grateful they were for the water access they were in the process of receiving. In 6 day’s time, it would have been drilled, secured and installed. No more 2km walks to an open water source, an unclean one at that. I have never felt so responsible for taking on the thanks on behalf of all our supporters, donors and partners.
Near this community we then visited a school that, after my tough time two years ago with the hygienic options for girls on their menstrual cycle, showed what new latrine facilities could do to help.
Not only do they enable girls now to attend school, they also allow girls to manage their cycle in a discreet, private, hygienic and sensitive way. After the reality that hit me two years ago, I couldn’t even describe how it felt to see what they were now installing for the girls. Their understanding for the need to offer such facilities left me speechless. It is certainly not an issue that is resolved in Malawi, but this school was a shining example of what other schools could offer, leading the way to ensure girls have a fair opportunity at gaining an education and so subsequently, employment.
The final day was certainly a very special day as we returned to Nasundu. This school has been supported by WDFG for the last four years and having fundraised two years before for their feeding programme, it was incredible to go back and see the kitchen standing strong and the attendance of the school increased as a result. I was reunited with the Headmaster who I had met previously and his grandson Brite, who had certainly grown a lot in the last two years.
This school visit was an incredible chance for the group to immerse themselves into the community and really have an impact on their lives through teaching, singing and dancing. Going off into different classrooms, the children had a chance to get to spend some time with their visitors.
This was a trip where our customers really involved themselves. They were not just bystanders. They were not just observers. They actually pulled apart, diagnosed and repaired a pump from start to finish with little help from the pump repair team. I can positively say, all of them now know the full process of how the pump works and we at One could not ask for a better result.
I genuinely feel honoured to have not only met such wonderful people from Manchester Metropolitan University, Bewley’s and World Duty Free but also to experience their own personal journeys unfold over the course of the trip. True to an African proverb ‘A friend is someone you share the path with’, everyone’s experience was different, but I can truly say we all now have a new set of friends that will be bound forever through our experience. 2016 will be a year I will always cherish.
Happy New Year!