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We operate in more than 50 countries around the world. If your country is not on the list, please refer to our global contacts.

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We operate in more than 50 countries around the world. If your country is not on the list, please refer to our global contacts.

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We operate in more than 50 countries around the world. If your country is not on the list, please refer to our global contacts.

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Ben Bolt goes with the flow in Malawi

This is the account of Ben Bolt, Corporate Responsibility Business Partner (ISS UK); one of five people from ISS and account sites to visit Malawi in May 2019 with One Water

ISS has worked with One Water selling their products across a number of our accounts since March 2016 and have raised over £100,000 which has included being able to give some of our employees the opportunity to visit Malawi and see the impact of selling One Water on their accounts. 

Day 1: an introduction to Blantyre, Malawi 

After about 36 hours of trains, planes, delays and an unexpected additional flight we made it to Blantyre, Malawi. We were met at the airport by Wik, a grass-roots partner of the One Water Foundation who moved to Malawi about 30 years ago. Of welsh origin, he runs the lodge we are staying at during our visit - Fisherman’s Rest.  

Fisherman’s Rest is a family run lodge which supports long standing community programmes with the surrounding schools and villages. The lodge itself provides employment to over 170 people from the local area. Their employees cover not only the running of the lodge but are empowered to manage and run their nine community programmes, one of which is the One Water project – The Madzi Alipo project:

  • The Madzi Alipo Project:  empowering communities to maintain and fix water pumps giving them access to clean water 
  • My Girl: keeping girls in school through their menstruation cycle 
  • The Tree Project:  reforesting surrounding villages 
  • The Bridge Project: enabling access to food and schools by connecting remote communities by building bridges 
  • The Chicken Project: giving a lifeline to school leavers through education in agriculture 
  • The Library Project: improving literacy in schools by providing access to reading books 
  • The Classroom Project: building classrooms that can withstand the rainy season 
  • The Changu Changu Moto: tackling deforestation with fuel efficient stoves that use less fire wood 
  • The Good Food Project: feeding children at schools to increase attendance and improve concentration 

During the 50 minute drive from the airport Wik told us lots of fascinating facts and information about Malawi. We were all pretty sleep deprived by then so here’s a few that stuck in my mind:

  • Population: c.18 million 
  • Average income per capita $325 per year 
  • There are only enough secondary school spaces for 31% of student who complete primary school. 69% will therefore not receive any further education 
  • The average life expectancy is now late 50’s. About 30 years ago it used to be 27 for men and 34 for women
  • There are speed limits but no signs – you’re just expected to know what they are! 
  • There are seven different languages spoken but the business language is English
  • Lake Malawi takes up a third of Malawi 
  • Malawi’s nickname is the warm heart of Africa because of its friendly people
  • During the drive we headed along the M1 – the only tarmacked road running north to south. Not quite like the UK’s M1 but it was busy! I didn’t expect to see so many cars on the road and hordes of people walking down the sides of the road which didn’t have a pavement. Particularly closer to the town centre parking looked as if it was as difficult as London

This didn’t last for long though. As we headed out of the town centre the number of cars decreased quickly - as did the light - but even with no street lighting there continued to be streams of people walking along the side of the road who found a mini bus of ‘Azungu’ (English people) very intriguing; we received a few stares to say the least. 

Along the roadsides were rows of shops, most made out of materials that didn’t look much more stable than cardboard, selling beds, cars, fruit, clothes and money exchange – you name it, they had it. I found it strange and contradictory that shop owners had access to the technology to send money all over the world but not the resource for a shop sign that wasn’t hand made. 

After a quick dinner, it was time for a much needed short shower and a small fight with the mosquito net to ensure we were sufficiently protected. We all slept well ahead of an early start the next day. 

Day 2: learning that water is important  

School feeding programme 

We started early with a visit to Chimwembe School to help with the feeding programme where we served ‘phala’, a porridge like meal made of maize and soya. Although not as tasty as porridge it is fortified with vitamins but unfortunately for many it would be their only meal of the day.
 
Chimwembe school assembly:

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Nick preparing the phala:

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Phala for breakfast:

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The introduction of serving breakfast before school has dramatically improved attendance at the school. With the offer of a hot meal children are much more likely to come to school each day. 

Today at the school was slightly different to usual – none of the teachers turned up! There had been a general election two days earlier. In addition to this, the head teacher’s mother had died the night before which apparently are reasons that the teachers were not there. This gave us a cultural insight though: funerals happen immediately in Malawi. 

I can’t quite get my head around the idea that there was no way they could have let anyone know. In their absence the school was led for the day by three student teachers who could have only been about 18. 

This first morning we started to appreciate that access to water is not just about being able to have drinking water but it’s much more than that. Without clean water, the children would not have their one meal each day and without that incentive, many would not come to school – fuelling the cycle of poor education and life prospects. 

At the school we got our first taste of how exciting a drone is to the children. We were lucky enough to have a photographer with us to capture footage for a short video of the trip. At the school he used his drone to capture the surrounding scenery. We were not expecting every student in the school to down tools and come running in to the playground. Hundreds of children running towards you is quite an experience!

Waving to the drone!:

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Madzi Alipo (meaning: There Is Water) Pump Repair and Maintenance Programme  

When the Fisherman’s Rest programme started, only 40% of the c.350 water pumps across Blantyre worked. The pumps were initially installed by the UN and other Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s) but over time, and with wear and tear, many had stopped working forcing people to walk hours to access clean water. The first priority of the Madzi Alipo programme was to fix the water pumps. The Fisherman’s Rest team wanted to take us to a pump to teach us how to fix a broken one.  But they have worked hard to keep the pumps working which meant that there were no broken ones to show us! Instead we practiced on a training pump they have at the local training school. 

Kristina, Sarah and Carys learning how the water pumps work:

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Each water pump has a small committee which is responsible for the pump. The committee includes a treasurer responsible for collecting money from the families who use the pump. This money goes towards the maintenance and repair of the pump. Madzi Alipo now prioritise training these committees to run routine checks on the pump to prevent their complete break-down and to enable them to carry out any repairs required. The ultimate aim is that communities become self-sufficient and NGO support can move to areas in greater need. 

Once we had learnt about the programme we visited a pump in Somba that served around 20 families. Working with Fisherman’s Rest and the pump committee we fitted a sensor to the pump. This is an exciting pilot project in collaboration with Google which will send information about the usage and status of the pump back to a central dashboard. This information will show how much the pump is being used, when it is being used and importantly whether there is any sign of malfunction. This information will enable NGO’s to better deploy their support and also identify pumps that need attention before they completely break and access to water stops. 

The sensors are not expensive in the grand scheme of technology but very cutting edge. It felt strange to be providing this type of equipment in an environment where the local individuals don’t have the basics of electricity in their homes. 
 
Maren pumping water after the sensor was fitted:

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As well as fitting the sensor, we had a lovely time playing with the local children. They all rivalled for our attention and we enjoyed Duck, Duck, Goose (or Chicken, Chicken, Fox as it’s known locally), colouring in, stories, and bubbles went down a treat. It was an amazing end to our second day.
 
Ben and her trusty translator reading the Hare and the Tortoise to the local children:

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Day 3: Water as an employer 

Day 3 was all about looking at access to water in what would be considered an urban area. Although not a town, there was access to shops and a better infrastructure and quality of road but only 15% of the population of Malawi live in urban areas. Even in these areas, water was still accessed by, mostly women and children, taking huge buckets to be filled at pumps. The difference to urban areas is that there are more pumps available and that they are run as a business. 

Typical water pumps in an urban area:

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Each water pump is manned by a Water Seller who is paid to collect water tariffs, keep the pump area clean and most importantly, open and close the pumps in the morning and evening to prevent theft. There is no access to water outside of the manned times which are very much dictated by daylight. 
 
The team – ISS, One Water, Project Partners, local beneficiaries and the water seller for this pump:

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Pumps in urban areas are governed by a Board of Directors who are responsible for running the pumps in their areas as a business. We were very surprised to be presented with a full blown annual report covering governance structure and a financial breakdown for the year from the Michiru Water Users Association! The aim, as with any business, is to make a profit from selling water which  is then reinvested in to installing more pumps and providing access to more water – not dissimilar to One Water. 

At the end of it all 

The whole trip can only be described as a whirlwind. We were totally swept up in the experience during the time we were there so it wasn’t until the journey home that we had the opportunity to take it all in. No one could quite believe how they’d spent the last 48 hours but these are my three key take-aways: 

  • We visited some hugely deprived areas but the trip felt so positive. Everyone we met was happy and could see their families and communities becoming healthier as a result of clean water 
  • Clean water isn’t just about having something to drink. It’s paramount for providing medical care, it boosts the economy through employment and means people can access hygienic washing/toilet facilities
  • The women and children are admirable! The strength and coordination required to carry 40 litres of water on their head is impressive. But to also attend school and care for a family on top – possibly spending two hours upwards a day getting water amazing 

You can watch a short video with more information about the impact of the One Water partnership here.

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The Global Water Crisis: There are still 844 million people in the world without access to safe drinking water.

Over 2 million people die every year from waterborne diseases and most are children under five years old. This needs to change.

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