New UK Head Office for RIPPLE Africa

This week’s blog is about the new UK head office for RIPPLE Africa in Buckingham

For the last 11 years, RIPPLE Africa has been run from Geoff’s business office in Leighton Buzzard, and Geoff and Liz’s home, to keep overheads down. Megan has also been working from her home in Glasgow, and so has Susie who regrettably moved on from RIPPLE Africa in February.

We have always tried to keep our UK costs to a minimum but, as everyone will appreciate, RIPPLE Africa has to put more effort into fundraising and keeping in contact with our donors. In short, we have to be more proactive.

Charlie, who has worked in Malawi for two years and also spent 10 months volunteering, has now returned to the UK, and so it was time to open a new office and have all the UK staff at one location.

The new UK head office

We have managed to obtain a wonderful office which is 15 minutes’ walk from Geoff and Liz’s house, and we have negotiated a rent-free period of six months. Liz found a charity called Green Furniture Aid which provides office furniture for free to charities. Geoff and Charlie visited and, with Geoff’s son Neil, collected a van full of furniture all for FREE the following week. We’ve hung pictures of people and projects in Malawi on the walls, and Geoff and Liz purchased a ping pong table that doubles up as a meeting table and which is also great fun.

The whole office, with stationery, printer, phone, furniture transport, etc., has cost under £1,000, but we are so delighted with it. We really feel it will provide a great location to stimulate a better and stronger future for the charity, and there’s plenty of space for part-time staff, volunteers, and interns to help with fundraising, research, marketing and admin.

Claire has just joined the team as the UK Administrator, and Charlie is settling in to his new role as the UK General Manager so life at RIPPLE Africa is buzzing.

Claire (top) and Charlie (bottom)

If anyone is passing Buckingham, please drop in to see us for a cup of tea and maybe a game of ping pong!

Address: Whiteleaf Business Centre, 11 Little Balmer, Buckingham, MK18 1TF
Tel: 01280 822891

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Mwaya Mondays – Volume 71

Love and Laughter in Malawi

This week’s blog is written by Megan Canning, RIPPLE Africa’s UK Projects Manager

“I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbour—such is my idea of happiness. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children perhaps—what can more the heart of man desire?” – Leo Tolstoy

Commanding a place in my heart for almost a third of my life, my time here in Malawi has largely been shaped by RIPPLE Africa and the community of Mwaya and surrounding villages for nearly a decade. From my earliest arrival as a young volunteer visiting Africa for the first time to my many follow-up trips as a slightly-less-young development worker, each visit has been shaped by people and places which have continued to challenge me and have left an impression on my heart. On this most recent trip I have been in Malawi for two months now, but sadly my time here is drawing to a close. I’ve taken the opportunity to reflect on these past months for today’s blog entry.

As an employee of RIPPLE Africa, my trips to Malawi are usually constructed around project visitations, meetings with staff members, hosting donors, supporting volunteers, and getting reacquainted with what has been happening on the ground while I’ve been busy working from my home in the UK. This year in particular I was able to spend the month of February in our new Chintheche office, gain a better understanding of our new Fish Conservation Project which was launched just last year, and visit a number of communities participating in our Changu Changu Moto Project. I was able to spend quality work time with Charlie Knight, RIPPLE Africa’s new UK General Manager, who finished up his three-year stay in Malawi at the end of February before returning to the UK to head up the charity’s new Buckingham office. I have also been grateful that my stay has coincided with visits from a number of dedicated volunteers including Danish nurse Tine Westerdahl, English PE teacher Anna Mohan, English doctor Will Morgan, and the engaged doctor duo James Smith and Susie Worsley. The commitment of these dedicated people has made such a difference to RIPPLE Africa and to the surrounding communities here during my stay, and the companionship has also provided a positive emotional support for my own work during this time.

Unlike my previous visits, this trip has also been characterised by a month of intensive social research for my MSc dissertation in International Development. For the past two years, the flexible work environment with RIPPLE Africa has enabled me to pursue a part-time Masters degree at the University of Edinburgh and, during the month of March, I was able to take unpaid leave while I conducted original research on the gendered impact of private sector investment in Malawi’s sugar industry on the lives and livelihoods of workers and communities. This period has been one of the most enjoyable and challenging months I’ve spent here, and the opportunity to put into practice the development theory which has characterised much of my thoughts over the previous two years has been exceedingly rewarding. Due to the time I had already spent in Malawi over the years, I was able to approach my research with a strong understanding of life in this part of the country, but the practice of conducting in-depth interviews with over 40 sugar workers and 60 members of the surrounding communities not only deepened my knowledge of the economic and social processes underpinning my research topic, but additionally helped me to better analyse the cultural context in which I had been working for many years.

It hasn’t been all work! As a group we’ve enjoyed a number of special adventures, with a particular highlight being a visit from Joyce Banda to Kachere, which our donors and volunteers will know is a village very near to us where many of our healthcare volunteers regularly work. Charlie, Tine and myself counted ourselves lucky to have been included in a VIP box just a few feet from the key speakers and were treated to first class performances of both Malipenga and Chilimika dancing and festivities in the build-up to hearing the President speak. We’ve also had fun adventures – from crocodile spotting with Yona Kamanga and lunch with Dan Shaba and many others – to fun weekends away at neighbouring Kande Beach and Mayoka Village in Nkhata Bay where we’ve been able to dance, relax and enjoy ourselves together.

Each visit here to Malawi has meant a different adventure; however, it’s the fantastic friends and utter contentment I feel when staying here at Mwaya that continues to makes this place so special to me. Many of RIPPLE Africa’s donors and volunteers comment on just how special a place this really is, and this feeling is even more powerful on return visits. Several of the friendships I have made here are some of the most important in my life; both bonds with volunteers with whom I’ve shared my time and especially with so many friends from here in Malawi who have shown me such kindness on so many occasions. It is these simple pleasures experienced while living here in Malawi that I believe makes the experience so special: the shared exchanges of love and laughter, the joy of seeing children who I’ve known for many years growing into young men and women, the possibility to be useful in helping my friends and to also allow myself to be helped, the madness of daily adventures which emerge unplanned, the delight of letting myself be vulnerable in participating in community life and language with my wonderful Malawian friends there to support my often ridiculous efforts, and even the shared grief when we have had to experience the terrible loss of of our friends here where this experience shared together, though difficult, is an important part of the love felt for those special people. It is this shared community which leads to love, fulfilment and happiness here at Mwaya. Add to this sleeping under the stars, swimming in the lake, rising with the sunshine, listening to the singing of children, giving in completely to the experience; this is happiness. It has been such an honour to share this part of my life with my friends and colleagues here over these past years, and this trip has been no less wonderful. I have loved my time with RIPPLE Africa where I have felt a part of something good which is providing so many positive things for the people here I love so much. Tawonga ukongwa to all my friends here at Mwaya Beach! It’s been another enjoyable adventure.

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Excerpt about RIPPLE Africa from “The Ethical Hedonist” Malawi

This week’s blog gives a link to an excerpt about RIPPLE Africa from the Ethical Hedonist Travel Channel

This week we thought we would give you a link to an excerpt from “The Ethical Hedonist” series produced by Camilla, Inc. They produced a really interesting travel film on Malawi and have kindly provided this short clip of their visit to RIPPLE Africa. It shows a very good piece about the Changu Changu Moto cookstove project with starring roles from Charlie and Catherine, presented by Bob Kelly who stayed at RIPPLE Africa’s base at Mwaya. We hope you enjoy it.

Click here or on the picture below to watch the video.

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New Basic Classroom Block at Chiomba Primary School

This week’s blog is about the new basic classroom block at Chiomba Primary School which has just been finished

At Chiomba Primary School they have eight classes from Standard 1 to Standard 8, having been recently made a full primary school. For these classes, they have one double classroom block made from bricks and mortar with an iron sheet roof, and an additional three temporary double classroom blocks made from timber and thatch, though one of those has recently collapsed due to the rains.

This resulted in the school having only one good double classroom block and two smaller not so good timber double classrooms which means they only had six classrooms for eight classes. However, thanks to a wonderful donation from ETWA (Europe-Third World Association), we have been able to build another double classroom block from bricks and mortar, and the school now has enough classrooms for all the classes at Chiomba. Although this classroom block is basic, it is made from bricks and mortar with an iron sheet roof. This means it is much sturdier, stronger, longer lasting and more waterproof than the temporary timber ones the school also has.

The reason for building a basic classroom block rather than a full classroom block is that the cost of the basic block is less than a third of the price. The basic blocks may not look quite as attractive, but they are just as practical, and we are able to build three of these for the price of one full classroom block. Furthermore, we are also able to build these blocks sooner as we do not have to secure such a large amount of funding, which is easier and quicker to achieve. The objective of this type of classroom block is to ensure that each class has its own classroom and therefore improve the overall standard of education as a result by reducing class sizes. Without this extra classroom block, it would mean that two classes would either have to be taught outside (although not in the rainy season, of course!) or they would have to teach two classes at the same time in two of the classrooms, which is far from ideal, making teaching and learning for the children extremely difficult.

The students gather excitedly outside their new classroom block

The classrooms have been extremely successful and were being used for teaching immediately after construction had been completed. Here are the students enjoying the new rooms, which are very spacious and light, making them ideal for teaching

The new structure in all it’s glory!

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London 2 Brighton Challenge

London 2 Brighton Challenge, 24-25 May 2014

Walk it, Jog it, or Run it! The classic full 100km or new 56km challenge

Kate from Fishers Adventure Farm Park in Sussex has joined the London 2 Brighton Challenge at the end of May to raise money for RIPPLE Africa and, as a result, the charity is registered with Action Challenge who organise and run this exciting event.

It would be fantastic if any of our supporters also wanted to help raise money for RIPPLE Africa by taking part in this amazing challenge, and you can read all about it on the London 2 Brighton Challenge website.

If you’re up for a challenge to raise money for RIPPLE Africa, why don’t you join Kate on 24-25 May?

Or if you’d like to do another fundraising challenge for us, take a look at the Action Challenge website and see what takes your fancy!

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Mwaya Mondays – Volume 70

This week’s blog is about RIPPLE Africa’s Fish Conservation Project written by Geoff Furber

Progress on the Fish Conservation Project

The fish conservation project has been developing well over the last 12 months. First, the bylaws were signed, covering a distance of about 40km of lakeshore. Over 40 Fish Conservation Committees have been set up and, recently, Joyce Banda (not the President!), who has had tremendous success with our forest conservation projects, has been getting involved.

Joyce Banda with Biton and Solomon

Changing people’s habits is not easy but, for this project to be successful, it has to be owned and run by the community. We have held many awareness meetings with Chiefs’ Committees, fishermen, and community members. The people really want to conserve the fish but, until RIPPLE Africa became involved, there was no one to coordinate and drive the initiative. In conjunction with the conservation committees, we have now recorded all fishermen along the 40km stretch of lakeshore, and the Conservation Committees have been confiscating illegal fishing gear and moving migratory fishermen.

Illegal fishing gear being confiscated

The local fishermen and communities are beginning to take ownership, nowhere more so than Chiwana which is a fishing community south of Kachere where there is a big chambo (a fish similar to tilapia) breeding area. When fish were plentiful in the 1970s, local fishermen here would use 4 inch nets and catch plenty of chambo – sometimes 500 in one day – but now they are lucky to catch five small to medium chambo. Because of the shortage of food, local people have been catching tiny baby chambo fish by the thousands from these shallow breeding grounds using mosquito nets and, by the end of December, there would be no fish left.

Fully grown chambo fish – one of these would provide a meal for a family

Thousands of tiny baby chambo fish caught in a mosquito net – probably only enough for one meal

This year is different at Chiwana. Fanwell Mphande, the Chairman of the Fish Conservation Committee at Chiwana, and the rest of his Committee have stopped all illegal fishing in the area around the breeding sites and have totally stopped all mosquito net fishing with incredible results. There are now millions of baby chambo fish swimming in the shallow waters of the breeding sites and people from all round the area are coming to see the phenomenon – and they just can’t believe it!

Some of the baby chambo fish at the Chiwana breeding site – the Conservation Committee are even feeding them!

We invited the District Commissioner and many key government staff, together with local Chiefs, Committee Chairmen, Malawi Television, and radio and newspapers to see the results. This was good news indeed at a time that the whole of Malawi has been hearing about the terrible Cashgate problems in government.

The meeting was covered by television, radio and the newspapers

Fred Movetti, the District Commissioner, Thomas Nyasulu, the Director of Fisheries, and Billy Ngosi, the Chief Magistrate

If you haven’t watched the video, then please make the time and be inspired.

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Mwaya Mondays – Volume 69

On Saturday 22 February 2014, a group of enthusiastic RIPPLE Africa supporters held a fundraising party for the charity in Chester. This week’s blog is the story of the party from its inception in Malawi towards the end of 2013 to its successful conclusion in Chester just over a week ago, which has been written by Anne Maund, one of the hardworking team of people who made it happen!

“During October 2013, a minibus, hired in Lilongwe from a company called Sputnik(!) and containing five middle-aged Saga-safari types and a young couple with a toddler, found its way to Lowani. The visitors were: Parvin, Tina, Mansur, Stephen, Anne, Mbachi, Hannah, and Amaya. We spent four intense life-changing days seeing all we could at RIPPLE Africa, having Dan showing us all the projects, Emily as our tourism guide, Esther and Lapken taking care of hospitality, and Bobby the night watchman keeping us safe at night. Our hearts expanded by the beauty of the people, the urgency of the work to be done, and the dire need for funds, we cooked up a plan to try a big fundraiser … so, on Saturday 22 February 2014, it all came together at Eccleston Village Hall, Chester. Hannah and Mbachi couldn’t make it as the arrival of baby number two was imminent (as it turned out, baby Micah was born two days later), but Amaya came with Grandma and Grandpa.

Hooray for our Africantastic Party! The team really pulled together and, although we’d felt worried about various aspects during the planning, it all worked out on the night, and we were very pleased with the result of our efforts. Of course people came (around 70), and of course there was far too much food, and (of course) everyone had a good time.

We raised over £2,000 which was great, especially as it didn’t feel like we were rinsing people at all. Geoff and Liz, the RIPPLE Africa Couple came, which was a terrific draw for selling tickets, and friends were genuinely interested to meet them and find out about RIPPLE Africa first hand. They were both very sociable and outgoing, and chatted with guests, going round to each table and finding out about the guests, answering questions, and explaining the work of the charity. After dinner, Geoff gave an excellent presentation which was very personal and open.

The hall looked amazing! There were many helpers during the day and, as well as producing chicken, African bean stew, rice, salad, and cheesecake, the team created a wonderful ambience in the room with the dim lighting, black tablecloths, African material centrepieces, tall white candles in storm lanterns, even African bunting, and best of all, a little market area with baskets of vegetables, wooden bowls, spoons, carvings, and plants arranged on tables and bamboo mats.

African music transformed the venue, aided by a big screen on the stage showing photos taken on our trip and Geoff’s slides for his talk about RIPPLE Africa’s story.

The feedback has been really positive, and we are still basking in it as the evening flew by so quickly we need to re-live it through other people’s comments. Our team is very proud that the idea of an Africantastic Party didn’t stay on the tour bus, but came to fruition and got other people interested in RIPPLE Africa or just showed them what two people can do to “give a hand up, not a hand out”. Geoff and Liz continue to strive, into their 11th year, with love, enthusiasm, steadfastness, patience and, most important of all, in consultation with the people they are serving in the Nkhata Bay District on beautiful Lake Malawi.”

If anyone would like to organise a similar event to raise money for RIPPLE Africa’s projects, then please e-mail us for further information.

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Mwaya Mondays – Volume 68

This week’s Mwaya Mondays blog is written by RIPPLE Africa volunteer Tine Westerdahl, who is a nurse from Denmark

I have now been at Mwaya Beach for six weeks – it is unbelievable how quickly time flies by and yet, on the other hand, I feel quite at home. I have a busy weekly routine, and I think that has helped me settle in so quickly to Malawian life.

My work alternates between the clinics in nearby villages helping at “under 5” clinics, outreach clinics, malnutrition clinics, etc. In between these clinics, I teach first aid and other health related subjects – I have even started to do a few computer lessons as well.

Once a week I go out with Collins, the RIPPLE Africa Senior Healthcare Coordinator, who visits clients in the community on his motorbike. Collins has a vast number of clients, and they all have an amazing story that deserves to be told.

Isaac is a five-year-old boy with congenital brain damage, which results in problems with the use of his legs. The main problem is his balance but, after a lot of practice, he can now walk with a stick. When using his stick, however, he is still unsteady and needs more training of his leg muscles and his balance to be able to walk more effectively.

Isaac walking with a stick

To make it easier for Issac to train his muscles and balance, we decided to try to build a walker for him. I enrolled the services of our day watchman Arnold, who is very good with his hands, to help me construct the walker. I found some plastic tubes that were not too heavy for a little boy to carry and then the creative work began. We finished constructing the walker… well, when I say “we” I mean Arnold was working with the plastic tubes and I was trying not to get in his way!

Arnold in the process of constructing the walker

Now the walker is finished, Collins and I needed to see if it would work. We took the walker to Isaac, and it only took him a few minutes before he got the idea of the walker and he started immediately to walk around the area. In the beginning only walking slowly straight forward, but after a few minutes he began to make turns. I have visited Isaac twice before today, and it is the first time I have seen him walking so much – I was afraid that he would actually have sore leg muscles that evening.

Isaac walking around with the walker

With so little resources available to the local people here, it is quite amazing how adaptable and creative they can be. The material to make the walker equated to about £2, and it just took a bit of creativity and determination to build it. Issac’s family would never be able to afford to buy an aid such as this walker, so it is purely down to the resourcefulness of the community to help solve an easy problem in the developed world but here is a constant challenge.

The lovely thing here is that everyone wants to try to help and takes great pride in it. When I came back to show Arnold the picture of Issac with his walker, he was so pleased to see his creation in action…he wanted to name it the “AB Walker” standing for “Arnold Banda’s Walker”. We will see if it makes patent!

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Mwaya Mondays – Volume 67

This week’s Mwaya Mondays blog is written by RIPPLE Africa volunteer Anna Mohan

I’ve been back in Mwaya for three weeks now and have settled back into life here again. I have decorated my wooden chalet with some pictures from my travels in December and have made it a bit more homely. My evening runs along the lakeshore have started up again and I feel fitter again already. Every time I run along the beach I have a group of children that accompany me…they think its so much fun running with me…they love trying to race me as well so they make me work a lot harder than i want to most nights!

My January training has started by running along the beach in the evenings…but I always have a few helpers to the finish line!!

We have now moved into the rainy season so it rains most days for about an hour and then it’s usually clear and dry for the rest of the day, but over the past two nights we have had amazing thunderstorms where the noise of the thunder booms around my chalet…quite scary!! I stayed out last night on the beach and watched a thunderstorm over the lake – it looked like it was towards Mozambique so thankfully it was nowhere near me but it was quite spectacular to watch as the lightning bolts lit up the sky. The lake looks so pretty at night as the fishermen take a light out with them so when you look out on the horizon all you see is a line of bright twinkly lights. This is the reason Livingstone named Lake Malawi as the ‘Lake of Stars’ – it really does look magical on a clear night. 

A little taste of home every so often is so nice…especially on a rainy day!

I have found that when it does rain here, things seem to come to a halt. The local people don’t have cars to get around so they have to rely on their feet or, if they’re lucky, a bicycle…so I have learnt to realise that if it is raining then whatever I have arranged might not go ahead.

The girls’ netball teams train regularly on a Tuesday and Thursday and have really improved since the beginning of the school year. The girls are great fun and enjoy playing so much…makes it a pleasure to work with them

School is going well and at the moment I am teaching all of the forms volleyball. They absolutely love it and have got a lot better since the start of term…they had a staff versus students volleyball competition last week and the teachers were victorious…but only just!! 
Sports clubs have been going well, and I have started a new girls’ football club this week on a Monday so hopefully that will be popular…we had 18 this week so it’s a good start. I have also set up a debate club! I have never been involved in a debate club before but the students wanted someone to run one so I volunteered…I’m learning as I go along but this week’s topic is ‘single sex schools are better than co-education’. The students have taken it really seriously and have enjoyed researching and choosing their points of persuasion. The idea is that it will help them to improve their spoken English and also to raise their confidence when speaking so I will keep you posted on how it goes.

Volleyball at Kapanda! I’m teaching Forms 1 to 3 volleyball in their PE lessons at the moment after we made two courts to play on. The students are loving it and have very quickly become skilful players

I spend my Tuesday mornings each week visiting one out of the eight pre-schools that the charity supports. I try to get to a different one each week and bring some resources with me to play games or read a story, etc. This week I brought my mini speaker along and at the end of the session we had a little disco…the children were so cute and I wish I had got a video of them dancing…but I was too busy dancing myself!!

I had a funny experience last Friday morning at an Under 5’s clinic. This is a clinic that bases itself in a different village pre-school each week and all the local mothers bring any of their children under 5 years old to be weighed. This is to check their growing progress and to keep an eye on their weight. The weights are recorded and any child who is under- or over-weight is referred to the healthcare assistants. The children are wrapped in chitenjes (big scarves!) and are hung onto the weighing scales…it can be quite a challenge keeping some of the children inside them as they wriggle out of them so easily! It is such a lively morning and the mothers sit and sing songs while they wait – really quite an experience!!

This is gorgeous baby Faith that I managed to steal off her mum for a cuddle at Chiomba Under 5s clinic. A busy, hectic but fun morning

It was gorgeous and sunny last Saturday so, after getting on my bike in the morning to deliver a drum to one of the local pre-school teachers for their school, I spent the afternoon on the beach. I went down to read my book originally, but as soon as I opened it I was surrounded by four little heads saying ‘hello’. They were fascinated with my nail varnish so I spent the afternoon opening Mohan’s beauty parlour and sat there painting nails!! The girls loved it and were very pleased with the results…my painting left a lot to be desired though. Two of the older girls asked me if I could help them with their maths so I’ve set up lessons twice a week with them to try and help.

An afternoon of painting nails on the beach…these were my customers!!

The finished result!

That is the wonderful thing about the children here…their desire to better themselves and really improve their education. It is so special to see that in young people and it makes it very hard to say no! With that in mind I have also added another day a week for the reading club that I set up with the Form 1s so the children here are definitely keeping me busy. I don’t mind in the slightest though as they’re so eager and so thankful for your time – it is actually a pleasure to work with them.

So that’s about it for an update from me…but I will write again soon!

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Icy Swims for RIPPLE Africa in Lake Michigan, Chicago

Some people have done some amazing things to raise money for RIPPLE Africa, but this is a first. Patrick Gazley, a previous volunteer who loved his experience with RIPPLE Africa in 2011, has regularly raised money for the charity and, this winter, he’s embarked on his craziest fundraiser yet. Each week he runs to Lake Michigan in his home town of Chicago, strips down to his swimming shorts and jumps into the freezing waters of the lake, and then he runs home again. He’s recently been interviewed by CBS 2 Chicago News, and here’s the link to the CBS Chicago News website where you can listen to the interview. He’s also got his own blog and fundraising pages for both the USA and the UK.

We want as many people as possible to support him, so please e-mail this to all your friends and make sure you watch the short video – it will take your breath away!

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