A Time to Reflect after 10 Years of the Kusambira Centre (Mwaya Community Library)

Previous RIPPLE Africa volunteer Donncha O Donnchadha has written about his time in Malawi and the opening of the Mwaya Community Library

“A library opening in a rural part of Malawi would surely have a RIPPLE effect!”

My name is Donncha O Donnchadha and I volunteered at Mwaya between July 2005 and June 2006 and was appointed Project Manager for the setting up of the Library there. The idea of having a library at Mwaya was born and three young women did great work in gathering the monies needed for the project through a number of fundraising activities. It all began when Georgina Newman, Christina Weimann and Leila Nutie from England travelled to Malawi and spent three weeks working on the start of the project.

Before we began, I went in search of a number of other people connected with libraries. I needed to get a sense of what their ideas and thoughts were about our project. The people I spoke to were the District Librarian for Nkhata Bay, Mr Joseph Nduna. Then I went on to speak with the Librarian of the University of Mzuzu, Dr Joseph Utah. Both said our job would be a long and arduous task, given the fact that there was no culture of reading books in Malawi. They gave good advice about how we could proceed.

On the 25th November 2005 the Mwaya Community library was opened. The library has a sign above the door that reads “The Kusambira Centre”. The Librarian, Mr Longwe, and myself, thought that this would be a more inclusive title and more welcoming for our users. The word Kusambira translates to learning, which encapsulates the whole meaning of the project.

 sanitary pads Malawi

For the first 3 months after opening, users could only read books in the library. This was to enable them to become familiar with using this new facility. Then from March 2006 people began to borrow books from the library. It was surprising for me to see borrowers arriving after two weeks to return their books. Many of these people would have walked at least a few kilometres to and from the library. They may have got up earlier on these days, so they could afford the time to walk. I was impressed with the commitment that the people had to reading and learning, and clearly the library had met an important need for the local population.

At the start we liaised with the school so that every class would have an outdoor reading class at least once a week. We were fortunate to have enough volunteers to assist in this part of the project. Classes would be in the form of peer teaching. The boys and girls who were proficient would assist those who would struggle. The role of the volunteer was purely to monitor and assist if needed, but their efforts helped many others to enjoy the full potential of the library.

Since then I am happy to say many other classes involving adults or children are taking place. At present there is an Adult Literacy Class run for the ladies who register for it.

There are a number of people who supported me, the library staff and RIPPLE Africa at the start and as the project went on to greater heights. The main person I would like to thank is my fellow worker Mr Longwe. Since we sat and plotted the rules and regulations ten years ago, he has been at the coalface. It is testament to his principles and work ethic that the library is so successful.

Mr Timothy Chirwa, the Headmaster at Mwaya, knew from day one that this library would be a big plus for the community, and has supported it all the way. The late Mr Aleke Banda MP, who was our local MP, visited a number of times and gave us great encouragement. He realised how beneficial the library would be to his community.

Mrs Gaulphine Nyrienda and her staff at Maneno Bookshop in Lilongwe and Mzuzu helped in every way they could to make this project a success.

Since the library was built in 2005, there have been a number of additions. I visited again in 2007 and completed the task of installing the shelving for the books. At that time we stocked approximately 4,000 books and a number of journals. Since then there has been more shelving erected inside to cater for further expansion of the stock.

There is now a covered reading area to the side of the library which enables the readers to read, both in the rainy season and when it is too warm. Also the library now has the daily newspaper delivered. New books are bought on an ongoing basis. All of this work continues to make this facility ever more relevant to the community.

The opening of a library in an area like Mwaya is a tremendous achievement. On reflection I always knew that it would take a generation for it to take an effect, and this is what I see happening.

The library is instilling a new way of learning. The possibility for a better education leads to a new way of living, because I believe literacy breeds hope and illiteracy breeds apathy. The people at Mwaya and the surrounding areas are lucky to have had the volunteers, their families and friends, as well as the donors of RIPPLE Africa. These are the people who have supported this library and made it possible.

I have returned to Mwaya a number of times since 2005 and really feel humbled by the whole volunteering experience. The community has always been very gracious for what has been done for them. This extends not only to the library but also to the good effect RIPPLE Africa has on the community in other ways, especially in the areas of environment and education.

On the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of the library I will donate 3 books to the library. The books I have chosen will hopefully inspire our many readers. They are –

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Christina Lamb and Malala Yousafzai

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by Bryan Mealer and William Kamkwamba

Unbowed: My Autobiography by Wangari Maathai

I look forward to seeing the Kusambira Centre going from strength to strength for many years to come.

When Mr Longwe opens the library every day the people enter knowing this –

“The knowledge in the library is free and all they need is their own container”.

Should you wish to make a donation to support the purchase of books, please visit our donation page.

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Book Worms at Mwaya Community Library

This blog is written by RIPPLE Africa volunteer, Nikki Luxford

Mr Longwe works with two assistant librarians, Burton and Jaffet, and he said he loves his job because it ‘entertains different people’. He said, “Before becoming the head librarian I was a teacher, and this is very similar work, working with the community.”

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Burton, Mr Longwe and Jaffet

Both Burton and Jaffet have worked at the library for five years and Burton now runs the Adult Literacy classes twice a week.

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Burton teaching in Adult Literacy

These classes were set up by Phoebe, a former volunteer and have provided many adults with the opportunity to learn to read and write. The majority of the students in adult literacy are women, mainly because the ladies never finished school. Most are also mothers who want to learn to read and write so they can help their children with their homework and read them stories.

One lady at the class was Christina Banda. A single mother of six, Christina never finished her education and when she heard about the adult literacy classes, she signed up as she wanted to learn English and to be able to help her children achieve more.

During the class we watched Christina, along with other students, reading aloud to the group before answering questions in English on the text they had just read.

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Christina Banda, a student at adult literacy who wants to learn to read and write in order to help her children

Whilst at the library, I also met Chief Chibunya, one of the library’s regular members. The Chief takes out a book every two weeks and is extremely happy that there is a community library.

Speaking about Chief Chibunya, Mr Longwe said, “He is one of our regular readers and we like him as he knows the importance of books and takes care of the books he borrows.”

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Chief Chibunya reading outside the library

The library offers both fiction and non-fiction books, with the students at the local schools being amongst those who borrow books from the Reference sections.

A lot of people also come to the library, not only to borrow books but to read the national newspapers. From the papers, not only do they learn about what is going on in Malawi but the rest of the world too.

The papers also give people access to see what job opportunities are around – and a number of locals have now found employment because of the library providing said newspapers.

RIPPLE Africa is looking for funds to continue running the library as it celebrates its tenth year.

library Malawi
The library

If you’d like to read more about life in rural Malawi, Nikki has posted a number of blogs on her website.

Should you wish to make a donation to this fund to support the purchase of books, please visit our donation page.

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Bra shopping in Malawi

This blog is written by RIPPLE Africa volunteer, Nikki Luxford

If you read the post called Charity within a Charity you’ll know that the women in the Lowani Ladies Sewing Circle make sanitary pad kits. The profit is then spent on helping needy people in the community with basic items such as soap, salt and matches.

Because the women earn nothing from making these kits my mother and I treated the women to a spot of bra shopping!

So you’re probably thinking, bra shopping – how does that happen in Malawi? Well back when I was in Spain we launched a bra campaign whereby both new and good second-hand bras were donated with the aim of setting up a few women with a business. During my parent’s recent trip they brought out one of the bags of bras.

Working closely with the 23 ladies at the sewing circle to help develop ideas, I’ve got to know them well and when my mum was over she was talking to the women about their lives and what life is like for Malawian women – the general consensus is that they work extremely hard. As well as them working incredible hours in their own homes to ensure their husbands, children, parents and siblings are looked after they are also dedicating hours each week to make the kits and help others in their community so we decided each lady would receive a bra (a luxury item here).

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Trying on bras

One lady didn’t even own a bra and for those that had, many of them were extremely worn and old and for most they weren’t even the right size – and for the bigger busted ladies amongst the group, that wasn’t helping them.

The bra ‘shopping’ involved lots of singing and dancing and bras being spun about above their heads. By the end all the ladies were kitted out with a bra and the one lady who didn’t own a bra received two! I might add that it was the choice of the rest of the ladies in the group that the ‘bra-less’ lady receive two bras as she’d never had one – she’s 34 years old and mother-of-four.

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Bra dancing

At the next meeting the ladies were all very proud wearing their new bras – and productivity seems to have increased too!

 women MalawiBras = Happy ladies!

If you’d like to read more about life in rural Malawi, Nikki has posted a number of blogs on her website.

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Going back to where it all began

This blog is written by RIPPLE Africa volunteer, Nikki Luxford

Last weekend was a very exciting weekend as I returned to the south of Malawi to visit the villages where I previously volunteered.

The long journey down to Zomba was definitely worth it on Saturday as getting the mini bus and cycling into the village on Sunday morning was like going home.

Seeing familiar faces and hearing my name being called out as my bike taxi cycled down the track saw me smiling – a smile that last until I left on Tuesday night.

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The teachers I worked with at Hayo pre-school

Whilst only a brief trip, I managed to check in with the sponsored children and go to their schools and collect progress reports and exam results as well as visit Hayo pre-school and a number of families who we’ve been working with and supporting.

pre-school Malawi
My pre-school children who are growing up way too fast!

But even though I was away from RIPPLE Africa I wasn’t completely ‘off-duty’ so to speak. Visiting one of my families, I noticed the neighbour had serious burns on her arm. I asked if I could see her kitchen with the idea of building her a Changu Changu Moto fuel-efficient stove but to my surprise she already had one, an unused one.

In front of the Changu Changu Moto stove was a traditional three-stone fire which is how she burnt herself and I asked her how she’d come to have this Changu Changu Moto and whether she knew how to use it.

She explained how another charity had come to the area and built a number of them in random households and had then left – but without explaining how to use them nor telling them of their benefits. Not much point in building something if you’re not going to tell someone how to use it. It would be a bit like me walking in to your home and giving you the latest gadget without an instruction manual – you’ll most likely look at it once and put it in a drawer.

So…back to the Changu Changu Moto! I think you can probably guess what I did next. First of all we dismantled the traditional three-stone fire and cleared the area around the Changu Changu Moto ready to maintain it and build pot rests.

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Maintaining the first Changu Changu Moto stove

It doesn’t take long for people to know there’s a visitor in the village so by the time we finished renewing the stove we had quite an audience of women, all eager to hear about the Changu Changu Moto.

One lady asked if she could have one. I couldn’t see why not so agreed to come back a couple of days later to show her how to construct one. I did and we had great fun. Again, we had an audience but whilst several of us mixed mud and water and others carried and fetched bricks some sang songs and danced – you can see why it’s hard not to smile and be happy!

Changu Changu Moto Malawi
All smiles – making the next Changu Changu Moto stove

Half an hour later and we had our stove made.

A lot of the ladies in the village would now like one as they’ve heard the benefits of the stove such as how it saves wood, cooks quicker and prevents accidents, so although I’ve shown them how to make it, I know what I’ll be doing on my next trip when I go to visit.

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Our finished stove – pretending to cook!

If you’d like to read more about life in rural Malawi, Nikki has posted a number of blogs on her website.

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Laura’s Volunteer Story

Volunteer Laura Alchin has written a story about her time and that of Louise Lobb, a fellow volunteer, at Mwaya which is reproduced below. Stories written by other previous RIPPLE Africa volunteers can be found on the Volunteers’ Stories webpage.

Hello from Malawi!

Myself (Laura) and Louise are very lucky to be living here in a beautiful spot right on the edge of Lake Malawi. The people and community are incredibly friendly, and everywhere we cycle we are greeted with smiles and friendly calls of “Hello Mzungu” (which means “hello white person”).

Louise and I are both teachers. I am a primary school teacher, and have been working at Mwaya and Mzembe Primary Schools. I have been teaching English, running a remedial maths group, and have started a girls soccer team which has been lots of fun! Louise has been working at Kapanda Secondary School. She has been teaching chemistry and biology, and is the process of organising a training day for the teachers to help improve their teaching practices.

One of our favourite lessons of the week is when we both assist at the adult literacy classes together. The group was set up by Phoebe, another volunteer, who has created some excellent resources for the students and teachers to make the class a success. The classes are for adults who did not get the opportunity to learn to read and write when they were younger. When they first enrol, they explain why they want to learn to read and write. The answers vary, such as wanting to be able to read and send text messages, read books, be able to write letters and to help with their businesses. It is always inspiring to see how hard they work and how committed they are to learning.

The classes are run by two dedicated local teachers, Burton and Allamson, and their assistants, Oness and Abigail. The students are split into groups to cater for the different levels in the class. Various topics have been covered in the lessons, and we have even learnt lots from the students – such as how to cook grasshoppers, how to wear a chitenge, and the best way to cook the local dish nsima.

Time is flying by and we are looking forward to seeing the continuing progress of all the students that we work with, as well as picking up more interesting lessons and facts about life in Malawi along the way.

By Laura and Louise

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The RIPPLE Africa Christmas Card is available…

…and they’re selling fast!

The card depicts three of RIPPLE Africa’s environmental projects: fish conservation, fuel-efficient cookstoves, and tree planting & forest conservation and are from an original painted by Faston, a local artist at Mwaya, Malawi.

The greeting inside reads, “With Best Wishes for Christmas and the New Year”.

These are priced at £5 for a pack of 10 plus delivery.

All proceeds from the sale of the cards will help to fund our work in Malawi through our environment, education and health programmes.

Click here to buy yours.

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Charity within a Charity

This blog is written by RIPPLE Africa volunteer, Nikki Luxford

Small community projects can be just as important as the larger scale ones but for different reasons. They may not directly benefit huge numbers of people but for those involved it offers an opportunity to work in a team, giving them focus and also allowing them to be proud of what they do. One such group is the Lowani Ladies Sewing Circle.

The women originally started as a health group with the late Collins (RIPPLE Africa’s Disabilities and Rehabilitation Project Coordinator) before progressing forward to making sanitary pad kits. Access to shop-bought sanitary pads is limited to millions of Malawian women living in rural areas, not only because of their location but because of cost too.

The group have been making the kits, which aim to be affordable to all girls and women, have now carried out market research to find out what their target audience think to the products and are busy organising talks at the secondary school and family planning clinics in order to reach many more women.

 sanitary pads Malawi
An example of the pads in the kits

From the sale of the kits the money is re-invested to buy more materials to make more kits and the small profit is used by these women to help the neediest within their villages – the women don’t earn a penny for themselves.

Creating ideas, creating opportunity

Within the group there are 23 women of varying ages and they were keen to have some new ideas and to start making other hand-made crafts to create a small business – and they’ve really excelled themselves. They were also fortunate to have help from one of RIPPLE Africa’s Trustees Gabrielle who assisted them on fine-tuning their sewing skills.

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Team work

 learning from Gabrielle
Some of the ladies learning from Gabrielle

So now the ladies are not only busy making sanitary pad kits but also a variety of items from purses, Kindle cases, cushion covers, aprons and the pièce de résistance (and my absolute favourite) are the African-material patchwork blankets.

They’re not just blankets but depending on the buyer can be a patchwork picnic blanket, a patchwork bed spread/sofa throw or an actual blanket to keep you warm on a winter’s evening (or day!).

Everything the ladies make is done by hand however they were recently donated a Singer treadle sewing machine from Brian and Janet, a couple who came to visit the project and were thoroughly impressed with the dedication and team work demonstrated by the women. The ladies will still continue to sew much of the items by hand but the sewing machine will come in extremely useful for the finishing of the blankets and other larger items.

patchwork picnic blanket
Busy making a patchwork picnic blanket

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Working away – RIPPLE Africa volunteers/visitors often pop in and lend a hand

There are a number of new items which are currently being designed – plus we have an exciting opportunity coming up in a couple of weeks and there’ll be another post soon showcasing the different products which are available to buy so keep an eye out.

If you’d like to read more about life in rural Malawi, Nikki has posted a number of blogs on her website.

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Theatrical Fish Conservation Presentations

This blog is written by RIPPLE Africa volunteer, Nikki Luxford

Much of the success of RIPPLE Africa is down to the passion and dedication of the staff plus the education and acceptance by local people – especially when it comes to the environmental projects.

When you hear about environmental conservation you probably don’t think about people but RIPPLE Africa’s environmental projects are all about the people: fish conservation, bush fires and deforestation, the Changu Changu Moto fuel-efficient stoves and tree planting all have that one factor in common.

Getting any of these projects to work takes committed and enthusiastic team players to educate people and explain the benefits of said projects and it was the ‘fish-team’ who recently demonstrated such enthusiasm at a fish conservation meeting held in Usisya with around 40 chiefs plus the senior chief, local fishermen and villagers.

Chiefs listening to the Fish Conservation presentation in Malawi
The chiefs listening to the presentation

Force during the Fish Conservation presentation
Force Ngwira during the presentation

Force Ngwira, Environmental Programme Manager gave a brief talk about the problems facing Malawians as fish numbers drop, the difference between the Lake in the 90’s and today as well as how the fishing by-laws to be introduced aim to provide a solution to the problem.

Force Ngwira RIPPLE Africa
Force Ngwira

It’s fair to say the chiefs listened with interest and were keen to adopt the measures in their area of the Lake but there’s nothing better than to make people really remember what the project is about than some theatrics.

For the unsuspecting audience it was understandable they looked slightly shocked as three ‘old’ men staggered into the make-shift stage under the trees, each of them shouting at the other before the crowds realised this was part of the presentation.

'Old' man RIPPLE Africa
One of the ‘old’ men

other 'old' man RIPPLE Africa
The other ‘old’ man

The 15-or-so minute comical performance had everyone sitting up and listening, laughing at all the punchlines and despite not understanding a word of the ChiTonga sketch unfolding before my eyes, even I was convinced and had I been a chief, I would certainly have been ready to spread the measure and start educating the fishermen and communities on how to protect the future of Lake Malawi’s fish.

If you’d like to read more about life in rural Malawi, Nikki has posted a number of blogs on her website.

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Please can we ask for your vote?

We stand a chance of winning €30,000 for our environmental projects – but we need votes!

We have applied for funding from The European Outdoor Conservation Association but we have some competition and it’s all down to votes!

We would be so grateful if you are able to vote for us here. You don’t need to register or leave your email address, just select RIPPLE Africa (scroll to the bottom) and “Cast Your Vote” – it’s that easy!

With the award money, RIPPLE Africa would empower local communities to: – protect breeding sites for endangered fish species by confiscating illegal nets, restricting numbers of fishermen and managing a closed fishing season – reduce deforestation by restricting unlawful tree felling for farming and firewood in Kandoli forest – build 1,000 fuel efficient cookstoves – made of free local materials, burning 60% less wood – plant 20,000 new trees near villages to reduce the need to gather firewood from forests – that’s a lot!

The voting closes on 19th October 2015 at 12pm.

Please feel free to encourage family, friends and colleagues too. If you’re a teacher, perhaps you could pass this on to students and staff. We need all the votes that we can get!

Thank you!

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A wrong turn saves lives and trees in Malawi

We’re really excited that a great article has been published by Deutsche Welle (DW) who are a German International Broadcaster. It tells the story of how RIPPLE Africa was born and the Changu Changu Moto project.

Read the full article here.

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