Reflective thoughts from our Commercial Director, Paul, following his recent trip to Malawi with the World Duty Free team.
Clean water and good sanitation are both, to mix metaphors, the catalyst & foundations for positive change. But the walls, roof, rooms and so on that make the foundations a place worth living in, is education. One of life’s truisms maybe, but never so true as in Malawi.
So let’s talk education. Things are changing for the good in Malawi. Best of all, the pace of change is increasing.
The idea of simple “aid” (or “aid reliance”), is being transformed into a culture of personal and collective responsibility, through education. As ever, it is the young who are driving this change and what seems like the exception will, over the months and years ahead, become the rule. You cannot help but feel the momentum for change.
Clean water, without a wider sanitation agenda is a poor use of time and money. Unwashed hands do worse than idle work. Product innovation isn’t a term you usually associate with aid work, however, check out the new range of integrated Toilet & Tip Tap hand cleaning facilities, coming to a community near you soon (or so the ad campaign might read in Malawi).
The issue to be addressed is changing the cultural view that unmanaged defecation and unclean hands is broadly OK. The current solution is to dig deep pits, cover with a concrete “plate” (housing it all in a small building) and finally install the ingenious Tip Tap device to encourage hand washing. This set-up will keep a family of 6 self sufficient for 2 to 3 years. After the pit is full, you simply dig another pit, whip off the concrete “plate” & start again. Best of all, what is left in the old pit can then be used as fertiliser.
Wood is really important in Malawi. It fires pretty much everything, from the bricks used to construct homes, to the fuel to cook with – so much so, that the vast forests of the past, have been reduced to less than 30% of their original coverage and are depleting at a rate of 1% per year. By 2050 it will be game over; no wood, limited wind power, no waves (being landlocked)…can solar deliver it all? The current plan is to open a second hydroelectric dam, but increasingly drier rainy seasons are a cause for concern. The other plan is to build a new coal powered power station. Really? In 2018?
In response to this, our partners on the ground have developed a Malawian answer to the Aga; a simple, cheap and easy-to-build oven that cooks twice as much, at twice the heat, using half the amount of wood. In addition, there is a major tree replanting scheme in progress, driven through schools, to ensure the 2050 nightmare turns into a 2050 dream. The scheme is owned by today’s children who, by then, will be in their forties. They will be part of a generation that delivered Mission Impossible – a whole generation of Malawian Tom Cruises.
What is great about the Tip Tap devices and oven solutions, is that they are beginning to create peer to peer pressure. I can clearly picture a Malawian wife berating her husband for not having the latest “gadgets”. These are Malawian solutions, owned by Malawians, for the benefit of all.
Whilst sitting at the tiny, excruciatingly humid airport at Blantyre waiting for the plane to Johannesburg was the perfect environment to consider water. Water really is life. It is therefore unsurprising that one of the UN’s Global Goals for 2030 is ensure “availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”.
But this will only come from long term, sustainable support through education. In an environment where daily subsistence largely overrides long term planning, it is the only way to change attitudes.
Short term aid, with longer term planning, will deliver the benefits that are already so visible.
We met only a few of the many new visionaries during our trip, all of whom are transforming the world of water and sanitation in Malawi, as well as delivering across a much wider range of needs. I have no doubt there are many more. As you can see in the photos, Malawi is a beautiful country, where we all received the most amazing welcome at every occasion. It’s not hard to see why they call it “the warm heart of Africa”.
I will be back in the years to come to see how the work we saw last week is rolled out, changing more lives – forever. So a final, huge, thank you to World Duty Free who, over the years, have been such fantastic partners in helping drive this change. A bottle of One Water sold in one of your World Duty Free outlets makes such a tangible difference. If you haven’t been to Malawi, you will never really know the positive effect you have. Just ask your colleagues: Terri, Carol, Dan, Nick, and Lorraine. And take one more look at the lives you’ve changed.