Happy New Year – What’s In Store For 2013?

As the title of this blog post suggests, we’d like to wish all our friends a very happy New Year. Last year was a fantastic year for Thirsty Planet and we accomplished many of our goals with the support of our partners and most importantly, everyone who bought Thirsty Planet water. It’s so easy to take drinking clean, safe water for granted but the magnitude of the work Pump Aid are doing in Malawi is truly astonishing and we’re very proud to be contributing to their inspirational and lifesaving achievements.

Malawi Visit Recap

Through working closely with the Pump Aid team we’ve always been regularly updated with photos and videos showing the changes being made to community’s throughout Malawi. However, in 2012 we were fortunate to visit Malawi and meet up with the Pump Aid Malawi team to see their invaluable work first hand.

If you’ve been following our blog you‘ll have seen the four part series that covers the week that we were there (Malawi Blog Link), along with Thirsty Planet partners from Thomson Airlines. The wonderful memories of seeing children’s lives transformed by clean water and improved sanitation and the impact on communities who are now able to grow their own crops will certainly stay with us for a long time. It also brought home the severity of the situation and yet how quickly and simply we can make an enormous difference. Without the help of organisations such as Pump Aid and without our continued support lives remain at risk through disease and health problems caused by dirty, unsafe drinking water.

Let’s Make 2013 Even Better

For those of you who regularly drink Thirsty Planet water and who follow us on Face Book and Twitter, you’ll have seen that we’ve recently rebranded our Thirsty planet water with a new label design – We hope you like it! You can be sure that it’s the same pure spring water inside the bottle, and most importantly a fixed, guaranteed donation is paid to Pump Aid with every purchase. We’ll also be working very hard to generate as much noise as possible this year to get more people drinking our water and raising contributions for Pump Aid, so please help us by sharing our messages either via Facebook, Twitter or of course by word of mouth.

Our Facebook Page
Our Twitter Page

Throughout 2013 we will be working closely with our supporters to raise awareness of Thirsty Planet and  post regular updates on their success. Don’t forget that If you’re organising or taking part in an event please continue to support Thirsty Planet, either by drinking Thirsty Planet water whilst, providing our water at a local event or championing Thirsty Planet in your school or workplace. –Whatever you’re doing,  please let us know, we’d love to share your pictures and news.

Until our next blog we hope your New Year’s resolutions are going well (especially if your resolution is to drink Thirsty Planet!)

Thirsty Planet Malawi Visit – Day 4 – Our Last Day

It’s hard to believe that today will be our last day in Malawi. With meeting so many fantastic and inspiring people, seeing so many beautiful villages and of course witnessing the life changing support that Pump Aid are providing to the communities with our help, the week has gone by incredibly quickly. However, although it’s our last day, today promises to be one of the most special as we’ll actually be helping the Pump Aid team and a local community install a brand new Elephant Pump.

We gathered together at the front of our hostel in Mchinji and Gift our driver soon arrived to pick us up. Mishek and Seka from the Malawi Pump Aid team where already on board the mini bus and we set off for Kasungu, the District where the villiage is where the new Elephant Pump is going to be built. Located 80 miles from Mchinji, the drive took around 2 hours and although the road was very bumpy in parts, it gave Misheck the opportunity to explain exactly how we’d be assisting the villages in assembling their new Elephant Pump.

In fact, some of the work would already have been completed by the community, supervised by their self-appointed Water Point Committee (see our previous blog post). The well will already be dug and the community have made the bricks to line the well locally, ready for the Pump Aid team’s arrival. It would be our job to help finish the pump and to watch the Pump Aid team complete the more complex elements.  Importantly Pump Aid also shows the Water Point Committee how to maintain their precious new, safe water source.

As we approached the village we could see some of the local children waving and running back to the village to spread the news of our arrival and as we pull up and departed the mini bus, women from the village greeted us with traditional dancing and singing. This event was clearly something big that the community was very grateful for.
We met up with other members of the Pump Aid team already on-site and involved, helping the Water Point Committee. They were busy preparing the pump handle, rope and mechanics that will sit inside the well. There was an atmosphere of excitement and it felt like the whole community had come to watch the Elephant Pump being constructed.
Although the Elephant Pump was starting to take shape there was still much to be done. Women from the village where busy bringing water from the old well to the new well site, so that cement could be mixed for the construction of the pump and the men from the village where busy laying out a spill way with bricks and a second deep hole that will be used as a ‘soak pit’ to drain the excess, waste water.

It was our job to help assemble the top of the well which stands above ground and that forms the base on which the Elephant Pump will be constructed. We all quickly got involved, taking it in turns to lay the locally made bricks, ready for their cement covering. Knowing that we’d had even a small hand in building the well was incredibly rewarding.
While the team continued to set up the Elephant Pumps internal workings the boys in the village put on a display for us.  Many of the boys were wearing traditional costume and the community explained that the display was show gratitude and celebration for the new Elephant Pump – It was certainly very impressive to watch.

With the Elephant Pump now completely assembled all that was left was for the concrete covering to be finished and this meant that we could witness the all-important first test, and see the first clean water to be brought up from this new well. With everyone gathered around the Elephant Pump, a bucket was placed under the trunk like spout and a woman from the village slowly began to turn the handle. I’m not sure we expected it to work so perfectly first time, but within seconds a consistent flow of crystal clear water began to fill the bucket. As you can imagine there was a huge cheer and the ladies from the village accompanied by the chief, again erupted into jubilant song.

Once the excitement settled the men in the village helped the Pump Aid team to cover the exposed bricks with cement. With the cement needing time to dry it gave us the perfect opportunity for the chief to take us to the old well, to show us just how significant the change would be for her village. What we thought would be a short walk soon turned in to a considerable trip and with the hot sun relentlessly beating down on us, the reality of this journey sank in. Women from the village would have to make this journey many times a day and of course carrying heavy buckets of water back to the village with them.
When we arrived at the old well site the chief showed us that there were in fact two old wells, but neither was covered and they were exposed to the elements, the water certainly looked un-safe and cloudy. One of the local women in our group showed us that even the bucket they used had been damaged and leaked much of the water as it was lifted from the well.
With so much still to fit into our last day we decided that we should head back into the village, to see the pump finished and to say our sad good byes. Two of our group decided that they would try and carry water back from the old well in the traditional style, on top of their heads. While they did make it back to the village with most of the water, they both looked exhausted. The chief provided us a lunch of goat meat, nsima and pumpkin leaves and we sat down to eat and got a very welcome rest.

After lunch we took the opportunity to take a few final pictures of us all together around the brand new Elephant Pump, and left the community some gifts that we’d brought with us. We then once again boarded our mini bus and waved farewell. Seeing how much the villagers appreciated our support and how the chief was looking forward to both her community and also people stopping at her village having clean safe water available will always be a very special memory. Amazing how much we take this for granted.
The next stops we had planned for the afternoon included visiting two more villages on our way back to Lilongwe. Both the villages had Elephant Pumps already in place and the first village on our stop was Mphedzenga. Like the other villages we visited, we were welcomed by the community and they were more than happy to tell us how much the fresh water had benefited their whole village. With only a short stay in Mphedzenga we left to visit Chibweza. While in Chibweza we met with a local health official who was happy to say that illness had been greatly reduced since the installation of the village Elephant Pump and went on to say just how big a difference the Elephant Pumps where making to communities all across the District.

When we finally arrived back in Lilongwe that evening a few of us discussed the week and many of us agreed that seeing the Elephant Pump being installed in Kachiteys was certainly one of the most special events we’d seen.
This being our last night in Malawi before our flights in the morning it gave us time to reflect on how fantastic it was to see first-hand the work that Pump Aid are doing, but also how much of it wouldn’t be possible without the on-going help and support of Thirsty Planet and the other Pump Aid partners.

Thirsty Planet Malawi Visit – Day 3

We awoke early to the unfamiliar sounds of goats bleating and chickens clucking and stepping out of the hut, the hot sun was coming up, already looking very large in the sky. After a simple but welcome wash and freshen up we met up with the other members of the team who had stayed at the chief’s sister’s house. We sat together and enjoyed a traditional Malawi breakfast of sweet potato, peanuts and banana before getting ready to visit the school again.

When we arrived at the school the classes where already taking place. With approximately 50 children the day is broken up into three main lessons. However, with limited classroom space many of the younger children have to sit classes outside. The situation of space isn’t the only issue, stationery supplies are incredibly low and without paper and pens many of the children have to draw and write directly onto the sandy floor. Other items such as calculators which many school children here in the UK take for granted are substituted with simple homemade abacuses. Regardless of these challenges the teachers were professional and really motivated the children, inspiring them to ask questions and they all looked incredibly happy. We were also allowed to have a go at teaching, which isn’t as easy as the school teachers made it look!

After saying our goodbyes to the school children we returned to the mini-bus and prepared to leave Katutula and travel on to the villages Sankhani and Isaac to see more of the fantastic work Pump Aid is doing in these communities. However, shortly after leaving Katutula we found ourselves stuck in the deep soft sand at the side of the dirt road. Gift, our driver tried to dig the mini buss out, but even with his expertise the bus was too deep to free it alone. Considering we were a little way out from the village, it was amazing to see just how quickly the local people came to our aid, appearing as if from know where from paths hidden amongst the trees. With their help we soon had the mini bus out of the sand trap and we were back on our way to Sankhani.

Despite the minor setback with the bus, the journey to Sankhani only took around ten minutes and the drive gave us the opportunity to see more of the beautiful landscape.  When we arrived we were greeted by the Water Point Committee and many of the local community. The Water Point Committee is a group of villagers selected to look after the upkeep of their Elephant Pump, maintain it and carry out minor repairs. The committee members are chosen by the community, again helping to give them a true sense of ownership and responsibility.

Sankhani comprises of around 15 huts and has a population of 89 and those that were available to speak with us where keen to show us their Elephant Pump.  The Elephant Pump in Sankhani was completed on the 5th October last year and has been pivotal in making sure that the community have access to safe, clean water. Another additional benefit that the Elephant Pump offers is that the villagers are able to use the excess waste water from the spillway, to water their locally grown crops. The Water Point Committee showed us how their Elephant Pump worked and even took the concrete lid off so we could see inside the well.  After spending a little more time learning about how they use their Elephant Pump we realised that with so much planned for the day we’d sadly have to move on.

Our next stop was Isaac and like Sankhani, the community was incredibly welcoming. We were shown the village’s Elephant Pump and again it was moving to see just how much access to clean water had changed their lives and how grateful and proud they are.

After leaving Isaac it was on to our final visit of the day – Another school located in a village called Kholoni. The school has benefited from Pump Aid’s 2012 Schools project, and Pump Aid have ensured proper sanitation has been put in place. Compared to the school we saw in Katutula, Kholoni School is much bigger; it has over 1,300 pupils and 11 teachers. However, for such a large school there where only 8 toilets, which was leading to poor hygiene conditions, which in turn lead to illness. With new blocks of Elephant Toilets installed, both the children and teachers can enjoy proper sanitation and promote better hygiene, helping to eliminate life threatening illness.

After a long day visiting the different villages we returned to Mchniji and our driver Gift dropped us back at our hostel. With so many different impressions in such a short amount of time the week was soon drawing to an end, with tomorrow being our last full day!

In addition to hot showers, another welcome surprise was also waiting for us at our hostel; the missing bags! Marie was delighted that her bag had arrived with the items ready to be donated to the animal sanctuary. With a warm shower and early night planned, tomorrow promises to be another day not to forget.

Thirsty Planet Malawi Visit – Day 2

With our first night in Africa behind us, we all grouped together again over an early breakfast and made our way to the Pump Aid office, located in Lilongwe. With a trip to Mchinji to visit a local school and community, seeing our first Elephant Pump and the chance to meet some of Pump Aid team on the agenda the drive to the office seemed to take no time at all.

When we arrived at the office we were greeted by Misheck Vwemu, Seka Phiri and John Kandulu. Peter from Pump Aid quickly introduced us all and then our mini bus arrived ready to take us to our first destination – a concrete workshop in Mchinji where the elephant pump components are created. Making an Elephant Pump

It was only a short journey to the concrete workshop and our bus driver Gift had obviously done the route many times before. Even though there were eight of us in the mini bus our journey went quickly, with us taking every opportunity to wave at passers-by.

We arrived at the concrete workshop, which was a large open fronted building made available to Pump Aid by the District Authorities, on their grounds. Inside Misheck and Seka explained how each of the components were made, showing us how everything from the pump casing through to the rope guide had to be fashioned. They also explained that concrete made the ideal building material, as it can be moulded and set into durable shapes, at relative low cost.  It was interesting to learn that while many of the components are prefabricated here, the actual village communities receiving the pump manufacture the bricks, for the well-linings. They also collect river sand and contribute allot to the project. This is not only practical, but gives the communities an increased sense of ownership. Seka and Misheck highlighted the need to build and install pumps during the dry season which is between April and October, as the rainy season can make travelling to the more remote locations impossible and digging in saturated soil makes the work too dangerous.

After spending a little more time at the concrete workshop we again boarded the mini bus, this time heading to a school located in a village called Katutula, which is in the district of Mchinji. The journey took just over 2 hours and much of the road was dirt road and incredibly bumpy.

As I mentioned in the previous blog post, I was a little nervous to see the reaction of the local village communities. However, any apprehension about the welcome we’d receive quickly vanished.

We arrived at the school and upon leaving the bus we were quickly surrounded by friendly smiling faces, and it seemed that the whole village had come out to greet us.  The village chief was there, the school’s headmaster and of course many of the school children, who had especially stayed behind after school to welcome us. We introduced ourselves and then it was the children’s turn. Each of the children told us their name and they were so delighted to tell us about their Elephant Pump.

We were shown the Elephant Pump that had been installed by Pump Aid and were told that before it was installed they’d had to walk many miles for water that was often unclean and led to many of the villagers becoming sick.

We were allowed to operate the pump ourselves and it was moving to see fresh, clean water flow out, sourced from deep underground.

After the children had finished introducing themselves to us it was beginning to get late and we all walked into the centre of the village, where we would be spending the night. The village chief was incredibly proud to show us all his home, which was a simple brick building with a corrugated iron roof. Inside the hut there were a mats made from bamboo to sleep on. Obviously there was no electricity or any appliances at all! The chief introduced us to his family and it was decided that some of us would stay at the chief’s house and some stay at his sister’s home.

The idea of sleeping somewhere so simple was a little daunting, but with the generosity shown by the chief and his family we were more than happy to make up makeshift beds from the pillows, mosquito nets and sleeping bags that we’d brought with us. Once everything was in place we had a traditional Katutula dinner. In Malawi, food is normally eaten with your hands, the idea of which took a little getting used to. We ate a simple dinner of chicken and nsima, which is a type of maize.

After dinner we settled in for an evening of dancing and it was incredibly rewarding to see the children all so happy and healthy. We joined in with some of the traditional dances and then it was our turn to show off! After a quick chat amongst ourselves we chose the ‘hokey cokey’ and before long the whole village had joined in. As the evening drew late we decided to turn in.  One thing I wasn’t prepared for was just how dark the village was after the fires had been extinguished. Looking at the sky I’d never seen so many stars and you could even see the white dots that made up the milky way.  Impressive!

The night time was incredibly hot and made more uncomfortable by the need to wear a mosquito net to protect against mosquitoes carrying malaria, which is common throughout Malawi. With such a busy evening it didn’t take too long to fall asleep wondering what new experiences tomorrow would bring…..

Thirsty Planet Malawi Visit – Day 1

Setting off

It might be fair to say that the magnitude of the Malawi trip only really started to sink in whilst travelling along the overcast motorway, on the way to Manchester airport.  Concentrating as lorries thundered past, throwing up spray from the road, a mixture of both nervousness and excitement settled in. Arriving at the airport at around 3 o’clock meant there would be time to meet up with the other members of our Malawi party, before setting off for our connection flight in Amsterdam at 17:00 and then it would be on to Nairobi, Africa.

At the Airport I was met by Peter Boonman from Pump Aid, Carmel from Juice works and both Ozma and Marie Nichols from Thomson Airlines.  Marie is a senior flight attendant with Thomson and through her hard work developing charitable brands within the organisation was offered a place on this great opportunity.

As we waited for our flight we began to discuss our expectations for the visit. What would the places we’re visiting be like, would the people be welcoming? The 2 hours waiting time quickly disappeared and the call for boarding echoed out through the terminals PA system. We boarded the plane.

With a short flight to Holland, we changed planes at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and boarded the second plane to Nairobi. Being a night time flight the view from the planes window was limited to the wing. However, the flight was good and we touched down in Africa for the first time at Nairobi Airport.

Although it was dark you could certainly get a sense of the heat. After only a short change over stay we boarded our plane to our final destination: Lilongwe, Malawi. As we flew above the African landscape the wait for sunrise certainly felt like forever. However, the wait was certainly worth it. If you’ve never been to Africa before it can be quite a surprise. Sure, many of us have seen documentaries about different parts of the continent, but seeing the outstretching deep red sands, the interspersed trees and limited vegetation and all offset against the deep, rich blue sky, will be something I’ll never forget.

Touchdown

As the plane touched down, we quickly gathered our belongings and left the air conditioned cabin behind. As you might imagine, the first thing that hits you from the planes doorway is the hot, dry African sun, relentlessly beating down.

We made our way inside and awaited our luggage.  Two of our bags soon arrived but as we waited it became clear that there was a problem: two of the bags hadn’t left Amsterdam airport during the hurried transfer.  It wasn’t so bad, but Marie was disappointed as she had items that were going to be given to the animal sanctuary that we were set to visit later in the day. After a short wait we were picked up from the airport by mini bus and taken to our accommodation, a simple hostel in Lilongwe.

With so much travel our day’s itinerary had  only one main visit scheduled and that was to the Lilongwe wildlife sanctuary to meet Bella, a lion that had been rescued from poor conditions in a Romanian Zoo by the organisation Born Free.

Thankfully Born Free, a charity supported by Thomson Airlines, ensures that neglected wild animals are rescued and rehabilitated. Seeing before and after pictures quickly brought home the difference Born Free make and it was wonderful for Marie to see Bella so close.

After the Lilongwe wildlife sanctuary we returned back to our hostel and visited a local eatery where we were able to relax after the long day and talk about just some of the things we’d already seen.

Although we hadn’t seen the work we’re supporting through Pump Aid yet, the first day was certainly an experience. Seeing a totally new and beautiful landscape, meeting local people at the sanctuary and of course seeing how happy Marie from Thomson was after meeting Bella will stay with me for a very long time.

With a visit to a local school, meeting the local community using the Pump Aid pumps and sanitation not to mentioned seeing how the elephant pumps are made planned for tomorrow a good night’s sleep will certainly be needed.…

 

Thirsty Planet Visit Malawi

As you might imagine, it’s not every week that we get a call through from Pump Aid inviting us to accompany them on a visit to Malawi! To say we were excited would be an understatement.

As all the noise in our office settled down, the magnitude of the week’s visit to Malawi unfolded.  We’d be taking multiple cross country flights, seeing African wildlife and most importantly we’d have the chance to see first-hand the fantastic work we’ve helped Pump Aid do, whilst meeting the people benefiting from clean, lifesaving water.

The trip also gives us the opportunity to further extend the invite to representatives from Thomson Airways and Juiceworks, as it’s important for our retail supporters to see how they’re efforts are again directly saving lives and transforming communities in Malawi.

With so much to see in just one week, here’s just a snap shot of our itinerary.

14th October:

Leave the UK bound for Africa, via first Amsterdam Airport and then onto Nairobi.

15th October:

Leave Nairobi Airport and fly to Lilongwe, Malawi. Pick up from the Airport and travel to our accommodation.

Visit a local wildlife sanctuary.

16th October:

Travel to Mchinji, a small town in Malawi and see the making of the Pump Aid Elephant Pump components.

Visit a local school to meet some of the children benefiting from clean, safe water and learn how it has changed their life.

Spend the evening with the local Mchinji community.

17th October

Visit to another school and meet more of the local community

Visit to a site where an Elephant Pump has been installed

Visit to an area where a well is being prepared

Travel to Mchinji Boma

18th October

Watch an Elephant Pump being installed

Travel to Kasungu to see additional clean water projects

Travel back to Lilongwe

19th October

Prepare to leave Africa and return to the UK.

As you can imagine we’ll be taking lots of pictures and documenting this fantastic experiance at every opportunity, so expect to see additional, detailed blog posts soon.

We’d also like to say thank you for all your help supporting Thirsty Planet and enabling Pump Aid to save lives through clean water projects.

Until next week, wish us well.