By Ruth Mumba and Grace Moyo
At the turn of 2019, a new virus was making news in China. Before long, the virus had spread across the globe and everyone was required to re-think how they conducted their day to day activities. People were losing their lives; businesses were closing and scaling done in a bid to slow down the spread of the virus.
Abundance has three major projects that were running as of January 2020, The GlobalGiving E-learning Centre, the rice/ maize mill under World Connect and the Energy project under the Climate Justice Innovation Fund. As we observed the news every day, we knew that we had to find a way to continue our work while keeping safe.
On 20 March 2020, the government of Malawi declared a state of emergency. The government, companies and NGOs started encouraging employees to work from home, practice social distancing, wash hands and sanitize surfaces as often as possible to avoid contracting and spreading the coronavirus.
As a response to the pandemic, we initiated a mask making project that would see facemasks being donated to the local health centre in Mbando Village, T/A Mposa. This provided a simple solution to address the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) that the health care system is grappling with. We also donated a hand washing bucket to an under five clinic and in the process of giving more of these handwashing units. Furthermore, we gave out masks to all the youth working in our projects.
Our largest project, is the “Development of sustainable clean cooking facilities to boost resilience to climate change in Malawi”. This project aims to help address deforestation in southern Malawi (Machinga) through delivering a sustainable biofuel production (biogas and biosyngas) and utilisation unit for clean and efficient cooking, manufacturing and maintaining the bioenergy kit in Malawi and attracting attention from local business. With a total funding of £122,583, the Bioenergy project, funded by Scottish Government Climate Justice Innovation Fund, gave Abundance the opportunity to work with partner organizations University of Glasgow, Fab Engineering, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Malawi did not impose a lockdown under COVID-19, but we kept indoors as much as possible and avoided meeting our Community Coordinator unless absolutely necessary. We sent him funds to purchase equipment as part of the project using mobile money. Most helpful was the purchase of two smartphones for the Community Coordinator and Administrator, which allowed us to ease communication with them. This project will pilot an innovative bioenergy cooker using biogas and biosyngas technology at Chilimba Primary School at Mbando village. We have reduced travelling to the community unless absolutely necessary. Instead, we have maximised on technology. We have used internet platforms to conduct trainings and hold meetings. We had an online training on “safeguarding” and are currently developing instructional videos for waste collectors to participate in this waste to energy project. Thinking out of the box, utilising our networks and trying out innovative approaches are the only way we can work under these times of COVID-19.
The University of Glasgow’s project on “Sustainable Clean Cooking Facilities to boost resilience to climate change in Malawi” was amongst three out of over 30 applications that were funded by the Scottish Government’s Climate Justice Innovation Fund (CJIF) in 2019. This fund supports the delivery of climate justice related projects which field test the feasibility of new methods, technologies or approaches in tackling climate change, or trial new innovations on the path to scale.
This bioenergy project aims to help address deforestation in southern Malawi (Machinga) through delivering a sustainable biofuel production (biogas and biosyngas) using organic waste as fuel for clean and efficient cooking. The total funding is £122,583 and the project is implemented by the University of Glasgow (PI Dr. Nader Karimi) with partners in Malawi; Abundance, Fab Engineering, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) and LEAD.
The partnership in this project goes back to 2016, when Dr.Karimi and Dr.Pullanikkatil were connected through Sustainable Futures in Africa network. Between 2017-2018, Dr.Karimi and his colleagues from the University of Glasgow led a Biomass Energy study in partnership with Abundance to understand Malawi’s specific energy issues. Seeing first-hand that people still use the three stone stove, that women walk far distances to collect firewood, the rampant deforestation and that even simple fuel efficient technologies were not widely used in Malawi, moved Dr.Karimi to think of a solution specifically “engineered” for Malawi. Dr.Pullanikkatil undertook a residency at the University of Glasgow in 2018, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which gave her the opportunity to engage further with Karimi and connect him to colleagues in Malawi, who later became partners of this CJIF project.
This project addresses the need for clean energy and contributes towards improving energy security using a novel and innovative technology designed for Malawi. In Malawi only 11% of the population have access to electricity and 98% of people use wood fuel for cooking (a figure that remains unchanged since 2010). Exposure to smoke from cooking has severe negative health impacts and even in urban areas of Malawi, firewood is mainly used in open three-stone fires. The use of firewood and charcoal has contributed significantly to deforestation and the need for cleaner energy sources which are more efficient for cooking is much needed in Malawi. Majority of the clean energy interventions in Malawi focus on using “less” firewood or charcoal, through increasing efficiency of stoves, this project improves on this approach by eliminating firewood altogether as fuel and replacing it with organic waste.
The project responds to the needs of Malawi as articulated by its Government. Regionally, clean and efficient Energy is a priority as noted in the Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s Protocol on Energy, to which Malawi has been a signatory since 1996. Nationally, the overarching development master plan for Malawi is the “Malawi Growth and Development Strategy” or MGDS. The latest MGDS III has ranked Energy as one of its five key priority areas and calls for technologies that can aid rural areas to have affordable, clean and efficient energy. Furthermore, Malawi’s Climate Change Policy and Strategy has acknowledged the need for efficient and clean energy to help Malawi reach its climate action goals.
Using an innovative approach of combining biogas and biosyngas, this project is developing a clean and efficient energy technology that can help Malawians rise the energy ladder and also contribute towards achieving climate action goals. The reason to combine biogas and biosyngas technology is due to Malawi’s unique climate; a hot and rainy season from mid-November to April and a relatively cool and dry season from mid-May to mid-August. During the wet season, plenty of wet organic waste will be available, while in the dry season, it will be dry organic waste. A technology that can only work with wet biomass/organic matter will not be suitable for the dry season and vice versa; hence this innovative combination of biogas and biosyngas. Furthermore, this innovative technology is completely smokeless, which is different from the previously piloted efficient cooking technologies such as fuel-efficient stoves, which reduce smoke, but not completely remove it.
Through this project, a nationwide survey on biomass availability and its combustion properties was done by LUANAR in March 2020. Fab Engineering has assembled the energy plant with designs and instruction from the PI and colleagues from University of Glasgow. Currently, the plant is being tested with various types of waste including cow dung and rice husks, both of which are wastes readily available in the site where the technology will be piloted. The energy plant will be piloted at the kitchen of the Chilimba Primary school at Mbando village, where Abundance has been working since 2016. Abundance has set up a youth waste collection team of 10 men and 10 women, who have begun collecting dry and wet wastes at Mbando village. They have been able to find rice husks from a nearby rice mill, sugarcane waste and cowdung from smallholder farms within the village.
The piloting was scheduled to be undertaken in September 2020, but will be guided by COVID-19 restrictions. COVID-19 has challenged the project team to carry out the scheduled work with fewer physical contacts with Mbando villagers. So far progress has been made through transfer of funds to its Community Coordinator using mobile money, to purchase equipment for waste collection and hold meetings at the village with social distancing. Malawi has not imposed a lockdown; however, cases of infections are increasing. Therefore, the team has shared masks and cleaning materials with Mbando village and purchased a smartphone to ease communication for the Community Coordinator. The team is monitoring the COVID-19 situation closely. Work will be planned avoiding risks to the team.
It is already well reflected in the open literature that extensive use of firewood and charcoal has led to massive deforestation and significant health issues in Malawi. Further, when Dr.Karimi travelled to Malawi in February 2018 and visited a few rural areas and spoke to the chief of three villages, they all asserted that they would strongly support changes in fuel supply. This project aims to address the deforestation problem using organic waste in an innovative cooker instead of firewood or charcoal. The technology will be used for cooking mid-day meals at Chilimba Primary school. This will support 250 children in Mbando village school, who are from poor households. The users of the technology are mothers and teachers from Mbando village. These users will be interviewed to improve the technology design and a reengineered design will be made that addresses their concerns. This way, the design is informed by local knowledge. After completion of the project, the system stays in the school and will be a permanent asset for the Mbando community. The project results will be widely disseminated through networks such as the SFA. The project will end in March 2021.
While a complete lockdown has not happened in Malawi, many people are working from home including Ruth Mumba and our Administrator Grace Moyo. During this time, we have been able to mobilise a few volunteers to start making masks out of cloth. These colourful masks, we hope to share freely with those who request for it. At Mbando village, it is possible to make masks, as we have already trained over 80 girls/women during a training on reusable sanitary pad making.
All those who were trained were given small sewing kits to take home with them. Furthermore, we trained a youth, Maria in sewing at a vocational training center in Zomba for six months. After the training, we gifted her a sewing machine.
Maria and others at the village are keen to start producing masks, if we can give them a small fund to purchase fabric, thread and needles. The funds can be transferred through mobile money, thereby avoiding any travel to the village by Abundance staff. There are local markets that the women can access to purchase these items and start producing masks.
Another important message we have been hearing as part of COVID-19 is to wash our hands! This reminded us of the mothers at Mbando village. A group of women from the Mother's GrouP had approached us previously with a desire to make soaps at home using locally available materials such as oils, lard, cornmeal, salt and caustic soda. They learnt the recipe from the learning resources provided at our eLearning Center, which we built using crowdfunding through Global Giving. This might be a chance to support this venture as well. Infact, it is a sustainable project even after COVID-19 , providing income to the women. Fort starters during this pandemic we could support the women to make soaps and distribute freely in the village.
If you are interested to support these ideas, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Chikondi Andrew Kamvazakazi
I will never forget that overwhelming feeling of joy and accomplishment that my team and I felt as we were launching an E-learning center at Chirimba secondary school in Mbando village. I have been a volunteer for Abundance close to a year now and the journey thus far has been a mixture of rich learning experiences. From being an online volunteer, I got appointed as an acting secretary for Abundance. I have learned through this experience in particular that helping others can be just as rewarding for the individuals receiving the services as those per forming it.
My visit at Mbando village was worthwhile experience, that will remain in my memory forever. The community were very friendly and supportive especially our host family was incredible and made our stay comfortable. From interacting with youth that are benefiting with an E-learning center, the experience with them was very enriching and full of learning. I was so inspired seen how youth have been empowered by learning through videos on best agriculture practices and applying them in their gardens. The have learnt how to make soap and re-usable sanitary pads that they can sell at a local market. Through a discussion on climate change and access to information that I facilitated, I realized the potential that these young group have in as far as solving of social-ecological problems in their community is concerned.
I experienced Malawi’s hospitality for one month and a half, welcomed warmly by Abundance, for my volunteering adventure.
When I left France to Malawi, I was aware I had very little volunteering experience. Especially because I combined my volunteering with tourism, spreading my time between volunteering at Mbando village and travelling around Malawi. I had to find the right balance between both, and thank to all the people from Abundance, I succeeded!
Abundance worldwide is a non profit organisation started in 2016 thank to the dream of Deepa Pullanikkatil. It’s a friendly team of colleagues and friends who came together to improve the way of life of a village called Mbando.
All the people in Abundance are volunteers so are not paid for their work. They all come from different background and careers. It’s a team which grows and grows as the team meets more and more people, because everybody wants to be in the team at the end ;)
The financial aids come from friend’s donations or also come from the own pocket of abundance team. I was the first international volunteer to knock at the door of Abundance. Several projects emerged since then.
When I came to volunteer, we were finalizing the e-learning center project. This project was set up at a Secondary School at Mbando with eight laptops, solar power, an offline server with learning resources and 150 keepod devices for 150 users.
I like the way every project from Abundance is thinking. They have a long term vision and don’t just give without thinking. The goal is to above all, give responsibilities to the people from the village to empower themselves, and encourage them to follow the projects till the end. It is a true empowerment process. The importance of sustainability is what I feel so interesting in this NGO.
My stay in Malawi with Abundance :
When I arrived at the airport, I was welcomes by Stewart Paul, one of the members of the team. Then I get to Zomba, Ruth Mumba drove me everywhere like a real gentle mother. I thank her from the bottom of my heart for having been so present and attentive to me when I was in Malawi.
Then I went to Mbando village at Moses Phulusa’s place, Moses in Abundance’s Community Coordinator. I was welcomed as a real guest, in the simplicity of their house, and warmly pampered by everyone. I want to thank him and his daughter Tadala, Maria and Benadeta for having been real angels for me. I can still feel the love they shared with me.
Mbando is a village in Machinga District with about 360 families with almost 6 children in each. To get there, there is about 18 km on a rural unpaved road and travelling on this road on the motorbike with Moses was so funny.
I learnt a lot about these people’s life who are all sweethearts ready to love at the first smile. And as I very often smiled, I received lots of love ;)
I went to preschool, doing paper garlands and sharing the classroom time (“I know calendar” song is amazing singing by all those lovely kids).
For the rest of my stay, I participated in all the family’s activities. I was delighted to go farming with Moses to pick beans, tomatoes and cucumber and to go to the river with Maria to do the laundry with all the children playing around. I enjoyed playing with children (hands and songs games, dances), riding the motorbike to see all around the village and say hello to friends and cycling to church
Quickly, I understood that this volunteering experience was not to dispense pure help but just to share moments and speak about our culture differences. I was integrated into the village life in a very tolerant and friendly manner with the community being so proud to welcome me. That can seems nothing to some, but really it meant a lot to me.
When I wasn’t at Mbando village, I hiked Mulanje mountain, which was an incredible experience. I also stayed in Zomba where I was lucky to participate to the event “Run For Reforestation”. It is one of my best memories. A wonderful event where everybody came together: children, adults, people of all colours, local people, expatriates and tourists. I found it so amazing to run for this cause and to see the wide-eyed workers in the forest barefoot carrying wood on the head at the same time that we were running.
My last stay at the village was very intense. I met other people from Abundance : Clifford and Andrew, and also two partners from Glasgow university. They came here to celebrate the new e-learning center at the secondary school, and also, thanks to Mbando chief’s authorisation, to fly a drone around the village to see how big is the forest damage, in order to replant trees in the future.
At night, we were a big group eating and sleeping at Moses place. We were happily sharing this blessed evening all together, and later in the night we sang and danced with the children and Clifford’s guitar. It’s such a nice memory.
Next day, in the morning, the ceremony took place with a member of Government, the teachers, the Chief, Ruth, Moses, Grace, Clifford, Andrew and some children from secondary school. The speeches came together in Chichewa, and I was feeling so lucky and inspiring to be part of this.
I liked the importance given to the world and to the meaning of donation. There was several symbolic acts which were so powerful and beautiful, like dancing to enter the classroom (Kwa George song, of course!), the little play of the youth, to picture of the computers and trees donation. I felt lots of excitement from all those people, and the dynamic is very encouraging for all of us.
To mark the end of my stay here in Mbando and to thanks all the youth, I had an idea to play an intersex football match, in which the girl’s goals were counted as double points. It was lots of smile and fun (and perspiration)! The group picture time arrived soon, and a little rest for all of us, well deserved.
Then I had to say goodbye. I was sad to leave Moses and his family, and all the Mbando community. Unfortunately, France is not close enough to Malawi to come and visit easily each other. That’s a part of the beauty I guess.
I keep an amazing memory of all this adventure and I thank deeply all the people who participated to make this trip so beautiful, powerful, and unforgettable.
The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, which began in 2014, is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) that empowers young people through academic coursework, leadership training, and networking. The Fellowship provides outstanding young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa with the opportunity to hone their skills at a U.S. college or university with support for professional development after they return back to their home countries.
Fellows engage in Academic and Leadership Institutes, meet with U.S. federal, state, and local government officials, participate in community service, visit organizations to gain professional development, and make friendships and professional contacts with Americans. Here Ruth Mumba, Abundance Malawi's Director describes her journey.
By Ruth Mumba, Director, Abundance, Malawi
I read somewhere, “Volunteers are love personified”. I think that phrase truly defines what volunteering is. It’s a service beyond self. A journey that cannot be summed up in financial terms but with immeasurable returns. My volunteering journey led me to be part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship 2019.
Someone once said, “Life is a series of thousands of tiny miracles. Pay attention to them.”
Sharing with you all three little miracles that recently helped Abundance scale up its activities (without any additional funding).
This blog post is by Samuel Diekert (edited by Bobita Subhir) on Samuel's visit to Mbando Village where Abundance works and Sam launched a library at the village during his visit......
This blog narrated by Deepa Pullanikkatil, talks about her meeting with Andrew Khonje in a Malawian Airlines flight in early May 2016. The discussions between the two during the 2.5hr flight lead to something good for Mbonda village, the village in southern Malawi adopted by Abundance for helping communities improve well-being and nurture nature.
Reflections and Blogposts by Abundance members and friends
The blog posts here are a collection of reflections by people who have supported Abundance,or visited Mbando village where we work.