So the protests didn’t happen. Basically the opposition got cold feet the day before the scheduled day protests and in order to ‘avoid bloodshed’ and ‘foster a dialogue’ they didn’t go through with it. Which solves the immediate problem of country instability, but not the underlying causes of why the dissatisfaction was there to begin with.
In any event, the decision has been made for the team to return to Malawi and for everyone to resume their work in their respective districts. So we’re now back in the country and diffusing out across the country once again.
The retreat was pretty intense. About five solid days of learning about things such as:
- Strategies for providing support to local area mechanics
- Operations and Maintenance financing alternatives for helping local villages pay for water point repairs
- Discussions on providing support to district level governments on such topics as water point mapping, new borehole siting and effective coordination with NGOs surrounding water infrastructure spending
- Reviews and debriefs on the high level work that the team is doing at the national level and in co-ordinating with other NGOs
- All sorts of team building, team culture and team bonding exercises
Not all that exciting to describe, but a really good (and rather unique) way of starting my placement and meeting the entire team right at the beginning.
The Malawi Water and Sanitation team is at the moment one of the largest and highest profile African sector teams that Engineers Without Borders Canada has, and a significant chunk of EWB’s annual budget gets directed towards them, partly because they’re doing pretty well with advancing their understanding of issues in the sector and making progress on them, and partly because water and sanitation lends itself really well to fundraising, so there are a lot of donors out there that are prepared to fund WatSan projects, but perhaps not other sectors (somewhat cynical viewpoint, I know).
The main reason though for the team’s success is the people on the team, which is kind of a microcosm of Engineers Without Borders in general in that many of these people could very easily be making six figure salaries back home in Canada given their skill sets, and yet instead they’re choosing to work for around $15 a day in some of the poorest countries in the world, which I find very inspiring. As a whole I’ve been very impressed by the people on the team thus far, I’m really looking forward to working with all of them over the next four months.
Which brings me to my placement. Details are still being worked out, but what I do know so far is that I’ll be working on the water side of things, as opposed to sanitation, and that my focus will be on working with village level water point mechanics and also working with local level governments and committee to find ways to improve their ability to pay for water point repairs. To relate this back to my ‘About Water and Sanitation’ tab, this is part of the work we’re doing at the local & village level, as opposed to the district or national level.
For the first ten days to two weeks, I’ll be heading up to Nkhata Bay to follow-up and close out on some of the local area mechanic capacity building work that one of the university summer students, John, was working on. As far as districts go, Nkhata Bay is pretty nice. It’s right on the lake and supposedly quite nice and is one of the more touristy areas of Malawi (including SCUBA Diving!). So things are moving forward.
I’ll leave it there for now. Next post to focus on Nkhata Bay and the trials and tribulations of dealing with local area water point mechanics.