Today we drove 45 minutes south of Blantyre to the district of Thyolo for a meeting with TAYO, the Thyolo Active Youth Organization. On the way, we passed the country’s tea estates, filled with row upon row of perfectly manicured tea bushes. According to the Fairtrade Foundation, tea has been grown in Malawi since 1891, and Malawi is the second largest producer of tea after Kenya. We spotted pickers throughout the bushes, working tediously in the bright, hot sun.Once we reached the TAYO headquarters, the founders, Willird Mwambo and Titus Chipomba, updated us on the progress of Watering Malawi-funded school bathrooms and borehole wells. Colleen has worked with TAYO since 2009, and it’s obvious why. These guys have left no stone unturned, no question unanswered. They may be a small NGO, but they are smart and strong. They described the issues they face while completing various projects—headmasters demanding money from builders, village chiefs not getting briefed, parents committees and schools not cooperating—as well as the failures of play pumps (as tracked by PBS). They are problem solvers and take on the challenges with determination.
After their presentation, we headed out to see the work with our own eyes, first at the same primary school that Willie and Titus attended as boys. On our way, people waved when we drove by (“We might be popular around here,” they joked). Because of a broken well on the property, the school’s 3,000 or so students spent two long years without access to water. But with Watering Malawi funding, TAYO fixed the well. Hoorah! We did a little pumping ourselves, and even GoGo took it for a spin. The water came out rather easily, but we know these women and children have to do it 5-6 times a day, and then carry the water-filled buckets back home on their heads. (I make a mental note to stop complaining about carrying the laundry basket down a flight of stairs once a week.)We also examined bathrooms in the process of being finished, as well as ones already completed. The finished ones shine with white paint and fresh red bricks, and feature hand-drawn signs that differentiate the boys stalls from the girls. It just happens that nature called while we were at one school, so I snapped a photo for you to see my view. So nice and clean!We also learned the common rule for deciding if a child is ready to start school. Children less than six years of age actually can’t touch their ears when they reach their arms over their head. In a world with few calendars to mark birthdays, this is a practical measuring tool.Tomorrow will be our last day, so we plan to browse the markets and sightsee. It’s truly hard to believe how much we’ve seen, heard, learned, and experienced in a single week!