-> A little bit of M for Malawi Magic (WAG MALAWI FACEBOOK Video Channel)
Somewhere between April and July 2019 the stars aligned, and over 900 people living close to Thuma Forest Reserve in one of the poorest regions of Malawi saw the benefit of living close
to the forest.
Wildlife Action Group (WAG) is a Malawian conservation NGO, a non-profit responsible for the protection and rehabilitation of two forest reserves, home to important elephant populations,
in Central Malawi. The environment is directly linked to the people's health, and one of our top priorities besides habitat and wildlife protection is to work closely with communities,
developing alternative income activities and improving the lives of those living closest to the protected areas.
Through close consultation with Traditional Authorities we have been able to learn about some of the most pressing needs in villages close to the reserves. Access to clean water and
improved food production were top of that list. Women were spending as much as 6-8 hours every day fetching water, often setting off during the night, and drawing water from the same places
as livestock and wild animals diseases such as cholera are a huge concern.
Enter Marcus Westberg, a professional conservation and humanitarian photographer from Sweden who has been visiting Malawi for years and has many deep, close connections here. Marcus
visited Thuma Forest in April to help us take photos of our rangers, and this is where we discussed the need to find funds for boreholes.
And this is when the magic started.
Marcus has links with a company called Nu Skin Enterprises, whose non-profit Force For Good Foundation (FFG) has been supporting projects in Malawi for over a decade. Marcus has
coordinated FFG fundraising efforts amongst a large group of their European distributors (“One Team Global”) for several years, largely for boreholes, and although he made no promises he
understood our plight and said he would ask if WAG community need could be included as a beneficiary of this year’s fundraising efforts.
Force For Good Foundation (FFG)
By the end of May, the funds had been raised for projects in Malawi through the incredible kindness and generosity of Nu Skin distributors from all over Europe, but it was still unclear
whether WAG communities would receive the necessary funding for three boreholes. However, when Ben Chingwalu, Director of Nu Skin’s agricultural outreach program, SAFI Extension - SAFI
stands for School of Agriculture for Family Independence - which is a major beneficiary of FFG funds was consulted, he along with Goodwell Banda, Director of the main SAFI campus, and with
the support of Stephen Hunsaker and Veronica Jensen from Nu Skin, agreed to use some of the funding raised by the European distributors to construct the three boreholes, but to also include
those communities in the SAFI Extension program - which would also train and set up nearly 200 families in gardening, crop production and animal husbandry over the course of a year! Not
only did Ben recognize the need of these communities, he was also very excited to, for the first time, combine these humanitarian efforts with a conservation project, involving FFG in the
protection of Malawi’s natural habitats and wildlife.
SAFI - School of Agriculture for Family
The dream was about to become a reality.
In June, Ben and his team came to make field visits together with Stephen, visiting from the US.
By July, the boreholes were already drilled and agricultural training had begun. Normally the boreholes are only constructed at the end of the training as a reward if the communities
fully commit, but WAG and Marcus requested that an exception be made, and recognizing that the agricultural training would be impossible without access to water Ben very kindly agreed to
put them in right away, even before the money had been received.
Through SAFI Extension, the families:
- learn to create fertilizer and compost manure, leading to increased crop yields;
- are provided with the material to build their own vegetable gardens and taught methods of rotating the crops to ensure continuous production, meaning that they don’t have to spend
money on vegetables and can even sell the surplus production;
- learn about drip irrigation, nutrition and sanitation (hand washing devices), as well as building more fuel-efficient stoves; and
- learn to raise rabbits and chickens, both as a source of protein and to sell.
The whole thing is done with the understanding that the families must “pay it forward” by sharing both knowledge and supplies with their neighbors as they become more
The grand finale was when we received visits from some of the actual donors, mainly from Sweden, led by Marcus and Ben, including for the inauguration of one of the boreholes in early
August. There was dancing and singing by all, and much emotion from both sides. The feeling of joy and pride was unbelievable: one 60 year old woman, Mama Kadula, told us how this was the
first time in her entire life that she had tasted clean water (!), and one of the chiefs told us that in the one month since the installation of the borehole, the diarrhea almost everyone
had been suffering from was virtually gone. Others told us how with amazement that already within a few months they would no longer have to walk 15km in each direction to buy vegetables at
the market, something they had never believed would be possible, and that the money saved would be used to pay for school fees and uniforms for their children.
Although Marcus had been asked to cut the ribbon of the borehole as a thank you for making all this possible, he unexpectedly passed this honor to Mama Kadula and the Group Village
Headman, which was much appreciated by the hundreds of people who were there to partake in the celebrations.
We at Wildlife Acton Group cannot put into words how grateful we are for these interventions in these extremely poor areas. Not only has this improved the quality of many people's
lives - it is also having a deep, positive impact on the relationship between these protected areas and the surrounding communities, strengthening the protection of wildlife which includes
some of the last remaining escarpment elephants in Africa. We hope that this will be the first of other such innovative interventions around Thuma Forest Reserve.
A huge, huge thank you to everyone who supported these efforts: to Nu Skin, for all the important work you do through FFG in Malawi and for entering into this collaboration with WAG; to
OTG and all the donors in Europe without whose generosity none of this would have been possible; to the entire team at SAFI Extension, but especially to Ben Chingwalu, whose clear vision
and commitment will forever change these communities; and to Marcus Westberg, the man with the heart of gold whose goodness who made all this magic happen.
Zikomo Kambiri (thank you so much) on behalf of the people and elephants of Thuma Forest - please enjoy this video and photos from the inauguration, and feel free to share this post with
anyone who supported these wonderful efforts.