In the spring of 2005, John and Mary Coyne arrived in Northern Malawi and found out that the task of carrying water from streams to villages was a daily job that mainly fell on women and girls. They had to trek for miles, and the water they collected was often not safe for human consumption.
Realizing this, the couple returned to Ireland and told their children that they would be using their family's wealth to attempt to improve the situation in this landlocked, sliver-shaped nation, which was one of the poorest in the world. Wells for Zoe, a company that produces plastic water pumps for communities to operate and maintain on their own, was the outcome. Via hand-dug wells, the pumps make it simple to acquire clean drinking water. One pump can supply up to 500 people with clean water for life.
Kestina Mphande, the team leader of an erosion control team in the Mfune region of Northern Malawi, says she joined Wells for Zoe to address issues she was having at home, such as a lack of food and paying for her younger sister's schooling.
Almost five years ago, Wells for Zoe realized that rehabilitating the nearby hills and fields could help it in its effort to supply water to the area. "As distant as planting trees is from the idea of distributing water, it's essentially an extension of the original goal, which is the empowering of women [so that they may] spend less time on the road carrying stuff," claims Kevin Dalferth, the organization's chief technical officer.
People are now going a greater distance for firewood because of the extensive deforestation that has occurred over the past 15 or 20 years, the man said. To make it simpler for people to access their own firewood that has been responsibly grown, we aim to restore those environments.
In addition to planting trees, Wells for Zoe also works to prevent soil erosion, which occurs when the top layer of soil is washed away by torrential rains or unreported deforestation for the production of charcoal. With less money in a farmer's pocket, soil erosion becomes a significant issue as it can impair soil fertility and crop production. Cheap farmland is typically located on steep hills that are more difficult to operate and more prone to the potentially fatal mudslides that happen with severe rainfall, for example.
Wells for Zoe is assisting to mitigate this effect by giving the neighborhood's residents jobs in reforestation. In addition to halting the process that is causing erosion to worsen, Dalferth says that erosion management can significantly raise soil quality. Groundwater, the source of clean water that the Wells for Zoe pumps supply to nearby farms, might be depleted by erosion as well.
By 2025, the organization, which is supported by Conservation International and the World Resources Institute, hopes to restore 100 million trees worldwide. Using the coalition's stringent monitoring mechanism, each of those trees will be followed for the following five years to make sure they develop into strong, tall trees.
By design, residents have been at the vanguard of these initiatives since before Priceless Planet: During the 2020–21 planting season, Wells for Zoe employed individuals from communities around the Northern Region to plant a total of 1.7 million indigenous tree seedlings. For people to grow in their own nurseries and close to their own homes, around one million indigenous seeds were also supplied.
Local chief Sitima Nkhambule agrees that the global society has to hold hands and work together to plant trees. "The land has to be repaired. Our land requires the same kind of dress-up that a person would wear a shirt for: trees.”
The initiatives in Malawi have championed this dual impact of planting trees on both local economies and reducing climate change. According to Mphande, "women will no longer struggle in the future in terms of firewood," and they are now able to sustain their family thanks to the direct help they receive from salaries.
Regarding the future, Wells for Zoe is committed to carrying on its coordinated efforts for empowerment and sustainability. This involves giving preschool caregivers, who monitor and feed the small children of the women who work in plant nurseries, information, training, and support, as well as giving caretakers and working women who might otherwise have to stay at home during menstruation homemade, reusable sanitary pads.
In-house, Dalferth says, "we have decided that we will not perform [solely] tree-planting programs, but rather restoration projects with a fully comprehensive approach. It must be community-centered, with female empowerment serving as the catalyst for essentially all other initiatives, because only then can the project be deemed successful.
Safe drinking water accessibility is essential in and of itself, but its impacts can also empower communities. Installing a well in a hamlet enables plants to thrive, food to be produced, and people to be healthy and fed. Also, having a water pump nearby offers women more time to work and earn money as they traditionally bear the responsibility of hauling water to settlements. That how several Sustainable Development Goals can be achieved at the same time.