Shallow Wells


Stephen pointed to the shallow well located near his Malawian village and said simply, "Now my children don't die anymore." In one sentence he summed up the entire reason for the Marion Medical Mission's shallow wells project - to provide protected drinking water for people in an area so rural and so poor that this basic need is rarely met. stephen.jpg (22259 bytes)
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Malawi, Africa, is the world's third poorest country. Average annual income is around $150; the current life expectancy is 36 years. Health problems abound, and many of them are related to water-borne disease.

Marion Medical Mission (MMM) has been providing shallow wells in northern Malawi since 1990. Under the founding leadership of Tom Logan, MMM seeks funding and volunteers for the shallow wells program and sends teams each fall to assist in installation and dedication of these new, protected water sources. At the end of the 1999 installation season, MMM had provided over 1000 wells, insuring clean water for about 300,000 people.

What makes the Marion Medical Mission program so special is the simple fact that it is both self-help and sustainable. Villages which desire a shallow well must make commitments and are expected to take responsibilities - concepts not always wide spread in the third world or among Western helping agencies. When a village requests a well, they must make a formal application to MMM. When a site is approved, the villagers dig the well using very basic hand tools to a depth of 15 to 20 feet. They make brick to line the well and install it using concrete purchased with funds from MMM. Pumps for the wells are manufactured at the Embangweni mission hospital, again using funds from MMM. Marion Medical Mission teams provide transportation to get concrete, pipes  and pumps to the villages, many of which are so far in the bush that no roads go there. Pumps are installed by the shallow wells team - Malawians trained by Marion Medical Mission specifically to do this work. When the pump is in place, the team teaches the village proper use of the well, sometimes using a familiar tune with the words: "This is the way we pump de pump, pump de pump, pump de pump..." digging.jpg (12573 bytes)
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A Marion Medical Mission volunteer then dedicates the well with prayer and echos the words etched in the concrete cover: "Ucindami Kwa Chiuta" (Glory to God) The volunteer explains to the gathered villagers that this is now their well. It is not Marion Medical Mission's well, or Tom Logan's well, but it belongs to the village. And since it is their well, they are now responsible for taking care of it. They are expected to pay a maintenance fee of two bags of maize yearly which will cover the cost of replacement parts. When a well breaks down, a shallow wells volunteer from the village will fix it and the villagers are reminded to "take care of him" by giving him a gift such as a chicken for his work. For a people so deep in poverty, these are no small commitments. But the very fact that these commitments are required is the basis for the outstanding success of this program. All over northern Malawi, the Marion Medical Mission shallow wells program is known and spreading. A pilot program was started in 1999 near the capital city of Lilongwe. Enthusiasm in the United States threatens to overwhelm the current boundaries of the program.

It seems like such a small thing - a glass of clean water. Most people in the United States take it for granted. We do not even consider that our babies might contract cholera or dysentery from the water they drink - much less that they might die. Even the cost is, for many of us or for our churches, a small thing. Each shallow well costs $300 for pump, pipe, cement and transportation. Marion Medical Mission has no overhead expenses and all volunteers pay their own way to Africa as well as their living expenses while in country. Part of MMM's mission statement is to spend everything received each year on direct mission in Africa. They are fond of stating "not even the cost of a stamp is deducted." Donations go to the shallow wells program and to the other programs of MMM, which include the Embangweni Hospital, three primary schools which have received help with buildings and renovations and the Embangweni School for Deaf Children. buckets.jpg (14823 bytes)



Written by Carol Nussbaumer