Millenium Village 20 Feb 2010:
The driver for the UNDP (United Nations Development Project) was amazing. I had been jolted and jogged over these roads many times before, but with him driving, I hardly know we were in Malawi. At about 8:30 in the morning, the truck arrived to pick Sieg and me up at her home in Lilongwe. In the car was a female Malawian journalist and an employee of UNDP, plus the driver. We left town and headed west toward the Zambian border. We passed through the high density village suburbs near the city and came to where there was actual separation of natural space between maize fields. As we got further from the city we could see the maize begin to get shorter and less vigorously green. About an hour outside of Lilongwe, we stopped at a service station near a dirt road were 2 other UNDP trucks were sitting. A small group of people, were standing there. We were soon introduced to Pedro Sanchez, plus the local directors for this cluster. We were briefed on what we would see in this village, got back into the trucks and headed toward the village on a very rough, wet road. It had rained very hard the night before – waking me several times, and the roads showed the abuse.
The Millennium Village Project was begun in 200X as a way to show the kind of strides that can be made when intensive resources are put into the hands of villagers along with guidance and organization to allow people to decide what they themselves need. The project focuses on agriculture, education, health, connectivity and entrepreneurial development, and ____. The goals are intense – to get all children in the village a primary school education, cell phone access, and access to health care. To improve yields, and the overall goal is to help move the villages from destitute poverty to something resembling hope, opportunity and future. There are 80 Millennium Villages, situated into clusters, distributed throughout 11 African countries.
In the US, we think of a village as a small thing – a town where a couple hundred to maybe 2000 people (adults and children) live. Villages in Malawi have exploded, and the area where we visited was home to several thousand villagers. A village, I learned, is not defined by population, or by proximity to a city, but by lack of infrastructure or resources. The MVP is trying to see what happens when one changes that.
As we approached this village we immediately saw a difference in the maize. It was green, tall and had multiple ears per stalk. Sieg said that when she had visited the area last November, she had witnessed people with string making straight ridges, ox-carts hauling compost and placing both compost and fertilizer in the ridge. While compost is promoted all over Malawi, it rarely seems to be used. Excited, the three trucks stopped and people photographed the Maize. We continued to the village where the first stop was a Zain cell-phone kiosk. Before cell phones, villagers had to travel miles and miles in order to reach a phone. The infrastructure for land-lines is costly, and never arrived, but cell phones did. The kiosk had a solar cell that enabled people to charge their cell phones there, buy minutes, and use a public cell phone for money. This not only allows people to contact relatives or doctors, but to know the price of crops and commodities so they can sell things at the best rate. Several of these kiosks in the village make this connectivity possible.
We also saw a new community center built. The villagers made and provided the bricks and sand and labor to build this. The project provided doors, windows roofs and a contractor to direct the building. In it, it contains a community room, rooms for health clinic, offices for extension workers when they are in the village and storage space for agriculture inputs and seed.
New well pumps allow access to much deeper, cleaner groundwater reserves, and concrete around the well keeps water clean.
The MVP helped build 3 school classroom units, each containing 2 classrooms. The community, upon seeing the number of students who came to school built another classroom unit. A total of 1700 children attend school in these 8 classrooms. I can’t quite imagine how learning happens, but from talking to others, this isn’t unusual. Their biggest problem is that they have no housing for teachers, and no one in the community who already lives there is equipped to teach.