06:45

Ripple Africa

We are spending a week in Malawi at a remarkable place, Ripple Africa.

Malawi is beautiful and poor. It is known as the warm heart of Africa with reason. Despite rural poverty and the depredations of HIV, the people are charming and friendly and the children enchanting. The country is land-locked between Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Tanzania though landlocked is a misnomer as the dominant geographic feature is Lake Malawi - known as the calendar lake as it is 365 kilometres long and 52 kilometres wide. This is like the sea and all through the night waves crash onto the beach below our hut. Things are not easy in Malawi at the moment with achronic lack of foreign currency (it exports very little) leading to year-long fuel shortages. The death of President Bandu last week is giving rise to hope that things might get better.

Ripple Africa was founded by Geoff and Liz Furber who came across a failed small beach  resort on the lake when they were on holiday, fell in love with it and bought it - as charitable rather than commercial venture. They have a business based in Buckingham but now spend six months of the year Malawi. Ripple's motto is 'a hand up, not a hand out'. Its aim is to help Malawians to help themselves and, based on the old resort, it is spreading out like the eponymous ripple to the surrounding area and involved in three main areas, health, education and the environment.

The environmental efforts are typical of the Ripple approach. A universal African issue is one of firewood - the main cooking fuel. Women spend a good deal of time every day collecting wood that is used principally for cooking. A household will need around three bundles a week which they collect themselves in the country and buy in the urban areas. Each bundlecosts about £1. Deforestation is the result -especially as  the population has quadrupled since 1960.

Ripple is approaching this problem from both ends. On the demand side they are training local people to help 63,000 households to build Chonga Chonga Moto(quick, quick fire) stoves which cost £4 to make and use a third of the
amount of wood a week than the campfire alternative. As the payback is two
weeks, the economics are compelling - with the side benefit of freeing up
womens' time for more productive activities.

On the supply side they have got together with with the local chiefs to
create nurseries for trees. So far they have planted three million - yes,
that is right. These are both for firewood and fruit: the Malawian avocados
are the best I have ever eaten. This is not aid money being distributed by
government and legally enforced from the centre but a community effort that
is entirely self administered and self funded with only guidance, and Geoff's diplomacy, being provided by Ripple. The management on the ground is entirely by Malawians.

Ripple employ directly 160 local  people and have a few, mainly medical and
completely self supporting, volunteers from the developed world. Geoff runs
a tight ship and there is not a penny wasted. It is  a remarkable charity.
Take it from me - it is really making a difference.

Have a look at their website on http://www.rippleafrica.org/
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