ROSE of Tralee Charmaine Kenny is in Africa where she is visiting Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) projects aimed at making Malawians more self-sufficient.
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in Africa, with many of its 14 million inhabitants living in extreme poverty. VSO sends experienced professionals to developing countries such as Malawi where they work to develop their educational, health and business sectors.
Charmaine, from Athy, Co Kildare, visited the Zuzuga Tea Growers Association which began as a VSO project with 11 locals but now has 400 members. Last year it produced 1.5 million tons of tea. VSO volunteers helped the Malawians develop a small out-growers scheme where they plant tea. Tea is Malawi’s biggest export but most tea estates are privately owned.
Together they established a water irrigation system which gave the community more land to plant tea. VSO workers also advised on the development and implementation of a business marketing plan with the Zuzuga Tea Growers Association.
A members’ charter has also grown up forbidding child labour and ensuring members could only work a maximum nine hour day.
Charmaine, who has a degree in management science and a masters in economics, was impressed.
“This project is proof of the difference that VSO volunteers can make. All the people of Zuzuga area needed was some advice and expertise and now they are going from strength to strength. VSO is not about handouts. It is about giving direction and confidence to succeed,” she said. She also visited a VSO stove-making scheme, a communitywater irrigation programme, a bulk farming centre, and craft-making factory that employs disabled staff. VSO is looking for teachers interested in volunteering abroad as they are in short supply. Volunteers must have a minimum of three to five years experience.
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