Sian Parkinson – I was in Nkhata Bay, Malawi for just over 3 weeks and I had an incredible time and met some amazing people, unfortunately it flew by. The project came about through the partnership between Butterfly Space, a lodge offering volunteer community projects in Malawi, and ‘Engineers Without Borders’ at the University of Sheffield. The partnership was based on a project, developed by a student engineer at Sheffield University whose work detailed the construction and capacity of a portable pedal powered pump. Josie Redmonds, a co-owner of Butterfly Space, is extremely interested in the capacity of engineers to engage with development initiatives, primarily concerning environmentally friendly sustainable solutions to development. Between Josie and the Engineers Without Borders society at Sheffield University a 6 year partnership was established with the fundamental goal of engaging successfully with Nkhata Bay’s community development.
The initial target of the partnership was that the water pump would be built as a demonstration at Butterfly Space, with the potential to be adopted by local farmers to help with crop irrigation, particularly in the dry season.
To ensure the sustainability of the pedal powered pump a full impact assessment of the local area was required. There was a need to research and establish local needs, to consider potential stakeholders, and to get a broader picture of the social, economic and environmental situation in Nkhata Bay. Therefore, I become involved with the project from the perspective of a social researcher. In addition to speaking with stakeholders of the project and conducting research that directly related to the pedal powered pump, I was also interested in other development initiatives that existed in Nkhata Bay and the role of Butterfly Space within the community.
Whilst in Nkhata Bay I spent the majority of my time meeting with members of Nkhata Bay’s community, from members of local government, to doctors, to local farmers. Topics discussed in these meetings included gender imbalances in education, the existence of permaculture schemes within the district, environmental conservation and improvements in health, primarily relating to sexual health and maternal health. Additionally to this I visited local schools, hospitals, farms and villages to increase my knowledge of how they functioned and how or if they had changed over the last half a decade. Information and new knowledge were then fed back to develop and improve the potential of the pump.
Currently, I am working on transcribing various interviews together with writing up my observations and reflections whilst in Nkhata Bay. I hope my in-depth reports will not only contribute further to the success of the project, but importantly help maintain and ensure the success of the partnership between Sheffield University’s Engineers Without Borders and Butterfly Space.