WILFRED'S LEAP OF FAITH
“In the beginning, God created the earth. He started with the environment. Then, He created man to take care of the environment—not to destroy it.” That’s what Wilfred Charles, a 35-year-old Malawian farmer and pastor, preached to his congregation in Southern Malawi last Sunday.
Climate change and consecutive droughts, made worse by El Niño have heavily impacted Wilfred’s community, Mitawa Village—a collection of 35 small “villages” near the Lingoni River. Rainfall patterns are erratic, making it difficult to grow enough food. “When I was a little kid, Malawi was a good country. As we are growing the environment is changing. The way rain is falling. It's changing,” he explains. “We are harvesting so little.”
Wilfred is accustomed to drought. He’s experienced it several times growing up. Food aid interventions supported his community throughout these dry spells. “When I was one year old, there was a famine and not enough food. I was underweight," explains Wilfred. He was one of many children under five who received soybean meal to combat malnutrition.
Now Wilfred has a family to support: his wife, Magrate Nthawani, and their 4 children - Bright Wilfred, Joyce Wilfred, Rodgers Wilfred, and Mphatso Wilfred—so it’s even more important for him to make sure he has enough food to feed his family.
In 2010, an extension worker introduced Wilfred’s community to irrigation farming as a way to regularly supply water to their fields and regenerate the soil. The extension worker explained how irrigation farming worked and asked for volunteers to start construction on an irrigation system in their village. At first 269 farmers showed up. But, when they realized how hard it was going to be all left except Wilfred and 5 other men. For 3 years they labored digging trenches. People scoffed saying they had lost their minds.
To support them during the construction of the irrigation project, USAID funding provided Wilfred and the workers with food assistance: 15 kg of pinto beans and 4 liters of vegetable oil for every 20 days worked.
In 2013 when water began trickling through their fields, it felt like a dream come true. As a result of the irrigation system, they have been able to grow more food with less water.
"If the six men did not show up, the whole community would now be facing hunger and our children would be malnourished. Now, we are confident because we have water. People are happily cultivating. Many have built houses through that and have started to thank us," says Wilfred.
“Now I can see the future for my kids is bright,” says Wilfred. His eldest daughter, Joyce Wilfred, goes to school just up the road.
He says, “This community means a lot to me because at first we thought we cannot do anything. But now we are able to do things that we are proud of.”
USAID is working to help communities, like the people of Mitawa Village, to break the cycle of drought and plan for a brighter future.
USAID HAS PROVIDED OVER $300 MILLION IN LIFESAVING AID TO SOUTHERN AFRICANS IMPACTED BY THE CURRENT DROUGHT.
Subject: Wilfred Charles (35)
Location: Mitawa Village, Malawi
We arrived in Malawi on a Sunday and met with USAID and the local field staff to discuss the film. The field staff had done prior interviews in Mitawa Village. While listening to the staff speak about Wilfred’s story, it seemed compelling. On Monday morning, we drove two hours to meet with Wilfred and his family for the first time. After meeting him in person, we knew he was the one that we wanted to feature. Since he was more comfortable speaking in Chichewa, we hired a translator to help conduct the interview. As with previous projects, we kept the questions and answers short to make the scripting and editing easier. We learned of Wilfred's love for the environment and his community. The last morning, we woke up before dawn to capture Wilfred working in the field. In the end, we produced a 3 minute film that showcased Wilfred’s dedication to creating a working irrigation system over 3 years, despite being mocked. When water finally started trickling through the earth it benefitted the whole community with water, food, education for children and business opportunities.
Production: Morgana Wingard
Videography: Sarah Grile / Morgana Wingard
Photography: Morgana Wingard
Editing: Sarah Grile
Music: Ryan Huff