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At bottom of pecking order in nation rife with poverty

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Date Published: 03-May-2012

A rural crossroads in South East Africa seems like an unlikely place for a financial meeting. Yet, the women sitting on the ground in Northern Malawi, passing their babies around between them, while chickens and dogs wander alongside, are here to discuss finance – and to improve each other’s lives.

They are part of a project called Self-help which is being administered in Northern Malawi by an Irish-led organisation.

The St John of God service in the Northern Malawi city of Mzuzu was established by Brother Aidan Clohessy 19 years ago to care for people who have problems with mental health. It also caters for children with special needs. These are humans who are at the bottom of the pecking order in a country where almost half of the 15 million population is below the poverty line.

Part of the St John of God brief is to ensure that people remain healthy, explains Br Aidan – so it made sense to get involved in the Self-help project, which aims to lift the poorest women and their families out of poverty in a country where the average life expectancy is less than 50 years.

The Self-help model, which originated in India, works with women who are on the bottom of the poverty ladder, giving them autonomy by encouraging them to save and take out small loans.

St John of God provides a facilitator for the scheme, but the women are in charge.

“Women have been oppressed but, despite that, they have a commitment to the family,” says Br Aidan, explaining that this is a hugely patriarchal region. Self-help is working to change that.

Its format is astoundingly simple, as was demonstrated by the group at this country crossroads. The women sat in a circle, with three large enamel bowls between them. One was for savings, the other for loan repayments and the third for a community fund, to help families in times of need.

As each woman’s name was called out, she responded by calling out the amount she was saving that week, followed by her contribution to the community fund and, finally, any loan repayments she was making.

When all the money was collected, those members of the group who wanted loans, made their pitch and the cash was redistributed. The idea is to keep it circulating to benefit members, either by supporting their business plans or helping to clothe and educate their kids until the harvest comes in. The group agrees on the interest rate and the time frame for loan repayments.

Each group has a moderator and a bookkeeper, who keep meticulous records of all transactions. These roles are rotated to ensure there’s no corruption. It’s very professional, but there’s a social aspect to it as well.

Self-help came to Mzuzu 2010 and by last year had 40 groups with 742 members. As the women become aware of their strength, they have begun to lobby politicians for better health and education. One group recently forced the local council, to close a massive dump, located beside where they lived – many kids weren’t going to school, because they spent their days foraging there.

Brother Aidan was sceptical about Self-help initially, thinking its strict guidelines might not be adhered to. But, he says, it is a major success, with several women having set up businesses baking, selling fish, selling bricks or opening small, roadside shops.

At present the women’s groups are appointing representatives to the next level, known as clusters, with a view to gaining greater independence.

“It’s about letting them decide what works for them, rather than driving them,” Br Aidan says.

As Self-help groups form into clusters, they have begun to work with another Irish charity based in Mzuzu. Wells for Zoë provides villages with clean water and promotes education in a region where it is often neglected. It was set up by Roscommon man John and his Mayo born wife Mary Coyne, who fell in love with Malawi on their first visit seven years ago. The couple have strong Galway links, having spent their summer holidays in Moycullen, where they owned a hosue, for many years.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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First local bragging rights of the new season go to Mervue Utd

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Date Published: 18-Mar-2013

Mervue United 2

Salthill Devon 1

Jason Byrne at Fahy’s Field

Mervue United have earned the early bragging rights in the latest instalment of a derby clash with their old rivals Salthill Devon thanks to first half goals from Tom King and youngster Ryan Manning at Fahy’s Field on Friday night.

Old teammates were re-united on the field as the likes Jason Molloy, Tom King, Gary Curran, Paul Sinnott and new Devon signing Derek O’Brien were among the names who used to wear the maroon of dormant Galway United.

Mervue came out of the blocks strongly and Curran unleashed the first meaningful shot after six minutes which failed to trouble Ronan Forde and glanced wide.

Two minutes later, former Mervue striker Enda Curran fired Devon’s first effort from distance but steered well clear of the target.

Almost immediately at the other end, Mervue thought they had taken the lead when King was released into the box and his shot squirmed under Forde towards goal, but Devon skipper Eugene Greaney was at hand to clear off the line.

Three minutes later, an almost identical move was executed by Mervue as Brendan Lavelle played King in, who this time opted to dink over the advancing Forde for a marvellous finish to give Mervue a deserved 1-0 lead.

Mervue immediately searched for another as Manning picked out Varley, and with his cross he searched for Lavelle but William Enubele cleared just as Lavelle was about to head it.

From the resulting corner, Manning whipped it in to Varley, whose shot was well blocked by Colm Horgan.

A second goal was coming, and it arrived on 18 minutes when King played a neat exchange with Paul Sinnott and he squared for Manning, who shot first-time to bag his first League of Ireland goal.

Following this it looked as if Mervue could further stretch their lead by half-time, but Devon kept their heads up and as a result of their hard work they eventually began to find their feet.

As the interval drew closer O’Brien – who had been eventually signed by Devon just hours before the kick-off – collected a long hopeful ball from Forde and cut inside but blazed over with the goal at his mercy.

Five minutes later, Enda Curran won a loose ball and his pace proved too much for Michael McSweeney but his shot was well saved by Gleeson.

On the break Mervue pelted forward and Lavelle saw another effort blocked by the omnipresent Greaney who was a rock at the back. Lavelle collected again and squared for Manning, but this time he mishit his shot and Forde caught easily.

On the stroke of half-time the teenager had another go at bagging his second but his free-kick sailed well over into the astroturf cages at Fahy’s Field.

A crowd of almost 300 people made their way to the east side of the city to witness the encounter, and perhaps a mixture of the heavy rain in the hour before kick-off along with the racing at Cheltenham earlier in the day affected the attendance.

The second-half failed to prove as entertaining as the first as Devon kept fighting hard to claw back into the contest and prevent a third goal which would have ended their chances of getting points on the board.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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Festival whets the appetite for new food experiences

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Date Published: 21-Mar-2013

I know it’s hard to believe, but there are well-grounded, consistent reports in recent weeks that Fianna Fáil nationally has been receiving a large number of new applications for membership of the party.

When I heard it first, I thought to myself – sounds like new recruits to join the crew of the Titanic. Now, I’m beginning to wonder if they knew something that the rest of us didn’t.

For, FF showed a bounce in two recent opinion polls. And then George Lee did his walkout from Fine Gael, leaving FG and Enda Kenny to watch anxiously in the coming months as further polls come in, and the Kenny leadership comes under renewed pressure.

 

Fine Gael is still well ahead in the polls, but you write off FF at your peril. The old Fianna Fáil ‘faith’ still runs deep even among many of those who are now angry at the way the country was allowed to run on to the economic rocks under FF stewardship.

On the face of it, it sounds like FF shouldn’t be an even vaguely attractive prospect for new members . . . you can be damn sure that FF unpopularity was one of the main reasons that Galway West TD Noel Grealish (formerly of the PDs and now Independent) wouldn’t touch joining the FF Parliamentary Party with a barge pole and has been flexing his political muscle in recent months as an Independent.

That’s despite FF Ministers Eamon Ó Cuív and Noel Dempsey courting Grealish for months to join FF, with even speculation of a junior ministry ‘sweetener’ at some stage when Brian Cowen eventually carries out that long-threatened reshuffle.

Wonder if Grealish would reconsider now? For there’s no denying that in recent weeks in FF there has been a sneaking dawning feeling that, if they could just hold off the General Election until 2012, then maybe – just maybe! – at least their bedrock support might have come back by then and the massacre of FF TDs might not be quite as bloody as has been predicted for the past year.

Why, some FFrs believe they might even have enough TDs left to cosy-up to the Labour Party. That’s provided of course they can hold out to 2012 and their government partners, the Greens, don’t tear themselves apart in the meantime with their habit of washing dirty linen in public.

People like Grealish would have been hoping that some of the FF voters might go for the ‘first cousin’ in the shape of a former PD like himself – well weren’t the PDs just a family row in FF? The big test for angry or wavering FF supporters on election day in a place like Galway West would be just how many of them would vote Fine Gael? I have always been of the belief that ‘the hand would wither’ before they could give ‘the blueshirts’ a vote.

Meanwhile, in the past few weeks, the pressure has transferred to Fine Gael. They are the ones who now have to worry about any slippage in support, they have convince us that they could run the economy better . . . and against this shaky new background, they also have to worry about ‘upping their game’ in key areas like Galway West.

One of the most recent opinion polls showed the highest regional level of support for Fine Gael as being in Connacht-Ulster, which was traditionally the area which Fianna Fáil could count on as heartland. That has to be ‘the Enda Kenny factor’ coming through in constituencies close to his Mayo base, where FG had a huge 53% of the first preferences in 2007.

For more, read page 12 of this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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