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Wilfred’s Leap of Faith: A community in Malawi builds resilience one drop at a time

Wilfred Charles is a 35-year-old farmer and pastor who helped his community grow more resilient against drought by building an irrigation system in his village of Mitawa.

“In the beginning, God created the earth. He started with the environment. And later He created man to take care of the environment.” — Wilfred Charles

We arrived in Mitawa village on a Monday morning where we met Wilfred and his family for the first time. Mitawa, a collection of 35 small villages near the Lingoni River in Malawi, has suffered from consecutive droughts throughout the years. We were in Mitawa to learn about the irrigation system the village built so they can grow more food.

There are many stories around the world on the work USAID and partners are doing to help people grow more resilient. Part of my job is to tell these stories — stories of the individuals, families and communities empowered by USAID’s projects, who are working to improve their communities and to become self-reliant. After talking to Wilfred, we knew his story is a compelling one, a story of faith, persistence and love for his community.

Photo of Wilfred

Wilfred Charles helped his community grow resilient against drought by building an irrigation system in his village of Mitawa. / Photo by Morgana Wingard for USAID

Wilfred is one of six volunteers who built an irrigation system for his village. He told us he experienced drought several times growing up. He remembers that when he was young there was a famine, and because there was not enough food he was underweight. Now, Wilfred and his wife Magrate Nthawani have four children: Bright, Joyce, Rodgers and Mphatso. It’s important for him to make sure he has enough food to feed his family.

In 2010, USAID introduced Wilfred’s community to irrigation farming to help regularly supply water to their crops. An extension worker explained how irrigation farming works, and the community started looking for volunteers to build irrigation canals. At first, 269 community members volunteered. But when they realized how difficult the work was, all left except for Wilfred and five other men.

Photo of Wilfred working on land

Wilfred Charles works in his field. / Photo by Morgana Wingard for USAID

The six worked for three years so that their community could regularly supply water to their fields, with the goal of becoming self-reliant. USAID provided food aid to support them as they were building the irrigation canals. People mocked them and thought they were crazy. But Wilfred did not give up. He believed this work would benefit his community and continued persistently with his task.

“The first day the irrigation water reached our fields, it was like a dream come true.” — Wilfred Charles

After three years, water started flowing through the fields. The land was protected from soil erosion. And crops were growing. As a result of the new irrigation system, the community is now able to feed itself despite the droughts.

“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.” — Wilfred Charles

Photo of woman working field

Wilfred’s daughter, Joyce, helps with field work. / Photo by Morgana Wingard for USAID

Six years after USAID introduced the new method to the village, Wilfred’s community is still reaping the benefits of their hard work. People are able to cultivate more, send children to school, build houses, and have more economic opportunities.

USAID is helping Malawians, half of whom still suffer from hunger, to better withstand droughts by giving them the skills and tools they need to prepare. By supporting these communities, USAID makes them more resilient to future droughts.

“This community means a lot to me because at first we thought we could not do anything. But now we are able to do things that we are proud of.” Wilfred Charles

Photo of woman carrying water at dusk

Wilfred’s wife, Magrate Nthawani, carrying water home. / Photo by Morgana Wingard for USAID

As we mark World Water Day, we wanted to share Wilfred’s story with you. It’s a story that drives us forward. Let’s pause to reflect on how USAID’s interventions affected Wilfred’s family and community.

Wilfred and the other five volunteers made the best of the training they received from USAID. With that knowledge and hard work, they changed their whole community. Their village has become self-reliant, meaning they are no longer dependent on food aid to survive a drought.

Photo of two boys

Wilfred’s sons, Rodgers and Bright. / Photo by Morgana Wingard for USAID

Now, they are providing training to other villages who want to follow their example: “We still get a lot of visitors who would like us to train them on watershed development. And we are proud to do that,” says Wilfred.

The Sustainable Development Goals, launched in 2015, include a target to ensure everyone has access to safe water by 2030, making water a key issue in the fight to eradicate extreme poverty. USAID and its partners are well positioned to meet this challenge and deliver transformative change to communities like Wilfred’s.

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