Makilina’s Story

Apr 5, 2023 | Malawi, Water Wells

Meet Makilina Mwale, a resident of the Chawa community in the Kasungu District of Malawi. The Sonder Project drilled a deep-water well in Chawa in 2022.  Makilina is 41 years old and spends her days tending her household and supporting her husband on the farm. They are subsistence farmers. Makilina has given birth to 6 children, although only 3 survived past the age of 5 due to dirty water and malaria. Today, as we meet Makilina on her morning trip to collect water, she is beaming with happiness as she catches up and jokes with the other women at the well. She seems calm, well-rested, and prideful. As we speak to her, we learn that her life was very different just a couple of years ago when she suffered from a near-death incident.
Veronica Zulu, center with sweater, listens in one of her classes.

Makilina preparing a meal for her family.

Makilina used to live in another community that already had a drilled well. When her first husband died in 2013, Makilina remarried and moved with her new husband to the Chawa community. Chawa did not have a well, and most people collected water from the nearby river. Makilina struggled to get comfortable with this new water arrangement. During the rainy season, the river overflowed and filled with bacteria and other pollutants from upstream. During the dry season, community members would painstakingly dig holes in the riverbed to collect inconsistent water.  Makilina found herself waking up at 2am to go dig holes in the riverbed, and then later in the afternoon, she would do the same thing under the hot sun.


Water was so scarce at times that tensions would rise, and women in the Chawa community would fight with each other at the riverbed while collecting just a small amounts for their families. To make matters worse, Makilina’s husband did not understand how difficult the water situation was, and he would often get angry with her for not having enough water at home.  Makilina was incredibly stressed by Chawa’s water situation. She knew the water she was collecting was not clean compared to the well water she was used to. She worried constantly about the health of her family and knew it was only a matter of time before someone got very sick. She didn’t know that person would be her.


Veronica Zulu sits on her hostel bed she sleeps on while at school.

Makilina enjoys a laugh with one of our Education Coordinators, Sara Hara.

One day in 2020, Makilina found herself with an extremely severe bout of diarrhea that lasted the entire day and into the night. The next morning, when Makilina woke up to use the latrine (toilet), she fainted.  When Makilina’s husband came home later that day, he was shocked to find her unconscious. He shook her repeatedly to wake her up, and when she eventually did, she started vomiting and fainted again. Makilina’s husband tried to carry her and put her on the family bicycle to take her to the nearest town with a hospital, 11 kilometers away. Makilina continued to repeatedly vomited and faint. Eventually, once they passed the roughest parts, her husband called a motorbike driver to take them, and he carried her on the back of the bike all the way to the hospital.
Veronica with her hand raised, ready to ask one of her teacher's questions.

Makilina (right) and another member of the community show us how they used to collect water from the local river, which caused her to become ill and be rushed to the hospital before the Sonder well.

Makilina woke up in the hospital with little recollection of what happened. She received rehydration treatment just in time, and everyone told her how lucky she was to be alive. Makilina was traumatized by the incident, and when it was time to go back to her village, she lived in fear of the water she was collecting and drinking from the river. She was just biding time until the day when she would suffer again from a severe water-borne disease.


Fortunately, a few months later, The Sonder Project drilled a deep-water well in Chawa. Immediately, Makilina felt like she had her life back. She could wake up any time to go collect water, and she no longer lived in constant fear of falling sick.  Things at home with her husband were more peaceful, and she no longer fought with other community women over water. Most of all, Makilina hasn’t had a running stomach since. The new well completely transformed water from a source of fear that controlled her life, to water being her human right!

Veronica Zulu sits with a group of friends along with two of The Sonder Project staff members in Malawi during a break period.

Makilina (right) and other women from the community collect water from the Sonder well, any time, any day, and free from contamination and bacteria.

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