John Drake grew up in Dallas, Texas, and graduated from Texas Tech. He is currently a practicing architect in Orlando, Florida. John is the founder of Africa Windmill Project a nonprofit operating in malawi which teaches rural African farmers how to build and implement their own irrigation systems out of found objects.
Plywood People: How are you helping farmers in Malawi?
John Drake: The mission of Africa Windmill Project (AWP) is to teach and support farmers to irrigate their land using windmills constructed with locally found materials to enable year-round food production. As we have walked alongside farmers, we have expanded our capacity to more holistically address the obstacles these farmers are facing. AWP addresses sustainable agriculture, community development and healthy drinking water which are the fundamental needs of the villages. Africa Windmill Project is dedicated to working with Malawian’s to develop systems that they can build, maintain and afford. All of our systems utilize resources that are locally available and many of the materials such as bottle caps, grain sacks, plastic jugs can be found at no cost. Although AWP does not charge farmers we ask that whomever we teach to provide materials, labor and participate in classes we give so they understand every system and can teach others what they have learned. No one person can help all of Africa, but village communities helping their neighbors will. The program at its core is empowering village parents to provide food for their families year round in a land where starvation is common.
Plywood People: What prompted you to start meeting the need in that community?
John: 2007 – While on a short term mission trip with Summit Church I was meeting with a doctor at a hospital in Malawi and realized that while HIV/AID’s is very serious and devastating the country, malnutrition was speeding up the death rate and affecting both those infected and not. After speaking with several farmers I realized that the soil and growing conditions are perfect for a year round growing season except for the 9 month dry season the country experiences each year. I knew irrigation was responsible for sustainable food production in the States. So I did some research and started Africa Windmill Project, which is focused in Lilongwe, Malawi.
Plywood People: Would you share a story from your work?
John: This past March when I was in Mziza Village, reviewing the work, I asked for the agriculture club members to gather with their kids for a group picture. Forty plus adults gathered and their kids that were not in school gathered in front. As I kept stepping backwards to get everyone in the shot I realized the thirty irrigation pumps were enabling forty adults to feed themselves and their one hundred and sixty kids. This one village project is empowering around two hundred people to eat year round comfortably in a land where starvation is critical.
Plywood People: What has been the most challenging part of your work?
John: Fundraising… We are a very streamlined organization. It costs us less than $900 a year to train a village farmer how to build a water pump and grow food year round for their family. Once trained it impacts the rest of their life and can be taught to their children.
Plywood People: What piece of advice would you give someone looking to start meeting needs?
John: Start today, you do not have to have everything figured out. Even if you do not have any idea of what to do, but care about a certain group of people, volunteer with an existing organization. There is more need than there are volunteers.
The picture included is of; Blessings Malamba (an AWP employee) with a windmill in a village just outside of Lilongwe, Malawi.