Dr. Deepa Pullanikkatil is a Civil Engineer turned Environmentalist, co-founder of a small non-profit organisation called Abundance which started in 2016 with two friends after realising a need for integrated development in Malawi.
Pullanikkatil was inspired in this field after living in Malawi for five years, which she describes as life changing for her. She was touched by what she saw and wanted to do something about poverty alleviation.
The organisation works at Mbando Village in Machinga, a remote rural area of Malawi with 105 households mainly farmers and fisher folks.
They villagers face many difficulties, including lack of access to transport, to ferry the sick to the nearby hospital which is three kilometres away.
Using internal funding from contributions of Abundance members, they bought a bicycle ambulance for the community to take pregnant women, the sick and the elderly to the clinic when needed.
Pullanikkatil says the organisation and its members are voluntary.
“Initially, we used our personal savings to start Abundance’s activities in Mbando. Later on, we did crowd funding and wrote proposals to get funds for some of our activities. We touch on human wellbeing and nurturing environment,” says Pullanikkatil.
Being voluntarily run, the organisation thrives on the energy of its team.
It is led by Ruth Mumba, who started off as a volunteer, but was later nominated director.
Moses Phulusa is the community coordinator.
She said coming from an environmental background, she realised that environmental issues cannot be addressed without addressing human needs.
“We got the bicycle ambulance custom made with a stretcher attached to the bicycle made by a kind gentleman Masa Chikapa, who has a small welding and engineering business in Blantyre. Masa has been doing some charity work funded by Malawians in the diaspora, particularly Malawians in Texas, USA.
“He shared pictures of the ambulance with his friends in Texas organisation. They quickly responded saying they want to donate a few ambulances across Malawi. Abundance team was thrilled when Masa said Mbando village will be one of the recipients,” Pullanikkatil said.
She went further to say Mbando Village now has two ambulances which they can share with their 105 households and with others in nearby villages when the need arises.
“The area is remote so electricity is a problem. However, we tried to replace it with solar. The internet network is also weak, but we managed to fit in WI-FI for E-learning. We like to look at challenges as opportunities for growth. This is why I have included problems together with their success because problems are considered to be suited in with solutions, “she said.
She continued to say they are able to scale up a project on E-learning through a timely miracle.
“Some of you may have followed us on social media when we did a crowd funding campaign in June this year through Global Giving to set up an E-learning centre at Chilimba Secondary School.
“Our target was to raise $5 000 within 18 days and we surpassed our target, thanks to well-wishers who generously donated for this project. The centre uses solar power, Rachel and Keepod technologies as low cost computing solutions to provide access to learning resources for 150 people at Mbando Village.
“We planned for 50 people because we had budgeted for 50 keepods at retail prices in Malawi and accordingly raised funds. We were lucky to have been advised by Carl Meyer, the founder of a non-profit IT company Shift IT, who helped us with technical information for this project. Carl is a friendly guy and turns out, he is a friend of Keepod founders Nissan and Franky in USA,” she said.
She said through Carl, they got in touch with Nissan and Franky and to their delight, they confirmed that they would supply them Keepods at the manufacturing price. They cut the price further through a special discount for charitable organizations. The end result they got 150 keepods for the price of 50, three times more than what they originally planned.
Through Mumba, they provide training to girls on menstrual hygiene and reusable sanitary pads making at Mbando Village.
Ruth recognised that girls and women at Mbando have what they call Period Poverty as they use unsanitary methods during their periods, such as using newspaper strips and old cloths.
However, girls were worried that these would fall off and they will be ridiculed and many do not attend school during their periods.
Ruth planned a workshop for supporting menstrual hygiene and dignity for girls and women at Mbando, provided lectures and a reusable sanitary pad making training.
She organised pad making kits which were given to each girl after the training.
Abundance posted the pictures of this training on Facebook and within hours, got an email from Little Big Prints, a non-profit organisation that helps adolescent girls, requesting Ruth to train some girls in their project area on pad making.
Ruth and her sister Grace Moyo trained at another school in Zomba funded by Little Big Prints. Word spread fast and soon after this, Mother Mary Children Centre, a non-profit organisation operating in Chikwawa asked for a similar training for their mothers group members.
She says they are happy and thrilled that news of its activities and trainings are spreading and that they are able to extend beyond Mbando Village.
Currently, Pullanikkatil is a consultant working on climate change based in Eswatini.
She is also a co-director of an international network called Sustainable Futures in Africa. She has worked in Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa and Eswatini for the past 20 year and briefly also worked in India and Scotland.
When asked about her future plans and where she wants to reach, Pullanikkatil says she wants to create deep impact that is lasting and sustainable at Mbando Village which can be a model for other villages.
“We want the village to then in-turn empower other villages in creating ripple effects
since our dream is to have a world of plenty, where there is no lack, for humans and nature to thrive.
She encourages people to work hard as she believes that all these little miracles happen when you are focused on doing your work with utmost love and devotion.
At Abundance, they pay attention to life and little miracles and they like telling these stories to the world.
On her free time, she likes hiking, meditating and spending time with nature.