Posts by Ruth
Helena Molyneux and I visited Zimbabwe as trustees last month to see the work that Practical Action is doing there. We were particularly impressed by the micro hydro work that’s being carried out and the impact it’s having on rural communities that are isolated, poor and short of resources.
Bringing electricity, even in just small amounts, to villages that have never had it is life changing for them.
Suddenly a school can have an electric light so children can study longer; a clinic can offer mothers giving birth at night the chance to have their baby in the light, not just accompanied by a candle; a fridge can store vaccines; houses can have a radio or television that is attached to the electricity supply; people can charge up their mobile phones… a whole world of possibility and opportunity is opened up. Their lives are enriched in terms of medical support, educational opportunity and leisure possibility.
Families were proud to show us their televisions, the nurse to show us the electricity in their clinic, the primary school to show us the classrooms now lit up when light fades. The teacher was bursting with pride and excitement – all this for the sake of an electric light! We felt humbled.
The great thing about the projects is how Practical Action has worked with others to acquire the equipment to build the micro hydro systems that will power the generation of the electricity. They’ve ensured too that it is local people who help in the building of the dams and laying the pipes. We met many of these people who themselves had contributed their labour and their time to the micro hydro project – so they ‘own’ it and feel responsible for helping maintain it in the future.
Our trip was such an inspiring one. Once again I am awed by the work of Practical Action and the ways they are working to improve people’s lives in such valuable yet practical ways.No Comments » | Add your comment
Wednesday 13th October 2010
This will be my last day of being able to record what is happening. There is no broadband here in Zimbabwe, electricity sometimes goes off so we cannot rely on all the infrastructure we are used to.
Today, we visited two Harare hospitals and took as gifts some blood pressuer machines and some stethoscopes with us from my husband Ian (who is accompanying us). We were shown round by a cardiologist, a friend of Ernest Mupunga (Regional Director).
The hospitals were light and airy and looked well staffed with young doctors and older ones – but most of those middle rank have left over recent years to earn more elsewhere. The dedication of those that remain and who have worked through the last few years is admirable. The hospitals have so many patients who are HIV positive that risks overwhelming the service – even the most basic AIDS or asthma drugs or antibiotics are lacking. They, like so much in Zimbabwe, need basic help.
All the better that Practical Action is working in the field to provide livelihoods, help improve livestock and food production and help keep people healthy – this is vital in a country where there is not enough money to provide good healthcare to all, all of the time.No Comments » | Add your comment
Tuesday 12th October 2010
A day in Guruve looking at Mashonaland livelihood restoration projects.
First impressions are that the work being done in improving land management and livestock in this area, 200 miles from Harare, is making a huge difference to a number of local communities. The project was collaborative with Africare and USAID and they and Practical Action provided materials such as peanut butter and sunflower oil processing machines, seedcorn investment (such as chickens which could then multiply) and lots of other useful inputs. But Practical Action’s main contribution has been in providing the skills and training to support these livelihood initiatives and in helping local associations form so that they can be sustained.
We saw marvellous vegetable plots and a market garden that was being managed successfully where before there was just earth; new chicken runs built from local and sustainable materials where chickens could flourish; conservation farming using manure produced by thermo composting meaning that mechanical ploughs are not needed to produce good crops and many other marvellous initiatives. One of the most impressive aspects was that Practical Action had introduced podcasting to allow more dispersion of agricultural and animal husbandry best practice. Practical Action started podcasting about three years ago here; selected local farmers who become trainers of others are supplied with the MP3 player and batteries needed to allow them to hold training sessions which can be listened to by up to 50 people at the same time. This is far more effective in reaching disparate populations than having an agricultural extension worker visit them all. Many people from surrounding villages had come to our session to watch how to treat sick cows and later to hear about sustainable farming methods and how value could be added.
We heard the podcast and simultaneously one of the trainers showed the farmers there what needed to be done – in terms of ammoniation for cows for instance, where this process increases the protein content of animal fodder and allows for greater milk production and for better calving.
In all, the farmers said how delighted they were to have this expertise brought to them and how their production of milk increased from 1 litre to 5 litres of milk per cow per day – this allowing them to have the money to send their children to school More milk, better vegetable produce (from comparing best strains and treating animals using local plants as well as bought medicines) and more eggs and healthier livestock generally meant that the people we saw looked healthy and happy. They told us however that it is tough – life is not easy for them living in temperatures of 40 degrees and with little water and few facilities. But they are very much happier now due to the help provided by Practical Action ad the Lower Guruve Development Association. The degree of close working between Practical Action and the local bodies was impressive and great to see.
At all the villages visited, the local people greeted us with song and dance and talked eloquently about what they had learnt and about the benefits that they had had individually and as their community. A real African welcome. Many of the proceedings were preceded and followed by a prayer – God is very real for many here.
Some themes emerged – the enthusiasm of the Practical Action workers and of the beneficiaries, the mindfulness of the local environment and wish to do things in a sustainable way, the collaboration with other donors or authorities to help make things happen. All this we have learnt from our visit. Thanks to Ernest, Patience, Lawrence and James from the LGDA who helped arrange the day and showed us around. And to Temba who recorded much of the day’s activities. There are so many stories that can show what Practical Action does and explain the difference that it makes.No Comments » | Add your comment
Monday 11th October 2010
We had an informative day, packed with action on this our first day with the Practical Action staff in Harare. First Ernest introduced us to all the staff and showed us round the offices – in a house bought some years ago. He briefed us and we learnt some interesting contextual information about Zimbabwe.
- For photos they need to get permission from the authorities
- There are four currencies but US$ is the main one – there are few US coins and most things cost at least a dollar, so life is expensive
- The slum clearance in 2005 meant a lot of disruption for the poor in Harare
He also told us a lot about Practical Action – its work being mainly with Aim 1 in Reducing Vulnerability of the very poor, Aim 3 which is Infrastructure, Water and Sanitation is often with the urban communities but most Practical Action work is being in the rural rather than urban communities in Zimbabwe.
There is around 40 staff in the office. We went with Terence in the morning and with Reginald in the afternoon.
Terence took us round several Bore Hole projects – altogether 148 bore holes were put in seven towns. We saw bore holes that had been installed near clinics and residential areas to provide clean water during the time of the Cholera outbreak when the water provided by the authorities had become polluted and clean water from the acquifers needed to be available. The bore holes had been put in by UNICEF but Practical Action have helped with the maintenance of them and they have made a huge difference to the local population. They are beset with problems such as:
- Lack of community cohesion to support the infrastructure
- Lack of funding from the City authorities to maintain good water supply and infrastructure
- Inconsistent electricity supply
- The need to import pipes as they are not locally available
We next visited a school in the outskirts where Practical Action had been involved in a Water Sanitation and Hygiene (wash) project. Again this work had been done in collaboration with UNICEF and some others (we have been surprised and delighted to see how many projects are collaborative).
The headmistress shows us round her ‘office’ and the school classrooms were enough to make you weep. There are 1,256 children aged under 15. They looked delightful in their beige and green uniforms and each child has to pay 45$ a year to be schooled there. But, around three quarters of the parents cannot pay so funding is a big problem.
This came home to me when looking at the Sanitation blocks that Practical Action had built for them (before they had sufficient toilets), there was no toilet paper available. We asked the headmistress about it and she said they could not afford to provide any and either the children had to bring it from home or use paper from their exercise books.
Practical Action is now helping provide materials for new classrooms. The current ones are three ancient and ramshackle corrugated iron sheds with broken windows and desks crammed in. The teachers have six simultaneous classes in one of the sheds, each with around 45-50 children. There are insufficient blackboards – the facilities are non-existent.
Practical Action hopes to help with the new building by providing bricks and cement and by helping the parents who will be doing the building with the necessary skills. This should happen within the next seven months.
The headmistress said ‘it’s very tough’. Luckily she has a strong School Association (SDA) who she feels will put their back into it when all the materials are to hand.
After luch we met another group that had all the signs of a vigorous local community wanting to help themselves. These were an association from Mbare, one of the poorer districts of Harare, which had funds from DFID and Practical Action to extend their very very small houses in order to house more members of their family. Jane was their spokesman, a 54 year old grandmother carrying on her back her daughter’s baby (her daughter is ill and cannot afford the visit to the gynaecologist – here in Zimbabwe there is little welfare provision and people must pay to see a doctor).
The project that Reginald showed us was for Shelter – shelter for orphans and for the very poor. These extra rooms were built on to houses in Mbare at a cost of around $2,000 each, about a quarter of the normal price. This was because Practical Action supplied the bricks and concrete and the local association provided some of the labour.
The need is great, in several houses we saw about 15 in the house – people have to sleep on the floor in the living room (yes, no beds) at night as there is not enough room for beds for everyone. There is no shower room, just a shack outside.
Many of the new rooms still are not plastered but the families do all sorts of things to try and make a bit of money to finish them off – making bread, selling eggs or drinks, anything to make an honest dollar.
In all, with the help of the local authority planning department, 44 houses were built up in this one area. Agnes and the other ladies who showed us with such grace, around their homes (by standards so incredibly impoverished) will stay in our hearts for a long time..
If only money could be provided to finish them off – but the question is do you provide more of the needy with bricks and a roof or do you finish the ones you have to the required standard? When people are crying out for homes, it is a difficult decision. It needs the wisdom of Solomon to resolve.
Thank you Practical Action for providing us with such a great first learning day. We all need long pockets – their need is so great and it makes us feel so lucky to have in the West what we take for granted – shelter, water, food.No Comments » | Add your comment
Ruth McNeil and Helena Moylneux are on a visit to Zimbabwe, the first Trustee visit to Practical Action, Southern Africa. The visit is taking place in Zimbabwe which is the largest of the countries (the others being Mozambique and Zambia) and starts in Harare where the Southern Africa Regional Office is based. Apparently, the tenth day of the tenth month of the tenth year is an auspicious one.
Sunday 10th October 2010
We arrived along with my husband, Ian McNeil, at Harare having flown via Johannesburg. It was an eventful flight but as we were bringing into the country some medical equipment (blood pressure machines, stethoscopes) for the Harare hospital (Ian being a doctor), there was a small question at the airport of whether duty should be paid. After a few minutes conversation and reassurances that this equipment was for charitable purposes and not for sale, we were allowed through duty free.
Joshua from Practical Action office was there in a van to collect us.
The drive from the airport to the hotel on the outskirts of Harare on the aptly named Airport Road was gladdened by the beautiful purple blue Jacaranda trees. In the afternoon we visited the centre of the city, sadly just missing a Revival Meeting in the main park of Harare, where thousands of people, many in the ‘uniforms’ showing their church affiliation, were flocking. Next time we must time things better! The park itself showed signs of slight neglect (litter, little recent watering) but still had a lovely and safe feel to it and we felt rather out of place with all the courting couples holding trysts on this balmy Sunday afternoon.
A walk downtown revealed a city that is in transition, some stunning stone, glass and marble buildings recently erected alongside more tumbledown buildings. The pavements showed signs of lack of maintenance and evidently there are insufficient town funds to devote to road maintenance and litter collection and all the things that support an urban infrastructure.
We are being met at 7.30am tomorrow to be taken to the office for the first of our visits; these will be in Harare itself, a busy schedule has been set, organised by Ernest Mupugna (Regional Director) which will continue until Saturday. Just setting up a Trustee visit takes quite a lot of work so on the way here Helena and I read the Southern Africa Strategy document, the 2010 Review and a write up from Mark (Practical Action Finance Director) with recommendations following his recent visit here and visits to the projects in September.No Comments » | Add your comment
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