Globally, 1.3 billion people have no access to energy and it’s this lack of access that is keeping people living in poverty. Energy has the power to transform lives, it enables clinics to offer 24 hour care, for school children to study at night and it enables farmers to irrigate their land with reliable water pumps.
Practical Action has been working with people across Malawi and Zimbabwe to bring clean and sustainable solar energy to their communities. This project is called Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities and I recently travelled to Zimbabwe to see how energy is changing lives.
I met Miss Mumpande, who works at the Mashaba Primary School in the Gwanda District. She has taught at the school for eight years and teaches 12-13 year olds. The school now has access to solar power, which means they have electricity for lighting.
Sadly, it hasn’t always been this way. For years, the school had no access to electricity and they struggled to attract teachers because of it. Teachers would also have to prepare lessons by candle light and the students couldn’t stay late to study because the school was in darkness.
“Before solar, it was difficult, I wouldn’t prepare the school work well. I had to light candles and prepare. It took two hours, now it only takes one. My eyes would hurt. I wouldn’t prepare my work well, sometimes I made mistakes and had to buy candles myself.”
Having no electricity also affected her student’s education, she explained how they couldn’t study outside of school, but now they are able to stay late and study in the light. Their grades have improved and they’re now excited to come to class. The school has even started offering night classes for older members of the community.
Having electricity has had a huge impact on Miss Mumpande, her students and the rest of the school. She said, “Some teachers left because of the problems but now many want to come here because of the electricity.”
Mashaba Primary school is proof that electricity really can change lives.
To find out more about the project, click here.No Comments » | Add your comment
Written by Pratikshya Priyadarshini
A hot, sunny afternoon in the Sikharchandi slum of Bhubaneswar does not evoke the imagery of a drab, lazy life that it typically must. One can hear the din from a distance, hard rubber balls hitting against wooden bats, followed closely by the voices of young boys appealing instinctively to an invisible umpire. As we walk along the dusty paths, the roads wider than the adjacent houses, a number of young girls flock to us, greeting us with coy smiles. Young and old women, sitting on verandas, welcome us with pleasantries and call out to their daughters, “The Sakhi Club Didis are here!” We stop in front of a small pakka house, the purple paint shining brightly in the slanting afternoon sun while the rice lights from Diwali night hanging down the roof wait for the evening to be lit. 15 year old Sailaja comes out of the little door, wiping her hands and wearing an infectious smile on her face as she briskly lays down the mats for us to sit down. She then speaks to us about the Sunalo Sakhi program and her participation in it.
Sailaja was 13 years old when she first got her periods. Anxious and fearful, she informed her mother about it. She knew very little about menstruation before the onset of her menarche. In fact, even after she got her periods, she had very little knowledge about the process and had harbored a number of misconceptions that she had begotten from her previous generations. She recalls that when she got her periods for the first time, she was isolated from everyone and kept inside her house owing to the customary practices of her culture. Moreover, she was placed under a number of restrictions by her family in terms of moving and playing, interacting with boys and men and speaking openly about periods. Sailaja had been using cloth to prevent staining back then. She was facing a number of difficulties in keeping herself clean since she had to wash the cloth on her own and dry it. It used to be inconvenient during the monsoons and winter as there would be no sunlight and the cloth wouldn’t dry up. Add to that, she was not even aware of the health repercussions that using unhygienic methods like cloth instead of sanitary napkins might bring about. Sailaja tells us that when the CCWD and Practical Action program ‘Sunalo Sakhi’ started in her community, a lot of young girls and women were reluctant to go and join the meetings. With the constant efforts of the community mobilizers, the Sakhi Club was created in the area as a forum for dissemination of knowledge and discussion regarding menstrual hygiene and related issues. A number of women and girls started actively participating in the programme. The community mobilizers used a number of strategies like audio visual screening, radio podcasts, visual charts, action learning, songs and dance in order to educate the participants about the various facts related to menstruation. They discussed the scientific reasons behind menstruation and busted many myths regarding periods. They also discussed various health issues pertaining to menstruation, ways to maintain hygiene during periods and practices to be followed for proper healthcare during adolescence. Gradually, the girls who were initially reluctant began to open up and started discussing their own menstrual problems with the community mobilizers who tried their best to clarify their queries. Sailaja herself was facing problems with her menstrual cycle. Her menstrual blood was thick and clotted which caused her severe abdominal pain and nausea. She spoke about it to the expert doctor on the radio programme ‘Sunalo Sakhi’ and the doctor advised her to drink 4-5 liters of water every day. She followed the doctor’s advice and noticed changes within a few days.
Today the Sikharchandi Sakhi Club has 32 members. All of them, including Sailaja have switched to sanitary pads instead of cloth. Sailaja now changes her pads 3-4 times per day and disposes the used pads by either burning or burying them. She monitors her periods using a calendar. She uses the methods suggested by the community mobilizers like hot water press and ajwain water consumption to handle her abdominal aches during periods. Her problem with blood clot has also been completely resolved. She tells us that the conversation regarding menstruation has changed a lot at her home and in her community with most women now speaking openly about it and discarding the taboos and myths in favour of factual understanding. All the girls in the area now go to school during their periods while they were earlier stopped by their families. Sailaja now exercises regularly, eats a healthy diet and takes care of her health. She promises that she will keep spreading the message of the club among her younger friends and urge them to not be fearful or reluctant, to take care of their health and hygiene as well as to listen to the Sunalo Sakhi programme by Practical Answers on Radio Choklate so that their issues can be addressed.
(Ms Pratikshya Priyadarshini, Student of TISS, Mumbai interned with Practical Answers and was engaged in Sunolo Sakhi project)1 Comment » | Add your comment
Bimala lives in a small village in the Makwanpur District of Nepal. She lives with 10 members of her family and cooks their meals on a three stone stove which is little more than a pile of bricks.
“It takes me up to three hours to cook a meal and I do this three times a day.”
The family knows just how dangerous the smoke from the stove is to their health, Bimala has suffered from breathing problems and eye complaints her whole life. “Everything was black, it was so smoky and we couldn’t sit in the house.” To try and stop the home filling with the thick, black smoke, Bimala has moved the stove outside the home but during the rainy season it becomes even harder to cook for her family.
“Sometimes I have to cook with an umbrella, it’s difficult but I have to prepare the meal. Sometimes the food is half cooked.”
Bimala has two young granddaughters who are now beginning to help their grandmother to prepare meals but she worries about their future. “I am worried about my grandchildren but what can I do.”
An improved stove and smoke hood would completely change Bimala and her family’s lives. They would spend less time cooking and would be able to spend this time earning an income, looking after cattle and studying. It’s a simple solution that has the power to transform lives forever.2 Comments » | Add your comment
The first time I came across the idea of simple, poverty-fighting technology was in Lesotho in 2011, when I saw a roundabout that doubled up as a water pump. Whenever the local kids played on the roundabout, it would bring up water into the village well, giving the community a safe drinking water supply. Genius! I was captivated by the essence of this straightforward project that was making a huge difference to everyday life for some of the world’s poorest people.
The next time I came across this “intermediate” or “appropriate” technology was at university. We were asked to discuss whether these kinds of small-scale, people-focused technological interventions in developing countries were still relevant. Fair to say, I was shocked! I couldn’t imagine anyone coming up with an argument against the kinds of projects that I’d seen working successfully and appropriately first hand.
But then I found it. How can a few small, basic projects make a difference to the huge problem of poverty across our globe? According to the United Nations, one in eight people live in extreme poverty. Practical Action has found that over 840 million people are undernourished and over a third of the developing world doesn’t have access to acceptable sanitation facilities. With statistics this terrifying, how can we possibly think we can make a difference? One reason, we found, that people don’t support charities, is because they simply don’t know where to start. Poverty is too big a problem to tackle. So, as fundraisers, as awareness-raisers, as people who want to make a difference, what do we do? How do we encourage people to give when to them, their £5 or £10 or even £100 feels like a drop in the ocean?
The reason I was first fascinated by that roundabout was because it was, as EF Schumacher put it, small but beautiful. A design straightforward enough to be implemented in a rural, isolated community, used immediately, and made sustainably. I saw real people using it, and met children who had a safe water supply and therefore a much brighter future. Seeing a project up close and personal makes it so much easier to invest in, and easier to invest in similar ones in the future.
If only it was possible to take every supporter to see a project that they have helped to fund. Financially and logistically this isn’t possible, but we can still make individuals feel connected. Hearing names and stories, and seeing faces changes poverty from something that feels remote and far away to something that anyone can help to eradicate. Perhaps we can’t end poverty in one fell swoop but surely doing something beautifully small is better than doing nothing at all?
In a world where having the latest technology is up there in most people’s priorities, creating technologies that bring energy, water, sanitation and risk reduction strategies must be relevant and important. And yes, the projects may be small. But the outlook and overall impact certainly isn’t. As I learn more about Practical Action, the work that’s happening and the plans for work to come, it’s difficult to not catch the excitement. Last year, Practical Action helped 1.7 million people with simple solutions to get out of poverty. These small projects are making a massive difference.
One such project is the zeer pot fridge. This simple fridge, made from local materials in Sudan, can hold up to 12kg of fruit and veg. Carrots and okra that would have been rotten within 4 days in the Sudanese heat can now last up to 20 days, meaning that families don’t have to battle hunger and even famine. Hawa Abbas explained to Practical Action that her family’s life “has been so much better” since using her zeer pot fridge. The fridges can be made locally and support families who are already proficient at producing their own crops. Supporting projects like this, no matter how small, is vital because they are making a real difference to real lives every day.
If you’ve been inspired to make a small but beautiful difference, please contact us at email@example.com for more information and resources, or to learn more about Practical Action’s projects, have a look at what we do.1 Comment » | Add your comment
So you’ve had that great idea – you are raring to go. But how do you keep up the momentum? After having the idea to end all ideas, it can sometimes be quite difficult to keep the money coming in. So here are a few ideas to keep your audience – and yourself – engaged with the grand challenge ahead.
Get your social media on
Social media is tricky. It can be hard to know sometimes how much to post: are those ten carefully crafted pictures of your trip abroad enough? Or are they too much? It’s important to get the balance right, and that applies to fundraising as well. You don’t want to overload your audience, but you do want to keep them informed. Social media is the key to engaging people today, and so to keep those pounds pouring in you have to strike a balance. When engaging people in your fundraising journey it is important to create a sense of story. If you are posting pictures of your progress, consider how those pictures might be viewed within the wider narrative. It’s important to include people in your story – if someone donates a large amount of money, or joins you in your fundraising efforts, why not take the time to thank them? The more people you involve, the more potential your post has. Always make sure anything you post can be understood and shared by others – the more people that see your posts, the more money you make!
If you are fundraising for a specific cause – say by climbing Kilimanjaro – why not keep people engaged by staging smaller events in the lead up to the main event? Try attending an event in all your mountain gear, and get people really talking about what you are trying to do. By regularly refreshing your fundraising output, you keep people talking and engaged in the task at hand. The more you get people talking, the more attention your cause will receive. Utilising those natural networks is an essential part of raising more money – friend of a friend, and all that. People are a natural resource when trying to reach more people, so if you can keep yourself fresh in the minds of those with deep pockets, you’ll be well on your way to raising a few more pounds. Challenging yourself, and the people you are trying to reach, is a fun and fresh way to keep people clicking.
Keep it simple
People today are very busy, and very easily distracted. If you want to keep people on board with your fundraising journey, you’ve got it keep it simple. Whether you use a JustGiving page or a collection pot, make sure your fundraising pot is readily accessible. With every post you make, every event you attend, and every tweet you hashtag, make sure the appropriate donation channel is attached in a glaringly obvious way. Keep the donation forms straightforward, the attached links direct and the pleas for attention on point. It only takes the smallest reason to dissuade someone from parting with their money so make sure you never give someone the opportunity to talk themselves out of giving their money to you!
Put yourself on show
When your fundraising journey begins, the very first people you’ll ask to donate will be the ones who already care about you. While you might inspire a larger following later on in your fundraising journey, those first steps that you take will be with people who have already invested in you. In a world with so many problems, the key to cutting through is to make your cause personal to you. Why did you decide to fundraise for us? What does this cause mean to you? The demands on people’s pockets can sometimes be high, so to keep people spending, you have to tell them why it matters. Why are you doing this? If you connect with them, show them what this means to you, you might just find people are more willing to part with their hard earned cash. Often people connect more with you as an individual, than they do with an issue, so highlighting why this is important to you is key to them understanding why they should donate.
If you are currently fundraising for Practical Action, and want to talk/discuss your progress contact at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the fundraising page.15 Comments » | Add your comment
Do you remember the movie Sliding Doors? The one that asks the question ‘what if she never caught that train?’
A colleague and I were exchanging ‘what if’ questions recently and I told her my favourite ‘what if’ was ‘what if Coca Cola was never invented?’ I started outlining my current theory which includes a lot of yoghurt-based drinks like India’s Lassi or Turkey’s Ayran.
My colleague told me her dad’s favourite ‘what if’ was ‘what if there was no Google?’ We both rolled our eyes of course, laughing at what a typical dad-type question that was. Amidst the sarcastic giggling, there was something about this question that struck a chord. Being the life-hack addict I am, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to once again experiment on myself and I decided then and there to abstain from Google and all other search engines for a month.
I started excitedly buzzing about my plan to ‘go Google-less’ and a friend suggested that I fundraise off the back of my crazy experiment and donate to Practical Action’s Technology Justice work. Given my tendency to give up on things halfway, I figured fundraising for a worthy cause would spur me on to achieve my goal so I set up a Just Giving page and the rest is history.
Actually, I only wish it was history – my experiment started just a few days ago, at the beginning of September…
If I’m honest, I had very little idea what it would be like without instant access to information apart from the obvious: London would be tough to navigate without Google Maps, my poor memory of song/band names would be exposed once and for all and (the most scary perhaps) I would never know when to take my umbrella with me. Less than a week into my ‘Life before Google’ experiment, I am already on quite a different type of adventure.
If I could name one thing that has truly impacted me so far it would be the simple act of asking for help. Instead of feeling ‘help-less’, asking friends and family for information has made me feel much more warmth and connection with other people in my life. Today I asked my Colombian friend to translate the word ‘Chévere’ which I had seen being used online. His answer was: ‘it’s a very Colombian word. It means “cool” or pleasant, nice, fun… yeh, more like cool and fun’. I couldn’t help but bask in the warmth of his wonderful, personalised answer and the subtle shades of meaning he conveyed – a far more enjoyable experience than frantically using Google Translate in the cab en route to an Airbnb.
Asking for help is sometimes a bit scary too, especially when you think you already know the answer. For example, I am forever getting confused between sea bass and sea bream. Last night I was convinced that I’d finally remembered the long skinny one (my favourite) was called sea bream. Unfortunately my boyfriend was of the opinion that this was actually sea bass. After several minutes of debate, I habitually reached for my phone but then remembered: no Google during September. There I was in the kitchen, the realisation slowly dawning on me that I might have no other option than to trust my boyfriend (at least for September). A scary thought for someone like me who is always right!
I remember my dad saying to me once that when people can help you, it makes them feel really special. I have a feeling that over the next few weeks I’m about to make a lot of people feel special. Either that or they will stop answering the phone when they see who’s calling them to ask for help… again.2 Comments » | Add your comment
We’re drawing our 50th anniversary year to a close at the end of August, by celebrating 50 successful technologies, which have had a huge impact on communities across the world.
We asked our supporters to vote for their favourites and these are the three they chose.
There was quite a wide range of response. Rating technologies isn’t easy! And we’d love to hear your views as well in the comments below.
How do you choose between such a variety of different technologies? Our energy access work demonstrates how vital energy is for raising communities out of poverty, but a lack of clean water and sanitation is life threatening.
Rural communities we work with might vote for one of our agriculture and food technologies. Being able to grow enough to feed your family is a key concern for millions of farmers in the developing world.
This focus on choice goes to the heart of Practical Action’s philosophy. We work with communities to help them find the solutions to those problems they prioritise themselves. And we make sure that those solutions are sustainable for those communities as well as for the planet we share.
Our solutions rarely address single issues. The problems caused by poverty are complex and demand a range of responses, not all of which involve technology. Consequently our scope is immensely varied and covers many different areas of work.
And over the last fifty years we’ve tried out many things in many places and worked with many different people. And this has brought a huge range of learning, which we share as widely as possible in the form of free to download technical information. And because we believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so we encourage others to copy and scale up our work.
For me these two EF Schumacher quotes sum up our approach:
Knowledge is power
“The best aid to give is intellectual aid, a gift of useful knowledge. A gift of knowledge is infinitely preferable to a gift of material things
Small is still beautiful
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent. It takes a touch of genius to move in the opposite direction”
Our world is changing rapidly and we need to make sure that rapid technological change doesn’t leave poor people behind. Innovation should centre on solving the great challenges the world faces today ending poverty and providing a sustainable future for all.
Let’s hope that before the next 50 years have passed we’ll have achieved this and Practical Action will be working to keep the world a better place for everyone.1 Comment » | Add your comment
Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to visit a number of Practical Action’s projects across Latin America. Not only was I overwhelmed by the colours, culture and pure grit of people living in some really challenging environments, but by the generosity and open friendship they showed when welcoming us into their homes.
At an altitude of almost 4000m, high in the mountains of western Bolivia is the Jesús de Machaca municipality. With a population of roughly 400 people, a tough four hour car ride from any major town along rough dirt roads, this is a remote and arguably hostile landscape to live in. There are few ways to make a living up here, and apart from growing limited crops such as quinoa, the environment means agriculture is largely restricted to farming camelids.
Llamas and alpacas are hardy animals, which when cared for properly; provide a vital income for farmers. However; challenges of weather, uncontrolled breeding, inadequate knowledge of rearing livestock, along with often unfair access to markets means that farmers in the upland areas of Peru and Bolivia are struggling to earn a living to support their families.
But, with the help of our kind supporters, Practical Action is changing this. Below you can read about five simple, sustainable solutions that are helping to transform the livelihoods of camelid farmers in Latin America.
1. Covered shelters:
The relentless push of climate change is causing the weather to be unpredictable in high altitude areas, and farmers in Bolivia are often caught out by sudden bites of frost, or prolonged rainfall. Martin Queso and his family showed us the open fronted shelter that Practical Action have helped him to build, he told us:
“Before, my animals would just range freely. When the weather suddenly changed, with cold winds, ice or rain, they would get sick, often they would die, and I would have no way of making any income. I couldn’t afford to replace a lost llama, and my flock got smaller and smaller.”
With the shelter, now the family can easily bring the herd inside for protection from the elements when needed.
2. Rainwater storage, irrigation and water pumps and troughs:
With erratic and unreliable rainfall, mountainous areas in Peru and Bolivia often go for periods of time where water is scarce. With the implementation of rainwater harvesting systems like this one is Nunõa, Peru, water can be collected and stored. Irrigation pipes are connected to the reservoirs, ensuring the surrounding ground remains green for grazing. In Jesús de Machaca, the installation of photovoltaic water pumps and troughs means that livestock have access to fresh water all year round.
“We didn’t believe it would work at first” Dalia Condori, a member of the local council told us, “but now it has brought water and a better life for so many”
3. Breeding pens:
We’ve seen them patch-worked into the countryside of the United Kingdom for centuries:
Dry-stone wall enclosures that hem-in herds, divide open grassland and mark boundary lines; but this simple method of livestock separation has only been introduced fairly recently to communities in the Nunõa district, near Sicuani in southern Peru. Enabling farmers to isolate certain alpacas from the rest of the herd allows for selective and planned breeding of the healthiest animals, in turn producing the highest quality wool fleece, returning a better price at market. It also means that young alpacas can be nurtured and protected for longer periods of time before being released to roam freely with the herd, thus boosting their fitness and increasing their chances of survival.
4. Market access and product diversification:
In the remote villages of upland Bolivia, getting a fair price for llama wool is tough – individual farmers can only sell for whatever the going price in the local area is, even though this may be much lower than what the fleece is actually worth. Practical Action is working with farming communities to create co-operative groups that can work together to access bigger markets for their products, and demand a higher, fairer price. Llama farmers like Andrés are also encouraged to diversify their products in order to make a better income. Andrés, who has won multiple awards for his spinning and wool-product work, also makes and paints traditional Bolivian clay figures to sell at the tourist markets.
5. Training and knowledge:
Practical Action helps to provide training on basic animal husbandry and wellbeing. Farmers in Jesús de Machaca learn about the right type and quantities of nutritious food, how to administer medication for their llamas when they are sick, and how to maintain the grazing pasture land. The knowledge is then shared between farming communities by Practical Action ‘Promotors’ who help to teach others how to breed and care for their livestock effectively.
It is vitally important to the families in these areas that the great work that Practical Action is able to do continues. Llamas and alpacas are strong and intelligent and are crucial for the farming communities in Latin America. Access to the tools and knowledge for breeding and looking after their animals provide families with a secure source of income. With just £47 you can help to support a llama farmer in Bolivia by buying a ‘llama lifeline’ Practical Present today.1 Comment » | Add your comment
Jack Owino is the Headteacher of a school in Nakuru, Kenya. He has worked there since 2012 and has worked with Practical Action and the Umande Trust to improve access to clean water, toilets and hygiene training for his 765 students.
The students come from the nearby slums and Jack explains their home life as ‘difficult’. Most have little or no access to clean water and decent sanitation at home so it is important to Jack and his staff that the children do not have to worry about going to the toilet and can drink clean, safe water when they’re at school.
Jack knows that having no access to water and sanitation at school affects attendance and he was determined to change this.
“In 2012, it was bad. We had one block of boys toilets and one block for girls. They were in a bad state. We now have two blocks each. Before, children had to run back home to go to the toilet, in the bush. They would run home and never come back.
“Bad sanitation at home meant that children were sick a lot. We now monitor their cleanliness. Water at home is contaminated but they are safe here. They are encouraged to go back to their communities and pass on their knowledge. They are agents of change.”
Water and sanitation is absolutely vital to keeping children in school and it has been amazing to see the change in the students at Jack’s school, they are happier, healthier and many are now going on to further education.8 Comments » | Add your comment
In India, for every woman, cooking is a primary job. In villages and the countryside, women take care of the household work including cooking, collecting firewood and preparation of food. Using the traditional cook stoves causes respiratory diseases for women and children. In addition women collect firewood from the local forest and which is life threatening and lots of physical toil for them. It also creates a threat for the forest and its conservation. Though in short run, nobody talks about such issues, these have a greater impact in the long run.
A study in 2014 supported by Practical Action, ‘Gender and Livelihoods Impacts of Clean Cook stoves in South Asia’ states that, “women largely shoulder the majority of the burden they naturally become exposed to allied hazards while cooking. They also additionally get exposed to hazards collecting fuel.”
All these questions and problems have a solution now with the efforts of a group of tribal women in Koraput district in Odisha. K Madhabi, the leader of the group has earned accolades for their honest efforts. A low smoke project, prepared by K Madhabi and her group, ‘Access Grameen Mahila Udyog’ won a prestigious Youth Innovation Fund Award from the Chief Minister of Odisha.
12 women from 5 blocks gathered together and formed this women group under the able leadership of Madhabi. At 26 years old Madhabi is now a successful entrepreneur and able to show a path to many like her in the community.
The cook stove prepared by the group is an energy efficient one which has reduced the smoke to zero level and the cooking time by up to 50%, according to many users. It also consumes less firewood in comparison to other traditional cook stoves.
“The journey was full of challenges. All the women first time learned the mason work and now can manufacture cook stoves of their own. They have divided the work for marketing and Madhabi is leading them.”
As well as manufacturing, Madhabi is also instrumental in knitting together women from different villages and disseminating knowledge about using low smoke cook stoves. She advocates for a better living for all women and is pretty much dedicated for that. This cook stove has already been tested by the experts from Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology and the group has been registered under the department which deals with small and medium scale business units.
“Life is not the same as before. We have been treated with much respect in our community,” says Madhabi. The group has been getting regular orders and they are working hard to meet the demands.
Practical Action’s India office provided technical and financial support for this group through a project called ACCESS (Access to Clean Cook-stoves for Economic Sustainability and Social Wellbeing) funded by the Johnson Matthey.No Comments » | Add your comment