In the aftermath of Nepal’s mega earthquake and amidst incessant aftershocks, the Practical Action team here in Nepal are working hard to offer whatever in personal and professional capacities they can. All of us – as many as 82 professionals have all been affected in some way by the disaster’s destruction and have been doing all we can in such unprecedented nearly worst case scenario.
At this time everybody’s goal is same but we are doing different things in different settings. After all, in a situation where whole state is screaming for rescue and relief, we are as if indifferent by virtue of our ability to bounce back from sorrows and trauma. We are working hard to reach the needy victims, form alliances with other organisations, sympathise and empathise with people’s feelings and contribute physically, mentally and financially.
Our leadership so much engrossed in the emergency situation here, reaching out to people in the fullest capacity, and reminding me of my days in a human rights organisation when human rights violations and ethnic violence were rampant and urgent response was a high priority. To my surprise when everyone around me is so generous how can I seat just ideal? My seniors were coordinating resources and facilitating various channels to reach out to community. Our colleagues Buddhi Kumal is deployed in the forefront. My colleagues including Swarnima, Prabin G, Sachin and Milan were around ground zero zone for offering relief and rescue. Our DRR team is working at full throttle at ground level whilst all of us are being involved in various works that complement the undertakings of our experts.
It is said that giving is always satisfying but when you have limited things to offer, generosity counts highly. The organisation itself has been urging all its teammates, donors and partners to express solidarity and to contribute in whatever capacity, so that needy people get sigh of relief and respite. Further to this, there are various stories of contribution in personal and professional capacities by our colleagues, domestic and universal coordination and appeals from relevant desk is all time high. This first-hand experience of generosity not only inspires but is catalytic in making the team more motivated to offer support and help. To be honest I was not as generous as I am right now.
When leaders who better understand the organisation’s capacity and its strategic relevance are working 24/7, there is no need of other motivation and incentive. The sense of encouragement, the smell of generosity and cooperation is everywhere regardless of aims and themes. Standing tall as a rescue and relief providing entity needs much resource and expertise and our priority areas of reconstruction, rebuilding and resilience are waiting for more resources to pour in. However, we may be in short supply of resources but we are not in short supply of vision, value and vigour. The generosity with our sleeves rolled up for the relief work has made us a frontline organisation that focuses on immediate technological needs in regard to shelter, water supply and energy.
I urge you all to be a part of our relief work. Please show your generosity by supporting our work.No Comments » | Add your comment
I recently visited one of the severely earthquake affected districts – Gorkha which is also one of the project areas of Practical Action. When I was approaching Gorkha, I could easily see the effect – the hills were covered with orange or blue patches – tarpaulin which people are using as temporary shelter. The situation is panicking as aftershocks are still active. I could see fear in the peoples’ face when they feel the aftershock, escaping out of their vulnerable habitat.
I managed to visit a nearby village (Paslang) in the municipality which is completely destroyed; there were 28 houses in the area and now only 4 are standing. The quake claimed two lives – a nine-month-pregnant woman and a month-old child. People are in dire need of shelter. They are managing somehow for food but for shelter they are waiting for the relief materials to reach their area.
I was in the district headquarters and from the scene one could easily imagine what it could look like in the remote villages in terms of relief and rescue. The temporary shelter in the district headquarters is crowded. There is no provision of toilets as well as people are not concerned about maintaining the hygiene practices – hopefully they have more important things to think about. When I enquired to some of the active social workers who were getting updates from the villages – they said that none of the temporary shelters has toilet facilities.
One could see lots of volunteers and development workers rushing in. It gives a feeling that they are competing with each other to get hold of the villages into their accounts but reaching to the sufferers is not at the expected level. It seems proper coordination among development worker is lacking which is a must – for Better Response.
Practical Action is conducting relief activities in six Village Development Committees (VDCs), three each in Gorkha and Dhading districts. In the first phase, the relief activities are particularly focused on temporary shelter, water and sanitation including toilets, nutritional diets, energy for lighting and mobile phone charging. In the second phase, after 3 to 6 months, the initiatives will be focused on rehabilitation and restoration of livelihoods with building back better activities.1 Comment » | Add your comment
I still can’t imagine it was an earthquake. The futsal match between Practical Action and Handicap International was running at full throttle and 1-1 was the result. My three and half years old daughter was cheering for Practical Action together with my colleague Sachin’s daughter. Suddenly people started running away from the futsal ground. I thought a fight had ensued. But then I could hear sound of something collapsing. There was a huge roar. The spectators were running for safety. It was an earthquake. And it was big. Very big!
In spite of the hullabaloo, I was aware of the two little girls I had to take care of. Both the innocent girls had no idea what was happening. I took hold of both and ducked for cover. They were terrified to the bones by the stampede. Sachin ran to us frantically from the futsal ground and helped me take both the girls to a safe place.
All assembled were intimidated and trying to call their close relatives but to no avail. The situation was scary. The aftershocks were strong enough to send chills down my spine. My feelings were similar to that of my colleague Prabin’s account.
Pillion-riding back to my place, I could see the devastation though in bits and pieces. The terrorised Kathmanduites were out on the streets. Many walls on the way had collapsed down and many houses had visible cracks.
The following days were horrific – living in tents throughout the day and night with rumours of bigger earthquake to hit the city floating around causing more fear and panic.
After putting up with hundreds of aftershocks and sleepless nights I finally joined office on 28 April. However, I had not well recovered to resume my daily routine. I would once in a while get call from my wife and daughter requesting to get home early.
On my second day to office I made up my mind to visit the demolished sites. As I entered the New Road Gate, the once vibrant street bustling with crowd, was like a street of an abandoned city. Few people passing through the road section were hurrying towards their destinations in order to avoid the falling of buildings upon them.
As I passed through the always crowded street, I rushed through. The buildings seemed tall demons ready to devour me. Reaching the Joshi Complex, my after-office hangout with my friends for stress-buster chats over cups of tea, I was dumbfounded by the silence of the place. None of the shops were open even after four days of the horrific tremor.
When I moved to Basantapur, there was a barricade with “No Entry” sign. So I took a detour via Jhochhen, the Freak Street. As I reached the Basantapur Dabali, my weekend jaunt, I could not stop myself. There was a lump in my throat and I tried hard to stop the tears trickling down. The nine storey palace was nowhere to be seen. Sitting on the Dabali in its front, I would often gaze at the beauty and grandeur of the place. It was all gone within a matter of minutes.
Returning via Dharhara, the pride of Kathmandu built by Nepal’s first Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa devastated in 1934 AD earthquake, I could just see a short stump.
Along with durbar squares in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur – all World Heritage Sites, Dharhara, Kal Mochan and many significant monuments were reduced to mounds of earth. The 7.8 Richter scale earthquake that shook not only the country but also the confidence of Nepalis, has claimed lives of 6,250 and injured 14,357 as of 1 May according to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Around eight million people have been affected with 143,673 houses damaged and another 160,786 destroyed. Gorkha, Sindhupalchok, Nuwakot, Rasuwa, Dhading, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Lalitpur, Kavrepalanchok, Dolakha, Ramechhap, and Sindhuli districts have been badly hit by the earthquake.
Can an earthquake be so ruthless? I still can’t imagine it was an earthquake. It was an Armageddon. But our never dying spirit hasn’t subsided. We will soon bounce back.
Journalist Ujjwal Acharya tweeted:
So many people tirelessly & voluntarily providing time & resources to help others after #NepalQuake. Humanism is alive! Salute to them all!
— Ujjwal Acharya (@UjjwalAcharya) April 30, 2015
For the relief work, the government has identified shelter, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), health and food as the major priorities. Practical Action has rushed to its work areas in Gorkha and Dhading, two of the most affected districts.
Practical Action South Asia Regional Director Achyut Luitel tweeted:
— Achyut Luitel (@achyutluitel) April 29, 2015
Please join hands with us to help the earthquake victims.6 Comments » | Add your comment
As far as I remember I have not used the word “helplessness” in my writings or in my conversation. I used to find such words helpless to make my expression more effective and impressive. Now things have turned around, in-fact it’s upside down. Now everything that I myself, my family, friends and my “state” are feeling is helplessness. It took me more than three decades of reluctance not to use this word. But in last five days after the mega earthquake that have jolted everything including my psyche and emotions, I find this word so meaningful and appropriate.
Escaping the two minutes long shakes and living in tent for four consecutive nights with my child and wife, with neighbours with whom I had never spoken and limited supply of water, without phone, internet and power connection, was utter helplessness. To add to the woes were the looming uncertainty of the next aftershock, utter silence and havoc all over with big planes and choppers flying above our heads, and terrifying news of near complete destruction. I was doing nothing except controlling my fear.
Within few hours of nature’s mega punch there were other equally threatening blows from underneath. The fear was not diminishing, in fact the uncertainty induced helplessness was all over my heart and mind. I needed to calm myself down and provide some encouragement to my family, but still I was helpless. I could not do so. Gradually the news of casualties started to pour in from different sources. We also heard of rampant collapse of cities and villages. I had chance to speak to my sibling and parents. Then only I realised that I was lucky enough to survive. Being so helpless does not matter much, what matters is survival and I don’t care whether I was a helpless living being at that time.
Not so long back, I received a training on Lifeline Communications offered by BBC Media Action here in Kathmandu. The training revolved around the aftermath scenario of a mega earthquake in Kathmandu and being a development practitioner making the communications among various stakeholders including victims more effective. So many techniques and tricks of taking the things into control by virtue of communications were taught. But in the aftermath of such monstrous disaster I was helpless to use even a single line of learning. I was so helpless.
On the third day, I pulled myself together and denied the request of my spouse to confine myself to the poorly hung tent. I took out my scooter and cruised through deserted roads of Kathmandu city. I thought that I will be capturing some photographs of devastation with my mobile phone camera. But as I went, I was rather discouraged to do so seeing the suffering. Later I stopped by down-town Tundikhel, were people were queuing up. I was just curious what was going on. Nearing the scene, I found that one of the charitable organisations was offering free lunch. I looked at the lunch; it seemed to me unhygienic and also not so mouth-watering. But unknowingly I was in queue to quench my hunger. I had the food, again realising that I was so helpless. But I also realised that there were some people who were being helpful. They had not lost everything and were not as helpless as me.
Practical Action has launched an earthquake appeal to help the survivors. Please help our work in Nepal today and donate now.No Comments » | Add your comment
Nepal is very special place for me. I have visited many times and it always feels like home. Nepal has been kind to me. It has given me friendships, taught me how to live in the moment, showed me how to love with every ounce of my being and taught me the importance of inner peace. I owe a lot to Nepal.
I woke up on Saturday morning to the catastrophic news of one of the worst earthquakes to hit the country in 80 years. I panicked seeing the pictures, unable to take in the devastation.
My last visit to Nepal was just a few months ago. I travelled to a village called Ghachok in the district of Gorkha. It was a trip I will never forget. I was visiting Practical Action’s indoor air pollution work, a fantastic project helping families remove deadly smoke from their homes with a simple smoke hood. The project was saving lives.
Ghachok is a remote hillside village of a few hundred people. I stayed with a family for the trip. They welcomed me into their home. I spent a lot of the trip with the community; the majority of time with the children. We had drawing competitions, played pass the parcel, musical bumps and danced. I loved every minute. My most precious memory was walking with the children to school. It was a reasonably difficult walk for me, the children giggled when I needed to stop for a bit. Two beautiful little girls called Maya and Somika wouldn’t let go of my hands the whole time.
The epicentre of Saturday’s earthquake was in Gorkha and I have since learnt that 90% of the homes in the area have been destroyed. Practical Action haven’t been able to contact communities we work with yet, so we don’t know if the families in Ghachok are alive or dead; if they survived the initial earthquake, the relentless aftershocks or if they were lucky enough to survive if they have access to food or water.
I haven’t been able to think of anything else but my friends, colleagues and the families I met in Ghachok for the last four days. I have cried and prayed for them.
Practical Action staff are on their way to Gorkha, desperately trying to reach them, to understand what we can do to help.
You can help us reach communities devastated by the earthquake by donating now.
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I am a single mother, I know how difficult it can be to juggle work, run a home and look after your child. I also know what it is like to have a child who is ill. My son has an incurable muscle wasting disease. I know how it feels to desperately want to protect your child, to do anything in your power to make things better. I also know what it’s like to have no choice but just do your best.
In November I met Bishwo, a mother from a town called Gorkha in Nepal whose son was ill too. She was just 18 years old and her son, Tham a baby at 9 months old. Bishwo lives alone with her son, her husband was forced to work away in the army as there were no jobs locally. This was the only way the family could survive. His salary (about £70 a month) had to support them and his parents too.
Bishwo invited me into her home, which was small, dark and cramped. In the corner was an open fire. She uses the fire for warmth, cooking and light, without it they couldn’t survive. As soon as I entered the house the smoke hit me like a brick wall, my eyes immediately streaming. I could barely catch my breath.
Bishwo told me how ill Tham was, how he suffered from frequent fevers, coughs and had difficulty breathing. He’d had pneumonia 4 times and he wasn’t even a year old yet. The fire was her only option to keep him warm.
We talked about the Practical Action smoke hood, a simple solution that is placed over the fire and removes up to 80% of the smoke from the house through a chimney. She told me how she wished she could afford one so she and Tham could breathe more easily.
Bishwo never let go of Tham the whole time I was with them. He never stopped crying and wheezing and Bishwo never stop coughing.
I felt a real connection with Bishwo, she was a strong woman and just wanted to do her best for her baby. I could relate to her. I was angry that Bishwo couldn’t protect her son, that she couldn’t afford a smoke hood, that Tham needn’t be this ill. This was preventable.
Indoor air pollution caused by open fires kills 4.3 million people every year. That’s more people than Malaria, HIV and TB combined. This is a health emergency.
A Practical Action smoke hood and chimney costs just £44 and can save lives. We plan to reach as many families like Bishwo’s as we can but we can only do this with your support. To donate and watch our short video please click here
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The Supporter Services department at Practical Action are dedicated to providing excellent care and service to our supporters. As a team we work tirelessly “behind the scenes” and in all our communications with supporters to ensure we meet our high expectations. We were extremely thrilled this week to learn that one of our team has been recognised for her hard work and dedication and has been selected as a finalist under the category ‘Charity Support Function Hero’ for this years Charity Staff and Volunteers Awards.
Gerry Corkhill has worked in the Supporter Services Team for over 10 years and diligently processes an ever-increasing stream of donation functions from our fantastic supporters and keeps up with the fast-paced digital world of fundraising. She, like all the team, is always eager to assist our supporters with any enquiry they have, no matter how small, and aims to provide the highest level of care possible so we are delighted to share the news that one of our unsung heroes has been shortlisted from hundreds of nominations from across the UK.
We are really proud of Gerry and our Supporter Services Team and hope you are too; as normal if you require any assistance from us regarding your donations or have any enquiries about our work or how you can support Practical Action please do get in touch, you can contact us on Email Supporter Services or Tel +44 (0)1926 634506
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Food for programme development thoughts
ICTs (Information Communications Technologies) particularly mobile phone and internet penetration shows a gradual increase in Bangladesh. In the table below, it indicates, during August 2013-14, in the case of mobile phone services 8.228 million people added to the connectivity, and 458.369 thousand people to the internet connectivity. During August 2012-13, an additional 13.821 million people were connected with mobile phone services and 6833.325 thousand people to the internet. This illustrates that following the global trend, in Bangladesh, new uses and expansion of ICTs- are fast becoming an essential part of everyday life, irrespective of location, sex, class, education and profession.
Table: ICT Subscription Status in Bangladesh
|August 2014||117.577 Million||40832.387 Thousand|
|August 2013||109.349 Million||36249.018 Thousand|
|August 2012||95.528 Million||29415.693 Thousand (as July 2012)|
Source: BTRC, 2014; ( www.btrc.gov.bd; accessed on Octtober 7, 2014)
However, relevant literature suggests that ICTs expansion and usage are not equally dispersed. Until the recent past, there was more growth in urban areas than rural. However, after 2010, the phenomenon has begun to change. As a result of that, in both computer and mobile phone, we see growth in rural areas is more than 4 times for mobile phones and 6 times for computers compared with urban areas.
Potential Impact of ICTs
As I understand women empowerment is a process (rather than end) towards gender equality; thus in this piece, I will be focusing on some of the issues I found contributing towards this process for rural women in Bangladesh. The points I am going to share below have been pulled out from different research findings, observation reports and diary notes that I was part of during 2009-14.
1) Decision Making: Regarding the ability to take decisions, it has been found that to some extent women have the ability to decide what things they what to buy, particularly to make small and large purchases. More specifically, they use ICTs (mobile phones in particular) to get information on certain things before they buy. They use mobile phones to consult with doctors about what medicine to take when they fall sick. It helps to feel them that they are connected with loved ones. Husbands or father s(or other heads of the household) appreciate this activity since it minimizes their expenditure and helps to retain savings.
2) Position within family: Having the opportunity to communicate with others through mobile phones, people are very much influenced by the behaviour of other people. Through easy interaction with the wider community, men’s dominating attitude towards women is gradually changing. Research findings demonstrate that women have more freedom from male domination. Whether a wife and husband live in same home or either live outside for livelihood or any other reason, in most cases they talk to each other before taking any important decision. This is now possible because of the mobile phone. To them, women’s involvement in major family decisions has been seen as important since women no longer are dependent on men for their livelihood, now they have opportunity to earn from outside if they wish.
3) Mobility: In this area, a very interesting change is been found. The need for women’s physical visits to their parent’s home has been taken away by mobile communication. Now they visit, when they have a special purpose. In addition, the duration of their visit is also decreased. On the other hand, visiting doctors’ surgery and market place for buying/selling things, visiting UP or other government service provider offices has increased significantly. This pattern of mobility clearly indicates that people have better aware of their rights and wellbeing.
4) Economic health: When women are connected by any communication device, it encourages them to know about others. For example, while they communicate with each other, they ask about others’ lives, about their cultivated crops, the price of the salable crops, sickness of any livestock, or family members- what happened, how he or she was cured etc. Evidences indicate that these communications promote women to be owners of assets to face any unwanted situation if occurred. It is also found that rural women now prefer to have assets (a piece of land, cattle, goat etc) in their name. They see it as their fall back support. Additionally, many women shared that they got job information over a mobile phone (although the job itself is gendered), and their partners are very positive about it. In contrast with income, women save very little. The reasons are; firstly, they earn very little so hardly can save from it. Secondly, men stop providing many essential items for women such as cosmetics and toiletries when women start earning. Besides this, sometimes they need to spend for socialization and children’s demands. The fact is that men do not directly tell women not to save but do not encourage them to do so.
5) Political awareness: ICTs have great contribution in building political awareness among grassroots women. Talking over a mobile phone, most village women are to some extent informed about what Union Parishad is supposed to do and what services are available there. Even though most of the time these are unavailable or distributed considering political or other social belonging. It is noteworthy to mention that during elections women do use mobile phones to consult with their friends, relatives and like-minded people for whom to vote and information about the contestants. In few cases women also do use to network building or motivating voters if they contest in election.
6) Legal awareness: Grassroots women are not found to be well informed about legal rights. But they do have some basic information regarding criminal activities and gender issues. It is found in discussions with different local communities that all women know violence against women is a punishable crime. They do have the right to get legal support in case of dowry or marital rights violation. Furthermore, they also stated that they know from where they may get support or whom to communicate– which justify their basic legal awareness.
The above six points are few of many such impacts that ICTs can make in uplifting women’s situation in a context like Bangladesh. I understand and have evidence of concerns associated with ICTs use (which I will cover in another write up). However, the above points may help us developing programmes around the above issues.No Comments » | Add your comment
Walking, a simple task most of us take for granted, you just put one foot in front of the other. It’s easy for most of us, something we don’t really think about, but for me it’s different. I think about walking every day and have done since my son was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and I was told he would lose the ability to walk.
I’m lucky my son has access to services in the UK and I’m hopeful he will lead a happy and fulfilled life but the families I met in Ghyachock in Nepal last week aren’t so lucky. Their lives are hard, so very hard. I spent a lot of time walking with them and I will never forget the walk to school I took with the children. It took about an hour, and was steep. I had to stop a couple of times to catch my breath. I had never seen scenery so beautiful. It was quiet and tranquil and was only interrupted by the children’s chatter and constant coughing. Two little girls held my hand the whole way.
The walk to school
Families living in remote mountainous areas struggle to survive. Food security, access to health care and education are all priorities and in many cases families just can’t afford all of them. Practical Action has been working with these communities to help save lives. Families rely on indoor fires to cook and keep warm in the bitter cold, but these fires are toxic and make families so ill. The thick smoke in their homes hit you like a stone wall when you enter, your eyes immediately stream and its so difficult to catch your breath. Prolonged exposure to this smoke causes pneumonia, bronchitis, heart disease and cancer but families have no choice. They need the fires to survive day by day. It is the women and children who are most vulnerable.
There is a simple solution though.
Practical Action is working with these communities to install smoke hoods. They draw smoke from the fire through a chimney reducing the amount of smoke emitted in the home by up to 80%. A life saver. Community members are trained to make and fit these. They cost just £50.
The emotions I felt on that walk will always stay with me. I was so angry the children were ill, that their illnesses could have been prevented but I knew this would change. I knew the smoke hoods would make a difference. Their health would improve. I also felt relief that my son didn’t live in Ghyachock. He wouldn’t have been able to make the walk to school.
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In September, I spent a few days in Chikwawa, in Malawi’s lower Shire region. My mission was to collect case studies on the current situation facing farmers before the implementation of the Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities (SE4RC) project.
During this process, I got to hear and witness some of the difficult situations women in the area face. Indeed women can do anything to ensure that there is food on the table to sustain their families.
Thats the story of Edith Willison, a smallholder farmer in Chikwawa. She is a single mother and she is responsible for fending for her family. Life has not been easy for her and her children. She wakes up very early every day and walks up to four kilometres to fetch water for her family’s domestic use before she goes to the fields. She grows maize, cassava and vegetables which she sells to get money to buy food and to pay for her children’s school fees and upkeep.
For the crops to grow well she uses a treadle pump to irrigate the crops. This is no easy job especially on an empty stomach given there are times when there will be nothing to eat in her house. She spends about five to six hours pedalling the treadle pump in order to water her plot.
This system of pumping water which Edith and other farmers in the area are using is not reliable. As a result, Edith had low harvests and is struggling to provide food for her children. During these hard times, she resorts to borrowing from colleagues who also do not have enough so at the end of the day the family can retire to bed with empty stomachs.
Practical Action will be introducing solar powered irrigation to farming areas in Zimbabwe and Malawi. The areas which the project will be implemented from are so poor and remote. They are not connected from the national electricity grid and unlikely to ever be connected because of their remoteness. Even if they were, the cost of the electricity would be exorbitant. However, using the abundant, free resource of the sun for solar voltaic panels to power pumps, water can be drawn from significantly deeper depths than a treadle pump. Instead of spending up to six to seven hours incessant pumping to irrigate their farms per day, Edith and other women can be using this valuable time to do other things like household chores, start small businesses, and attend to their children. Furthermore children can also attend school. With this technology the farmers can be sure of a viable and consistent supply of water for their crops.2 Comments » | Add your comment