I’ve just come to the end of a 10 day visit to Bangladesh, it was my first time to the country and I feel privileged to have been able to go and visit such a beautiful place and meet such remarkable people. What I like about working for Practical Action is that it works in partnership with communities and organisations to drive change and improve lives. And this is exactly what I saw in Bangladesh.
As part of the visit, I went to slums in Faridpur and Jessore in the south. I’m lucky to have travelled and seen quite a lot of our projects but I’ve never seen any urban work before and was very unsure what to expect.
When people say the word slum, all the worst images come to mind, I had visions of cramped communities, sewage running between them, a complete lack of water and sanitation, not to mention the terrible smells. I could not have been more wrong.
I should tell you before I carry on that Practical Action has been working with these communities for a few years. The people living in the slums are considered to be the lowest caste, they are hindu and considered by many to be unclean and uneducated. This means that life is even harder for them as they do not have the same opportunities as others do. They have always carried out the most menial jobs such as street cleaning and pit emptying.
Before the project began, I was told that there was no drainage, so during monsoon season the water would rise and would wash dirty water into their small homes.
They also had no waste collection, so they had no other choice but to live amongst their own rubbish, or to dispose of it on the streets.
There were no schools and many people had no skills meaning they struggled to gain employment.
This project has worked with the women, children and men of these communities to truly lift themselves out of this poverty. They still live in cramped homes but the feeling of ‘community’ and unity amongst them was something rarely seen. They all work together to help each other and not only are their living conditions changing, the impact is much much bigger.
Training in useful and vital skills means that people can earn an income, people just like Rashida. Rashida explained “at the beginning I had nothing. From Practical Action I had training and I was able to start my business with these skills.” Rashida was trained in tailoring, she makes tops, dresses, shirts and just about anything! This training means so much to her, she said “I can send my children to school and invest in the future.”
I also met a lady called Sukia, she told me that “the environment of the slum is better than before,” they had less toilets and no water. They were forced to collect water from other sources but this water was often dirty. But now, they have their own pump, which means that they no longer have to risk their health just to have a drink.
I left feeling uplifted and inspired. These people were empowered and had the knowledge to continue improving their own lives. It was a true example of sustainability and I will be telling everyone about the great work that Practical Action and our partners are doing to support the amazing, strong and welcoming people that are living in the slums. Just like Sukia said, “you and me make a difference together.”
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Last week I went to a rather unusual birthday party. There was plenty of the ‘normal’ birthday party stuff – lots of people came – all dressed up in their smart clothes, we had a cake and we sang ‘Happy Birthday’.
What made it unusual was that it a party for an organisation rather than a person. This year we’re celebrating 50 years of Practical Action’s work with technology challenging poverty. To mark the event HRH The Prince of Wales, our patron, hosted a reception at Clarence House (his London residence just across the road from Buckingham Palace).
We were reminded how 50 years ago, our founder Fritz Schumacher launched a movement to change the way in which development aid was delivered. Firstly he published an article in the Observer entitled “How to help them help themselves” pointing out the inadequacies of current aid policies based on large scale capital transfer. The following February the Intermediate Technology Development Group was formally registered as a non-government organisation – now of course renamed Practical Action. Schumacher’s seminal publication “Small is Beautiful – A Study of Economics as if People Mattered”, often cited as one of the most influential books of the 20th century, came later in 1973.
From these simple beginnings Practical Action has grown to be the strong, relevant and effective organisation it is today. Our unique mix of project work on the ground – working with communities to help them identify technological solutions to answer their needs in a sustainable way; systematically capturing our experiences and lessons, sharing them with people across the world; and working with policy makers to influence their decisions so that our work can reach many millions more than we could ever reach on our own.
We still live and work with the same basic principles that inspired Schumacher’s words all those years ago. Our passion for Technology Justice remains true to that.
As is often the case, after meeting some of the many people who have been involved with Practical Action’s work in one way or another, I left the evening with a great sense of “walking on the shoulders of giants”. I’m sure that I won’t be working for Practical Action in 50 years’ time, maybe Practical Action won’t . However I’m sure that the principles and ideas that we stand by today will still be relevant as they are today and as they were 50 years ago.
“Happy Birthday to us!”2 Comments » | Add your comment
On June 13th we held our annual Supporters’ day in London. Taking inspiration from our heritage the theme of the day was ‘Grassroots to Muddy boots’ it was a fantastic opportunity for supporters to get closer to the work their support has made possible – and what a day!
Margaret Gardner opened the proceedings, followed by our Nepal Country Director, Achyut Luitel who gave an update on the recent Earthquake and, explained our involvement at present and going forward. There was an introduction from Muna Eltahir the new Sudan Country Director, who spoke about why she chose to work for Practical Action, and the work already achieved in Sudan.
During lunch there was a drop in session giving supporters the opportunity to speak to our new Country Directors – Muna Eltahir, Sudan, Hasin Jahan, Bangladesh and Kudzai Marovanidze, Zimbabwe. We were also shown some great Technology Justice videos from the education team.
Throughout the day we had some great workshops such as Doing it better led by Margaret Gardner and Kudzai Marovanidze, who spoke about Marula nut production in Zimbabwe. Supporters heard how we are working with women’s communities who earn their living from marula nut products.
There was an interactive exercise that involved cracking Marula nuts using similar tools to the women in Zimbabwe. The exercise highlighted the difficulties faced without the right equipment and support.
Rob Cartridge hosted a Project pitch session showing four short videos about Knowledge services in Bangladesh, Nepal, Zimbabwe and Peru. Supporters were asked ‘If they had £5K which project would they give it to?’
Following the videos and the pitch about each one, they were then asked to vote – the winner was the Krishi call centre in Bangladesh. Supporters were really impressed with the examples they were shown and said “the work was amazing” and “I couldn’t believe it’s so cost effective”.
Everyone had a fantastic day and couldn’t wait to get home and spread the word – they were even tweeting from the venue.No Comments » | Add your comment
Following the earthquake on 25th April, Practical Action’s Nepal team has been working hard to help some of the devastated communities in Gorkha and Dhading.
- Water treatment (to reduce deaths by disease, especially in infants)
- Emergency shelters (for homes, and public facilities e.g. toilets)
- Energy generation (lighting and heating, including for medical centres)
- Solar communication technology (for mobile phone charging)
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I have witnessed some of the most notorious disasters and insurgencies in the recent times. The Operation Blue Star conducted in Golden Temple in Amritsar, India in 1984 was the first one when I got stranded for a week in Kashmir and luckily got a special train to leave Jammu for Delhi. For the first time in my life, I had seen violence and curfew.
The same year I witnessed the Bhopal gas tragedy, while I was a second year engineering student in the same town. I was lucky to get unaffected, but have seen the climax of people being affected after methyl isocyanate leaked from the Union Carbide pesticide plant. I volunteered in the local hospital for a couple of days, and saw how people were dying and how mass cremation was being held without being able to consider their religious faith. Just a month earlier, I had witnessed brutal attack on Sikh communities following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
However, the big earthquake which rocked central part of Nepal on 25 April 2015 is hard to explain. I was with my wife and daughter at home. Just before noon, the house started shaking brutally. My wife screamed and tried to run outside but I stopped and without any thinking, we all entered an adjacent room. I advised to calm down and asked to duck, cover and hold down near a big wooden cupboard thinking that it will be strong enough to protect us. Unfortunately the cupboard fell above us ramming my wife’s hand and daughter’s leg, but by chance my back came in between and prevented major injuries to them.
We expected that it will stop in a while. But the tremor which was swinging from west to east occasionally started rotating and continued for two minutes. Never in my life have the two minutes been so long. My wife was literally crying thinking that we all will die. My daughter tried to console her saying it will be okay, we will be fine. I thought I was quite strong and kept telling to calm down. Once the tremor stopped, we rushed outside in an open ground where our neighbours were already there. We started looking around. The boundary wall of one of our neighbors had collapsed, while another neighbour’s house had multiple cracks. We stayed there for an hour or so. The aftershock kept coming in every 5 to 10 minutes. We tried to call our close relatives. Fortunately the phone was working for post-paid mobile numbers and we could get ‘survived’ news from some of our close relatives.
My parents were in the US but my wife’s parents were in Kathmandu living nearby us. Being worried about them, we closed the main door hurriedly and walked to their house. Surprisingly very few houses were damaged nearby, but we started getting stark images of our heritages like Dharahara and Durbar Square ruined to rubble through Twitter. We came to know that the quake’s magnitude was 7.9 Richter scale. My in-laws were also safe and had assembled in an open area together with their neighbours. We joined them and started taking stock of other relatives. I was speechless when one of my cousins told me that his brother died while he had gone to attend a meeting in a commercial complex near Kalanki in Kathmandu. My legs shivered and just could not hold off. My cousin who died was very close to me. We grew together in a joint family and lived happily for many years since my childhood until I got married. I just cannot explain the condition of his body when recovered from the complex. I had to helplessly witness his funeral and his family members. That was one of the most shocking pains in my life.
Immediately after the weekend, we tried to behave normally by coming to the office and discussing with the colleagues on how we, the fortunate ones to survive, should help the victims, who lost their families and houses. Although Practical Action is not a relief organisation, we decided to work on relief and response. Our Head Office immediately decided to give us GBP 100,000 to initiate necessary response and recovery works. Our staffs who were all fortunate to survive together with their family members decided to contribute at least one week’s salary to the earthquake victims. That too was a big money amounting Rs 17 Lakh, equivalent to 11,000 GBP. Practical Action is not enlisted as a relief organisation and not a member of Disaster and Relief Committee (DEC) and Rapid Relief Forum (RRF). So, we have no access to relief fund though DFID has pledged GBP 22.8 million in assistance to respond to the quake victims. We have been successful to mobilise another GBP 100,000 from our partner, Christian Aid. Likewise, our supports and staff from other country and regional offices have also contributed.
We have limited money but the affected area and population is enormous. It was a very difficult decision to agree on our working area. We all felt that we should work with those communities who know us and where the organisation has a long presence. Therefore, we decided to focus ourselves in Gorkha and Dhading districts. The epicentre of the earthquake was in Gorkha, while Dhading is the adjacent district to the east, and both are considered as most affected districts. We coordinated with District Emergency Operation Centre (DEOC) and District Disaster Response Committee (DDRC) in both the districts, who assigned Ashrang, Borlang and Sorpani Village Development Committees (VDCs) of Gorkha and Jogimara, Jyamrung and Salyantar VDCs of Dhading district. We will expand beyond these VDCs once we have more resources and capacity. Beyond relief, we plan to engage in these areas for post recovery works to make sure that they have decent facilities and sustainable livelihood to cope with the adverse situations. The first relief package has already reached Gorkha while we are preparing to dispatch over 6000 tarpaulins, mattresses, water tanks, polythene pipes and food package within a week.
We have a long term plan for post recovery. We are planning to concentrate on (i) shelter, (ii) WASH (water connection and latrine facilities) and (iii) energy (lighting and mobile charging). In medium term, we are exploring to support for earthquake resilient affordable shelters since over 90% houses are unusable. People use stone masonry with mud mortar in villages. Such structures are vulnerable when they face earthquake more than 6 Richter scale. Therefore, the challenge for us is to offer affordable resilient house building technologies as a medium term plan for recovery. We are collecting the models from our earlier experiences from Sri Lanka (Post Tsunami) and Peru. We are also exploring with other organisations having expertise in developing community shelters.
I would like to emphasise that Practical Action will not leave any stone unturned to ensure the most needy have access to simpler technology with regard to shelter, water supply, sanitation and energy. I thank Practical Action Nepal staffs who have generously contributed over Rs 16 Lakh to complement our support to the people in need. I would also encourage our associates to join and contribute in whatever capacity you can. We will coordinate with the local authorities to make sure that we complement each other. We wish that all of our trauma of losses will soon subside and make us more resilient in the days to come.No Comments » | Add your comment
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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