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  • Tell us what you think – you could win an Acer tablet!

    Gemma Hume
    December 3rd, 2013

    When a fancy new tech toy comes out, we have to have it. Ok, we may resist for a while – telling ourselves that the tech we have is enough. But we inevitably give in.

    This year, the hottest tech gadgets on our Christmas wish lists include eReaders, smartphones, games consoles and tablets (you could win a tablet in a Practical Action prize draw…keep reading for details).

    win a tablet, win an Acer tablet, Acer Iconia W3, gadgets, technology in the third world

    But what about the technologies we use every day without giving them a second thought? How many times have you turned on a light and said, “Wow! Electricity is amazing!” Probably never, because we take it for granted. What about watches, phones, aeroplanes, credit cards, the internet or television? How would you fare without them?

    While we have access to all this incredible technology that provides us with many of life’s luxuries, people in the developing world don’t have access to technology to meet their most basic needs.

    1.6 billion people have no access to electricity, 1.3 billion no access to safe water, 2.6 billion have no adequate sanitation and 1 billion people are undernourished.

    Helen lives in Nakuru and shares a toilet with 12 other families, lack of sanitation in Kenya, improved sanitation, improved toilets, slums

    “When it rains, the waste flows all over the place. My children step in the filthy water and bring it back into our home.” Helen, Nakuru

    Helen and her four children live in a slum in Nakuru where they share two pit toilets with 12 other families. When it rains heavily, the toilets flood and the filth in them floats up. It covers the streets and runs right up to their doorstep.

    “It offends me that my children have to come into contact with this. It makes them very ill. They have bowel problems, diarrhoea and they vomit and cough a lot.”

    Technology justice

    We think it’s an injustice that innovation is aimed at meeting consumer wants instead of humanity’s needs. We think it’s wrong that more money is spent on finding a cure for male baldness than tackling some of the world’s biggest killers like hunger related diseases, diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor sanitation and unsafe water and respiratory diseases caused by the toxic smoke from indoor fires.

    Practical Action wants to change this. We’re a charity that uses technology to help some of the world’s poorest people out of poverty. We want technology justice for people like Helen.

    Does it make you think?

    So to help spread the word, we launched an innovativevote for your favourite video campaign based on crowdsourcing – asking videographers to create a short video exposing the gap between access to technology in rich countries and the developing world.

    We were inundated by entries and after making a short list of six videos we’re now asking the public to vote for their favourite.

    Why? Because we want to know what people find compelling – what really ‘makes people think’.

    With a better understanding of what people care about, and how they want to hear about it, we can communicate Practical Action’s issues in a better, sharper way.

    Win an Acer Iconia W3 tablet

    To thank people for giving us their feedback, we’re giving them the chance to win some ‘high tech’ in the form of an Acer Iconia W3, the world’s first 8-inch Windows tablet donated to the charity by Acer and some video editing software donated by Corel. These will make Christmas presents for some lucky winners!

    We hope the videos will make you think…or even better, make you do more than think – make you act. How? By sharing the campaign and donating so we can help more people fight poverty with technology.

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  • Why your donation will be doubled for the rest of 2013

    Gemma Hume
    November 6th, 2013

    I’m really excited about this piece of news. It is going to give us a huge opportunity to help people living in poverty and I’m urging you to get involved.

    We’ve launched our ‘Safer Cities’ appeal to transform the lives of vulnerable families living in slum communities in Bangladesh and Nepal. It is a unique chance to make your donation worth twice as much because the UK government will match your donations pound for pound until 31 December. That means we can help twice as many people!

    Safer Cities campaign to tackle urban poverty in Nepal and BangladeshUrban poverty is a growing problem

    The population of south Asian cities is growing by over 11 million a year as people move there to seek a better life. Many are escaping conflict, natural disasters or grinding rural poverty. Almost half of those find themselves living in slums— with no access to basic services like clean water and hygienic toilets and no opportunities to access education or get a decent job and break the cycle of poverty.

    Giving children a future

    Our appeal will focus on the lives of children living in urban slums in Nepal and Bangladesh – improving their safety, health and access to education by working with the communities to protect them from natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes, helping them to access basic services and improve the livelihoods of their parents.

    The story of Dilmaya (pictured above)

    Dilmaya is 8, and she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. Her mother’s job is to sit for hours on a rubbish heap, shredding plastic bags. Her health is threatened by dangerous diseases but she needs the money to feed and clothe her children. It’s a hand-to-mouth existence and school fees are an unaffordable luxury. So, Dilmaya has been working alongside her mother in the rubbish, barefoot amongst broken glass and human waste, with no hope of becoming a doctor.

    Through the ‘Safer Cities’ appeal, we’re training women like Dilmaya’s mother to set up their own businesses selling key-rings, baskets and mobile phone cases made from the plastic they recycle. The extra income means that children like Dilmaya will be able to go to school, and families can improve their living conditions. Dilmaya’s mother can now hope for a better future for her daughter.

    Until Dilmaya’s mother is able to earn enough through her new business to pay school fees, Practical Action is funding Dilmaya’s education.

    We caught up with her as she got ready for school one morning. We’ve never seen anyone so excited to go to school!

    waste picker girl in school uniform from Nepal

    Dilmaya said: “I love to go to school! I like all subjects, especially maths. I like my uniform – it has given me dignity. Other children used to shout ‘khaate’ (garbage child or worse) at me – now they don’t. They play with me at break time.”

    I’m thrilled that our appeal will be able to give children like Dilmaya a better start in life. I hope Dilmaya’s story will inspire you to give.

    As this is for a limited time, I ask that you take action now and donate.

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  • How I became …“Cage Man”

    Ewan Bloomfield
    October 9th, 2013

    A few months ago I signed up to do the Royal Parks half marathon in London. I have two young puppies so I’d been doing a bit of jogging with them, and I thought a half-marathon sounded like a bit of fun to help me burn off some excess weight.

    Ewan 'cage man'

    Ewan ‘cage man’

    However, after signing up and setting up a fundraising page I started to wonder how I was going to meet my target. As I was running for Practical Action, I decided to try and follow in their footsteps and use an appropriate technology to help me with the race – ideally a technology that the poor in a developing country use to help get themselves out of poverty.

    After receiving a host of suggestions from Practical Action staff from around the world, including a donkey plough, duck rice and a compost toilet, I decided on a fish cage developed in Bangladesh to help poor farmers obtain a sustainable supply of fish at a very low cost.

    I built the cage out bamboo and netting, with straps over my shoulders to keep it in place. Apart from restricting my vision and arm movements, it didn’t seem to be too bad to wear – although I did get some funny looks carrying it on the tube on my way to the starting line on Sunday morning!

    Practical Action half marathon team

    Practical Action half marathon team

    The Royal Parks Half Marathon has an amazing route from Hyde Park to the Houses of Parliament, on to Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, before heading back around the parks again. The support for the runners was fantastic, with crowds all along the route, shouting and cheering support, particularly for anyone dressed up in a costume.

    After a while I started to hear shouts from the crowd, from “yeah, man in a cage!”, to “whatever…”, “run, fish cage, run” and, above all others, “cage man!!” As the run went on and the cage, and the distance, started to weigh me down, the continuous encouragement from the spectators, as well as the other runners, really spurred me on.

    The low point was towards the end of the race, when, with my energy levels starting to flag, I was overtaken by a giant testicle! However, spurred on by the cheers from my fellow runners, I made it to the end.

    All round it was a great experience and I’d encourage anyone to give a half-marathon a go, particularly dressed as an appropriate technology!

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  • Charlotte Green, Radio 4 and Nepalese waste pickers working together to make a difference

    Margaret Gardner
    August 20th, 2013

    On Sunday morning Charlotte Green, who I have enjoyed calling ‘the posh woman on Radio 4’ and who is soon to be the voice of the football results, made an appeal for Practical Action’s work in Nepal.

    The work is with communities of waste pickers living in Kathmandu. She had in 2 minutes to get over everything about the situation – the stench, the crap (some literal), the filth – but also that for some people this is something they value as a way to make a living. These people are determined, hardworking and willing to do a horrible job to feed their families. They are also looked down on, abused and viewed by many as outcasts.

    When I met with a waste-picking community back in February (one of the prompts for this appeal) I learnt that some of them had migrated from India looking for better opportunities and even now would move from waste site to waste site literally in search of better pickings. This nomadic life meant that they were difficult to help and had fallen off the radar of other agencies – Practical Action was prepared to take on the difficulties of working with a partially transient group because even though in some instances the people you worked with may move on the need was huge and the benefits sustainable.

    This is in many ways a typical Practical Action piece of work – but in other ways it’s not. We started by talking with the community – as is our way – and learnt that what they needed along with help to protect themselves from hazardous waste like broken glass, syringes , sharp metal etc was access to identity cards that would allow then to access basic medical services. So somewhat away from our normal work we worked with them on this (as well as safety equipment), we also worked to help get the children into school. Not always a complete escape from waste picking – many children still needed to help their families before and after school in order for the family to have enough to eat. We worked on increasing the price the waste pickers got for their product, including looking at options for processing that would add value.

    But for me the biggest difference was the kids –children who had no future, now had hope. And the message that education was great had even spread to the parents with Practical Action now running small adult education groups because parents wanted to learn basic reading, writing and maths.

    I listened to Charlotte Green on Sunday – she, as always sounded beautiful – and her deep resonant (and posh) voice provided, I thought, a strong contrast with the story she was telling of a little girl whose life was sitting on a rubbish tip watching her mum as she picked waste.

    Thank you Charlotte and thanks to everyone else who has helped – together (you, Practical Action and the people living in poverty) we can make a difference.

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  • Return to sender – address unknown

    Return to Sender – address unknown

    As the Elvis Presley song goes.   Despite email, for most of us the idea of not having a physical address to give someone is unthinkable and it would be almost impossible to function – how would you get a passport, how would you open a bank account?

    I’m a bit of a serial house mover, probably around eight houses in the last 30 years, not counting friends’ spare rooms, rented accommodation, etc. I love the whole process of house hunting, moving in, planning the decoration, spending contemplative evenings with the radio and paint brush, and then just when it’s all tickety boo, I find myself cruising the estate agents’ websites, checking out what ‘doer uppers’ are out there. This all comes at a price of course, letting people know that you’ve moved and then the irritation when an important piece of correspondence goes awry. But I have to remind myself, at least I have an address. 

    A completed cluster village

    Back in 2009, I visited Bangladesh, to see Practical Action’s ‘Disappearing Lands’ project in Gaibandha, where we were working with communities forced by their poverty to live on  land at the edge of the rivers, land not wanted by anyone else because of the increasingly regular and severe flooding following monsoon which shifted the soil.  As a result, each monsoon left them vulnerable to loss of crops, livestock, homes, and sometimes their lives. With Practical Action’s support, cluster villages were constructed on soil platforms built by the communities, raising their homes above the flood line. These cluster villages provide housing, gardens, schools, clinics and emergency shelters for livestock for when the monsoon season arrives. One of the cluster villages I visited had just been completed, but already gardens were fenced, crops planted, and people were busy setting up craft businesses to earn additional income. Amongst this busy, thriving community, I met a grandmother, standing in the doorway of her new house. She wanted to share with me her delight in her new home. That I completely understood! But what surprised me was her great excitement and immense pride in having an address. I just hadn’t thought about it before. For her, having an address meant that she existed, she lived somewhere permanently, she could tell someone exactly where she lived that day, where she would be next year, and hopefully for the rest of her life. Having an address gave her kudos.

    I’m visiting Bangladesh again in a couple of weeks with a great Foundation, Z Zurich Foundation, which has supported our project, ‘Vulnerability to Resilience (V2R)’, for almost five years, continuing our work with communities in flood prone areas.  I’m looking forward to seeing many of the ideas from our Gaibandha project helping others to finally have an address.

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  • In praise of Practical Action

    Ella Jolly
    December 21st, 2012

    Sadly, today is my last day here at Practical Action because in January I will be starting a new job at another international development charity. I have worked here for three and a half years and been writing my blog for the last two and a half years. As one of the youngest people in the UK head office, I feel like I have done a lot of growing up at Practical Action. I have worked with, and learnt from, some brilliant colleagues across the organisation. They are bright, committed, passionate people, and I have been very lucky to know them.

    I am leaving with some very happy memories of my time here. My trips to Sudan and Kenya are particular highlights, and I will never forget the warmth, hospitality and helpfulness of all the overseas colleagues I have had the honour of meeting.

    I have been very privileged to have had the opportunity to meet and interview some of the millions of people Practical Action has helped. Those conversations are perhaps my most treasured memories.

    When I was in Kenya I met a woman called Syprose. Syprose was a beautiful woman, with the most magnificent face – the sort of face which has a whole life etched into it. She lived in a slum village called Nyalenda, just outside Kisumu city. She was a mother, and a grandmother. Her husband Daniel had died 3 years ago after stepping on a nail and contracting septicaemia. She was 63 years old, and she had the responsibility of looking after her five little grandchildren alone because she’d lost her four children to AIDS.

    Syprose’s village did not have a system of clean water, although it did have a natural spring. But because it just flowed along the land, it was often polluted by animal and human waste. So people would get cholera, and die. Sometimes there were as many as 10 deaths a day. Syprose’s big fear was that her grandchildren would die too. So we worked with the villagers to protect the natural spring by constructing a low concrete wall round it and directing the water through a pipe. This simple technology means that people in Syprose’s village no longer die of cholera, and they have a constant supply of clean water.

    And everyone was delighted, particularly Syprose. When I asked her how this made her feel, she took my hand, and her hand, and placed them both onto her heart. And then she said “it makes me feel like God is here.”

    Syprose’s words will remain locked in my heart forever. I am leaving Practical Action safe in the knowledge that as an organisation, we do change and save lives in a very real way. I feel really proud to have been a small part of it.

    Thank you for reading my blog over the last few years.

    Wishing everyone a peaceful, relaxing and happy Christmas, and all good things for 2013.



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  • Hobbits, Hyacinths and Happiness

    Hobbits, hyacinths and happiness

    Who would’ve thought that hyacinths and happiness would go together so well? But they do in flood prone Bangladesh. Practical Action works with some of the poorest people, forced by their poverty to live on land that shifts with the annual floods, so nowhere is ever really home, and making a garden is an act of faith. With water comes water hyacinth in abundance, a weed which Practical Action helps communities turn into floating gardens – an example of a really simple technology that works wonderfully well. The hyacinth leaves, supported by bamboo poles, are woven into a bed, on which is laid soil, into which seeds for lettuces, okra, sweet onions, pumpkins, etc., are planted. The plants’ roots reach down through the hyacinth bed to the flood waters, and nature does the rest. What could be simpler? It doesn’t have to be just hyacinth leaves; any material can be used to create a floating garden in this way, enabling food to still be grown when floods make normal planting impossible, bringing happiness to communities who previously struggled to meet their families’ food needs.

    This is just one example of a project which Trusts and Foundations are helping Practical Action implement….and we have many more for which we need support. If you’re a Trustee of a Trust or Foundation and would like to know more, contact me on

    And the hobbits?  They don’t have anything to do with floating gardens I’m afraid, but being keen gardeners themselves and enjoying at least six meals a day, I think they would really approve of such a simple but productive technology.

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  • Shit Matters at Christmas

    Margaret Gardner
    December 12th, 2012

    What is the weirdest Christmas present you could give any one? For me the Shit Box, cardboard crapper must be a contender.  I’m amazed that people seem to be buying it. My daughter gave me a link to a ‘great’ website for Christmas presents and its 33 on their top 100 gifts!

    Why would you do it? Why spend £16.99 plus P&P on a cardboard box with a hole in it? AND then use it to go to the loo!

    Okay so I’m not their target audience.

    But at the risk of sounding like someone’s self-righteous aunt, children are dying from the lack of a loo. Diarrhoea kills 1.5 million children each year, on top of this it’s a leading cause of malnutrition in children under 5. Shit is serious!

    So if you have £20 to buy a ‘weird’ prezzie do something more useful – join up with a friend and give money for a decent loo to your favourite charity (overseas of course).

    You still have the kudos of buying something weird without the problem of recycling (or contamination – having used a very clean long drop loo I know how hard ……I think any more might just be too much information – but you get my point)

    If you are struggling for loo inspired prezzies have a look here.

    Give a present that really can make a difference – not one that shows you are a plonker

    Whatever you do (and buy)  this Christmas have a happy and very, very peaceful one

    Auntie Margaret

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  • Fifty Shades of Green……

    If you were hoping for an environmental twist on ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, I would move on now. But if you’re interested in how communities living in the cloud forests of Peru and Bolivia are beginning to experience the fifty shades of green forest that their ancestors once enjoyed, then read on.

    For many years, settlers have lived in areas of the forests also inhabited by the Awajun, the indigenous communities. Renting land from the Awajun, the settlers’ preferred method of farming was to clear away the forest and plant seasonal crops to feed their families until the quality of the soil was so depleted that it was no longer productive. The families then had to move on.  This was clearly not sustainable and led to conflict with the Awajun, whose land no longer had any value.

    Working with the Awajun and settlers, Practical Action researched how the forests used to look, using local knowledge to identify the diversity of plants and trees (hence the fifty shades of green) that once grew naturally in the area. Using this knowledge, we worked with the communities to find ways of recreating the cloud forests while still providing them with a realistic living. An agro-forestry system was devised, which ensures that areas of indigenous forest are conserved for future generations, while at the same time communities are able diversify their crops, for eating and selling.  I love the diagram below, illustrating simply how by working together, the Awajun and the settlers really can bring ‘fifty shades of green’ back into their lives now, and for future generations. It’s also a partnership beyond the cloud forest communities – we have been able to achieve this because of the partnership with three great Foundations: Innocent foundation, Waterloo Foundation and Z Zurich Foundation.




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  • Giving Tuesday – bringing back the meaning of the season

    Emily Nash
    November 26th, 2012

    While my fellow Americans woke up early and fought long lines for big sales on what has aptly been named Black Friday, I was happily working away in the Communications office here at Practical Action.

    Back in America, the holiday season officially started on Thursday with Thanksgiving. Immediately after Thanksgiving, chaos ensued at retail stores across America, as people pushed their way through crowds in pursuit of big savings on Black Friday. This is a day when most major retailers open extremely early and offer promotional sales to kick off the holiday shopping season.

    Following the big in-store sales is Cyber Monday, taking place today. It’s a day for huge online shopping sales.

    While I’m upset to have missed Thanksgiving, I can’t say that I miss the chaotic aftermath. It seems the true meaning of the holiday season has been lost.

    Enter #GivingTuesday - a national campaign to brand the Tuesday after the holiday as an annual day of giving. It celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support nonprofits.

    Over 1,000 businesses and NGO’s including big businesses like Mashable and Sony have signed up to the campaign. It’s sweeping the nation in America as a popular social media phenomenon, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t go international. I’m happy to be working for a charity who wants to bring the UK in on it.

    At Practical Action, our Practical Presents are the creative gift ideas that people can buy for people in the developing world. They range from fluffy ducks that help people in Bangladesh earn an income to clean water taps that give a lifeline to people in Zimbabwe. You can donate the money to have one of these gifts sent to developing countries as a gift to someone in your life.

    This #GivingTuesday I hope you will join in with us online and give a gift to someone in your life that will help the lives of people all over the world. Let’s remember what the holiday season is meant to be about!

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