This morning as over 90000 people gathered for Nelson Mandela’s memorial service we had our usual all-staff briefing about the week’s events… And we spent a moment to connect with this momentous event and to ‘make a noise’ in appreciation of a remarkable and inspirational man. We marked his passing with noise rather than silence, in honour of all the noise he had made over his life on behalf of the oppressed and the marginalised. We counted ourselves fortunate to have been in the world at the same time and to be working for Practical Action, an organisation that shares his passion for changing the world.
Like most of us I have spent the last few days thinking about the great man and reflecting on those incredible events around his release, journey to president and then global statesman. I was in Cape Town in 1995 working on a trade project shortly after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began their work… the local radio was broadcasting people sharing their painful experiences, confronting what they had done and/or had done to them. It was incredibly moving and powerful, and part of the foundation Mandela was laying as he led the country through the long process of confronting and changing what had been.
Recently I saw that one of his charities is focused on dialogue and I made a connection with my own work here at Practical Action. One of our core values is ‘people first’ and so we invest in processes that will enable the marginalised to have better access to the opportunities they need and want for a better life. In our approaches, like the Participatory Market Systems Development approach, we put a strong emphasis on creating spaces for dialogue and building the trust and relationships between people. This can take time and often donor deadlines are not conducive to this type of investment, but we believe it’s a necessary foundation for change. I like to imagine that Mandela would have agreed with us.
So we have paused today and stood with South Africa and millions across the globe to give thanks for the inspiration that is Madiba.No Comments » | Add your comment
But in our line of work, we come across so many people whose rights are not protected at all.
I’ve spent the past couple of months working on a campaign that will improve the lives of people living in urban slums in Nepal and Bangladesh.
This is a photo of a slum in Nepal that my colleague took:
Most people living here are from the Harijan, or Dalit caste who experience a staggering number of human rights violations.
Crammed into makeshift shacks, they live without adequate access to water, healthcare, schools and other essential public services. They are not only deprived of their basic resources, but also face insecurity, exclusion from services and processes, and are ignored by those in power.
Unable to get jobs, they are forced to live off rubbish dumps – searching amongst mountains of filth to find anything they can sell.
They are seen by society as the lowest of the low. They are known as ‘untouchables’ and face rape, abuse and discrimination with no opportunities for escaping their situation. Their children are subjected bullying and struggle to get an education.
As we celebrate Human Rights Day, it is important to reflect on these and other abuses, and remember why charities like ours care about our human rights laws.
Practical Action is working with Dalit and Harijan women’s organisations so that they can have a voice in society, and bring basic services into the slums such as clean water, toilets and modern energy. The work will also give the poorest women and children in Nepal and Bangladesh education, skills and training to enable them to form small businesses, access jobs and run self-help and safety groups.
You can find out more information about this campaign called Safer Cities here. It is being backed by the UK government who will match fund donations pound for pound, helping us to do more vital work to improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people living in slum communities. This means that if you can give us £20 the Government will also give us £20, making your donation go even further!
 Information and statistics about the Dalit caste from the International Dalit Solidarity Network http://idsn.org/front-page/
Generally, many challenges face the world (Sustainable Development and Climate Change – Clean Water – Rich poor Gap – Health Issues – Peace and Conflict – Energy – Status of Women …etc.). Specifically, most African nations suffer from military dictatorships, corruption, civil unrest and war, underdevelopment and deep poverty.
The picture looks very dark and depressing but if the nations are capable of producing a Mandela we will get to make the change that we want.
Nelson Mandela’s influence extends around the world, the last noble man, a figure of heroic achievements and an inspiration to generations around the world.
Mandela will be remembered as a remarkable man for all activists across the world.
“Millions of people . . . are trapped in the prison of poverty. It is time to set them free, like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome . . . Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation.” he said in 2005.
“Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves.”
We can learn from influential personalities like Nelson Mandela how to change the world; all it takes is a little time, effort and dedication. We don’t have to change the world for everyone; we can change the world for a couple of people and still leave a positive impact .
Rest in Peace father of Africa, you’ve earned your place in history.
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In the last 60,000 years humans have expanded across the globe and now occupy a wider range than any other terrestrial species. Our ability to successfully adapt to such a diverse range of habitats is often explained in terms of our cognitive ability. Humans have relatively bigger brains and more computing power than other animals and this allows us to figure out how to live in a wide range of environments.
Here we argue that humans may be smarter than other creatures, but none of us is nearly smart enough to acquire all of the information necessary to survive in any single habitat. In even the simplest foraging societies, people depend on a vast array of tools, detailed bodies of local knowledge, and complex social arrangements and often do not understand why these tools, beliefs, and behaviors are adaptive. We owe our success to our uniquely developed ability to learn from others. This capacity enables humans to gradually accumulate information across generations and develop well-adapted tools, beliefs, and practices that are too complex for any single individual to invent during their lifetime.
Practical Action followed the methodology of extracting the potential power of familiarization in communities in rural areas by targeting effective members in villages to provide them with knowledge about local possible technologies to challenge poverty. In other words, to adapt with the existing limited resources to reach sustainable development by providing means of improving adaptive capacity and adaptive needs to identify and develop adaptive measures or practices tailored to the needs of the community.
Back to Darfur- the source of my inspiration. If you visit Darfur and especially Shagra (G) village, remember to look up Nadia Ibrahim Mohammed, who is 33 years old and married with two sons. Practical Action has practical initiatives that tangibly address and improve her adaptive capacity and adaptive needs.
She was recommended by Mr. Mohammad Siddig (North Darfur’s Area Coordinator) in 2006 to be trained as a midwife then was registered as the legal midwife in the village. Later, she has become president of Women Development Association in her village and a member of Community Development Association in Shagra (A –B – G).
In 2009 she worked with Practical Action on the project Greening Darfur. More than 14,000 women were trained by her in making low smoke stoves and community forest management. She has been nominated to be part of the Active Citizens Programme run by British Council with aim of increasing the contribution of community leaders towards achieving sustainable development, both locally and globally.
For a woman from poor community in a challenging environment with a minimum level of education this is impressive. Her ability to store and deliver knowledge to others is really noteworthy. Now in Shagra- G village, she is always there dealing with her communities’ problems. She is gathering real time local information to adapt the best decisions and actions with the methods of her own experience.
My personal point of view, as we are working in a very challenging development field, is that adaptation is a word that we should dig deep inside, because all the possible solutions are hidden behind it:
- Adaptation to poverty means we can adjust the resilience of communities to change and find solutions to poverty
- Adaptation to limited resources means, we can direct targeted community to use them effectively to satisfy their needs
- Adaptation to Climate Change means, we can reduce projected effects for the environment and for human life.
- Adaptation to changing economic environment means we can set adaptation plans as better prepared for new opportunities.
Adapting with our problems would be a more effective means of dealing with them in order to reduce adverse impacts and take advantage of new opportunities.No Comments » | Add your comment
Contemplating the achievements of great men like Nelson Mandela is awe inspiring. He was a man able to make positive use of even the hardest of times, such as his 27 years in prison, to study and to construct a blueprint for the future of his nation. His speeches and writings were challenging and inspirational, but he also lived his life according the values he promoted: ”For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
The spirit of reconciliation he fostered in South Africa saved many lives and rebuilt the country in a way no one would have thought possible in the dark days of apartheid.
As South Africans now struggle to come to terms with the loss of the father of the nation, we hope that their memories of his leadership will enable them to continue to follow his vision of equality and reconciliation
The world mourns the loss of one of its greatest men, but he leaves us a wonderful legacy to inspire generations to come to fight for social justice.
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I have now been in Zimbabwe for a week, most of which has been a whirlwind of hectic activity, helping a local journalist cover our work for the Guardian Christmas appeal.
The trip hasn’t been easy. Zimbabwe has a pretty good transport infrastructure, but we have wasted hours at the dozens of police checkpoints which are dotted at regular intervals throughout the country.
My presence also attracted interest from Government representatives wherever I went, and we wasted more hours waiting for them to accompany us on field visits. Once they joined us even more time was spent in preliminary meetings with local officials, massively limiting the time we had to talk to the people we are actually there to help.
And when we finally did get talking, there was a palpable sense of unease, a raised eyebrow or a failure to answer the question when I asked how things are now compared to before Practical Action got involved with the community.
Throughout the week, I’ve not been able to quite shake off the feeling that getting to the real truth, and the real people we need to help, is a challenge I’ve not quite conquered.
Nevertheless, I have been proud to work for Practical Action. Like many others before me, I was taken with our micro-hydro project in Chipendeke. Just imagining the dozen or so volunteers carrying hundreds of bags of cement and assorted heavy and awkward gear up the mountainside makes me wince, but it also puts into perspective just how important access to electricity is for people who haven’t got it. The fact we have a dozen or so similar projects running throughout southern Africa should be a massive source of pride to everyone associated with Practical Action.
Our work helping hundreds of people make more from their smallholdings via our podcasts also impressed as did our ridiculously simple but clever way of water conservation in Keya Tshuma’s drought-hit farm right on the Botswana border. Following our advice he and his wife have dug 6,000 15cm by 15cm holes and filled them with manure before planting maize seeds. In this way, what little rain falls is kept for longer and his maize has a chance of growing. “I didn’t know about this before,” he said. “Without Practical Action coming to me I would have been in great trouble this year.”
It was the sort of comment that makes all the hassle worthwhile.No Comments » | Add your comment
This weekend I visited a remote village in the north-west of Nepal, called Arushwanra, located in Gorkha district just below the Himalayan peaks. Its location is breathtakingly beautiful but life is hard and made worse by reliance on locally collected firewood. This fuel is collected for free from the surrounding areas, and burned in traditional stoves within small, enclosed homes, leading to very high levels of household air pollution. Practical Action, together with Bosch Siemens (BSH), has been piloting a new appropriate technology project – the installation of smoke hoods – which reduce smoke emissions within each household by over 80%, dramatically improving people’s lives.
I met Jamila, who recently purchased a hood through the assistance of the local cooperative-managed rolling fund Practical Action helped establish. She is very happy with the results. She now uses much less wood than she used to (more than 30% less), her home is much cleaner, particularly the walls, and cooking is much quicker (by up to 50%). Most importantly her health is much improved – she no longer has eye irritations, problems breathing and headaches. She can continue to dry meat and other foods above the stove, as the smoke exits through the hood, a traditional practice in these areas.
She still has one cooking problem – sometimes cats enter her kitchen while she’s in her fields and steal her drying food. She’s suggested the development of a shutter in front of the hood to stop this happening – an idea that’s being investigated by the hood producer. Out of the 32 houses in the village, 22 have already installed smoke hoods, and are all so happy with the results that the other 10 households are now on a waiting list once the rolling funds are available.
I entered one house in the adjacent village of Dhanubanse which did not have a hood installed, just to see the difference, and almost as soon as the stove had been lit the kitchen filled with smoke. My eyes started to water and my throat to itch. The owner, Dhunraj, said he’s used to the smoke, but the difference in air quality compared to the houses with smoke hoods installed was enormous.
Lastly, I visited the house of Nabiha, whose daughter is the only female stove producer in the area. She currently uses 2 main types of stoves, a wood stove with a smoke hood and a cooker which runs on liquid petroleum gas (LPG). She uses the LPG mainly to prepare meals that need to be made quickly, particularly for meals in the morning and for tea when guests come. However she still uses her wood stove and hood for most meals and prefers it to cooking with LPG. She says the LPG canisters are difficult to transport and very expensive, and she finds the wood stove and smoke hood easy to use and more affordable.
I had heard a lot about this project before visiting but seeing the hoods working in practice really made me appreciate what a huge difference this relatively simple technology can make to people’s lives in this remote district of Nepal.No Comments » | Add your comment
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).
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.
“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.”
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 innovative 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.
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.No Comments » | Add your comment
Yesterday I attended a workshop in Delhi, on clean household cooking in India – the first of its kind – attended by a range of organisations and hosted by the Minister of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Dr Farooq Abdullah. It has been estimated that, so far, around 35 million improved cook stoves, or chulhas as they’re locally know, are being used. This sounds like a lot, but when you consider it’s taken more than 30 years, and there are more than 166 million households in India that rely on wood to meet their cooking needs, there is still a lot of work to do. As one attendee pointed out “there is Coca-Cola in every village in India but not improved cook stoves, so why is this?”
One presentation highlighted how an Indian woman, Kalibati, currently pays more than R100 (about £1) per month on medication for a respiratory problem caused by her inefficient cook stove, which is almost as much as she pays for her child’s education. However she feels she has no choice and continues to use her stove as cannot afford LPG or kerosene. It has also been recently estimated that more than a million people in India die of emissions from household cooking so the problem is huge.
New innovative biomass cook stoves and cooking solutions, such as Practical Action’s smoke hood, are being developed to overcome the problems, as well as new ways of distributing and marketing them. The workshop generated a huge amount of excitement and energy to find ways of overcoming these significant barriers. What was most heartening was the open acknowledgement by the Minister that no one organisation or institution can solve the problem themselves, but if everyone can work together, including government institutions, NGOs, such as Practical Action, and private sector companies there is hope for the future and people like Kalibati.No Comments » | Add your comment
“Are we nearly there yet?” is a thought that has cropped up in my mind on a couple of occasions these last few days as we journey around Bolivia and up into the Andes, to see some of the great work Practical Action is doing for the communities living there. I could never have imagined the enormity of the landscape and the time it takes to get anywhere, either through distance, traffic or altitude.
The majestic mountains and the never ending plateaus, interspersed with the odd farm, perhaps a couple of houses, or small village is a sight to behold. Women in traditional Bolivian dress, shepherding their sheep, llamas or cows, could be straight out of a story book. But life for these communities is far from easy. I have been fortunate to see for myself four very different projects that are making a difference to these communities.
A Centre of Technology and Innovation is underway in the Jesús de Machaca Municipality, for the rearing and breeding of Alpacas for meat, leather, wool and textiles. The project will benefit 163 families and make a significant difference to both their wellbeing and incomes. The Centre will sustain and promote rural activities of the Kamayocs through information materials and communications. On our visit, the ground had been ring fenced with a solar powered electric fence. Corrals’ had been dug with the appropriate drainage and water systems were in the process of being installed. Some 140 animals were already in residence, jumping about in the Andean sunshine. The communities of the municipality could not be happier with the work in progress and gave us the warmest welcome imaginable, which included a presentation from the Mayor of the Municipality.
Quinoa processing is a project that has reached completion of its first stage – a short project of a mere 9 months that has turned around the processing of Quinoa and other grains. The communities are now able to produce popcorn, bars and cookies from the Quinoa and are selling them at local Fayres around the municipality. Berta, one of the ladies involved in the goods production, told us what a difference the project and the opportunity has made to her life, she is now able to contribute to the family income – something she is immensely proud of. The second stage of this valuable work will look at securing contracts with schools to supply Quinoa bars for healthy breakfasts.
A Milk Transformation Centre has literally transformed the lives of a women’s cooperative in Colquencha Municipality. Following support from Practical Action, partner Sowawi and the help of the Municipality of Colquencha, they decided they could do more than just receive milk, and are now successfully producing cheese and yoghurt, building up a profitable dairy business. Sebberine, the lady who over sees the production of the dairy products told me she is happier now as she has an income, she is able to go to La Paz and can afford a little extra for her family. However, the wonderful news Sebberine shared with our party was that she, along with her ladies, known as the Sartawi Sayari Foundation had that week, been certified, meaning they have the passport to be able to sell their products legally.
Elena is a lady who is happier than ever as her family participated in a project that has transformed her life and that of her family. She told me how her neighbours were jealous of her now! Elena and her family, and other families have benefitted from wells, drinking fountains and shelters. Elena has also benefited from water harvesting irrigation system, allowing her to grow vegetables to support her family and to sell on. Practical Action, worked with the families and the Municipality.
So, “Are we nearly there yet? For Elena, Sebberine and Berta, yes we are, but for the rest of the Andean communities and those living in poverty elsewhere in the world, no, we still have a way to go.No Comments » | Add your comment