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  • 10 reasons why Practical Action is the best organisation I have worked in so far

    Ananta Prasad

    July 13th, 2016

    Since, I started my professional work life on 1 April 2010, I have served 8 different organisations in just 6 years and freelanced for numbers of other organisations voluntarily and also as consultants before. I clearly remember 13 July 2015, the day I had joined Practical Action, it was just like any other organisation I had served before. However, I had started my journey with a small road accident on the way to my office, which keeps the date full of memories for me.

    A new organisation with a complete new team of people, I had not thought of being very comfortable but the people here made work life so easy, my conscience forced me to pen down this article. This is my return to each and every employee of Practical Action family for making it happen.

    In India, people are skeptical about those who work with NGOs. I have faced so many situations where I feel people do not welcome the fact that I work in an NGO. When it comes to marriage proposals or parents, let me be very honest, the development sector is not something most people/parents look at. Such ironies apart, I made up my mind to mention 10 reasons why I love Practical Action more than my previous employers, however I have served in media houses, corporates and NGOs earlier. As I am celebrating my one year completion in the organisation, this is my return gift to the people around.

    1. Small is Beautiful : A theory worth working for

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    The organisation believes in the famous theory of the founder EF Schumacher i.e ‘Small is Beautiful’. Even in work, I experienced this is so beneficial to start with small and then expand. Most of our projects are actually small and having the best impact but with a bigger future prospective. This organisation inherits this principle within you.

    1. Witnessing Technology Justice

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    21st Century while experiencing the all technological advancements this organisation continues to prove how Technology is being used for poor communities and challenging social disparities. A small villager in Badamanjari village of Koraput is experiencing electricity where the grid is still a dream. The smile in their face will make your day. #TechnologyJustice

    1. Experiencing innovations

    JULY (2)

    Innovations are the key to Practical Action’s work. Though we are new in our operations in India, some innovations are unique indeed. The Small Wind and Energy System in Kalahandi providing electricity from both Solar and Wind through a hybrid system is definitely an innovation. The other country offices have so many innovations and I experience them through in-house communication. These innovations inspire me to think out of the box.

    1. A liberal organisation

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    The organisation is liberal in terms of work culture. You get lots of encouragement during work and also fun elements are added. The organisation gives scope to reflect on your mistakes and also your successes. It gives much scope for self-assessment. The regular Monday meetings keep me updated about all others work and I self-asses my week’s achievements and short comings if any.

    1. No hierarchy

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    I was surprised and glad when I had got a personalised mail from our the then CEO Simon welcoming me the day I joined. Though I work under my line manager, matrix manager and senior manager I still never felt a strict hierarchy imposing on me. All my managers are so supportive and have given me the scope to grow and work with a free hand. (PS : Not trying to impress my managers, my appraisal is already done)

    1. Too much to learn

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    This is something I love the most about the organisation. In our India Office, though a small team, we have experts from different areas. Working with my WASH team, Energy officer, Monitoring, the Admin I get to learn a lot of things. Even, I get to learn from the finance team about managing the finance in project management. If I talk about communication, my mates in Nepal, UK and other country offices are so well equipped with knowledge, I have learned a lot during the whole year. I thank them all for making my stay here with full of learning.

    1. Travelling is an integral part of my work

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    Oh yes! If you personally know me, then I am sure, you would have guessed how happy I am when I travel. And the organisation gives me scope to travel. Though these are official trips but, I get to learn from projects, people, and places. In a span of one year, I have had 11 trips to different project locations and out of which 4 are out of the state and one is out of country perhaps my first foreign trip to Bangladesh.  All such work travels basically give me exposure to new work and let me document things both visually and in print.

    1. I get umpteen opportunities to click humans and write stories

    MARCH

    Well, I am a born story teller, which I believe and try to create more stories. This happens when i meet people, I click them and write stories. Stories of change and stories of technology justice, this has made me a frequent blogger. I hope to create more such stories in both visuals and words for you all.

    1. It allows and approves my creativity

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    This is one organisation, which has allowed and actually approved my creative thinking. Some projects have actually taken shape with my creativity and value addition from my managers and other team mates. Even in other events, I had given free-hand to think rethink and create some magic.

    1. I love my team

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    I love my team, each of them. They get me some delicious food every day at the lunch table. I am like the finisher if something is left from the lunch boxes. The foodie in me loves them for making myself little fat. Jokes apart, being the youngest member of the team, I have been pampered, being scolded when I deserved that, being guided which happens quite often and being taught with lessons which have made me a better professional and a far better person.

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  • K Madhabi : An Entrepreneur in the making

    Ananta Prasad

    June 28th, 2016

    IMG_2085 (Cópia)In India, for every woman, cooking is a primary job. In villages and the countryside, women take care of the household work including cooking, collecting firewood and preparation of food. Using the traditional cook stoves causes respiratory diseases for women and children. In addition women collect firewood from the local forest and which is life threatening and lots of physical toil for them. It also creates a threat for the forest and its conservation. Though in short run, nobody talks about such issues, these have a greater impact in the long run.

    A study in 2014 supported by Practical Action, ‘Gender and Livelihoods Impacts of Clean Cook stoves in South Asia’ states that, “women largely shoulder the majority of the burden they naturally become exposed to allied hazards while cooking. They also additionally get exposed to hazards collecting fuel.”

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    K Madhabi receiving Youth Innovation Fund award from Mr Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister, Odisha.

    All these questions and problems have a solution now with the efforts of a group of tribal women in Koraput district in Odisha. K Madhabi, the leader of the group has earned accolades for their honest efforts. A low smoke project, prepared by K Madhabi and her group, ‘Access Grameen Mahila Udyog’ won a prestigious Youth Innovation Fund Award from the Chief Minister of Odisha.

    12 women from 5 blocks gathered together and formed this women group under the able leadership of Madhabi. At 26 years old Madhabi is now a successful entrepreneur and able to show a path to many like her in the community.

    The cook stove prepared by the group is an energy efficient one which has reduced the smoke to zero level and the cooking time by up to 50%, according to many users. It also consumes less firewood in comparison to other traditional cook stoves.

    “The journey was full of challenges. All the women first time learned the mason work and now can manufacture cook stoves of their own. They have divided the work for marketing and Madhabi is leading them.”

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    K Madhabi, among other awardees

    As well as manufacturing, Madhabi is also instrumental in knitting together women from different villages and disseminating knowledge about using low smoke cook stoves. She advocates for a better living for all women and is pretty much dedicated for that. This cook stove has already been tested by the experts from Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology and the group has been registered under the department which deals with small and medium scale business units.

    “Life is not the same as before. We have been treated with much respect in our community,” says Madhabi. The group has been getting regular orders and they are working hard to meet the demands.

    Practical Action’s India office provided technical and financial support for this group through a project called ACCESS (Access to Clean Cook-stoves for Economic Sustainability and Social Wellbeing) funded by the Johnson Matthey.

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  • When Manjari met Badamanjari

    Ananta Prasad

    January 20th, 2016

    Eagles come in all shapes and sizes, but you will recognize them chiefly by their attitudes ~ EF Schumacher

    This is about a story of two entities carrying the same name and few similarities; however the differences make this quite a story.  It began when we took a journey from Bhubaneswar to Koraput to see a few micro hydro projects. I was assigned to document the good practices and was figuring out ways to start.

    By the time we left Bhubaneswar, both the characters were already developed and discussed by my colleagues. One was part of geography and the other one was human existence. One was the means to progress the other one was progressive. One was hopeful about the hopes of the other one. One was a place to visit and other one was the visitor. One was Manjari and the other one was Badamanjari.

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    Badamanjari Village, Koraput, Odisha

    It sounds funny, but what made me write this blog was something which we in Practical Action believe -giving the human touch to my work. Though it started with pulling Manjari’s leg, (she’s the Senior Energy officer from the Nepal office) we all were heading to Badamanjari where we have demonstrated a micro hydro project linking it with sustainable livelihood under project SMRE (Sustainable Micro-hydro through Energizing Rural Enterprises & Livelihood) with a support from WISIONS.

    Crossing the hilly terrains of the Eastern Ghats, we were heading towards Badamanjari on the second day, we were constantly teasing Manjari making her more inquisitive about the place. We crossed the beautiful valleys of Koraput on our way, taking photos of beautiful landscapes. We passed several small villages and hamlets but Badamanjari was still far away. I was ready with my camera to capture the moment when Manjari meets Badamanjari!!

    I could hear the beat of drums and local instruments. I guessed a wedding was happening seeing the crowd of people. But as soon as we came closer, a few familiar faces came towards us, which made me sure that we are in Badamanjari and the music was to welcome us. We were overwhelmed but things that happened after that made our day. When Manjari got down from the car, the women put garlands around her neck and also on ours – this was a grand welcome, beyond our expectations.

    To our surprise, the women took Manjari to dance with them with the beats of local songs and the instruments. I could see a perfect sync between Manjari and Badamanjari. It was a beautiful village in the foothills of tall mountains with colourful walls and magical music of water flowing from the surrounding fountains.

    After nearly two hours in the village, when we were returning, I asked Manjari, about her experience and I was expecting her to be happy and positive about the warm welcome and the time we spent there. She had showed the villagers how to operate the powerhouse smoothly.  After a few seconds of silence and a deep sigh, Manjari replied.

    Her reply initiated a discussion about something which we must bring into our practices in the village.  We had community meeting where there was a proportionate number of both male and female  villagers attending. But when it came to participation in the discussion the women said very little, despite being asked several times. One of the villagers was translating the discussion in local Kui language but it made no difference. The women remained silent and we were unsure whether they got anything from the discussion or not. I could see the worry in the words of Manjari while she shared this. She was unhappy to see few women participating in the development process. She also raised a valid point that no women from the village have a clear idea of the micro hydro project and things that are benefitting their village.  No women accompanied us at the powerhouse.

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    Women from Badamanjari Village, Koraput

    There is a need, for these women to come out of their cocoon.”  she said. With these words of Manjari, I could connect to a lot of situations and suddenly Manjari made me realise that, I have also taken the video interviews of a male villager whereas it could have been a women sharing her bit of story.

    We had already left the village and it gave me enough space to rethink and realise the real essence of development.

    As a development professional when all our efforts are heading towards making life better of marginalised communities, our ethics should compel us to take a stand on bringing equality in all spheres. Gender equality must feature in our actions in the field and rather than just being a term in the development dictionary. All our projects and people managing projects and supporting services must be sensitised to work on this. Because real essence of development lies in practice rather than theory – this what Manjari made me realise.

    As they say, we learn from our mistakes. I am hopeful to give justice to my work at a personal level by abiding by such ethical values. Beyond all good memories, hardship and fun we had during the journey I will take away this learning which will make me a better individual and a professional as well. Yes, it was a story, a real one. Of two entities with the much similarity of name, but beyond the names I could feel the invisible bond unnoticed.

    I looked out of the window and saw the setting sun and a silver lining there at the horizon.

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  • Solar Power Cart: One stop solution for post cyclone energy need

    Ananta Prasad

    November 3rd, 2015

    We tend to think of development, not in terms of evolution, but in terms of creation. ~ EF Schumacher

    Based on a trolley (3-wheeler) this new innovation of a Solar Power Cart “Soura Ratha” can produce up to 1KW green energy which will provide hassle free power supply in emergency situations. On the eve of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Day and Odisha Disaster Preparedness Day, the first prototype of the Soura Ratha is publicly displayed at the Exhibition unveiled by the Chief Minister Mr. Naveen Patnaik here at Bhubaneswar. It is noted that during disaster, once charged, this innovation can provide emergency energy for continuous 72 hours.

    IMG_5824 (Cópia)It was the occasion of National Day for Disaster Reduction, 29th October when the team Energy, Practical Action, Odisha decided & influenced its partners to demonstrate a model of Solar Power Plant on wheels, the first of its kind in the state. The Solar Power Cart so developed was displayed b state level function at Bhubaneswar, which was inaugurated by the Honourable Chief Minister of Odisha. The project was taken up in collaboration with Climate Parliament and sponsored by Odisha Renewable Energy Development Authority (OREDA) & Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA). The design & development partner was Desi Technology Solutions, a private firm who had been partnering with Practical Action since long

    The cart is designed to meet the energy requirement in the inaccessible disaster prone areas in specific & as required by the community in general. It is proposed to be placed at the Cyclone Shelters already built by OSDMA and operate from there as per local need. The idea is that the solar panel and the battery bank along with the appliances would be loaded on a hand pulled cart and can be taken to various unreached areas and provides energy solution such as illumination, water pumping, clear water logging by pumping out the stagnate water in emergency, charging of mobile phones, running emergency communication equipment etc.

    Designed technically to serve at the Cyclone shelter centres, it is well equipped and first of its kind innovation. The senior officials from state administration appreciated the initiative during their visit today and this may be considered for a larger level implementation in the state. This has technically be designed to be stationed at Cyclone Shelter centres which the government can plan to take it forward.

    IMG_5782 (Cópia)“Accessing energy and power for basic needs like charging mobiles or emergency lights or using water pumps for water was always a challenge post disaster. Even during Phailin in 2013, there was complete power back-out in most of the places in Ganjam District for more than a week. To address this issue and to be well prepared before disaster, this new innovation will be much helpful and ideal,” adds Mr Sanjit Behera, Energy Expert from Practical Action.

    In addition this Solar Power cart has additional features such as the movability is not dependent on any fuel and it’s a hand pulled cart easily installed and can also be dismantled as and when required. This is a compact solution loaded with appliances and can provide services like Illumination, water pumping, charging of mobiles, laptops and charge lights etc. This has an indigenous and futuristic design which can work both in Solar and grid power. “Though it has scope to further modification, but it is of low cost looking at its usage and needs easy maintenance,” said Mr Behera from Practical Action.

    Now the cart had been displayed at a state level annual science exhibition organised by Sri Aurobindo Bigyan Parishad where more than 500 students & parents from all across the state participated and learnt about the cart, the real use & utility of solar energy for humankind. The cart is also roaming around the city educating the masses about its usage and use during emergency.

    This innovation has also been featured in different publications such as The Hindu, The New Indian Express, The Pioneer, The Orissadiary and many more.

    Written By Sanjit Ku Behera.

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  • As GMO patents expire, will they be used more by smallholder farmers in LDCs?

    Jonny Casey

    October 16th, 2015

    Today 16th October is World Food Day, a day to highlight the hunger and suffering millions of people face throughout the world. One of the responses to hunger in recent years has been to turn to science and technology to help boost yields of ‘staple crops’. One such method has been the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). But the use of such seeds is controlled by the companies who ‘make’ them. Recently however, the patents protections on some of the earlier generations of GMOs are starting to expire. (more…)

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  • World Food Day and the SDGs: The challenge – no! the opportunity – for agriculture to leave no one behind

    Today, 16th October, is World Food Day. A day when we are reminded of the vital importance of agriculture in providing our basic need – food. More importantly, the vital role agriculture plays in providing food security and livelihoods for the majority in developing countries. For me it is a reminder of how, to date, agriculturalists and the international community are still failing to enable the many millions of small-scale farmers to use their efforts, and their resources – the natural environment for which they are in fact our custodians – to develop their agriculture so it is productive, resilient and sustainable. Our understanding of ecology and agricultural systems tells us that sustainable agriculture is possible, but this is not reflected in our research and development efforts to pursue that approach. This injustice is evident from the fact that the 2014, Global Hunger Index concluded that levels of hunger remain “alarming” or “extremely alarming” in 16 countries, and this year’s FAO report on the State Of Food and Agriculture (SOFA, 2015) show that most of the extreme poor and hungry live in rural areas.

    Great Goals

    ward no.7 07.03.2010Whilst alarming this is not news, and it was therefore with good reason that last month, through the Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs), the international community properly recognised the vital role of agriculture in combating poverty. Unlike their predecessor, the Millenium Development Goals (the MDGs) in which agriculture was omitted, the SDGs have a specific goal to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030 (Goal 2). And, to achieve that, specific targets to double agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, whilst maintaining the genetic diversity of our food crops and livestock, and delivering a sustainable food system.

    With the SDGs the global community has done well to agree meaningful goals and targets for agriculture. However, this is not enough because agriculture is complex, it provides different things to different people, there are many strategies for growth and intensification and there are many interests at stake. For example, at the household level agriculture is important for food security, incomes, identity and jobs. For many it is a safety net – a base from which to rise. As a sector it is important financially and economically – for trade, adding value (processing), technology (inputs and machinery), raw materials for industry (fibres, fuels, oils), investment and growth. Agriculture is also one of the most significant of human activities that impact on the environment. Expanding and polluting agriculture is causing the loss of forests, wetland and marine ecosystems, which is having a negative knock on effect on our climate. There is a tension between food and incomes now, and maintaining our natural resources for future generations.

    The Role of Technology

    Many people and governments look to science and new technologies for the solution. The green revolution multiplied the yields of major staple crops, but yields are plateauing, soil fertility is declining and land degradation threatens the sustainability of the gains achieved. Despite the dramatic, even transformational, effect of that science, poverty and hunger remain.

    Certainly science and technology has a vital role to play but it needs to create accessible, innovative and sustainable solutions. To do this requires research, capacity building and policies that enable farmers to make the most of the assets and knowledge they already have, and to use science to complement and improve their efforts. Agroecology provides an agricultural development pathway to do that. To be relevant, and bring forward, the many millions of smallholder farmers, in particular women, indigenous people, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, so that indeed many fewer are left behind.

    Implementation & Measuring Success

    Coming back to the SDGs, and the challenge of implementation, the important issue now is to have realistic indicators for monitoring and measuring success, and most importantly, guiding the strategies that governments choose to promoting transformation in agriculture.

    There will be a tendency, the sake of easy implementation, measurement and reporting, to simplify the issues. For example, to measure yields and the closing of the so called ‘yield gap’, use of fertiliser or new seeds. As we have seen from the green revolution and the environmental pressures on agriculture in developed countries, such measures do not ensure access, innovation or sustainability. The SGD indicators should rather measure the ability of farmers to adapt and cope with change, and our ability to refocus research and development to improve their capacity, knowledge and skill so they can so they can improve and manage the natural resources they have.

    In conclusion, the food insecurity of millions of extreme poor people could be alleviated with agroecological technologies to improve the productivity and resilience of smallholder farmers, rather than investments in technologies for industrial farming.

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  • Reflecting on technology in the lead up to COP21, Paris

    Aaron Leopold

    October 16th, 2015

    These videos outline the background to the UNFCCC meetings held recently in preparation for the vital COP21 climate change talks in Paris at the end of November.

    Technology needs assessment

    Over the past year developing countries have been identifying their priority technology needs, to provide a basis for a portfolio of environmentally sustainable technology development.

     

    The opportunities of decentralised renewable energy

     

    In depth technical paper to facilitate detailed planning

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  • How a revolving fund empowers women

    Nada Elfadil

    October 16th, 2015

    Fatima Adam Ali is a young mother of three children from Majdoub,  a village 7km to the west of El-Fashir, the capital of North Darfur State. Fatima and her husband farm a  9.5 feddan plot of land (2.5 feddans of which is fertile), on which they grow a combination of staple cereal crops and cash crops.

    This is their primary livelihood with sesame and tobacco being their most consistently profitable crops. In addition, Fatma owns five goats, which she keeps for milk for the household but also for sale in case of a poor crop harvest. In 2014 she had to sell two of her goats as her tobacco crop failed. Through her local women’s community based organisation (CBO), Fatima has participated in several activities as part of the Wadi El Ku Project.

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    Significantly, she attended a training course in organic compost production and use. Following the training she made 10 sacks of compost which she will use to increase the soil fertility of her farmland. She was also involved in the wadi bank stabilization programme and along with others in her community helped to plant and protect a 3km line of tree seedlings on the severely degraded banks of the wadi. She is responsible for watering seven trees, which she does every Thursday. One tree died, but the rest are thriving.

    When she heard that her local women’s community based organisation was providing small revolving funds to exploit local market chain gaps, Fatima immediately applied. Three years ago she started her own small perfume business. She saw this opportunity to access credit as a chance to grow her business. She used the funds to purchase large quantities of basic perfume ingredients such as oils from El Fashir town. She now produces a number of new perfumes, including khumra (the heavily scented signature perfume of married Sudanese women), stocks henna and a variety of incenses and woods used for smoke-baths, and regularly purchases dilka (a dark paste, made from a mixture of sorghum, fragrant oils and spices, which is used as an exfoliant) from her aunt for resale.

    As the only person producing and selling perfumes in Magdoub and any of the neighbouring villages, she has had no shortage of customers with many women preferring to buy perfumes locally than having to travel to El Fashir market to purchase ready-made perfumes or to buy the raw materials to produce their own perfumes at home. She makes her perfume at home whenever she has some idle time. She sells her perfumes from her house, with her eldest son helping by delivering orders to neighbours and others in the village.  Soon she hopes to set up a stall in the weekly village market. She estimates that in a slow month she makes about 150 SDG profit and in a good month she makes more than 200 SDG.

    * An EU funded project, implemented by Practical Action in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), to promote integrated water resource management in North Darfur and to strengthen local livelihoods.

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  • Knowledge enables us to raise our voice

    Refaat Bashir Mohamed

    October 16th, 2015

    “I, myself, believe that ‘seeing is believing’; in the sense that when I see someone smiling in a difficult place, it means that we are on the right track” said Mohammed Ali, the chairperson of El Gandoul Network.

    farmer field schoolTogether with Practical Action we have helped people help themselves and take a leap out of the poverty trap.  Lives have been transformed by making business out of nothing. Can you believe that sometimes what we planned at the project level exceeds our expectations?  Whatever the difficulties, at the end of the day we proved that people have the power and self-confidence to enable them to say ‘we will never give up the fight!’

    tarawaYes, we are farmers and are proud of producing food from this land not solely for self-consumption, but also to feed others. The knowledge we have gained from extension services such as water harvesting, improved seeds, pest control, harvest and storage, remain our main asset now. Yes, now we can help our peers improve their productivity and we can go further to help them approach markets and engage with other farmers and sell their products at a fair price, instead of selling at the farm gate which often is not profitable. Yes, we, as famers, have learned a lot about market opportunities and producers’ forums from Practical Action, in building our capacity.

    Now we can voice our concerns and engage in policy change in our favour through lobbying and advocacy.

    Mohammed Ali ended by saying that “Yes, we are grateful to what Practical Action has done to us and we promise to keep the candle alight.”

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  • Practical Action’s unsung heroes

    Carol Reesby

    October 16th, 2015

    Heroes come in many forms, and each individual will have their own definition of a hero. Some may think it’s a soldier fighting for their country; a firefighter entering a burning building; or the crew of a lifeboat launching into rough seas – heroes who risk their lives for others.

    toiletBut there is another type of hero – the unsung hero! Someone whose daily life may seem pretty unremarkable but who help to change the lives of thousands of people by one simple act – being a Practical Action supporter.

    It’s hard to believe in the 21st Century that people still have no access to basic services such as clean drinking water and sanitation facilities, have no electricity and still cook over open fires, are undernourished, and cope with the devastation of natural disasters. Our supporters are helping to change this. By supporting the work of Practical Action our unsung heroes make a difference to people living in extreme poverty in the developing world.

    Last year our supporters enabled us to change the lives of 1.2 million people. They helped to improve access to water and sanitation services for over 240,000 people; give 200,000 people access to sustainable electricity services; help 650,000 people improve their food security and livelihoods; and reduce the risk of disaster to 60,000 people – changes that could not happen without their support.

    This remarkable group of people are our heroes!  Their one small but beautiful act of generosity enables Practical Action to make a huge impact on the lives of millions of people. Without them our work wouldn’t be possible.

    To our many supporters we say a huge ‘Thank you’ – you really are amazing people and our unsung heroes!

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