But what I really meant was unassuming, simple yet effective.
In Gularia, Nepal we’ve been working with the community to transform all of their homes together into a healthy village – clean water, toilets, decent cooking facilities, promoting hand washing and good hygiene etc.
One innovation, which I’ve seen many times before, is the use of a concrete slab with a small raised wall to protect a water point from contamination. It works, its effective and therefore we’ve done it time and time again. In this case the protection was yet more vital as nearly all of the houses had a small cow shed attached and protecting drinking water from contamination by cow dung is vital.
The silly but great – so simple but I haven’t seen it used in this way before – was a wooden drying rack for pots, utensils, etc. placed immediately next to the water point. It meant that when women washed cooking utensils there instead of putting them on the potentially contaminated floor they stacked them on the clean rack. And so kept everyone safer.
Women talked about how learning about simple ‘kitchen management’ was part of making a healthy home. Not silly but true.
Small effective solutions that together are life changing.
I bet some of you reading this would have thought ‘silly’ too but then thought ‘silly but strangely wow – simple but effective’No Comments » | Add your comment
“Women farmers produce more than half of all food worldwide and currently account for 43 percent of the global agricultural labour force.” – UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
An earlier blog highlighted the potential of smallholder producers as part of the solution to the food crisis facing the planet. A crisis that is exacerbated by inaction to reach a global deal to tackle climate change and dwindling support going to agriculture in developing countries, in spite of some ambitious but as yet unmet pledges. The IF campaign highlights this conundrum, ”that we have the capacity to eliminate hunger from the face of the earth in our lifetime, we only need the will.” (John F. Kennedy, 1963)
Changes in global climate are leading to less predictable weather patterns with increasing failure of planting season rains blamed for recurrent famines in impoverished rural areas. Around the world over 500 million people live in vulnerable rural communities, with smallholder farmers, and pastoralists supplying food to almost 2 billion of the poorest people on the planet. Supporting these small-scale producers to reach their full potential is one of the simplest strategies that could transform global food systems overnight.
Such a transformation of the role of smallholders in the global agricultural system would also deliver significant benefits to rural women; a critical area where gains are needed most. Smallholder agriculture is critically dependent on the input of women, especially for largely unrecognised labour, starkly contrasted with higher profile male dominated activities. The recent FAO study acknowledged that women comprise at least 50% of the labour force in most of Africa and Asia, with their agricultural duties undertaken alongside existing household and child care duties. By closing the gender gap in smallholder farming, crop productivity will increase, local food and nutritional security will be improved and the increase in the income of women will deliver far reaching social benefits. Women interviewed as part of Oxfam’s Researching Women’s Collective Action project regularly responded that they gain a sense of freedom from their own income, allowing them to prioritise family nutrition and even send their children to school.
To support women producers will require considerable investment, but this must be quality investment reaching the most needy. Collective approaches offer opportunities to reach scale and can empower women to participate as part of an initiative in a way that defuses social tensions with husbands and fathers, who might see their roles threatened. The Oxfam “women’s collective action” research programme, has identified some of the key challenges to women’s engagement including; access to formal groups, being overlooked by extension services and the need to provide the support women require and in a way that works for women.
By mobilising the latent potential of women smallholder farmers to transform global agriculture, global food security could be improved overnight. For example by providing equal access to existing resources and opportunities – could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100 to 150 million people. Such a transformation could go a long way to feeding the estimated 325 million hungry people on the planet and at the same time enable millions of smallholder producers to feed their families and escape poverty.
This BLOG is based on work undertaken while Colin worked for Oxfam and was originally published on their Policy and Practice website. http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/No Comments » | Add your comment
To find out how a very small project can show so much meaning about the real values of rural poor people, which make them happy and give meaning to their lives, read about the day I made a visit which made that day exceptional.
My visit to Silkyay village in the rural area of Kassala was a routine field visit like many others but my encounter with a woman called Nafisa changed that visit into an inspirational lesson.
Nafisa is involved in Practical Action’s “chicken for eggs” project. This aims to enhance nutrition and provide income for poor households. She has 20 hens in her small, clean den, and managed and cleaned this den every day, until she began producing 20 eggs per day. Some of these she consumes and the rest she sells. The day I met Nafisa happiness overwhelmed her and joyfully she told me that now she has work, and she owns something, she has control of her life.
In the beginning she faced difficulties marketing her produce in her village, because people weren’t used to eating eggs. The varieties of food they ate were very limited – mainly porridge and milk and this culture led them to refuse anything unfamiliar and prevented them from having a healthy and diversified diet.
Nafisa started introducing the egg as a main meal in her own house, as breakfast for her children before school. Then she began an awareness campaign about the nutritional value of eggs. Gradually the skeptical village changed to be less hesitant. In a short period the whole village began to depend on eggs for breakfast. Nafisa proudly stated that now she alone cannot supply the increasing demand and has other five women working in this project.
Nafisa said that now she feels appreciated by her family and community, and she is happy about the simple tangible change her project introduced to the life of the people in the village. The happiness of Nafisa and her pride at her achievement taught me that helping women to access and control resources, is the right approach for justice and for improving the status of women and mothers in our communities. Productive work gives women a proud feeling of ownership and control of their resources as Nafisa reflected as she enthused about her hens.
The change happened when people began buying eggs after being convinced of their nutritional value. This taught me the meaning and practicality of such small activities when they relate to people’s real needs.
Before concluding this story, I would like to tell you about my own experience when I bought some eggs from Nafisa and cooked them myself. I learned something else important – that the home-produced egg from this village is a natural egg, free of chemicals and is tastier and more beneficial than the ones we purchase from markets which are produced by companies using chemicals and hormone injections.
How inspiring are these small works when powered by a strong will and the strength of women like Nafisa!No Comments » | Add your comment
In September I had the chance to visit our work in Kassala in the eastern part of Sudan. Travelling there took 9 hours. Although it was an exhausting journey, we enjoyed the beauty of the journey, the green spaces and towering mountains covered with trees, like a beautiful painting painted by a masterful artist. Pastoralists and farmers were grateful for the blessing of rain this year, despite the difficulty of storing water in those rural areas.
We visited Bagadir village, 30 Km from Kassala, which is inhabited by tribes called Bani Amer, who have migrated over the years from the Arabian Peninsula. Some also live in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Eritrea and different parts of the Arab Republic of Egypt.
Women are not considered a good omen for this tribe and their role is limited. Moreover women are not allowed to leave the village for any reason and their fundamental role is parenting and serving men.
Food in times of scarity
Practical Action Sudan has introduced ‘Jubraka’, small farms for women, usually established near the house to provide food for farmers’ families during the critical time of food scarcity. In these farms women have been cultivating crops such as okra, watermelon, henna and bananas, using our new advanced drip irrigation technique. Our visit coincided with the period of fruiting and I’ll never forget the scene. I see the taste of success in women’s eyes, their efforts paid off.
My colleague Nahid Ali Awadelseed started to talk with the women, gathering in the corner where a thatched umbrella is erected. Usually, during irrigation and taking care of the farms women gather to do craft work or drink coffee. We start to chat with them and find out their opinions of Practical Action’s work in their community
One 16 year old girl, Afrah Karar, spoke on behalf of all the women. I admired her courage and her ability to express herself and asked if she had education or training. I knew Practical Action had offered her agricultural training in Kassala but unfortunately her father refused her permission to leave the village. We were able to send a trainer to her village to help pass on this knowledge to the rest of the women.
Then Siham Mohamed Osman, the leader of this programme of work for Practical Action, asked the women a question:
“Do you sell your farms’ production in the markets outside the village or do the men not allow it?”
I was impressed by the swift answer from one of the women telling us that the men had began to abandon their stupidity. I felt this was an amazing answer. Women’s work has started to change the customs and traditions of the tribe and then to change the status of women within their community.
Small works lead to small change and small change is the start of big success.
Much can be done to empower women. Practical Action is taking action by putting women’s empowerment at the center of development plans in our work. There can be no development, and no lasting peace on the planet, if women continue to be relegated to subservient and often dangerous and back-breaking roles in society.7 Comments » | Add your comment
During a recent conversation with Reckson Matengarufu, one of our Project Officers working on water and sanitation projects in the Gwanda District, I was amazed with the way the community has been transformed by this project, with women now taking an active role in water and sanitation issues.
Zimbabwe’s rural populations are largely conservative. Men take a leading role in most activities. But, this is changing in the project’s target wards, where, in the past, women were only responsible for fetching water and taking care of household chores. It was taboo for them to be seen getting involved on issues to do with borehole repairs and maintenance as it was considered a men’s job. Now, that migration from rural to urban areas has increased in Zimbabwe, and particularly in Gwanda where men seek greener pastures in neighbouring South Africa, women have been left to fend for themselves.
In a very dry environment like Gwanda, water is scarce, broken water points mean that women and girls bear the brunt of walking long distances to fetch water for daily domestic use.
Faced with these challenges, do women really have to wait for their husbands to come back home during the holidays and service the boreholes? NO!, women in Gwanda have been empowered and are now able to carry out borehole maintenance tasks and repairs efficiently. Men and women can now work together for the benefit of their communities.
Mrs. Mary Mufiri (52), one of the women who has taken a new role as a pump minder is a mother of four. Her husband has been working in South Africa since 1998.
She told me, “I am very proud of this role that I now have within the village. Before this, some of our water points had not been working for very long periods. This meant that we has to walk up to 5 kilometres to fetch water or use unprotected sources.”
This work is a result of Practical Action Southern Africa’s three year project ”Enhancing Community Participation in Governance of Water and Sanitation Service Delivery in Rural Gwanda District” which began in August 2011, funded by the European Commission. The project seeks to contribute towards democratising the management and governance of communal water and sanitation infrastructure in Zimbabwe, demonstrating inclusive and replicable approaches for the delivery of basic water and sanitation services. You can find out more about Practical Action’s water and sanitation programme here.4 Comments » | Add your comment
When I was 12 years old, my life revolved around playing with my friends, and trying to do my best at school. My biggest worries were whether I’d finish my homework on time, and more importantly, whether it would get an A* (I was a very conscientious pupil). My greatest responsibilities were helping my mum with chores around the house, and looking after my little brothers.
I was safe, protected, and enjoying my childhood, exactly as any 12 year old should.
But if I had been born into poverty – in Bangladesh, Mali, or Niger, for example – chances are, that at age 12, my childhood would have ended. I could have been forced into marriage. Into pregnancy. Into giving birth to a child, while still a child myself. If I survived all that, I’d have faced a life of drudgery, of doing whatever necessary to support my family. That might entail selling everything I had, including my body, to men, for sex.
10 million girls around the world are forced into early marriage each year. That’s about one girl every three seconds.
Think of yourself aged 12. Or your daughter. Or your granddaughter. Is this the childhood you would choose for her?
Today, Thursday 11 October 2012, marks the first ever International Day of the Girl Child: a chance to amplify awareness of the inequalities which confront girls, just because they are girls. In announcing this day, the UN has demonstrated its commitment to ending the discrimination, violence, and poverty that disproportionately affect girls.
But we need more than just this one day. We need, every day, to remember the millions of girls who graduate from childhood to womanhood far, far too quickly. We need to remember this injustice, and act, and advocate for global change.
We need to recognize that when girls’ rights as children and human beings are valued and respected; when girls are educated, not forced to marry, not made mothers when they’re still children themselves; when girls grow up and have the confidence, knowledge and skills to make a decent, dignified life and living; they become women who have the power to break the cycle of poverty forever.No Comments » | Add your comment
Over the last 48 hours I have listened in horror to the tragic news of the shootings of the British family in the French Alps. The detail that makes me shudder most, that fills me with the deepest distress, is the fact that the youngest child, a four year old girl, was so scared that she sheltered under the legs of her murdered mother for eight hours. I cannot imagine the fear and utter trauma that must now envelop her, and her critically ill seven year old sister.
That sense of terror, of shell shock, reminded me of a story I heard in Sudan. I interviewed a woman called Sara, who aged 21, is only a few years younger than me. She told me how when she was only five, government soldiers stormed into her village and shot everyone they could see. She was so frightened she could not move.
Sara’s story is one of dignity and of hope and of survival against all odds. But above all, it is a story of one woman’s strength. I think you will find it an inspirational and a moving one. I hope so anyway.
“I was born in Al Llafa, near Fato, in Kassala, in the east of Sudan.
I remember the first day the war came to Al Llafa. It was in 1996. It was early morning, the first day of Eid and my best friend and I were holding hands and walking through our village, going to the celebrations. At that moment, we heard gun shots. We couldn’t make it back to our families in time, because of the fighting. I was separated from my mother and was so scared. Most of the villagers fled, they ran into the desert and hid. But I could not move. My friend and I stayed together, cowering under a bush, and then under the cover of the night we found our families. I still have nightmares about the sound of the guns. A school friend was hit by a shell. We had to travel to a safe place in the same truck as her dead body. I still remember the smell of the blood. For months afterwards I couldn’t eat or drink anything, I felt so sick all the time. The smell of the blood.
Organisations like the Red Crescent came to provide shelter and build a camp for the people who were fleeing the war. We stayed in this camp, in little tents. My whole family in one tent – my parents and my three brothers and my four sisters. We lived in that tent for two years, until I was seven.
Then another NGO came and helped us to build some new houses in Fato. Slowly, very slowly, we have rebuilt our lives.
I didn’t go to school for two years. I was just in a constant state of shock and also my parents had no way of earning money for the school fees. They had been farmers in Al Llafa but when we fled, we left the land. It was an impossible time. We used to get food from some of the kind people in the village, and from the World Food Programme. My parents used to sell the food from WFP so they could earn enough money for my school fees. We were hungry but at least I was getting an education.
Sometimes I can’t believe my childhood was like that. I can’t believe I got through it.
I left school when I was 15. I didn’t pass my Maths and English exams. Since then I have stayed at home helping the family.
Every day I get up at 6am, pray, and I clean the house. I cook our breakfast. It’s my job because I have siblings younger than me. The duties are divided between me and my sisters. The boys don’t do very much.
We buy water from the water tank in the village and my father goes to get the firewood. We cook on an open fire which means that there is lots of smoke inside the house. It can be difficult for our chest and our eyes.
We get electricity in our home by using our neighbour’s generator. This means we have can have light. The main reason for getting electricity though is so my siblings can read in the evenings. We’ve had it for one year and it has changed our lives, although we can’t afford it all the time, and we can’t afford our own generator.
During the afternoon I’ll make coffee for the family and then I cook dinner. In the evenings I help my brothers with their homework. Then we pray. Then we sleep. My days are very busy.
I am a member of the Village Development Committee which Practical Action helped us to set up. I was nominated by my village to be in the VDC because I am strong-minded and have my own opinions. The men worry about women like me. The fact that I completed my school education was also a good thing. No-one had a bad word to say about me.
One of the things our VDC has done, with Practical Action’s guidance, is set up a social fund. Everyone pays in a small fee to a central pot each month and then if someone gets sick there is money to help the ill person and their family. All the villagers will also come together and help that sick person with the farming work – planting seeds or harvesting, or whatever needs doing.
Practical Action has also trained me on food processing. I was one of 30 women who participated in the training. We learned how to make jams, spaghetti, cakes, biscuits, juices, and chutneys – all of this from the produce we grow on the land. Food processing is a wonderful thing for us because it helps us to make our food last longer and also get more value from what we sell at market. Instead of selling a pumpkin, we can sell the pumpkin chutney we make, which enables us to earn more money.
I’m proud of myself because food processing helps me to make a living and also take care of my family. For example, I am paying for my brother to go to school so he can have a chance at life.
I am so happy that now I have skills because I can earn money to have control over my own life. My Dad cannot tell me what to do. I have freedom. Thank God for this.
As a child I had no hope. I never thought I would be strong enough to live again. I am happy Practical Action has changed my life in a way that brings our community together. Before everyone was isolated, as if we were all existing in our own separate shells. But now we are connected. And the men in my village respect my contribution to the development of our community. I never ever thought I’d have the chance to come to Khartoum. I didn’t even have to ask my Dad’s permission. I could just come, because I wanted to. Because now I am free.”
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My mother, Helen, is an inspiration to me. She left school aged 16 and went straight into a responsible full-time secretarial job at a local engineering firm. Aged 21, she moved to Italy for some adventure. She made friends and a life – and can still speak Italian fluently. After she returned to the UK, and met and married my father, she embarked on motherhood. Aged 35, she had four energetic children all under the age of seven. I look back on my childhood, and remember my beautiful but boisterous brothers, and marvel at how she kept her sanity. She then went back to college to study, and finally embarked on a degree in English Literature – while still being a committed and dedicated mother and wife, and working at a local school. I struggled to focus on my degree even when I was 18 and totally free, and it was the only thing I had to think about. The fact my Mum did hers, and graduated with a 2:1 from one of the best universities in the country, is still completely remarkable to me. Her unfaltering sense of calm, and enduring belief that everything will be ok in the end – you will survive the very worst of life: heartbreak, illness, bereavement – is an inspiration to me.
But I know many people feel like this about their Mum. The bond between mother and child is the most unique, the most unshakeable love.
Today I am writing up many more of the stories I collected while visiting our work in Sudan. And what strikes me is how passionately the people with whom we work feel about Practical Action. Over and over again, I listened to stories from people who have clung on to life in the face of poverty, famine and war. The words they have for Practical Action are profoundly moving, and go beyond the clichéd (although still wonderful) “Practical Action changed my life”:
“Practical Action is like a mother to us – we see ourselves as the children of Practical Action.”
“I thank Practical Action. You know how to save people.”
“Practical Action thinks about the whole picture – our animals, our land, our food. Our community thanks Practical Action, the words “Practical Action” are never far from our minds!”
“Practical Action solves problems. It is the only organisation that actually looks at us as people. We are no longer alone.”
“I could not have done it without…Practical Action. Practical Action is a mother, a teacher, a saviour.”
I love the fact that people are so eager to speak about Practical Action in this way. And what is particularly compelling to me is that suggestion that “Practical Action is like a mother”.
Why do people say this?
Well firstly, I think it is testament to just how wonderful our project workers are. They are loyal, hardworking and compassionate people.
Secondly, I believe that the phrase “Practical Action is like a mother” illustrates our unique approach to development. Like the best mothers, Practical Action seeks to raise confident, caring, fulfilled, independent offspring. If children cannot live happily beyond their mothers, then something has gone wrong. Similarly, if people cannot move successfully to a future beyond Practical Action’s development projects, then something hasn’t quite worked.
In Sudan what was perhaps most impressive to me was the sense that Practical Action empowers whole communities. Our work might start with technology, but that’s all it is – the starting point. The end point is leaving communities in a state where they are capable of making their own development dreams a reality.
Or as someone else said:
“We will know what to do long after Practical Action leaves. I am very happy and proud. I am hoping that one day we will be able to do for other poor people in Sudan what Practical Action has done for us.”No Comments » | Add your comment
Last night I went out for dinner with my one of my oldest friends for a much-needed catch up about all that has happened in the last month while I have been away from the UK. Our topics of conversation were many and varied – our respective holidays, my trip to Sudan with Practical Action, our jobs, latest news about mutual friends, our relationships, and the future. And as we discussed our hopes for the next few years we began to talk about having children. We are both 25, and neither of us have had children yet, but the opportunity to have a family is something that is important to us both. We started dreaming: how many children would we like? Would we want boys or girls? What names might we give to them?
I’ve often thought that if I have children, I’d like to have a boy first, mostly because as as a little girl, and the oldest of four siblings, I used to crave an older brother, someone to look out for me. My reason for wanting a baby boy first is nothing more serious or ominous than that.
Driving home, I remembered some research that I discovered recently. Commissioned by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the research sought to determine which G20 country is the worst for women. Before I read the study, I was expecting the answer to be Saudi Arabia. In that country, all women, regardless of age, must have a male guardian, typically a husband or father. Domestic violence is not illegal. Most Saudi homes will have separate entrances for men and for women. Saudi citizenship can not be inherited from the mother. A woman’s testimony in court is worth half that of a man. Women are not even allowed to drive.
So I was fully expecting the research to declare that Saudi Arabia is the worst place for women.
In fact, the analysis indicated that India – a country I backpacked around not so long ago – is the worst G20 country in which to live as a woman.
When I travelled around India, I fell in love with the place. Everything is beautiful, from the women cocooned in colourful saris, to the public buses which are festooned with ribbons and painted patterns. I watched a sunset over the green green grass of the mountains in Munnar and cried because of its beauty. I chatted to women who had established their own spice co-operative, women who were strong and seemingly independent. And two of India’s leading politicians – Sonia Gandhi, head of the Congress party, and Pratibha Patil, the country’s president – are female. And at no point did it feel like a country which suppresses its women.
Yet from birth to death, life as an Indian woman is a battle. Before birth, in fact, your chances of making it out of your mother’s womb alive are far worse if you’re a girl. There is a huge culture of sex-selective abortions in India. Medical technology means blood tests at 12 weeks can predict whether the foetus is a girl or boy – and many couples choose to abort their unborn child if its gender is not the right one. Female foeticide is an alarming phenomenon - the sex ratio in India today is the worst it has been since 1947. Baby girls are abandoned in public spaces and left to die. Maybe they’ll be rescued and taken to an orphanage. Maybe not.
Though illegal since 1961, India’s dowry culture is still hugely prevalent. It means that parents of girls are compelled to provide huge sums of money when they marry. And so it is easier to have boys. Like me, women dream of having boys first. But not so their small sons can be protective big brothers to younger female children. But because a girl’s life is of less value than a boy’s.
If a girl makes it to school age, she is less likely to receive equal access to education. School fees are paid by the state only to the age of 11. After that point, families must cover these costs themselves, and when money is tight, people are more likely to send their boys to school than their girls.
After that, a girl faces the risk of being married to a much older man. A scandalous 44.5% of girls are married before they reach their 18th birthday. Child brides are less likely to be educated, and much more likely to die in childbirth as their bodies are not fully developed. Married women will also face domestic violence and physical abuse at home – and in public. The chances that the male perpetrators will be punished are slim. Continued social discrimination means that women simply do not have the same opportunities to pursue their dreams as men. And by the time women reach old age, they can expect to live in poverty. If a woman outlives her husband, life is even harder. Traditional cultural practice is to cast widows out into the streets, forbidding them from remarrying and enforcing a life of perpetual mourning for the dead husband. Although the ancient Hindi custom of sati – self-immolation of a woman over her husband’s funeral pyre – is now illegal, there are still some communities in central and north India which propagate the practice. It is the height of injustice: an encapsulation of the belief that a woman’s life only has meaning if she is appended to a man – and that her life should be extinguished the moment she is free.
I sit here thinking of this, thinking of all this inequality weighing down on the women of India from the very moment of conception.
And I think – if I have children, actually I’d like a girl first.3 Comments » | Add your comment
One of the greatest joys of working in fundraising is meeting lots of amazing people who want to do something to change the world – whether that’s donating loose change, or running 10km and asking for sponsorship, or organising a cake sale, or setting up a charitable trust to give away larger sums of money, or climbing mountains , as some of our student supporters are doing.
Last night I was very honoured to be a guest speaker at a women only fundraising dinner in Yorkshire which was both celebrating women, and raising money for Practical Action’s work in Sudan. The room was full of over 200 women, all intelligent, funny, charming, wonderful people. Last night alone raised in excess of £7,000! And it’s all going towards a food project in rural Kassala which is helping nearly 100,000 people – some of the poorest on the planet – to make a better living from farming by giving them the tools, knowledge and skills they need to move to a life beyond poverty . The generosity in that room was tangible. And it’s amazing to experience it. All too often it seems we’re living in the worst of times – great economic austerity, a seemingly endless war against terrorism, a government that cuts benefits from the most vulnerable while simultaneously allowing the rich to prosper. It can easy to be cynical, unmotivated, to think the worst and do absolutely nothing about it.
But the dinner last night was a perfect reminder that people are, for the most part, pretty wonderful. Tell a room of women that there are 4.2 million people in Sudan starving, and they will dig deep and donate, in the hope of making tomorrow brighter than today.
Today is also Sport Relief – and I know that millions of people up and down the country will be compelled to do something about the injustice of global poverty – whether that’s texting a donation while watching tonight’s TV show, or running the Sport Relief mile on Sunday.
Gandhi once said “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Thank God there are so many wonderful people who live their lives true to that mantra. Today my heart is full of joy because of them – thank you. Happy Friday everyone!No Comments » | Add your comment