Practical Action is a charity with a difference. We believe in local solutions that can grow to scale, people centred development, sharing every ounce of our knowledge so the maximum benefit accrues (helping others to share their experience too) and working to help end poverty and protect our planet.
We are also different in our approach to fundraising.
I’ve been Marketing and Communications Director at Practical Action for 15 years – I’m told that sticking around in such a post for so long is rare – but each year as I’ve learnt yet more about Practical Action’s work my enthusiasm has grown. Normally I talk about our projects on the ground or the people I’ve met, but today I want to talk about our fundraising. I love the appeals, project updates and newsletters my team pull together. They do a great job. The team are really connected with and passionate about the work of Practical Action. I hope you can sense that in everything we communicate.
As well as sharing stories from our work we also try and listen. If you ring Practical Action (01926 634400 between 9am and 5pm) or send us a letter or email, there will be someone here able to answer your queries. Every year we run a Supporters Day where donors come together with our international directors, programme workers, etc. It’s a brilliant event with real in-depth sharing. It’s also vital for the fundraising team providing a special opportunity for them to mix with, put a face to and listen to a large group of our supporters.
We believe that in supporting Practical Action you become part of our community.
It’s for that reason that I can categorically say that during my 15 years in charge of fundraising Practical Action has never sold or shared supporter, enquirers, or other data. And our commitment to you is that we never will.
We will write to you regularly – when we last researched the frequency of our mailings we were pleasantly surprised how most people said that we had the frequency about right. On the other hand if it doesn’t work for you, just call us up and we can customise to your needs (best if you don’t request ‘no mail’ as years ago when we changed our name I met a donor who was very grumpy about not being informed, but we were keeping to the instruction not to contact her).
As a Practical Action supporter I hope you know that your contribution is invaluable to our work – however the news stories that have been in the press about other charities over recent weeks make me want to say it again.
We – the whole of Practical Action and the people we work with – value your support. We also have a great team of fundraisers who genuinely care about what we do and the people who support us. Our promise is to honour this joint endeavour. We will be passionate when we talk about our work – what we do, our cause, the changes you and Practical Action can make in people’s lives – are just too important, too exciting to communicate in a way that’s dull. Alongside that passion for our work our commitment in all our communications is to be fair and honest – and to listen.
And if you want to talk with me directly my email is Margaret.email@example.com I would love to hear from you!2 Comments » | Add your comment
The best aid to give is intellectual aid, a gift of useful knowledge. A gift of knowledge is infinitely preferable to a gift of material things. E. F. Schumacher
I have recently joined Practical Action as Communications Officer at Odisha, India Office and this was my first field visit to find out about the work. When I heard about the infamous district of Rampur, during my first meeting with Read India I was curious to know more about the place which remains in the news for many reasons. Starting from political melodrama to poverty, this district has always been in lime light. The recent development of Rampur Town, which was selected from the 13 other cities of Uttar Pradesh for the Smart City project, increased my curiosity to know more about what changes Practical Answers has brought in last year since it has been working extensively with local villagers in the district in partnership with Read India, the implementing agency for Practical Answers in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan though it was a pilot project.
We crossed wide spread green fields on both the sides which was an evidence of agricultural improvement in this part of the country after we started off from Delhi. Our companion from the Read India, Shivam told us that people are keener on agriculture oriented in Rampur and nearby areas. He also mentioned that these places are way too fertile and 2-3 crops are possible in one year in many places. It took around four and half hours from CR Park, Delhi to Rampur covering a distance of 206 km. While thinking about agricultural innovations and the importance of farming as well as the current scenario of the adverse condition of farmers, it reminded me the famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi “Of course the farmer is the father of the world. But it is his greatness that he is not aware of the fact.”
After we reached Rampur we first went to the village of Aliganj-Benejir and our field coordinator Anoop Singh was our escort. The roads were wide and clean. It seemed as if it’s a proper planned town and we were heading towards our first destination. It was just 7 Km from the district headquarters on the main road which was well built with cement and concrete we reached the village where villagers were waiting anxiously. We held the meeting on a verandah. By the time we started the discussion there were 15 odd young farmers plus a few elderly people who seemed to have just come back from the field. It was too hot and sweaty, however I was feeling sorry for them as the meeting timing was not very convenient.
We were welcomed with water and later hot samosas were served to everyone and I had two of them. My colleague Arun started discussing some issues with them and I was listening silently as I had very little idea about the project. But what I learned from the discussion made me quite positive and also started joining in. The best part of the village was, many young and mid aged people are keen on farming and they were ell informed about a lot of technological advancements and quite outspoken during discussion.
To my surprise, when they shared, I got to know that before Practical Answers started working through Read India, villagers were short of information on good practice. Be it farming or fertilizers or use of pesticides or taking care of livestock it was the local shopkeeper and his little knowledge which they used to rely on. He used to suggest medicine and other things which were expensive and not very effective, shared Sonu Tomar, 28 year old farmer who has been a beneficiary of Kisan Gyan Seva (Practical Answer’s knowledge service) through mobile vani ( A service where farmers get their queries answered with a phone call). He also shared their helplessness before this knowledge sharing service. Earlier they were dependent on the so called local experts who are primarily the shopkeepers for any assistance in terms of farming or issues they face in the farming. The remedies suggested by these shopkeepers were expensive or not much effective which he realized only later after having benefited by Practical Answers.
Similarly Brijesh Kumar Gupta, another energetic young man from the crowd started sharing his story. He hailed from the nearby village of Singham Kheda. Most of the people in his village were having issues which were never solved permanently. They had no access to expert service and hence, farming was not much profitable in comparison to current scenario.
Our field coordinator Anoop, who is from Aligunj, shared that, under this Krishak Gyan Seva, the local agricultural scientist has been suggesting and answering regular queries by the people. Many of the queries related to pest management, which led to changing practice in the project area, resulting in a decrease of crop diseases, and thereby increasing the production and productivity. According to Anoop there have been lot of queries coming up from the field which are not recurring in nature and which Kisan Gyan Seva has effectively answered. This way of answering the practical problems has made their lives better and have attributed to financial benefit to local farmers.
After the meeting when I returned to Read India’s centre which was in the city, I saw a full page advertisement on a front page of a national newspaper which was about the manifold developmental activities in the state by the government and looking I thought about Aligunj-Benejir and other villages, on the main road of the city but unable to access electricity for more than 3 hours a day and farmers are going through much hardship. But the only satisfaction was, at least in a place like Rampur our intervention has brought some changes which the people appreciate.1 Comment » | Add your comment
The World Wide Web is 25 years old today. To celebrate we asked our donor liaison officer Annie Halliman, who is also 25, to say how the web has transformed her life and Kieran Walden, our IT apprentice, to describe how it has transformed Practical Actions work.
It is the World Wide Web’s birthday! The internet has today turned 25 years old, the same age as me. I was surprised to hear quite how long the internet has been around, however, I struggle to remember a time when it was not a part of my life, and it is now something that I use every day and I must admit that I cannot imagine how my daily life would function without it!
I first started using the internet regularly as a young teenager when I would chat with my school friends via MSN messenger, and I now consider it a vital tool for keeping in contact with my friends and family, both near and far. Using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram enables me to quickly scan for updates as well as using email for more detailed contact. This contact means that even though I live hundreds of miles from my family and most of my close friends, I can maintain these relationships despite the distance.
I do often think of the perhaps negative impact that the ease of access to the internet has had, for example, Facebook enables me to keep up to date with friends without ever having to personally contact them, although this can be seen as a plus, it makes for lazy friendships. Additionally, having 24 hour access on my phone means that I check my social media far more often than necessary; which for some people can create unhealthy addictions, checking for updates every few minutes.
I also use the World Wide Web as a consumer; shopping for clothes, gifts, groceries, travel and much more. By accessing shops online, the choice is limitless and shopping around for deals makes shopping more economical as well.
I also use the web to keep up to date with news and also media, catching up on TV with iPlayers and listening to podcasts. It was also a vital tool when looking for and applying for jobs, as well as when looking for a new home. I also manage my finances and bills using the internet.
When I sat to write this blog and thought about it, it made me realise that there are very few areas of my life that don’t involve the use of the World Wide Web in some way.
Kieran Walden writes
World Wide Web’s 25th Anniversary
The World Wide Web’s 25th anniversary is a time to reflect on how Practical Action as an organisation has benefited.
Technology is more advanced than ever and with the internet being at the source of it all we are able to communicate and collaborate better in the way that we conduct out work. The internet has enabled us to use technologies such as video conferencing which lets members of staff have a productive meeting with people on the other side of the world! This effectively increases performance in the work that we do. Fast and reliable email communication internally and externally helps us spread our work and promotes technology justice. Our website on the internet draws in donors that read about our work and helps improve lives.
From an IT perspective the internet has spawned services such as Office 365, Microsoft Lync and SharePoint which are cloud based systems. The ‘cloud’ has been a massive impact as it saves on hardware, software, licensing costs and reduces power consumption in all of our country offices as well as being a more advanced and dependable service.
Practical Action will keep on moving forward and the internet will carry on being a vital tool that we need. Future plans consist of bandwidth becoming more available and at cheaper cost which will help us implement better services in the future.
And the money saved will help Practical Action become more flexible and better able to fight poverty.No Comments » | Add your comment
My friends and work colleagues would tell you that I ‘m just not that good with technology. I got a new phone recently and when I posted the photo to the right on my facebook account (which I have to say I am proud that I know how to do!) the comments would confirm that.
So when I was asked by Think Global to present a webinar for them on ‘Integrating global learning into STEM’ I must admit my initial reaction was – what me? Really? As well as being flattered to be asked of course. The very lovely (and I have to say much younger, which i am convinced must have something to do with her less technophobic nature) Amy West convinced me it would all be fine so I took a deep breath and went for it!
I have to admit it was not as difficult as I originally thought to set up, although that may have been because Amy did most of the work! When the day finally came I just took a deep breath, followed instructions and off we went. To my delight it all worked well. In fact, more than that I got a real buzz from being part of something new. OK, so the sound quality wasn’t brilliant, but it worked and enabled me to talk to teachers I wouldn’t normally have been able to reach. Something my friends and family will also tell you is I just love talking about Practical Action and our education work so anything that gives me a platform to do that is good by me.
It didn’t end there however. After the event there was another technology challenge…how to share the webinar presentation with others. There was a lot of info on the presentation I thought others might be interested in and I wanted to share it. So with the help of colleagues here at Practical Action I learnt how to change a presentation into a YouTube video – how cool is that!
So, I am feeling really pleased with myself for trying out new technological things and actually getting to grips with them. Hope you enjoy the resulting video below.No Comments » | Add your comment
I was told a couple of weeks ago by communication staff here at Practical Action that I needed to have more of a ‘blog personality’ – as the director responsible for communications, amongst other things, I didn’t take that very well!
Three weeks later, over breakfast this morning, I decided to read some of my back blogs. I have to admit that my blog personality is committed but moderate, caring, occasionally gently humorous. What they may be getting at is that in reality I am passionate, feisty, committed, enthusiastic and well up for an opportunity to shout about Practical Actions work.
I blame my English teacher at secondary school! One day when she’d had enough of me talking at the back of the class she laid into me with a fierce critique of my writing describing it as gothic and overblown! Wuthering Heights was my favourite book at the time so you can see my inspiration. Ever since then my writing has mellowed! I don’t like being shouted at and 30 years on I’m still trying to please her.
I’m telling you this for two reasons – firstly to get your advice – do you think I should be more cutting, passionate, critical, political – or what in my blogs – good to hear. If you challenge me to write in a certain style I am sure I will give it a go.
Secondly because it’s so important to realise that what kids learn at school stays with them often for the whole of their life.
This is why I am so pleased to tell you that Practical Action has just been awarded funding from the EC to help school kids (or should I call them students) learn about Technology Justice. What makes science fair, what are the global issues where technology plays a role, how can technology be used to tackle poverty in the developing world. It’s a fantastic opportunity to help kids learn and to build a society here in Europe that cares about people, poverty reduction and about technology justice.
What’s inspirational is how keen students are to think about technology justice – Have a look at some of the materials we’ve produced so far – they love this!
And I do realise this is another gentle blog – at the end of a long and very busy day being mellow comes naturally.2 Comments » | Add your comment
Although I have been very, very lucky to have had the opportunity to travel to Kenya and Sudan to visit our projects, I have not visited all of Practical Action’s countries of operation. I have hundreds of colleagues who, sadly, I have not been able to meet in my three and a half years working for Practical Action. We communicate through email and Skype, and although these technologies promote good working relationships, nothing beats having a real conversation in person.
So last week it was a real joy to meet one of Practical Action’s most dedicated project workers, Nazmul Islam Chowdury, from Bangladesh. Nazmul is currently visiting the UK as part of our work campaigning for more political action, leadership and funding for the fight against climate change.
Nazmul is truly inspirational. We speak at length about the Pathways from Poverty project which he manages in Bangladesh. This ambitious project, one of the largest in our history, endeavours to help 119,000 of the poorest women, men and children in rural areas of the country to take the first step to a life beyond poverty.
Many families here are achingly poor, and have been impoverished for generations. Their poverty is not just a shortage of money with which to buy things. It means starvation, dirty water, ill-health, inadequate shelter, limited access to education. It is the lack of sufficient resources with which to keep body and soul together.
At the beginning of the Pathways from Poverty project, people had lost hope of things ever being different or better. Nazmul’s assurance that, within 12 months, communities would have enough food to overcome their hunger was met with huge suspicion. That suspicion only intensified when Nazmul shared his idea of a beautifully simple farming technique, sandbar cropping, which could secure food for life. “People thought I was mad!” he says.
Floods in Bangladesh don’t just destroy homes and lives when they arrive; they also leave a crippling legacy when the waters subside. The ‘char’ – the silted sand plains that the floods leave behind – are too infertile for even the most skilled farmers to tend. Nazmul’s idea was to simply dig holes in the sandy plains and fill them with manure, compost and then plant pumpkin seeds. Within seven days the pumpkin seeds start to germinate fresh green shoots. And hope springs once more.
“I remember one woman in particular who was so delighted with her pumpkin harvest. She told me ‘I’ve fallen in in love with this. Before I hated spending time in the field because it seemed so futile. Nothing grew. But now I want to spend all my time tending to my crop of pumpkins. I’ve never seen so much food. This technology is helping us to grow food in the sand. It’s a dream.’ Listening to stories like this makes me feel immensely proud of the sandbar cropping technology. I think it is the best example of ‘small is beautiful’.”
The Pathways from Poverty project is already having a huge, transformational impact on the lives of some of Bangladesh’s most desperate people.
I ask Nazmul what drives him, and am so inspired by his response:
“I feel a great sense of responsibility to the Bangladeshi people. Everyone pays their taxes. And those taxes have paid for my education. I feel it is my duty to pay people back. I use this philosophy to inspire my team. I want to see people in my country enjoying their lives, not spending every moment worrying about their survival, about their children’s survival. We may never be rich like the Americans. But I want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to earn what is sufficient for life. Everybody in the world has the right to food, shelter, and education, healthcare. These are the basic rights and choices.”
As I listen to Nazmul’s words, I feel so immensely lucky to work with such visionary people who are so committed to challenging the numerous injustices in our world. Practical Action is an organisation, but our good work is only possible because of people – our committed team of project workers, the people with whom we’re working who revolutionise their own lives, and of course, you – the lovely, wonderful people who support us.1 Comment » | 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
When I was in Sudan, I met a man called Mohamed Mohamed Musa. He was one of the people who had undertaken a seven hour bus journey to travel from Kassala to meet me at the Practical Action offices in Khartoum. I interviewed Mohamed at length, to learn about his life, and how he had worked with Practical Action.
My conversation with Mohamed was a fascinating one, and I wrote about it at the time on my blog Sprouting seeds for success and happiness. I remember being struck by his height. I’m quite small, and Mohamed towered over me. But he was very thin, and his collar bones protruded sharply. I remember noticing his clothes – he wore a ‘jalabya’, a simple long white gown, and an ‘eimma’, a turban – but he was also very proud of his very cool Ray Ban style sunglasses. But mostly I remember Mohamed’s face. It was fascinating, magnificent, the sort that has a whole life etched into it.
Today I received some really sad news from one my colleagues in Sudan.
Mohamed has passed away.
He died on 9 September after falling ill with a parasitic infection which is spread by contact with dirty water.
I am filled with sorrow. Mohamed was 64 – a good age – but at no point in our conversation did he seem weak, or frail, or ready to leave his life. He was passionate about Practical Action, and spoke enthusiastically about his hope that one day he would be able to help other poor people in Sudan in the way that Practical Action had helped him, and his community.
In my notes of our conversation, I scribbled “Mohamed is like hope embodied.” I feel so sad that his life and that hope have been snuffed out so soon.
I’d like to share Mohamed’s words with you, so you too can be inspired by the story of a very hard-working, determined and humble man.
“I was born in 1947. I’m 64. I’ve lived all my life in Tambi. I have two wives and 16 children – nine sons and seven daughters. Some of them are still in school.
My childhood was a happy time. I had six brothers and four daughters. My father was a farmer and he also did some teaching. I left school when I was about 12 and started working with my father, helping with our animals.
I was 26 years old when I married my first wife Mariam, who is now 50. And then I was 44 when I married my second wife, Fatima, who is 37. My marriage to Mariam was arranged. Fatima is a relative, the daughter of my cousin. Her parents died when she was young and so I married her to look after her.
I live with my wife Mariam in Tambi, in a small mud house with four rooms. Fatima doesn’t live with me; she lives in Kassala because I want the children to go to school there.
Every day I wake up at 4am and prepare to go to the mosque to pray. After that I drink some tea and then will travel to the farm to work on the land all day. After I get back to my house at 5pm and we pray again and maybe have some food. In the evening times, I will go to the community centre which has been built by Practical Action. As a community we’ll discuss any issues or concerns, or problems we might have with our farming, or the latest news.
Mariam searches for the firewood for cooking. We cook on an open fire outside in the open, not inside our house. Otherwise it gets too smoky.
It’s our children’s duty to go and collect the water for drinking. We have water that is pumped from Kassala, but we rely on the rainwater to water our crops. We know that climate change is making life more difficult. We now need to plant seeds that don’t require as much rain because the rains don’t come as frequently these days.
Practical Action told me about these new seeds. They actually yield more, and I am able to get more money for my crops at market! I decided to bring these to share with you because I know you are meeting other farmers in Darfur. We can all see the difference between the old and the new seeds.
Before Practical Action came to Tambi, I was always worrying about the future, fighting for tomorrow. Mostly I was worried about food. We never had enough to eat. But I never gave up. We were just farmers, we had no skills, no other jobs. We had no choice, but to continue trying to make a living from farming.
I volunteered to be a ‘lead farmer’ in my village and am part of a network of lead farmers across Kassala called ‘Elgandhl’ (it means ‘sprouting seed’ in English). This means it’s my duty to share farming skills with other farmers in my community. This could be how to build a terrace or how to hoe the soil. I know how to do a small germination test to check the quality of the seeds – you simply put one in a saucepan of water, and watch to see if it will grow. I now know about weeds and pests and how to control them using local techniques (that have been forgotten over the generations) about scaring birds away. Practical Action has informed us of our rights, what we can expect from our government, how we can make ourselves heard.
Practical Action has helped some of the women in my village to set up a women’s farm. Mariam, my wife, is one of these women. If she has time she also comes and helps me with the animals. We now think of the women as equal – we are the same. I know my wife can think as well as I do.
There is not enough time to talk about all that Practical Action does in my village. Practical Action is like a mother to us – we see ourselves as the children of Practical Action. Before I was a poor man, but now I am rich – not with money but with knowledge. Knowledge makes me richer than anything.
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.”
Mohamed will stay in my heart forever. My thoughts are with his family and community in Kassala.5 Comments » | Add your comment
I’ve been very short-sighted since I was 8 years old. An optician seeking somebody to blame told me it was my own fault – I’d read too many books when I was younger. As my mum is also very short-sighted, I think it was more a case of bad genes.
So for the last 17 years, I have worn contact lenses and glasses. There is nothing more excruciating than losing a contact lense behind your eyeball, and nothing more infuriating than losing your glasses in the middle of the Indian Ocean when you’re on holiday. My short-sightedness has meant a lifetime of horrible eye infections, irritated eyes after long days of writing, and innumerable pairs of lost lenses and glasses.
Six months ago, after a particularly severe eye infection, I was told by an eye specialist that I would never be able to wear contact lenses again. I have spent the first half of 2012 wearing very big glasses. They were cool glasses, but mostly they felt like a huge barrier: between me and the rest of the world. So I decided to do something about it.
12 days ago my life was utterly transformed by laser eye surgery.
Waking in the morning and being able to see – actually see – the world in all its magnificence feels miraculous. Everything is more beautiful, more colourful, more perfect than before. I have had 12 whole days of 20/20 vision but it still seems unreal, as if tomorrow when I wake, my world might be a sleepy blur once more. I feel so overjoyed – and very lucky – that modern day technology has fixed my broken eyes.
When I was in Sudan I met a woman, Randa, who also couldn’t see. But her poor vision was nothing to do with short-sightedness. She was going blind because of the smoke caused by cooking on an open fire in her kitchen.
Randa is from a small village in North Darfur called Kafut, and has cooked with wood for her whole life. This means walking for maybe three or four hours to collect firewood, which she then carries on her head.
Cooking with firewood means that Randa’s whole house is constantly polluted by toxic smoke. Her house is made of hay, and the inside is burnt black. Randa’s lungs are also blackened by smoke, and like all the other women in her village she has suffered from countless chest problems.
But the cruelty of the smoke is that it is stealing her sight, and Randa is beginning to go blind.
Since working with Practical Action, Randa has been introduced to a new kind of cooking, using a stove which uses a clean energy source: liquid petroleum gas. The benefits of this are multifarious: not only is it cheaper for families, it also reduces the pressure on the dwindling supply of trees in North Darfur.
But for Randa, the most wonderful thing about her new stove is that it does not aggravate her eye problems:
“The LPG stove has totally eliminated the smoke… I think it has saved my sight. Before my eyes would stream constantly but now this has stopped. And I can breathe easily.”
Randa belongs to the Women’s Development Association in her village, and she is now educating other women about the benefits of cooking on an LPG stove, and also helping to distribute 19 stoves to families across her village, and 61 to other communities nearby.
Meeting the beautiful, determined Randa , and listening to her story, confirmed to me that simple technologies – such as a new stove – really can be life-changing. I know Randa was thrilled that the stove had saved her sight.
But how I wish that she’d never had to lose it in the first place. And that like me, she could benefit from wonderful new eyes.
What fills me with fury is the injustice of it. Because Randa’s near-blindness wasn’t inevitable. It need not have happened. I know that Practical Action’s work is helping her now, but for thousands of other people, it’s already too late.
Nelson Mandela once said “overcoming poverty is not an act of charity, it is an act of justice”. I think he is right.
We are not being charitable by helping. We are helping to restore some sense of justice to this world of ours that is so unbalanced and just so unfair.5 Comments » | Add your comment
I think Darfur will change my life.
I step off the plane and all I see is colour. After the grey white sandiness of Khartoum, the colour is a joy. The cornflower blue of the huge huge sky. Swathes of sand, burnt yellow. Rows of slightly crumbling pastel painted houses in El Fasher. The flash of a dreamy pink flowering plant gracing the walls of the guesthouse in which I am staying.
I feel I can breathe here.
On Saturday I am 25 in Darfur. I wake early and expect to ache for home. Instead, I shower in the sunlight and sit serenely in the peace of the morning, enjoying one of those moments of complete perfect happiness.
Later, we drive for hours across the desert of Darfur, passing misty mountains which burst up through the earth. We visit Wad Koti, a small rural community just outside El Fasher. Here, Practical Action is helping the community to separate the water for animals and the water for people. At the moment, everyone – person and animal alike – drinks from the same trough. And invariably, the people – especially the little children – fall ill. I speak with one beautiful, but very timid, 9 year old boy who is responsible for caring for his family’s herd of animals three days a week, preventing him from attending school. He is not holding a gun. He is one of the few children here who is not. As I look around at all the cows and goats that have gathered to drink water, all I can see are the innocents holding guns. Guns which are too big, too adult for them. It is a horrifying reminder of the reality of living here in North Darfur. Although the conflict is officially over, there are many rebel groups who still struggle against the government. Peace in Darfur is something of a fragile veil. And as one mother tells me later: “We always have the fear that something will happen, but in order to survive we have no choice but to overcome it. We pray to God for safety.”
The insecurity in Darfur means that many NGOs and UN agencies that operate here use convoys of armoured vehicles. On Sunday, I accompany one such convoy north to Tartora, a small village which was close to the heart of the conflict.While travelling I look to the earth of Darfur. At first glance, it is barren. But the more you look the more it moves, it lives. People moving across the sand, leading their animals to pasture. Making lives and livelihoods from what appears to be dead. It is amazing.
When we arrive in Tartora we are welcomed with a traditional Sudanese greeting. Crowds of smiling women in technicolour dresses and scarves clap and click their fingers, gently sway and then produce the most astonishing half-song, half-whistle, the ‘zaghrouda’. It fills the air, my head, my heart. There is so much joy here. In spite of all that Tartora has witnessed, and the little it has in terms of services – still there is so much joy. The women here are joyful because Practical Action is going to help them to build a huge earth embankment along their ‘wadi ‘ – the fertile, clay soil. This means that when the rains fall, the water will not run off on to the sandy soil and be wasted, but stay and nourish the embryonic seedlings in the ‘wadi’ on which the community so depends. The work has not even started, yet already there is joy. It is hardwired into the hearts of Darfur. I remember the ‘gratitude diaries’ that we in the West are encouraged to write by advocates of positive thinking, and think how strange they would seem to the people of North Darfur. No-one here writes their gratitude – instead it is felt keenly, sharply, viscerally, every single day. And there is so much gratitude for life itself – however hard that life might be.5 Comments » | Add your comment