Globally, 1.3 billion people have no access to energy and it’s this lack of access that is keeping people living in poverty. Energy has the power to transform lives, it enables clinics to offer 24 hour care, for school children to study at night and it enables farmers to irrigate their land with reliable water pumps.
Practical Action has been working with people across Malawi and Zimbabwe to bring clean and sustainable solar energy to their communities. This project is called Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities and I recently travelled to Zimbabwe to see how energy is changing lives.
I met Miss Mumpande, who works at the Mashaba Primary School in the Gwanda District. She has taught at the school for eight years and teaches 12-13 year olds. The school now has access to solar power, which means they have electricity for lighting.
Sadly, it hasn’t always been this way. For years, the school had no access to electricity and they struggled to attract teachers because of it. Teachers would also have to prepare lessons by candle light and the students couldn’t stay late to study because the school was in darkness.
“Before solar, it was difficult, I wouldn’t prepare the school work well. I had to light candles and prepare. It took two hours, now it only takes one. My eyes would hurt. I wouldn’t prepare my work well, sometimes I made mistakes and had to buy candles myself.”
Having no electricity also affected her student’s education, she explained how they couldn’t study outside of school, but now they are able to stay late and study in the light. Their grades have improved and they’re now excited to come to class. The school has even started offering night classes for older members of the community.
Having electricity has had a huge impact on Miss Mumpande, her students and the rest of the school. She said, “Some teachers left because of the problems but now many want to come here because of the electricity.”
Mashaba Primary school is proof that electricity really can change lives.
To find out more about the project, click here.No Comments » | Add your comment
‘We invited experts on land fill into our school to talk to them about technology justice’
So said one student from Poland when asked what the action was they took following a science project they did in school. The project was inspired by their teacher who had been on a teacher training programme run in Poland by the NGO CEO as part of an EC project Practical Action is leading on called Make the Link. The teacher had used the materials provided as part of the training and given pupils aa starting point of looking at how science can be used to improve lives in the developing as well as the developed world. Students were encouraged to pursue their own interests and work on a project, a novel approach in Poland. They got very keen on biogas, loved our #techjustice marvellous microbes video
Projects varied from designing solar phone chargers to drying herbs and building a wind turbine. Pupils had clearly got really engaged with the project, had taken ownership of it and at the same time learnt a lot about the lives of others. One teachers said ‘ I like that the students really understood the problem. We saw compassion, empathy, and a side of character of pupils we wouldn’t normally see.’ This was echoed by another teachers who said, ‘ I think students really changed their approach, we noticed a difference in their way of thinking…that science is about real people’.
Teachers really felt that the global approach was a huge benefit in helping pupils make connections between their own actions and what happens in the developing world.
‘Raising global awareness makes students realise some complicated interdependences and know that what we do here has impact on other people in developing countries’
When asked what feeling they had during the project the students said things like:
‘We were surprised in the beginning that our lives are so different to people in Africa. By doing this project we not only learnt how to make solar power but found out what life is like in another place’. Hubert (15 year old boy)
‘We were surprised that some people don’t have basic things like toilets. We complain a lot about a lot of things but really we don’t have a lot to complain about. It has made us want to find solutions’ Justyna (14 year old girl)
The students had all come together to share their projects with each other. First at a small gathering organised by our Polish partners CEO to gain information for a publication on good practice, then to attend a much bigger event where over 200 schools in Poland set up stands to share their work with pupils , teachers and people from industry.
The ‘killer’ quote for me that showed the real impact of the great work in Poland was from Patryja, 15. When an evaluator asked him ‘what does technology justice mean to you?, he replied:
‘Technology justice means that in other countries people don’t have the technology we have that they still need. This made us ask…why? It bothered us as in our opinion is not fair. The conclusion was that we respect more what we have, and want to try and help others get what they need.’
If that doesn’t demonstrate the impact of our work on the future generation I don’t know what does!!
To view materials ( but in English) that inspired these students go to www.practicalaction.org/schoolsNo Comments » | Add your comment
I am very proud to be able to say that our Beat the Flood challenge recently won an award for the Best STEM resource for pupils, from the European organisation Scientix. As a result it will be translated into all 24 European languages. In addition we recently went to an event in Brussels and presented to over 50 head teachers from around Europe.
To find more great science resources from other European organisations, and opportunities to network with science teachers across Europe take a look at the Scientix website.
Before my journey to Bangladesh I was told to prepare to be stared at, as some of the people I would meet might never have seen a white lady before. So I was expecting comments on my white skin, maybe my blond hair showing from underneath my headscarf, or even my height… at 5ft 7” I must seem like a giant compared to women in Bangladesh. I am sure all of that happened but I was told that what was really causing a stir and a few giggles was the fact that I was wearing boots!
Despite being obviously different the welcome I received when I visited a small village, which had benefited from Practical Action’s support, was simply wonderful. Some of the braver children tried out their English asking me ‘How do you do’ and ‘what is your name’. Abkor, one of the older men an I was told was the ‘unofficial boss’ insisted on having his photo taken shaking hands with me and throughout the visit tried to get his baby boy to call me ‘auntie’! The women all wanted to know how many children I had and how old they all were. I made them laugh when I showed them how tall my boys were.
Then I met Ria. Ria is an 18 year old girl who lives in the village with her husband. She spoke good English so we could speak without an interpreter. She was thrilled that we had visited her village and very quickly invited me into her home and insisted on making me a meal. I am in Bangladesh with the film company Ignite Creative to film for some science videos and Ria was keen to help. She quickly became the ‘star’ in our first video which will show how important water access is in technology justice.
Ria explained how the village has two water pumps, one is ring pump, that takes water from deep in the ground and can be used for drinking, while the other pump, a tube pump, does not go so deep and the water can be used for washing and cleaning. She said her grandmother remembers before they had any wells and they had to drink water from the pond, just filtering through cloth, and that this often made them sick and gave them skin diseases because of the viruses in the water. They were all very grateful for the wells, as well as the toilets and houses that Practical Action had helped them build.
As I was shown round the village, feeling a bit like the pied piper, I felt incredibly proud to work for the organisation that had helped improve the lives of these lovely people. People who despite being poor and having very few possessions are happy, proud of their achievements and live in a close knit and supportive community. I came away feeling there is an awlful lot we could learn a lot from them.1 Comment » | Add your comment
I was waiting for the traffic jam to end at Teku, Kathmandu. On the sidewalk near the road, I saw a girl in school uniform on her way to school while I patiently waited on my scooter. I could not figure out why she looked so familiar – where had I seen her earlier? This 13/14 year old dark complexioned girl, with neat but unironed school uniform – where could have I met her? While my thoughts were occupied with these questions the traffic in front of me started moving – I quickly started my scooter and moved forward. But the girl was still on my mind – just then I realised where I had met her.
Her memory took be back to Christmas Day last year – 25 December 2013, which was exactly when I had met her. I remember everything vividly.
The Flashback …
The girl I saw on the road was Kanchan Kumari Poddar, now 15. I remember visiting her home – a two roomed structure with one door and no windows (yes, not even a single window). The house was dark even in the day time. The door – only ventilation and the source of light for the entire house opened to a small passage where there was a heap of waste plastics. On the left side was a small room which was almost entirely filled by a bed and a table with a small television set. Straight ahead was another room, half of which was a kitchen with an area to cook and do dishes, there was a bed on a corner.
A total of nine people shared these two rooms.
Kanchan is the eldest among the total of seven children of her parents – all of whom are girls. Being the eldest, Kanchan is burdened with lots of responsibilities. Her parents work as Informal Waste Workers (IWWs) who are mostly busy collecting waste at different parts of the city.
That day, I had spent quite some time with Kanchan at her home and neighbourhood. I was there to click her pictures (as a part of my work) and observe how she spends her day. She was busy taking care of her sisters, doing household chores and then studying if she got free from all that.
She was a fourth grader when I met her. Kanchan used to be a waste picker like her parents and had started going to school only a few years ago when a project called PRISM started supporting her education. The project was being implemented by Practical Action to improve the lives of informal waste workers in Kathmandu valley. She had shared that she finds it hard to keep up with other students as she barely gets any time to study at home. But she sure was glad that she was finally going to school, which seemed like a distant dream in the past.
For Kanchan’s mother, keeping all of her daughters properly fed was a priority – education was a luxury.
The Change in the scene …
After my work was over, I went straight to a movie theatre from there, where I attended a charity movie show. After the movie was over, I and a bunch of my friends went to Thamel – which welcomed us with a massive traffic jam. It seemed like a lot of young people- especially teenagers had gathered around Thamel to celebrate Christmas. It was about 10 pm. I was so overwhelmed to see such a large number of people gathered there. We went to a restaurant where we had booked a table, but that had already been occupied. So we went hopping from one place to another – and quite amazingly each and every restaurant, pub, and eatery at Thamel was packed. We had to come quite far across to a place which was at the end of Thamel to finally find a place to accommodate ourselves.
While I could see the youngsters – clad in branded clothes, drinking imported liquors, enjoying international food – I could not stop thinking about Kanchan. That evening, I somehow felt guilty being a part of that crowd. While the colourful lights from a Christmas tree in the restaurant was being flashed in my eyes – all I could think of was the darkness inside Kanchan’s house.
Has the rich-poor gap gone too wide? Probably, the world is full of inequalities – something that we have to live with and probably it will take a while for this to change.
At present …
But I choose not to lose hope – and also I feel glad that my work lets me play a small role to lessen this inequality.
It’s been almost a year now that I first met Kanchan. The PRISM project is now over which means the financial support for her education must have stopped – but she still is in school. Thus, I would like to believe that, Kanchan will have a brighter future and life will not be as hard for her as it was for her parents. With her education to support her, I just hope that Kanchan will have a life with opportunities – not just inequalities.2 Comments » | Add your comment
In England our children often start nursery at 3 years of age, legally they have to be at ‘proper’ school by the age they are 5. I remember my daughter’s first day at ‘proper school’ her pinafore dress nearly sweeping the pavement as she toddled along book bag in hand. I felt extremely proud but nervous too, questions whizzing around in my mind, what happens if she hates it? She might be bullied? My mind was put at ease though as the only thing we had to contend with was the odd tummy ache and a grazed knee.
In the UK we are lucky enough to have a choice of schools and still have the right to appeal if our children don’t receive a place in the school of our choice. We conveniently lived right over the road from the village school, we literally rolled out of bed in the morning and there we were. For some children around the world their journey to school can involve a trek of several miles in all extremes of weather, they also run the risk of being kidnapped, blown up, raped or shot. The story of Malala Yousafzai and her campaign for girl’s education that we are so familiar with really brings this reality home to us.
My daughter’s school was bright and welcoming, with cosy classrooms equipped with books and electronic whiteboards. However, in remote areas around the globe lessons can be held virtually in the dark if the school has no form of power. It can be extremely difficult hiring teachers at schools with no electricity; understandably they prefer better equipped schools in the cities.
To make matters worse the school may have no toilet facilities, so children have to go to the toilet out in the open. This is not only degrading but is a health hazard and can be harmful to the environment. With the lack of hand washing facilities children often become sick and miss valuable time at school. When the older girls have their period there are no sanitary facilities and they have to stay at home which further impacts on their studies.
On the bright side, where toilets and hand washing facilities have been built there has been a real impact on absenteeism. The children are enthusiastic about their new facilities and pass the information on to their parents some who have in turn built their own latrines and follow good hand washing hygiene thus improving the well-being of the whole family. Practical Action works with communities to help this happen.
The global injustice is that there are still an estimated 57 million children around the world that don’t even have a school to go to. How will these communities ever work their way out of poverty with no access to education?7 Comments » | Add your comment
When I pass a school I think of a building as a place where loads of kids gather for five days a week to get an education.
Anyone that’s been through the education system has memories of their school years – some look back fondly, to others it was endured. But whatever our opinion I bet we all thought education was a basic right for everyone.
Looking back, if I’m honest I didn’t give it much thought because we are lucky to have an education system that is available to every child irrespective of gender, faith, or income. Naïve that I was, I thought this was the same for everyone and now realise how much I took for granted.
For millions of children around the world school is not an option. Many children are from poor families who face a daily struggle to feed their family, and their children have to work to contribute to the income; for others it could be society dictates by gender. Whatever the reason millions of children can only dream of an education so they can look forward to a better future, but for many it will remain a dream – or will it?
The remarkable courage of school girl Malala Yousafzai made the world sit up and listen when she spoke out on behalf of all those children without a voice. Her courage reminded us that while there will always been a degree of inequality – education should not be one of them. Her strength to overcome terrible injuries inflicted, did not diminish her voice. She has shown the world that in order for things to change you have to be prepared to stand up and speak out. For her campaigning on children’s education she has recently won the Nobel Peace prize, but for me she is an inspiration that has touched us all.
Maybe next time I pass a school I won’t just think of it just as a place where kids gather – will you?No Comments » | Add your comment
What would your life be like without lighting or power? And can you imagine living without a toilet? This was the reality for Ravalina and her family, who live in the Canchis region of Peru, way up in the Andes, making a living from selling the wool spun from her herd of alpacas.
Supported by innocent foundation
The innocent foundation supported this Practical Action project financially and they have made a great video about our work – take a look at the Chain of Good.
Here are the five things that have made a huge difference to Ravalina’s life. I certainly couldn’t imagine living without any of them, but this my order of priority for me. Do you agree?
No Comments » | Add your comment
But in our line of work, we come across so many people whose rights are not protected at all.
I’ve spent the past couple of months working on a campaign that will improve the lives of people living in urban slums in Nepal and Bangladesh.
This is a photo of a slum in Nepal that my colleague took:
Most people living here are from the Harijan, or Dalit caste who experience a staggering number of human rights violations.
Crammed into makeshift shacks, they live without adequate access to water, healthcare, schools and other essential public services. They are not only deprived of their basic resources, but also face insecurity, exclusion from services and processes, and are ignored by those in power.
Unable to get jobs, they are forced to live off rubbish dumps – searching amongst mountains of filth to find anything they can sell.
They are seen by society as the lowest of the low. They are known as ‘untouchables’ and face rape, abuse and discrimination with no opportunities for escaping their situation. Their children are subjected bullying and struggle to get an education.
As we celebrate Human Rights Day, it is important to reflect on these and other abuses, and remember why charities like ours care about our human rights laws.
Practical Action is working with Dalit and Harijan women’s organisations so that they can have a voice in society, and bring basic services into the slums such as clean water, toilets and modern energy. The work will also give the poorest women and children in Nepal and Bangladesh education, skills and training to enable them to form small businesses, access jobs and run self-help and safety groups.
You can find out more information about this campaign called Safer Cities here. It is being backed by the UK government who will match fund donations pound for pound, helping us to do more vital work to improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people living in slum communities. This means that if you can give us £20 the Government will also give us £20, making your donation go even further!
 Information and statistics about the Dalit caste from the International Dalit Solidarity Network http://idsn.org/front-page/
If you ask someone “what is the role of Technology in Disaster Risk Reduction?” they may scratch their head and look puzzled, but if you ask the more direct question “how can technology alleviate or exacerbate risk?” you can start a much more lively debate. Well that is what happened when I recently challenged a group of post graduate students on the MSc Disaster Management and MSc Emergency Planning and Management courses at Coventry University, to think about how technology can influence risk.
The popularity of these courses is recognition of the increasing levels of risk facing us today. The scale, frequency and severity of natural and man-made disasters have risen progressively, with the key drivers being climate change, depletion and destruction of natural resources and increasing populations living in vulnerable locations. Disasters not only kill and injure people, they also damage infrastructure, reduce productivity and generate social tensions, they consume resources that would otherwise be directed towards productive activities, and they can wipe out years of development in seconds.
Practical Action’s work in the field has highlighted that it is insufficient to focus only on responding to disasters; there is an urgent need to shift to risk reduction in which avoidable risk is eliminated and unavoidable risk is factored into the livelihood choices of local people. There is no doubt that technological advances have increased productivity, income and life expectancy, they have improved quality of life and removed the threat of disasters from our daily lives. Technology such as early warning systems are vital in this transition, as experienced with the 4 day advance warning of the passing of the Atlantic storm by the Met Office in October 2013 as compared to the swath of disaster left in the wake of the unexpected 1987 hurricane. Therefore, it was a great opportunity to work with students at Coventry University to explore the role of technology in the risk equation, to understand how the application of technology can reduce or exacerbate risk, and explore what changes are necessary to deliver the promise of technology justice for the over one billion people who still live in extreme poverty and vulnerability.
The day began with a presentation of Practical Action’s work outlining our achievements in disaster risk reduction. The students were then asked to brainstorm the multitude of hazards facing poor people today. They selected natural disasters such as earthquakes, Tsunami, flooding, drought, extreme storms, landslide, volcanic eruption, wildfire and disease epidemics, as well as human induced disasters such as conflict, war, terrorist attack and chemical spills. The students then broke into five groups and selected one hazard and a key sector to explore in more detail. The five hazards and sectors selected were; flooding and the communications sector, disease and public health, earthquake and public works, wildfire and forestry and war and the health sector. Each group was then asked to identify technologies that are involved in the sector and to explore the potential of the technology to alleviate or exacerbate risk and identify the key players involved.
Looking at the group that studied the health sector in conflicts situation, the group identified a wealth of different technologies involved, including; communications such as targeting of first aid, coordination of search and rescue for the recovery of casualties; food storage and distribution to ensure hospitals are well supplied but also ensuring the front line health staff have adequate supplies; transportation critical for ambulances, medication and food delivery and equipment supply; shelter especially for casualties, but also providing adequate facilities for doctors such as operating rooms; utilities such as water and electricity supply and the need for refrigeration to keep medicines safe. The group also explored the role of protective technologies for healthcare workers such as gas masks and other protective clothing.
The groups were asked to explore the issue of technology justice for their selected hazard. They picked one or two technologies already identified and were asked to explore the drivers and barriers to the development and implementation of technologies in a developing country context. Each day, everyone regardless of where they live is exposed to risk of one form or another. The students quickly realised that the majority of technological solutions reflect the ability to pay and not the priorities on the ground. Thus the majority of disaster risk reduction technologies reflect consumers demand, rather than deliver vital risk reduction to poor people living in vulnerable situations. More work is needed to understand how decision processes can be changed to ensure that the right technology is available at the right place so that when the next hazard strikes it doesn’t become a disaster.
Technology justice in DRR requires the involvement of the poorest and most vulnerable in the development of solutions so that technologies deliver the biggest impacts for the poorest and most vulnerable and are not driven by a profit motive alone. Changing this mindset will be a challenge but one of the first steps must be the realisation that existing technologies applied at the right place could save many thousands of lives each year. Practical Action is uniquely positioned to increase global recognition of the role that technology and innovation play in alleviating and occasionally exacerbating disasters on people’s wellbeing. We must make efforts to demonstrate and advocate for the positive role that technology can play to promote disaster sensitive development; ensure the right technologies are available in the most demanding situations regardless of the cost and reverse technology based development approaches that exacerbate long term vulnerability. Thus technology justice is central to the work of Practical Action as we build a movement, where technology is used for the benefit of all, in a way that is not at the expense of future generations.