Bimala lives in a small village in the Makwanpur District of Nepal. She lives with 10 members of her family and cooks their meals on a three stone stove which is little more than a pile of bricks.
“It takes me up to three hours to cook a meal and I do this three times a day.”
The family knows just how dangerous the smoke from the stove is to their health, Bimala has suffered from breathing problems and eye complaints her whole life. “Everything was black, it was so smoky and we couldn’t sit in the house.” To try and stop the home filling with the thick, black smoke, Bimala has moved the stove outside the home but during the rainy season it becomes even harder to cook for her family.
“Sometimes I have to cook with an umbrella, it’s difficult but I have to prepare the meal. Sometimes the food is half cooked.”
Bimala has two young granddaughters who are now beginning to help their grandmother to prepare meals but she worries about their future. “I am worried about my grandchildren but what can I do.”
An improved stove and smoke hood would completely change Bimala and her family’s lives. They would spend less time cooking and would be able to spend this time earning an income, looking after cattle and studying. It’s a simple solution that has the power to transform lives forever.2 Comments » | Add your comment
Do you remember the movie Sliding Doors? The one that asks the question ‘what if she never caught that train?’
A colleague and I were exchanging ‘what if’ questions recently and I told her my favourite ‘what if’ was ‘what if Coca Cola was never invented?’ I started outlining my current theory which includes a lot of yoghurt-based drinks like India’s Lassi or Turkey’s Ayran.
My colleague told me her dad’s favourite ‘what if’ was ‘what if there was no Google?’ We both rolled our eyes of course, laughing at what a typical dad-type question that was. Amidst the sarcastic giggling, there was something about this question that struck a chord. Being the life-hack addict I am, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to once again experiment on myself and I decided then and there to abstain from Google and all other search engines for a month.
I started excitedly buzzing about my plan to ‘go Google-less’ and a friend suggested that I fundraise off the back of my crazy experiment and donate to Practical Action’s Technology Justice work. Given my tendency to give up on things halfway, I figured fundraising for a worthy cause would spur me on to achieve my goal so I set up a Just Giving page and the rest is history.
Actually, I only wish it was history – my experiment started just a few days ago, at the beginning of September…
If I’m honest, I had very little idea what it would be like without instant access to information apart from the obvious: London would be tough to navigate without Google Maps, my poor memory of song/band names would be exposed once and for all and (the most scary perhaps) I would never know when to take my umbrella with me. Less than a week into my ‘Life before Google’ experiment, I am already on quite a different type of adventure.
If I could name one thing that has truly impacted me so far it would be the simple act of asking for help. Instead of feeling ‘help-less’, asking friends and family for information has made me feel much more warmth and connection with other people in my life. Today I asked my Colombian friend to translate the word ‘Chévere’ which I had seen being used online. His answer was: ‘it’s a very Colombian word. It means “cool” or pleasant, nice, fun… yeh, more like cool and fun’. I couldn’t help but bask in the warmth of his wonderful, personalised answer and the subtle shades of meaning he conveyed – a far more enjoyable experience than frantically using Google Translate in the cab en route to an Airbnb.
Asking for help is sometimes a bit scary too, especially when you think you already know the answer. For example, I am forever getting confused between sea bass and sea bream. Last night I was convinced that I’d finally remembered the long skinny one (my favourite) was called sea bream. Unfortunately my boyfriend was of the opinion that this was actually sea bass. After several minutes of debate, I habitually reached for my phone but then remembered: no Google during September. There I was in the kitchen, the realisation slowly dawning on me that I might have no other option than to trust my boyfriend (at least for September). A scary thought for someone like me who is always right!
I remember my dad saying to me once that when people can help you, it makes them feel really special. I have a feeling that over the next few weeks I’m about to make a lot of people feel special. Either that or they will stop answering the phone when they see who’s calling them to ask for help… again.2 Comments » | Add your comment
Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to visit a number of Practical Action’s projects across Latin America. Not only was I overwhelmed by the colours, culture and pure grit of people living in some really challenging environments, but by the generosity and open friendship they showed when welcoming us into their homes.
At an altitude of almost 4000m, high in the mountains of western Bolivia is the Jesús de Machaca municipality. With a population of roughly 400 people, a tough four hour car ride from any major town along rough dirt roads, this is a remote and arguably hostile landscape to live in. There are few ways to make a living up here, and apart from growing limited crops such as quinoa, the environment means agriculture is largely restricted to farming camelids.
Llamas and alpacas are hardy animals, which when cared for properly; provide a vital income for farmers. However; challenges of weather, uncontrolled breeding, inadequate knowledge of rearing livestock, along with often unfair access to markets means that farmers in the upland areas of Peru and Bolivia are struggling to earn a living to support their families.
But, with the help of our kind supporters, Practical Action is changing this. Below you can read about five simple, sustainable solutions that are helping to transform the livelihoods of camelid farmers in Latin America.
1. Covered shelters:
The relentless push of climate change is causing the weather to be unpredictable in high altitude areas, and farmers in Bolivia are often caught out by sudden bites of frost, or prolonged rainfall. Martin Queso and his family showed us the open fronted shelter that Practical Action have helped him to build, he told us:
“Before, my animals would just range freely. When the weather suddenly changed, with cold winds, ice or rain, they would get sick, often they would die, and I would have no way of making any income. I couldn’t afford to replace a lost llama, and my flock got smaller and smaller.”
With the shelter, now the family can easily bring the herd inside for protection from the elements when needed.
2. Rainwater storage, irrigation and water pumps and troughs:
With erratic and unreliable rainfall, mountainous areas in Peru and Bolivia often go for periods of time where water is scarce. With the implementation of rainwater harvesting systems like this one is Nunõa, Peru, water can be collected and stored. Irrigation pipes are connected to the reservoirs, ensuring the surrounding ground remains green for grazing. In Jesús de Machaca, the installation of photovoltaic water pumps and troughs means that livestock have access to fresh water all year round.
“We didn’t believe it would work at first” Dalia Condori, a member of the local council told us, “but now it has brought water and a better life for so many”
3. Breeding pens:
We’ve seen them patch-worked into the countryside of the United Kingdom for centuries:
Dry-stone wall enclosures that hem-in herds, divide open grassland and mark boundary lines; but this simple method of livestock separation has only been introduced fairly recently to communities in the Nunõa district, near Sicuani in southern Peru. Enabling farmers to isolate certain alpacas from the rest of the herd allows for selective and planned breeding of the healthiest animals, in turn producing the highest quality wool fleece, returning a better price at market. It also means that young alpacas can be nurtured and protected for longer periods of time before being released to roam freely with the herd, thus boosting their fitness and increasing their chances of survival.
4. Market access and product diversification:
In the remote villages of upland Bolivia, getting a fair price for llama wool is tough – individual farmers can only sell for whatever the going price in the local area is, even though this may be much lower than what the fleece is actually worth. Practical Action is working with farming communities to create co-operative groups that can work together to access bigger markets for their products, and demand a higher, fairer price. Llama farmers like Andrés are also encouraged to diversify their products in order to make a better income. Andrés, who has won multiple awards for his spinning and wool-product work, also makes and paints traditional Bolivian clay figures to sell at the tourist markets.
5. Training and knowledge:
Practical Action helps to provide training on basic animal husbandry and wellbeing. Farmers in Jesús de Machaca learn about the right type and quantities of nutritious food, how to administer medication for their llamas when they are sick, and how to maintain the grazing pasture land. The knowledge is then shared between farming communities by Practical Action ‘Promotors’ who help to teach others how to breed and care for their livestock effectively.
It is vitally important to the families in these areas that the great work that Practical Action is able to do continues. Llamas and alpacas are strong and intelligent and are crucial for the farming communities in Latin America. Access to the tools and knowledge for breeding and looking after their animals provide families with a secure source of income. With just £47 you can help to support a llama farmer in Bolivia by buying a ‘llama lifeline’ Practical Present today.1 Comment » | Add your comment
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.firstname.lastname@example.org I would love to hear from you!2 Comments » | Add your comment
Nepal is very special place for me. I have visited many times and it always feels like home. Nepal has been kind to me. It has given me friendships, taught me how to live in the moment, showed me how to love with every ounce of my being and taught me the importance of inner peace. I owe a lot to Nepal.
I woke up on Saturday morning to the catastrophic news of one of the worst earthquakes to hit the country in 80 years. I panicked seeing the pictures, unable to take in the devastation.
My last visit to Nepal was just a few months ago. I travelled to a village called Ghachok in the district of Gorkha. It was a trip I will never forget. I was visiting Practical Action’s indoor air pollution work, a fantastic project helping families remove deadly smoke from their homes with a simple smoke hood. The project was saving lives.
Ghachok is a remote hillside village of a few hundred people. I stayed with a family for the trip. They welcomed me into their home. I spent a lot of the trip with the community; the majority of time with the children. We had drawing competitions, played pass the parcel, musical bumps and danced. I loved every minute. My most precious memory was walking with the children to school. It was a reasonably difficult walk for me, the children giggled when I needed to stop for a bit. Two beautiful little girls called Maya and Somika wouldn’t let go of my hands the whole time.
The epicentre of Saturday’s earthquake was in Gorkha and I have since learnt that 90% of the homes in the area have been destroyed. Practical Action haven’t been able to contact communities we work with yet, so we don’t know if the families in Ghachok are alive or dead; if they survived the initial earthquake, the relentless aftershocks or if they were lucky enough to survive if they have access to food or water.
I haven’t been able to think of anything else but my friends, colleagues and the families I met in Ghachok for the last four days. I have cried and prayed for them.
Practical Action staff are on their way to Gorkha, desperately trying to reach them, to understand what we can do to help.
You can help us reach communities devastated by the earthquake by donating now.
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I know it’s probably not grown up to talk about poo and pee, but the alliteration was just too tempting. It’s interesting though that we do use these coy words like ‘poo’, ‘pee’ and ‘no. 2s’ to talk about a function which is so fundamental. Sex, politics, religion and even what money you’ve got these days are no longer taboo subjects but to ask someone how often they defecate is completely off limits, unless of course, you’re talking to your doctor. But everyone does it, even the Queen, and Elvis famously died while on the toilet. Here in the developing world, designers and manufacturers have become rich creating wondrous bathrooms – quiet, private, beautifully decorated rooms, with toilets that keep your bottom warm while seated, ensure you are fresh and clean afterwards with carefully directed sprays, that the toilet is completely sanitised once the automatically closing seat comes down and a sweet smelling aroma is sprayed afterwards to ensure no-one knows what you’ve been doing.
Visit somewhere like an informal urban settlement in Bangladesh and your experience will be the complete opposite. If you’re lucky, there may be a room which you share with all the other families around you, young, old and the sick, with a hole in the ground that you have to perch over and hope that your aim is good. If you’re elderly or a child, this can be challenging, and for very small children extremely dangerous, with the risk of falling into the toilet pit. There’s also the threat of disease with no flushing with water to carry away the faeces and so it piles up, attracting flies, creating the ideal conditions for cholera, dengue fever, etc. After a while the toilet needs to be emptied and this is where people like Fadhiya come in, a young woman of 29, abandoned by her husband, with a child to take care. Desperate for work, Fadhiya visits these toilets, usually after, dark, climbing down into the pits to clear them with her bare hands into a bucket which she then heaves out of the pit, walking many miles to find somewhere that she can hopefully dispose of the poo and pee. She comes home to her family, smeared with excrement, dangerous to be near for her small child, and outcast by her community.
Practical Action can’t bring flushing toilets to all the people living in informal urban settlements, but we can begin to make a difference by protecting people like Fadhiya with equipment such as a manual ‘gulper’ (a hand driven pump) so that she doesn’t have to climb down into toilet pits. We can provide a tricycle rickshaw so that she doesn’t have to carry so many buckets of excrement, and we can find somewhere for all that poo to be deposited that isn’t going to contaminate a water supply.
So, next time you have a ‘poo’ or a ‘pee’, maybe think about putting a £1 or 1p aside each time just for a month and send the money to Practical Action. Just nine people doing that for one month and donating £38.50 each could provide one gulper, and ensure that one less toilet cleaner has to climb into a pit of poo and pee to make a living.
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I love talking about Practical Action and telling people about the simple, amazing solutions that make a huge difference to poor people’s lives.
Good job I’m an extrovert and I like talking as I have to inspire fundraisers who recruit new donors for Practical Action on the streets across the UK. I love meeting the fundraisers, training them on how we are different to other international development charities and telling them about the people I’ve met whose lives have been transformed. This is one of the best parts of my job.
I trained a team last week in London and I talked about the waste picker families I met in Nepal last year. It’s a project that’s reached thousands of people who live and work in dire conditions and one that is very dear to my heart. Families struggle to survive on £1 a day they earn from sorting through piles of rotting rubbish. Practical Action has provided them with safety equipment so they don’t get cut and injured when they work, helped their children go to school and trained them to set up their own businesses so they can earn more money. The project has made a huge difference. I met people who were now healthier, could send their children to school and were hopeful for their future.
To read more about this project please click here
When I train fundraisers I always make sure they realise they are the start of the chain of good. Without their hard work and dedication we couldn’t reach the people we do. They are amazing!
“Practical Action are an amazing charity. To assess situations/disasters/extreme poverty and to come up with a very simple small scale technological solution is something the public can see logic in – and get excited about the ingenuity of. They are leading the way in sustainable development and are my favourite charity by far”
Fundraising for international development is hard, people are sceptical but with fundraisers like Meg I believe we can engage members of public with our cause. Supporters can help a waste picker in Nepal or a farmer in Zimbabwe or a child desperate for water in Northern Kenya. They can play their part in the chain of good and truly make a difference.
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I have always been passionate about the work Practical Action does, the people we help and our approach to ‘giving communities a hands up, not a hand out’ I am proud to work for an organisation that empowers people to help themselves out of poverty.
As a fundraiser I want to tell as many people as I can about the amazing work we do and the brilliant solutions we have.
This week we have fundraisers in Yorkshire and the Cardiff area doing just that – talking about ingenious solutions that are saving lives. These are solutions like floating gardens in Bangladesh, providing vital food to families whose lives are devastated by floods, who are left with no way of feeding their families when everything they own is destroyed.
We are also talking about solar powered water pumps in northern Kenya, bringing vital clean, safe water to communities who are desperately trying to survive. You can read more about why Practical Action’s work is so important as northern Kenya is gripped with the worst drought in years.
So if you’re in Cardiff, Chesterfield, Halifax, Bridlington or Leeds this week and see one of our fundraisers please do say hi and ask them about our life saving work. They are a really friendly bunch and would like nothing better than to chat to you!
Thank you to all the people that have stopped, chatted and donated to Practical Action so far. You are amazing people and your kind support will really make a difference to poor people’s lives across the world.
I’d like to share a lovely message we received from a lady who kindly donated recently:
“I just got back from food shopping at the Co-op in Bromsgrove and just wanted to send you a message to say how lovely the two employees of yours are that I just met in there. Natalina and Sabrina signed me up to donate to your cause but I have to say and is the main reason for me sending you this is I wouldn’t have signed up to donate if it wasn’t for these great girls! They know how to have fun, great communication and very passionate about what they are doing for Practical Action- a great asset to your organisation. Thank you.”
Thank you!No Comments » | Add your comment
I’ve just sent the final report to the innocent foundation on Practical Action’s cloud forest project, ‘New Life to the Forests, New Life for the Amazonian People in Peru and Bolivia’. Really hope they like the report, but more importantly I’m sure they will be as proud as we are of the incredible impact that the partnership between Practical Action and the innocent foundation, together with fellow funders of the project, the Waterloo Foundation and Z Zurich Foundation, has achieved over the last three years for communities living the tropical forests of the Amazon.
If you watched, ‘I bought a rainforest’ on the UK’s BBC tv over the last three weeks, by the film director, Gavin Searle, which follows the journey of Charlie Hamilton James when he bought 100 acres of Peruvian rainforest, you will have seen the kind of challenges he experienced if he was to preserve his purchase from being felled. By living and working with the local people he begins to realise that the way to help protect the forest is not just to buy it, but to engage with the people living in it, and to work with them rather than against them. Just the way that Practical Action has been working with the indigenous Awajun and settler families in Bolivia and Peru – working with them to better manage the cloud forests sustainably so that they, and generations to come, can make a living without removing majestic trees such as the mahogany, without growing crops and then leaving the land degraded and without having to resort to livelihoods such as illegal logging and mining, which destroy not preserve one of the riches ecosystems in the world, home to amazing flora and fauna and to more than 3.5million native and migrant people.
We set out to work directly with almost 1,500 people living and working in the forest, and to indirectly help a further 20,000 people, through sharing lessons and good practice. At the end of the three years, we have improved the livelihoods and lives of not only the families we worked directly with, but have improved the quality of life for at least a further 63,000 men, women and children. Equally importantly, the communities, with the Foundations’ and Practical Action’s support, have begun to rebuild the forest, and to build a better future for their children, by planting over 105,000 indigenous trees, trees that will bring shade to their crops and will capture over 630,000mt of CO2 . With skills and knowledge now in place, with the Government supporting the work being carried out, this not the end of the project, but the beginning of a new life for the forests, a new life for the Amazonian people in Peru and Bolivia.
Practical Action is keen to talk to Trusts and Foundations who would like to support our work in energy, access to markets, disaster risk reduction and urban water and sanitation. Visit our dedicated Trusts and Foundations site for more information: http://practicalaction.org/trusts-and-foundations1 Comment » | Add your comment
A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work – Colin Powell
Visiting some of the communities that Practical Action work with has inspired me to reflect on Live Below the Line, so here are my musings. A reflection of Live Below the Line and Practical Action’s work in Mutare, Zimbabwe.
This week thousands of people across the UK have risen to the challenge and are taking on Live Below the Line, an anti-poverty campaign challenging participants to have a strict budget of just £5 for 5 days. I was apprehensive when I took on the challenge a few weeks ago, and it certainly lived up to the billing. It is a true challenge, but I didn’t find it difficult in the ways that I thought I would.
I thought I would struggle eating plain, boring food for 5 days and I knew that a lack of caffeine would have an effect. But the thing I found most difficult was how much time it took to prepare food throughout the week. Each evening, we would prepare dinner and then breakfast and lunch for the following day, spending a couple of hours in the kitchen, creating a meal from basic ingredients. This was made more difficult as our energy levels were running low at that time of day. The food we made was actually pretty good and I ate 39p pizzas for most of the week. For me, being so used to a convenient lifestyle is what makes Live Below the Line so challenging.
Yesterday, I had a fantastic day but learned that actually, during my Live Below the Line week, my life was still quite convenient.
I was walking in the hills around Mutare, Zimbabwe as we visited a micro-hydro scheme that is being installed to bring power to a community.
The beauty of the project is that it is community led and we saw the entire community getting involved, from a group women singing whilst they dug sand out of the river bed to a group of men who were building a business centre that will be powered by the micro-hydro system. This is hard work… really hard, but they are excited about how they are shaping their community and their future.
Later that day, I realised that not only are these people working so hard to transform their community, but they also have a very different definition of hard work. They are doing manual labour to develop their community, but this is on top of the fact that they grow their own food and process their crop. Walking in the hills above the village (viewing the source of the micro-hydro system) we met someone walking the other way. I was breathing hard after the climb and the lady walking in the other direction was carrying a large bag of maize on an 8km walk across difficult terrain to the mill to have it processed into flour.
When I did Live Below the Line, I found it hard work and lots of effort, yet the ingredients were bought from a supermarket less than a mile from my home, and if that was too much effort I could have had them delivered to my door.
What really struck me about my day in Mutare, is that this is not a community of people who are waiting for a fairy godmother to make their dreams come true. This is a community that are excited to put in the sweat, determination and hard work hard needed to transform their community and shape their future, to lift themselves out of poverty, for good.No Comments » | Add your comment