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
So many global days are commemorated and at times you ask for what? After understanding the background, you will learn to appreciate why.
On Saturday it was Global Handwashing Day – a campaign to motivate and mobilize people around the world to improve their handwashing habits by washing their hands with soap at critical moments throughout each day.
This simple action of handwashing, when practiced religiously can reduce the risk of illness and death from diarrhoeal diseases. With 1.7 million children dying from these causes each year, I certainly think that is a great reason to celebrate the day!
In Zimbabwe we have continued to experience recurrent water and sanitation related diseases outbreaks despite efforts by various governments and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to educate the community. In Bindura, Practical Action Southern Africa has used podcasting technology to raise water and sanitation hygiene awareness (WASH) and reduce diarrheal diseases.
Through Practical Action’s WASH work, students and community members have been taught the importance of handwashing. Some were with the excuse that handwashing needs soap, but they were taught to use ash as it produces the same results as soap.
Health clubs were also formed to help spread the messages using podcasting, dramas or word of mouth, which have improved hygiene practices at individual, school and home level.
Huge successes have been recorded on handwashing. Health club members together with family members now wash their hands before engaging in any activity; for example, before eating and after visiting the toilet. Washing hands using soap has now become a habit to many. People are no longer using the traditional method of washing hands in one dish. The use of jugs, soap and running water is now the order of the day.
Water is poured over each person’s hands in turn and is then thrown away to avoid cross infection. Many of the participants from health clubs now know the correct handwashing practices.
Most children used to miss school due to sickness like diarrhoea and Malaria, but after some teachings from school health masters on the importance of handwashing, this is now history.1 Comment » | Add your comment
It was not an easy job for the communities benefiting from the Himalaya Micro Hydro Scheme, in Zimbabwe’s Manicaland province, but their sweat will soon yield results.
The Himalaya project started in 2011 under the Rural Sustainable Energy Development in Zimbabwe (RUSED) project which is being implemented by Practical Action and Oxfam. On 8th April 2015 the project was officially opened by the Minister of Energy and Power Development in Zimbabwe, Dr.Samuel Undenge. This has indeed marked a new era for the community of Himalaya situated 35 km from the city of Mutare in Manicaland province in Zimbabwe.
“I have been waiting for this day since day one, and today it has been made possible. I am so happy with all the progress that has been made so far. Our hard work has finally paid off. This official commissioning is a blessing from the government of Zimbabwe we can now start working on producing results,” said an ecstatic Constance Mawocha, a 54 year old Himalaya resident.
Access to electricity by rural Zimbabwean small-scale agricultural communities is very low as electricity is largely confined to the energy-intensive sub-sectors of commercial and industrial enterprises as well as high-income urban households. The only power utility company, Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) has suffered immensely under the current global economic recession and the Zimbabwean economic meltdown since 2000 and is struggling to deliver on its mandate. It has thus not been able to provide a constant electricity supply to urban areas let alone scale up the rural electrification programme, which has managed to supply less than 25% of rural communities with electricity.
For the Himalaya community having access to electricity was a fantasy. The area is located in a mountainous area and is very far from the national grid. Having seen the predicament of most rural communities in Zimbabwe, two international development organisations, Practical Action and Oxfam with funding from European Commission saw the potential for addressing the energy poverty using the abundant water resources and feasible terrains through facilitating the establishment of hydro- electricity mini grids.
This Himalaya micro hydro system generates 80kw and 150kw of electricity at full capacity. The electricity generated at this scheme will be used to power an irrigation scheme, a grinding mill, a saw mill to process timber, and an energy centre which houses a hair salon, lantern charging kiosk and refrigeration just to mention a few.
“As women we have been empowered, I can’t wait to buy my electric machine and start sewing clothes for sale. I enjoy farming and the coming of electricity has made our farming very easy, from the training that we have had I am now taking farming as a business and this will come to reality with the electricity in use. Also I have 6 children and 8 grandchildren that I live with meaning I have to frequently visit the grinding meal so that I put food on the table for these little kids. Before this was so difficult for we had to travel quite long distance to get our maize pounded. But now I walk less than 500m to get my mealie meal and I am so grateful.” Grace Muyambo 45.
The coming of electricity also meant diversified possibilities for value addition in agriculture and agro-processing.
“We used to lose a lot of fruits and vegetables whenever there was a glut due to absence of refrigeration facilities but now the shelf lives will improve for usually perishable goods. Besides that, the social life of families is going to improve since we will be connected to the global village through the Television and internet.” said Eutias Chirara secretary of the Himalaya Micro Hydro Association.
The people of Himalaya may well celebrate, this was not an easy job. Men and women worked so hard to achieve the progress to date. Women assisted by carrying stones, river sand, cement, and digging of irrigation canals. Men were responsible for carrying heavy penstock pipes , laying the electricity grid and all other hard work.
”I almost gave up because the work was so hard, but as a community we had told ourselves that the project belonged to us and we had to contribute in any way we could so that we see the results. Here we are today, we are so happy to have reached this day and celebrate with the whole of Zimbabwe,” said Eutias Chirara secretary of the Himalaya Micro Hydro Scheme.
Once the project is completed communities in Himalaya will be able to use of the energy, to improve their livelihoods and therefore ability to pay and sustain the scheme through various enterprises.No Comments » | Add your comment
As someone who hasn’t been near lycra or a gym for many years the idea of paying good money to pound away on a cross trainer is totally alien. And yet for many thousands, their Saturday morning would not be complete without an hour in the gym treading sweatily away, shedding, hopefully, the pounds.
For thousands of farmers across Asia and Africa, they have their own cross trainers – the treadle pump. For them it’s not about losing the pounds but gaining the taka, the rupee or shilling. The treadle pump, developed in the 1980s, has been a life saver for many poor farmers, enabling them to pump water from underground, providing irrigation in areas far from a river, or in drought prone regions. The only power needed is a pair of strong legs.
This is a fantastic invention which Practical Action has been including for many years in its work with poor farmers, helping them to improve their produce and increase their production and incomes. But it’s not for everyone (like me and the gym!). In some areas, the water has to be drawn up from significant depths – because the treadle pump provides vacuum suction to raise the water, the deeper the depth, the less the flow of water, the longer the time spent on the treadle pump, or it’s not possible to use the treadle pump at all. So what is normally a benefit, can become a burden, often to women and children who are the ones who generally operate the treadle pumps.
With funding from the European Commission, our energy team in Zimbabwe is introducing solar powered irrigation to farming areas which are remote from the national electricity grid and unlikely to ever be connected. Even if they were, the cost of the electricity would be prohibitive and possibly unreliable. However, using the abundant, free resource of the sun for solar voltaic panels to power pumps, water can be drawn from significantly deeper depths than a treadle pump. Instead of spending up to 6-7 hours continuous pumping to irrigate 0.5 hectares of land per day, women can be using this valuable time to set up small enterprises, and children can attend school, and the farmers can be sure of a sustainable and reliable supply of water for their crops. A definite step in the right direction.1 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
The run up to last Christmas was the most exciting and exhausting time for me as a media officer at Practical Action.
We had been chosen by The Guardian to be one of four charities to benefit from its Christmas appeal, Future Africa. At the same time, our Safer Cities Christmas appeal was in full swing. This was being match funded by the Department for International Development and had a substantial communications commitment from us, in which we promised to reach 400,000 members of the UK public with our message.
Since then, I’ve had calls from other charities eager to know how we managed to get chosen by the Guardian, what we had to do and whether it made a big difference to us, so here is the excitingly titled: “Guardian and Observer Charity Christmas Appeal: The Inside Story, in bite-sized chunks” (it sounds better if you read it with a US TV announcer’s voice)
- We were in the right place at the right time. The Future Africa theme was dreamt up by the bigwigs at the Guardian, and it fell perfectly into our work, helping the poorest people in Africa via clever technological solutions to the problems they face every day.
- Make your own luck – because I like to think we did that. Although the Guardian chose their charities without a formal application process, I phoned them in autumn and discovered they were planning on doing a technology-based agriculture appeal. I then wrote an email detailing just how well we fitted into that category and listed our relevant work. I can’t say for certain that even got to the right people or led to anything, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
- We had to work effectively across our teams. When we got a call from the Guardian, they asked us to put together a list of our technologies we use in Africa within 24 hours. It was a daunting task, particularly as I was going on leave the following day, but thanks to regular updates from our international teams and with the help of fundraising manager, Matt Wenham and our programme teams, we were the very epitome of dynamism and managed to get a comprehensive list submitted quicker than you can say ‘everybody panic and start shouting’.
- For a couple of weeks, our plans were thrown into disarray and it was absolute madness. The Guardian decided they wanted to focus on our Zimbabwean work and gather the stories within a fortnight. It was a very tight deadline and imperative that we had a discussion about what was feasible from the point of view of the team out there. Due to the political situation out there, The Guardan used the very fine services of Zimbabwean freelance journalist Ray Ndlovu and we identified two projects we felt would showcase how technology can help development – knowledge transfer via podcasting and the use of hydroelectricity to power change in the Himalayan region of Zimbabwe.
- It felt like we were a hair’s breadth away from disaster at times. Martha Munyoro, our communications officer in Zimbabwe had already booked leave at the time of the trip and the team there requested that I stepped in to help. Again, thanks to the hard work of Killron Dembe we arranged the trip and managed to help Ray file to fantastic stories detailing the impact of our work in Zimbabwe.
Was it worthwhile?
- On a purely financial basis, the cash was very welcome, but not game-changing. The appeal raised around £340,000. Half of that went to the Guardian’s project in Katine, which they run with Farm Africa and we shared the remaining cash with the two other charities featured, Worldreader, Solar Aid.
- But it was about much more than just up-front donations. We also gained details (with permission) of some the people who donated to the appeal, which gave our fundraising team the opportunity to contact potential supporters and ask them if they would be interested in making regular gifts.
- We also gained fantastic exposure from the Guardian and Observer. The appeal was featured daily in the newspaper and on the home page of the Guardian’s website. The Guardian editor, and one of the most respected men in journalism, Alan Rusbridger, mentioned our call for Technology Justice in an editorial piece and dozens of Guardian journalists took part in a telethon event where they voluntarily gave up their time to speak to people over the phone in return for donations – a truly admirable effort by them all, and a great way of raising our profile amongst their staff.
So there you have it, the inside view of one of the most stressful, yet rewarding, few months of my professional career. I’ll give a similar insight into the DFID match-funding process when my hair starts growing back.1 Comment » | Add your comment
I have now been in Zimbabwe for a week, most of which has been a whirlwind of hectic activity, helping a local journalist cover our work for the Guardian Christmas appeal.
The trip hasn’t been easy. Zimbabwe has a pretty good transport infrastructure, but we have wasted hours at the dozens of police checkpoints which are dotted at regular intervals throughout the country.
My presence also attracted interest from Government representatives wherever I went, and we wasted more hours waiting for them to accompany us on field visits. Once they joined us even more time was spent in preliminary meetings with local officials, massively limiting the time we had to talk to the people we are actually there to help.
And when we finally did get talking, there was a palpable sense of unease, a raised eyebrow or a failure to answer the question when I asked how things are now compared to before Practical Action got involved with the community.
Throughout the week, I’ve not been able to quite shake off the feeling that getting to the real truth, and the real people we need to help, is a challenge I’ve not quite conquered.
Nevertheless, I have been proud to work for Practical Action. Like many others before me, I was taken with our micro-hydro project in Chipendeke. Just imagining the dozen or so volunteers carrying hundreds of bags of cement and assorted heavy and awkward gear up the mountainside makes me wince, but it also puts into perspective just how important access to electricity is for people who haven’t got it. The fact we have a dozen or so similar projects running throughout southern Africa should be a massive source of pride to everyone associated with Practical Action.
Our work helping hundreds of people make more from their smallholdings via our podcasts also impressed as did our ridiculously simple but clever way of water conservation in Keya Tshuma’s drought-hit farm right on the Botswana border. Following our advice he and his wife have dug 6,000 15cm by 15cm holes and filled them with manure before planting maize seeds. In this way, what little rain falls is kept for longer and his maize has a chance of growing. “I didn’t know about this before,” he said. “Without Practical Action coming to me I would have been in great trouble this year.”
It was the sort of comment that makes all the hassle worthwhile.No Comments » | Add your comment
Bright lights can both attract and blind. I have been asking myself whether Practical Action is being rather ‘moth-like’ with the bright new (to us) ‘lights’ of impact investing. We’re not the only ones. In Washington DC at the SEEP Network conference the topic of impact investing was big on the agenda. Over 500 practitioners from over 65 countries had convened to shape development practice on ‘financial and market inclusion’ so that more people living in poverty can build sustainable livelihoods. Meeting rooms were full and corridors buzzed as our collective global experience was shared and challenged.
Impact investing is not new but to many of us it’s an area we have not considered before. Its appeal is that it offers some opportunities to access a different type of finance. This is finance that will generate not just monetary returns but social or environmental returns too. It is ‘equity’ not a loan or a grant, which is means an investor ‘owns’ part of the enterprise they are putting money into. Not all impact investors are equal – some want near commercial returns, others are happy to see just part of their money back and yet others accept that in very risky and difficult situations even that may not be possible. It seems everyone, from donor governments to practitioners (us NGOs) and investors themselves want to get in on it. Donors like what it offers as they struggle to balance their squeezed aid budgets with their ambitious poverty reduction objectives, NGOs like it partly because we hope it will help us ’diversify’ our funding sources and investors seem to like it too, especially those at the ‘philanthropy’ end of the spectrum. Increasingly investors are getting interested in ‘doing good’ with their money. And of course many economies and markets in Africa and South Asia are growing faster than other parts of the world.
Practical Action is exploring how investments can be made that deliver more than benefits for one company (the one that actually receives the finance). Our interest lies in using this type of money so it is ‘catalytic’ i.e. it can have wider effects on a system. For example, our work in the vegetable market system in Zimbabwe is designed to enable thousands of farmers to benefit from stronger more resilient linkages and a better enabling environment. If one of the main processors of vegetables is struggling to get investment and business support then it can become a blockage that affects farmers. Would enabling the processor to get access to investment ‘unlock’ and begin to transform the system? This type of thinking is quite new so we’re very glad to be working with 5 other organisations* to build ACRE: Access to Capital for Rural Enterprises. We want to see how tapping into this type of finance could benefit the systems where we are facilitating change; whether the livestock sector in Bangladesh, crops in Zimbabwe or energy in Nepal we could enable key enterprises to grow so that they can provide more and better goods and services to those in poverty.
It’s challenging to get it right. From the outset we have been concerned that the brilliance of the ‘impact investing’ light will put other aspects of pro-poor market transformation into the shade. So we are working to ensure that ACRE looks at not only what an individual enterprise, however strategic, might need but that we keep a focus on all the other elements that will be important for poverty reduction. We will be bringing our expertise and experience of the past decade and using our Participatory Market Systems Development approach to have the right type of lens for this work and keep ourselves grounded in the realities of the systems that are important for those in poverty.
We’re excited to be part of the bigger SEEP global community working on these issues. The Omidyar Foundation’s recent thinking on impact investing looks spot on. They talk about impact investing needing to shift in focus “from growing individual firms to scaling entire….sectors”. We couldn’t agree more.
As we get drawn towards the bright light of impact investing we just need to make sure we’re not blind to what is around it.
*Christian Aid, Challenges Worldwide, Traidcraft, Twin Trading, VSO,No Comments » | Add your comment
Just reading a report from our climate change team, as part of the report they are looking back on some past work. Really liked this example of maximising our impact through working together with others to share knowledge and help poor farmers. Training others in the methodologies and technologies we know work with poor farmers. Brill too how leaning from the project in Zimbabwe has been taken forward in Tanzania.
Mainstreaming Climate Change Adaptation in Zimbabwe’s Agricultural Extension System
Between September 2011 and December 2012, Practical Action Southern Africa, in partnership with the University of Reading, were engaged in a project to integrate climate change adaptation in the Department of Agriculture, Technical and Extension Services (AGRITEX). This was achieved primarily through raising awareness of climate change and it’s related impacts to all AGRITEX staff, and training front-line extension staff to enable them to provide appropriate support that improves the capabilities of smallholder farmers to cope with and adapt to climate variability and change. Funded by the Nuffield Foundation Africa Programme the project directly benefited the agriculture extension system in Zimbabwe, and indirectly benefited many small holder farmers, who as a result of interventions and being well informed, began adopting climate smart agricultural practices and other livelihood options.
This project was also catalytic in terms of spurring activity within Government departments, with some, such as the Meteorological Services Departments, modifying their practices. Furthermore, approaches and concepts developed and implemented by the project team, were adopted and implemented by other organisations in subsequent pilot projects. Amongst others, Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) subsequently funded a two year project in Dodoma district in Tanzania, which directly applied the approach developed in Zimbabwe, and UNDP provided funding to expand the Nuffield funded project.No Comments » | Add your comment
Some years ago Practical Action was called Intermediate Development Technology Group – am I pleased we changed it! Moving from ITDG wasn’t a universally popular decision but calling ourselves Practical Action better describes what we do.
Many of our projects also have titles which describe perfectly to an organisation, say like the European Commission, what the project is about, but do they tell you what a difference the work will make to someone’s life? Take, ‘Community Led Approaches Complementing Sustainable Service Delivery for WASH Action in Zimbabwe’, for example. Nothing wrong with the title, it describes exactly what the project is about, but does it tell you what the project will achieve? As a fundraiser, I want to give Trustees/Administrators of Trusts and Foundations, an immediate and human sense of what a difference the project will make to people’s lives. If you don’t engage very busy people, who receive hundreds of proposals a year, in the first few words, how can you expect them to read on to learn more about what an exciting project it is that you’re pitching to them. So what did we call ‘Community Led Approaches Complementing Sustainable Service Delivery for WASH Action in Zimbabwe’ – while pondering an alternative title, a staff member who happened to be passing, suggested ‘Now Wash Your Hands….’ – genius! Familiar, short and says exactly what one of the aims of the project is. Because that’s what the project hopes to achieve – providing clean water and good quality sanitation for communities in rural Zimbabwe, but as importantly, the water supply to wash their hands after using the toilet, and the knowledge that such an action significantly reduces diseases previously spread by poor hygiene habits.
Any suggestions for an alternative title for ‘Improving the Capacity of Sub National Risk Management Systems and Building the Resilience of Communities Vulnerable to Disaster in Peru’?No Comments » | Add your comment