Archive for March, 2010

It’s all about access

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by

I’ve just returned from a visit to Practical Action’s work in Nepal. I had great plans to tweet and blog my way across the country, but I never managed to get consistent access to the internet.

Access is a big theme in Nepal. But for the people of Nepal, it’s access to markets, information, energy and basic services which is the issue, and also the theme for much of our work.

Read on over the next few days for more on this theme … for starters, here’s a video on how we’re helping people access markets.

Read more about gravity ropeways in Nepal …

I enjoyed No Tech Day

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by

I really enjoyed my no-tech – low electricity day! I guess I found it easy because I don’t have too many electronic gadgets to do without, and I never watch TV. I warned my family that I wouldn’t be accessible by phone on Saturday. To make my life a bit more challenging, I thought I would try to manage without electricity as well. So when I went to boil the water for tea, I used the gas cooker. (Cheating, really, because it has an electronic ignition.) But after I boiled two saucepans dry, because I got sidetracked, I realised I was rapidly exceeding my carbon footprint, and went back to the electric kettle.

Apart from that, I made one landline call – to resolve something I didn’t want to wait till Monday for. And I did use the washing machine – which I guess I could have waited one day to day.

So I spent a pleasant day in the garden, socialising with my neighbours (we live in an apartment of a shared house with 5 other families, so no need to travel to see people), with just a spade and fork for technology.

I had intended to do without electric lights, since it was WWF’s Earth Hour from 8.30-9.30. But I forgot to cook supper early enough, and had to have lights on in the kitchen. I ate my meal by candlelight, then read a book until the end of Earth Hour at 9.30. 

What did I miss most? Listening to music in the evening, and calling up friends.

Not so no-techy……

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by

I’ll come clean: I was a very poor no-techy. 

My No Tech Day endeavour was broken even before I woke up, when my radio alarm came on automatically (as it always does) and I spent a full hour pleasurably listening in for a snug Saturday morning – before remembering that this was breaking The Rules!  I immediately felt the loss switching it off: the sounds and voices that emanate from my digital radio provide an accompaniment to my life – and source of information and engagement (Radio 4 all the way!).
I managed to do without my computer.  Which, in many ways, was neither here nor there.  I caught up on emails and internet banking on Sunday instead of Saturday; and was glad to be free from wasted hours surfing the net, watching Youtube and playing mindless games of solitaire.  No, I have no trouble banishing my computer away into its case.  For a day.  A full weekend?  That would be a different story!

I didn’t do so well on the mobile phone front.  On Friday night, my aunt, uncle and small cousins made a short-notice suggestion to visit for the day on Sunday; there were arrangements to be made, and I had to postpone alternative plans for a visit to London.  Nope, couldn’t do without my mobile phone that day: I am truly beholden.  This is the real value of modern communications technologies: they’ve allowed us to make plans at the last minute, without much need for advanced forethought.  Hurrah for that!

Finally, two technologies that – without intending to – I didn’t use on Saturday, but which I would never be without permanently:

  1. my bicycle;
  2. my washing machine!

After the wheel, possibly the two best inventions in the world, ever.  Forget all the fancy gadgetry and flashing lights of consumer tech.  These are the real practical technologies that make my life better.  A life of walking 10 miles to work and washing by hand would be a real drudgery.  In my opinion, that’s the kind of ‘intermediate’ technology that the founder of Practical Action knew is really transformative for people’s lives.

A life of idleness?

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by

I’d warned the family that Saturday was going to be No Tech Day, so after my husband had made me a cup of tea (I didn’t want to put the kettle on!) he & my son took themselves off to the allotment to put up the greenhouse – leaving me by myself.

Alfie's christeningNormally I’d have had the radio on all day – but the house was strangely silent.  I’d thought about stripping the old wallpaper off in the bedroom – but without the steamer I decided to put this off until another day.  Instead I started reading, and then my son and his wife came along with my new grandson – Alfie.  We all decided that we’d go up to town and luckily they invited me to lunch (another escape from any technology!)

I took a leisurely stroll back through the nearby park – chatting to several neighbours who were out enjoying some welcome sunshine.  Back home I picked up my book again and spent most of the day engrossed in that. 

In the evening husband, son & myself chatted about technology (after all the telly wasn’t on) and how difficult life would be without it.  I’d had a pleasant enough day. For me it had been easy – either getting others to help out or to postpone activities – but if I had to live without the basics of electricity or water I realised how difficult everything would be.  I started to think about what life will be like for Alfie in another 20 years and how much technology will have moved on – how would he cope if he was asked to do No Tech Day then?

Crazy No Tech Day….

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by

I was down in Poole for the weekend staying with the ‘in laws’.

I decided to give up my mobile phone and computer for the day. This proved to be no great handicap to playing Crazy Golf and Football on the beach in the rain.

So I had a lovely day without them.

In Nepal every day is a no tech day

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by

Imagine what it would be like to have ‘notech’ for two hours every day

That’s just part of the everyday life in Nepal. On No Tech Day I was working in Nepal, having spent a week there visiting Practical Action’s projects gathering information for future education resources. 

Every day whether you are in a small town or the capital Kathmandu you will have to adjust your life to accommodate two hours without any electricity.  The National Grid in Nepal just can’t keep up with demand so the solution has been a rota system.  Details are given out when the 2 hours will be (it differs week to week) and you just have to accept it!  Which for me meant two hours where I couldn’t recharge my camera or work on my laptop and at one stage it was too dark in the hotel room so I had to sit outside!

In the UK we consider it a huge convenience if the electricity in our street goes off even for a few hours, maybe because of road works, and we make quite a fuss about it.  So let’s spare a thought for those people who run business and homes in Nepal. And let’s all be more active in working towards finding a solution to the looming energy crisis so that we will never find ourselves having to live with a situation like that.

Shower power …

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by

When we arrived in Tingabamba in the high Andes, the sun was shining, the sky bright blue. On our journey back, just 5 hours later, the mountainside and dirt track were covered in snow.

The climate is unpredictable here, but, more often than not, it’s cold. Cold and dry in the Winter and Cold and Wet in the Summer.

Temperatures regularly reach between -10c and -20c.

It’s no wonder then, that families here don’t bathe often. In fact, it’s usual only to have 3 showers per year. Sounds shocking but, faced with the ultimate ‘cold shower’ I know I would do the same.

It’s all change now though. Thanks to solar-powered showers introduced in schools by Practical Action, local children are now having hot showers – 3 times per week!

After 2 weeks of travelling, I was almost tempted to join them!

Helen Marsh

No Tech in Norfolk? Nearly

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by

In the no-tech day I went to Norfolk and disconnected from my laptop, the internet and my MP3 player… ah! and my mobile phone. 

After several weeks of being wired to “The Matrix” it was great to breathe some fresh air and walk by the sea. 

I love technology, and I love it more than I should, and had the No-Tech Day not existed, I am sure I would have at least plugged myself into my MP3 player, but that weekend was the perfect moment for me to have a no-tech day.

OK, I confess… I could not do without the TV… that would have been too weird, wouldn’t it?

Resorting to the web

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by

Things started well on my no-tech day … Before breakfast I biked down to a friend’s field to check on a dozen sheep.

Lambing has been sporadic and very spread out so far (the ram must have been lazy or getting on) but I was in luck on Saturday – a ewe had taken herself off to the top corner of the field and had just dropped twins. Always amazing to see how quickly they get up and are on the move, looking for colostrum. One of them was looking very pathetic so we decided to bring them down to the barn.

Older lambs needed turning out but not until they had been docked and castrated – a simple process using a very simple technology – a tight rubber ring which eventually causes the unwanted bits to shrivel and drop off.  I’ve done it plenty of times but it’s never nice to see the initial discomfort it causes them. A big two-day-old single lamb was a tricky customer – it’s important to put the ring in exactly the right place. It looked OK to me but afterwards he was really unhappy, showing signs of stress and flopping around in the corner of the pen, panting excessively. My friend was concerned so I agreed to take another look in an hour.

I biked home and had breakfast, a quick call to my Dad confirmed that it would be perfectly fine but I was worried so … I googled “lamb castration distress” and had a quick read-up about scientific trails that measured cortisol responses in lambs after the procedure. Of course it was fine, so I am annoyed with myself that I didn’t trust my instincts and the experience of Dad but instead resorted to the web, just because it was there!

Not a tech addict… but when is a tool a technology – or are they the same thing?

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by

I have to confess that, a bit like Adam Hart-Davis, I didn’t find giving up my gadgets too much of a strain – especially at the weekend. I dutifully put my mobile phone away and ignored my laptop. I don’t own a games console. Perhaps I was cheating slightly because I still stuck the radio on and used my electric toothbrush.

The day did make me think about tools and technology. If we gave up all technology for the day, we won’t get out of bed. And maybe we won’t be in bed in the first place (think of the technology in the sprung mattress and micro-fibre, hypo-allergenic duvet!). By mid-morning I was peeling a potato to make lunch, using the fab new peeler I recently bought. The other one used to just take huge chunks out of the veg and then get clogged. As a vegetarian, a decent peeler seemed like a fairly essential tool. But turning this peeler round in my hand I was thinking about the technology and design employed in this simple piece of equipment: the comfortable handle, the super-sharp blade made of the right sort of metal and set at just the right angle to smoothly peel thin strips off my potato.

It’s good to give up our gadgets, but of course, Practical Action’s view of technology is much broader than that. It is about having the right tools for the job: tools which are designed and used in ways which make people’s lives easier, and lift them out of poverty.