Archive for November, 2012

Social media and development – opportunity or threat?

Friday, November 16th, 2012 by

On Tuesday this week I attended a conference in London sponsored by DFID, the Omidyar Network (set up by the founder of the on line shopping empire eBay) and WIRED magazine. The topic of the conference was the use of new communications technology (social media, mobile phones and the web) to promote open government, transparency, participation and development. It was a high profile conference with a video message form the UK Prime Minister and a speech by the new UK Secretary of State for Development Justine Greening. More information on the conference itself can be found at www.openup12.org or on twitter at #OpenUp12 . DFID is clearly interested in this area and used the occasion to announce a new $50m fund created together with USAID and SIDA called Making All Voices Count to support the development of web and mobile technologies in developing countries that can empower citizens.

At the conference there were some interesting examples of social media being used to promote transparency. The Ushahidi platform which was initially developed after the violence of the 2008 Kenyan elections was one. It allows individuals to post information by SMS, MMS or via the web about election irregularities, intimidation, violence etc. to create a real time map of problems that is available on line and which can be used to force government to take action. Ushadhidi has since been used in the Ugandan and Congo elections and in various disasters including the Haitian earthquake. The Ushadhidi platform (and another simpler version called crowdmap which can be set up and used in a few minutes) are open source and can be downloaded and used for free and have the potential to be used for non-emergency situations as well where you want large numbers of people to contribute to information that could be displayed on a map (for example – latest market prices for tomatoes at different town centres or the location of broken water points or villages without electricity connections).  There was also an interesting presentation on the use of Facebook and Twitter in Nigeria to co-ordinate political protest.

One thing that struck me during the many presentations and discussions was that, just as in the real work, in the digital world there are many technology injustices. For example, depending on whose statistics you believe, in Africa, out of a population of over 1 billion people, somewhere between 400 and 750 million people have access to a mobile phone. But the cost of use, the level of connectivity, and the availability of electricity to recharge phones means that 90% of those people use less than 1 MB of data a month (in comparison the average data consumption in Europe and the US is between 150 and 400MB per person per month). This means most people are not really able to use the technology to access and exchange information beyond the most basic level.

It also means that when we are talking about a new wave of political engagment through the use of social media, be it during  the “Arab Spring” or the co-ordination of political protests in Nigeria, we are talking essentially about political engagment by a relatively small ‘middle class’ urban group, who has the connectivity and who can afford the telephone bills.  There is a danger, as one participant of the conference noted during a question, that we overestimate the power of social media to change the balance of power and give voice to the marginsalised. Its use (at least at the moment) is just as likely to  simply accrue more power and voice to those who already have it.

There is also a digital technology gender injustice to contend with as 300 million more men than women have access to mobile phones world-wide.

Practical Action is certainly not Luddite in its approach to new technology. Around the world we are increasingly using social media and the web in our programme work, most obviously in Practical Answers, where we see the use of the web and  YouTube videos in Latin America to provide information to farmers, podcasting in Peru, Zimbabwe and Nepal to get recordings out beyond the reach of the internet, SMS messaging for agricultural help lines in Nepal and Bangladesh, and mobile phone networks being used to provide advanced warning of floods in Nepal.

But we need to remeber that social media technology alone is no panecea and cannot, without other parallel action, overcome the more fundamental causes of poverty. You can’t join a twitter protest campaign if you live in a place that has no electricity to charge your phone!

London Underground Flooded – the alternative tube map

Thursday, November 15th, 2012 by

In Bangladesh people are already suffering the effects of increased flooding due to climate change.  If we don’t act soon our future could go the same way.  At Practical Action we have put together a tube map showing the possible effects of climate change on the London underground in 2100 if we don’t tackle climate change.

Download our map to use as a novel teaching resource http://bit.ly/SYULgT

A great resource to help make climate change more real for your students the map is being used to promote our #adaptnow campaign.

Find out more about our campaign  and please do encourage your students to join  http://bit.ly/T2X1nk

 

 

 

 

It’s all in the name……or is it?

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012 by

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’?

Small is still beautiful

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012 by

Why does Fritz Schumacher’s book Small is Beautiful still have resonance?

Easy to say – it’s the economy stupid! And there would be some truth in that.

Fritz argued that an insistence on reducing everything to mere monetary value so narrowed our world view  we became blinkered to things that really count. Our planet, the social value of work, relationships, science that serves people rather than scares them, wisdom. He argued that people need a scale of engagement that they can understand, not something so huge that it’s impossible to comprehend.

Richard Branson claims Small is Beautiful is the most influential book he ever read. At first this had me perplexed but ultimately when I consider his business model you can see the influence – the small building to the big, the multitude into one.

In international development currently there is an obsession with the big – big scale solutions, low transaction costs, multi donor – multi country projects, large scale private sector engagement. I am not saying any of these things are wrong but there needs also to be a consideration of the individual, the human, the understandable and the sustainable.

Water points are a huge problem around the world – there aren’t enough and even more of a scandal are the number that are broken. People in local communities can be trained to repair and maintain but because of the obsession with numbers this is often seen as a distraction and so doesn’t happen. The merry go round continues – water points that break down are abandoned and replaced with more new water points that they in turn break. Just looking at this you can easily see the advantage of local capacity to repair. The small is beautiful, Practical Action approach.

In a world where the economic problems feel massive, where science though exciting is also scary, where huge numbers of people are still living in poverty – I think it’s easy to see why small is still beautiful.

That’s not to say that big isn’t sometimes best – but as Fritz might say let’s not forget the small.

Climate change speaker tour visits Germany and Czech Republic

Monday, November 12th, 2012 by
I’ve just finished the first part of Practical Actions European speaker tour on climate change, having visited Germany and the Czech Republic. In both countries I was talking about our adaptation work in Bangladesh including our Pathways from Poverty project. I stated that despite Bangladesh being one of the poorest and most climate affected countries in the world, many other countries could learn a lot from the way it has adapted to the increasing floods and other climate related disasters caused by climate change. 
 
In Germany I presented our project at a major conference in Bonn from 1-3 November called ‘Dialogue Towards Transformation’ organized by our project partner, Germanwatch.  The conference was attended by 140 NGOs from 22 countries around the world including both developed and developing nations.
 
It highlighted the synergies and tensions which exist between climate change and other subjects such as food security, energy and poverty reduction. This is also one of the issues addressed in Practical Actions new 5 year strategy from 2012-2017. 
 
One of the major talking points at the conference was the need for NGOs or Civil Society to agree on development priorities in the run up to the adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals. There was also a lot of debate about the extent to which NGOs can really influence international negotiations like the Rio + 20 conference and the global climate change talks or whether our job is to build a mass movement outside these processes calling for change. 
 
Like the UK and Bangladesh, flooding is the major climate impact in both the Czech Republic and Germany. Just two years ago flooding there and in Poland killed nine people and resulted in over a thousand having to be evacuated from their homes.
 
Despite the recession and the EU bailout, Germany continues to be a leader in climate change and promoting the green economy. In contrast in the Czech Republic there is still a lot of scepticism about climate change among the public and politicians and their current President, Vaclav Klaus, is a well known climate sceptic. The Czechs also have one of the highest carbon dioxide emissions per head of population in Europe due to their heavy industry and car manufacturing.
 
 To highlight the issues I spoke to business studies and social geography students at two universities in Prague and also to international development students at Olomouc university. The debates were organized by our Czech partner, Glopolis.  Before my presentation I asked all the students how many of them thought climate change was real and was happening now. Only about half put their hands up. 
 
So a major challenge for the Czech NGO movement in the next few years will be to transform public and political opinion in relation to climate change. This was the subject of a round table debate I attended with many of the Czech Republics leading NGOs and a representative of their Department of Energy and Climate Protection. We agreed an important opportunity to do this will be the publication of the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 2013/14. This is likely to contain a wealth of evidence that many of the extreme weather events like flooding both in Europe and Bangladesh can now be directly linked to climate change.
 
In both Germany and the Czech Republic our adaptation work in Bangladesh promoting technologies like floating gardens, sand bar cropping and duck farming was well received. Many delegates, students and NGO staff came up to me afterwards and said that too often in the debate on climate change the voice of the poor wasn’t heard and that policy needed to be much better informed by what is happening on the ground. Practical Action with its wealth of experience working with the world’s poor and knowing what works in the field is in a unique position to do both. 
 
Among many of those I spoke to in both Germany and the Czech Republic there was strong agreement that adaptation must now go up the UN and the EUs agenda and that we need to see a far greater political and financial commitment to helping people in countries like Bangladesh adapt to a future in which once rare events like flooding become part of the everyday struggle for survival.  One student I spoke to in Prague summed up the situation well when she said “Your work in countries like Bangladesh buys vital time for the world to adapt to climate change and gives the poorest people most affected by it a fighting chance of a future”
 
The speaking tour now moves on to the European Parliament and then the United Kingdom before attending the climate talks in Qatar.

Healthier homes

Monday, November 12th, 2012 by

Practical Action’s SWASHTHA project is addressing major environmental health risks, such as indoor air quality, water quality, sanitation and hygiene to create healthy homes and benefit 30,000 women and children and family members in these households.  We are working with people, mainly women and children,  from the socially excluded communities and marginalised ethnic and other caste groups in urban areas of Bharatpur, Butwal, Gularia and Tikapur municipalities.

Helen Watson

Most memorable moment: Two really super bits for me personally today, firstly interviewing the woman from the co-op about her life and family and also sketching at the Dalit village with a huge crowd of little children watching.

Best person you met today:  The interviewee – she was so gracious and willing, after a little initial hesitancy, and it was great to find that life for her family had most certainly improved because of the Practical Action dairy project.

What made you stop and think? So much! Again, being impressed by the calibre of Practical Action’s staff. Today it was Prakesh, the vet. So clear what value there is in being able to provide such professional expertise where it is needed. Good to see the mutual respect of all who are involved.

Anything else you want to say? I had to remind myself not to romanticise the life of the villagers. On such a lovely sunny day like this, with such welcomes everywhere, it looked good.

David Watson

Most memorable moment:  Watching Helen and a Nepali woman totally engaged with each other while Practical Action supporters, local villagers and children milled around them.

Best person you met today:  Pratibha Acharya, a 17 year old Nepali girl currently in school and planning to go on to college and study farm management.

What made you stop and think?

Anything else you want to say? Last visit to Nawalparasi library didn’t work well because we met nobody who had personally benefitted from Practical Action work or projects.

Warwick Franklin

Most memorable moment: The visit to the SWASTHA village and the changes to people’s lives by water, improved kitchens, and proper loos. Helen sketching by the river!

Best person you met today:  Shanta Lama, a lady interviewed about SWASTHA  and her comment about her improved kitchen which had led to fewer arguments!

What made you stop and think? The loss of land suffered by the farmer, Mana Badudur, at the DIPECHO site but his belief that he is no longer scared and felt safe/secure

Judy Mallaber

Most memorable moment:  Keshab Raj Achasoja and Ram Hazi Avyal heartily and joyously singing from the Muhabarat at the Thiskuni Community Library. Keshab co-ordinates the library’s religious programme – providing a place, musical instruments and books for those in the community wanting to celebrate their religion. He just took down a copy of the Muhabarat from the shelves and started singing and his friend joined in – infectious joy and a great picture He said, ‘Before the library we could just eat and sleep, take care of the animals, sometimes play cards. Now people come here, see all the books and magazines and know about the rest of the world.’

Best person you met today:  Prakesh who runs the Kamadhere DFID-funded Practical Action project helping farmers with getting decent breeding stock, advice and expertise on food, help on animal health and much more. A great find for Practical Action as he trained as a vet for 5 ½ years at the only vet college in Nepal – others there went abroad to make a living, while Prakesh went to an NGO to use his skills for the community and then to Practical Action to set up and run an inspiring project with local co-operatives to produce more food and improve the livelihoods of some of the poorest.

What made you stop and think? Two examples of harnessing the knowledge of experts to help people help themselves  1. Prakesh and his work as a vet with local farmers 2. The Practical Answers interactive session at the library – Kemal Kent Singh, agricultural technician with a local agricultural company with expertise in manure, fertilisers and plants – was the expert brought in to answer interactively by computer the latest batch of questions from the farmers.

Anything else you want to say? Children – lots of wonderful incidents today with great children enjoying being photographed and being indulged by their families and all on the Practical Action expedition, from 6 year old Aurit who had to be in, and pose for, every photo and clearly should be a Hollywood star – to 11 and 12 year old Deepika, Gianga and Pabitra (and their nan) who already learned quite a bit of English and had lovely writing.  All kids and families have benefitted from the projects we saw – and some of whom now have higher expectations of their future than we would have heard some years ago. When did Nepalese children learn words like ‘handshake’ and ‘high five’? Lots of laughter and smiles – great!

Terry Downie

Most memorable moment:  At Shree Kamadhenu Milk Co-operative Improved Cattle Resource Centre (phew!) the gentle pride and love shown in the way the men talked bout their cows and touched them, and talked about them.

Best person you met today:  At the Grass Cultivation Centre, the man who explained how Napier grass is cut and gave me a root of it. Also the man who invited me to see his new house and his cows but then said actually his wife built the house. And the man who wanted me to see his 600 chickens.  

What made you stop and think? At the Dalit village – Chainspur – I thought the cow-funding arrangements surprisingly tight and fast-moving (11 families per month enabled to buy cows) and I guess I began to grasp how much involvement there is from members of groups – co-ops, Practical Action, UKAID, Nepali, community forest user group, etc, etc – and banks, chambers of commerce etc. And at the library, Practical Answers’ support on technical queries – after local experts have been asked to solve issues raised at Community meetings.

Anything else you want to say? Children – lots of wonderful incidents today with great children enjoying being photographed and being indulged by their families and all on the Practical Action expedition, from 6 year old Aurit who had to be in, and pose for, every photo and clearly should be a Hollywood star – to 11 and 12 year old Deepika, Gianga and Pabitra (and their nan) who already learned quite a bit of English and had lovely writing. Ll kids and families have benefitted from the projects we saw – and some of whom now have higher expectations of their future than we would have heard some years ago. When did Nepalese children learn words like ‘handshake’ and ‘high five’? Lots of laughter and smiles – great!

Greater climate change commitment

Friday, November 9th, 2012 by

I’ve just finished the first part of Practical Action’s European speaker tour on climate change, having visited Germany and the Czech Republic.

In both countries I was talking about our adaptation work in Bangladesh, including our ‘Pathways from Poverty’ project.

Despite Bangladesh being one of the poorest and most climate affected countries in the world, many other countries could learn a lot from the way it has adapted to the increasing floods and other climate related disasters caused by climate change.

In Germany, I presented our project at a major conference in Bonn from 1-3 November called ‘Dialogue Towards Transformation’ organised by our project partner, Germanwatch.  The conference was attended by 140 NGOs from 22 countries around the world including both developed and developing nations.

It highlighted the synergies and tensions which exist between climate change and other subjects such as food security, energy and poverty reduction. This is also one of the issues addressed in Practical Action’s new five-year strategy from 2012-2017.

One of the major talking points at the conference was the need for NGOs or Civil Society to agree on development priorities in the run up to the adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals. There was also a lot of debate about the extent to which NGOs can really influence international negotiations like the Rio plus 20 conference and the global climate change talks or whether our job is to build a mass movement outside these processes calling for change.

Like the UK and Bangladesh, flooding is the major climate impact in both the Czech Republic and Germany. Just two years ago, flooding there and in Poland killed nine people and resulted in over 1,000 having to be evacuated from their homes.

Despite the recession and the EU bailout, Germany continues to be a leader in climate change and promoting the green economy. In contrast in the Czech Republic there is still a lot of scepticism about climate change among the public and politicians and their current President, Vaclav Klaus, is a well known climate sceptic. The Czechs also have one of the highest carbon dioxide emissions per head of population in Europe due to their heavy industry and car manufacturing.

To highlight the issues, I spoke to business studies and social geography students at two universities in Prague and also to international development students at Olomouc university. The debates were organised by our Czech partner, Glopolis.  Before my presentation I asked all the students how many of them thought climate change was real and was happening now. Only about half put their hands up.

So a major challenge for the Czech NGO movement in the next few years will be to transform public and political opinion in relation to climate change. This was the subject of a round table debate I attended with many of the Czech Republics, leading NGOs and a representative of their Department of Energy and Climate Protection. We agreed an important opportunity to do this will be the publication of the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 2013/14. This is likely to contain a wealth of evidence that many of the extreme weather events like flooding both in Europe and Bangladesh can now be directly linked to climate change.

Our adaptation work in Bangladesh (promoting technologies like floating gardens, sand bar cropping and duck farming) was well received in both Germany and the Czech Republic. Many delegates, students and NGO staff came up to me afterwards and said that too often in the debate on climate change the voice of the poor isn’t heard and that policy needed to be much better informed by what is happening on the ground. Practical Action, with its wealth of experience working with the world’s poor and knowing what works in the field, is in a unique position to do both.

Among many of those I spoke to in both Germany and the Czech Republic there was strong agreement that adaptation must now go up the UN and the EUs agenda and that we need to see a far greater political and financial commitment to helping people in countries like Bangladesh adapt to a future in which once rare events like flooding become part of the everyday struggle for survival.  One student I spoke to in Prague summed up the situation well when she said “Your work in countries like Bangladesh buys vital time for the world to adapt to climate change and gives the poorest people most affected by it a fighting chance of a future.”

The speaking tour now moves on to the European Parliament and then the United Kingdom before attending the climate talks in Qatar.

Tackling tuins and gravity ropeways

Thursday, November 8th, 2012 by

I’m visiting Nepal with a group of long standing Practical Action supporters to see examples of our work.   We have now headed into the mountains to visit  remote communities with challenging transport problems.  Practical Action has been helping through the construction of tuins, which enable people to cross rivers more quickly and safely and gravity ropeways, which provide a way for people in mountain villages to send their produce to local markets.  The group has  been joined by Michelle Slaney, who works on climate change in Practical Action’s Nepal office.

I was very struck by the simplicity and effectiveness of the gravity ropeway technology.  It is life changing for the people that use it, but so straightforward in terms of moving parts.   The service provided by the tuin has such potential and I’m very excited about how the coop that runs it might develop.   I also feel hugely proud to have such expert and enthusiastic colleagues working in Nepal.

Here are some comments from other members of the party:

David Watson

Most memorable moment:  seeing the gravity ropeway for the first time – I knew all the principles beforehand but the operation still seems like magic.

Best person you met today:   the guy who operates the ropeway (especially the brake) with so much casual skill.

What made you stop and think? How the economics of the ropeway work – and how the benefits get passed on to more than a select few people.

Anything else you want to say? Surely there’s a better way to work the Tuin than pulling on the rope with your bare hands? Can’t it wrap around a sheave and be worked  by hand cranks or pedals? Could go faster with less effort.

 Clive  Quick

Most memorable moment:  Discussing the impact of the tuin with Kazji

Best person you met today:  Robindra from Practical Action office – cheerful, efficient, and a fine model for others working in Nepal.

What made you stop and think? A far better understanding of the impact of tuins and ropeways

Anything else you want to say? A beautiful drive out of Kathmandu but direct observations of poverty

 Helen Watson

Most memorable moment:  Riding in the Tuin, which felt so much safer and more comfortable than expected. A rather beautiful red sedan chair on cables!

Best person you met today:  Our driver, for negotiating the difficult rough roads and the rest of the traffic, from large trucks to heavily laden bicycles, buses, etc, etc, overtaking on blind corners, tooting as they went.

What made you stop and think? The achievement of building that long ropeway, seeing how it was used, and hearing what a difference it made to the community, as became clear when the tomato-farmer Kaji was being interviewed.

Anything else you want to say? I loved seeing the people in the tomato shed, the colourful clothes and beautiful faces.

Michelle  Slaney

Most memorable moment: Seeing the efficiency of the gravity ropeway and understanding what a huge impact it can make in so many people’s lives and fore their livelihood opportunities – awesome!

Best person you met today:  Robindra (Practical Action project manager) – so passionate about his work, so technically knowledgeable, and such a beautiful human quality that he can relate as well to villagers as to the Trustees and supporters. He is simply the kind of person who commands your attention and respect.

What made you stop and think? How such a small amount of money/investment can reap such huge economic benefit/welfare and livelihood opportunities. And how communities are so adaptable when they have been introduced to an idea/technology, or way of working, e.g. forming a collective.

Terry Downie

Most memorable moment:  The Hikling Tuin serving the Chepang villagers who, two generations ago were nomadic  hunter-gatherers then shifted to farming but were severely exploited and deprived but now have a management committee, access to the main road and all that this means, e.g. we saw secondary age girls returning from school. Also, I think the ropeway near the Tuin was used by Hikling village to bring down tomatoes (by 10 am to get the best price from buyers).

Best person you met today:  I liked the Devisthan  woman at the tomato ‘station’ at Fishling who waved her hand and turned her back, meaning that’s enough damn fool questions.

What made you stop and think? Mind boggled by how cables of ‘ropeway’ were laid on that terrain hand-to-hand, we were told.

Post, pennies and pumpkins

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012 by

Yesterday was a particularly good day.  A sizeable cheque arrived on my desk from a Trust which is winding up.  Actually, every day that a cheque arrives on my desk from a Trust or Foundation is a pretty good day, whether the cheque is large or small.   I often receive a letter with a cheque apologising for what the sender thinks is a small amount.   No amount is too small – we do truly believe in the famous words of our founder, E F Schumacher, that ‘Small is Beautiful’!    Practical Action will make sure that every penny, every pound of the donation I received yesterday, and of all those donations from the other Trusts and Foundations that support us, makes life better for those who are the poorest of the poor, marginalised and vulnerable.

The cheque that arrived yesterday was ‘unrestricted’, meaning we can use the funds where we want.  That choice won’t be my decision – I leave that to our finance and programme staff.  But I do know that in the coming months, even years, it could help, for example, a family have access to clean water in Kenya, it could ensure children in Zimbabwe are protected from killer diseases as a result of refrigerated vaccines thanks to energy from Practical Action’s micro-hydro schemes, and the donation might enable a family in Bangladesh, whose lives have been decimated by floods, begin to earn a living from growing pumpkins.

Funding from  Trusts and Foundations are vital to our work, and to the futures of the people we work with.   Looking forward to tomorrow’s post already!

Wise men, camels, a journey

Monday, November 5th, 2012 by

Wise Men, camels, a journey – remind you of anything?

It reminds me of Practical Action’s Posts for Peace work in Darfur, Sudan. Let me explain.

My all-time favourite poem is T.S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, which tells the story of the Wise Men making the long and arduous trek to visit the baby Jesus. Finding him, having left summer palaces and endured hardship, T S Eliot sums up the meeting with the phrase ‘It was (you may say) satisfactory’. I am moved by the understatement and simplicity.

I had the same sense of simplicity yet profound impact when I first heard of our Posts for Peace work.

North Darfur, in Sudan, has few roads, a lot of sand and an on-going history of violent conflict. When I visited, people talked of the impact of the conflict, of desperately trying to make a living, wanting to stay in their villages and maintain their communities. Not wanting to go to the refugee camps, where they’d receive dwindling aid handouts, trapping them into dependency. I met lots of people who had hugely positive stories of working with Practical Action, but I met one guy whose story was more mixed.

Hashim worked with Practical Action to irrigate his land enabling him to farm vegetables. Year 1 was brilliant – his crops flourished, he could feed his family, his wife and three sons and one daughter, and had some extra he could sell so as to buy vital necessities. Year 2 was much more difficult, as the rains were poor, but even so, using the water harvesting and irrigation techniques he’d learnt, his crops grew and were doing well. He knew that given the poor harvest everyone was experiencing he was likely to get a good price, and incredibly thankful. But food was hard for everyone and as his crop ripened nomadic pastoralists came in the night, their animals were hungry and they drove them onto his land. His crop was gone.

I asked what he was going to do? He spoke of replanting, of trusting God and waiting for the next harvest. He also spoke of he and his neighbours fighting off the pastoralists should they seek to take his crops again. This man who seemed so peaceful was spurred to what he saw as righteous anger in defence of his family.

Practical Action is a practical and pragmatic organisation. We use technology – often very simple – to help people improve their lives. In our Posts for Peace work the technology, concrete posts, couldn’t be more simple, but the process and ultimately impact is something different. The Posts for Peace can make life better for Hashim, for his neighbours and for pastoralist communities.

Wise Men – Mohammed Siddiq, our Lead in Darfur for over 20 years. Siddiq has dedicated his life to helping practically the people of Darfur. Mohammed Mazjoub, our Sudan Country Director who retired a few months ago, and who was instrumental in making the Posts for Peace work a success.

Camels – A hugely valuable animal to the pastoralists and amazingly adapted to desert life. Camels will be the most valuable asset poor pastoralist families own. Practical Action has worked with pastoralist communities for example establishing para-vets able to vaccinate and treat simple diseases in animals. This work means we are trusted not only by the settled farmers but by the pastoralists too.

The Journey – I wasn’t thinking of the journey made by the pastoralists. Rather the journey of the communities who, with the help of Practical Action, negotiated a way that could work for both settled farming and pastoralist families. This wasn’t easy especially in a community where war and day-to-day violence is the norm.

Let me and try to explain the problem – and solution

The first diagram shows settled farmland –as the pastoralists’ animals move across it they fan out, destroying crops as they go.

In the second diagram the settled farmland remains the same but as the pastoralists move through they follow a route agreed between them and the farmers.

Through our Posts for Peace the route is demarked and both communities have agreed to adhere to the route.

Farmers can farm, pastoralists continue to be nomadic. Both communities can flourish. A simple yet life changing solution.

One of my friends seeing the photos said ‘but there isn’t even a bit of wire between the posts’. When communities have guns, it’s agreement not wire that works.

Wise men, camels and a journey – Our Posts for Peace work offers a further glimmer of hope for Darfur this Christmas.

For Hashim and his family I hope the posts provide a gift of peace this Christmas.

In December 2012, Margaret spoke to Premier Radio about this project and the incredible impact it is having.