Archive for August, 2013

Schumacher’s Dream

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013 by

On the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a Dream…” speech Barbara Wood, E.F. Schumacher’s eldest daughter, talks about her father’s dream.

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King

A dream – a vision – an idea; it does not matter what you call it but it marks a beginning. It is the first step to a new possibility.

Fritz Schumacher valued dreams that were acted upon. His dream was that people should be helped out of poverty through meaningful work. He believed that the means and the opportunity to be creatively productive, to offer service to others and to be able to act freely according to one’s moral impulses was an essential part of human dignity and happiness.

His approach was: Think, analyse, ACT. Have the dream, analyse what YOU can do about it, and then do it! Thinking about his dream led him to the central role of a technology that was appropriate for the needs, abilities, and resources of those he wanted to help. When he shared these ideas with his fellow professional economists he was ridiculed. They thought him simple minded and out of touch. They thought it was obvious that the future was in sophisticated, large scale technology; there was no other way to eradicate poverty and increase wealth.

E. F. Schumacher

E. F. Schumacher

Schumacher had no alternative but to do something himself if he was to avoid remaining a mere dreamer. In 1965 he wrote an article for ‘The Observer’ newspaper titled ‘How to Help them Help themselves’ and with the proceeds set up what was then the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG). The first task was to locate and publicise technology that was small scale, simple and cheap enough to be afforded by people in the developing world.

ITDG became Practical Action and the organisation today shows how a dream can change the world when it is acted upon. Schumacher’s dream has enabled the dreams of countless people throughout the world to be realised; dreams of self-reliance, sustainability, of a healthier more productive life.

And what about our dreams? We too dream of making the world a better place where poverty is eliminated and all can live in peace and freedom. Practical Action helps us to fulfil our dreams too. That is why I support Practical Action; not just because it was founded by my father but because through the work of its dedicated staff I can move from mere dreaming to real practical and effective action.

Thank you Practical Action for making my dreams come true.

All mothers want is opportunity for their children

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013 by

Opportunity is something many of us don’t think about very often. We take it for granted. But it’s something I have thought a lot about in the last few months of my life.

My son has been diagnosed with a muscle wasting disease that will limit the things he will be able do in his life. As a mother, this is devastating. This has taken away some of his options.

A little girl plays on the rubbish dump in Kathmandu where her parents are forced to work to make ends meetBut he’s lucky he still has choices and this is something I am grateful for, as many children across the world just don’t have this.

Yesterday, I visited a fantastic project in Kathmandu, Nepal where very poor children now have the chance to change their life by going to school.

Practical Action is working with waste picker families to help improve their lives and one solution is offering education to their children.

These families spend all day sorting through piles of stinking rubbish to find items they can sell to recycling companies. It’s back breaking work in horrendous conditions and they do this all day every day. They get paid just £1.20 a day.

waste picker child in nepal getting an education in schoolLike me, the mothers I spoke to just want the best for their children.

We’re all the same. So this project is making a real difference. It’s giving children the best start in life, the opportunity for them to achieve what they want. That’s all any mother wants.

Please help support Practical Action’s life changing work and give waste picker children the opportunity for a brighter future.

Cool climate change infographics

Friday, August 23rd, 2013 by

We’re constantly trying to come up with ways of communicating the issue of climate change in a way that inspires people to take action.

Communications around the issue of climate change have begun more and more to deal with involving people because human stories make it more real and help forge deeper, more emotional connections.

But we’re also experimenting with infographics. Why?

They are attractive and fun to look at. They are insightful and make news look interesting. They help us understand information easily and quickly, and they help us remember things.

Here are some cool infographics that Practical Action have produced on climate change:

This first one has been a huge success and went viral after it was recommended by the data visualisation gurus at Information is Beautiful. It is an alternative tube map that highlights the impact climate change and rising sea levels could have on the London. The “London Underground Map 2100″ highlights those areas that could be underwater if no action on climate change is taken including Westminster and the Houses of Parliament, London Bridge, Embankment, Sloane Square and Canary Wharf.

Practical Action has released an alternative tube map that highlights the impact climate change and rising sea levels could have on London.

Practical Action has released an alternative tube map that highlights the impact climate change and rising sea levels could have on London.










This one is a new one that Practical Action has launched to raise awareness that there are still 40 million people living in drought conditions in East Africa. They are the forgotten victims of drought.
The statistics in this infographic make for sobering reading. It not only brings home the reality of climate change but also the impact that it is having on poorest people in this world who are on the front line.

The forgotten victims of drought

What do you think about our infographics?



News from Nepal – early warning saves lives

Friday, August 23rd, 2013 by

My colleague Swarnima Shrestha translated this newspaper report on our early warning system work in Nepal. Story of a very brave lady helping her community.

Parbati’s Warning, Saves lives

Kantipur National Daily, 22 August 2013 (Thursday)

Chisapani, Kailali. It was a dark mid night but 45 years old Parbati Gurung went to the Karnali water gauge station 2 km north from Chisapani all alone. She checked the water level and disseminated the information about its increase to the related people in the river bank area from her mobile phone. She informed the people living near flood prone areas, Practical Action, Red Cross, Police administration and Army that the water level was above 9 meter. Soon after that, the water level increased to 11 meter and her timely information helped people from Rajapur area to move to a safer place.

It is very risky to reach to the Karnali Water Gauge Station which is towards the north of Chisapani. That is a landslide prone area during monsoon but Prabati put her own life at risk to save others’.
Parbati’s father used to work in the same station five decades ago and one day in the month of Bhadra when he was going to the police station to inform them about the flood, he went missing in a landslide. “I am giving continuity to my father’s sacrifice for the society’ says Parbati. Her husband, who used to work in Road Department Office, died due to high blood pressure and since then she has been living with her daughter.

Parbati says, ‘I feel very happy to alert people. I go to the Station and inform the concerned people as soon as the rain falls.’ Her timely information saved people’s lives from the flood on 18 June 2013. Practical Action’s Project Officer Mr. Dev Datta Bhatta said that Parbati Gurung’s work has benefitted 25 thousand households from 7 VDCs of Bardiya and 15 VDCs of Kailali District.
In this warning system, a siren is blown three times, first a normal siren is blown when the water level in Karnali River reaches above 9 meter. Second, a warning siren is blown when the water level reaches above 10 meter and third, a danger siren is blown when the water level reaches above 11 meter. The head of the communities living river bank areas blow these sirens. All ninety communities of Bardiya and Kailali districts are involved in Early warning system.

A tale of two babies – the prince and the pauper

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013 by

During the media frenzy surrounding the first official photos of Prince George of Cambridge yesterday, we received some photos of another baby boy. He was born on the same day as Prince George, but in very different circumstances.

Meet Hashim:

baby boy born in Sudan on the same day as Prince George of Cambridge

Hashim was born on 22nd July in Silkiay village in Kassala, Sudan to proud parents Mohamed and Amna Jafaar.

Hashim wasn’t born in a hospital with lots of medical assistance. He was born in their simple mud hut home.

Mohamed has been struggling to earn a living as a farmer, bringing home just £1.20 a day. Practical Action are teaching him techniques to help improve his agriculture production, such as building terraces to conserve rainwater. Mohamed hopes that his learning will help him improve his income so that he can give little Hashim the best start in life.



Hashim’s parents are delighted that he was born on the same day as the Duke and Duchess of Kent’s son, not only because they have a connection to a member of England’s Royal Family, but also because now they will never forget their son’s birthday.

Why people in Sudan don’t know when their birthday is

In Sudan, babies born in remote areas don’t get birth certificates. My colleagues in Sudan say “the registration system doesn’t reach them.”

As a result, many people celebrate their birthdays on 1 January, unless they are able to work out their birthday by being born during an event such as a comet, earthquake or famous disaster.

The birth of Prince George of Cambridge stands as a mark in history and so Mohamed and Amna are grateful that they will always be able to celebrate Hashim’s true birthday.

Charlotte Green, Radio 4 and Nepalese waste pickers working together to make a difference

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013 by

On Sunday morning Charlotte Green, who I have enjoyed calling ‘the posh woman on Radio 4’ and who is soon to be the voice of the football results, made an appeal for Practical Action’s work in Nepal.

The work is with communities of waste pickers living in Kathmandu. She had in 2 minutes to get over everything about the situation – the stench, the crap (some literal), the filth – but also that for some people this is something they value as a way to make a living. These people are determined, hardworking and willing to do a horrible job to feed their families. They are also looked down on, abused and viewed by many as outcasts.

When I met with a waste-picking community back in February (one of the prompts for this appeal) I learnt that some of them had migrated from India looking for better opportunities and even now would move from waste site to waste site literally in search of better pickings. This nomadic life meant that they were difficult to help and had fallen off the radar of other agencies – Practical Action was prepared to take on the difficulties of working with a partially transient group because even though in some instances the people you worked with may move on the need was huge and the benefits sustainable.

This is in many ways a typical Practical Action piece of work – but in other ways it’s not. We started by talking with the community – as is our way – and learnt that what they needed along with help to protect themselves from hazardous waste like broken glass, syringes , sharp metal etc was access to identity cards that would allow then to access basic medical services. So somewhat away from our normal work we worked with them on this (as well as safety equipment), we also worked to help get the children into school. Not always a complete escape from waste picking – many children still needed to help their families before and after school in order for the family to have enough to eat. We worked on increasing the price the waste pickers got for their product, including looking at options for processing that would add value.

But for me the biggest difference was the kids –children who had no future, now had hope. And the message that education was great had even spread to the parents with Practical Action now running small adult education groups because parents wanted to learn basic reading, writing and maths.

I listened to Charlotte Green on Sunday – she, as always sounded beautiful – and her deep resonant (and posh) voice provided, I thought, a strong contrast with the story she was telling of a little girl whose life was sitting on a rubbish tip watching her mum as she picked waste.

Thank you Charlotte and thanks to everyone else who has helped – together (you, Practical Action and the people living in poverty) we can make a difference.

Meeting our family in Kenya

Thursday, August 15th, 2013 by

Despite working for an International Development charity, the closest I’d come to Africa prior to this summer was a juxtaposed mix of the wondrous Disney creation ‘The Lion King’ combined with the tear jerking ensemble of sad yet inspirational stories shown on TV on Comic Relief night.

This summer, however, that was to change as I was given the opportunity to climb the almighty Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with a group of Practical Action student fundraisers from the universities of Kent and Birmingham, before going to visit some Practical Action’s projects in Kenya.

So, after begging, borrowing and bartering some kit together and getting jabbed up and affairs in order and mentally preparing for an adventure (Lion King soundtrack downloaded on to Ipod…check, motivational movie speeches…check!) I set off to Africa with my fellow adventurers.

Climbing Kilimanjaro was the hardest experience I will ever endure, but also one of the best experiences I will ever have. The scenery, the people I climbed with, the guides and porters who carried us up the mountain (metaphorically and pretty much literally), they were all incredible.

Summiting Kilimanjaro

Summiting Kilimanjaro is a strange experience. You envisage it being some glorious Band of Brothers’ moment of triumph. Rocky Balboa, arms in the air, standing on top of the world. The reality is a night of trudging in the dark and the cold, fighting your body’s urge to pass out and just telling yourself to keep going, get through it, don’t collapse/throw up/defecate/fall asleep. The sun comes up and it should be a moment to rejoice but all it does is shine a light on to how steep it is and how far you still have to go. Ignorance is bliss.

Reaching the summit was not some victoriously epic movie montage but more a limp lumber as I struggled for breath, took some quick photos and then spent three hours in the arms of my guide Emmanuel and my porter Chris, falling down the mountain at breakneck speed. They did the hard work, while I pleaded for a break to sit down…every 10 metres. When we got back to base camp we shared a well-earned coke – the local brew!

The best thing about the trip was doing it with student fundraisers…guys and girls who had spent the best part of a year devoting time and energy to raising money for Practical Action; and our partners at Meningitis Research Foundation. It was an honour to spend time with them and they felt like friends within hours of meeting.

climbing kilimanjaro

Of course, Practical Action is the reason I went out to East Africa. During my trip I visited Kisumu, Kajiado and Nakuru as well as passing through the hustle and bustle and rumble and jumble of the border town Namanga and capital Nairobi. I ate food I have never eaten before (goat and ugali will last in the memory for a long time, as will ‘tilapia’), seen things which have inspired me and horrified me in equal measure and met so many people who have such positivity in what we (in the ‘developed’ world) would view as adversity. I squealed on sight of a cockroach in my hotel room and grumbled about the sporadic reliability of hot water, but in hindsight I can have no complaints compared to the informal settlements that hundreds of thousands call home.

Transforming lives with access to water and total sanitation

And it is in these informal settlements where I saw Practical Action’s work thriving most. The urbanisation that is occurring in African cities means the urban service providers just can’t keep up with the demand. Practical Action’s WASH projects and Community Led Total Sanitation programmes are incredible. They are transforming lives where there is the greatest of need.

toilets in nakuru, kenya

Up to 300 people use the current toilet facilities in this neighbourhood

To quote the title of a Practical Action publication…‘Shit Matters’. This comes to mind because the project that inspired me the most was the building of a bio-latrine in Nakuru that will solve both the problem of open defecation in the neighbourhood but also as an offshoot benefit create methane gas which can be used for cooking.

building a bio-latrine in nakuru

The building of a bio-latrine dome by local community members where waste will be processed naturally and produce methane gas for cooking

Clean cookstoves improving quality of life

I also met women and families in Kisumu who have been piloting the clean cook stoves using bioethanol and was inspired by how such a simple change to everyday living can have such a dramatic effect on the quality of life people can have. Smoke free and speedy efficient cooking means that people such as Maureen have more time to spend with their families. I also met Emma, a mother of four children who have suffered from eye and chest problems from previous fuel methods but now are much healthier due to the clean cook stoves.

I often felt like a global celebrity visitor (Perhaps I look like David Beckham?!) with the reaction of the local children screaming in excitement ‘Mzungu!Mzungu! How are you?!!’ One little girl tugged on my shorts asking if I could take a photo of her and her friends. The smiles and excited giggles so genuine it made me realise how often we take things for granted back home and it also broke my heart just a little bit that I couldn’t give them a copy of this photo:

children in Kisumu, Kenya

My time on Kilimanjaro combined with my experience taking part in Nightrider and the London to Paris cycle ride earlier this summer with more student fundraisers has shown me how much of a responsibility we should have and need to have for one another in this world. On those trips we looked after each other like family. The Practical Action staff in Kenya looked after me like I was family. Meeting people where Practical Action works made me realise we are one global family and what happens here is as important as what happens at the end of your street.

Africa was a culture shock for me and everything is different but at the same time everything and everyone is the same. We all want to smile and enjoy life as much as we can with what we have and Practical Action is helping to make sure that is the case in Kenya and around the world.

Memories of Kenya

On my final night in Kenya I sampled the local beer Tusker and seeing some Football on TV in the bar thought about the amount of football fans I’d seen around wearing shirts of every variety (and I mean every variety, 1994 West Bromwich Albion Shirt: Check, 1993 Oldham Shirt: Check!) but unfortunately Arsenal are the favoured team in East Africa and it’ll take more than my Birmingham scarf to change that!

Remembering my trip to Kenya (and as is the case with travelling, places you’ve been can seem like a half remembered dream) I will picture the smiling faces, warm handshakes and hospitality I received from Practical Action staff and beneficiaries of the projects we work on everywhere. Memories that I’m sure will last a lifetime.

Do you have troublesome neighbours?

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013 by

Living in the UK it’s not uncommon to hear of minor disputes between neighbours.  Sometimes it’s about playing loud music, or it might be because a hedge is grown too long. But what if your neighbours arearugam-bay-elephant elephants? While they don’t often play loud music, they rarely respect boundary hedges, and could easily destroy a whole year’s crop for a small scale farmer.

This is exactly the challenge that I found on a recent trip to Batticaloa in Sri Lanka.  A number of farmers were unable to farm their land for fear that the elephants from the nearby forests would trample or eat all their crops. Practical Action had been working with these and other farmers, and when faced with this problem, they came up with an ingenious solution- live fencing made of palmyre trees.

3 row palmyre fenceThe trees are indigenous to the region, and have traditionally been used as a decorative boundary line, but planted in three rows, the trees form a barrier that will stop elephants.

Palmyre tress also provide a harvestable crop (nuts and palm leaves), and once mature, one row at a time can be cut for wood, while still retaining the integrity of the boundary.   It all adds up to a low cost sustainable solution far superior to an electric fence.

I don’t anticipate planting many palmyre fences in my village in the UK, but this story was a great reminder to me how often the simplest locally developed technologies, are often the most effective.

Fritz Schumacher and Small is Beautiful – memories and why Fritz’s work still resonates

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 by

I’ve been asked to say more on Fritz Schumacher and why I think he remains so inspirational and relevant. Of course there are his writings and the brilliant charity Practical Action (ITDG) he set up, there are also the wonderful sayings and the memories people share of him.

I recall hearing from a long standing member of Practical Action staff, Patrick Mulvany, about a time when Fritz went to a dinner party in the 1970’s the hostess had served soup and by each person’s plate she had placed a side plate with a slice of white bread. Fritz took the bread up immediately and very carefully placed it on his lap arranging it delicately. When asked why? he said that he assumed that’s what it was for – no one could possibly think of eating it – surely it couldn’t be thought of as food!

If I think about it from the hostess’s perspective I would have been horrified, but if I think of it as a fun gesture to make a point and a story still being told decades later I love it – it makes me giggle! Fritz for all his brilliant thoughts, environmental leadership and influence – I love in part because he sometimes makes me smile.

He was also asked at a separate occasion – I’ve seen the grainy old movie camera film – why he introduced the system of Buddhist economics in his book Small is Beautiful – his response was that if he had talked about Christian economics, and many of the points of wisdom are similar, no one would have listened. The room of university students he was speaking with roared with laughter.

There is also a great quote I read again recently – ‘the bland leading the blind’ – sometimes sadly seems quite apt in UK politics today (I was going to say European politics and then I remembered Berlusconi and Sarkozy). Bland is not in truth an ideal quality for a leader but then again you want the right kind of inspiration!

Fritz was a man passionate about what he believed – how the cult of gigantism had taken over our world and we needed to move to a time that valued the simpler and the smaller as well as the big: how we were failing to value nature’s capital which was finite and under attack: and how we needed a new form of development one that started with people and the simple technologies that could make a transformative difference in poor people’s lives. He was also a man with charm and humour.

When we think of the world leaders we need today to move us away from the short term brinkmanship we are practising in many of our environmental policies I like to think of Fritz. He would have charmed people into change – I hope – through painting a picture of the world as it could be and the actions we needed to take to get there. He would have called on each and every one of us to play our part in building the new world and the vision

It would be good!

We can’t all be world leaders but we can all speak out and we can all support causes we believe in – Fritz challenged each and every one of us whether rich or poor, young or old, powerful or powerless to talk about the future and take action now.

30 years on his message is still very powerful! And I for one don’t eat sliced white bread. Fritz Schumacher’s influence lives on through – amongst others – the on-going work of Practical Action.

The pleasure of appealing for funding

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 by

It is rare that I can definitely say I will be doing anything other than sleeping or begging an unruly child to leave me in peace first thing on a Sunday morning.

But this weekend will be different. Come 7.55am on Sunday August 18th, I will be glued to a radio for five minutes, listening intently to BBC Radio 4 while loudly ‘shushing’ anyone who dares to make a sound in the same room.

And I would urge anyone who takes the opportunity to read this to do the same. Or, if you are not an early bird, take a five minutes to be equally unsociable at either 9.25pm that day or at 3.25pm the following Thursday.

If you do, you will be met with the dulcet tones of Charlotte Green – the new voice of the classified football results & a former Radio 4 newsreader.

She will be reading an appeal on behalf of Practical Action, telling the story of Dilmaya. Dilmaya is an 8-year-old girl from Kathmandu, Nepal whose life, before Practical Action got involved, revolved around sitting on rubbish tips, picking through mounds of filthy, smelly waste and then getting bullied by classmates and teachers at her school.


The plight of eight-year-old Dilmaya will be featured in the Practical Action Radio 4 Appeal.

The plight of eight-year-old Dilmaya will be featured in the Practical Action Radio 4 Appeal.

You will have to listen to the radio, or log onto the Radio 4 appeal website here to find out how Dilmaya’s life, and two thousand others, have been changed by our work.

But listening will remind me of just how much of a pleasure the whole experience has proved to be. Not only did I get the opportunity to sit in the BBC studio as the appeal was recorded, I have also been lucky enough to meet with Charlotte Green twice now.

Charlotte Green checks the Practical Action script before reading the waste picker appeal.

Charlotte Green checks the Practical Action script before reading the waste picker appeal.

It turns out she read EF Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful while at university and is incredibly sympathetic to both Practical Action’s underlying philosophy and our work.

In addition, she happens to be fantastic company and I spent a fascinating couple of hours with her one hot summer’s day talking to her about Practical Action’s work, her passion for football and walking and her life as a Radio 4 newsreader. You can also read the transcript of some of our conversation here and listen to her explain why she supports Practical Action here.

Hopefully, her passion and support for the appeal will come through on the radio and the public will dig deep and give generously for waste pickers in Kathmandu.

I shall be at the site when the appeal is broadcast on Thursday and will be updating about my experience on the day.