Archive for January, 2018

Ditch the Dirt…a NEW STEM challenge

Thursday, January 25th, 2018 by

We think young people will love it!

Practical Action’s latest Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) challenge ‘Ditch the Dirt’ offers a great opportunity for pupils to explore how simple water filtering techniques can remove so much ‘dirt’ from contaminated water.

Set around the real-life context where millions of people worldwide don’t have access to clean and safe drinking water, Ditch the Dirt enables pupils to find out for themselves how science and technology can play a critical role in developing sustainable solutions to global challenges.

Pupils start by exploring their own daily water use before learning about the challenges for many children and women in Turkana, Kenya to collect water from ground water holes, on average 3 miles from home.

Pupils then learn about the impact on health of drinking ‘dirty’ water before researching and developing their own  ideas for ‘cleaning’ water and making it safe to drink.

 

One of the primary science teachers involved in trialling the materials explains,

‘Setting these science investigations in a real-life context really motivated the pupils to develop the best filtering systems they could. It made the science relevant to them, they could clearly see how science can make a difference to peoples lives.’

 

Ditch the Dirt can be used to gain the British Science Association’s CREST awards at both primary and secondary level.  To see which levels it can be used for, and to view our other popular STEM challenges accredited for CREST go to the CREST page on our website.

We look forward to sharing stories from children and teachers who use the Ditch the Dirt challenge materials over the next months.

Enjoy them and please share the link with your own contacts of  teachers and parents.

The materials for Ditch the Dirt can all be found here. Ditch the Dirt.

 

 

 

 

Flood Resilience Program extended for five more years

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018 by

 

Practical Action and partners will continue to work to develop solutions for community flood resilience and provide robust evidence for investment in pre-event resilience-building under a new five-year grant from Zurich.

In July 2013 Practical Action signed a memorandum of understanding with the Z Zurich Foundation for a five-year programme aimed at building the flood resilience of vulnerable communities in Nepal and Peru as part of a multi-sectoral Alliance of partners. In December 2017, we received the excellent new that Zurich Insurance Company and the Z Zurich Foundation had agreed to a second five year phase, starting in July 2018.

One of the significant achievements of the first phase was the development and piloting of a flood resilience measurement framework and tool. The Alliance and partners have used this tool to measure flood resilience in communities and to empirically validate the results and provide objective evidence of how flood resilience can be built and why. The tool has been piloted in over 100 communities around the world in Indonesia, East Timor, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Haiti, Mexico, the US and Peru in both urban and rural communities. By generating evidence using a robust and replicable tool we aim to influence investments in flood resilience so that ex ante action becomes the norm rather than the exception.

Practical Action will be leading on the knowledge component of the new phase and we are excited to be the knowledge catalyst for the Alliance in Phase 2. We are committed to the use of evidence to influence policy and practice, combining both the human stories of flood resilience with supporting empirical evidence that can persuade decision makers of what works.

The Flood Resilience Portal launched under phase 1 will continue to serve as a source of practical knowledge on how to build flood resilience, with lessons and solutions from all of the partners in the Alliance and beyond. The development of two additional locally-focused Portals – for Nepal and for Latin America – is helping to ensure that this knowledge is tailored to local communities and practitioners.

The successes and failures encountered in the first phase have generated a wealth of lessons at local, national and global scales. These lessons have informed the development of this second phase, in which we aim to scale up our work building community resilience to floods, along with an expanded Alliance of partners. Practical Action greatly appreciates this long-term and flexible funding commitment, which allows us to focus on effective problem analysis and test out innovative solutions through robust community action, as well as generate and capture evidence of what works to influence at policy and practice at national and international levels.

The new Alliance includes partners from the first phase; the International Institute for Applied Systems and Analysis (IIASA), the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Zurich Insurance company and has been expanded to include Concern, MercyCorps, Plan International, the London School of Economics, the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition-International (ISET) and ETH Zurich University. This enlarged Alliance brings more diverse skills and a shift in ambition to deliver flood resilience to communities at global scale.

Practical Action is developing exit strategies with communities for the current programme work and ensuring that lessons are learned and knowledge is captured before the local projects come to a close. Looking ahead, Practical Action is extremely proud to be part of this Alliance and looks forward to five more years of innovative work, delivering resilience to flood prone communities around the world. Stay tuned for more.

 

For more information: Chris Anderson Global Flood Alliance Programme Manager

ASE Science conference – a great way to kick start the year!

Friday, January 12th, 2018 by

Back to the office this week after four fun packed/exhausting days at the Association of Science Education (ASE) conference. As always the conference was really inspiring and a great way to kick start the new year.

We love this conference for us so many reasons. Firstly, we get to meet some great teachers who haven’t heard of us before and are delighted when we tell them what we have to offer…for free! It’s a lovely feeling knowing that as a result of talking to us they will start using our teaching materials with their pupils. Then there are all the teachers we meet who already use our stuff, and come along to tell us how much they like it, which is hugely motivating, and great to capture. See the video below from Paul Tyler @Glazgow, a primary teacher from Glasgow. As if that wasn’t enough we also catch up with other colleagues in the sector too like those working for STEMLearning, Earthwatch, The Global Learning Programme and of course the ASE, so we can find out what everyone else is doing and where we might be able to support each other in the future.

A new thing for us was running a workshop on International Day where we shared the work we have done as part of our EU funded project Girls into Global STEM (GIGS for short :-)) It was really motivating to get such a positive response to the methodologies were are using in our project to get more girls interested in STEM careers,  focusing on both using STEM to solve global challenges and digital technology such as e-books to communicate pupils’ project work. Teachers enjoyed the hands on element of filtering water using chopped up banana skins too!

One thing I have noticed is the last few years is there is more and more going on for primary teachers. The Primary pop up organised by Claire Seeley  @seeley_Claire was a great way for us to demonstrate our new Ditch the Dirt STEM challenge, and there was a real buzz in the room. Then, new for this year Nicola Beverley @NicolaBeverley1 organised a Primary Teachmeet, and I got the opportunity to give a 2 minute talk on our resources to over 100 super keen teachers as well as listen to examples of some great science going on in our primary schools…check out exporify

So…if you teach science or have something to offer science teachers I would really recommend you keep an eye on the ASE website for the conference next year early January in Birmingham…and do come and say hello if you go as we will definitely be there!

To view our materials, including our popular STEM challenges please go to www.practicalaction.org/schools

 

Ropeways: connecting rural communities

Friday, January 12th, 2018 by

By Sanjib Chaudhary and Ganesh R Sinkemana

If you look up at the steep hills mounting over the Budhiganga River at Taptisera in Bajura district, you’ll believe why people call them ‘bandar ladne bhir’ – meaning cliff where even monkeys slip down.

There are three options to get to the top of the hill – a dangerous vertical climb of one and half hour, a strenuous trek of three and half hours and a six hour long tiring hike along the ridges. In addition, you’ll need to cross the Budhiganga River to get to the foothills before you begin your climb. And not only the water is chilly but the depth of the river is also another thing to worry about. You don’t know how deep the waters might be until you step into it.

Reducing the travel time to less than two minutes
However, this seemingly unsurmountable height and distance has been reduced to a descent of one and half minutes, thanks to a gravity goods ropeway (GGR) installed recently at the bank of the river.

A gravity goods ropeway carriage. (c) Practical Action/ Ganesh R Sinkemana

The GGR was installed by BICAS (Building Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Capacity of CSOs in Agriculture and Forest Sectors) project in coordination with government and other stakeholders. The project, supported by European Union, focuses on building the capacity of 45 local organisations to promote inclusive and sustainable growth and increase the income of 7,000 households from agriculture and forest-based enterprises in the remote mid and far-western districts of Kalikot, Mugu, Jumla, Bajura and Bajhang.

The GGR operator and chairperson of the users’ committee, Prem Saud, says, “It has made it easier to bring the produce from the upper part of Mana village and has encouraged the residents there to produce at commercial level.

Prem Saud, the GGR operator at Badimalika Municipality. (c) Practical Action/ Prabin Gurung

In return the items of daily need reach the otherwise rugged terrain at nominal charge. Prem charges Rs 2 per (1 USD = Rs 101) kg to get the items to the upper station from the bottom station. The vegetables and other agricultural produce now get to the roadside in Re 1 per kg which is way cheaper than employing a porter who would demand at least Rs 500 – 1000 per load of 50 kgs.

The agricultural produce from the villages reaching market in no time means people are encouraged to produce more, eventually shifting to commercial farming. In a way, a ropeway acts like an enabler for inclusive business – integrating the smallholder farmers into national markets.

Suitable transportation for mountainous topography

Considering Nepal’s topography, gravity goods ropeways have proved to be a life-saver for communities where road construction is very difficult. The aerial ropeways, built to connect communities living high up in the hills to road-heads, operate by gravitational force. Two trolleys, running on pulleys, go up and down simultaneously on parallel steel wires – while the one with heavier load gets down to the road-head due to gravity, the other with lighter weight goes up to the upper terminal .

According to studies, aerial ropeways are three times cheaper than the equivalent road construction in Nepal and installing a gravity gods ropeway costs around Rs 2,500,000. While descending through the hilly tracks take two to three hours of walking to reach the road-head, the same load can get to the lower terminal in less than two minutes. This reduces the drudgery of the community people and saves a lot of time.

Women have many responsibilities,” said Sita BK, a midwife from Mana village. “For example, I have to do the household chores, cooking, farming and carrying loads. Here the GGR has helped because we no longer have to carry our rice up from the market.

Shanti BK (45) receives goods from Tipada Bazaar at the upper station of the GGR at Mana village, Bajura.

About 50 per cent of Nepal’s population still lives at least four hours walk away from the nearest dry-season road. Looking at Nepal’s topography the importance of installing ropeways, at places inaccessible to build roads, is obvious.

Replicating the technology beyond borders

In spite of the manifold benefits of the technology, only around 20 gravity goods ropeways have been serving rural people in Nepal. The first gravity goods ropeway was successfully run in Marpha, Mustang to transport apples from orchards to road-heads by Practical Action in association with International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in the year 2001.

Practical Action has also built gravity goods ropeways in Samtse, Bhutan and has been invited to Myanmar and Nagaland, India to survey and help construct the ropeways.

Practical Action working to light Africa

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018 by

A blog authored by Elizabeth Njoki and Robert Magori

Access to modern energy services is a basic prerequisite for socio-economic development. Its effects extend far beyond the energy sector, such as poverty eradication, access to clean water, improved public health, education and women empowerment. The World Bank’s State of Electricity Access Report 2017 shows that countries with the highest levels of poverty tend to have lower access to modern energy services – a problem that is most pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa, where a large share of the population depends on traditional biomass for cooking and heating and lacks access to electricity. It is estimated that 1.6 billion people worldwide do not have access to electricity. In Kenya, electricity access stands at 40% of which the majority of those served reside in cities and urban areas while less than 20% of these households in the rural areas are connected to the national power grid. In response to this challenge, Lighting Africa, a joint World Bank/IFC program, aims at helping people in Sub-Saharan Africa gain access to non-fossil fuel-based, low-cost, high quality, safe, and reliable lighting products. Practical Action was contracted by Lighting Africa II Kenya programme to facilitate deeper penetration of solar lighting products in to the most remote areas through training and mentoring women last mile entrepreneurs with the goal of meeting the lighting needs of rural, urban, and sub-urban consumers who lack electricity access; predominantly low-income households and businesses.

 

Children doing their homework using a solar lamp in a household in Western Kenya.
Photo by Sven Torfinn

Women remain disadvantaged politically, socially and economically due to traditional stereotypes on the roles of women and girls. They are underrepresented in decision making positions and they have less access to basic needs such as education, energy, safe and clean water, health etc. Typically women’s economic activities are; heat intensive with food processing being a common source of income, and because women’s lack of energy access, their capability is hampered negatively affecting those around them and prevents from living desired life. Initial assessment of solar products value chain indicated that women are underrepresented and yet are great influencers especially at bottom of the pyramid. Building on Practical Action’s extensive experience in enhancing women’s participation in energy markets, the assignment embarked to strengthen the role that women play in the supply chain for off-grid lighting products in rural Kenya, helping them in the development of sustainable business models and empowering them to effectively participate in local energy markets, and therefore increasing the availability of quality clean energy products to consumers in rural Kenya. In this assignment, Practical Action recruited and trained 403 women entrepreneurs on entrepreneurship development.

The support to women entrepreneurs was non-intrusive but concerted; it was sustained through practical working tools for day-to-day business management such as toolkits and remote training using podcasts. The use of podcasts to train micro entrepreneurs is an innovative approach to stimulate pro-active learning and allows flexible access to learning material by entrepreneurs. Furthermore, Practical Action allocated full time mentors to the women entrepreneurs to ease access and expeditious resolutions of major business challenges experienced by the women entrepreneurs through executing mentoring plan involving targeted one-on-one mentoring sessions based on LMEs identified needs. The mentors followed up LMEs on time bound action points and provided technical advice and motivation in areas of difficulty. Ultimately mentors facilitated the development of business acumen and self-confidence of the entrepreneurs in management of the business over the engagement period. During the course of the assignment 240 active women entrepreneurs were retained and collectively sold 27,875 solar lighting units worth an estimated value of US$1.4 million. In addition, overall entrepreneurs’ business performance has been positive with an average growth rate of 30% per entrepreneur.

One such entrepreneur is Catherine Mumbi who hails from Sofia area in Kakumeni ward, Machakos County where kerosene lamps are the main source of lighting in most households. When she started the solar business, Catherine used to sell only 2 units per month but currently sells an average of 10 units per month. She gives credit to Practical Action for impacting her with business skills and product knowledge. Ms. Selina; another active entrepreneur thanks Practical Action for helping her manage stage fright. She narrates that before the training and subsequent mentorship she couldn’t communicate properly with customers because she was afraid, but currently she can approach anyone and get to sell a lamp or come out of it with a prospective customer. She is grateful for the mentorship as she terms it as a source of knowledge, encouragement and motivation to the business. Since the training and commencement of mentorship, Selina has acquired more networks which include other entrepreneurs and customers. In conclusion, solar lighting industry continues to grow and reach rural households without access to modern energy services.

The programme has demonstrated that more women entrepreneurs can be integrated in the solar lighting value chain and more efforts should be geared towards such engendered initiatives as a measure of not only addressing energy poverty but also improving women’s economic positioning. Practical Action is highly conscious of the contribution of this work overall objectives of ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for, and by extension the global sustainable development goals.