Archive for January, 2019

The Solar Challenge

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019 by

Practical Action’s new STEM Solar Challenge offers a great opportunity for young people to explore how solar power can transform the lives of people living ‘off-grid’.

Set in the context of Practical Action’s work with communities in Gwanda, Zimbabwe who do not have access to mains electricity, the starting point for young people is a whole class activity to make a national electricity grid.  Pupils act as electricity pylons linking cities, towns and villages to power stations with string. The teacher then removes some of the string connections between towns and villages to simulate how some villages are not connected to the national electricity suppliers. Pupils have the opportunity to consider what life would be like for them without electricity before exploring ‘off-grid’ methods of generating electricity.

Real life science

This real-life context sets an ideal platform for relevant science investigations where pupils explore how electricity can be generated from alternate sources of energy including the use of solar cells. This also helps primary science and secondary physics teachers deliver the ‘electricity’ unit requirements within the UK’s science curriculum.

‘It’s been great teaching about electrical circuits in a real world context. It feels more meaningful for the children.’ K. MacManus, Primary Science Lead

So what’s the challenge?

Pupils learn about the varying needs and wants for electricity amongst a community living in a village in Gwanda. They include a teacher wanting lighting in her school, a nurse wanting a refrigerator to store vaccines at her clinic and family farmers wanting solar water pumps to help irrigate their crops.

Their main challenge for pupils is to make recommendations on the best use of electricity to help meet the needs of the community generated from a limited supply of solar cells. To help pupils do this the education material includes access to simple spreadsheets and energy appliance cards (with information about their energy use per hour/day).

The Solar Challenge can be used by teachers and schools in a number of ways, including as part of STEM lessons, as a curriculum enrichment day and for pupils to gain a CREST Award.

To support the making of electrical circuits,  Practical Action have teamed up with TTS suppliers who have developed a bespoke ‘Solar Challenge Kit’ and/or the option to source solar cells.

Off-Grid! Design Competition

Building on the pupils learning and experiences of the challenge, Practical Action is running a design competition. Running until the competition deadline on 14th June 2019, pupils have the opportunity to develop their ideas for an ingenious solar-based solution to a number of scenarios/problems identified within the challenge.

To download the FREE materials both for the Solar Challenge and/or Off-Grid Design competition go to

https://practicalaction.org/solar-challenge

 

Making Your Work Matter – Sharing Experience from the Rohingya Refugee Camp

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019 by

The plight of the Rohingya people, dubbed as the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis, has struck a chord with people from all over the world. Fleeing the destruction of their homes and escaping communal violence or alleged abuses by the security forces, thousands of Rohingyas made perilous journeys out of Myanmar, risking death by sea or on foot, to seek refuge in Bangladesh. Unfortunately, their migration to Bangladesh for a safe haven brought with it its own share of woes and worries. We may essentially be looking at a crisis within a crisis.

Bangladesh is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, braving natural disasters every now and then. Since the arrival of the refugees, the once forested regions of Ukhiya and Teknaf of Bangladesh now lay bare and barren, undulated with overcrowded makeshift settlements. Stripped of its vegetation and devoid of a functional drainage system, the ground has now become a breeding ground for floods and landslides. This degradation poses severe threats to the refugees, in addition to the inherent natural disaster vulnerabilities.  

Photo Credit: Farhana Shahnaz

To address this imperative issue, Practical Action decided to delve into finding ways the coping mechanism of the most vulnerable communities in the camp may be increased.

Although Bangladesh has championed disaster management fairly well, the local government authorities of Cox’s Bazar are under-capacitated to cope with this increasing number of population, along with the greater threats of disasters. Due to a large number of people living in such close proximity, there is a greater need for faster and more effective assistance in the event of a disaster as well as to reduce vulnerability and risk exposure through preventive approaches.

To increase the capacity of the camp dwellers with regard to disaster risk management and reduction, a batch of Rohingya youth volunteers had been oriented in the basics of DRR and taught first aid procedures hands-on.

Training Day

Photo Credit: Farhana Shahnaz

The training took place on a chilly winter morning, incidentally just the day after my birthday. Everyone was a bit sceptical. Will our weeks of preparation pay off? Will the language barrier be a problem? Will our modules excite them? These were questions we wouldn’t have an answer to till we started and did what we came here at 6:00 in the morning for.

The whole team started to organize a portion of the Camp In-charge office, our venue for the training – affixing the banners, arranging the seats, preparing the welcome packages. Our scepticism took a back seat as we enthusiastically prepared to welcome our youth volunteers. What was a chaos of stacked chairs an hour ago, now looked ready to receive the participants. We were ready for the training.

The clock gradually struck 9:00 and we started receiving our first participants. We were initially a bit concerned about the turnout of the training. All 25 out of 25 participants showing up on time was not something we expected. Having distributed the welcome packs among our participants, the training officially took off.

The training started with an introduction to the whole organizing team who had been working tirelessly for weeks to make the training as impeccable as possible. As each of the modules were discussed, the participants listened with great enthusiasm. It was very evident from their demeanour that they were taking great interest in what was being taught. They were inquisitive and had meaningful questions to ask. Language did not seem like a barrier to their zeal for learning. When they were shown the first aid drills, they tried them hands on till they got them right. Their interest in the whole exercise was truly endearing and inspired us greatly. The long hours we put into this training paid off. Each participant looked content and motivated as they clapped towards the end of the training. The training was a success.  

But the greatest takeaway from this training was the spirit of the refugees. Even in the face of one of the biggest humanitarian crisis, they learnt to not only survive, but to flourish and grow. They did not let their past transgressions take away from their joy of learning. They still treated life with the same inquisitiveness and spirit. Despite their past, they wanted to learn, be better and contribute towards a better community and a better world. We went to conduct the training to teach them about disaster resilience. But we came back having learnt a beautiful lesson ourselves –  never let your condition get the better of you.

As we wrapped up the training, we left with content in our heart. Sometimes the work you do is not only about ticking off a milestone. 

Acknowledgement: I would like to dedicate this blog post to Leonora Adhikari, the Lead of this project and all my wonderful colleagues in the Cox’s Bazar regional office for making this an experience I will cherish.  

Moulding bricks, rebuilding settlements

Friday, January 18th, 2019 by

When we reached Deurali Interlocking Block Udyog, a small enterprise making compressed stabilised earth bricks (CSEB), Simon Tamang was working alongside five workers. He was watering a stack of CSEBs while the workers were winding up the day’s work after moulding around 500 bricks.

Simon Tamang cleans the earth bricks making machine.

There is an increasing demand of these environmentally friendly compressed earth bricks, made from local materials sand and soil mixed with cement. Pointing to the stack under a pomelo tree, Simon said, “All are sold, already booked.

 

 

Fuelling the reconstruction drive
The enterprise, since its start in July 2017, has produced around 70,000 bricks. Twenty five one-storeyed buildings have already been built nearby with the earth bricks produced by Simon’s enterprise. And enterprises like Simon’s, supported by the UK aid funded Supply Chain of Construction Materials in Earthquake Affected Districts project, are helping the reconstruction drive in Nuwakot district.

As you enter Nuwakot, you’ll come across reminders of devastation caused by the Big Earthquake three years ago. When the earthquake struck Nepal on 25 April 2015 and the aftershock hit again on 12 May, 51% of the population of Nuwakot were affected. The temblors killed 1,000 people and injured over 1,000 more. Many people lost their homes or businesses. Over 70,000 buildings were damaged. City suburbs, where many families live, were hardest hit.

Sharing the benefits of CSEBs
Trained by the project, Simon has turned into an incorrigible optimist. He leaves no stone unturned to market the earth bricks at public events. He shares the benefits of building with earth bricks over fired bricks. He even teaches how to make walls from the earth bricks.

A house built with earth bricks.

If CSEBs are also used for big constructions like schools and community halls, people will accept them more wholeheartedly,” he said. “The village representatives are supporting me on this. It costs 20-25% less to make a house with CSEBs than with fired bricks and it takes less time as well.

 

 

Increasing demand of CSEBs
The Government of Nepal has disbursed earthquake reconstruction cash grants to people whose houses were damaged by the earthquake. Simon is confident that 150 families will soon have new homes built using his earth bricks.

In addition, they will need kitchens,” he added. “People working as migrant workers in the Gulf and other countries will also build houses. As they are making roads everywhere, there will be more houses along the roads and for all the construction, they will need CSEBs.”

Women in reconstruction
While we were talking with Simon, his wife Tanu Maya offered us tea and joined the conversation. She is the proprietor of the enterprise and keeps the financial record. She also helps Simon run the business. On an average the couple earns NRs 50,000 (around £ 350) as net profit in a month.

Tanu Maya helps transport the earth bricks.

Women in Nepalese society are often discouraged from undertaking skilled manual work. Tanu Maya restricts herself to less skilled jobs of curing and transporting the bricks. She hasn’t tried making the bricks.

In nearby Shanti Bazaar, five women entrepreneurs have overcome these cultural obstacles to form a successful business. Yankee, Dhanmaya, Aitmaya, Yangjee and Purchung formed their brick-making business after they lost their homes in the 2015 earthquake and shifted to the internally displaced people’s camp in Shanti Bazaar. Now they work together on all aspects of the business, including making the bricks. The enterprise has been so successful, they have been able to hire additional labour.

The women entrepreneurs run the earth brick making business on their own.

We started this enterprise to build our own houses,” said Yankee. “After that we will continue making bricks since the demand is on the rise.” The group intends to build 29 houses for themselves and sell bricks to build further around 300 houses in the surrounding.

While the CSEB enterprises are generating employment, they are also motivating others to start an enterprise of their own. Simon shared his plight of working for a supply company in Qatar for four years where he had to shuttle between 26 different companies in the scorching heat.

Working in foreign company is good only till you are strong,” he quipped. “There will be at least someone by your side here when you’re dying.

The ASE conference just gets better and better for Practical Action

Thursday, January 17th, 2019 by

Another year for us at the ASE Conference and as always it was AMAZING!

Of all the conferences we go to throughout the year this one always inspires us the most.

Trainee teachers with Practical Action's solar challenge at ASE conference This year we were promoting our new STEM challenge, The Solar Challenge, as well as talking about our existing popular challenges. and I am please do say it went down really well :-).  As well as talking about it to teachers on the stand we were able to demonstrate the challenge at a PSTT primary pop up, Teachmeets and at our training session.

For me though, the ‘best bit’ is hearing from teachers and trainers how much they value the resources we produce, and the different ways in which they use them in schools, from embedding in the school’s curriculum, to using as the basis for enrichment days and gaining CREST Awards, and even as part of a cross-phase teacher training day.

The atmosphere in the exhibition tent was fantastic too, and gave us the chance to get to talk and laugh with some of the other educators and explore we can collaborate to support teachers.  This included Millgate House Education, where we thought about how we could spread the word about  their new comic book on climate change, The adventures of Polo the bear and the Royal Academy of Engineering Education team who are planning some materials linked to their Africa prize for engineering innovation…watch this space!

If you didn’t’ manage to get there this year then I would highly recommend for next year and/or you can always go to one of the regional events which are also great.  We will be in Edinburgh and a few others later in the year.

The power of gravity

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019 by

The first time I came across a gravity goods ropeways was a long, long time ago in Dhading . I was on a bus travelling from Pokhara to Kathmandu and saw this giant cage coming down a hill.  This remained a mystery until 2012 when I joined Practical Action and spotted the very same giant cage in one of Practical Action’s brochures.

The gravity goods ropeway works on a very simple mechanism, using no fuel but only gravitational force. Two trolleys roll over twin steel ropes suspended between two stations, helped by pulleys. When a trolley loaded with local goods rolls down from the upper station, another hauls up along the other rope from the lower station. A simple brake system regulates the speed of the moving trolleys. As a rule of thumb, the downward moving load should be three times heavier than the upward moving load. Whoever came up with this technology must be a genius. It is simple, yet so effective!

A challenging landscape

The far west of Nepal has very challenging terrain with narrow trails, steep hills and mountainous ridges. Local people have no option but to walk this trail. When I reached the lower station in Tipada, Bajura, and said I wished to meet people in the upper station, Prem Saud, the GGR operator, pointed at a massive hill in front of me and said, “The only way to get there is to climb that hill.”

As we went higher, the trail became narrower and steeper going through a forest. After walking for almost an hour, we rested in the shade of a tree and I asked Gopal if there were any wild animals in the jungle. He said there were bears and wild cats and my jaw dropped. I didn’t know whether to show my fear or act brave?  For the rest of the walk there were so many thoughts in my head, what if a bear attacks me, what if I get bitten by wild cats, what if I fall off from this slippery trail?

All of a sudden I heard a crunch behind me. I could tell that someone was following. My heart was pounding like a drum beat. I turned around and saw a young couple with a new born baby on their back. What a relief! I let the couple go ahead of me and watched them climb up the hill, with no signs of tiredness. The young man was carrying a huge back pack and the wife was carrying the new born, and they looked like they were taking a stroll through the jungle. Whereas, I was still trying to catch my breath.

Joyful faces in Mana Gau

Finally, after almost three hours we reached Mana Gau. The view from the top was magnificent. I could see the beautiful Saipal mountain range and the small community of around 200 houses surrounded by terraced paddy fields.

People were busy with their daily chores in the fields or tending to cattle. We stopped by a small tea shop where I met a woman who was nursing a year old baby. She introduced herself as Nirmala Dhani. She used to walk for a whole day to get goods from the local market in Jadanga or Tipada).

“It used to be very tiring and risky at the same time. The roads were very steep and narrow. Sometimes I was all by myself crossing the jungle, it was very scary.” But after the installation of the gravity ropeway, her life has changed for the better. In 15 minutes goods can reach her doorstep. She shared her joy, “I’m glad with the installation of this GGR, women don’t have to suffer (like me) walking the long trail, especially during pregnancies.”

I was glad to see the happy faces of this small community. The gravity ropeway definitely made life easier. Gone are the days when one had to carry goods on your back and walk along the treacherous trail like a mule. A whole day commute has now been reduced to a half hour walk.

A simple technology can indeed change life for better but Mana Gau still lacks proper road access and basic health services. There is still much to be done, Mana Gau is work in progress. Just like Martin Luther King, I too have a dream. I have a dream that one day this village will be free from drudgery with its own health clinic and road access. I have a dream that one day this village will make a living from its own agricultural produce. I have a dream that one day this village will be free from poverty so that the men can return from working in the Gulf countries and India. I am sure one day I will be able to witness this and that will be the day when I will be truly smiling.

BICAS project is co-funded by the European Union and Jersey Overseas Aid.

The gravitational release – the hillside story of the western Nepal

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019 by

I always get ‘fascinated’ by gravity goods ropeways. The first time I came across one was in Dhading. I don’t remember exactly when but I am sure it was a long long time back. Once I was travelling on a bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu and on the way I saw this giant cage coming off a hill. I wasn’t sure what it was inside the cage, nor did I know how that giant cage was moving. It was all mystery, until in 2012 when I joined Practical Action. During my first week at Practical Action, I was going through annual reports and brochures and that’s when I spotted the same giant cage in one of Practical Action’s brochures. Instantly I could tell that it’s the same cage I saw in Dhading. I became curious and started reading about the giant cage. Little did I know, the giant cage was called ‘gravity goods ropeway’ (GGR) and it was one of the technologies Practical Action was promoting, especially in the hilly regions where they don’t have proper road access.

Technological enlightenment

The GGR works on a very simple mechanism. It is a green technology which does not require any fossil fuel and operates on gravitational force. It consists of two trolleys, rolling over two separate steel wire ropes (track ropes) suspended between two stations. The trolleys slide on the track ropes with the help of pulleys. When a trolley loaded with local goods rolls down from the upper station along the track rope, another trolley with the consumers’ goods hauls up along the next track rope from the lower station. A simple brake system is fitted to the sheave at the lower station to regulate the speed of the moving trolleys. As a rule of thumb, the downward moving load should be three times heavier than the upward moving load. The same year I joined Practical Action, I got a chance to visit the GGR project sites in Dhading and Gorkha, and I was really impressed with this simple technology. Whoever came up with this technology must be a genius. It is so simple, yet so effective.

Pic: Gravity Goods Ropeway at the upper station of Mana Gau, Bajura

The trail is no stroll through the jungle

The topography of the Far-West Nepal is a very challenging one. The rugged terrain, narrow trail, steep hills and mountainous ridges surely act as defiance against anyone’s will. The locals are forced to commute this trail without any option. So was my situation when I reached the GGR station in Tipada, Bajura. After having a conversation with Prem Saud, the GGR operator, I intended to visit the upper station to get the clear picture of the community at the upper station. I spoke with Gopal Nepali, our field coordinator, he smiled at me, pointed a massive hill in front of me and said, “The only way to get there is to climb that hill.” I did not have any option but to follow his lead. I checked my watch and it read 10:45 am.

We went down the road following a trail which led to the bridge connecting the two hills. As we were crossing the bridge, we could see a group of people fishing by the bank of the Budhiganga River. I know for sure that asking the locals the time it takes to cover the distance is just irrelevant but somehow I felt like asking for the sake of it. Gopal was walking in front of me, he turned around and said, “Umm, maybe it takes around one and half hour?” I did not know how to comprehend that statement. I just shook my head and kept following him. As we went higher, the trail became narrower and steeper. We were literally walking inside a forest. All I could hear was the squishing sound of my shoes against the slippery trail and my own breath. For a second I had to pinch myself just to make sure I was not suffering from the so called Patulous Eustachian Tube (PET). Just before I left Kathmandu, I was reading about PET. It is a dysfunction when the eustachian tube stays open most of the time and you start hearing your own self-generated sound, such as breathing, voice and heartbeat. I stopped for a while, took the water out from my back pack, took a sip and kept walking. After walking for almost an hour, we took a rest under a shade of a tree. I asked Gopal if there were any wild animals in the jungle. He said there were bears, wild cats and other random animals. My jaw just dropped. I did not know how to react. The way he said was very casual, as if they were his pet animals. I was so confused at one point, I did not know whether I was to show my fear or act brave? I am sure they must have come across these animals multiple times and it is nothing strange for them but for someone like me who has never seen a bear, the name itself is very scary.

Pic: Mana Gau village as seen from atop the hill

I knew the rest of the walk would be a long one for sure. After resting for a while, again we continued with our walk. There were so many thoughts in my head, what if the bear attacks me, what if I get bitten by wild cats, what if I fall off from this slippery trail, there were just too many what ifs going on at the same time. All of a sudden I heard a crunchy sound behind me. I could tell that someone was following me and it sounded like a giant footstep. My heart was pounding like a heavy metal drum beat. Again all these random thoughts were pouring in like a huge tsunami. Gopal was just a few steps ahead of me but somehow I did not even dare to call his name. I turned around without thinking twice and there I saw a young couple with a new born baby on their back. I guess it took me only a second to turn around but that one second felt like forever. (Thank god that was not a bear.) I let the couple go ahead of me. I watched them as they were climbing up the hill, there were no signs of tiredness or fragility. I kept looking at them for a while. The young husband was carrying a huge back pack and the wife was carrying the new born, it looked like they were taking a stroll through the jungle. Whereas, for me, I was still trying to catch my breath. Finally, after almost three hours we reached Mana Gau.

Commute that lasted days

The view from the top was magnificent. I could see the beautiful Saipal mountain range smiling at me. The small community comprising of around 204 houses looked almost similar. I could spot a lot of terraced paddy fields from a distance. As we entered the village, people were busy with their daily chores. Most of them were either attending the field or grazing cattle. We stopped by a small tea shop where a bunch of people were sitting in front of the shop, sipping a cup of tea, basking in the winter sun. I approached this friendly looking man and asked his name, with a strong voice he answered, “My name is Dan Bahadur Saud.” I introduced myself and he offered me a chair next to him.

Pic: Dan Bahadur Saud

Our conversation went on for more than an hour, it was an interesting one though. Mr. Dan was in his early 50s. When he was growing up, it used to take days to carry salt on their back from Rajapur and Dipayal but after the motorway access, the commute was cut short to a day. Nevertheless, they still had to go to Tipada and carry goods on their backs. From Badimalika, it used to take 2.5 hours to get to Tipada and on the way back it was around 4-5 hours steep walk, carrying heavy goods on the backs.

 

Basically, it used to take them the whole day to get goods from Tipada but after the installation of GGR things have changed. “Now, we don’t have to go all the way to Tipada. We call the shop owner and place our orders, and he sends the goods on the GGR. Within a couple of minutes, it reaches our upper station and from there it only takes us 15 minutes to reach our home,” smiled Mr. Saud.

The joyful faces

Pic: Nirmala Dhani

Inside the tea shop I spotted a woman who was nursing a year old baby. After putting her baby to sleep, she came out and was doing the dishes. I went up to her and asked her the same question I had asked Mr. Saud. She introduced herself as Nirmala Dhani. Her story was no different to that of Mr. Saud.  She too walked the whole day to get goods from the market (in Jadanga or Tipada). She shared, “It used to be very tiring and risky at the same time. The roads were very steep and narrow. Sometimes I was all by myself crossing the jungle, it used to be very scary.” But after the installation of GGR, just like Mr. Saud’s, Ms. Dhani’s life has also changed for the better, within 15 minutes the goods reach her doorstep. Likewise, Krishan Mati Devi Saud also shared her joy, “I’m glad with the installation of this GGR, women don’t have to suffer (like me) walking the long trail, especially during pregnancies.”

Work in progress

I spent almost three hours in the community talking to people and listening to their stories, and everyone shared their joy of having the GGR. After that three hours walk, I can totally relate to the joy of having a GGR installed at Mana Gau. It was already time for me to bid adieu, the sun was trying to hide behind the hills in the west. My watch read 4:45 pm. The thought of taking the same trail back gave me goose bumps but I did not have any choice. I knew that the next two hours will be one hell of a walk. I just do not know how I managed to cross that jungle, nor do I want to recall that again.

Nevertheless, I was really glad to see those happy faces of this small hilly community. The installation of GGR in the hills of Mana Gau in Bajura district has definitely made life easier for hundreds of Dans, Nirmalas and Krishnas. Gone are the days when one had to carry goods on the back and walk along the treacherous trail like a mule. A whole day commute has now been reduced to half an hour easy walk. A simple technology can indeed change one’s life for better but to be honest Mana Gau is still far from development. I cannot argue to the fact that the GGR has made life easier for the locals but still they face uncertainty due to lack of proper road access and basic health services. I wish to not see any of those young couples with a new born walking through that jungle, nor do I want to see a pregnant woman rushing down the hills for immediate attention. I am glad that the GGR has helped reduce drudgery and promote inclusive and sustainable growth but as long as there is road access that connects the village to the main market centre and basic health services where the people can take benefit, then only I can smile with my heart out.

I have a dream

I know that Mana Gau is work in progress but I cannot wait to see the full-fledged development of this humble community. Just like Martin Luther King, I too have a dream. I have a dream that one day this village will be free from drudgery. I have a dream that one day this village will have its own health clinic. I have a dream that one day this village will have its own road access. I have a dream that one day this village will make a living from its own agricultural produces. I have a dream that one day this village will be free from poverty. I have a dream that one day this village will have all its men back from the Gulf countries and India, and all of them will live in harmony. I am sure one fine day I will be able to witness all these and that will be the day when I will be smiling with my heart out.

The BICAS project is co-funded by the European Union and Jersey Overseas Aid. The project aims to promote inclusive and sustainable growth through better livelihood opportunities, thereby enhancing economic infrastructure by installing GGR. Likewise, it also focuses on pro-poor value chains which include better business linkages, enhance entrepreneurship skills of rural farmers and local traders, business networking and business development service provision to facilitate commercial/ urban value chain actors to make their business services accessible to rural areas. To learn more about the project, please click here.