Andy Heath


Andy is a Media Officer for Practical Action in the UK

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Posts by Andy

  • Juliet – the water entrepreneur

    September 7th, 2016

    “I’m so glad that Practical Action didn’t look down on me like everyone else. They picked me up and dusted me off.”

    Juliet lives in Kajiado, Kenya and Practical Action supported her by helping her to access a loan to start up her own water business. Juliet no longer has to struggle to earn a living by making charcoal which was back-breaking and dangerous work.

    In the mountains and forests where she used to burn charcoal to make her hand-to-mouth living, she encountered wild animals and bandits. She was once bitten by a snake and came close to standing on a poisonous viper. Her most frightening experience occurred when she was pregnant: she went up the mountain and was confronted by a man in a mask. She fled and he followed; “he wanted to rob and rape me”. Hungry and expecting a child, Juliet had to stop running. Fortunately, when she stopped she noticed three other men sat down – “they were my salvation”. The men stood up and ran after the attacker.


    Just before Juliet had her baby, she could not make it up the mountain to get her charcoal and it got stolen. After she had her baby, her husband brought the charcoal down from the mountain for her and Juliet then sold it. But it was not making Juliet enough money and so she had to supplement her income. She washed clothes for her neighbours but she still struggled to afford enough food to feed her family. “I reached my end. I’d even decided to buy poison and kill myself because I’d reached my end! No-one wanted to associate with us. I was dirty; I was so black [from the charcoal].” Juliet could not afford water to clean herself and local people said that she would “die soon” as she was so thin. The day after she gave birth to her youngest son, Juliet went out to sell charcoal. No one helped her and no one knew she had had a baby because she was so malnourished.

    Juliet recounts having a premonition that she should come back to her local town and start selling water. A friends’ mother told Juliet about a local mentor who was creating awareness of a loans scheme. Juliet carried on living in the bushes for a month burning charcoal as well as doing other jobs alongside to earn enough money for a loan. She stayed in the forests for days on end, to ensure that people didn’t steal her charcoal. She made 200 Kenyan Shillings (KSH) per day – equivalent to around £1.50. When Juliet went to clean for people, she took her baby with her and would have to leave him outside the house, making somewhere comfortable to lay him. Through her constant work, Juliet managed to save 2000 KSH to access the loan. Juliet built a savers group of 10 people – which was hard to build due to her status – and each member had to contribute: their group loan was 50,000 KSH.

    Juliet and her youngest son show off the water containers that have made their life comfortable

    Juliet and her youngest son show off the water containers that have made their life comfortable

    Juliet said: “There was no connection from the water company, so I couldn’t fill my tank before I bought it. My daughter and I saved money and we didn’t tell my husband. We got the connection and I surprised him! We managed to buy the water storage tank.”

    Once the water tank arrived, Juliet began to sell a lot of water which ensured that her local community had access to safe and clean water. The money she made from the water enabled Juliet to go back to the bank and ask for another loan to buy another tank. However, when they received the loan, Juliet’s husband took 12,000 KSH (almost £1,000) of it, as he wanted to go back to his home town to sell some land. He told Juliet he would buy a motorbike and set up a grocery shop for her to run, but he left her with his debt. “He was away for 2 months and he called me. He asked me for 2,000 more. I helped him because he was supposed to be setting up a better life for us.” Juliet did not hear from her husband for a further month and found out through his son that he had sold the land. When he did call, he was in a disco and told Juliet she was too old for him now. “He is 67 and has no teeth!” Juliet exclaimed.

    Juliet’s husband had received money from the land he sold and instructed the new land owner to call Juliet and warn her not to look for him. He went to Tanzania for a 2 week holiday and “surrounded himself with beautiful women because he had money. I continued running the business and saved enough money to buy the second tank”. Julia repaid the loan and now has her own savings.

    Juliet with her water storage tanks

    Juliet with her water storage tanks

    Her estranged husband found another woman and told her that he had a successful water business, that it belonged to him and that his ex-wife had stolen it. They arrived at Juliet’s home to take the business, but Juliet “chased them away with a machete.” The husband went to the police and reported the business stolen. Juliet went to the police station armed with her documents and explained what had happened. Her husband was told to go and never come back.

    Despite her struggle for money and being accused of stealing the business, Juliet is determined to succeed. She has even set up another new business, rearing poultry. “It was good that my husband left. I have gone to hell and back. He tried everything to make my life hell; he even tried to sell my water tanks… My husband left me with debt. He left me with a baby. But I am free, I am happy and I will not stop! I want my own land; I am working hard and praying hard.”

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  • My five biggest worries

    November 18th, 2014

    This morning I arrived in La Paz, Bolivia after a 30 hour journey from the UK. For the next four weeks I will be blogging from Latin America as I meet up with journalists, film crews, vicuñas, alpacas and the hurly-burly of the COP 20 talks in Lima at the start of next month. The trip is by far the longest I have done since starting work at Practical Action, and, for me, it will present me with some major challenges.

    Project Amaguaya BoliviaBelow are the five most things I am most worried about in Peru and Bolivia.

    1) Altitude – At the moment, my main concern is not getting, or at least coping with, altitude sickness in La Paz – the highest capital city in the world at 3,500 metres above sea level. I’ve felt light headed and breathless throughout the day here, but tomorrow I go up a further 1,500 metres to Apolobamba to see Vicuña farmers herding and shearing their animals against a stunning backdrop. Either that, or I turn green, vomit and spend a humiliating two days next to an oxygen tank.

    2) Language – I aware of how annoying us Brits can be with our refusal to learn other languages using the age old tactic of bellowing loudly until we make ourselves understood, so I have been diligently trying to brush up on my Spanish in the weeks leading up to this trip so that I can interview the people we work with and interact with my colleagues properly. Trouble is, when confronted by some machine-gun fast Español, any confidence rapidly drains and the blank look on my face gives the game away…

    3) Getting heard at the COP talks – I´ve managed to get entry into the COP20 talks later this month, so that I can help our policy team get their messages across to the politicians who hold the purse strings and the power. This represents a fantastic opportunity for me to do all those things I´ve been asking my colleagues to do all this time. On the other hand, it is also a huge intimidating event, the likes of which I´ve never experienced before. Achieving what we want will undoubtedly be a challenge.

    4) Speaking at the University in Bolivia – in a moment of unparalleled weakness I agreed to speak to up to 200 Bolivian students about my work & the British media in a sort of a Q&A session, alongside Guardian journalist Sam Jones. The scale of the task, not to mention the weakness of my Spanish, is now dawning on me. I am truly terrified.

    5) Filming in Peru BBC World are putting together a new series of their Horizons programme in 2015, which looks at the use of technology to overcome problems we face in the world today. Naturally, Practical Action´s work is a great fit for them, so they approached us to see if we had any ideas. Recklessly, I told them I would be in Peru looking at how we use mobile phone technology to help predict landslides and guard against them in future. The result? This section of the programme will now consist of a fly-on-the-wall style documentary looking at my visit and interviews with the people involved in the project. Cue more terror.

    So that´s that…keep up to date with whether they come to pass here!

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  • English football: setting the standard for protected interests and sustained inequality

    October 16th, 2014

    A warning: below is a rant. It follows years of getting irrationally cross about football. Please bear with me, there is a serious point about how destructive unchecked inequality is somewhere below…

    football inequality 3

    When I was a lad (admittedly, a fair few years ago), there were around thirty clubs in the UK who could realistically win the League Championship. Even more could dream that streaky luck, poor pitches and a brutal approach to dealing with more skilful opposition would result in them lifting the FA Cup.

    Even my team, the eternally-hopeless Coventry City managed to win the Cup in 1987, beating the mighty Manchester United, Tottenham and Leeds on the way. Having done so, we picked up a cheque for the gate receipts and prize money, which paid for a couple of new signings for the next season at a total cost of around £1.5m, a colossal amount for the club then (and now, come to think of it), which propelled them into the top ten clubs in the country for a short while.

    Fast forward 25 years. Now, there are just six clubs who could potentially win the league. In fact, realistically this year, there are two. The other four are fighting desperately to get into the Champions League in order to earn the 40 million Euros (or so) available to quarter finalists.

    Backed by billionaire owners, they pour millions of pounds into the pockets of agents, players and top European and South American clubs to secure huge squads of international players. This top six are all global brands, with millions of ‘supporters’ dotted around the globe.

    Below them, the other 14 clubs in the top division are all terrified of getting relegated out of the Premier League and losing the £60m-plus they are guaranteed each year. Their fear of dropping out is now manifested to such an extent that few bother to try and win Cup competitions and instead focus on staying in the Premier League. With a couple of exceptions, the vast majority cream off the best players from lower league clubs in England, Scotland and Europe. Yet, even they are well-protected. If a club is relegated, there are £60m of ‘parachute payments’ for the clubs that go down over the following four years, immediately placing them on a far superior financial footing to other teams and giving them a colossal advantage over their rivals. This effectively ensures the same rich 25 or so clubs retain their place at football’s biggest richest financial trough season after season.

    This financial disparity means that down in the lower reaches of the football league all other 65 or so clubs in England are left to stagnate. Promising youngsters are snaffled by Premier Clubs who offer them massive wage increases and the promise of financial security for the rest of their lives. Leagues One and Two (the third and fourth tier of English football) are made up of teams of teenagers, has-beens, disaffected youth players borrowed from top tier teams and those who never have been good enough to play at the highest level. Despite attracting tens of thousands of fans every week, they have no prospect of ever getting to the top level anymore and next to no chance of beating even the reserves of one of the ‘big six’ in a head-to-head contest.

    Why does this matter? Because kids no longer want to follow their local team, opting instead to follow a soulless ‘big team’ they have no prospect of actually watching live, which leaves their local team to flounder in front of ever-decreasing crowds.

    Traditionally, these smaller clubs recruit young English players and give them valuable playing time and experience before moving them on for a profit when they are ready to play at a higher level but now the youth teams and academies of the bigger clubs continue to grow and hoover up any available talent in an area. Yet because of the pressure on managers to stay in the top league, few ever get the opportunity to play. Furthermore, any young player at a small club with an ounce of promise is lured away before playing more than 50 games, with the majority failing to make the grade required when they step up a level.

    What does this mean?

    1) The England team is falling behind its rivals as promising young players simply don’t get the opportunity to play first team football.

    2) An absence of real competition in the Premier League.

    3) Dozens of lower league clubs who have no prospect of ever breaking into the top division, or of tasting success, no matter how good the manager is.

    4) Supporters like me unwilling to pay a minimum of £20 every week to see my club in a depressing circle of decline.

    Now here is the bit that relates to inequality on a world stage…

    It strikes me that English football’s narrow-minded obsession with protecting those who are rich and powerful is similar to that of the developed nations in the world today.

    The Premier League refuses to share more than a measly percentage of its wealth despite the evident damage it is doing to the game. At the same time, the richest nations refuse to support developing nations, be it through fairer trade agreements, access to markets, technology, aid, information, natural resources, or investment in infrastructure.

    Both fail to do so despite the obvious benefits – a more successful national team on one hand; less poverty, better educated populations, reduced population growth and better prospects for democracy on the other.

    Everyone can see this is the case, millions of people feel passionately about both issues yet no-one does anything about it because the powerful minority refuse to do what would be good for all.

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  • The media mechanics behind a record-breaking fundraising campaign

    August 18th, 2014

    It is now seven months since we finished fundraising for our successful Department for International Development (DFID) backed ‘Safer Cities’ campaign for our urban work Southern Asia.


    Some time ago I promised to give an overview of what we did, what went well and tips for a happy future appeal and (because I’m someone who always keeps his promises), below is an outline of last December’s somewhat breathless efforts.

    The fundraising campaign was match funded by DFID and had a number of communications requirements which we were expected to fulfil:

    • We should identify a media partner who could enable us to reach a guaranteed minimum of 400,000 UK residents with the appeal messages, and (most importantly for DFID) the message that DFID were matching every pound we raised.
    • We ensure the voices of the people who would benefit from the projects would be heard directly by our supporters
    • There would be feedback to those who did donate about how much they raised and where the money would be spent.
    • All the campaign material should contain the DFID logo and messaging.In addition, we also made some pledges to DFID ourselves – promising the appeal would be complemented by a media stunt, to increase the reach of the appeal and also to promote in the local media in Warwickshire.

    It was a stressful time, not just because we had a (much appreciated) Christmas appeal with the Guardian awarded to us at short notice, which ran alongside the DFID appeal, but because neither we, nor Premier Christian Radio, our media partner, had ever done anything like this before.

    As it turned out, we needn’t have worried. DFID’s communications department were helpful and gave advice on what the Secretary of State would and wouldn’t say, and, where possible, what they were looking for.

    IMG_9998The build-up to the appeal also coincided with a trip with a Guardian journalist to Nepal which allowed me and my colleague Hayley Lloyd to visit Nepal, promote a BBC Radio 4 appeal we were doing for the same project and collect lots of material and stories for the Safer Cities appeal. This gave us the opportunity to engage the local BBC radio stations and local press by suggesting they talk to me & Hayley about our experiences at the project.

    Perhaps most importantly, it also allowed us to catch up with our colleagues in Kathmandu and explain to them fully what the appeal was about and the extent to which there would be demands placed upon them for pictures, interviews and case studies. From that point of view alone, the trip was worth every penny, because the communications and project team in Kathmandu rose to the challenge brilliantly, producing a succession of fantastic pictures and case studies, often at horribly short notice for use on social media around Christmas and New Year. The fact the appeal was a success was largely down to the hard work and flexibility of my colleagues Prabin and Swarnima.


    Finally, we worked with a creative agency to develop some images of slums laid out on top of well-known British landmarks – Brighton Pier, Buckingham Palace, Edinburgh Castle and the Bullring in Birmingham to try and localise the idea of how slums would affect the UK.


    The results were beyond our expectations, with coverage in British and Scottish national newspapers, leading regional papers and a range of websites, which brought our opportunities to view to well over the 40 million mark.

    Of course, most importantly, the fundraising was an overwhelming success. The appeal brought in more than £900,000, of which more than £800,000 was matched by DFID, meaning we smashed all previous Practical Action fundraising appeal records and have now been able to start work in slums in Bangladesh and Nepal to help tens of thousands of people living in slums get themselves out of poverty, for good.

    3 tips for a positive DFID match funding appeal experience:

    1. Get your local teams on board in a big way and set their expectations. Offer them plenty of support and make sure everyone is aware of just how much of a transformational impact the appeal can have on the organisation.
    2. Talk to DFID regularly. Like most of us in the communications game, they need to report successes to their bosses so keep them up-to-date with all your successes. Our relationship with DFID was so positive that after the appeal ended, Minister Lynne Featherstone visited our headquarters to celebrate the success.
    3. Make sure both you and the communications partner are on the same page (some sort of written agreement may be a good idea in which both parties state what they are committed to). They need to be aware of the minimum expectations that DFID has in terms of both reach and their messaging and that not living up to them could have a seriously negative impact on the organisation. Equally, it is important to identify interesting stories and editorial opportunities to ensure that the media partner fully benefits from the relationship as well.
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  • Water in Turkana

    June 30th, 2014

    Around this time last year I had the privilege of spending time in the remote villages of Lorengippi and Lobei in Turkana, northern Kenya.

    women in Lobei collecting waterIt was a time for celebration. Practical Action had recently installed a solar powered water pump in Lobei capable of pumping out thousands of litres. The community was clearly flourishing thanks to new school toilets (which had dramatically increased attendance amongst girls), a newly restored market garden where crops were being grown and easy access to clean water for all families.

    Meanwhile the village of Lorengippi rang out with song as I witnessed the first gallon or so of water being pumped out of the newly installed solar-powered pump. This community still faced all the problems Lobei had recently overcome, but the overwhelming feeling was one of optimism that a reliable supply of water would bring greater health, wealth and happiness.

    Fast forward a year, and the situation isn’t so positive. Since my visit barely a drop of rain has fallen, meaning pastures have failed and the pastoralists who live and work in the region face disaster. In response, (thanks to an agreement Practical Action staff helped broker), most of the men have taken the cattle over the border to Uganda where the pastures will keep their cattle – the only source of income & wealth in the region – alive.

    However, although the communities we work in have been left with clean water, sources of food have been harder to come by. The departure of the men-folk has left thousands of women and children with nothing. Our work means that in the communities in which we have installed pumps, people will no longer die from dehydration, but goats and chickens have perished and and left those who are left almost entirely dependent on food aid. Fortunately, a well-co-ordinated response from the regional government has meant that disaster has been avoided.

    In years gone by, severe droughts like this year’s were once in a lifetime events. Now they are happening once every decade. The situation in Turkana underlines how we need to confront the causes of climate change and proves that no one solution can ever solve a global phenomena.

    Using solar power this project will provide 45,000 people with access to safe, clean water.


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  • How to get a Christmas appeal with a national newspaper (and is it worth the hassle!?)

    April 10th, 2014

    The run up to last Christmas was the most exciting and exhausting time for me as a media officer at Practical Action.

    We had been chosen by The Guardian to be one of four charities to benefit from its Christmas appeal, Future Africa. At the same time, our Safer Cities Christmas appeal was in full swing. This was being match funded by the Department for International Development and had a substantial communications commitment from us, in which we promised to reach 400,000 members of the UK public with our message.

    Safer Cities campaign to tackle urban poverty in Nepal and Bangladesh

    Since then, I’ve had calls from other charities eager to know how we managed to get chosen by the Guardian, what we had to do and whether it made a big difference to us, so here is the excitingly titled: “Guardian and Observer Charity Christmas Appeal: The Inside Story, in bite-sized chunks” (it sounds better if you read it with a US TV announcer’s voice)

    • We were in the right place at the right time. The Future Africa theme was dreamt up by the bigwigs at the Guardian, and it fell perfectly into our work, helping the poorest people in Africa via clever technological solutions to the problems they face every day.
    • Make your own luck – because I like to think we did that. Although the Guardian chose their charities without a formal application process, I phoned them in autumn and discovered they were planning on doing a technology-based agriculture appeal. I then wrote an email detailing just how well we fitted into that category and listed our relevant work. I can’t say for certain that even got to the right people or led to anything, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
    • We had to work effectively across our teams. When we got a call from the Guardian, they asked us to put together a list of our technologies we use in Africa within 24 hours. It was a daunting task, particularly as I was going on leave the following day, but thanks to regular updates from our international teams and with the help of fundraising manager, Matt Wenham and our programme teams, we were the very epitome of dynamism and managed to get a comprehensive list submitted quicker than you can say ‘everybody panic and start shouting’.
    • For a couple of weeks, our plans were thrown into disarray and it was absolute madness. The Guardian decided they wanted to focus on our Zimbabwean work and gather the stories within a fortnight. It was a very tight deadline and imperative that we had a discussion about what was feasible from the point of view of the team out there. Due to the political situation out there, The Guardan used the very fine services of Zimbabwean freelance journalist Ray Ndlovu and we identified two projects we felt would showcase how technology can help development – knowledge transfer via podcasting and the use of hydroelectricity to power change in the Himalayan region of Zimbabwe.
    • It felt like we were a hair’s breadth away from disaster at times. Martha Munyoro, our communications officer in Zimbabwe had already booked leave at the time of the trip and the team there requested that I stepped in to help. Again, thanks to the hard work of Killron Dembe we arranged the trip and managed to help Ray file to fantastic stories detailing the impact of our work in Zimbabwe.

      Guardian freelance journalist Ray Ndlovu (back in red) listens to a podcasting session given by an agricultural worker in the Gwanda province of Zimbabwe.

      Guardian freelance journalist Ray Ndlovu (back in red) listens to a podcasting session given by an agricultural worker in the Gwanda province of Zimbabwe.

    Was it worthwhile?

    • On a purely financial basis, the cash was very welcome, but not game-changing. The appeal raised around £340,000. Half of that went to the Guardian’s project in Katine, which they run with Farm Africa and we shared the remaining cash with the two other charities featured, Worldreader, Solar Aid.
    • But it was about much more than just up-front donations. We also gained details (with permission) of some the people who donated to the appeal, which gave our fundraising team the opportunity to contact potential supporters and ask them if they would be interested in making regular gifts.
    • We also gained fantastic exposure from the Guardian and Observer. The appeal was featured daily in the newspaper and on the home page of the Guardian’s website. The Guardian editor, and one of the most respected men in journalism, Alan Rusbridger, mentioned our call for Technology Justice in an editorial piece and dozens of Guardian journalists took part in a telethon event where they voluntarily gave up their time to speak to people over the phone in return for donations – a truly admirable effort by them all, and a great way of raising our profile amongst their staff.

    So there you have it, the inside view of one of the most stressful, yet rewarding, few months of my professional career. I’ll give a similar insight into the DFID match-funding process when my hair starts growing back.

    Killron with me after a whistlestop tour of Practical Action projects in Zimbabwe

    Killron with me after a whistlestop tour of Practical Action projects in Zimbabwe

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  • Five ways to work well in Zimbabwe

    January 23rd, 2014
    As a Brit in Zimbabwe, what headline would you least like to see during your visit?

    As a Brit in Zimbabwe, what headline would you least like to see during your visit?

    In December last year I spent nearly two weeks in Zimbabwe accompanying a journalist who was covering some Practical Action projects for the Guardian’s Christmas appeal. It was my first time in a country which could be considered, if not hostile to British journalists, then not entirely welcoming.

    As it happened, despite a few niggles (see below), I found the whole trip awe-inspiring and hugely enjoyable and so have come up with five tips to stay happy in Zimbabwe (as a media officer!).

    1) Don’t allow the breathtaking scenery to let you forget where you are.

    Zimbabwe is a stunningly beautiful country, with a climate to match. Consequently, much of my time travelling between projects was spent ‘ooing and aaring’ at stunning African vistas, which occasionally combined with a beautiful sunset or sunrise which would fill the sky with red and pink light.

    Yet another breathtaking Zimbabwean sunset

    Yet another breathtaking Zimbabwean sunset

    Unfortunately taking photos in public places is not encouraged. And that lack of encouragement turns into downright hostility if you are (a) British and (b) anywhere near a police officer.  So when the vehicle you are in slows down enough for you to take a snap of the stunning landscape, don’t reach for your camera without checking the coast is clear first – the chances are that you are coming to a toll or a police check point and neither are ideal locations for a pretty picture.

    2) Know about the latest Premiership stories and fixtures

    For reasons well-documented elsewhere, most Zimbabweans make a habit of not talking about politics, their day-to-day hardships or the latest power cuts in public. Instead, they are desperate to escape their day-to-day troubles and talk about different things when they go for a pint with their mates.

    And because every bar is adorned with at least one TV screen connected to a South African sports channel pumping out an endless stream of English and Spanish football, thousands of Zimbabweans every week can be found cheering, booing and even bellowing at their favourite (or least favourite) football stars. Unnervingly, it turns out that even a football anorak like myself was lacking when it came to the in depth knowledge possessed by the majority, so brush up before you go for a pint.

    3) Prepare to be surprised by how nice the cities are.

    Zimbabwe in the minds of most people conjures up images of an impoverished repressive police state, a pervading sense of fear amongst the population and poverty-fuelled crime. But there can be no doubt that the capital city, and the other main settlements in Zim, are very different place to what you might expect from one of the poorest countries in the world. They have wide boulevards, well-kept shopping centres, old colonial-style hotels, cafes and vibrant bars and feel very safe, in direct contrast to a number of other African cities I could name.

    Bulawayo: really quite pleasant

    Bulawayo: really quite pleasant

    Admittedly, much of this can be attributed to the controversial slum clearances that saw the Government knock down thousands of homes built around cities and life in the rural areas, where families are visibly struggling to feed their children, is vastly different. But if you only spent time in Harare 0r Bulawayo, you could easily convince yourself Zimbabwe’s social, political and economic problems had been misreported.

    4) Make sure your vehicle is in impeccable condition (and expect a police officer round every corner)

    I never ceased to be amazed at the number of police-manned road blocks I encountered in Zimbabwe. The most prolific stretch of road was the 100kms between Bulawayo and the Botswana border, along which we were stopped a staggering eight times and fined once (for not having a wrap-around reflective strip on the back of the truck). It meant a journey  which should have taken just over an hour took us nearly two and left all four of us in the truck quietly seething.

    And the very next day I was left cursing my stupidity when I was caught overtaking a truck on a stretch where such a manoeuvre wasn’t allowed. When I was told I was ‘under arrest for failing to obey the laws of the highway’, I won’t lie – my stomach lurched. Fortunately, it turned out that was code for ‘pay a fine of $20 & get on your way’, which I did. After pulling away very slowly.

    5) Realise that people might have good reasons for not wanting to talk too openly

    While I was in Zimbabwe I met a range of people and spoke to them about how our projects were improving their lives and the lives of the communities in them. Out of work time, I managed to get chatting to lots of people in bars and restaurants.  However, rarely did I feel that I got to know what their lives were really like.

    At the time it was a source of frustration, but the reasons for their reticence are numerous and understandable.

    Firstly, whenever I visited a project I was accompanied by a Government minder who, although would always be polite, clearly impacted on what people would say about the conditions they were facing every day.

    Government official (rear left) listens to agricultural extension worker in Zimbabwe.

    Government official (rear left) listens to agricultural extension worker in Zimbabwe.

    Secondly, I was British and was gathering stories for a British national newspaper. Every day, newspapers in Zimbabwe carry anti-British stories and rhetoric, and while many Zimbabweans may not believe everything they read in their press, there can be no doubt about the overall message they convey; Britain is bad. It was therefore understandable that many Zimbabweans didn’t want to appear as though they were complaining about their lot to a man who was about to send it to a British newspaper. I heard plenty of stories which suggested this wouldn’t be a good strategy for the average Zimbabwean.

    And finally, if a man from a richer country than mine (lets say, Luxembourg, Monaco or Norway) came and asked me if I could describe what life was like before they had started helping my community and what life is like now, I might be a little standoffish Certainly, I wouldn’t start spouting off about everything in my life.

    So there it is, Zimbabwe is fascinating. Frustrating sometimes, but always interesting. The people I was lucky enough to spend substantial time with there were inspiring – showing me that despite the hardship the country faces, the opportunities there are endless, especially if you own the TV rights to the Premiership.

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  • Things that make you go ‘grrrr’

    December 5th, 2013

    I have now been in Zimbabwe for a week, most of which has been a whirlwind of hectic activity, helping a local journalist cover our work for the Guardian Christmas appeal.

    The trip hasn’t been easy. Zimbabwe has a pretty good transport infrastructure, but we have wasted hours at the dozens of police checkpoints which are dotted at regular intervals throughout the country.

    My presence also attracted interest from Government representatives wherever I went, and we wasted more hours waiting for them to accompany us on field visits. Once they joined us even more time was spent in preliminary meetings with local officials, massively limiting the time we had to talk to the people we are actually there to help.



    And when we finally did get talking, there was a palpable sense of unease, a raised eyebrow or a failure to answer the question when I asked how things are now compared to before Practical Action got involved with the community.

    Throughout the week, I’ve not been able to quite shake off the feeling that getting to the real truth, and the real people we need to help, is a challenge I’ve not quite conquered.

    Nevertheless, I have been proud to work for Practical Action. Like many others before me, I was taken with our micro-hydro project in Chipendeke. Just imagining the dozen or so volunteers carrying hundreds of bags of cement and assorted heavy and awkward gear up the mountainside makes me wince, but it also puts into perspective just how important access to electricity is for people who haven’t got it. The fact we have a dozen or so similar projects running throughout southern Africa should be a massive source of pride to everyone associated with Practical Action.

    Keya Tshuma’s drought-hit farm right on the Botswana border

    Keya Tshuma’s drought-hit farm right on the Botswana border

    Our work helping hundreds of people make more from their smallholdings via our podcasts also impressed as did our ridiculously simple but clever way of water conservation in Keya Tshuma’s drought-hit farm right on the Botswana border. Following our advice he and his wife have dug 6,000 15cm by 15cm holes and filled them with manure before planting maize seeds. In this way, what little rain falls is kept for longer and his maize has a chance of growing. “I didn’t know about this before,” he said. “Without Practical Action coming to me I would have been in great trouble this year.”

    It was the sort of comment that makes all the hassle worthwhile.

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  • The pleasure of appealing for funding

    August 13th, 2013

    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.


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  • Solar powered water pump installed in Kenya

    Lorengippi, Kenya, Lorengippi
    May 17th, 2013

    Over the weekend Practical Action installed a solar powered water pump in Northern Kenya (Click here for more pictures). The benefits for the community will be huge, especially for Meshack.

    Meshack can now access clean water

    Meshack can now access clean water

    Meshack is 12 and he wants to be a teacher. However, his chances of doing so had been severely disrupted because he couldn’t get hold of clean water. Listen to a heartfelt account of a boy who has suffered greatly because of a lack of clean water:

    Find out how solar water pumps can help people like Meshack.

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