Catherine Duffield-Smith


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Posts by Catherine

  • Innocent until proven guilty

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    February 3rd, 2014

    To a large extent, many of us rumble through life with little thought to the what if’s of any given situation, but every now and then a curve ball comes our way which makes us stop and think. This is certainly true in my case, when I recently had the opportunity to visit Practical Action’s work in Peru and Bolivia. I saw for myself the difference financial support can and does make to the communities living in the high Andes. Practical Action can only fulfill the commitments we have made to the communities who continue to live in extreme poverty, with the generosity of like-minded individuals, organisations, trusts and foundations.Digital Image

    If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I could never have imagined the enormity of the Peruvian landscape and the difficulties communities face on a daily basis. If it is not the distance, or the altitude or the state of the roads, it is the extreme heat of the day or the cold of the night. Nothing is easy for these communities – they are the innocent bystanders in a far from innocent world and I know I was guilty of being blinkered to their plight.

    I suspect there are a lot of people like me, guilty through no fault of our own, just innocent actions and a touch of ignorance which is why the innocent foundation’s support of our work is so incredibly special; not only to all of us here at Practical Action, but to the communities who they have so generously supported for several years.

    Digital ImageLiving in a one room hut is the reality for communities, but the implementation of basic services – simple amenities that we all take for granted can and does make a difference to them. The difference is plain to see, and I was lucky enough to meet and talk to the community involved in this project during my own visit and who feature in the innocent Chain of Good video being aired on television.

    To have a chain of facilities such as power, water and appropriate sanitation is life changing and will break the chain of poverty for good. It means they can afford the essentials in life such as food, clothing and education. However, one thing that has stayed in my mind was the lady who when asked how the new facilities had made a difference to her, replied, ‘it allows me to take the truck down to the town to buy a few essentials.’  Not a bus with a comfy seat, air conditioning and a bag of sweets, but the back of a truck, and a five hour drive down the rough mountain track on a Saturday, to return on the Sunday with a few basics and a bad back!

    We are all innocent until proven guilty – what we do here in our everyday lives is in complete innocence, but it makes us all guilty of being inflexible to the implications of our actions in the wider world. The Chain of Good video portrays a powerful message and I hope it will stop us in our tracks and make us all think – not for me or for any of us here at Practical Action, but for the communities that will benefit from the real and lasting difference individuals, organisations, trusts and foundations can and do make.

    It is two months on since my return from Peru and Bolivia and not a day goes by I don’t think about the communities – the families that I met or the images I saw – the innocent foundation inspires; on behalf of those communities, thank you.



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  • Spinning with emotion

    November 28th, 2013

    Continuing my journey from Bolivia, we arrived back in Cusco, Peru – A city that appears to be a back packer’s paradise.

    I have been fortunate to see another number of projects across a very broad spectrum, but one that will stay with me for the rest of my life featured multiple technologies that are benefitting families living in small communities in the high Andes.  At first sight, I didn’t feel terribly comfortable with the sight that presented before me and worried I might get emotional. As a first timer to projects and project sites, no amount of imagination could have prepared me for the reality of the absolute lack of access to basic services that these communities are enduring.  These people have very little, but they do have each other and an understanding of the difficulties their families, friends and neighbours face. They are working together to make life better for themselves and Practical Action is working with them to help them achieve a better standard of living.

    Practical Action has provided a number of basic services including toilets, cook stoves, sand bar water filter systems, water harvesting systems, and solar powered energy. These services are transforming the lives for these communities and they couldn’t be more thrilled.

    An interesting innovation is the provision of a solar powered spinning machine, which reduces the time taken in spinning Alpaca wool. One machine per community has been installed. The ladies can earn ten times more income through using the machine as opposed to wool spun from the traditional spinning method. The machine also has the ability to spin two ply as well as single ply, allowing for more choice in their sales.  Rivelina, the lady in the photograph is tasked with training the ladies of the community how to use the machine.

    spinning wool

    The Communities are really appreciative of the support they receive from Practical Action and now have hope for the future. I have seen for myself how charitable donations from generous like-minded people really can make a difference to communities. Thank you to everyone  who has supported this life changing work.




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  • The long and winding road to Apurimac

    November 28th, 2013

    The long and winding road to Apurimac

    “There’s a line in a famous song, ‘The long and winding road…leads me to your door. ‘   On Tuesday, we travelled down to Apurimac to meet a community that don’t actually have a door – because they don’t have a permanent home.  Their homes consist of shelters made from plastic bags.

    The community of Bachaura live high up in the Peruvian Andean Mountains and unfortunately, they are the victims of a landslide that took place in 2011. What remains of their ‘old’ houses beggars belief, huge cracks if they are lucky, half or all the house missing if not.

    This is a community living quite literally on the edge, not only in terms of desperate need but also thousands of metres above sea level. They are at the mercy of the elements and experiencing extreme temperatures. In the heat of the day, the plastic houses are roasting them alive and in the extreme cold, they have no way of heating their homes, or keeping warm.  Problems with mining on the other side of the mountain, is only exacerbating the situation; they are desperate and live in fear for their lives and that of their children.

    Deisi, one of the ladies who seemed keen to speak up told us that they are increasingly afraid of more landslides and explained that they had tried to re-route the water coming down from the mountain away from their community and makeshift homes. The heat is more intense than ever before and the water levels are rising, increasing the risk of more landslides. The river running through the mountains divides the communities but Deisi is afraid for everyone.

    If a landslide wasn’t enough, a drought in 2011, inevitably led to food shortages. The communities improvised by making soups with the leaves from the trees, collecting and cooking algae from the river, eating the fruit of the cactus plants and bugs from the bamboo – using the resources they had available to them. They also set up an exchange scheme with other communities across the river. However, this in itself has highlighted problems as the Elder of the community was keen to tell us.

    “Diseases are staring here, worms and ants that are eating our crops”. He went on to say that in previous days, good practices were passed down from generation to generation. His father and forefathers used to read the sun and the stars, as well as the weather to know if it was going to be a fruitful year. “This is all gone now; this knowledge has been forgotten by the new generation”.

    There is a huge amount of work to do with this community and Practical Action is involved in the first phase of a project – that of collating the old knowledge and cataloguing it for generations to come. Looking at seed recovery and seed knowledge, so that for generations to come they can adapt to the changing climate and not go short of food.

    Deisi is part of that younger generation, who at the age of 25 has three children depending on her.  What she wants most of all is support to rebuild their homes away from danger, so that she can live without fear.  I sincerely hope that one day, she will get that wish and that the long and winding road will indeed lead to her door.



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  • Are we nearly there yet?

    Jesús de Machaca Municipality, Bolivia, Jesús de Machaca Municipality
    November 25th, 2013

    “Are we nearly there yet?” is a thought that has cropped up in my mind on a couple of occasions these last few days as we journey around Bolivia and up into the Andes, to see some of the great work Practical Action is doing for the communities living there.  I could never have imagined the enormity of the landscape and the time it takes to get anywhere, either through distance, traffic or altitude.

    The majestic mountains and the never ending plateaus, interspersed with the odd farm, perhaps a couple of houses, or small village is a sight to behold. Women in traditional Bolivian dress, shepherding their sheep, llamas or cows, could be straight out of a story book. But life for these communities is far from easy. I have been fortunate to see for myself four very different projects that are making a difference to these communities.

    A Centre of Technology and Innovation is underway in the Jesús de Machaca Municipality, for the rearing and breeding of Alpacas for meat, leather, wool and textiles. The project will benefit 163 families and make a significant difference to both their wellbeing and incomes. The Centre will sustain and promote rural activities of the Kamayocs through information materials and communications. On our visit, the ground had been ring fenced with a solar powered electric fence. Corrals’ had been dug with the appropriate drainage and water systems were in the process of being installed. Some 140 animals were already in residence, jumping about in the Andean sunshine. The communities of the municipality could not be happier with the work in progress and gave us the warmest welcome imaginable, which included a presentation from the Mayor of the Municipality.

    Quinoa processing is a project that has reached completion of its first stage – a short project of a mere 9 months that has turned around the processing of Quinoa and other grains. The communities are now able to produce popcorn, bars and cookies from the Quinoa and are selling them at local Fayres around the municipality. Berta, one of the ladies involved in the goods production, told us what a difference the project and the opportunity has made to her life, she is now able to contribute to the family income – something she is immensely proud of. The second stage of this valuable work will look at securing contracts with schools to supply Quinoa bars for healthy breakfasts.

    A Milk Transformation Centre has literally transformed the lives of a women’s cooperative in Colquencha Municipality. Following support from Practical Action, partner Sowawi and the help of the Municipality of Colquencha, they decided they could do more than just receive milk, and are now successfully producing cheese and yoghurt, building up a profitable dairy business. Sebberine, the lady who over sees the production of the dairy products told me she is happier now as she has an income, she is able to go to La Paz and can afford a little extra for her family. However, the wonderful news Sebberine shared with our party was that she, along with her ladies, known as the Sartawi Sayari Foundation had that week, been certified, meaning they have the passport to be able to sell their products legally.

    Elena is a lady who is happier than ever as her family participated in a project that has transformed her life and that of her family. She told me how her neighbours were jealous of her now! Elena and her family, and other families have benefitted from wells, drinking fountains and shelters. Elena has also benefited from water harvesting irrigation system, allowing her to grow vegetables to support her family and to sell on. Practical Action, worked with the families and the Municipality.

    So, “Are we nearly there yet? For Elena, Sebberine and Berta, yes we are, but for the rest of the Andean communities and those living in poverty elsewhere in the world, no, we still have a way to go.

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  • The journey begins…

    United Kingdom,
    November 15th, 2013

    This weekend I will be travelling to Peru and Bolivia, meeting the team there and visiting a range of projects to see for myself the difference Practical Action can and does make to the communities living in poverty. This visit is a once in a lifetime experience and I’m looking forward to so many things; hearing about specific projects, meeting our staff, meeting the communities and seeing how our work can change people’s lives for the better. The challenge will be how I can make a difference to these communities on my return, through my own area of work in Trust fundraising.

    As a non-travelling member of staff under normal circumstances, every day brings forth a multitude of questions from friends and colleagues on how will I react to…? What will I do if…? How will I cope when…? The truth is, I’ve no idea, other than to embrace every opportunity that comes my way – not unlike our communities, who clasp their own chances in life with steely strength, determination and endurance, the only difference is that their survival depends on it!

    So to all my family, friends and colleagues, who have been so encouraging and so supportive, not to mention so gracious, the countdown has begun and I hope to relay some information back from time to time whenever the opportunity permits. Thank you to everyone who has made this possible.



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  • Plugging the Energy Gap

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    May 15th, 2013

    Friday 10 May 2013 brought with it a period of time without power for the residents of Bourton on Dunsmore village where Practical Action resides. Fortunately, staff had the option of making alternative arrangements and I duly opted to work from home where I was assured of power. I had access to my computer, central heating if needed, lighting if required and far more importantly, I could boil the kettle for that all important cup of tea!

    However, the problems of Bourton village transgressed down the airways after power was restored creating all sorts of electronic complications and I have to confess to ending the day grumpy and frustrated at the difficulties encountered.

    It made me think of our own communities overseas who experience far worse on a daily basis and puts me with my huffy fit and grumpy mood to shame. Living without energy is living without support; it’s not living, these communities merely exist and that is a technology injustice.

    Thankfully Practical Action is supporting these communities, working with them and training them to access electricity via solar, wind and micro-hydro power. This in turn leads to better basic services, allows them to access education and more importantly, work their way out of poverty for good.

    Energy and the right to it should not be a contentious issue and thankfully Practical Action is out there, plugging the gaps. Hopefully, through our work, the needs of many more people will be addressed, and if I was a beneficiary of our work, I can guarantee there would be one less grumpy person in the world!


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  • Statistics and change

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    May 1st, 2013

    After twelve and a half years, two CEO’s, three units, four Managers, six rooms and nine desks, I am once again adding to my statistics and judging from those statistics, it could be perceived that I’m not adverse to change. That perception wouldn’t be very far from the truth as the thought of never changing fills me with absolute fear!

    For the next six months, I have taken up a new role at Practical Action and have returned to being the ‘newbie,’ in the unit and on my best behavior,  not that that’s a problem (well maybe the behavior is) as I’m really looking forward to learning new skills and getting to grips with the opportunities that come along. And that’s the crux of it, I know with certainty that there will be opportunities and openings and what I do with them is up to me to make the most of.  However, as with any change in life, it does make me think and in all honesty, I can’t begin to imagine how families living in poverty and deplorable conditions stand the test of time without anything on the horizon to encourage them to look to the future and make plans. Perhaps those communities are more tenacious than I am or will ever be? Perhaps they have an inner core made of steel whereas mine is made of putty? I don’t know, but making plans is part and parcel of who I am, where I have come from and more importantly, where I am going in life. After all, doesn’t everyone make plans? Doesn’t everyone dream?

    None of us know what the future holds but at least here in the western world we can all boost our chances of doing something worthwhile, something we enjoy, and build a home, make a living and if we are lucky, raise a family. It feels very unjust that there are people in the world who don’t have such an option, but even worse, will never have that option or such a chance.

    So as I add to my statistics and make it twelve and a half years, two CEO’s, four units, five Managers, seven rooms and ten desks, I will do so knowing that although I am very fortunate, in my own little way, I am making a difference to those whose dreams seem a long way off and hopefully, one day they too can make plans for a brighter future.

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  • Who is that man…Schumacher perhaps?

    April 16th, 2013

    “That man!”

    “Ooh that man” and the rhythmic tones of Caro Emerald reverberate around the room. Feet start tapping, hips start swaying and a general feeling of all is well in the world descends on my conscience …or does it? You only have to pick up a newspaper or listen to the news to know that all is not well in the world.

    With increased nuclear activity creating tension worldwide, conflict in war torn countries and despair in the economic climate, the world seems a very unfair place. Add the billions of people still living in deplorable conditions and trying to survive with less than adequate shelter, water, sanitation, food or electricity, and it’s not just an assumption that the world is unjust.

    So gender aside it must be some man (or woman) to so catch the imagination of the musician they felt inspired to write a song depicting such an image of someone who could make a difference to them.

    Music, whatever your taste transcends boundaries and it only takes a couple of bars to evoke thoughts and memories. The line from the song, “ooh that man” could refer to many great men (or women) either living or that have since passed through this life that have truly made a difference to mankind.

    Was Fritz Schumacher “that man?” He had a vision, a dream and a realisation of what was required to change the world and change it for the long term. He had knowledge, integrity and insight, but above all else, he had a belief and faith that through simple technologies, change was possible.

    We could all take a leap of faith and use Practical Action to change the world. Through innovative ideas, dreams could be realised, through knowledge, dreams can be achieved and through a gift, no matter how small, dreams could be fulfilled and we could all make a difference to our fellow man.

    So when you next hear Caro Emerald’s rhythmic tones, when you feel your feet start tapping, your hips start swaying and you start to hum along to “Ooh that man” remember, one man did make a difference and “that man” was Fritz Schumacher. You, through Practical Action, could make a difference too.


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