Ella Jolly


Ella is a writer, researcher and fundraiser working for Practical Action. She is passionate about Africa, women, and telling Practical Action's stories in the best way she can.

Recommended reading: http://twitter.com/#!/ellajolly

Posts by Ella

  • Sudan Visit: thoughts from abroad – 21 hours in Sudan

    Khartoum, Sudan, Khartoum
    June 18th, 2012

    Khartoum is hot. Today it was 41 degrees. It’s beautiful sunshine, but the air is heavy, one long dolorous exhalation.

    June to September are the rainy months. When I discovered this, before my arrival to Sudan, I was expecting sheets of endless rain, like the UK has experienced recently. But the rainy season here means rain perhaps once a fortnight. So there is little abatement from the heat.

    Khartoum is quiet, almost peaceful, and so very different to the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. People here do not rush – the heat is too debilitating for that. As someone who is always running (metaphorically), adjusting to a slower pace is not easy. But then today I’m actually exhausted  – a combination of the heat and only 4 hours sleep I think – and so I welcome a more relaxed way of being.

    Today I have been listening to and learning from my colleagues about how we work here in Sudan. Due to the political situation, things are never straightforward. The liberty to travel freely is absent, and there are countless rules and restrictions which change frequently, with little explanation.

    Operating in such a fragile context is challenging and frustrating. But Practical Action has a clear and distinct advantage because out of a team of around 70 people, only two are British expats. Everyone else – including the country director – is from Sudan. This enables us to carry out project work effectively and sensitively,  and handle politics sensibly, because as locals, we understand the local cultural practices and the delicate, fraught nature of Sudanese politics.

    Only a few weeks ago, seven international NGOs were expelled from Eastern Sudan, and all the foreign expat staff forced to leave. We are one of the few NGOs that is permitted to continue working in this area – and this is surely due not only to our inspirational work which helps women to set up farms to grow enough food to eat and sell – but  also because we are, uniquely, a local international NGO.

    This is just one of the reasons for my pride in Practical Action. Our small-scale, local approach means that we can be there for the most marginalised and vulnerable of people, working in partnership with them to help them change their lives for the better, forever. We find out what the people themselves need and want (even though we’re local, we don’t make any presumptions), and then give them the skills, tools and knowledge they need to make change themselves.

    And I can’t help but feel awe for my wonderful colleages for managing to achieve anything in the heat. “I guess you’re just used to it, this weather?” I remarked to one colleague earlier today. “I assure you we’re not – we struggle just as much as you!” she replied. Which made me feel a little less pathetic for being bothered by it, and filled with just a little more awe.

    Tonight while crossing the bridge over the river, I glimpse the sparkling sun illuminate the Nile and and feel another  sort of awe shimmer through me. I think this may be the budding of the famous magical “specialness” of Sudan, for which I have been hoping.

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  • Sudan Visit: expectations

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    June 12th, 2012

    On Sunday 17 June 2012 I am flying many thousands of miles across land and sea to Africa.

    This will be second visit to see Practical Action’s work on the ground. In August 2011 I spent two weeks in Kenya. On my last day I wrote of how my time there had “coloured my world with rainbows of experiences of Africa.” It’s strange, one year later, how far away those rainbows seem now. My trip was an eventful one – I fell ill and was taken to hospital, and then towards the end of my time there, my grandfather Michael, who had lived with Alzheimer’s for many years, passed away. I look back on those two weeks, and remember not only rainbows of Africa, but the kaleidoscopic whirl of my own emotions during the most intense fortnight of my life.

    I am expecting something similarly intense in Sudan I think. But I know it shall be vastly different. The political situation in Sudan is fragile at best and I am a little fearful of what I shall experience. Only last week I read news reports about a young Sudanese woman, no more than 20 years old, who has been sentenced to death by stoning after she confessed to adultery – a confession which she only made after being beaten violently by her brother. The injustice of this fills me with fury, but also a profound curiosity. What sort of country can this be? I don’t yet know. My intrepid colleagues at Practical Action have told me of the “specialness” of Sudan. There’s something particularly unique about it. And I can’t wait to discover it.

    I shall be blogging, tweeting and facebooking throughout my time there, so please do follow my updates, and keep in touch!

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  • “A baby in Bangladesh cries in just the same way as a baby here in London”

    City of Westminster, London W11 1BE, UK, London
    May 16th, 2012

    Over the last week or so I have spent lots of time out of the office meeting lots of different people to talk with them about Practical Action’s work. I love this part of my job – acting as an ambassador for Practical Action and inspiring people in the hope that they will support us. At the end of one meeting yesterday a dynamic young guy who had been asking lots of questions about our work suddenly said:

    “A baby in Bangladesh cries in just the same way as a baby here in London”

    His words have been sparkling through my thoughts for the last 24 hours. They are so completely true. Sometimes when you read about the difficulties that people living in poverty endure – losing their makeshift homes to raging monsoons, or making impossible choices about whether to feed children or animals, or knowingly drinking dirty water because that’s all there is – these challenges are so far removed from our daily lives here in the UK that empathy can be difficult. And giving money to help people overseas overcome their poverty is harder still.

    But being born into abject poverty – or not – is a matter of chance. Or as Scarlett Johansson, actress and ambassador for Oxfam, said in December 2011 after visiting the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya:

    “We’re all the product of our circumstance, and it’s just really by pure luck, that some of us were born in societies where we’re able to have a hot shower, where we have rights for women, where we aren’t in a state of war, or constantly struggling to find our next meal and feed our children. But it could just as easily been any one of us.”

    So those people who are fearing this year’s floods in Bangladesh, or the families in Sudan who will go to bed hungry tonight, or the refugees who are still living in the Dadaab camp – they’re not different from you and me. Just distant. And because of that distance it’s easy to feel like it doesn’t matter, that it doesn’t have anything to do with us.

    The young dynamic guy who I met yesterday also told me that if all the trees in the Amazon were chopped down, all human beings would eventually suffocate to death, due to the lack of oxygen in the atmosphere. Now I’m not sure of the exact science behind this, but it’s an interesting point. A small change a million miles away can impact directly on your life. And equally, small actions here can bring huge transformation for the people that need it most.

    For example – you donating £8 today (which is what – 3 coffees a month?)  could mean a family in Bangladesh can plant a floating garden which will enable them to grow enough food to eat all year round – even during the floods.

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  • Prayers for rain

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    April 26th, 2012

    I crave sunshine. I think it comes from being born just after Midsummer. I feel at my happiest when sitting in dappled sunlight, underneath the promise of a cloudless blue sky.

    So the last three weeks of constant rain, and the forecast of the wettest and coldest May for many years, fill me with melancholy.

    Yet in spite of the current weather, we are in a time of drought, and counties up and down the UK face hosepipe bans until the end of this year at least.

    It’s strange to be in drought during a time of so much rain. I was in Kenya during the drought in the Horn of Africa last summer. It was the worst that the region had witnessed for 60 years. The red flesh of the earth was barren, the empty river beds like bloodless veins. Cattle carcasses littered the horizon, and the wind carried the pungent smell of death.

    One woman I met told me that she prayed for rain every single day, a prayer for rain to comfort the earth, to bring food and hope and life.

    So today – even though the rain makes me crave tea and hobnobs and an old film and bed – I am remembering that woman, and her prayers for rain. I am reminding myself to be grateful for it.

    There’s another drought this year in the African Sahel, which comprises Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and northern Senegal. A toxic combination of low rainfall, high food prices, entrenched poverty and regional conflict means that 13 million people are at risk of malnutrition and starvation.

    Those 13 million mums, dads, children and grandparents are probably praying for rain too.

    We are so lucky we don’t have to.

    Unlike some larger NGOS, Practical Action is not an aid agency, and we do not deliver emergency relief. Instead, we believe passionately that it is only through long-term development work using appropriate technology that poor and vulnerable communities can become more resilient, and the desperate tragedy of drought and famine can be avoided. You can support our work here.

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  • Justice for the have nots

    City of Westminster, London W11 1BE, UK, London
    April 23rd, 2012

    When I am not working at Practical Action’s headquarters in rural Warwickshire, I spend my time with my friends in Notting Hill in London. Yesterday, after a yoga class and a cup of coffee, I walked home, along Ledbury Road, one of Notting Hill’s most famous thoroughfares. It was a glorious springy sunshiney morning, much longed for after two weeks of seemingly endless rain. Towards one end of the road are huge white Victorian villas, with spring blossoms veiling the balconies and graceful Greek columns framing impressive porches. As the road progresses, the white elegance fades into brown dinginess. The other end of the road is home to council estate flats: small and drab. I smile at two little girls hopscotching in a yard that’s around 10 foot by 10 foot.

    One of London’s greatest qualities is its diversity, yet all I could see during my walk along Ledbury Road was the injustice of the ‘haves and the have nots’.  This phrase – ‘the haves and the have nots’ was one I heard lots during my trip to Practical Action’s work in Kenya in August 2011.

    While travelling to a project in the informal settlements outside Kisumu city in western Kenya, my colleagues pointed out the narrow road which divided the ‘have nots’ from the ‘haves’. All that separated the people without life’s essentials: food, water, sanitation, shelter, energy, health care, education, a livelihood, from the people who had them, was a mere dirt track.

    Walking along Ledbury Road yesterday was a useful reminder that sometimes the physical distance between those who have enough and those who don’t is negligible. But bridging that gap can seem an insurmountable task.

    Technology Justice is one movement that is needed to help with this challenge. At Practical Action, we envisage a world where there is a balance between meeting the practical needs of people with less, while satiating the technological appetites of those with more. A world where all people, regardless of geography or wealth, can choose and use the technologies that will help them to live the life they value, without compromising the ability of others and future generations to do the same. A just, fair and equitable world, with a smaller gap between the people who have lots and those who have less. Technology Justice isn’t really about technology, it’s about people – and doing what is right.

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  • Sometimes we need to remember why we’re here

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    April 10th, 2012

    In the day-to-day minutiae of working life it’s easy to get hung up on the bad stuff:

    The stresses of multiple deadlines. Or the pressures of huge fundraising targets. Exasperations with organisational bureaucracy, which exists everywhere, in spite of the efficiency of your processes and procedures. Or anxieties about re-structure, as experienced by Practical Action’s UK staff for the last eight months.

    But last week a very wise colleague reminded me:

    “Just remember – everything you do here is for the people of Bangladesh. Or Kenya. Or Peru. Sudan. Sri Lanka. Zimbabwe. Nepal. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re trying. The people are the only reason.”

    Her words were like a bell tolling me back from encroaching negativity to a place of clarity. I looked at the photos beside my desk and once more started to marvel at Practical Action’s work around the world:

    The dreamlike magic of a floating garden which allows the poorest families in Bangladesh to grow enough food to eat and sell all year round, even during the floods.

    The simple genius of a solar powered water pump that harnesses the energy of a resource which exists in abundance in Kenya – the sunshine – to produce one which does not – clean water.

    The quirky innovation of an eco-san loo which gives farmers in the mountains of Peru decent sanitation AND a means of preserving dry human waste to make good quality compost for their crops.

    No matter how frustrating my day is, I do feel very blessed that I can go home safe in the knowledge that I spent my time trying my best to make life better for someone in need of a helping hand. That everything I do here is “for the people of Bangladesh. Or Kenya. Or Peru. Sudan. Sri Lanka. Zimbabwe. Nepal.

    I repeated my colleague’s words to a friend this weekend and he warned me that I risked sounding holier-than-thou. I don’t feel pious or saintly, and I certainly hope I don’t sound like that. I just think that sometimes it’s important – perhaps even essential – to remember why we’re here.

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  • Once upon a time…

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    April 3rd, 2012

    ….there was a little girl who loved stories. As a little slip of a thing, she used to stand and swing on the garden gate, waving to passers-by in the hope that she could chat to them and ask them questions to find out their stories (she was a very curious little girl). A few years later, her very patient, very wonderful mother would read her favourite Maurice Sendak stories Outside Over There and Where The Wild Things Are to her every night. When she was at school, she’d set her alarm super early so she could wake up and read Enid Blyton books before going to lessons. English was always her favourite subject, and characters such as Elizabeth Bennett, Scout Finch, Jo March and Scarlett O’Hara were as familiar to her as her oldest friends. And then she studied the art of telling a story – for it is an art – during an English Literature degree at university.

    Now that little girl (who’s not so little anymore) works for Practical Action.

    I am that girl. And I work at Practical Action because I want to change the world. But my passion is storytelling: both discovering a good story, and then telling it in the best possible way. But how do you change the world with a story?

    Well, this week, we at Practical Action launched our next five year strategy. It is bold and ambitious and exciting – but challenging too. The targets, both in terms of fundraising and impact at scale, are high.

    But that’s because there are huge problems to solve. Right now 1.3 billion people across the world don’t have clean, safe water. 1 billion people don’t have enough food to eat. 2.6 billion people don’t have adequate sanitation. And 1.6 billion people don’t have access to modern energy. Too many people live in abject poverty. It is a world of great technology injustice.

    There is no question that this needs to change. So over the next five years we will work towards four universal goals:

    1. Sustainable access to modern energy service for all by 2030
    2. Systems which provide food security and livelihoods for people in rural areas
    3. Improved access to drinking water, sanitation and waste services for people living in towns and cities
    4. Reduced risk of disasters for marginalised communities

    And by the end of this next strategy period, in 2017, we will have transformed the lives of 6 million people.

    That is an exhilarating prospect for me.

    Because 6 million people = 6 million stories to find and tell.

    Each of those 6 million is not just a ‘project beneficiary’ but a living, feeling, thinking human being with their own unique life story. And those 6 million life stories are 6 million more reasons to support Practical Action, today and for the future.

    I can’t wait to get started.


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  • Joy in People

    Wakefield, West Yorkshire, UK, Wakefield
    March 23rd, 2012

    One of the greatest joys of working in fundraising is meeting lots of amazing people who want to do  something to change the world – whether that’s donating loose change, or running 10km and asking for sponsorship, or organising a cake sale, or setting up a charitable trust to give away larger sums of money, or climbing mountains , as some of our student supporters are doing.

    Last night I was very honoured to be a guest speaker at a women only fundraising dinner in Yorkshire which was both celebrating women, and raising money for Practical Action’s work in Sudan. The room was full of over 200 women, all intelligent, funny, charming, wonderful people. Last night alone raised in excess of £7,000! And it’s all going towards a food project in rural Kassala which is helping nearly 100,000 people – some of the poorest on the planet – to make a better living from farming by giving them the tools, knowledge and skills they need to move to a life beyond poverty .  The generosity in that room was tangible. And it’s amazing to experience it. All too often it seems we’re living in the worst of times – great economic austerity, a seemingly endless war against terrorism, a government that cuts benefits from the most vulnerable while simultaneously allowing the rich to prosper. It can easy to be cynical, unmotivated, to think the worst and do absolutely nothing about it.

    But the dinner last night was a perfect reminder that people are, for the most part, pretty wonderful. Tell a room of women that there are 4.2 million people in Sudan starving, and they will dig deep and donate, in the hope of making tomorrow brighter than today.

    Today is also Sport Relief – and I know that millions of people up and down the country will be compelled to do something about the injustice of global poverty – whether that’s texting a donation while watching tonight’s TV show, or running the Sport Relief mile on Sunday.

    Gandhi once said “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Thank God there are so many wonderful people who live their lives true to that mantra. Today my heart is full of joy because of them – thank you.  Happy Friday everyone!

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  • Loos and luck

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    January 6th, 2012

    I really need the loo. I’ve been at my desk for well over three hours and so far have filled my body with two cups of tea, one cup of coffee and a fair amount of water too. But I have the misfortune of working on the very top floor of Practical Action’s head office, which means that a trip to the loo involves climbing all the way downstairs. And I’m so engrossed in my work (and also a little lazy – it is Friday, after all) that I really can’t be bothered….

    I’m currently writing a proposal to fundraise for a hugely exciting new project that Practical Action is embarking on in Zimbabwe. We’re working with rural communities in the southern provinces of Gwanda and Mwenezi, endeavouring to reach out to 200,000 people to improve their access to clean water, ensure they have adequate sanitation and reduce their health risks from poor hygiene. The figure is massive. 200,000 people is over double the size of my home town!

    Most of these people currently live several kilometres away from a safe water supply. The task of collecting water usually falls to women and children who will spend whole days carrying up to 80 litres of water. The journey can be dangerous – these women are vulnerable to mugging and rape; and the water they do collect often isn’t fit for human consumption anyway.

    Furthermore, many families in Gwanda and Mwenezi don’t have toilets in their own homes as they can’t afford to build them. This means that people usually just relieve themselves outside in the bush. This morning I’ve read stories from women and girls who describe the complete loss of dignity and embarrassment they feel while doing this, especially when they’re menstruating.

    Suddenly my reluctance to walk down a flight of stairs to go to the toilet demonstrates not only laziness, but complete ignorance of how fortunate I am. Wherever I am, it only ever takes me a few minutes to fetch a glass of clean water or go to the loo.

    I am lucky. But it shouldn’t be about luck. Having clean water and being able to go the toilet without putting your safety or health at risk are basic human rights to which people everywhere are entitled, whether you live in Warwickshire or Gwanda.

    Now I really must go – I’m desperate.

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  • People help the people

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    December 16th, 2011

    I have always been a Christmassy person. One of my friends calls me her Christmas friend for my propensity to tie bows and ribbons on everything all year long.

    I think it’s the twinkle I love: the glisten of decorations and the golden glow of fairy lights. In the depths of darkest winter, the whole of life somehow seems more sparkly.

    And I love Christmas foods; mountains of rich, boozy mince pies and heart-warming vats of cinnamon-scented mulled wine. I love the first deep breath of a fragrant Christmas tree, and the sweet tanginess of a freshly peeled tangerine fished from my stocking on Christmas morning.

    And I love being with my family. Admittedly it’s not always peaceful or perfect, but there is always a great deal of jolliness.

    But mostly I love the feeling of love that seems to infuse every heart in the world.

    I am approaching Christmas 2011 with more sadness and a little less joy than usual though. It has been a year of loss for me and for my family; the loss of loved ones.

    When I think of the people I have lost – whether through death or by other means – I remember the women who I met in Africa this summer. Most of them had suffered loss too – the loss of their husbands or their children. I spoke to one mother in Mandera county who had walked for 10 days from Somalia to find food and water in neighbouring Kenya. She carried her two year old son on her back for the entire journey. And then he died of malnutrition the day after she reached help.

    I think about that woman and I wonder what she is doing now. It’s raining in Mandera at the moment – the longed-for rains, thankfully, have come. Is she still in Kenya? Or has she returned to her village in Somalia? Has she found her husband? Are the rest of her children healthy, or has she lost more? Has she been able to find enough food to sustain her family? I hope with every molecule of my body that she is safe and well, and that her family is thriving.

    Christmas inspires both gratitude for what we already have and sparks a certain greater openness to generosity, kindness and compassion. Charles Dickens wrote in the most festive of novels, ‘A Christmas Carol’, that Christmas is “a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable pleasant time: the only time…in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.’

    As I prepare to leave my desk for two whole weeks of festive celebration, my heart is with all the people I met when I was in Africa, and for every vulnerable, forgotten, underprivileged woman, man and child around the world. As the embers of 2011 settle and the bright lights of 2012 beckon, I am sending them all of my love and good wishes.

    Next year I hope we can all do more to help build a fairer world, one which is free from poverty and injustice.  Two billion people live in abject poverty, with less than 80 pence a day. That’s two billion too many. People, please help the people.

    Thank you – and happy Christmas.

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