Matt Wenham


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Posts by Matt

  • Urgent message for Student Adventurers

    August 28th, 2014

    Practical Action has just received the shocking news that Student Adventures t/a GBCE Ltd has ceased to trade today. We understand that you, your families and friends will have lots of questions. Whilst details are unclear, we understand that students currently overseas with Student Adventures will continue their trips as scheduled, with no changes to their planned itinerary. We have requested that this is confirmed in writing.

    If you are concerned about someone who is currently overseas on a fundraising trip with Student Adventures, please call a member of our Practical Action team directly on +44  07880 671 315 If you are expecting to fly out on a challenge tonight, or in the next few days, we have been informed that outbound flights have not been cancelled, however there will be no one to meet you at the airport, no accommodation bookings have been made and your Kilimanjaro Trek has not been arranged. Any travel would be undertaken at your own risk, therefore Practical Action strongly advises that you do not travel.

    We have this evening received this information via Student Adventures’ Accountants, Smith Cooper, who advised Practical Action that they are making attempts to contact all participants. We have been informed that if you have any questions you can contact Louis Good at Smith Cooper on his direct line; +44 (0) 115 945 4300. Our staff are currently telephoning all students due to travel tonight, Thursday 28th August and tomorrow, Friday 29th August. Practical Action will endeavour to speak with all of our student fundraisers in the next 24 hours but if you want to talk to us please get in touch on 07880 671 315.

    We are extremely sorry about this, but have been as shocked as all our students about this news.  We also appreciate all of the hard work put into fundraising over the past year, and that many of those who have worked so hard will be desperate to travel, but our primary concern is your safety. We promise to be in touch with an update as soon as we have any further details.

    Please continue to check Practical Action’s social media sites and our website over the next few days for further updates.

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  • Safer cities – how bicycles are the workhorses of water and sanitation projects….

    June 16th, 2014

    This weekend I heard the ‘Tandem Turners’ talk about their round the world ride to raise money and awareness for Practical Action, I reflected on how today, bicycles play a big role in the lives of poor communities.

    Hearing the ‘Tandem Turners’ talk about their round the world ride to raise money and awareness for Practical Action, I reflected on how today, bicycles play a big role in the lives of poor communities.  I’ve recently returned from Southern Bangladesh and having visited, there are two jobs I’ve identified as being my version of hell:

    1. Pit latrine emptier
    2. Rickshaw driver

    Kitchen waste collected by these bikes is turned into compost or biogas for cooking

    Kitchen waste collected by these bikes is turned into compost or biogas for cooking

    It’s obvious how a bicycle plays a role in Rickshaws, but what do bicycles have to do with pit latrine emptying? …and it’s obvious that emptying pit latrines as a living would be a nightmare, but what’s wrong with being a rickshaw driver?

    Well rickshaws are definitely at the bottom of the road transport pecking order. Imagine… its rush hour, the roads are jam packed with tuc-tucs, cars, buses and lorries, you have no gears, there’s a passenger or two sitting passively in the back…oh and then there is their luggage…. Now this can be a small briefcase or hand bag, or it can be about 200 kilos of reinforced steel cabling (15 foot long), 100 kilos of mangoes, jack fruit or several 20 kilo sacks of rice… the temperature is in the mid thirties Celsius and the humidity is over 70 percent. Everyone else on the road has priority over you, everyone is hooting their horn at you and the pay you receive is not in line with the effort you exert.

    New sludge carts and safety equipment.

    New sludge carts and safety equipment.

    So pit latrine emptying…bicycles, really?  Well yes. In order to empty a pit latrine situated deep in the warren of narrow pathways in a slum, you need something to transport the waste that’s small enough to get between the houses but strong enough to cope with loads up to 200 kilos. Practical Action is working with communities of Bengali and Harijan ‘sweepers’ whose lot in life it is to clean the streets and empty pit latrines. With no safety equipment, just their bare hands and a bucket, these men and women remove foul smelling liquid sludge from these latrines and take it away – to be dumped into a canal or a ditch somewhere in the city. Our Safer Cities appeal last Christmas means that now, with Practical Action’s help, they are receiving training and safety equipment, and new sludge transporting bicycle carts. The next step is to work with the municipalities to help them deal with the sludge safely, and to invest in machinery that can be fitted to bicycle carts so that the sludge can be pumped from the pit without needing someone to climb inside.

    Bicycle carts play an important role in other ways in this project. Specially adapted carts are used to collect kitchen waste from homes, that is used to create compost for farming, or digested to generate gas for cooking, piped to homes close by.

    In communities where safe drinking water is still a dream, bicycle carts bring clean water to be sold for drinking and cooking. So whether its bringing clean water, removing waste or sludge, the bicycle still has the power to transform poor communities.  Helping poor communities access appropriate technologies is still a key part of our work, and a key part of the puzzle in achieving a state of technology justice – where technology is used to for the benefit of all.

    This pump means that pit emptiers can remove the sludge more safely.

    This pump means that pit emptiers can remove the sludge more safely.

    Bringing safe clean water where there is none...

    Bringing safe clean water where there is none…

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  • Removing iron and arsenic from drinking water for slum communities in Bangladesh

    Satkhira, Bangladesh, Satkhira
    June 11th, 2014

    Satkhira is one of Bangladesh’s oldest municipalities, created in 1869. Bordering the world famous Sunderbans, home to Royal Bengal Tigers and a globally important mangrove ecosystem, it’s a town that tourists pass by, but plays a hugely important role for the people living in the region.

    Climate change is beginning to wreak havoc here. Erratic monsoon rainfall, and flooding (which never used to affect this part of Bangladesh) have combined to make subsistence farming incredibly difficult. In recent years more and more farming families have given up their traditional way of life to make a living and find security in Satkhira. This steady flow of climate migrants was beginning to put the town’s resources under pressure. When cyclone Aila smashed the region in 2009 the sudden influx of many thousands of refugees meant that the existing infrastructure failed. Satkhira is still trying to overcome this problem five years later, and every day, the steady influx of economic and climate migrants continues. With very little cash, and only able to find poorly paid jobs, many of these migrants end up living in the informal settlements dotted around the town.

    Access to drinking water is a real problem. The natural geology of the region means that shallow wells are contaminated with arsenic and iron. The contamination causes serious health issues including some cancers as well as kidney and liver failure. Coupled with this is the increasing salinity of groundwater caused by the tidal surges of cyclones, the reduction of river flow as water is diverted upstream for irrigation and the switch from traditional rice and jute farming to raising lucrative salt water shrimps. Farmers are allowing the seawater to inundate their land as shrimp farming generates more income than rice paddy can. We passed many of these shrimp farms on the road into Satkhira.

    Practical Action is working with the slum communities and the municipality of Satkhira to help find solutions to their joint problems. I was here to better understand the work that has been funded by our record breaking ‘Safer Cities’ appeal, match funded by the Department for International Development, that ran over Christmas 2013. In Satkhira the funding means communities like the one I visited today, called Missionpara, can have access to clean, safe water and sanitation too. Missionpara is a relatively small settlement of around 30 households, with about 180 people squeezed into tiny homes in what would be a long access road between two properties here in the UK.


    add guava leaves...

    add guava leaves…

    ...wait a couple of minutes

    …wait a couple of minutes

    ....and the poisoned water is revealed as it discolours

    ….and the poisoned water is revealed as it discolours

    In Missionpara the community has been dependent on shallow tube wells that supply iron and arsenic contaminated water. With Practical Action’s help, the community now has a brand new sand filter that removes the contamination and pipes clean water to every house in the community.

    The community has organised its own water supply committee and every family pays a small sum (about 50p a month) that contributes to a maintenance fund to ensure the filter, pump, pipes and taps will still be working years into the future. As we arrived to meet the water supply committee chair, a lovely lady called Aklima, the heavens opened. The monsoon is due to start on the 10th June (very precise!) I was told and these showers were the precursor.

    As we huddled together under the filter superstructure, I was shown a traditional test that proved the filter was indeed working. Two identical glasses of water were place on the pump housing and guava leaves crushed into them. In a matter of moments, the glass filled with water from the old tube well began to discolour as a black compound began to precipitate out of the water. The glass filled with water from the filtered, piped water system remained clear.


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  • Dying for a drink in Turkana, Kenya

    Lodwar, Kenya, Lodwar
    May 17th, 2013

    I’m writing from Practical Action’s office in Lodwar, Turkana having returned from an intense three days in the field visiting our water and sanitation projects here. I’m particularly interested in how our solar powered pumps are improving the lives of the Karamoja people who we’re working with.

    First of all, I have huge respect for these proud people. Turkana is Hot! Every day the temperatures soared above 35 degrees, and at night things cool down to a balmy 25 … The environment is harsh – dry sandy soil, a few scrubby bushes and acacia trees, very little water. The fact that they make any living at all here is testament to their toughness, determination and ingenuity. I also have to thank them for their hospitality. I slept under the stars in the chief of the Lobei Karamoja’s compound disturbed only by gunfire (once) and cockerels (lots).

    I’m dirty and dehydrated but what I’ve seen really makes think about what ‘dying for a drink’ really means.

    In Turkana there are 3 ways to die for a drink …

    1 … From the dirty contaminated water that most people are forced to drink – hand scooped holes in dry riverbeds many miles from home are the most common water source and they are shared with animals. Cholera is common here.

    2 … In the act of collecting water from 5-metre-deep pits, hand-dug in the sandy bed of a dried up river – these collapse regularly, and last week in Lorengippi 3 people died collecting water in one of these.

    3 … Or by violence – water, even dirty, contaminated water, is so precious here that people guard their access rights forcefully. I watched two women and a girl lifting water from the bottom of the pit for their goats and donkeys – all the while watched over by two warriors with loaded guns.  Come to collect water at the wrong time here and you will be risking your life.

    But things are changing in Lobei and now in Lorengipi. In October last year Practical Action, working in partnership with the people of Lobei, installed a solar pump, pipes, storage tanks and tap-stands so that now the women and girls have to walk no further than 500 metres to collect the water they need. Specially constructed troughs have been built to water the animals, meaning now that they don’t share a water source with people. Girls are now able to go to school, and in Lobei, the number of girls enrolled at the primary school exceeds that of boys for the first time. The head-teacher there is a trailblazer in many ways – one example was his kitchen garden and we saw the first ripe maize picked as we visited. So much change in so short a time.

    In Lorengippi I watched as a new solar pump was installed, storage tanks raised and tap-stand built. For this community, water is a life and death matter. Conflict over water here is common. The boarding school has existed here since the late 60s. Children board as it is too dangerous to walk back and forth. In all those 40+ years the school has never been connected to water and never had latrines. Pupils walked 3km to collect water for breakfast and again for dinner, each time risking their lives to get it, and their health by drinking it. Open defecation in the fields surrounding the school was common, and the whirlwinds and seasonal rains brought all the faecal dust back into the school. Illness was common, learning didn’t happen and exam results suffered. Now the school is connected to the solar system, water is on tap at the school and new latrines have been built for boys and girls. Small, but important changes for these children, yet dramatically impacting their future.

    I need to stop writing now, the sun is overheating my laptop and I need to get a drink before sunstroke sets in … I’m going to be thinking more carefully about where that drink comes from now.

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