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  • Ingenious water and waste solutions changing lives


    March 6th, 2019

    On Friday, the world is celebrating International Women’s Day. People around the world will be celebrating women’s achievements whilst calling for a more gender-balanced world.

    For Practical Action, the day is particularly important. We work with women around the world – helping them find solutions to some of the world’s toughest problems, made worse by persistent gender inequality. We do this by putting ingenious ideas to work so people in poverty can change their world.

    A good example of our ingenious approach to problem solving is the work we do with communities in Choudwar. Choudwar is a busy city in India where a lack of clean water services and inadequate and unsafe sewage management puts lives at risk on a day-to-day basis. Most of the slums don’t have proper toilets. Waste is dumped in local rivers, polluting the water sources.

    We visited one of the slums in Choudwar to understand how difficult it is for people to live under these conditions. During our visit, we met Kamala. She is 75 and lives with her five sons, their wives and children. Her community does not have access to clean water, sanitation or waste management services. People have to go to open fields nearby to relieve themselves and there’s no one to take care of the human waste afterwards.

    As you can imagine, living without a proper toilet and sanitation services is particularly challenging for older women like Kamala. She says: “Different seasons come with different problems. Monsoons are treacherous. The field is slippery. We have to carry water with us all that distance. My legs start to hurt half the way.”

    Practical Action challenges the idea that poor people should have to live in squalor and want to make cities healthier, fairer places for people to live and work. We are working with communities, municipalities and utility companies to deliver sustainable sanitation, water and waste management services. This ingenious combination of different solutions is going to change cities for good and transform the lives of women like Kamala.

    Kamala says, “The new toilets that are being built have given hope to my old and broken bones.”

     

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  • Striding Ahead – The Story of How the Livestock Business Centre is Changing Lives


    February 26th, 2019

    Livestock as an important segment of the agricultural sector of Bangladesh has seen an exponentially growing demand. Its prospects as a driver of substantial and sustainable socio-economic change are very promising, however, there remains a lot of room for improvement. There has been a dearth of knowledge with regard to the livestock sector, leading to unaddressed gaps. There is a lack of service and quality inputs for the rural farmers, affordable distribution network and absence of private companies’ business hubs in the community level. That is where the Livestock Business Centre (LBC) comes in. The LBC performs a facilitative role, with the underlying objective of working towards benefitting the rural poor farmers. It has been designed to address all the unmet knowledge needs of the farmers, with a goal of commercialization of rural livestock products and relevant services and inputs. It also ensures affordable output supply for the rural poor farmers, which is contributing to market access and income increase of the rural producers, value chain actors and other market players.

    Practical Action Consulting (PAC), in collaboration with a microfinance institute (MFI) established the Livestock Business Centre in Faridpur Sadr, which is an independent rural enterprise providing one-stop solution to farmers, with the vision of establishing a viable business model for products and services surrounding and including rural livestock products. This business aims towards a multi-pronged benefit approach for the producer community, for the traders as well as for the consumers. The objective of this project is to improve the supply chain by establishing rural business centre and distributions network and farmer groups and market-led production systems. 

    Many have made remarkable strides ahead benefiting from LBC. Stories of some have been brought to light.

    Sharifa Syed was a member of the Asha Committee when she heard about the Livestock Business Centre. She heard about the benefits of LBC and realized it was here to help. Inherently, she would face difficulty availing medical services for her cows. Quality feed was not readily available. Since LBC seemed like a welcome solution, she expressed her interest in availing the services of LBC. She first took a loan and bought one cow. Then she bought another a few months later. She then sold both the cows for a significant profit. After that, she never had to look back. She then repaid her loan to LBC and bought land with the rest of the money. She cultivated all sorts of vegetables, starting from cucumber, eggplant, gourd to onion, chili etc and made a huge profit from there as well. She invested some of her profit on renovating her house and the rest on her children’s education and household expenses. Riding on her initial success, she continued taking loans from LBC. She started from scratch and achieved resilience leveraging on the benefits of LBC. She now keeps busy all day tending her cows or working in the field. She boasted that her husband consults her for every major decision and her standing in her family and the society at large, has been cemented.

    Surjo Banu and Billal Sheikh have always been each other’s support throughout. They have been in the cattle rearing business for very long. When they first heard about the services LBC provided, they realized it tapped into a lot of their problem areas. They inherently faced some issues, particularly availing medical services for their cows. The local veterinary professional would not always be within reach. Additionally, availing medical services was a costly affair. It costed them BDT. 1000 to BDT. 1200, often as high as BDT. 2000. With LBC, medical services were now within their grasp, with just a phone call, and at zero costs. Things have become a lot easier for them since LBC happened. They collectively made the highest profit margin they ever made. In a very calculative move, they invested the profit in buying land and a trailer for cultivation, which led to greater profits for them. They can now support their children and cater to their needs with this safety net in place. The couple also hosts the LBC collection meeting in their courtyard, where all the cow rearers socialize, apart from talking about business. Surjo Banu and Billal Sheikh have set a wonderful example of how two partners have crafted a better life for themselves systematically, taking assistance from LBC.

    Afzal Hossain reaped the benefits of the LBC to the fullest with this timely planning. He sold the cow that he bought for a very lucrative profit for Eid, just a few months ago. He then systematically invested his profit to achieve a greater level of financial stability. He bought land with this profit and is looking to cultivate onions, which is particularly profitable in this time of the year. He estimates to earn an aggregate return of BDT. 4 lac through his clever investments, multiplying his initial investment by manifolds. He believes this was only possible because he had LBC’s support. LBC has made things a lot simpler for him. With living expenses increasing every day, he was having a hard time making ends meet with the profits he was making earlier. An underlying issue he had been facing was availing medical services for his cows. Not only would it be difficult to manage veterinary services, but it was also costly. The fee would range from BDT. 1500 to BDT. 2000. For cow rearers like Afzal, this kind of cash was not always readily available. If the fee of the vets was not ensured, they simply would not come, leading to catastrophic ramifications for the cow rearers. But Afzal feels the vets of LBC are one of their own. The vets are at his service any time the need arises, which has lifted a huge burden off his chest. With the convenience that LBC has brought, Afzal could diversify his income sources and become a more resilient individual.

    Abdul Kalam was sceptical about LBC at first but after hearing how his neighbours were benefitted through the service, he decided to try his luck. He previously had a bitter experience availing financial aid from the government microfinance scheme. The loan given then was a very meagre amount, not enough to meet his needs. Because of poor governance prevalent within the system, he also had to give away a huge portion of that loan as a bribe, ultimately not leaving enough for himself. He first took a loan from LBC and bought a cow. He then bought a second. He sold both his cows for a handsome profit, but he did not stop right there. With the huge profit he made, he cleared his loans and invested on land. He has been working relentlessly in the field to reap more profits. He was fortunate to have his wife Anowara by his side throughout. While he worked in the field, she would stay at home and tend the cows. Kalam wholeheartedly acknowledged his wife’s contribution. Leveraging on her enterprising spirit, he diversified his investment on goat, chicken, and turkey rearing. As a token of his appreciation, he made her a pair of gold earrings from the profits. Abdul Kalam and Anowara Kalam have a happy and prosperous life now. Because they are now more resilient, they hope to continue their youngest daughter’s education without restrictions. Abdul Kalam not only acknowledged his wife’s contribution, but he was equally thankful to LBC which gave him the footing to take up more ventures.

    It was evident from Naznin Akhter’s smile that things have been going in her favour. Naznin’s husband has a booming onion cultivation business, but she wanted to do something on her own and create an identity apart from her husband. Having heard about the benefits of LBC, she decided to avail the services. She bought a cow with her loan. When inspecting the feed provided by LBC, she found that it was of a much higher quality than local feed. She was also particularly impressed by the promptness of the medical services. Her effort in tending her cow yielded positive results for her, and she sold it for BDT. 3 lac 60 thousand, making a huge profit. With the additional income in hand, she was now able to contribute financially to her family as well. Some of the profit was invested in onion cultivation and the rest on her familial expenses. But Naznin made sure most of the investment went towards ensuring a better life for her daughters. Both of her daughters were students in the Faridpur Polytechnic Institute. Her oldest was receiving a degree in Civil Services and the youngest in Computer Studies. It would cost them around BDT. 6000 for their commute every month, which was now mostly covered from the profits made. Naznin wanted to set an example for her daughters, and she is proud to have done so. She believes because of the advises she received from LBC she now knows a lot more than what she had previously known. She can now transfer her knowledge and skill to her friends and acquaintances and help empower them. She is now very confident about her capabilities and is looking to buy two more cows in the coming months with support from LBC.

     

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  • Jute – the natural alternative to plastic


    February 18th, 2019

    Most families in north-west Bangladesh rely on farming small plots of land to make a living. But it’s hard to make enough and men often have to leave their families to work in cities, leaving women and children without support. Work traditionally done by women earns very low wages.

    Jute rettingJute is the second most important crop in Bangladesh after rice. The climate is ideally suited and it was once a major source of foreign exchange but lost out to artificial fabrics. As we become more aware of the environmental dangers of plastics, jute is popular once more.  In 2017 Bangladesh produced 9.2 million bales compared to only 5 million in 2016.

    Practical Action, with European Union funding, is working to address issues for farmers, processors and entrepreneurs to unlock the potential for thousands of poor jute producers to boost their incomes from the crop. Our approach combines a set of solutions that together bring about lasting change. Here are some that are reaping rewards in Bangladesh.

    jute processingImproved varieties of jute

    Nurul Haque grows rice, jute and maize on his 2.5 acres. Practical Action introduced him to a new, highly productive variety of jute called Kanaf. It grows tall, up to 16 feet, and the fibre is white, making it more valuable.

    Usually after harvesting, jute is soaked in water for a couple of weeks to make it possible to remove the fibre.  This processing is hard work and very time consuming.  We have sourced a simple machine which can strip out the jute fibre very quickly without requiring this soaking.

    For Nurul Haque using the new machine saved time and cost less.  He also has an extra 280 kg of jute to sell this year because the machine extracts the fibres more efficiently leaving less on the sticks.

    Leasing the processing machine

    The jute sector currently lacks entrepreneurs and growers are trapped at the bottom of the supply chain.  We have designed a leasing system to help people obtain the processing machines and set up businesses processing jute and other crops. Unemployed young people are being trained in metalwork skills that enable them to manufacture these locally.

    Sheuli Begum, from Bozra in Kurigram lives with her husband and two children. Her husband is a farmer. Their income from farming and selling jute fibre is inadequate and she has to borrow to support her children’s education or pay for medicines. Sheuli  struggles to repay these debts.

    It came as a pleasant surprise to her that women were getting equal access to this jute machine business opportunity. She expressed her keen interest to  join the initiative.

    After training, she leased a machine. Now she is earning 1500 taka (£14) per day with her jute extraction machine after meeting all her business expenses. She also hopes to get a better price for her jute fibre.  Full of ideas, Sheuli is looking for ways use the waste from the jute sticks. She plans to compost those to make organic fertiliser to use on their field.

    “I am a housewife and people did not encourage me to be an entrepreneur. They laughed at me. But I know, the machine has changed my way of living.” said Sheuli.

    Skills training

    Ruzina Begum, Jute projectRuzina Begum is 34 with four daughters.  Her husband is disabled so she is the family breadwinner. She used to work as a housemaid but was poorly paid and struggled to feed her family and afford her children’s educational expenses. With little education herself, Ruzina was unable to find better employment.

    When she found out about a local business employing women to make products made of jute, she was delighted.  She took the basic training and began an apprenticeship with the company Karupannya.  She was keen to prove herself and to do something for herself and her family.  Now Ruzina is able to pay her daughters’ educational expenses as well as providing proper meals. She no longer needs financial support from her neighbours. And through practise her skills are improving daily which should lead to more work.

    More than 400 women have undertaken similar training and are now working for small and medium sized enterprises creating jute products.

    The project is also supporting the production and marketing of jute products with some small and medium sized cottage industries. This has resulted in the development of new products such as sandals and yoga mats for the export market and sales are increasing.

    Limited mechanisation and a lack of skills and market knowledge inhibit development.  With the help of market development, skills training and loan systems these vulnerable communities can become more economically productive. And there are environmental benefits. Jute is environmentally friendly being both biodegradable and recyclable as well as strong and versatile. Plastic bags are banned in Bangladesh so there’s already a growing local market.

     

     

     

     

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  • Supporting the informal sector to deliver effective FSM services


    , | February 14th, 2019

    Next week sees an important gathering of practitioners, government representatives, funders and others focusing Faecal Sludge Management. From lowly beginnings in Durban in 2011, the growing numbers of people gathered at this two-yearly conference demonstrate an increasing recognition of the importance of this issue – supported by the SDG commitment to achieve ‘safely managed’ sanitation for all.

    Of course, ensuring people have access even to a basic toilet is still the crucial starting point in some places – including in the slum communities in Africa and Asia which are the focus of our work. The number of urban dwellers without even basic sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa rose between 2010 and 2015 from 177m to 215m (according to JMP figures).

    However, once levels of sanitation coverage begin to rise, particularly in urban areas, properly tackling the issues of how the contents of pit latrines and septic tanks can be safely cleared, transported and treated (the faecal sludge management – FSM chain) becomes ever more important.

    While tackling FSM has been recognized as important, there is still huge debate about how best it should be delivered. Many see enterprise opportunities for companies, small and large. Some take the route of helping companies to enter this business, especially if they have been involved in similar business lines perhaps in refuse collection (SWEEP in Bangladesh). Others see opportunities for youth employment in new business models for example with container-based services (Ghana’s Clean Team).

    A new study Practical Action has carried out in 3 secondary towns and one city corporation in Bangladesh reminds us again of the extent to which it is the informal sector which is already delivering these services. It also shines a spotlight on the extremely difficult working conditions they face.

    The study carried out in Gazipur, Faridpur, Bagerhat and Barguna interviewed 6 pit emptiers as well as 38 people working in solid waste management as part of the ‘Dignifying Lives’ project.

    • Many combined this work with other informal jobs such as being employed as street sweepers by the municipality, or working as rickshaw pullers or day labourers.
    • They may only empty pits 3-4 times per month as customer demand is fairly limited, although compared to other sources of income it is relatively well paid, charging around BDT 1,000-1,500 for emptying a small pit, while a daily labourer may only earn BDT 100 per day.
    • This work in Bangladesh is tied to particular communities and has been passed down for generations. Although levels of social acceptance for this work have improved, the harijan community as a whole is still treated as ‘untouchable’ to some extent.
    • Although they may have been provided with safety equipment, it was rarely used. Gloves, boots and masks were found to be too hot and impaired their movement, making the job harder.
    • New sludge carts and safety equipment.

      The work is often hazardous. Workers had suffered broken bones, cuts in their hands and feet and stomach problems, losing 4-5 days of work a month as a result.

    • They are usually poorly represented in discussions with decision-makers. Neither do they have access to social safety nets to support them if they fall ill or are injured.

    At the same time, we found in earlier work in Faridpur, 72% of households and 52% of institutions preferred to use the informal service providers, largely because they could do the job more quickly with less bureaucracy than the service offered by the municipality. For slum dwellers, the municipal service was not available because the trucks could not get close enough to their toilets.

    In our work in both Bangladesh and Kenya we are developing models and approaches for bringing these informal workers into the mainstream. We are interested in the extent of the service which can be provided by these entrepreneurs at the citywide level. If additional capacity is needed to meet service provision needs citywide, then who and how can additional capacity be brought in while not undermining opportunities for those who already rely on it for their livelihoods.

    We are also working on approaches through which their working conditions and access to social protection can be improved – and one solution is through forming co-operatives, and bringing those together into a nationwide network. That network in Bangladesh (the FSM Network) will be represented at the FSM5 conference. Come and find out more at their stand.

    I’ll be at the FSM5 conference, and looking to share experiences with others in the sector who are approaching the problem in similar ways. My focus will remain firmly on how the proposed systems meet the needs of poor communities and protect the interests of existing informal sector workers. Do follow me on Twitter @lucykstevens for updates.

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  • The Solar Challenge


    January 29th, 2019

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

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

    Real life science

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

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

    So what’s the challenge?

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

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

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

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

    Off-Grid! Design Competition

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

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

    https://practicalaction.org/solar-challenge

     

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


    January 22nd, 2019

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

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

    Photo Credit: Farhana Shahnaz

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

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

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

    Training Day

    Photo Credit: Farhana Shahnaz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Moulding bricks, rebuilding settlements


    January 18th, 2019

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

    Simon Tamang cleans the earth bricks making machine.

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

     

     

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

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

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

    A house built with earth bricks.

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

     

     

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

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

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

    Tanu Maya helps transport the earth bricks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • The power of gravity


    January 15th, 2019

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

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

    A challenging landscape

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

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

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

    Joyful faces in Mana Gau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • The gravitational release – the hillside story of the western Nepal


    January 2nd, 2019

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

    Technological enlightenment

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

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

    The trail is no stroll through the jungle

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

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

    Pic: Mana Gau village as seen from atop the hill

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

    Commute that lasted days

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

    Pic: Dan Bahadur Saud

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

     

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

    The joyful faces

    Pic: Nirmala Dhani

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

    Work in progress

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

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

    I have a dream

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

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

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  • Overcoming obstacles to achieve success – a dreamer who never gave up


    December 13th, 2018

    It was a typical October afternoon in Kuldevmandu, Bajura. The sun was blazing like a fiery medallion in the sky, yet I could feel the chill. The small pavement by the road was filled with dried brown leaves dancing with the wind beats. Just down the road was ever joyful Budhignaga River babbling on its own pace. The Mount Saipal, in the distance not yet snow-cloaked, stood tall and mysterious. It was an awe-inspiring sight.  As we stopped by the sign that read ‘Nateshwari Foods Products’, it was almost 1 pm in the afternoon. Inside a small noodle factory was 24-year-old Bharat Bahadur Saud who was busy preparing noodles. For a while I did not want to interrupt his work, so I sat outside his small factory looking at the passersby.

    Festival vibe and nostalgia

    Dashain vibe was still on. Usually, Dashain festival lasts for more than a week. It is the biggest festival of the year, when families reunite and exchange gifts and blessings by putting tika on each other’s forehead. Historically, it is celebrated to honour the victory of gods over the evil demons. Not to mention, people in the rural areas tend to celebrate it extensively. I could see people walking around with red tika (red vermilion) on their foreheads. It somehow made me miss home and all the festivity fun. In a distant, I could see a man in his early 30s accompanied by his wife and three kids (which I assumed by their body language). The three kids had almost matching outfits. The man was wearing a light-grey suit piece with a Nepali hat and a big rucksack on his back. His wife was wearing a red sari with a flip flop and was holding a duffle bag (stuffed more than its capacity). Their foreheads were all covered with red tika. The serious looking man must have just got back from his in-laws after receiving Dashain blessings. Just next door was a bunch of kids grouped in one corner sharing snack together, which looked like candy bars and dry noodles from afar.

    Pic: Nateshwari Food Products (Sauce Factory)

    The first time I visited this place was back in 2014, with the ROJGARI project. Things were very different then. I am glad to see the positive changes; this place has come a long way. All of a sudden, I heard someone calling my name, I turned around and it was Gopal Nepali, our project coordinator for the Bajura district, he introduced me with Mr. Saud, “This is Bharat Bahadur Saud and he is the entrepreneur of sauce and noodle factory.” Mr. Saud greeted me with a smile and I offered him a chair which was just next to me. Mr. Saud seemed a little shy at first but after a while he started opening up and we had a very interesting conversation that went on for hours.

    Another one bites the dust

    Just like any other kids in the village, Mr. Saud also joined the bandwagon and went to India hoping for a better future. He worked as a cook in one of the restaurants. He recalls his time in India as a reality check, “I didn’t know it would be that difficult to make money, it was very hectic.” As a 20-year-old, Mr. Saud really struggled being away from his family. He got sick and was bedridden for weeks. He had intestinal complications, and had his appendicitis removed as well. In less than a year, he gave up and came back to Nepal. Things were not that good in his own village, so he went to Baglung (a district in western Nepal) and worked as a road painter (drawing white and yellow lines). That also did not last long. The contractor who hired him did not pay the full amount, so he quit the job and came back to his village.

    Pic: Bharat Bahadur Saud

    Hope and inspiration

    Mr. Saud did not lose hope. While working as a painter in Baglung, Mr. Saud was really fascinated by this restaurant where they used to go for afternoon snack. He recalls, “The owner used to make his own chowmein (noodle) and the restaurant used to be filled with customers queuing up for chowmein. That’s what really inspired me.” So, Mr. Saud decided to give another shot. As soon as he came back from Baglung, he went to Dhangadhi and learned the art of noodle making. He sold a small piece of land he inherited from his parents and bought a noodle making machine and started his own chowmein factory. “That’s how things started for me,” smiles Mr. Saud.

    Entrepreneurial capacity building

    Pic: Bharat Bahadur Saud ready to export sauce

    One of the objectives of BICAS project is to provide technical inputs, training and entrepreneurial capacity building to farmers, thereby improving production, value additions through processing and marketing of agriculture produces. Along with his brother, Mr. Saud attended training on ‘sauce (ketchup) making’ offered by the project where he also learned the effective ways to market the product. “The training was really helpful in shaping up our businesses. Therefore, we two brothers decided to open a sauce factory along with our chowmein factory, as it goes hand in hand,” shares Mr. Saud with a smile.

    It was no looking back from that moment on. While I was still having a conversation with Mr. Saud, he was getting frequent phone calls regarding the delivery. In a day, he sells around 480 bottles of sauce. He not only sells it in the nearby villages but also in the entire municipality, which covers more than 12 villages. In a month, he makes more than NRS 200,000
    (1 USD = NRS 115) profit from the sauce factory alone.

    Connecting with local markets

    Mr. Saud’s sauce factory has motivated the locals too, in producing tomatoes, chilies and pumpkins (required for sauce making). Kandhari Devi Saud shares her joy for being able to grow vegetables not only for consumption but also to sell it in the market, “Before, our vegetables used to go waste but now we can sell our tomatoes, chilies and pumpkins to Bharat Saud’s sauce factory and in haat bazzar. I am making a living from this vegetable farming.”

    Pic: Kandhari Devi Saud in front of her tunnel farm

    Despite his multiple failed attempts, Mr. Saud kept on going. He never gave up. His will power and dedication made him the most respected and talked about person in the entire Bajura district. He still has the same passion to do more. In the near future he plans to make potato chips and neemkeen (homemade dry flour chips) along with his noodle and sauce business; and also hire a dedicated marketing and sales agent. The project might phase out but stories such as Mr. Saud’s will live on forever.

     

     

    BICAS project is co-funded by the European Union and Jersey Overseas Aid. To learn more about the project click here.

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