Where we work | Blogs

  • Ever heard of a Floating Farm?


    April 6th, 2018

    Meet Shujit Sarkar, a 36 year old farmer from Bangladesh. Shujit is married to Shikha and they have four children.

    Shujit earns his income by farming and selling fish fingerlings. He doesn’t own land or a pond so he has to keep the fingerlings in the canal nearby. Unfortunately, during the monsoon seasons, the canal water overflows and the whole village floods. During the floods, Shujit can’t feed or sell his fingerlings. This means that he struggles to feed his family.

    This is a common problem in the coastal areas of Bangladesh. Every year, the villages are devastated by floods caused by sea levels rising and monsoon rains. Their livestock and produce severely damaged or completely washed away. People have no choice but to try keep rebuilding what is lost.

    Fortunately, Shujit found out about a charity called Practical Action. Practical Action was already working in Shujit’s community, helping the community members to develop a sustainable solution to the problem. Shujit contacted Practical Action and was introduced to a new technology called a floating farm. A floating farm is an ingenious farming technique which works in the local context. The garden floats on top of the water and a fish cage is assembled below. The plants help filter the water which means the fish can thrive. The fish create waste which fertilises the plants to improve growth. It produces enough sustenance to feed the farmers’ families, with enough left over to sell.

    Shujit found this ingenious technology inspiring and wanted to invest in it. Practical Action provided him with the fish cage and Shujit bought 1,500 fingerlings. This is his first farming cycle and it has been very successful. What’s great is that the farming technique requires less effort and his wife is also able to help. She normally feeds the fishes and cleans the cage. Shujit now feels that there is hope for the future and the floods can no longer stop him making an income. In the future, he wants to build another fish cage and further expand his farming business.

    Want to find out more about floating farms? Have a look at our project page: https://practicalaction.org/aqua-geoponics

    Interested in supporting farmers like Shujit? Here’s a link to our support page: https://practicalaction.org/support/floating-farms

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • End energy poverty


    April 5th, 2018

    Energy is one of the key indicators for development. Like other essential basic needs, a certain amount of energy is required for our survival. Depending on the context, livelihood patterns and way of living, energy needs are different. For example, nowadays, people in Bangladesh across all socioeconomic categories are using cellphones due to very high rates of penetration. So the energy requirement for charging cellphones has become a basic need for users.

    Bangladesh has achieved tremendous success in several sectors and has touched the base of being a middle income country. The Government has committed to supply electricity for all by 2021, and has increased production remarkably. But still 38% of people are outside the coverage of the national grid, of these 20% have no access to electricity.

    Solar power bangladeshAn electricity supply doesn’t necessarily mean a supply of quality electricity. If we can’t ensure 24/7 supply, we cannot make productive use of energy in hard to reach areas. A flourishing rural economy, promotion of entrepreneurship and local-level business, and the establishment of better market linkages, requires an uninterrupted electricity supply. For example, if someone wants to build a hatchery, milk chilling centre or even cold storage in a remote area, all of which could contribute to the growing economy for the country, a continuous supply is a must. . However, investment in the power sector in Bangladesh is predominantly made adopting a top-down approach. This traditional approach of planning requires to be revisited.

    Total Energy Access

    Practical Action is globally renowned for its energy-related work. Its global call for energy is titled as Total Energy Access – TEA. Practical Action wants to end Energy Poverty.

    One of its global flagship publication series is: Poor People’s Energy Outlook (PPEO). The recent two publications of PPEO series refer to three countries, of which Bangladesh is one. These publications highlight the perspectives poor people on energy.PPEO Launch Bangladesh

    The previous publication in this series, PPEO 2016, focused on the energy needs of poor people living in off-grid areas of Bangladesh. These include household requirements, requirements for community services like schools, hospitals, etc., and also the need for entrepreneurship development. Apart from energy requirements, this publication figured out the priority of energy needs, affordability and willingness to pay.

    The latest issue, PPEO (2017), reflects on the investment requirements for poor people to access energy, followed by the needs identified in the previous one. The total energy requirements have been derived for each of the segments such as solar homes systems, grid expansion and entrepreneurship. Together with the investment patterns, it identifies the challenges associated with the investment, and suggested essential policy recommendations.

    Women’s energy needs

    Reflecting on our typical planning mechanisms, how much do we really think about the need of the poor people? Do we think of women in particular?

    Nowadays, women are taking up the role of farming and many of them are heading their families. Many women are emerging as entrepreneurs. Have we really thought about their energy needs? If we don’t offer them access to finance, build their capacity for financial management and provide hand holding support, they will simply lag behind. While investing on access to energy, we have to think the special needs of women, and how to ensure energy equity.

    The outcomes of the PPEO study should give policy makers the food for thought and inspire action to adopt a bottom-up approach for energy solutions for energy-poor people.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Enhanced preparedness capacity of communities and local governments in Kankai basin


    April 4th, 2018

    The flood preparedness capacity of communities and local governments in Kankai River basin has been increased in the period of last three years. The project has carried out different trainings, orientations, workshops, exposure visits, etc., to increase the flood preparedness, risk reduction, mitigation and response capacity of communities and local governments.
    “Before the project intervention in our communities, we had to individually prepare for the monsoon flash flood. We did not have adequate knowledge on flood risk, flood monitoring and water in our community was the only way we knew there was flood,” says Durga Prasad Rajbanshi of Kichakdangi. “When the flood hit the community it was difficult for us to save our lives and properties. Things would go worse when the flood hit during night or the flood occurred without heavy rainfall in our locality,” he explains the suffering of the people in his community. Identifying the heavy loss of lives and properties and limited flood response capacity of the community in Kankai River basin, the Kankai end-to-end early warning project was started with one of the major key outcomes as strengthening community and stakeholder awareness and capacity in data and information sharing, understanding, monitoring and preparing for effective EWS and response to the flood disaster in Kankai River basin.
    The project designed its activities and ensured involvement of communities and stakeholders from central level to local district, VDC or municipality level for increased flood preparedness and response capacity. Different trainings, orientations, workshops, exposure visits on DRR, EWS, search and rescue, community action for disaster response(CADRE), DRR mainstreaming at local level, Institutional management of EWS, flood mock exercise, etc, were organised throughout the project period for shifting the priority of local communities from flood affected to flood prepared communities and shifting the priority of local government from flood relief and rescue to flood preparedness and mitigation.
    “Previously we had pre-monsoon cluster meeting and updating of district disaster preparedness and response plan (DDPRP) as preparedness measures but these measures were limited to the district level only. However, after the delivery of the project activities the preparedness scope has changed in Jhapa. Flood mock exercise from district level to community level is organised to test and evaluate the response capacity of the community and the stakeholders. The coordination with community and stakeholders is strengthened for better preparedness,” says Lok Raj Dhakal, president of Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) Jhapa.
    The preparedness scope of the communities has been changed in the recent years. The influence of the project activities has motivated the communities to prepare with go bag (jhatpat jhola) with important documents and valuable goods. The communities keep their moveable belongings to a raised level to avert damage from flood. “Whenever we get flood alert or warning, we put our moveable assets to a higher level and take our livestock to a safer place,” says Raj Bhakta Sunuwar, CDMC coordinator at Hokalbadi.

    Community people evacuating village during flood mock exercise

    Community people evacuating village during flood mock exercise

    “We did not think about disaster preparedness and mitigation measures; only discussed about relief and emergency response but after building our capacity on DRR with the support of Kankai end-to- end EWS project, we have allocated resources from VDC council, the people are aware and have mobilized the resources in highly vulnerable communities identified by the government to establish DRR fund, improvements of escape routes and DRR planning and emergency response,” says Rajendra Parajuli, VDC secretary of Taghadubba VDC. As a result of capacity building of communities and local government in Jhapa and Ilam districts in Kankai River basin have established DRR fund at all 25 communities, 11 VDCs and 2 municipalities, he adds.
    The upstream and downstream communities have established and strengthened linkage and network for better flood preparedness. The communities have established and strengthened coordination with local government and security forces for flood preparedness. The flood mock exercises with active participation of community, stakeholders and security forces have enhanced the flood response capacities of all. “Participation in mock flood exercise helped us in developing our capacity and coordination for effective rescue and response during a disaster,” says Bishnu Prasad Shrestha, in-charge of Korobari police post.
    “Previously we did not have adequate knowledge for flood monitoring and our response was limited to moving away to safe place when the flood water risked our lives. But it was not good as moving with children and belongings was very risky,” says Roma Mandal of Nayabasti. “We have now learned about flood risk, the vulnerabilities in our communities and flood monitoring. We keep our belongings safe with onset of the monsoon. The CDMC and task force members coordinate pre mock exercise, update us with necessary contact numbers. We update our communication channels and equipment so that we are well prepared before the flood hits our community,” she adds.
    The local VDCs and municipalities (now rural municipalities and municipalities respectively) have started to allocate some budget for local DRR fund since the time of project interventions in Kankai basin. This has capacitated the local government to act for preparedness and implement emergency mitigation measures. The communities have also established and been mobilizing DRR fund which has made them capable of carrying out small mitigation measures and preparedness activities before the flood. Mitigation measures like culverts, evacuation routes, bio-dykes are built or upgraded for better flood response.

    Bio-dyke protecting river bank at Korobari

    Bio-dyke (local technology) protecting river bank at Korobari

    The scope of flood preparedness in Jhapa has increased in the recent years after implementation of the project. This can be evaluated from the fact that there were no any human casualties and less damage to properties in the project communities in comparison to other adjoining communities in Kankai River basin. However, the preparedness of the communities and stakeholders is not adequate to avert losses of lives and properties. Awareness, capacity building trainings and standard operation procedure (SoP) for functioning of EWS needs to be developed for better flood preparedness and response.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • FSM in Bangladesh: How to operationalize the Institutional and Regulatory Framework?


    March 28th, 2018

    Bangladesh is considered a role model in the world for its achievement in providing access to sanitation for all. Currently, more than 99% of people in Bangladesh use toilets. The positive progress has created challenges. Issues such as how to empty the toilets, and how to deal safely with the faecal sludge need to be addressed. Manual emptying by informal workers, and indiscriminate and untreated disposal lead to serious environmental pollution and bring adverse impacts on water quality and public health. The informal emptiers have a big role in the current Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) market system but their dignity and working environment is a big issue.

    Last year (2017), the Government of Bangladesh published an Institutional Regulatory Framework (IRF) setting out the roles, responsibilities and coordination of different agencies (i.e Department of Public Health and Engineering, Utility Companies – WASAs, Urban and Rural Government Institutes & private sector) to tackle the FSM challenges. The framework was developed collaboratively by ITN-BUET (Centre for Water Supply and Waste Management), Practical Action and others and includes many of the key issues Practical Action wanted to see promoted. The initiative is highly appreciated by the global development partners. The burning issue now is how to operationalize this framework and bring visible and tangible impact on the ground.

    The country is yet to develop solutions which are proven to be technically feasible and reliable, socially acceptable, financially and economically viable and can be managed by the existing institutions. However, a number of organizations is doing research, innovations, piloting and demonstration work to create the evidence of the whole FSM service and value chain – including containment, emptying, transportation and treatment of sludge for resource recovery and its market promotion. These endeavors, including our own in Faridpur, have created useful examples and provided evidence in particular circumstances but are yet to go to scale. One of the biggest learnings from these initiatives is that capacities are limited at all tiers i.e. grass roots, local, sub national and national level to improve FSM and to operationalize IRF.  

    The government is not short of resources, and could invest in scaling up solutions for greening the economy and for sustainable growth. The most recent example is the Padma Multi-Purpose Bridge, the biggest infrastructural development project,  which the country developed without any financial assistance from external development partners.

    The time has come to think how we can build national, sub national and local capacity in an integrated, holistic and coordinated way to operationalize the IRF.

    A national capacity building program needs to address different aspects and engage many stakeholders. For example, changes in behavior and community practices for safe disposal of sludge is a big issue. Both social and electronic media has a significant role in popularizing messages to call for actions to stop unsafe disposal. However, the businesses are not properly orientated and they lack capacity.

    Informal groups, small and medium entrepreneurs and large scale private companies can play a big role in operating the business of improving the FSM services and treatment businesses. The local authority can invite the private sector and can create public private partnerships to leverage resources to improve the services. However, their institutional capacity is not up to the mark for design, development, management and monitoring this partnership.

    The professional capacity of consulting firms to design context specific appropriate FSM schemes is also an issue. The contractors that are responsible for construction of the faecal sludge treatment plant, secondary transfer stations and other physical facilities are yet to be developed. Similarly, the capacity of local manufacturers to fabricate pumps, machines and vehicles to empty and to transfer the sludge to the disposal sites is yet to be developed. Last but not least, finance institutions (including development banks, climate and green financing agencies, micro financing organizations) need to understand the sector better and focus on building their capacities to make sure there is enough investment to tackle the issues on FSM. The Department of Environment (DoE) needs to be on board for setting and regulating standards for improved FSM. Research & development capacity is extremely limited, especially when it comes to researching different aspects – particularly social, economic, environmental and health aspects. The Government should have a National Plan of Action for effective implementation of IRF on the ground.

    The emerging question is how to build this local and national capacity to optimize the impact from the current and future investment programs around FSM by the Government of Bangladesh and their lending partners Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. This capacity building is a big responsibility and cannot be delivered by any single organization alone.

    The country urgently needs to form a coalition/consortium of FSM organizations – led by Policy Support Branch of the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development & Cooperatives. These parties can designate and hire credible organizations to make a good action plan for short, medium and long term in participation with all stakeholders. This consortium should utilize the comparative strength of each organization and the organizations should not compete with each other. Practical Action is keen to play a part in such a consortium, drawing from our experiences on the ground, and our knowledge of ‘where capacities are lacking’ and ‘what are the best ways of building them.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Learning through experience


    March 26th, 2018

    “ All genuine learning comes through experience “John Dewey

    I earned two degrees while working in Practical Action. I often boast it as one of my biggest achievements in Practical Action. My colleagues sometimes quip “when did you work, then? “ – implying how did I balance the work and study. The fact is I never had to study. The learning I gathered in my work was enough to earn me the degrees. I went to universities just for accreditation (balancing the field visit schedules and the exam routines was tough though!!)

    As I am preparing to leave Practical Action after 11 years of service, I wish to keep some of the key learning on record. Let me start with the professional ones,

    Too much focus on delivery kills innovation
    Timely delivery of the project targets including the financial target is important and binding. However, too much focus on delivery limit innovation. Innovation is an iterative process. An idea or technology has to go through several rounds of refinements before it is ready for uptake. If we become too impatient about the delivery from the onset, we may end up promoting the crude ideas and unproven technologies which may not work in long run. Hence, if we expect our projects to be innovative, we should be careful to consider the fact right from the project design and negotiate with donors accordingly.

    We were able to do that in the Strengthening the supply chain  of construction materials project, which I have been managing since last 2 years. As a result, we have been successful to demonstrate various new technologies like CSEB, Stone Cutting machine and innovative idea like Demand aggregation. The project had 4 months of inception period fully dedicated to understanding the context and testing the new technologies /ideas. The inception period was extended by 2 months to allow the ideas to mature further. Actual uptake of the ideas / technologies started only after 9th month. However, it didn’t take long to catch up the financial and physical targets as the ideas were mature and strategy was clear by then.

    Successful demonstration of technology alone doesn’t automatically lead to uptake
    I spent major part of my tenure in Practical Action promoting Gravity Goods Ropeway. I genuinely believe it is a great technology. It holds enormous promise to help 100 of thousands (if not millions) of people living in the isolated hills of Nepal and other mountainous countries in the developing world. However, the technology didn’t tip beyond some isolated success cases and sporadic uptake by few organizations. On retrospection, I feel that our implicit assumption that the successful demonstration of the technology will automatically lead to replication didn’t work. We focused our efforts on demonstrating the technology, which we did really well. However, we missed to demonstrate the incentive that the uptake of the technology will entail to different market actors (government and private sector), except for the poor farmers. The farmers, however, lack resources to uptake the technology on their own.
    The hard learnt lesson, however, came in handy in the Supply chain project, in which we consciously demonstrated both , the technologies and the incentives they entails to different actors. As a result, the market actors (private firms) are scaling up the technologies /ideas in the project districts with light touch support from the project. The firms are spreading the ideas and technologies beyond the project districts on their own.

    Resource poor not the knowledge

    It may sound like a cliché but over the time I have truly started believing that the people we are working for may be poor in resources but are rich in knowledge. They may not present their ideas in the development jargons that we are used to hearing but they always offer the most plausible insight and most practical solution to any problem. Hence, when you feel you are running out of ideas ok  stuck in problems, go to them. If you have patience and right ears to hear them, you will always be rewarded with the most innovative yet Practical ideas.

    Attitude is more important than intelligence
    In last 11years, I got opportunity to work with several people – people with different level of intelligence (IQ) and different attitudes (EI). Just to paraphrase them in the terminology we use in Practical Action for performance evaluation – people with different level of technical competency and behavioral competency. Though, I eventually, learnt to enjoy working with all of them, my experience boils down to the following 2 conclusions,
    • People with right attitude are more important than with higher intelligence for success of any project. Hence, if you have opportunity to choose between the people with right attitude and higher intelligence, go for former.
    • When people are given which is often the case, work through their attitude rather than trying to change them. Attitudes are difficult to change if they can be changed at all.
    I feel vindicated after reading this article. It argues the importance of attitude over intelligence for personal success. But, same hold true of success of any project.

    2 Comments » | Add your comment
  • MY EXPERIENCE IN CSW62


    March 23rd, 2018

    It was my first time to the United States and I was so excited about visiting US and participating in the UNCSW62. Before travelling, I almost told everyone close to me that I am going to the UN and that I have got an opportunity to speak about some of our work in India. As much I was excited, I was nervous too about the presentation, as it went several rounds of revisions with the CSW62 preparatory team (Charlotte, Loise, Patricia and me), but finally a decent presentation was all set to go. I had to speak more than what was written on the slides and so I sort of practised the presentation within myself. In the other hand, I thank Chris, who was getting all logistics organised at New York so that we have a good stay. I must thank Sarah Sandon for her guidance and for approving my participation in the CSW62.

    The UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was held from 12-23 March 2018. Practical Action was represented by Loise Maina – Gender Advisor and Arun Hial – M & E Manager (Me) from India. Unfortunately, a third member – Patricia Monje Cuadrado, Chief fundraiser based in Bolivia was not able to travel to New York due to a family emergency.

    We were expected to participate and represent in FOUR separate sessions.

    The first one was ‘Empowering Women and Girls’ organised by NAWO. The National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO) is an umbrella organisation of over 100 organisations and individuals working to make gender equality a reality. The Alliance has been accrediting young women and men still at school (16-18) to the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women for over a decade. Loise Maina discussed relevant strategies to empower women and girls and provided some relevant examples from Practical Action’s work with rural communities. This session resulted in better understanding of the NAWO delegation on the overall purpose and context of the CSW2018 theme.

    The second session was ‘Innovation – using ICTs to empower rural women’ organised by ADVANCE who work in the priority areas of entrepreneurship, education and justice for women and girls.  I got the opportunity to share about how Practical Action is using media and ICT to raise awareness and share knowledge on menstrual hygiene amongst girls in India through the innovative ‘Sunolo Sakhi Project’. As a result of this presentation, people shown interest to get connected with us or get us connected with relevant organisations that can support in scaling up this programme. We have lined up follow up actions on this. Oh there was so many questions about the presentation, everyone wanted to know more about Sunolo Sakhi.. I would say about 90% of the questions were around my presentation, and of course it’s not because they did not understand what I said, but the questions were seeking more information about the program.

    The third one was “Increasing prosperity for rural women: Implementing gendered SDGs targets in goals 2, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 16”. This session was organised by the UK NGO Alliance that works with partners based in the UK, as well as with local partner organisations across the world. Loise Maina, Gender Advisor shared about Practical Action’s work to increase incomes and link rural women farmers to sustainable markets in the cocoa value chain. This session was considered to be quite practical and helped to demonstrate proven interventions that can help improve rural communities’ livelihoods. Loise had prepared herself with a PowerPoint presentation, however, the session did not have opportunity for that and needed a five minute speech. Loise managed this so wonderfully with huge confidence and she was very clear on what she wanted to communicate with the audience. About questions, yes there were questions to Loise and they got relevant answers. This session was chaired by one of the Hon’ble MPs of UK.

    The fourth session was “Innovative Use of Media for Rural Women and Girls”. This session was organised by PRIDE which works with organizations across the region to ensure education that promotes holistic development options.  I could share experience from the implementation of the Sunolo Sakhi project in India that promotes awareness and education on menstrual hygiene through ICTs and media. This has created a space for Practical Action’s gender work and that is well accepted. This too was a quite engaging session, now some of the old faces have sort of accepted Practical Action doing Sunolo Sakhi kind of work.

    Apart from these four sessions, we were engaged in many of the side events suggested by Sarah and Charlotte time to time, it really helped us to get to the relevant ones. The overall experience in CSW62 was great and we could participate in number of sessions knowing about gender issues in different spaces as well as networking and connecting with new people and organisations. We have a list of follow ups to be done and have listed lessons learnt for those who will be taking part in future CSW events.

    We could also do some sightseeing together in Times Square and World Trade Centre etc.

    I was blessed and privileged to be one of the participants from Practical Action and it was worth attending CSW62.

    Look forward for the new connections and collaborations to take its own shape to benefit the underprivileged women and girls.

    JAI HO

    For more information, please contact

     

    Arun Hial (Arun.Hial@practicalaction.org)

    Loise Maina (Loise.Maina@practicalaction.or.ke)

    Some more pictures

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Water is life for villagers in Darfur


    March 20th, 2018

     

    A simple solution like a solar powered water pump can have a profound impact on a community. This is eloquently demonstrated in these first-hand accounts from residents of two villages in drought-prone North Darfur.

    These stories were collected and written by Hamid Bakheet. 

    “We were at the margin of survival. Most of the villagers have moved elsewhere to find water. It’s really hard to leave your homeland but the even harder to survive without water.

    We used to travel for about three hours on our donkeys to seek water for our families. You can imagine what that means. Going for water every other day meant you could only work fifteen days a month reducing our income.  The amount of water we could transport was not great.  At best we had enough to shower three times a week but usually only once a week.

    Now through this work with Practical Action everything has changed.  Our solar water pump has which has changed our life dramatically.  Now it is the easiest thing to get water, even the children can go alone to bring water for their families.”

    Believe it or not when I saw water coming out from the pump for the first time I felt something like a cloud covering my eyes.  It was tears of happiness, although is shaming for a Darfurian man to show tears!”

    Altayeb from Kweim village, north Darfur

    Hawaa from Mugabil village also expresses her joy at the new facility

    “In the past when there was no water in our village, pastoralists and farmers often came to blows. Now it’s very rare to hear that a conflict has happened. We women were usually exhausted because we had to go for about four kilometers to bring a small amount of water for all our needs, drinking, cooking, washing and showering.

    When we had a guest and there was no water, we used to borrow water from our neighbours!  And it was not good for our donkeys to carry water all that distance. A donkey might be expected to live for twenty years but the lives of our donkeys were reduced to only about five years.

    We also faced the risk of gender based violence on those long water gathering trips, but now with water become available here we are safe.  And the time we were spending in going for water we now use for other domestic, economic and personal activities. 

    We even become more beautiful because we can wash and shower every day,” laughed Hawaa!

    This project was designed by Practical Action and financed by the Swedish Postcode Foundation to provide water for both settled and pastoralist communities in the villages of Mugabil and Kweim in north Darfur. It benefits more than 8,000 individuals who live in the areas surrounding Mugabil and Kweim as well as 2,000 pastoralists.

    The most obvious impacts of this project are an increase in water access and quality in the area. Now clean water for drinking and cooking is available for the whole community and for pastoralists and their livestock.  This will have a significant benefit to the health of the community.  The community water management committee is taking responsibility for managing the water supply to ensure its sustainability.  And the pump is operated by clean, renewable solar power so is helping keep both people and the environment safe.

    Seeing how happy these villagers are about the positive change in their life with water makes me proud to work for the organisation that made this possible.

     

     

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • ‘Woman’s Hour’ in Odisha

    Growing up and becoming a young woman in India can be a confusing, terrifying prospect in some rural and poor urban communities. Young women are given the barest of facts and no proper explanation of what is happening to their bodies. Traditions tell them they are both ‘unclean’ while menstruating; and that they are ‘now a woman’. They face up to the terrifying prospect (still practiced in some rural communities) of physical isolation in separate huts for the entirely of their period; as well as the potential of early marriage (despite child marriage being made illegal) to a man likely twice their age or more.

    Sunolo Sakhi radio broadcast

    So what can a simple radio show do in this context? How can the broadcast word make any difference? Of course it cannot be powerful on its own, but when combined with the courage of those teenagers and young adults, it can create shock-waves of change.

    This is something I heard about first hand during a visit to Sunolo Sakhi clubs in the town of Bhubaneswar in Odisha State in November last year. Their Facebook page is here. And see this short Video to find out more.

    A radio show now in its 3rd series with more than 30 hours being on air so far and being broadcast across six towns in the state of Odisha is allowing young women the chance to understand menstruation and all that surrounds it. The show, broadcast for an hour on a Saturday afternoon and then available as a podcast, allows girls to phone in and ask questions of an expert. Practical Action has supported the radio show, and helped girls and young women to form clubs at the community level where they can get together to listen to the show and discuss it.

    Sunolo Sakhi in braille

    To celebrate International Women’s Day 2018 #IWD, the team launched a braille version of the accompanying material: part of a commitment to make it even more widely accessible.

    These girls have not had an easy time of it. They had to fight with their mothers and fathers to be allowed to even meet up. There was fear that the knowledge would be disrespectful and turn their daughters against them. All this simply to listen to a radio show together once a week.

    The groups have been built, by social community workers. Building trust is essential, we start with a small number of slums (15 per month), and groups are now operating in 80 slums. Social mobilisers work with mothers in the community to build trust. These ice-breaking activities are essential: menstrual hygiene remains a cultural taboo and without building trust, awareness and openness girls would not be granted approval to join the clubs. Forming clubs is not easy, and it is essential to work closely with mothers and other families and community members, especially men.

    Members of the Sunolo Sakhi club

    On the show, questions are answered about the practicalities of menstruation: what is normal; and whether the myths they’ve been handed down are really true. They sometimes listen with their mothers. It opens a space for discussion, guided and organised by local facilitators. This may be the start of allowing these young women some basic agency. In urban contexts at least it can help gradually change the myths that constrain them. They will never forget what they’ve learned from week to week – and when asked how they would pass it on to their daughters they were adamant that the secrecy and taboos of the past would end in their generation.

    Speaking at launch of Sunolo Sakhi braille edition

    I confess I’m a fan of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour – a national treasure of British radio which has been occasionally criticised as being too ‘safe’ with its discussions of how to make the best cakes, but also for being dangerously radical. It shares an objective of being a space where women lead the discussion about the topics of the day and how they experience them. It was a revelation to hear from these young women about the power of radio to both challenge and inform.

    What did the girls think should be the future of the show? They felt there was still much to do on the issue of menstrual hygiene, but other associated issues were important too, in particular questions of child marriage, and there certainly seemed a huge appetite for the format and content.

    Sadly no commercial radio station wants to take the show on with its own resources. But for the time being Practical Action hopes to continue our support. Personally I have rarely seen such fantastic value for money in empowering girls to take control.

    Happy International Women’s Day 2018 #IWD #pressforprogress

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • A Darfurian Woman Pressing for Progress  


    , | March 7th, 2018

    Kabkabyia is a small town in the Northern part of North Darfur state. It is one of the places where Practical Action Sudan is implementing development projects in post-conflict context. The area is badly affected by the protracted conflict and women in particular face the worst part of this reality when they find themselves heading their families and handling both productive and social roles.

    HaleemaHaleema, a 55 years old widow from Kabkabyia is one of those women challenging poverty, conflict, illiteracy and gender discrimination, and leading vital role in their communities. Wearing a white Sudanese traditional toub, with big smile and bright eyes, Haleema spoke to me about her interesting personal and professional journey.

    Haleema got married at 20 after she finished high school.  She joined the National Educational Institute and graduated as English and rural development teacher in 1985. She started her career as a school teacher and a young mother too in 1986.

    Haleema’s ambition was beyond a 4 hours teaching job in a primary school; she dreamed to do something different to her community and to contribute to the development of her small town. Therefore, Haleema fearlessly shifted her career to the development sector through working with OXFAM. Then, she moved between different development agencies included Small-Scale Farmers Association and Women Charity. She worked in different projects and manged funds from some important donors in the area what equipped her with great knowledge and experiences.

    Later, Haleema joined Kabkabyia Women Development Association; a women civil structure established by a group of female teachers in 1988 with the aim of rural development and women empowerment in the area.

    The association – which is now headed by Haleema – has become one of the most important civil society organizations in the area those play great role in changing women socio-economic situations in Darfur.

    The association is an important development partner for Practical Action in all its projects in Kabkabyia including Peace and Stability, and Sudan Humanitarian Funds. About this partnership, Haleema said; “I knew Practical Action long time ago when it introduced the donkey-driven plough in our town, that intermediate technology helped women preparing the land for cultivation with less efforts in shorter time,  and most importantly opened our mind to the significance of having innovative solutions for our livelihood issues”.

    haleema presentingDescribing how Practical Action encouraged the inclusion of women and their representation in community management structures (e.g. peace-building committees), she proudly said,

    “Our voices have finally been heard” adding,  “Practical Action supported our Women Development Association and we started building the capacity of rural women in agro-processing and other income generating activities, women are currently leading food-business in the town!”.

    Haleema is model for a successful working woman in rural Darfur, however, she is still challenging the social barriers standing from gender-undermining traditions and culture. She described her personal daily challenges as a working mother for 7 kids; ‘’ I suffer from the load of daily domestic work and I have No time for rest”. She added “our community hasn’t understood the importance of women’s work yet”.

    Haleema believes that women are key for communities’ development, she trusts that things will continue changing to the favour of women if we keep our hard work and press for progress in gender parity.

    In this International Women Day, I want to express my respect and appreciation to women like Haleema, who are challenging the darkness associated with conflict and poverty, they sparkle the light and keep fighting for the coming generation. I believe this world will be a better place with their spirit and braveness. “Thanks Haleema Elnour, a woman from Kabkabyia”

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Improving food security in Talkok


    February 16th, 2018

    Telkok is one of the most poverty stricken localities in the state of Kassala and needs a great deal of effort to build up the food security and resilience of its communities.

    clearing mesquite TalkokPractical Action and three local partners are leading a range of interventions in the area. These include limiting the spread of Mesquite trees which invade agricultural areas.

    One partner, the Elgandual network, is working to improve agricultural production and helpfarmers’ increase their income.  They held a practical demonstration on techniques for mesquite clearance, combined with skills development on mesquite charcoal production as a means of generating income. This was attended by 87 beneficiaries from four villages (Tahjer kumailab, Haladiat east, Drasta and Jabal Haboba);

    Hamed Ahmed Tahjer said:

    “The area of mesquite was increasing in the agricultural lands and we use it for firewood in the charcoal industry, to increase the income”.  

    Training in TalkokAnother partner, Sudan Vision, is working to improve access to water for agriculture and livestock. They have rehabilitated two hafirs, (reservoirs) which provide water for approximately 20,000 animals.

    The third partner, the Kassala Women’s Development Network, conducted 12 public sessions on healthy diets, targeting 800 women and 150 men in 6 communities (Drassta, Haladiat East, Twaite, Baryia, Tamay, and Jabel Haboba).  The aim was to challenge traditional diets which adversely affect women and children The sessions raised awareness about healthy nutrition in term of food diversity and food processing using video, direct dialogue, and practical training on food processing for nutrition.

    No Comments » | Add your comment