Blogs tagged as Access to services

  • Innocent until proven guilty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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  • 5 things to make life better

    January 16th, 2014

    aWhat would your life be like without lighting or power? And can you imagine living without a toilet?  This was the reality for Ravalina and her family, who live in the Canchis region of Peru, way up in the Andes, making a living from selling the wool spun from her herd of alpacas.

    Being without these basic services, which most of us would regard as essentials, made life pretty tough.  It affected all aspects of her life – work, health and education. 

    Supported by innocent foundation

    The innocent foundation supported this Practical Action project financially and they have made a great video about our work – take a look at the Chain of Good.

    Here are the five things that have made a huge difference to Ravalina’s life.  I certainly couldn’t imagine living without any of them, but this my order of priority for me.  Do you agree?





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  • Shocking truth about bullying of refuse workers

    November 22nd, 2013

    They live in shame and fear. They’re treated as social outcasts and have to bear verbal and sometimes physical abuse from residents. These refuse workers are even refused access onto buses.

    I’m talking about refuse workers in Kathmandu, Nepal…more specifically, waste pickers. Picking through stinking garbage dumps, they recover recyclable materials from waste thrown out by offices and homes.

    Only around 17% of urban households  have their trash collected by waste collectors. After collection, trash accumulates in piles on vacant land or is dumped in the nearest river. It is creating a serious health and environmental hazard for all Nepalese.

    Despite their contribution to society and the planet by removing and recycling nearly 1,500 tons of waste every week, waste pickers in Nepal are seen as the lowest of the low, treated like rubbish because they work with rubbish.

    Today, at the end of anti-bullying week, they are fighting to be recognised as recycling entrepreneurs fighting against climate change by reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

    12-year-old Chadari Pudah has been attacked by other children because she is a waste picker.

    “When I get back home from waste picking, I clean myself – people make fun of you if you are dirty or smelly. Other kids shout ‘khaate’ (garbage child or worse). I say ‘please don’t call us khaate, we are like you’ but they don’t listen and when we ask them to stop they would hit us.”


    Amrit Malakar has received abuse for the 20 years he has been working as a waste picker in Kathmandu.

    “People in our surrounding area shout abuse at us when we go waste picking. They stop us and accuse us of stealing.”

    waste picker man in Nepal

    After a 10-hour day at the rubbish dump, 15-year old Sunil Kumar and his 13-year-old brother Syeed walk 20 kilometres to the scrap dealer to sell the items they collect. Then they have to walk 20 kilometres back home because they couldn’t get on a bus.

    “The bus drivers won’t allow us on because they think we’re dirty. When it rains the walk home is horrible. We get soaked and cold and our shoes would be soaked through. People ignore us or are rude to us and they would say ‘get away from me’.”

    waste picker boys in Nepal

    It’s not all bad news though. Practical Action is supporting waste pickers in Kathmandu with training to improve literacy, improve their skills and prevent them being ripped off, financial help to enable them to send their children to school, helping them get health insurance and forming co-operatives to ensure they get good a good price for their goods.

    We’ve launched media campaigns to raise awareness of the role of waste workers, change people’s attitudes and gain their respect and recognition for the work they do.

    Public service announcements are being broadcast on TV channels and public transport systems, hoarding boards are being placed around Kathmandu and there are newspaper articles, flyers, posters and street dramas publicising the message.

    Informal waste workers are also being issued with identity cards as recognised workers in solid waste management.

    Waste picker Lalu Podar, who has been supported through Practical Action’s work, said:

    “Now, I proudly say “I am a waste picker”. I am recognised in my role and the contribution I make in the solid waste management sector. People’s perception towards us in our community has slightly changed after the different behaviour change campaigns Practical Action conducted. Nowadays the public call us “Dai” and “Bhai” (brother). I will proudly continue working as a waste picker.” 

    Please take action and help give people like Chadari, Amrit, Sunil and Syeeda a voice and a better quality of life through a new appeal Practical Action have launched called ‘Safer Cities’. It is being backed by the UK government who will match fund donations pound for pound, helping us to do more vital work to improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people living in slum communities.  This means that if you can give us £20 the Government will also give us £20, making your donation go even further!

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  • Mobile phone or toilet: what would you choose?

    November 15th, 2013

    As World Toilet Day approaches, I’ve been thinking about a rather shocking statistic: More people have access to a mobile phone than a toilet.

    More people have access to a mobile phone than a toilet.

    Out of the world’s estimated 7 billion people, 6 billion have access to mobile phones. Yet only 4.5 billion people have access to working toilets.

    It’s a tragic irony that people can access information about proper sanitation on their phones – and yet they can’t actually access the basic necessity and dignity of a toilet.

    I read this other shocking statistic today: Of the 2.5 billion who don’t have proper sanitation, a shocking 1.1 billion defecate in the open. The faeces produced every day by these 1.1 billion people could fill a football stadium.

    1.1 billion people defecate in the open. The faeces produced every day by them could fill a football stadium.

    These people have no private place to defecate and urinate; they use bushes, ditches, railway tracks, or simply a plastic bag.

    I’ve walked through urban slums where streams of sewage run past children playing bare foot in the street.

    children playing in sewage filled streets in slums

    Those poor community sanitary conditions are a major cause of diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases among children. On top of that, diarrhoea is a leading cause of child deaths in countries without access to clean or hygienic facilities.

    The situation could get worse due to increasing urbanisation. People are moving to cities in developing countries to seek a better life. But many find themselves living in slums and adding to the horrendous conditions.

    After using the toilet before I went to bed last night, I asked my husband: “If you had to choose between a mobile phone and a toilet, what would you choose?”

    “A toilet,” he said without a moment of hesitation. “The quality of life by having access to a toilet is greater than the lifestyle benefits a mobile phone offers.”

    What would you choose?

    You could choose to help people access sanitation through a new appeal Practical Action have launched called ‘Safer Cities’. It is being backed by the UK government who will match fund donations pound for pound, helping us to do more vital work to improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people living in slum communities.
    International Development Secretary Justine Greening said: By matching pound for pound all public donations to this appeal, we will help Practical Action provide safe drinking water and basic sanitation to over four thousand people living in slums in Bangladesh and Nepal. As well as day-to-day health benefits, this will reduce the spread of potentially deadly water-borne diseases that follow regular seasonal flooding. Better hygiene isn’t just vital to save lives, it means people can focus on earning money and taking care of their families.”
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  • Waste workers in Nepal find new freedom and respect

    November 5th, 2013

    After three days confined to the halls and corridors of a hotel attending the South Asian Conference on Sanitation here in Kathmandu, I was glad to get out for an afternoon. I went to visit a few of the groups of waste workers involved in our PRISM project – the subject of our recent Radio 4 appeal.

    Two and a half years in, and with only 7 months left in the project, it has clearly had a huge impact, touching the lives of nearly 2,000 of the approximately 6,000 people involved in waste management in the Kathmandu valley. That afternoon I met two of the most positive and happy people I’ve encountered in a long time. One was a girl who must have been in her late teens, and studying management in Class 12. It’s an astonishing feat of commitment that she’s got that far, because she has worked throughout the majority of her schooling and is the main carer responsible for her younger brother. Initially she worked as a waste sorter in a ‘scrap house’. In the last year, though she’s worked in the office of the waste workers’ co-operative – receiving and recording people’s savings, and taking them through the process of applying for loans. This is the first co-operative of its kind in Nepal, and possibly the first in South Asia, designed to cater exclusively for waste workers.  They have 260 members so far, and are aiming for 1,000 by the middle of next year. They have already made 105 loans.

    The word that kept coming up was ‘freedom’.  Previously, if waste workers needed a loan, they would have had to borrow from the owner of the scrap house. Repayment terms were uncertain, interest rates very high, and they were often forced to work extra hours in lieu of payments (all poorly accounted for and probably extortionate). Now they are no longer tied to an employer for that. And as for our friend who staffs the office – she feels a new freedom and new responsibility, and is clearly flourishing in her role.

    Waste sorter with some of his teamAfter that we visited a man who has recently expanded his waste sorting business. We visited him at his yard – overflowing with colourful sacks of different kinds of sorted waste. His family moved to Kathmandu from India before he was born, and he remains an Indian citizen (although born here). He started work in his relative’s scrap house, but once he’d learned the business he decided to strike out on his own with a small scrap yard 6 or 7 years ago. This year, the project provided him with ‘Start and Improve Your Business Training’, and helped him with a combination of grant and loan to buy his new yard. He now employs 30 people either as sorters or door-to-door collectors. He works 7 days a week (the waste never stops coming!), and had the biggest grin and infectious energy throughout our visit, despite it being right at the end of the day. The two things that have changed since the training, he says, are that he has a far clearer idea of the going rate for different types of waste. He can get a much better price now that he is able to sell a reasonable quantity and with better quality, and his confidence in bargaining with the dealers has increased. He also keeps systematic records which he uses to calculate his profits, part of which he shares with his work force as a bonus each month. The best thing about running his own business, he says, is the freedom to be his own boss.

    Added to that, the project has carried out an intensive programme of public awareness, as well as a range of interventions and trainings to boost the confidence and self-esteem of the waste workers themselves. This included a 3-episode TV show starring some of Nepal’s most well-known actors. The workers loved having their own lives reflected on TV (they never thought they’d see it). It has also given them a sense of pride, and on the streets people call them ‘bhai’ and ‘ji’ (brother) rather than words that most kindly translate as ‘trash’. So the scrap yard owner is now a far more respected member of his family and his community, and his workers are better treated and have new opportunities to save and borrow. These are some of the things that make life worthwhile – and it has clearly meant the world to the people I met today.

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  • Showcasing green technologies in Sri Lanka

    All around Colombo are the signs of a city preparing for special guests.  But with just a few weeks until the eagerly awaited Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka, another very special event took place last week in the grounds of the same venue.Staff from Practical Action, Janathakshan, and partner organisations and networks, were working tirelessly to build a magnificent outdoor exhibition under the banner ‘Green Technology Village’ a celebration of 25 years of Practical Action’s work in Sri Lanka.

    As a relative newcomer to Practical Action (very new compared to the many Sri Lanka staff who have decades under their belts!) this was a wonderful opportunity for me to learn from the successes, challenges and collective experience of the exhibitors.  And I wasn’t the only one. At least 3000 people – professionals, academics, government officials, members of the public and school children – also came to learn about and discuss green technologies and explore the opportunities they present both for their own lives and those of poor communities in Sri Lanka.

    We learned about traditional rice varieties – long out of fashion – revived and now marketed to Europe.  These earn a price premium (they are both organic and wholegrain after all) and improve nutrition in farmers households, as well as protecting indigenous biodiversity.

    We were shown biogas and fertiliser being generated from food waste using affordable technology that is increasingly attractive to city dwellers and businesses looking to reduce energy bills, as well as rural communities without access to electricity.  Rising energy prices are just one of the problems shared by people in both the UK and Sri Lanka.

    copyright/Friendship 2013

    Schoolboys try their hand generating electricity from a bicycle at the Green Technology Village.

    One problem not shared is the challenge of living alongside one of nature’s giants: the elephant. Sri Lanka is smaller than Ireland, but with 3 times the people and 7,000 wild elephants to boot.  Drawing on the knowledge of local communities, a low-cost bio-fencing technology is being promoted by Practical Action.  Planting huge, long-life, spiky Palmyra trees, in a 5-deep, zig-zag fashion, creates a natural barrier that can replace costly and difficult to maintain electric fences.  Not only will this better protect villages and villagers from roaming elephants, but they produce fruit in the dry season too, just when the elephants are searching for scarce food.

    All of these examples (and the many more at the Green Technology Village) demonstrate that with the right technologies poor people can transform their lives.  And it reminded me that those of us who already enjoy access to transport, energy and other technologies of our choosing, have a duty to be mindful of the impacts of how we use them.

    So, my first step to being a greener technology user?  Well, now I that have the know-how, perhaps I can cut my food miles and build myself a hydroponic veggie patch in my spare room…

    copyright/Friendship 2013

    A staff member demonstrates how to grow lettuce without soil.

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  • World Energy Congress – great factoids, some flies and a disappointing debate on energy access.

    October 20th, 2013

    This is my 4th and final blog from the World Energy Congress. Day 4 finally got round to a discussion of energy access, with the main morning plenary session based on a panel including Kandeh Yumkella, the CEO of the UNSE4ALL secretariat and Vijay Iyer of the World Bank. Both know their subject well but the chairing of the panel unfortunately failed to spark anything really interesting in terms of debate. Having made a bit of a token gesture to the issue the delegates then returned mostly to the sessions discussing the more profitable areas of the energy industry. The audience for the only other panel session on access (the one I was part of) was limited to under 100.

    I have enjoyed my time at the Congress and learnt a lot, both about technology trends and about how the industry sees the future. It has confirmed my suspicion however that although the there’s plenty of technical ingenuity avaiable within the energy industry, the sort of leadership and revolutionary thinking that’s going to be needed to halt climate change and ensure universal energy access is not going to come from within the industry itself. Not surprising I guess as long as global policy frameworks don’t provide real commercial incentives to drive that sort of innovation.

    On a lighter note, to finish up, here’s some interesting factoids I picked up during the week:

    • Most renewables (without subsidies) are now becoming cost competitive with coal and gas (exceptions are newest / least mature technologies such as solar thermal and wave power).
    • Solar pv costs have dropped 60% since 2010, while wind turbine costs have fallen by 30% since 2008. But solar and wind can be land intensive technologies (i.e. they take up space) and so are influenced heavily by the price of land.
    • Global annul subsidies for renewables amount to $60 billion; global annual subsidies for fossil fuels a colossal $500 billion.
    • Data centres (the things that Google relies on to shift our e-mail traffic round the world and host our internet browsing) now consume 2.5% of global power production!
    • 40% of world’s population lives in water stressed areas

    Oh yes! And maggots are set to take over from fish! A guy called Jason Drew, who’s the CEO of a South African company called AgriProtien, made an interesting contribution to a panel on the water / food / energy nexus by talking about his company’s business breeding and selling maggots. He collects 150 tonnes of organic waste a day and feeds flies on it, converting the resultant fly eggs into 30 tonnes of protein in the form of maggots each day! The market is to replace industrial use of fishmeal for animal feed!

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  • World Energy Congress: The future for sustainable energy – not a dilemma but a trilemma

    October 17th, 2013

    This is my 3rd blog from the World Energy Congress in Korea. Wednesday’s theme was what the World Energy Council calls the ‘Energy Trilemma’, the need to find the right balance between 3 conflicting goals  energy security (ensuring enough energy to meet today’s and future demands), environmental sustainability (managing carbon emmissions amongst other things) and energy equity (the accessibility and affordability of energy supply across the population). WEC publishes an annual report on this topic which contains, amongst other things, an interesting traffic light index which shows how well individual countries do against each of the 3 elements of the trilemma. Surprisingly the UK is 5th out of 129 countries with green traffic lights on all 3 elements of the trilemma. Developing countries generally do not fare well on the basis of this index and largely populate the bottom half of the table with a lot of red. Peru, ranked 45  does best out of all the countries we work in; Zimbabwe worst, ranked 129 out of 129.

    The report, or at least the executive summary version, is worth a quick read as it explores 10 recommended actions to help cope with the trilemma. Actually I found the material in the 3 boxes in the executive summary version the most interesting part as it reflects issues that seem to come up again and again during conversations this week:

    1. The need for international standards to drive improvements in efficiency in consumer electrical products,
    2. The important role pension fund investment has to play in the energy sector and what needs to change to provide the pension funds the security they need to invest at the level required.
    3. The critical importance of R&D into improving large scale storage (very big batteries to you and me) in enabling the renewable energy industry to take a real leap forward, particularly in terms of helping national grids cope with a significantly increased proportion of their generation capacity being intermittent (i.e. dependent on the sun shining or the wind blowing).
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  • Crocheting with alpaca wool

    October 4th, 2013

    I’ve never been able to knit or crochet – my mum, my gran, my long-suffering Home Economics teacher Mrs Wootton – they all tried, and failed, to pass on the basics, so I could only stare in envy and admiration as Rabelina, an alpaca farmer I met in Peru, effortlessly turned a ball of the softest wool I’d ever felt into a hat while we chatted.

    Before her involvement with Practical Action, she lived in a one-room hut with her youngest children. There was no toilet, electricity, kitchen or shower, her children were constantly sick, and she got hacking lung infections from inhaling cooking smoke. She made her living from hand-spinning alpaca wool into thread, and in those days, the hardest part was washing the wool as it was a struggle to heat enough water.

    Practical Action chose her for training in basic animal care, and also helped her to build a stove, solar panel and shower. She said the biggest benefit was that she could clean and spin better quality wool, which sells for a higher price. If you want to know more about the project, see

    I’m sorry, Mrs Wootton. I was a total waste of space in your classroom. But maybe meeting Rabelina will inspire me to have just one more go.

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  • Meeting Godfrey Dongaronga

    Last week Practical Action and ZERO hosted a workshop in Harare on the UN’s Sustainable Energy For All initiative. I had some reservations about spending three sunny days in a conference room but my attitude to the workshop changed when I sat down next to Phyllis Kachere, a senior editor from the Herald (a national newspaper in Zimbabwe). It got more exciting as the formal introductions started and it became clear that major radio, print and TV journalists from Zimbabwe were present.

    Journalists visiting a farm that produces bio-gas from pig waste.

    Journalists visiting a farm that produces bio-gas from pig waste.

    Sustainable Energy For All is a concept that most people in the room had never thought about, with many admitting that they had patchy knowledge at best of what renewable energy is. But by the end the journalists had not only taken charge of the event but expressed feelings of responsibility for spreading the message. They were even happy to spend an afternoon at a smelly local pig farm, learning about how to turn waste into electricity.

    As a result of the workshop sustainable energy stories have already started to pop up in the Zimbabwean national media. This shows a real appetite for influencing the agenda and pushing for sustainable energy for all.

    Godfrey Dongaronga

    Godfrey Dongaronga

    This is fantastic but the highlight of the event for me was meeting Godfrey Dongaronga, an intern at Zero. On the second day of the workshop, we got talking about what had motivated each of us to work for our respective development charities. Godfrey was clearly eager to tell me his story and with a big grin on his face he explained how he had personally seen what Practical Action does on the ground and that it had changed his life.  He told me that he had lived in energy poverty until his village, Chipendeke, was host to a successful Practical Action micro-hydro project.

    Godfrey told me that having energy had not only enabled him to meet basic needs such as schooling and health care, but it had inspired him to study natural resource management at university and had led him to apply for the internship at Zero. He said he couldn’t imagine how his life would have turned out if he hadn’t lived with the benefits of energy access.

    Godfrey was very keen for me to share his experience and continue to advocate for energy access in rural areas. As I was leaving the conference he slipped me a note to make sure I hadn’t missed anything:

    “I am Dongaronga Godfrey, a student from Bindura University of Science Education, currently studying BES/Natural Resources Management. I would like to testify that Chipendeke hydro power project has benefited quite a number of people in different ways.

    I the first beneficiary, I was able to read my school work, use the health facilities and gain from growth and development.

    The electricity from Chipendeke project relieved people, especially women and children from toxic and hazardous smoke. In Zimbabwe women and children are dying of those toxic smoke. Agriculture is also one of the activities that has been upgraded in Chipendeke just to mention a few”.

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