Blogs tagged as blog

  • Women central to an effective response to changing climates

    March 7th, 2019


    Climate change is now accepted as a global crisis, but solutions have so far been inadequate and have largely ignored human and gender dimensions. This is despite the fact that marginalised and poor people, including women, are affected first and hit hardest. Recent evidence indicates that women’s views, needs and their participation has been largely excluded from the design and planning of climate change responses, including major policies. Moreover, women are often perceived primarily as victims, and not as equal and active partners in risk reduction, adaptation and mitigation strategies. Recent hazards highlight this dilemma.  Women and children are fourteen times more likely to die than a man during a disaster event. In the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh which killed approximately 140,000 people, the mortality rate of women over 40 was 31%.  And in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami more than 70% of the dead were women. Why, because women stayed behind to look for their children, or older relatives. Women in this region often can’t swim or climb trees, which meant that they couldn’t escape.

    Women carrying fire wood Dibyapur, Nawalparasi, Nepal

    Women are typically more vulnerable due to their dependence on natural resources and structural inequalities in their access to economic resources, as well as social and religious stereotypes. A common example is the cultural position of women within the home: unable to participate in public conversations, women are often kept from receiving emergency warning or climate adaptation information. In particular, women in remote communities are more vulnerable due to their marginalized position and lack of access to and understanding of alternatives.

    Practical Action has long recognized the centrality of gender in effective climate smart development and we have now prioritized gender alongside climate technology in all the work we do.  To do this effectively we need to recognize that women and men perceive and experience the rapid impacts of natural hazards and the slower consequences of changing climates differently. We need to factor this into our engagement strategies, the way we interact and work with communities and the project development plans that guide their work.  But perhaps most importantly we need to lead by example.

    We have long recognized that women are all too often seen as victims of climate change and disasters. We realize that we can challenge this perception and promote the fact that they are well positioned to be agents of change through mitigation, management and adaptive activities in their households, workplaces, communities and countries if the necessary socio-cultural changes are promoted, and this means engaging men to accept this change. One of our recent studies found that community institutions such as disaster management committees were better managed, finding that institutions that lacked effective women’s participation and leadership were at least 20% less effective.

    Women fish farmer, Jessore Bangladesh

    Women can be effective leaders within their communities when it comes to addressing the harmful effects of climate change. Where women can help devise early warning systems and reconstruction efforts, communities may fare better when natural hazards strike a second time. Women’s innovation have been heralded in sectors such as water, energy and reforestation – all of which are critical climate change issues. Their efforts must be incorporated into climate change policies from the outset and promoted through capacity building. But a major obstacle to this may be their participation above the household or community level. Our experience indicates women’s participation at these levels is limited, and that this probably prevents their experiences and perceptions from shaping higher levels of decision-making power. Women’s input in these arenas will be needed if gender is to figure more prominently in policy and practice, and that this policy and practice will meet the needs of 100% of the population and not just the 50% who currently dominate.

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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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  • Telling better stories

    May 26th, 2017

    After a long 1.15 hours flight and 5 hours ride in a pickup truck, we reached Dadeldhura, which will be our home for the next three days.  Dadeldhura lies in the far-western district of Nepal and holds many historic significance.   As I was told by one of the locals, Amargadhi Fort in Dadeldhura was built in 1790 AD by General Amar Singh Thapa to serve as a military base.  During the unification of Nepal by then King Prithvi Narayan Shah, General Amar Singh Thapa fought the British troops from this very fort.  That’s some interesting piece of information there!  I really didn’t know about this until now.  The story somehow was vaguely embedded in my head, I guess we read it in our history class, during our primary days but now the story became as fresh as a daisy.  I just couldn’t wait to see the fort.  I wonder if that’s when the world knew about the bravery of we Nepalese???  Made me scratch my head.  Nevertheless, I was not here to dig the history, neither was I here to find the answers to my own questions.  I was here for a training workshop on “telling better stories” for BICAS project staff and partners.

    BICAS project intervention in the far west

    Building Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Capacity of CSOs in Agriculture and Forest Sectors (BICAS) project is funded by the European Union and Jersey Overseas. The project aims to build the capacity of 45 local organisations to promote inclusive and sustainable growth and increase the income of 7,000 households from agriculture and forest based enterprises in the remote mid and far western districts of Bajhang, Bajura, Jumla, Kalikot and Mugu.

    Building capacity of staff is an essential part of an organisation

    Telling better stories- A family photo

    A well-trained and well-qualified workplace definitely boosts the efficiency of an organisation. Therefore, to enhance the abilities of staff and to encourage them to reflect their attitudes and beliefs; a two and a half day workshop was organised in Dadeldhura. The participants were from the Nepalgunj cluster office and partners/ project coordinators from BICAS project. The workshop included a wide range of topics from story writing, photography, videography to social media.


    Day 1- Nepali Braveheart: A thought tickler

    The session kicked off with an introduction, followed by a story writing session; which was later followed by photography and video making sessions. I could sense a strong enthusiasm amongst the participants. They seem very eager to learn the practical hands-on tips. We tried to make the sessions as informal as possible, as we did not want to restrict the workshop within the PowerPoint slides and lengthy speech. It was more of an open platform where one could ask questions and/or share experiences on similar topics. The first day went by in a blink of an eye. I could tell from my previous experiences that the first day is always fun and easy-going. The most challenging is always the next day, as the participants start to wear off – lose their focus and things start to get monotonous. It was in the back of my head but I did not bother to think about it. As the clock ticked five, we wrapped up the session and called it a day.

    L-R: Statue of Amar Singh Thapa, Secret tunnel of Amargadhi Fort

    A bunch of us decided to go for a walk to refresh ourselves after spending the whole day inside a hall. I would never dare to go for a walk while I am in Kathmandu, thanks to the pollution and the crazy traffic of the K-town. But the air in Dadeldhura was so fresh and clean. We walked out from the hotel and went all the way up to the Amargadhi Fort. We spent more than an hour walking around the fort. One of the police guards was generous enough to show us around and explain the details of each and every corner and the architectural built. The most interesting part was the tunnel which was built in such a way that it was connected to a water resource. As we were told, this passage was used by then queen whenever she had to go for a bath or by the armies to fetch water. You can never tell from the outside that the tunnel leads to a water source, it was quite fascinating. The whole tour seemed surreal to me, I felt like I was one of the soldiers from the Anglo-Nepalese war.  I read about brave Amar Singh Thapa during my school days and now I was at the same place where all the magic happened. Seeing his statue at the main entrance even left me awestruck. There are so many similarities between Amar Singh Thapa and the character of William Wallace from the movie, “Braveheart”- the same determination and resistance. I was just there staring at the statue of Amar Singh Thapa and seeing him as a Nepali William Wallace. After dinner I was just hanging out in my room and a random thought came in my head – how cool will it be if I was to make a Nepali Braveheart? I am sure it will be epic – easier said than done. That can go in my bucket list AKA fantasies (I’m just a dreamer).

    Day 2- The unpredictable weather of the far west

    I woke up to the sound of a thunderstorm. I checked the time on my cell phone and it read 6:30 am. I could hear the heavy pour of rain from inside the room. I just wished I did not have to get up at all. After aimlessly staring at the ceiling for half an hour, I finally managed to get off from my bed. I opened the door and it was raining cats and dogs. In the corner of the balcony, there was a big pile of hailstone, which looked like a mini Mount Everest. I took out my camera and started taking pictures of the magnificent landscape of Dadeldhura from my balcony. I did not bother about the rain; I was going crazy with my camera. There was something very unique about the landscape; it was priceless. I just could not get enough of it. Before I realised it was actually raining, I was already half soaked. I am glad my camera was water-proof though. I felt like a stubborn kid enjoying the early monsoon rain.

    Clouds in motion as seen from the hotel roof

    We were informed that we would not need any warm clothes for the trip. During March usually the weather is nice and pleasant. But somehow I did not want to take a risk. I had my warm jackets and boots with me. The last time I visited the far west (two years before); I regretted not caring any warm jacket. One of our partner office colleagues was kind enough to lend me a jacket- that was a life saver. “Once bitten, twice shy.” I was well prepared (just in case). The rain was battering the roof like a bullet. There was no sign of rain stopping anytime soon, it was hammering down relentlessly. I could feel a gust of cold wind on my face. At least for once I was glad I made the right decision. Usually, I tend to over pack and half of the stuff I never use it. What’s even more interesting was that the field office colleagues were also fooled by the unpredictable weather of the far west. They thought the weather would be pleasant, so they did not bring any warm clothes. As the day progressed, it became even colder. By evening, it was crazy; the rain kept pouring and the temperature dropped like a rock. It was freezing cold. So, these three blokes had to go buy a sweater for NRS. 1500 (11 GBP) each. They said it was the best buy ever (with a satirical smile).

    The second day was a bit mellow and less hectic. My colleague Sanjib Chaudhary opened the session highlighting the importance of social media in the development sector. It was well received by the participants. The later session was followed by hands-on tips on film making. After lunch it was more of a practical session. The participants were divided into three groups and were sent to the nearby location to collect stories, pictures and videos of their interest.

    Day 3- Here comes the sun

    I slept like a baby. It always takes a while to get used to the new hotel bed. Finally, after two days, I guess I slept well. When I woke up it was already 7:30 am. I peeped through my window curtain and much to my surprise there was the sun shining bright. I was so happy that the sun was here, FINALLY. Now, I can relate why George Harrison wrote “Here comes the sun” with the Beatles. Ever since we stepped in Dadeldhura it was raining like crazy and finally we were able to see the sun. The feeling was just amazing. I was already late for breakfast though. I had to rush myself, got ready and met the folks downstairs for breakfast. By 8 am, I was all ready and having breakfast with my colleagues.

    Today was the final day of the workshop. We reviewed the stories, photos and video clips of all the groups and gave feedbacks and comments.

    Adieu – Until we meet again

    Our two and a half day workshop was coming to an end. All of us enjoyed our stay in Dadeldhura amidst the crazy weather. I hope the workshop was a fruitful one. We never know until we see the end result from the participants. Fingers crossed, I hope our effort will be an aspiration for all the participants to produce the quality output that we are aiming for the BICAS project. I just cannot wait to read the first post-workshop story/ blog and/or see the pictures they send. Until then all I can do is wait patiently.

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  • 5 Simple solutions that llama farmers love

    August 5th, 2016

    Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to visit a number of Practical Action’s projects across Latin America. Not only was I overwhelmed by the colours, culture and pure grit of people living in some really challenging environments, but by the generosity and open friendship they showed when welcoming us into their homes.

    Martin Queso's prize winning llama

    Martin Queso’s prize winning llama

    At an altitude of almost 4000m, high in the mountains of western Bolivia is the Jesús de Machaca municipality. With a population of roughly 400 people, a tough four hour car ride from any major town along rough dirt roads, this is a remote and arguably hostile landscape to live in. There are few ways to make a living up here, and apart from growing limited crops such as quinoa, the environment means agriculture is largely restricted to farming camelids.

    Llamas and alpacas are hardy animals, which when cared for properly; provide a vital income for farmers. However; challenges of weather, uncontrolled breeding, inadequate knowledge of rearing livestock, along with often unfair access to markets means that farmers in the upland areas of Peru and Bolivia are struggling to earn a living to support their families.

    But, with the help of our kind supporters, Practical Action is changing this. Below you can read about five simple, sustainable solutions that are helping to transform the livelihoods of camelid farmers in Latin America.


    Queso family standing in front of their Practical Action llama shelter.

    1. Covered shelters:

    The relentless push of climate change is causing the weather to be unpredictable in high altitude areas, and farmers in Bolivia are often caught out by sudden bites of frost, or prolonged rainfall. Martin Queso and his family showed us the open fronted shelter that Practical Action have helped him to build, he told us:

    “Before, my animals would just range freely. When the weather suddenly changed, with cold winds, ice or rain, they would get sick, often they would die, and I would have no way of making any income. I couldn’t afford to replace a lost llama, and my flock got smaller and smaller.”

    With the shelter, now the family can easily bring the herd inside for protection from the elements when needed.

    2. Rainwater storage, irrigation and water pumps and troughs:


    Photovoltaic water pump and trough for livestock

    With erratic and unreliable rainfall, mountainous areas in Peru and Bolivia often go for periods of time where water is scarce. With the implementation of rainwater harvesting systems like this one is Nunõa, Peru, water can be collected and stored. Irrigation pipes are connected to the reservoirs, ensuring the surrounding ground remains green for grazing.  In Jesús de Machaca, the installation of photovoltaic water pumps and troughs means that livestock have access to fresh water all year round.

    “We didn’t believe it would work at first” Dalia Condori, a member of the local council told us, “but now it has brought water and a better life for so many”

    3. Breeding pens:

    We’ve seen them patch-worked into the countryside of the United Kingdom for centuries:


    Rainwater harvesting and irrigation system and stone-wall breeding pens

    Dry-stone wall enclosures that hem-in herds, divide open grassland and mark boundary lines; but this simple method of livestock separation has only been introduced fairly recently to communities in the Nunõa district, near Sicuani in southern Peru. Enabling farmers to isolate certain alpacas from the rest of the herd allows for selective and planned breeding of the healthiest animals, in turn producing the highest quality wool fleece, returning a better price at market. It also means that young alpacas can be nurtured and protected for longer periods of time before being released to roam freely with the herd, thus boosting their fitness and increasing their chances of survival.

    4. Market access and product diversification:

    In the remote villages of upland Bolivia, getting a fair price for llama wool is tough – individual farmers can only sell for whatever the going price in the local area is, even though this may be much lower than what the fleece is actually worth. Practical Action is working with farming communities to create co-operative groups that can work together to access bigger markets for their products, and demand a higher, fairer price.  Llama farmers like Andrés are also encouraged to diversify their products in order to make a better income. Andrés, who has won multiple awards for his spinning and wool-product work, also makes and paints traditional Bolivian clay figures to sell at the tourist markets.


    Llama farmer and artisan Andres showing his tools for sculpting traditional clay figures

    Llama farmer and artisan Andres showing his tools for sculpting traditional clay figures

    5. Training and knowledge:

    Practical Action helps to provide training on basic animal husbandry and wellbeing. Farmers in Jesús de Machaca learn about the right type and quantities of nutritious food, how to administer medication for their llamas when they are sick, and how to maintain the grazing pasture land. The knowledge is then shared between farming communities by Practical Action ‘Promotors’ who help to teach others how to breed and care for their livestock effectively.

    It is vitally important to the families in these areas that the great work that Practical Action is able to do continues. Llamas and alpacas are strong and intelligent and are crucial for the farming communities in Latin America. Access to the tools and knowledge for breeding and looking after their animals provide families with a secure source of income. With just £47 you can help to support a llama farmer in Bolivia by buying a ‘llama lifeline’ Practical Present today.

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  • Answering practical problems has made lives better

    August 11th, 2015

    The best aid to give is intellectual aid, a gift of useful knowledge. A gift of knowledge is infinitely preferable to a gift of material things.  E. F. Schumacher

    I have recently joined Practical Action as Communications Officer at Odisha, India Office and this was my first field visit to find out about the work. When I heard about the infamous district of Rampur, during my first meeting with Read India I was curious to know more about the place which remains in the news for many reasons. Starting from political melodrama to poverty, this district has always been in lime light. The recent development of Rampur Town, which was selected from the 13 other cities of Uttar Pradesh for the Smart City project, increased my curiosity to know more about what changes Practical Answers has brought in last year since it has been working extensively with local villagers in the district in partnership with Read India, the implementing agency for Practical Answers in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan though it was a pilot project.

    We crossed wide spread green fields on both the sides which was an evidence of agricultural improvement in this part of the country after we started off from Delhi. Our companion from the Read India, Shivam told us that people are keener on agriculture oriented in Rampur and nearby areas. He also mentioned that these places are way too fertile and 2-3 crops are possible in one year in many places. It took around four and half hours from CR Park, Delhi to Rampur covering a distance of 206 km. While thinking about agricultural innovations and the importance of farming as well as the current scenario of the adverse condition of farmers, it reminded me the famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi “Of course the farmer is the father of the world. But it is his greatness that he is not aware of the fact.”

    After we reached Rampur we first went to the village of Aliganj-Benejir and our field coordinator Anoop Singh was our escort. The roads were wide and clean. It seemed as if it’s a proper planned town and we were heading towards our first destination. It was just 7 Km from the district headquarters on the main road which was well built with cement and concrete we reached the village where villagers were waiting anxiously. We held the meeting on a verandah. By the time we started the discussion there were 15 odd young farmers plus a few elderly people who seemed to have just come back from the field. It was too hot and sweaty, however I was feeling sorry for them as the meeting timing was not very convenient.

    Meeting with Farmers at Aligunj-Benejir, Rampur, UP, India

    We were welcomed with water and later hot samosas were served to everyone and I had two of them. My colleague Arun started discussing some issues with them and I was listening silently as I had very little idea about the project. But what I learned from the discussion made me quite positive and also started joining in. The best part of the village was, many young and mid aged people are keen on farming and they were  ell informed about a lot of technological advancements and quite outspoken during discussion.

    To my surprise, when they shared, I got to know that before Practical Answers started working through Read India, villagers were short of information on good practice. Be it farming or fertilizers or use of pesticides or taking care of livestock it was the local shopkeeper and his little knowledge which they used to rely on. He used to suggest medicine and other things which were  expensive and not very effective, shared Sonu Tomar, 28 year old farmer who has been a beneficiary of Kisan Gyan Seva (Practical Answer’s knowledge service) through mobile vani ( A service where farmers get their queries answered with a phone call). He also shared their helplessness before this knowledge sharing service. Earlier they were  dependent on the so called local experts who are primarily the shopkeepers for any assistance in terms of farming or issues they face in the farming. The remedies suggested by these shopkeepers were expensive or not much effective which he realized only later after having benefited by Practical Answers.

    Similarly Brijesh Kumar Gupta, another energetic young man from the crowd started sharing his story.  He hailed from the nearby village of Singham Kheda. Most of the people in his village were having issues which were never solved permanently. They had no access to expert service and hence, farming was not much profitable in comparison to current scenario.

    Interaction with the Villagers at Rampur

    Our field coordinator Anoop, who is from Aligunj, shared that, under this Krishak Gyan Seva, the local agricultural scientist has been suggesting and answering regular queries by the people. Many of the queries related to pest management, which led to changing practice in the project area, resulting in a decrease of crop diseases, and thereby increasing the production and productivity. According to Anoop there have been lot of queries coming up from the field which are not recurring in nature and which Kisan Gyan Seva has effectively answered. This way of answering the practical problems has made their lives better and have attributed to financial benefit to local farmers.

    After the meeting when I returned to Read India’s centre which was in the city, I saw a full page advertisement on a front page of a national newspaper which was about the manifold developmental activities in the state by the government and looking I thought about Aligunj-Benejir and other villages, on the main road of the city but unable to access electricity for more than 3 hours a day and farmers are going through much hardship. But the only satisfaction was, at least in a place like Rampur our intervention has brought some changes which the people appreciate.

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  • Loos, murder, rape – the status of women in our societies

    May 31st, 2014

    Listening to the news this morning I realised that the two young girls in India, aged 14 and 16, who had been gang raped  and murdered  died as they had gone into the fields looking for a discreet place to go to the loo. Somehow it made it even sadder. Sanitation is a pretty easy fix given money and will to provide latrines, sludge management and hygiene education. It’s truly do-able.

    Girls from Bengo school, Gwanda, Zimbabwe helping to construct new toilets

    Girls from Bengo school, Gwanda, Zimbabwe help construct new toilets

    The girls remain nameless as it’s illegal under Indian law for the media to identify the victims. The fact that we don’t know their names seems somehow wrong – but that may just reflect our news norms in the UK – we want to sympathise personally and share in grief and support.  It also makes them  representative of the millions of young girls who each day risk attack just by looking for somewhere to go to the toilet,  walking to fetch water or firewood for their families, or carry maize to a mill for grinding.

    Women are frequently at risk – you only have to look at some of the other stories from India.

    But the stories from India are not alone.  Also on the Today Programme this morning were reports of a woman in Sudan convicted of changing her religion from Muslim to Christian, who has been sentenced to death (commuted for 2 years – and hopefully for life!). She was forced to give birth in a prison cell (rumoured to have been shackled throughout). And a third which told the story of a pregnant woman in Pakistan stoned to death in public by her own family for marrying the wrong man. The man she married had already murdered his first wife by strangling but was let off prison as his son forgave him.

    The school girls kidnapped in Nigeria are no longer in the news.

    What draws these stories together is a view of women and girls that somehow says we are lesser  – viewed as unimportant, as processions or to be controlled. We have no voice.

    At Practical Action we work on the practical things in life – like loos. We also work with people trying to help them – women and men – gain voice. We call this material and relational well-being – material well-being is about having the things you need for a decent life, relational well-being is about having a say in your society and how things are shaped. Both are needed for sustainable development.

    I was horrified by each of these stories.

    But strange attitudes to women, women somehow invisible are not just something that happens in countries far away from those of us who live in the UK.

    Not on the same scale but a story closer to home had me shouting at my Twitter feed the evening before.  It was an image of the UK Prime Minister David Cameron meeting Jimmy Carter to talk about how we remember those people who died in the holocaust – the meeting consisted of  lots of men in suits. Not one woman. 2 million women died.

    (I do know there are women on the Holocaust Commission – my question s why when there are 7 people visible around the table are all of them men?)

    And finally – on my catch up weekend – I came across the just released list of the 100 most powerful women in the world.  Angela Merkel is ranked number 1 – probably politically not completely aligned with me but even so as a woman taking centre stage she made me smile! And it felt very good to read a news story about women, women with power and  influence, that could make me smile.

    Let’s remember the girls in India. Let’s work to make women more visible, let’s work to make women around the world less afraid, let’s aim for an equitable view of women and men.

    I want to hear great stories of women doing brilliant things as I listen to my radio in the morning – not stories of oppression that just make me so sad. And I want those great stories to be because we have a world in which women are free to flourish.

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  • Sweat, determination and hard work

    A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work – Colin Powell

    Visiting some of the communities that Practical Action work with has inspired me to reflect on Live Below the Line, so here are my musings. A reflection of Live Below the Line and Practical Action’s work in Mutare, Zimbabwe.


    This week thousands of people across the UK have risen to the challenge and are taking on Live Below the Line, an anti-poverty campaign challenging participants to have a strict budget of just £5 for 5 days. I was apprehensive when I took on the challenge a few weeks ago, and it certainly lived up to the billing. It is a true challenge, but I didn’t find it difficult in the ways that I thought I would.

    I thought I would struggle eating plain, boring food for 5 days and I knew that a lack of caffeine would have an effect. But the thing I found most difficult was how much time it took to prepare food throughout the week. Each evening, we would prepare dinner and then breakfast and lunch for the following day, spending a couple of hours in the kitchen, creating a meal from basic ingredients. This was made more difficult as our energy levels were running low at that time of day. The food we made was actually pretty good and I ate 39p pizzas for most of the week. For me, being so used to a convenient lifestyle is what makes Live Below the Line so challenging.

    Yesterday, I had a fantastic day but learned that actually, during my Live Below the Line week, my life was still quite convenient.

    I was walking in the hills around Mutare, Zimbabwe as we visited a micro-hydro scheme that is being installed to bring power to a community.

    The beauty of the project is that it is community led and we saw the entire community getting involved, from a group women singing whilst they dug sand out of the river bed to a group of men who were building a business centre that will be powered by the micro-hydro system. This is hard work… really hard, but they are excited about how they are shaping their community and their future.

    Later that day, I realised that not only are these people working so hard to transform their community, but they also have a very different definition of hard work. They are doing manual labour to develop their community, but this is on top of the fact that they grow their own food and process their crop. Walking in the hills above the village (viewing the source of the micro-hydro system) we met someone walking the other way. I was breathing hard after the climb and the lady walking in the other direction was carrying a large bag of maize on an 8km walk across difficult terrain to the mill to have it processed into flour.

    When I did Live Below the Line, I found it hard work and lots of effort, yet the ingredients were bought from a supermarket less than a mile from my home, and if that was too much effort I could have had them delivered to my door.

    What really struck me about my day in Mutare, is that this is not a community of people who are waiting for a fairy godmother to make their dreams come true. This is a community that are excited to put in the sweat, determination and hard work hard needed to transform their community and shape their future, to lift themselves out of poverty, for good.

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  • The Great Peruvian Bake Off!

    October 16th, 2012

    If, like me, you’re filled with excitement at the thought of tonight’s final of The Great British Bake Off, I think you’ll enjoy this story of how the fortunes of Peruvian baker Luz Marina Cusci Cáceres have been transformed, with a little help from Practical Action.

    It is a Thursday morning in September 2012, and visitors are gradually arriving at a huge food festival that is a highlight for many Peruvians. Within a few hours, the place will be packed with hungry diners and long queues will form at the myriad food stalls.  There is no respite for Luz Marina Cusi Cáceres, who has just returned to her stall after she has run out of stock. Her stall is to be found among the organic producers section, where delicious home-grown Peruvian goods are sold.

    Peruvian baker Luz Marina Cusci Cáceres

    Peruvian baker Luz Marina Cusci Cáceres

    But what is so special about Luz Marina?  And what does her story have to do with Practical Action?

    Several years ago Luz Marina participated in Practical Action’s project ‘Development of productive uses of electricity in the Cusco region’. During her participation in this project, she developed her baking knowledge, and learnt how to bake traditional kiwicha [a traditional Peruvian cereal] biscuits in a more efficient manner.

    Luz Marina used to make kiwicha products by hand until Practical Action came to her town, San Salvador, and worked with the community to introduce a variety of electricity-generating technologies such as solar panels.

    “We knew nothing about electrified machinery before, but with the help of Practical Action engineers we began using kitchen appliances, like the electric whisk, which need electricity to operate.”

    Luz Marina began to use an electric whisk

    Electricity enabled Luz Marina to use an electric whisk

    Luz Marina had always sold kiwicha, but she did not do anything to the raw kiwicha to add real value to it. An Italian woman in the town who knew how to make biscuits shared her baking skills with Luz Marina.

    “She taught me that I could sell biscuits made out of kiwicha, which would fetch higher prices at market than raw kiwicha products.”

    Once Luz Marina learnt how to bake the biscuits, rumours of her delicious culinary treats spread across town, and people started asking for more.

    “People would eat them and then buy them.  So I kept making the biscuits better, and although there is still room for improvement, I am now a much better baker than I was before. In 2009 I decided to start a baking business with three of my friends who also cook with kiwicha. It is very helpful to work as a group; we have a lot of confidence, we know each other, and we are united.” 

    Luz Marina's improved kiwicha biscuits

    Luz Marina’s improved kiwicha biscuits

    The real turning point came when Luz Marina met a customer named Hugo. He was so impressed by the biscuits and the commitment of Luz Marina and her friends he helped the bakers to obtain the official hygiene certification they needed in order to sell their products in larger markets.

    “Now we sell our biscuits in Ayacucho and San Gerónimo.  We have to stock the stalls with 1000 packets every two weeks! What would we do without electricity? We use an electric whisk to make our biscuits. It saves us time and means we can make better quality biscuits that sell in their thousands! We still need more encouragement from the council though – it would help if they advertised and promoted our products.”

    In addition to the biscuits, Luz Marina and the bakers are now selling kiwicha-based pastries and honey. At the bustling food festival these have been hugely popular.

    “We have sold 6000 packets of biscuits in three days! I am very grateful to Practical Action – without electricity we could not have made a productive or profitable living from baking. The electricity has transformed our baking. And baking has changed our lives”. 

    "Electricity has transformed our baking. And baking has changed our lives”.

    “Electricity has transformed our baking. And baking has changed our lives”.

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  • Waging peace in Sudan on International Day of Peace

    It’s International Day of Peace today.

    But I want you to think about a place synonymous with war – not peace.


    It’s one of those places to which you just don’t go – “hell on earth” as someone once said to me.

    Sudan has witnessed some of the most horrific acts committed by humankind.  Images of genocide and famine are beamed into televisions around the world, and this is what we think of when think of Sudan.

    Only last week, demonstrators in Khartoum protested fiercely and furiously outside the US, UK and German embassies in order to express their anger at an American You Tube film which allegedly mocks Islam. In August, a Sudanese police man was shot dead by an armed gang and various government buildings in Darfur were attacked.  Such violence serves to underline the dangers of operating in one of the world’s most volatile places.

    In June 2012, I spent two weeks there, primarily to visit Practical Action’s work in Darfur.

    On Saturday 23 June, the day of my 25th birthday, I met 9 year old Idris Abdullah. He was tending to his herd of goats as they drank from the water trough, and he was not holding a gun. He was one of the few children without one. The water point was engulfed by herds of thirsty goats and cows and camels, but I could not stop staring at the innocent children gripping guns.

    This is the reality of life in Darfur.

    Although the conflict, which was primarily an ethnic clash, ended in 2006, the official peace is fragile. Spikes of intense fighting between rebel groups, warring tribes and military forces continue to wreak havoc on the people who make their homes here. I met and spoke with so many women, children and men who must live under the ominous shadow of violence.

    One mother, Amel Mahmoud Osman, said to me We always have the fear that something will happen, but in order to survive we have no choice but to overcome it. We pray to God for safety.” And then she recalled watching pregnant women “bleed their babies away” during the heights of the terror of war.

     Another young woman, Sara Abubker Ahmed, remembered the day her friend was blown up by a government bomb:I still smell the blood. For months afterwards I couldn’t eat or drink anything, I felt so sick all the time. The smell of the blood.”

     The words of another young person, Yassir Oman Musa, will haunt me always. “It’s tragic, but everyone in Darfur has a story of loss to tell.”

    Yassir’s acceptance of the futility of war is, of course, understandable, but it filled me with a sort of righteous rage. Why should anyone – even if you live in Darfur – have to accept a world dominated by violence?

    Practical Action refuses to accept such a world. We have worked in Sudan, and in Darfur, for the last 25 years and continue to work there, employing a team of national staff to help vulnerable and marginalised communities to survive and thrive, against the odds. Working in partnership with local people, we endeavour to provide small-scale, sustainable and appropriate solutions to the daily problems caused by a rapidly changing climate and the chaos of war. We use simple techniques to help communities improve their own food security by planting community forests and improving access to and quality of water through harvesting rainwater.

    But as sustainable development work is nearly impossible in the face of conflict, we are also striving to achieve a lasting local peace between traditionally warring neighbours. We use a host of approaches including facilitating mediation meetings, raising awareness about land ownership and demarcation of boundaries, and even producing educational community theatre.

    Our efforts to build peace in these fragmented communities are innovative, unique, and most importantly, showing signs of success. Indeed, Yassir told me joyfully “for the first time ever we are hopeful of lasting peace.”

    We have a chance to change the story of Darfur for good, to enable Amel, Sara, Yassir and so many others like them to move from war and suffering to peace and prosperity. But the work cannot be completed without further support.

    By supporting Practical Action this International Day of Peace, you could give the people of Darfur a chance for a stable, peaceful and secure future, for the first time ever. Children like Idris Abdullah can look after their animals in peace, free of those weapons which are too adult, too ugly for their innocent hands.


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  • “Before I was a poor man, but now I am rich.”

    When I was in Sudan, I met a man called Mohamed Mohamed Musa. He was one of the people who had undertaken a seven hour bus journey to travel from Kassala to meet me at the Practical Action offices in Khartoum. I interviewed Mohamed at length, to learn about his life, and how he had worked with Practical Action.

    My conversation with Mohamed was a fascinating one, and I wrote about it at the time on my blog Sprouting seeds for success and happiness. I remember being struck by his height. I’m quite small, and Mohamed towered over me. But he was very thin, and his collar bones protruded sharply. I remember noticing his clothes – he wore a ‘jalabya’, a simple long white gown, and an ‘eimma’, a turban – but he was also very proud of his very cool Ray Ban style sunglasses. But mostly I remember Mohamed’s face. It was fascinating, magnificent, the sort that has a whole life etched into it.

    Today I received some really sad news from one my colleagues in Sudan.

    Mohamed has passed away.

    He died on 9 September after falling ill with a parasitic infection which is spread by contact with dirty water.

    I am filled with sorrow. Mohamed was 64 – a good age – but at no point in our conversation did he seem weak, or frail, or ready to leave his life. He was passionate about Practical Action, and spoke enthusiastically about his hope that one day he would be able to help other poor people in Sudan in the way that Practical Action had helped him, and his community.

    In my notes of our conversation, I scribbled “Mohamed is like hope embodied.” I feel so sad that his life and that hope have been snuffed out so soon.

    I’d like to share Mohamed’s words with you, so you too can be inspired by the story of a very hard-working, determined and humble man.


    Mohamed’s story

    “I was born in 1947. I’m 64. I’ve lived all my life in Tambi. I have two wives and 16 children – nine sons and seven daughters. Some of them are still in school.

    My childhood was a happy time. I had six brothers and four daughters. My father was a farmer and he also did some teaching. I left school when I was about 12 and started working with my father, helping with our animals.

    I was 26 years old when I married my first wife Mariam, who is now 50. And then I was 44 when I married my second wife, Fatima, who is 37. My marriage to Mariam was arranged. Fatima is a relative, the daughter of my cousin. Her parents died when she was young and so I married her to look after her.

    I live with my wife Mariam in Tambi, in a small mud house with four rooms. Fatima doesn’t live with me; she lives in Kassala because I want the children to go to school there.

    Every day I wake up at 4am and prepare to go to the mosque to pray. After that I drink some tea and then will travel to the farm to work on the land all day. After I get back to my house at 5pm and we pray again and maybe have some food. In the evening times, I will go to the community centre which has been built by Practical Action. As a community we’ll discuss any issues or concerns, or problems we might have with our farming, or the latest news.

    Mariam searches for the firewood for cooking. We cook on an open fire outside in the open, not inside our house. Otherwise it gets too smoky.

    It’s our children’s duty to go and collect the water for drinking. We have water that is pumped from Kassala, but we rely on the rainwater to water our crops. We know that climate change is making life more difficult. We now need to plant seeds that don’t require as much rain because the rains don’t come as frequently these days.

    Practical Action told me about these new seeds. They actually yield more, and I am able to get more money for my crops at market! I decided to bring these to share with you because I know you are meeting other farmers in Darfur. We can all see the difference between the old and the new seeds.

    Before Practical Action came to Tambi, I was always worrying about the future, fighting for tomorrow. Mostly I was worried about food. We never had enough to eat. But I never gave up. We were just farmers, we had no skills, no other jobs. We had no choice, but to continue trying to make a living from farming.

    I volunteered to be a ‘lead farmer’ in my village and am part of a network of lead farmers across Kassala called ‘Elgandhl’ (it means ‘sprouting seed’ in English). This means it’s my duty to share farming skills with other farmers in my community. This could be how to build a terrace or how to hoe the soil. I know how to do a small germination test to check the quality of the seeds – you simply put one in a saucepan of water, and watch to see if it will grow. I now know about weeds and pests and how to control them using local techniques (that have been forgotten over the generations) about scaring birds away. Practical Action has informed us of our rights, what we can expect from our government, how we can make ourselves heard.

    Practical Action has helped some of the women in my village to set up a women’s farm. Mariam, my wife, is one of these women. If she has time she also comes and helps me with the animals. We now think of the women as equal – we are the same. I know my wife can think as well as I do.

    There is not enough time to talk about all that Practical Action does in my village. Practical Action is like a mother to us – we see ourselves as the children of Practical Action. Before I was a poor man, but now I am rich – not with money but with knowledge. Knowledge makes me richer than anything.

    We will know what to do long after Practical Action leaves. I am very happy and proud. I am hoping that one day we will be able to do for other poor people in Sudan what Practical Action has done for us.” 

    Mohamed will stay in my heart forever. My thoughts are with his family and community in Kassala.

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