Smaller charities which genuinely help the poorest in Uganda, Cambodia, Ladakh and India

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In his seminal book, Lords of Poverty, Graham Hancock presented a chilling exposé of the mainstream ‘aid game’ and the ‘well-heeled czars who control this multi-billion-dollar industry’.

He gave a brutally frank account of the strings attached to aid and questioned the criteria and agendas set by western aid agencies in disbursing aid. The Times of India comments, “As we have seen in our own part of the world, a plethora of middlemen has come up in the aid business. It is they who negotiate on behalf of the voiceless dispossessed and it is into their pockets that the bulk of the aid resources goes. (TOI: 8.2.03)

        Brief accounts of four projects which have in common:

  • they have voluntary organisers or co-ordinators,
  • they are supported by voluntary fund raisers in the UK,
  • centred on service to the young
  • and staffed by well-motivated and capable local people.

Ben Parkinson and the Butterfly Project in Uganda

The Butterfly Project was founded in 2009, recruiting able and socially concerned children from rural Lyantonde and slum areas in Kampala.

The initial recruits are now young changemakers, winning awards, and establishing social projects, attracting international funding for their work. They are creative thinkers, working to solve some of Uganda’s social problems, forming a team used to working with others on projects, most recently the Slum Run for children working in quarries, the Active Youths magazine and the Changemaker Band.

There are now almost 40 young changemakers who are in or have completed their training, which starts with a one-year intensive programme in Kampala, then continues with support and guidance, through giving opportunities to deliver and participate in youth programmes, as they go through school.

In Year 1, tuition is paid for Butterfly members in a school in Kampala, but the plan, for all subsequent years, is to teach members in a specially empowering school, to be called the Chrysalis Secondary School, which will encourage its students, whether they are a member of the core project or not, to see themselves as architects of change in Uganda, just as Butterfly Project members already do.

During term-time, the school will offer regular ICT training to its pupils, both during the school day and after, helping some to become programmers and games designers.  Regular sports, athletics, netball, volleyball and football, will be provided. Children are encouraged to expand their vision, by engaging other leisure pursuits, to discover their passion and how they might focus this passion by becoming a changemaker.  The Butterfly Project believes in play for young people and will include games (sports, boardgames and computer games) in both teaching and leisure time.

Christine Parkinson and others raise funds in UK via CYEN.

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The Sacred New Era (SNE) School in Ladakh

The Sacred New Era (SNE) School provides holistic education to those in need. Founded by Shabir Banday, with the help of his parents, friends and supporters, the school opened in 2001 with 5 pupils aged 2½ & 3 years of different faiths and ethnic groups, from villages around Leh, and even further away.

Progressive knowledge is offered. This does not mean abandoning the age-old culture but upholding the rich heritage and promoting it along with modern concepts.

A Montessori approach encourages children from an early age to think for themselves and become aware. This school is different from general Ladakhi Schools and is growing because parents are realizing its beneficial qualities. It offers a unique education and is an example of diverse communities within Ladakh working together.

The main difference between SNE and other private schools in Leh is that children and teachers are from Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu backgrounds. In addition to their general studies/subjects, they are also taught their own basic religious studies. They work and play alongside those of other Faiths, where friendship and knowledge can contribute to tolerance and understanding between faith cultures—so vital for our troubled world today.

On 2nd July 2011, Denise Moll, Rachel Tolmie, Phillida Ball and Shabir Banday got together and founded SESOL Charity (SC041237) in Scotland. The primary aim of the charity is to help SNE School in India, and also to help disadvantaged communities in Scotland.

In the latest newsletter, Shabir Banday and Denise write about challenges faced by the school. The government decreed that the school could only teach pupils up to 12 years, so the older class and 2 of the teachers had to leave (all have done well since then). The building, which had enjoyed a solitary life, was now being crowded in by much building of houses all round it, and they lost a crucial playground … building in Leh has accelerated almost as much as in Europe, with hotels popping up everywhere, some roads being tarmacked and many improvements made to attract tourists. The school building also was in need of some repair and decoration. Throughout this period, the teachers have been patient and understanding. It was a real test for their commitment to the school. They showed enthusiasm and belief in the school, its teaching and place in Leh with regard to other schools. They are all owed money as, during the unsettled period, payments were deferred. After much discussion and thoughtful consideration, they decided they themselves could not find a better school in Leh and banded together to do what they could to keep SNE alive and kicking. They donated spare time to making necessary repairs to the building and painted it from top to toe. Money had been put aside for the needed materials, and they prioritised this over their own pay which has amazed and awed Shabir’s family and myself!

Whilst in Ladakh last year Shabir had meetings with a wider group outside the School about the piece of donated Government land on which it is proposed to build a new SNE School with greater facilities. First, a wall needs to be built round the land for protection, and the land levelled. He met with an architect to discuss a draft design for a new school building, and the architect, together with a small group will be seeking appropriate funding.

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Grace House, Cambodia

Grace House Community Centre works in several villages between Siem Reap and Tonle Sap. Little of the tourist dollar reach the families who rely on subsistence farming and fishing. Bridget Cordory (Chair) is one of the original founders of GHCC and managed the project in Cambodia for 8 years and remains actively involved with GHCC. Her husband, Alan, remained in Cambodia as Bridget returned to work in social care and the arts in Gloucestershire.

At Grace House we strongly believe education and inclusion will improve the livelihoods of this generation and the next. Our programmes start from early years and continue through to further education. Sometimes poverty leads parents to place their children in orphanages; we support the families ensuring children remain in education in English language, health, leadership, IT, training electricians and craft and stay in the family unit.

Starting with a converted Khmer house and 70 students GHCC has grown to educating 300 + students in 8 classrooms, a library, IT suite, electrician’s training room, 2 social enterprises, special needs classroom and small group home. In providing opportunities to learn vocational, craft and language skills, families will increase their ability to earn an income or run a business, enabling them to become self-sufficient.

Grace House Community Centre intends to achieve this by –

  • Educating the children in English Language and ensuring they receive a state education.
  • Supporting families while learning new skills and setting up new business with the help of micro loans.
  • Access to health care sanitation, clean water, dry homes and safe electricity.
  • Encourage inclusion of children with special needs in Siem Reap Province by enabling them to receive specialist education and a safe, caring environment for respite and transitional care.

Learn more and see the video pictured above here: https://www.gracehousecambodia.net

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VRI: Amarpurkashi, Uttar Pradesh : the project continues, but the volunteering scheme closes

Australian born Jyoti and Mukat Singh set up the International Task Force for the Rural Poor [INTAF] twenty years ago after seeing that most well-intentioned policies of various governments to uplift the rural poor have either failed or proved ineffective.

In addition to routine activities, connected with the school, polytechnic, eye camps and sustainable farming initiatives, VRI took part in a campaign against industrial pollution in and around the village of Amarpurkashi, covered here in 2011. Mill owners had been dumping live ash on the roadside where cyclists and pedestrians walked or rode and many suffered serious burns. Tons of ash from two paper mills were deposited on the banks of the river and by national highway 93, coating buildings and plants in a black dust, harming passersby and residents. As a result of breathing such heavily polluted air, local people developed respiratory problems – in the worst affected areas, as many as 1 in 2 people suffered from asthma.

The stench of chemical effluents polluted the air of the surrounding villages and black dust from the factory chimney blew far and wide. The water table dropped dramatically as the factories used huge amounts of water and all the roadside ponds dried up. The underground water supply was also polluted, causing a rise in the number of people suffering from jaundice and villagers were forced to pay for ever-deeper borings to ensure a clean water supply.

As part of the campaign, VRI’s co-founder, Mukat Singh, and many other local people fasted, an agreement was reached with the Sub-Divisional Magistrate and decisions were made which addressed the problem.

VRI have now decided it is time to close the volunteering scheme that had run for some 35 years and Jyoti recently visited APK to make sure that this was the right decision. She explains:

“I am glad to say that everything I saw in the project supported it. Amarpurkashi is no longer a suitable place for volunteers, although visitors will always be welcome. “There is no longer anyone in the project who can guide and help volunteers. This has always been an important part of the scheme.  Volunteers definitely need someone, preferably a woman since most of our volunteers have been women. However, that person has to be able to speak reasonable English and be able to help volunteers with the use of toilets and bathrooms, the food and various customs around eating and so on. There is no one now who can do that.

“It is also essential that there is something for a volunteer to get involved in while they are in the project.  However, the success of the project means that there is nothing now that a volunteer can do.  The project is fully staffed with local people.  Volunteers have always had difficulties because of the language barrier and significant differences in the way things are done in India”.

She ended by saying that the scheme was closed at exactly the right time and adds that “Fortunately, there are many new projects to be found on the internet where volunteers from abroad can be recruited for specific roles”.

We wish Jyoti and Mukat a peaceful and rewarding retirement. Read about their work on the VRI website.

 

 

 

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March visitors

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People from 21 countries visited the site in March.

There were four times as many from the USA than the next largest, UK. Both are countries who have an obvious need for cheerful reading.

The island of Iona

As usual the most read post was Highland Home Industries – perhaps ex-pats of Scottish origin were the majority.

The second, which prompted many visitors to clicks on the hyperlinks and explore further,  was:

The Diagonal Lock: moving towards a more productive, environmentally friendly canal system

It opens:

On October 15th the writer visited the ‘Diagonal Lock Roadshow’ in Knowle, meeting Terry Fogarty, a design engineer, company director and canal enthusiast.

Mr Fogarty was presenting a model of his invention: a diagonal lock , which works on the principle of a sloping tube, cutting out time spent by canal users negotiating flights of locks.

“This is a radical alternative that could help to alleviate transport problems on the motorways,” he said. “You could install freezers in a wide-beam boat so you could even transport food.”

The Diagonal Lock is a new technology devised as an alternative to traditional canal locks, enabling boats to ascend/descend an incline whilst floating securely inside a watertight, concrete chamber.

Continue:https://antidotecounteragent.wordpress.com/2011/11/06/the-diagonal-lock-moving-towards-a-more-productive-environmentally-friendly-canal-system/

 

 

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3D house printer bound for El Salvador

In the Times, Will Pavia reported that a small white house which appeared recently in a pleasant neighbourhood of Austin, Texas was built without bricklayers. It was an experiment in ‘house printing’ that is being held up as a model which could replace slums of corrugated iron shacks with in the poorest parts of the world.

The printer was developed by Icon, a firm founded by Jason Ballard, a sustainable housing specialist, with the 3D printing engineer Alex Le Roux and the businessman and venture capitalist Evan Loomis.

The giant 3D printer, an enormous aluminium machine, spat out mortar like grey toothpaste, applying even layers of concrete in precise lines that rose steadily to form the outer and inner walls of a 350 square foot home that met all the local building codes (see the process briefly on this video). The roof is made of wood.

Mr Ballard said that the process required mortar that could flow like ink but was thick enough to form a wall. Like paper printers, their machine suffered from jams; when it rained heavily in Austin, he said, “We had to clean it, like, every eight layers”.

Icon has started working with New Story, a San Francisco charity that builds homes in countries such as Haiti and El Salvador – ‘the non-profit working to create a world where no human being lives in survival mode’. It needed a printer that could work outside and manage interruptions to the power supply.

The printer will be shipped to El Salvador, where New Story hopes to print a few test homes by the end of the year before starting on a larger batch to house an entire community.

 

 

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Canadian doctors ask for pay rise to be redirected to other health-care workers

Peter Rakobowchuk reported from Montreal in the Canadian Star this week that more than 250 doctors and residents in Quebec have asked the provincial government to backtrack on plans to give them and other physicians substantial pay hikes, saying the money should be spent on the front lines of the health system.

Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette says he’s ready to take some of the money out of the doctors’ hands, adding ambiguously, “If they feel they are overpaid, they can leave the money on the table and I guarantee you I can make good use of it”. He is working with Quebec nurses to deal with issues like overtime and nurse-to-patient ratios. He said it was agreed to revisit working conditions under an “historic” collective agreement that was reached two years ago.

An open letter, signed by general practitioners, specialists and residents, says the increases are particularly shocking given that other health-care workers such as nurses and orderlies face difficult working conditions.

A Facebook post by a young nurse named Emilie Ricard was shared more than 56,000 times after the woman from the Eastern Townships posted a picture of herself in tears, giving a sarcastic thumbs-up after a night shift in which she said she had to care for more than 70 patients alone.

In a radio interview (translated) one example she gave was “For example, a patient sounds because he wants to go to the bathroom, but we do not have time. He gets up and falls. When you explain that to the family, […] they understand, but why should they understand? It’s not normal”.

Isabelle Leblanc, president of the group who sent the letter, said in an interview that nurses, orderlies and other employees in the health-care system are working under awful conditions and with excessive workloads. She added that there is only a specific amount of money available to the Health Department and “the more you give to the physicians, the less you give to workers or to improve access (to the system) . . . We think it’s going to help patients a lot more if the money is injected in the system, and not into the pockets of the physicians.”

 

 

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Tenino’s wooden currency

A growing number of communities (Brixton, Totnes, Bristol) now use scrip (a community currency or loyalty programme) as a way to keep business activity local and increase community resilience to economic shocks we look at one of many historical precedents

In 1931, during the depression, the Citizens Bank in the small U.S. town of Tenino, Washington, closed its doors after running completely out of money. As it only had one bank there was no longer any cash currency available for the exchange of goods and services.

The Chamber of Commerce received permission from Congress to begin printing their own money. A committee was formed that included the town’s physician, Dr. Wichman, dentist Dr. Meyer, and Don Major, the publisher of the local newspaper the Thurston County Independent. After a few attempts with paper money, the Chamber decided to make currency out of wood, which was readily available.

Major began printing pieces of temporary currency on thin, 1/80th-of-an-inch-thick pieces of “slicewood,” two strips of spruce, laminated, with a piece of paper in the middle. He started with 25¢ denominations, and later produced somewhat larger amounts, including 50¢ and $1.

A number of other cities and towns across the U.S. ended up printing scrip notes or IOUs on slips of paper. Even after the Depression had finally abated, Tenino’s tradition of wooden money survived. The town continued to print souvenir and commemorative bills, usually annually, to meet the demands of collectors. Word of the wooden money spread quickly, and soon requests from currency collectors across the country poured in.

The Tenino Depot Museum, which now houses the original press, holds a number of “request letters” from people who would write to Tenino to see if they could get their hands on the unique currency. Loren Ackerman has been running the original printing press since the 1990s, when he took it over from the previous caretakers after they grew too old to operate it safely. “Running the press is… how should I put it… not OSHA-approved,” he says. “If you slip at all, you’re going to bite your fingers.” As he fires up the machine, he shares the history of the wooden money.

Recently printed wooden money can be bought at local businesses. Anyone can walk in to a local ‘50s style café, Scotty B’s. and buy wooden money in denominations of $1, $5, or $10, to keep as a souvenir, or spend in town. It can be used at most of the local businesses as legal tender, as intended in 1931.

Ackerman has taught one of his sons to use the press so that the tradition can continue when the time comes.

 

 

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Mumbai’s Tree Saviour 1: neighbourhood trees

This is a brief account of a citizen of Mumbai battling – in his spare time – to prevent the destruction of trees in his city.

After realising that the fine rain trees which shaded the roads in his neighbourhood were being cut down, Zoru Bhathena discovered online that over 2000 trees had been axed due to infection by mealybugs and the municipal authority was taking no action to limit this. He points out that the problem is simply resolved: once a tree has been infected it needs to be felled to prevent the infection from spreading to healthy trees. See the latest video here:

He draws attention to the Tree Act (1975) which gives extensive instructions ofr increasing tree cover in Maharashtra – summarised below.

Zoru decided to file a public interest litigation (PIL) as well as actively campaigning with protesting neighbourhood groups and publicising the case on Facebook.

It is reported that judges presiding over the Bombay High Court (HC) hearing in 2016 asked BMC:  “Unless you conduct a tree census in a proper scientific manner with the help of experts, how will you know the situation?” The HC said it will have to examine the manner in which BMC conducts the tree census. Advocate Joaquim Reis and advocate Trupti Puranik, representing said BMC had planted about 1,546 new trees in place of the dead trees, but the petitioner’s counsel, Kainaz Irani, pointed out: “The corporations plant young saplings which do not survive”. Another report added some interesting details.

The HC said that it would focus on two issues — preservation of existing trees and the census of trees so that they can be protected and increasing the green cover, by planting more trees.  

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Mumbai’s Tree Saviour 2: opposing destruction in Greater Mumbai’s Garden of Eden

The 2016 High Court judgment directed the BMC “to ensure that the remaining trees on the Western Express Highway are not cut or destroyed”.

However, the Indian Express reported, a year later, that the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) had already felled some trees, an action which Bhathena (right) termed a clear “contempt of court.” The MMRDA later applied to the court for a modification of the 2016 HC order in order to fell 216 more trees along the Western Express Highway for the construction of Metro 7.

The Afternoon Despatch and Courier gives the exact figures and refers to the Right to Information (RTI) filed by activist Zoru Bhathena, who had required information on the total number of trees to be cut and transplanted in the Mumbai city due to the metro project, including the construction of every metro line and car shed. According to the reply by Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) 1,331 trees will be cut throughout the route and 3,681 trees will be transplanted.

Bhathena commented in the Times: “The government is trying to create the impression that we are opposed to the Metro project. That is not the case. We want the car shed to be shifted to an alternate site like Kanjurmarg where it will not cause harm. Here, a pristine forest will be destroyed”.

In a focus on the fate of the Aarey Colony, where 28 hectares have been earmarked by the MMRDA and the MMRC for constructing a metro car shed over an area of. This will lead to uprooting of 2,298 trees. According to MMRDA, 2,044 of these trees could be transplanted, but the rest would be cut down. An activist comments: “And we all know the fate of most transplanted trees. It’s a farce and has so far not succeeded”.

Save Aarey informs us that this stretch of deciduous forests peopled by tribal villages, still described as a ‘Garden of Eden’, was broken up in 1949 to accommodate the Aarey dairy co-operative; “This created open ecosystems of grasslands, scrubs, marshes and water bodies, giving refuge to an interesting assemblage of species. A total of 77 species of birds, 34 species of wildflowers, 86 species of butterflies, 13 species of amphibians, 46 species of reptiles, several of these being listed under Schedule II of the Wildlife Protection Act are found here. What’s more, 16 species of mammals, including the elusive but ornamental and therefore, magnificent leopard, have been documented in Aarey. From the hundreds of micro habitats that are there in Aarey, tiny creatures rule, thrive and survive. Interestingly, species thought to have been extinct have been rediscovered from Aarey”.

In addition to public demonstrations, including visits from schoolchildren, 123,576 people have signed a petition to avert the consequences of building a Metro depot in the Aarey Colony – flooding and loss of open space & wildlife.

To see this video scroll down to October 15th https://www.facebook.com/zoru.bhathena

Ominous: another activist explains “The government must wait for the final verdict. Instead, they are filling up the 30-hectare plot with debris. The plot is on the Mithi river’s bank. Mumbai is witnessing frequent incidents of flooding. Aarey has flooded this year. What happens once the flood plain is filled up?”  

 

 

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