Category Archives: Community action

Olive Picking in Palestine – Keeping Hope Alive

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A reader returned from Palestine after taking part in the Olive Picking Programme organised by the YMCA and YWCA of East Jerusalem. This Joint Advocacy Initiative was from 13th to 22nd October.

On an earlier visit she helped to plant olive trees

She writes:

It was such a wonderful experience that I feel like sharing some of it with my friends and fellow activists in the UK and further afield.

The Olive Picking Programme offers an opportunity to show solidarity with the people of Palestine living in the West Bank who are under Israeli military occupation. All aspects of their daily life are controlled, which include access to their own fields. Palestinian farmers often depend upon their olive harvest for their livelihood and it is essential for them to have access to their fields to tend their trees, plant new saplings, and harvest their crops in time.

The presence of internationals deter Israeli settlers from intimidating Palestinian farmers and preventing them from reaching their fields, harming them whilst they are at work, or destroying their property. This also applies to Israeli soldiers who are known to act in this manner. The programme offers help particularly to families who are vulnerable in this respect. Joining it is a tangible way of showing solidarity with the people of Palestine and is a great encouragement to them in their struggle for justice.

This year’s programme consisted of four mornings and one whole day of working in the fields. We had all been issued with sun hats and T shirts bearing the programme’s logo, and most of us had also brought our own light, gardening gloves. Thus equipped, two batches, each of a goodly company of 55 or more internationals from about 20 counties, set off from our hotel or host families at 8am. Before leaving we had to load our bus with ladders, plastic sheets, buckets and plenty of drinking water. By 9 am we reached our field which was in the vicinity of Bethlehem area. We had to unload our equipment and on some occasions walk some distance as the road was not suitable for the bus to drive all the way.

The owners welcomed us and showed us trees which needed harvesting. Our first task was to spread huge plastic sheets around the base of each tree. Then we set to work, attacking the trees at the front of the field and working our way towards the end. As many as eight or ten of us would work on one tree, starting from the lower branches and then working towards the higher ones. Each branch was thickly covered with plump green or dark purple olives, the purple ones being the ripe ones. We were asked to pick them all. It was wonderful to slide our fingers down a branch and see the olives falling effortlessly on to the plastic sheet, with a rhythmic clop-clopping sound.  Some trees were very dusty and a dusty cloud assailed us as we worked. Where the crop was thick, it took almost half an hour for one person to work on a single section, with six or seven others working around different branches. There were others who diligently collected the fallen fruit into buckets and emptied them into huge sacks which would eventually be taken to the local press. As the lower branches were stripped, the higher ones were reached by ladders and some climbed up where the ladders fell short. I confined myself to working on the lower branches, moving on to another tree when one was done.

There was a great sense of camaraderie and cooperation as we worked together, and at intervals stopped for coffee which came around provided by the owners. We worked until 1 pm when lunch was announced, which was more than welcome. Lunch was provided by the host farmer’s family and was usually a simple dish of rice cooked with lentils – absolutely delicious, salad and yoghourt and plenty of beverages. Only on one day did we work after lunch. Our best pickings in a single field amounted to 100 kg of olives. An average tree produces about 9 kg of olives yielding 2 litres of oil. Most of the oil produced is for family or local consumption and not for export. Trade restrictions imposed by the Israeli government make it difficult to do so.

On our half days, we visited places which gave us a better understanding of what life under military occupation is like.  One of our most moving visits was to the Bedouin community of Khan Al-Ahmar which has been in the news. This Bedouin community is semi-nomadic and has been living on its land for generations and centuries. Yet, the Israeli government has issued an order to demolish the school which serves its children. There were Palestinian as well as Israeli human rights activists keeping a 24 hour vigil to prevent its demolition. It was a privilege to meet and talk to these dedicated men and women. The demolition has not gone ahead, although it could go ahead at any time. There were visits to Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Hebron, not in the usual touristy fashion, but with a view to highlighting our awareness of life under occupation for its residents.

We had one free day with a choice of visit to either Ramallah, Jericho, or Nablus and people were free to arrange their own programme. I opted to visit my friend of nine years standing in Ramallah and it was a joy to see her twin sons now 5 years old, and the latest addition, a son nearly two years old who I had not seen before.

Evening meals were at our own hotel or with host families, and were followed by a talk or a documentary film. They covered topics such as the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and information about various organisations working for justice and the rights of Palestinian people. Truth to tell, we were often exhausted by the end of the day, but it cannot be denied that they gave us valuable opportunities to learn more about the struggle of the Palestinian people to live in freedom and with dignity and ways of supporting their struggle from our own countries.

On the last evening, we had a splendid meal in a local restaurant, accompanied by folk dancing in which our active participants joined. There was a great sense of comradeship, and of having shared a meaningful experience which would stay with us for a long time. There was sadness too, knowing that the local Palestinian people still had to face the harsh realities of life under military occupation. But we knew that we were leaving with a heightened awareness of these realities.

 Email addresses were exchanged, and goodbyes were said as people had to leave later that night or early next day. I am sure that in one way or the other, each one of us had been touched and many were returning with a renewed resolve for working for justice and freedom for the brave people of Palestine, back in their own countries.

For more information about the Olive Harvesting and Olive Planting Programme, visit their website: http://www.jai-pal.org/en/campaigns/olive-tree-campaign/olive-picking-program. For alternative tours visit their website on www.atg.ps

 

 

 

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As government cuts affect public transport in Witney, a community transport co-operative is set up

A year ago there was a post on this site about the residents of Hawes who launched their own Little White Bus in 2011 to meet the trains at Garsdale station seven miles away. Today they have a fleet of 10 minibuses that rely on 53 volunteer drivers and nine part-time staff, ferrying 65,000 passengers a year. They also have a Land Rover to take children from the most remote farms to and from school.

On 20 July 2016, Oxfordshire county council scrapped all subsidies for bus services and 54 routes stopped altogether while many more were reduced. Dozens of villages in Oxfordshire had no bus service at all.

Witney’s town service had been run by Stagecoach before the subsidies were cut and The Guardian reported that local Labour councillor Laura Price who saw the strength of the opposition to losing the bus service and the distress it was going to cause, began to wonder what could be done.

Laura Price says: “This is about real localism – us doing things for our community who would otherwise be abandoned.”

‘Frantic tin-rattling’ raised £18,000 that bought an old bus and at the start of 2017 West Oxfordshire Community Transport co-operative was set up. People paying £1 become voting members, drivers get a proper living wage, and profits are reinvested in the business.

Like the Hawes initiative, after 16 months it not only breaks even, it’s expanding. The fleet has gone from one to four buses (none less than 10 years old). The town service runs “like a Swiss watch”. Other villages petitioned the co-operative to run a service for them and this February it began running a 210 service to Chipping Norton.

 

 

 

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News from the Environmental Law Foundation

The Environmental Law Foundation Ltd is a charity which promotes the collective, good decision-making which is at the very heart of civilised, democratic and stable societies.

It does this by providing free information and advice on environmental issues to individuals and communities via its in-house and university-based law clinics, and via its network of specialist environmental lawyers and technical experts.

ELF exists primarily to help socially and economically disadvantaged communities which want to address their concerns but lack the resources or information to do so. All, however, are welcome to enquire.

This message from the Environmental Law Foundation focussed on:

  • National Planning Policy Framework Review
  • Third defeat for government on air quality
  • Environmental Crime in Europe

It included information about ELF’s assistance to a residents’ association in Farringdon which represents vulnerable social housing tenants. ELF helped the association to make their case at a Public Inquiry into the proposed building of a 180 room Whitbread run hotel and commercial area by Endurance Land.

The Catherine Griffiths and Clerkenwell Community Tenants’ and Residents’ Association (chair and members left) claimed developers are “land grabbing” Clerkenwell, and the site should be used for “useful” shops and affordable housing.

They felt that the proposals would have significant effects on an already stressed community where development was forcing the indigenous community out. There were serious concerns over the proposed loading area on traffic flows, significant light impacts of building a high rise building and the serious impacts on local historical assets, including the Finsbury Health Centre a Grade 1 Listed Building.

ELF member barrister Jonathan Metzer and Charlotte Gilmartin at 1 Crown Office Row, appeared on behalf of the group who had Rule 6 (main party) status. They led evidence from two expert witnesses and two lay witnesses. They acted pro bono through the Environmental Law Foundation, on the instruction of Emma Montlake. The inquiry lasted 7 days.

 

 

“In these troubled times, our big picture perspective helps to energise and inspire”

This invitation to the Economics of Happiness conference in Bristol, October 19-21 comes from Helena Norberg-Hodge (ISEC/Local Futures)

ISEC is working in collaboration with Happy City and the former mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson.

Jonathan Dimbleby will be chairing.

 

 

 

 

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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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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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