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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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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Hawes: as government sheds commitments, ‘we are going to provide for ourselves’

As large-scale cuts in public expenditure began to ‘bite’, the 2010 Conservative manifesto presented the Big Society as its flagship policy, later endorsed by the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition. The Big Society Network was formed, owned by The Society Network Foundation charity. It had £2 million from the National Lottery and public-sector grants. However in July 2014, the Charity Commission investigated alleged misuse of funds by the network; it went into administration and was wound up. David Cameron did not use the term in public after 2013 and the phrase ceased to be used in government statements.

Years earlier the people of Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales were realising this vision, because, as John Blackie, a district and county councillor explained: “Here we say (to government), ‘If you aren’t going to provide for us, we are going to provide for ourselves’”.

Necessity has been the mother of invention.

Hawes: 1137 population, 683 dwellings

The Wensleydale line and Hawes railway station had closed in 1959. Then both police houses closed. Last year one of the town’s two banks left, leaving Hawes with a single branch open three days a week. “One of the big issues here is that we are losing young families; if we lose services we lose families,” Mr Blackie said. Four local schools in the Upper Dales are only half full, he added.

In 1992, Dairy Crest, its biggest employer, sold the Wensleydale Creamery, featured in the 1989 Wallace & Gromit film: ‘A Grand Day Out’.

Four of the creamery’s managers and a local businessman bought the enterprise and revived it. More than 200 people now work there and it produces 4,000 tonnes of cheese a year.

Since then the business has gone from strength to strength and a new dairy was built there in 2014.

In 1997, the community opened the Upper Wensleydale Community Partnership, in a place where people could get access to council services and pay rents and rates five days a week. Before this, a council clerk visited Hawes one day each week.

Over the years they began to run their library, post office and police station. The police moved in, using a room in the community centre which moved to a new site in 2005, bringing the library with them and opening it five days a week instead of two. These local services would have shut down if locals hadn’t volunteered to run them ‘on their own terms’. The town has a retained Fire Station, crewed by firefighters who provide on-call cover from home or their place of work.

After years of dwindling bus services the community launched its 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.

After the village was hit by Post Office cutbacks, the Northern Echo reported in 2014 that the Upper Wensleydale Community Partnership had voted to run a post office at the Community Office, a sorting office in the town’s business park and outreach services in Askrigg and Bainbridge. The move followed the retirement of Hawes postmaster whose departure left residents facing a 17-mile drive to the nearest post office. Councillor Blackie said he would also aim to relaunch post office services in some of the 11 villages where sub-post offices had closed over the past 17 years.

Their latest enterprise (October 2017) is taking a three-year lease of the petrol station which was closing down. They hope to install a 24-hour self-service pump and an electric charging point and – one day – to buy the site, offering community shares. It is the first in the country to be run by its community, (part-time staff and volunteers) not for profit but to save local people from making a 36-mile round trip along narrow roads to the nearest filling station open full time. Hawes is so remote that they qualify for a government rebate of 5p per litre to keep the prices down.

Many readers will wish them well as, next year, the partnership plans to buy two plots of land to build affordable homes for rent in perpetuity . . .

and as the Wensleydale Railway Association plans to rebuild the railway from Northallerton to to join the Settle-Carlisle Railway at Garsdale, re-opening the station in Hawes.

 

 

 

Fair Isle’s community group gains support for extending its renewable energy supply

Fair Isle was bought by the National Trust for Scotland in 1954 from George Waterston, the founder of the bird observatory. It is 24 miles south of Shetland, surrounded by rich fishing waters. Most of the islanders live in the crofts on the southern half of the island (below).

Fair Isle’s fifty-five residents hope to develop the three-mile long island’s infrastructure to sustain and attract more people to live here in the most remote place in the British Isles, inhabited since the Bronze Age. Its distinctive knitwear has a worldwide reputation – see: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/explore/fair-isle-knitting-patterns/

As powerful winds mean that Fair Isle is often plunged into darkness, with blackouts usually striking at the most inopportune moments, a community group, the Fair Isle Electricity Company, is leading plans to install three 60kW wind turbines, a 50kW solar array and battery storage. This scheme will bring round-the-clock electricity to the island and help to bolster its dwindling population.

Existing wind-power will be extended to the north of the three-mile-long island, enabling grid connections to the water treatment works, the airstrip, North Haven harbour and the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, after securing £2.6 million in funding.

  • Earlier this year the company was awarded capital funding of more than £1 million through the Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme (LCITP).
  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) agreed to contribute £250,000 to the renewable energy project
  • There was a lottery grant of £600,000.
  • The scheme has received £250,000 from Shetland Islands Council
  • and £245,000 from the National Trust for Scotland (which owns Fair Isle).
  • Scottish Water gave £208,000.
  • The island’s bird observatory donated £100,000.
  • The Fair Isle Electricity Company is contributing £20,000.

The island houses a series of high-technology relay stations (left)  carrying vital TV, radio, telephone and military communication links between Shetland, Orkney and the Scottish mainland.

A Fair Isle resident, David Wheeler, a former meteorologist who worked on the introduction of the original wind power system, said continuity of supply would transform domestic life on Fair Isle. “It’s the little changes to our lives that will make a difference, like the television no longer cutting off when the snooker is on or the washing machine shutting down in the middle of the cycle with the clothes still inside. They’re small issues but they do matter.”

Robert Mitchell, director of the Fair Isle Electricity Company, said the project would bring new employment opportunities to the island and sustain existing jobs. “Having a constant electricity source may help to attract more people. This ambitious project is the first step in ensuring that the community of Fair Isle continues to thrive.”

Sources include:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/scotland/mood-is-electric-as-long-suffering-islanders-anticipate-24-hour-power-6hc52bgtl

http://www.shetnews.co.uk/news/14946-fair-isle-moves-closer-to-round-the-clock-power

http://www.shetland.org/plan/areas/fair-isle

 

 

 

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Fintech startups – Bethnal Green Ventures: Paul Miller

Our attention has been drawn to  a recent article by Paul Miller, partner at Bethnal Green Ventures.

He recalls that in the midst of the financial turmoil of 2008 BGV decided to try something new. They brought together technologists and engineers with people who worked at the sharp end of social and environmental problems in ‘social innovation camps’.

The fintech startup scene had yet to emerge and whole swathes of society, low-income households, people dependent on care, former prisoners, migrant workers, homeless people, refugees and asylum seekers had been poorly served by traditional financial institutions.

In a report, Access to Financial Services in the UK, the Financial Conduct Authority painted a bleak picture of how well the existing financial services companies are rising to the challenge. Paul says: “Fast forward almost ten years and a lot has changed. Now there is a huge startup scene in the UK and the tech for good community has mushroomed with thousands of people putting their technology skills to use, solving problems in health, education, the environment and democracy”.

The FT reports that Bethnal Green Ventures is another early stage UK investor backing tech innovators addressing social problems.

Since 2012, the company has helped launch more than 90 “tech for good” ventures through a twice-yearly accelerator programme. Funded by Nesta and Nominet Trust — the company’s founding partners — as well as the UK Cabinet Office’s Social Incubator Fund, these three-month programmes offer start-ups a £20,000 investment as well as mentoring in return for 6% equity.

Investments include Dr Doctor’s appointment management service, which claims to save the NHS more than £1.2m a year by reducing the number of patients failing to attend medical appointments, and Open Utility, which plans to allow people to buy excess solar power from their neighbours instead of power stations.

Bethnal Green Ventures holds meetings every few months for nearly 6,000 members, many of them working at banks or advertising agencies, but with an interest in donating their time to social projects at the weekend. Paul Miller, chief executive of Bethnal Green Ventures, says it has so far doubled the estimated market value of its investments.

Paul continues: “At Bethnal Green Ventures we want to invest in these new ventures tackling financial inclusion and income inequality. We’re interested in ideas that could:

  • Enable excluded people to gain access to a bank account in the first place. There are an estimated 1.5 million ‘unbanked’ people in the UK and evidence suggests that some groups of people are more likely to experience difficulties proving their identity and/or their address in order to open an account. There’s no need to change the know your customer rules but new services are needed to help people identify themselves in a way that is realistic in their circumstances.
  • Provide fair access to credit. We’re interested in new business models that help reduce risk (both real and perceived) in lending to groups that have found it hard to get loans in the past.
  • Create high quality financial advice extended to previously excluded groups. The wealthier you are, the more likely you are to be offered financial planning advice, augmenting the assets of those who are already financially secure. There’s an opportunity to provide financial education and advice into new markets at low cost.
  • Provide access to benefits and insurance that are relevant to the modern world of work. With the rise of the gig economy and changing patterns of work people need new ways of protecting themselves for when things go wrong or their circumstances change”.

He ends: “If the fintech sector is to avoid the social pariah fate of the financial services sector following the 2008 crisis, it needs to take creating a positive social impact seriously. It’s not just about ‘doing good’, we believe that it presents a brilliant business opportunity as well”.