Category Archives: Environment

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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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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Kenya’s government invests in geothermal energy

Kenya is the first African country to develop geothermal energy. It is  diversifying from hydropower, which currently provides most of Kenya’s electricity, because its capacity has been seriously reduced by the worst drought since the 2011 – and further droughts are anticipated.

Geothermal energy comes from a mixture of water and steam under pressure drawn from nearly 2 km beneath the earth, in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley (above). It is providing reliable, cost-competitive, baseload power with a small carbon footprint.

Only 10% of Kenya’s population has electricity for their homes, so this project will help more people to have a better lifestyle. The energy is going to be used for household needs such as heated water and electricity.

There are concerns about the adverse effects of installing the pipeline infrastructure on vegetation, wildlife and the nomadic way of life

But as an employee of Kenya Electricity Generating Company said: “It is a clean energy, or green, because its carbon footprint on the environment is minimal”.

This is a state conceived and managed achievement – now part of

which focusses on reforms and development across 10 key sectors. 

The state’s role is possibly deplored by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network , an alliance of organisations headed by PricewaterhouseCoopers, a powerful accountancy firm (one of the Big 4) with a chequered history. They conducted a study which found that Kenya has ‘put little focus’ on involving the private sector in risk mitigation – insurance? – and flows of significant private sector finance.

Long may it be so.

 

 

 

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Readers from the Cotswolds to London could help London Waterkeeper

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London Waterkeeper is a member of Waterkeeper Alliance, a global federation campaigning for fishable, drinkable and swimmable water.

London Waterkeeper defends rivers and challenges polluters. All of London’s rivers are failing – damaged by road run-off and sewage. London Waterkeeper seeks to use the law to target polluters, highlight pollution where it happens and outline the solutions needed to make rivers healthy.

      The 15th anniversary video featuring London Waterkeeper is here.

The Environmental Law Foundation (ELF) has worked with London Waterkeeper (LW) since it was first approached for assistance in 2016. LW recently launched a campaign to persuade Thames Water to notify the public when its sewers spill into the Thames – from the Cotswolds to London. Thames Water is subject to the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) 2004 which require such bodies to make environmental information they hold available to the public by electronic means.

Currently very little information about Thames’ pollution is publicly available. The river is used by people for rowing, kayaking, paddle boarding and swimming but they don’t know when they risk coming into contact with sewage. Information about any form of pollution from the Cotswolds to the capital should be sent to A Thames Fit To Swim.

London Waterkeeper has asked Thames Water to tell them when its sewers overflow but they also need public input via this link to help to make the Thames swimmable one day.

Hogsmill Sewage Works (Kingston-on-Thames) – an incident due to misconnection 

London Waterkeeper’s aims:

  • to acquire information in order to see where greater investment is needed to protect the river,
  • to encourage Thames Water to put information about all pollution incidents on its website ‘as is expected in the 21st Century’.

                        Copenhagen Harbour Bath

Information helped Copenhagen to make its waters ‘swimmable’. Read an inspiring account here. They created urban beaches and harbour swimming pools which are now the most popular open spaces. Read another account in the Ecologist.

 

 

 

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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”.