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  1. Courage and conviction should not be border controlled

    Fatu is afraid to come to America. It’s almost too hard to believe, knowing what I know of her life. SheFatuma & Young man’s stood her ground in the face of young weapon-carrying warriors in Kenya. She has been stoned by mothers for encouraging girls to play soccer. She has been threatened by fathers of girls she has rescued from child marriage. Despite the strength, the courage, the sheer force of will she possesses — she sees the writing on the wall, and it’s heartbreaking.

    Walking into her office, you can’t help but notice an outsized, two-page newspaper spread celebrating the top 50 global leaders who use sport to inspire positive change in the world. Luminaries include David Beckham, Kofi Annan, Prince Harry, Desmond Tutu, amongst others. Right above the story of Mohammed Ali, I see the name of my dear friend, Fatuma Abdulkadir Adan, and why she was selected.

    And precisely because of her name, her Muslim religion and her hijab, she’s afraid to attend the Street Football World’s board meeting in Atlanta in March.  Fatuma has just been re-elected to her second term. Whether the US Embassy in Nairobi will even grant her a visa is unknown (despite the fact that she’s visited the US twice before). Even if this wretched ban that America’s new president has tried to introduce fails permanently, the damage has been done.

    Travelling in Marsabit County

    For the past two weeks I’ve been travelling with Fatu, as part of our effort to design a comprehensive audio learning initiative for pastoral Borana, Gabra, Rendile and Burji women, men Fatuma & Kristineand school children in Marsabit County, which borders Ethiopia. We’ve attended meetings in Nairobi, taken countless meals together, shared stories of our lives growing up on different sides of the world. Her in Marsabit, in Kenya’s arid north; me along the American River outside of Sacramento in California’s fertile Central Valley.  These conversations unfolded over dozens of hours as we journeyed from Nairobi to meet with schools and to sit on the ground with rural communities across Marsabit county, Kenya’s largest. The county is twice the size of Belgium, and boasts more livestock than humans (which number less than 300,000).

    While in Marsabit, I met Fatuma’s three brothers (all professionals) and her mother (who made me my own kaftans to better cope with the searing heat).  I stayed at the family business, a charming small hotel, and was treated as if I was a guest in their home. Marsabit town is predominantly Muslim— yet as a blonde Westerner, I never felt unsafe. Quite to the contrary. One night as dusk fell, I walked some distance to an ATM to make a cash withdrawal. Frankly, I was far more concerned about the dust kicked up by vehicles speeding past than I was of being robbed. One morning, I found my hotel room key still in the lock outside my door where I’d accidentally left it the night before. A bottle of water had also been placed at my doorstep. Throughout my visit, not a soul I came across was ever discourteous.

    We went for evening walks in the nearby forest where nearly every person we passed stopped to greet her.  I quickly realized that she had done something to assist each one of them, at some point, and in some important way.  Being a lawyer, she might have helped settle a dispute or sought justice for a child who had been abused.  We walked through a high school grounds where vulnerable children (whom she had rescued from destitution) were enrolled and were playing soccer after class. Some years ago, she started a program called “shoot to score, not to kill” to teach youngsters to play football and embrace teamwork instead of creating conflict, an ongoing issue in this highly resource-stressed area.  This Borana group FA & KPprogramme has won numerous global awards.

    Time and again I saw firsthand the results of her 15 years of her relentless commitment working with proud, traditional communities to take control of their own progress and development.  Creating practical, all-inclusive community leadership structures and savings clubs, and getting children into school, are at the heart of everything she does.  Local leaders, elders, and teachers all told me how she has made a positive difference to the quality of their lives.  Fatuma is a local celebrity.

    Beyond a doubt, this is the kind of courage and conviction that we need in the world right now. That America needs right now. This is the kind of courage and conviction that should not be subject to border controls.

    Outraged

    And yet still, this peerless woman is afraid of being treated as a threat to society once she reaches American soil. No telling what harassment or verbal abuse that might be hurled at her from the airport, at her hotel, in restaurants, crossing the street. I feel helpless while outraged.

    It’s more than the shame of knowing that America will never match the warm welcome her communities in Kenya gave to me. It’s the deeper, irreversible sense of shame. If Fatuma is too afraid to take her seat at the table at the board meeting in Atlanta, her individual loss will become a great loss for vulnerable girls who want to play sports around the world. Surely that’s too high a price to pay?

  2. Why “radio is you” for women farmers in Zambia #WorldRadioDay

    By Farm Talk producer and personality, Ndabile Liche

    Radio is an ideal instrument to use for disseminating information to farmers in Zambia. Women farmers especially trust information from the radio more than other means of information delivery.  They understand the concept of this year’s World Radio Day theme “radio is you” very well.

    IMG_0147Lead farmer Mabel Zulu is a listening group leader, who uses a Lifeline Prime solar and wind-up radio in Dingeni Village in our Eastern Province not far from Malawi. Mabel said, “For a long time ignorance levels in women were high in Zambia.  We were considered as last decision makers in almost everything.  Most of the women were regarded as house-keepers, not decision makers. We were only allowed to do specific jobs, but didn’t make money.  Already there was information on radio, but women had no money to buy batteries to hear it.”

    How they found opportunity for radio listening for all

    Mabel further explained, “In 2013, in what we call COMACO (Community Markets for Conservation),  and after seeing the challenges these women were facing (poor livelihoods, high levels of illiteracy, early marriage), the COMACO boss decided to introduce farmer radio programs. He also provided us with these loud, blue Prime radios.” COMACO distributed more than 2,000 solar and wind- Prime-radios to farmer groups for free to listen to a weekly programme called Farm Talk, which I help to produce along with Filius Charo Jere. I’m also the regular female voice on the show which COMACO produces with Filius in the lead. Just after the establishment of this programme the lives of women completely changed.

    Farm Talk airs three times a week for an hour.  Two times are repeats of the same programme to give listeners options in case they missed it. The show focuses on conservation farming, nutrition, gender and family planning, family business, leadership development and livestock care in a conversational, easy-to-follow format.  Many farmers are interviewed and people love hearing from them directly about what has worked.  It helps to showcase women farmers’ achievements, too.  After learning from the radio, women are empowered with different skills like poultry production, inputs and other ways to earn incomes.

    Mabel says before stawrd2rting listening to Farm Talk, she was behind in knowledge. But the coming of solar radios her life has been helped especially in terms skills and practical know-how. Instead of sitting idly, she and other women are busy filling the gap of poverty.  They are no longer ignorant and now practice conservation farming (use of manure, composting, tree planting for reforestation) and poultry production after learning new skills from the radio.

    She said the radio is able to reach many areas of farming at the same time as you listen to complete nature’s cycle throughout the year.  Mabel also reminded that, “information from the radio is trusted more than the information that is written because so many women cannot read.”  From listening to the radio she indicated that they are now doing village banking and many more farming activities than ever before. “Most women are progressing well after listening to Farm Talk on the Prime radios.”  Listening clubs are motivational for women especially.

    As World Radio Day is celebrated on 13 February, there’s a lot of support for “radio is you” here in Eastern Zambia!

  3. Why I give to Lifeline Energy #WRD

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    by Linda Stevens

    When my mother died in 2006, she left me some money  ̶  not a life-changing amount, but enough to think about. If you have enough money to stay afloat, I find the most fun you can have with money is throwing it at things that matter to you and hoping it sticks. The word “charity” doesn’t really work for me. Charity’s become synonymous with pity, and I don’t think I really pity anybody.

    Rather, I see the concept of giving where good can be done as something else. Maybe “constructive enabling” makes more sense. If what I give can cause something useful to happen, I like to be in the game.

    There will always be boatloads of aid for the major catastrophes, the tsunamis, the earthquakes.But there are the little causes, too. Niggling needs that, if met, create progress in the small ways that matter so much to life   ̶  to making it livable, to making it better. Those smaller efforts, the ones that fly under the radar, matter most to me. And often, when you think about them, the small causes aren’t small at all.

    Education means everything to children, wherever they are, Eton or Ethiopia. Yet in Africa education, like water, is life. We in the West don’t understand what so many families sacrifice to find the $40 or $50 it may cost to send a child to school. And my husband, once a headmaster in Kitwe, Zambia tells an amazing story. He says that, in his day, a teacher only had to warn a mischievous child once: “If you do that again, I’ll have to tell your father.” Punishment didn’t get much worse than that. Your father gave it to you worse than any headmaster would, and if you got thrown out of a school no other school would take you. Education, they could learn the hard way, is life, and it could be lost so easily. I believe that, too, and where kids want to learn there have to be ways to help them do that.

    For anyone wants to know more, there is a way to make a difference.

    I found International Tom Hanks Day by accident, and (strangely enough) through Tom Hanks himself. I think I was looking up his Oscars. The search turned up a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign for something called International Tom Hanks Day. I figured it had to be some kind of joke, so I looked it up.  It’s not only not a joke, it’s serious. But with a serious twist of fun. The money they raise goes to Lifeline Energy to provide an MP3 player/radio.  It seemed like such a simple idea, but so potentially successful in reaching out to far-flung kids in Africa, that I bought into it right away. I got in touch, liked what I heard, and I’ve been solidly behind them ever since.

    screen_shot_2015-03-30_at_4.08.38_pmLast year I went to the flagship bash in Chicago. Lordy it was a gas! It’s just a huge party, a whole bunch of nice people having a great time, with an enormous screen showing non-stop Tom Hanks movies. You wouldn’t believe how many people know every line of dialogue from Turner and Hooch. About every five minutes a fabulously monotonous Tom Hanks chant breaks out somewhere in the room and everybody joins in.

    The four original guys who started up THD are everywhere at once, selling raffle tickets and making sure everybody’s having a good time, which is pretty easy. I was amazed that this silly thing they started as college bozos in Kalamazoo has raised many thousands of dollars for Lifeline. They squeeze every penny out of it. This year I can’t go, but my heart (and some money) will be there.

    How Tom Hanks got picked for this crazy annual shindig even he doesn’t know. But if you’re a Tom Hanks fan, or just someone who believes in below-the-radar causes (and I’m both), spare a thought for Lifeline. It has so very many thoughts to share.

    You can’t solve the problem. You can’t make it go away. But you can whittle away at it, for a dollar, or ten, or 50   ̶  which will bring communication and information to a village or an over-crowded school.

    Update in September 2016

    img_2576Linda’s generous contribution to Lifeline Energy enabled us to purchase 20 Lifeplayers that have been delivered to Zambia. They’re being used in a new preschool initiative. And at the next Tom Hanks Day, Kellen and Kevin will be able to talk all about it – they’ve just made their first trip to Zambia to see first hand where the funds they’ve raised has been spent!

  4. Creating positive change for rural farmers with our MP3

    dsc02363By Elyse Elder

    For three months I’ve served as a liaison between Lifeline Energy and its Zambian partner COMACO with a conservation farming project for small-scale farmers. I can’t believe that my time is coming to an end.

    One of my responsibilities was to create an audio-based executive training course using Lifeline’s Lifeplayer MP3 for farmer cooperative leaders surrounding the wildlife-rich South Luangwa National Park.  The training course gives farmer leaders the tools to take ownership of conservation and income-generating projects.  Solar and wind-up Lifeplayers allow farmers to build on what they’ve already learned. Content can easily be edited and expanded.  Farmers are learning practical livelihood skills for the first time and it’s empowering them to create positive change and increased incomes.

    Community is key for success

    Based in the fast growing Eastern Province town of Chipata, I worked with a dedicated COMACO team to create the training course. During its implementation, I realized how critical one component becomes to a development project community.   When asked, COMACO employees will tell you the difference between success and failure of a project is the buy-in by the community.  James Kalaluka, a COMACO coordinator, said the number one ally of a project is community members. “When you keep repeating a message, a few farmers will listen. They become the role models.  Once people see their success, others will come on board.”

    Yet how do you find these role models and make them believe in a project?  This is where radio, or in this instance a Lifeplayer, plays an essential role.

    Empowering change

    For the past four years, thousands of farmers have listened to the weekly COMACO Farm Talk on Lifeline’s Prime radio. Broadcast on Breeze FM, itimg_20161101_141446 gives a voice to farmers to share best practices and challenges related to conservation farming.  And they prefer to listen together in a group, not on a transistor radio at home, even if they have one.  As a result of being part of a listening group, farmers are more likely to collaborate with one another. They’re more likely to begin business ventures like farming communal fields and using the money to invest in conservation farm machinery.  Innovations come from the farmers themselves – a huge milestone considering many farmers are poorly educated and illiterate.

    The producer of Farm Talk, Filius Jere, understands the importance of communities better than most.  “When farmers hear information on the radio, they are more ready to act than if a COMACO officer teaches them.  People feel they cannot relate when so-called experts come to them.  With radio, they are hearing fellow farmers and better believe they can do the same thing.”

    The farmer executive training course is on its way to becoming a success because COMACO understands it’s the community that makes the difference.  COMACO is there to provide tools, but the community and the dialogue of knowledge and discovery within it creates sustainable change.  Still the most trusted technology, radio, and now the Lifeplayer MP3, are helping farmers to develop themselves and the result is a growing confidence and a more positive-looking future.

    My only wish is that I could have stayed longer to witness how the executive farm course makes a difference in farmers’ futures.  I guess I’ll just have to come back.

  5. How the Lifeplayer helps transform Zambian farmers’ incomes

    ee-in-zambiaby Elyse Elder

     

    Liaising between Lifeline Energy and COMACO (Community Markets for Conservation), I have been helping to coordinate a project to distribute over 100 Lifeplayer MP3s across seven districts in Zambia’s Eastern Province.  COMACO has created an innovative and cost-effective model for linking poverty reduction to improved land use through conservation farm management.  Although this provides a variety of extension support to over 140,000 farmers, it was immediately clear that communication and distance are distinct challenges facing COMACO and the communities they serve.

    COMACO works with farmers to increase food security and preserve wildlife and their habitats across more than 77,000 square kilometers (the entire country of Belgium could fit into this area more than two times over!) and to cross just one district can take a full day.   Most roads are dirt paths and to reach some villages just 30 minutes outside of a city center, drivers must navigate dangerous potholes and endure bone-jarring road conditions. Districts such as Chama and Lundazi receive poor radio and cell reception and if a farmer wants to connect with a COMACO employee, he or she must travel to specific reception areas.  The Lifeplayer MP3 solves these challenges.  With its capacity to easily hold over 60 hours of downloadable content, out-of-reach schools, workshops and trainings are brought right to farmers’ doorsteps.  Its solar-powered battery and wind-up crank allow farmers to listen anytime, anywhere.

    COMACO has created three education modules enabling farmers to learn more about farm cooperative leadership, conservation farming methods and income-generating activities.  These modules will provide lead farmers with the tools to help communities diversify incomes and create food security.  With the Lifeplayer MP3, isolated listening groups, comprising more than 2,000 farmers, can finally tap into the knowledge COMACO teaches, and listen to these lessons as many times as necessary.

    I had the privilege of training farm cooperative leaders in the Chipata and Mambwe districts and they described to me just how detrimental isolation is for their communities.  Zambian farmers are hesitant to try new approaches and view most change with suspicion until it can be demonstrated and proved successful. This demands face-to-face interaction, and leaders of cooperatives will spend days walking between villages to teach ecosystem conservation and better farming techniques.  Bicycles are a luxury and no farmers own cars or even motorbikes.

    For almost two decades COMACO has built trust within farming communities, so when a Lifeplayer MP3 begins to speak with a “COMACO Voice”, they trust the MP3 and its content.  One cooperative leader, Alice, told me, “We really need these Lifeplayers. It’s hard to teach on our own.  The COMACO Voice is a teacher too.”  Distance and isolation are two fundamental challenges of a Zambian farmer’s daily life, but through partnership and innovation, Lifeline Energy and COMACO are taking significant steps to connect more communities and improve their members’ lives.

     

     

     

  6. To develop, you need information: an intern’s point of view

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    by Elyse Elder

    As an American graduate student who had never travelled beyond Europe, the ideas I had of Africa were jumbled.  I came to the continent by way of a university grant to complete research on development practices; I knew that if I wanted to understand how development unfolds in practice, I needed to better understand the factors that contribute to persistent poverty.

    While preparing for my trip, I had no idea what I was walking into, and the internet wasn’t all that much help.  There were the typical heartbreaking pictures of hardship, violence and disease right alongside photos of modern metropolitan areas and fashionably dressed Africans shopping at trendy boutiques.  I had read anthropological studies about numerous African countries for my degree and had followed various contentious local political campaigns, but I knew that reading about a country and experiencing it are completely different.  I decided a blank slate was best.

    I first arrived in Livingstone, Zambia, home to Victoria Falls, ready to absorb anything thrown at me and I was struck by both the warmth of the Zambian people and the beauty that surrounded me.   Cars would have to wait for elephants to cross the road and at night I would fall asleep to the sounds of hippos grunting in the Zambezi River.  The Zambians I spoke with voiced thoughts and opinions on politics, family, friends, and job availability.  People described how they were striving for goals like securing a job, or providing a better future for their children.

    img_1744-version-2However, upon leaving the tourist haven of Livingstone, I discovered that to achieve these goals most Zambians fight an uphill battle.  Through my studies I had become aware of the issues that impact development like unemployment and the inaccessibility of higher education, but I had not considered how debilitating a lack of basic but critical information can be.  I could not have grasped the full magnitude of this aspect of development until I saw it firsthand.

    Development is growing exponentially across the African continent, but rural communities that live on significant portions of land are still walking through certain parts of life unguided because they lack access to vital information.   For example, 20% of Zambian children are stunted from under-nutrition.   This is not always just because they are poor, or that mothers are neglectful, but rather because they do not have adequate access to accurate information on infant nutrition.

    Some colleagues and I visited a women’s farming group outside of the provincial town of Chipata.  All said they desired more information on health and nutrition.  Less than a handful had a radio and those with cell phones did not have an easy way to charge them.  Anything I need to learn is a few keystrokes away, but these women must rely on second-hand knowledge.  These past few weeks in Zambia have already shown me that development of communities is hugely complex.  A seemingly small aspect like access to information creates challenges and compounds other difficulties.

    As an intern and project coordinator for Lifeline Energy, I am privileged to be liaising between them and their local partner COMACO (Community Markets for Conservation) in Chipata.  Both organisations understand the pitfall of the information gap and are working hard to close it.  For the next two months I will be working to understand the key challenges facing impoverished Zambian farming communities.  Already I’m learning that even the smallest pieces of life, like no access to basic information, can have devastating consequences.

  7. Who would have imagined Rwanda 22 years on?

    During April and May 1994 world headlines fixated on one event – the culmination of the long march to democracy in South Africa and the inauguration of Nelson Mandela on 10 May. As Western media seem to feature one African story at a time, another African event was a footnote: an ‘African tribal war’ in a country not many had heard of – Rwanda.

    In South Africa we were anxiously preparing for what we knew would happen – white rule would be crushed, the ANC would be swept into power and Nelson Mandela would become our president. South Africa was experiencing one of the most anticipated elections in history. More than 400 foreign correspondents were filing stories.  Many believed that South Africa was on the brink of civil war. But the cataclysm wasn’t in South Africa; it was further north.

    I remember reading snippets about massacres unfolding in Rwanda. News flow was limited and the early days of the genocide were filled with confusion. Towards the end of April, when we were queuing to cast our ballots and usher in the ‘new South Africa’, we began to see the horrific images of the nightmare underway in Rwanda, a country the size of Massachusetts. But it was only around the time of Mr Mandela’s inauguration the first week of May that Reuters first defined the bloodletting as genocide and mentioned organised death squads. The Americans and Brits even tried to block the word ‘genocide’ from the UN Security Council; otherwise, under international law they would have had to act. This was neither Western politicians’ nor the UN’s finest hour.

    First visit

    SCAN0004[1]I first visited Rwanda less than five years after the genocide, when Lifeline Energy (then known as Freeplay Foundation) was a start-up. Despite having read extensively about the genocide, the experience was impossible to prepare for, and is still difficult to forget.

    The killing spree lasted 100 days, claimed 800,000 lives –  more than 10% of the population – and left a nation profoundly traumatised. No one was unaffected. Rwanda was then, and remains, Africa’s most densely populated country.

    Kigali was eerily calm. Little English was spoken, except by those who had fled to Uganda, mainly Tutsis displaced between 1959 and 1994. People were sombre, and everyone I met had lost someone. An aid agency staff member told me that 30 family members had been killed.

    Evidence of the war, as it was referred to locally, was still visible. Rocket propelled grenades and bullets pockmarked government buildings and the Umubano Hotel remained badly scarred. The Central Bank had been looted down to its last franc and stood empty. The library had been torched. Kigali’s deeply potholed roads were a contrast to the main arteries linking towns, which were in good condition having been constructed by Chinese labourers prior to the genocide. In 1994 everything had been wrecked – and not just infrastructure – also education, justice, agriculture and health systems.

    Chain gangs of prisoners (called ‘genocidaires’) clad in baggy pink shirts and short pants repairing roads were a common sight. More than 120,000 men suspected of genocide crimes were crammed into prisons.

    Most foreigners (muzungus) were aid workers. The handful of hotels and restaurants accepted only cash and electricity was erratic. A German-built brewery, the first colonizers of Rwanda at the turn of the 20th century, loaned Kigali water purification tablets when they ran out.

    Beaten-up mini-bus taxis were largely empty as few could afford to use them. There weren’t enough cars on the road for a traffic jam to form. Bicycle taxis were the most common transport after walking. With fewer than 10,000 fixed-line phones, communication was difficult and cell phones, ubiquitous in South Africa, were still in the future for Rwanda.

    An experience impossible to prepare for

    SCAN0003[1]Back then, the provincial town of Nyamata was nearly a two-hour journey south of Kigali on a road so rutted a 4-wheel drive could barely climb out of second gear. En route we passed small cemeteries with rough-hewn wooden crosses. Prior to 1994 Nyamata had 64,000 inhabitants; afterwards its population was 2,000. With a group of women mainly from other African states, we visited the Roman Catholic Church where an unspeakable massacre of 10,000 people seeking refuge took place.

    With tears rolling down our cheeks we listened to stories of survivors. A mother lay under dead bodies, presumed dead herself. Her entire family had been hacked to death and her children were in the pile of corpses above her. Many children had machete wounds visible on their calves or arms. An old man described how he had survived in an abandoned pit latrine. Another woman told how neighbours had hidden her for two months, but the man repeatedly raped her and she now had a daughter. She still lived next to this family.

    The underground graves were a sobering reminder of the slaughter. Thousands of skulls neatly organised on wooden shelves with bones placed below them is an image I will never forget.

    Emergence from the abyss

    IMG_0853Over the past 18 years I’ve visited Rwanda more than 40 times, and am here now for the World Economic Forum on Africa. I was blown away by the newly renovated modern Kigali International Airport. With the toughest environmental laws in Africa, plastic wrap around your luggage is removed and plastic bags are banned.  Arriving at night, workers were still putting up signs and streetlights.  I saw dozens of labourer painting zebra stripes along roadsides where visitors are expected to pass. The city is doing their utmost to impress the 1000+ delegates soon to arrive.

    DSC00008Kigali is the cleanest city in Africa.  Its streets are void of trash, well-lit, with pedestrian pavements, drainage ditches and
    landscaping. Palm trees beautify the main street from the airport to the city centre. The traffic lights are what you’d expect to see in a European city, even beeping for the visually impaired. And now there’s traffic and plenty of it. The new highway to Nyamata is a 30-minute drive.

    Trendy coffee shops offering Rwanda coffee, some of the world’s finest, are commonplace. Ubiquitous ATMs are easily foun and mobile banking is on the rise. The government promotes digital financial inclusion, especially for women.  This might seem minor, but one of the things that impressed me most were paper toilet seat covers in the ladies room at the Umubano. That to me is a real measure of progress and attention to detail.

    The country’s astonishing recovery is considered a model for developing countries – when it could have easily gone the path of a Somalia. Often called a ‘country in a hurry’, under President Kagame’s decisive (and often controversial) leadership, its ambitious blueprint for growth and development is to become a middle-income country. Its key aim is to transform from an agrarian (85% of the population is engaged in subsistence agriculture) to a knowledge-based economy. It was the world’s twelfth fastest-growing economy in 2015.

    With over 1,500 kms of fibre optic cables, smartphones work virtually everywhere. Data is one-tenth of the cost in South Africa. Even by 2004, cellular networks covered 100% of the country and my cellular reception was better in Rwanda than in America.

    Rwanda boasts Africa’s highest school enrolment rates for both girls and boys. Major improvements in the health sector are extraordinary across the board, and up to 90% of the population has health insurance coverage. To curb population growth, vasectomies are offered for free.

    Another remarkable achievement is that Rwanda ranks number one in the world for female parliamentary representation – 64%. Half the country’s 14 Supreme Court justices are women. Women are involved in politics from village level to the Cabinet. A Gallup poll revealed that Rwanda is the safest place for females to live in Africa by its residents. It’s the African city that I feel safest in.

    Not to say Rwanda isn’t without weighty challenges – endemic rural poverty, low levels of electricity, serious environmental concerns like deforestation, a lack of media freedom and human rights.

    The next 22 years

    IMG_1205Collapsing into a failed state and a return to the killing fields were distinct possibilities for Rwanda even as late as 1998. Irrespective of what you think of the soft-spoken, iron-fisted President Kagame, his accomplishments are undeniable.  Relentless, disciplined and purpose-driven, Kagame used massive infusions of aid to reduce poverty, rebuild institutions and create stability. Acting more like a CEO than a democratic politician, Kagame continues to lead Rwanda on a growth trajectory into the foreseeable future.

    That said, unlike in Rwanda, South Africa’s media and citizens have the freedom to publicly criticise President Zuma and his largely crony government.  And our courts have the freedom to prosecute politicians. Whether they’re found guilty and convicted is another matter.  At this point, that wouldn’t happen in Rwanda.

    I reckon that if a million people in 1994 were polled and asked to write down where they thought Rwanda would be in 2016, I’m pretty confident that not one person would have been correct, including myself. And not one person would have predicted that the Davos of Africa would be showcasing Rwanda in Kigali – except perhaps President Kagame.

  8. Our Prime radios and sustainable farming in Zambia

    by Filius Chalo Jere, Radio Producer at COMACO

    COMACO listening group 2During the rainy season, most parts of the Luangwa Valley in eastern Zambia cannot be reached by government extension worker Luke Lungu, as there are many streams between the villages and Nsefu where he lives. These streams usually overflow the low bridges and the water is infested with crocodiles, making it dangerous for him to attempt to cross on his motor bike.

    Under normal circumstances, farmers would be cut off from important information on how to take care of their rice fields and get good yields. COMACO wants them to have enough food for the whole year and will not buy their rice unless they have a surplus.

    To support farmers, Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO) has developed a monthly calendar of farm activities. It has also given lead farmers like Anne Mungawo a Better Life Book, which explains good ways of farming using simple terms and photographs. Anne lives in the nearby village of Kamphasa and is in charge of three groups of between 15 and 20 farmers each.

    COMACO also produces a weekly radio programme called Farm Talk, which informs farmers of what they must do every week. This information follows the farmer calendar and each programme is aired three times a week: 14:00 hours on Wednesdays, 11:00 hours on Fridays and 20:00 hours on Mondays. Farmers listen in their groups on Wednesdays and Fridays but on Mondays each farmer may use his or her own radio at home.  However, many families do not have working radio sets. If they do, they cannot always afford the ongoing cost of batteries.

    To solve the problem of listening access, COMACO has given close to 1 000 Lifeline Energy Prime solar and wind-up radios that are designed for large group listening. The Prime is like their ‘extension worker’ during the rainy season. The radio is kept by lead farmers like Anne, who takes it around from one group to the next.

    Farmers gather half an hour before the programme is broadcast and make sure that their Prime radio is in good working order and has enough power. Anne writes the names of everyone who is present in a register. When the programme starts, everyone listens attentively. A few farmers are able to write, so they usually take notes. However, many farmers, especially women, are illiterate, so they try to remember whatever they hear.

    After the broadcast, the farmers discuss what they have learned and compare it with what they are doing. Then they choose what they think they can adopt and make a work plan on how to do so. Sometimes they agree to work from one farmer’s field to another as a group. In this way, they ensure that they apply the correct technology to every field.  This process helps to build community amongst the farmers.

    Because of this, everyone benefits equally from the radio broadcasts and usually everyone has the possibility of getting higher yields. At harvest time, Anne assesses how much is enough for each farmer’s family and tells COMACO how much surplus can be bought. This is an excellent arrangement that ensures the farmers get the correct information for increasing their yields. It also makes sure that every farm family has enough to eat and that they earn a decent livelihood by selling the surplus to COMACO.

    Without those big blue Lifeline Prime solar wind-up radios, this would not be possible!

  9. #RadioSavesLives: why disaster preparation must include radio

    by Kristine Pearson

     

    SL Ebola Feba 4 front pageSurvivors of humanitarian crises are forced to leave their homes with little more than the clothes on their backs.  That’s true for Syrians escaping conflict, for families fleeing to a shelter before a typhoon strikes or bolting from a house during an earthquake. Suddenly displaced, proud hardworking people lose everything and require help for the most basic of needs: food, water, medicine and shelter. And no less important is the need for information.

    Radio reaches people and stops rumours

    No other medium is as powerful and as important during times of crises than radio.  Radio saves lives.

    Radio speaks to people in a language they understand. It’s an effective way to inform, in the quickest possible time. Radio disseminates critical messages to survivors and helps humanitarian organisations with a coordinated response on the ground.  In any emergency, rumours are rife, making the need for accurate and trusted information all the more important.

    Natural disasters may not discriminate between rich or poor, yet the poor suffer far greater loss.  They lose the few assets they own, don’t have insurance, may already have health problems, and their country often lacks the infrastructure necessary to deliver aid efficiently.

    Working in emergency situations

    Mozambique choppers-impFor nearly 17 years, Lifeline Energy has been involved in many humanitarian emergencies – the Mozambique floods of 2000 (pictured), the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Haiti earthquake, the Pakistan floods, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the Nepal earthquake, and the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

    These calamities alone have killed hundreds of thousands and displaced more than a hundred million people. In each instance we’ve provided our radios to displaced populations. In some disasters we’ve been on the ground and in others we’ve worked through local aid organisations and international relief agencies.

    Why solar plus wind-up power is essential

    In an emergency, having a solar radio that winds up is essential.  Offering displaced populations devices dependent on costly disposable batteries is not sustainable. One also cannot underestimate the psycho-social support that music provides. In the Japanese tsunami, locals wanted status updates on the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant and its radiation levels.

    One of the reasons that we created our new MP3-enabled Lifeplayer is for emergencies. Children can be organised immediately around lessons in their own language. Given its excellent sound quality, the Lifeplayer easily accommodates 40 or more listeners. Radio broadcasts can be recorded for listening later and people can record their own stories of their survival for generations to come.

    Preparing for the next emergency

    SL Ebola Feba 3When a humanitarian disaster strikes, we’re immediately contacted by a host of relief organisations, the UN, corporates wanting to help or even national governments  – all asking for our products right away.  Lifeline Energy understandably cannot tie up its funds in inventory for disasters.

    For years we’ve done our best to persuade large donors to fund a stockpile that would allow our products to arrive as soon as possible and not weeks later when vital information needs have been unmet and more lives may have been lost. Major aid depots are located in Dubai, Panama, Italy, Hong Kong and other cities around the world, which make dispatching goods a fairly straightforward process.

    Lifeline Energy stands ready to work with others around the world to share our conviction to increase our disaster preparedness for the next humanitarian emergency, wherever that may be.

    A proud member of the CDAC Network

     

  10. Charcoal Children

    By Kristine Pearson

    When I returned to my Lusaka hotel room I looked like I had been dipped in charcoal dust. Although it was an inconvenience, the grime could be scrubbed off. But what I found hard to ‘wash-off’ was what I seen earlier that day.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAElectrical transmission lines stretch far above the high-density settlement of Misisi, carrying power to more affluent parts of Lusaka and beyond. On the ground children laugh and play with homemade toys of wire, sticks and plastic bottles. A toddler naps on a disused sack at her mother’s place of work – surrounded by some of the biggest stacks of charcoal I’ve seen anywhere in Africa. The 25kg sacks are split up into small flimsy plastic packets which women then sell by the side of a dirt road.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    No one seemed to be bothered that everything, including their skin, hair, clothes and toys, were covered in fine black dust. It’s particularly humid today at 35C (94F), but it feels even hotter in this all-black environment. Even the air is sooty. These designated charcoal selling areas are unpleasant to visit, let alone to earn a living in; and they’re awful places for young children.

    The women earn between $2 – $4 per day, which is more than they would make they tell me by selling vegetables. But it isn’t enough money to send their children to pre-school or to hire a caregiver. And just about everyone in Misisi, one of Lusaka’s poorest compounds, with an estimated population of 85,000, uses charcoal for cooking. In fact, I was told charcoal is the second biggest business after selling beer.

    I asked a group of mothers if they were concerned about their children playing in and around charcoal and to my surprise, they all said, “No”. Evelyn, who completed only four years of primary school, used to be a farmer in the north of the country. When her crops failed, she moved to Lusaka. She’s been a charcoal seller for three years. Evelyn told me with conviction, “Charcoal can hurt our chests when we breathe, but not our children. It’s fine for them. They don’t mind the charcoal”.  Ruth, a charcoaler of five years and a grandmother, is also an ex-farmer. She commented that she gets pains in her chest, but that it doesn’t harm the children. “It’s good for them because we use charcoal powder as medicine. We pound it into water and drink it for a bad stomach”.

    I also asked about cooking with charcoal and breathing its smoke since most here cook their food inside, especially when it rains. It was disturbing to me that because of the medicinal effects of taking charcoal for stomach disorders, the women didn’t seem to realise it could be harmful to young lungs.  Numerous studies have linked high levels of indoor air pollution with an increase in the incidence of respiratory infections, including tuberculosis, pneumonia, stunting, low birth weight and cataracts in both in adults and children.

    A field officer from the Ministry of Health told me that the government tracks and studies diseases like HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria, cholera, bilharzia, diarrhea, and nutritional deficiencies, but any effects from breathing charcoal dust or indoor air pollution from cookstoves on children aren’t among them. She also said that a high rate of illiteracy amongst poor women combined with a lack of awareness and education around health issues overall are critical problems in Zambia.

    And with an urbanization rate of 3% per annum, demand for charcoal isn’t likely to decrease anytime soon unless the government dramatically ramps up reliable and affordable grid capacity to poor neighbourhoods. From everything that I’ve read and from everyone I’ve talked to in Zambia, this isn’t the government’s priority.

    Charcoal children - blurred faces

    The poor buy what they can afford and charcoal is cheap – as little as 30 US cents to cook a meal of nshima, a ground corn staple in this part of Africa. Zambia has the second highest rate of deforestation in the world and thousands of people are involved in its production, transport and selling. So perhaps this cycle will only be broken once there are no more trees left from which to make charcoal.

    In the meantime, how many charcoal children are breathing in this invasive soot and no one is paying  attention? As a mother  when your place of work is potentially unhealthy for your children, what alternative do you have? For women who live on the margins, their options are few and they choices they make are often the only ones they can.

    So as I watched the black charcoal water swirl down the drain, I thought about those who try to wash the charcoal off themselves as a daily routine. These young children make up many of the unseen human faces of energy poverty and those most likely to suffer its effects.

    Charcoal – its production, sale and human cost is a highly complex issue. 

    Read more from Kristine Pearson

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