Thought of the day

I hope you’re all enjoying the lead-up to Christmas and the New Year. I came across a copy of one of my favourite poems the other day and thought I’d share it with you. There have been many adaptations and various claims on the authorship, but this is my favourite version.

I Had a Dream
One night I had a dream
I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene I noticed two sets
of footprints in the sand,
one belonging to me
and the other to my Lord.
When the last scene of my life shot before me
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
There was only on set of footprints.
I realized that this was at the lowest
and saddest times in my life.
This always bothered me
and I questioned the Lord
about my dilemma.
“Lord, you told me when I decided to follow You,
You would walk and talk with me all the way.
But I’m aware that during the most troublesome
times of my life there is only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You most,
you leave me.”
He whispered,  “My precious, precious child,
I love you and will never leave you
never, ever during your times of trial and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints
It was then that I carried you.”

Margaret Fishback Powers

I hope this inspires you as much as it has inspired me, and I wish you a very happy Christmas and all the best for the coming new year.

Published in: on December 24, 2009 at 10:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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Take Action at Tea-Time

Tuesday 15th December marked International Tea Day this week and also the lauch of a national campaign to persuade the five major tea companies in the UK to go Fairtrade.

When you pour yourself a nice cuppa this afternoon perhaps take the time to think about where your tea came from, who picked it, and what their lives are like. If the box of tea has the Fairtrade mark on it, then you can be guaranteed that the farmers on the tea plantations are being paid a premium price for their tea that offers them a stable income and the opportunity to invest in the development of the community around them. If the box is lacking the Fairtrade symbol then doubtless the scenario for those producers will be very different.

Perhaps today, while you sip your tea, you could take the time to send a quick email to the major tea companies in the UK: Tetleys, Typhoo, Yorkshire Tea, Twinnings and even PG Tips (see my earlier blog post as to why I think PG Tips should commit to Fairtrade over Rainforest Alliance). The email is ready-made so all you have to do is add your name and address to indicate that you support the campaign.

Fairtrade does make a difference, for those working on the plantations it offers them a secure income and hope for the future. Taking action will only take a few minutes out of your day, but will hopefully persuade the major tea companies to go Fairtrade. Wouldn’t it be great if one day every cup of tea in the UK was Fairtrade?

Go on, do it now! Enjoy your cuppa, and help others enjoy a better quality of life.

Published in: on December 17, 2009 at 3:05 pm  Comments (1)  
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All I Want for Christmas…is a swine flu jab

The Department of Health have outlined plans to get every child under the age of 5 vaccinated against swine flu by Christmas, and have been somewhat surprised when talks between GPs and the government have broken down.

It is optimistic to say the least to expect GP surgeries around the country to provide vaccinations for all under-fives in the remaining few weeks before Christmas. The failure to reach an agreement has been blamed on the fear that GPs will lose out on bonuses. GPs currently receive bonuses if they see patients within 48 hours and allow them to book appointments in advance. They have been accused of prioritising their salaries over the safety of children.

However, I think the outcry over money is detracting from the main issue. The real problem is the lack of manpower. Providing extra services and staff to administer the vaccinations is a huge task, and putting the pressure on in the busy run-up to the Christmas holidays seems unreasonable. I don’t think GPs are objecting to the dent it might put into their bonuses, but more the extra time and staff investment required to roll out the scheme.

The government need to think through the practicality of their demands and work alongside the people concerned – supporting the GPs and nurses in this case, in order to achieve their goals. Without their cooperation, the scheme is unlikely to succeed, and vaccinations are not likely to be completed until the New Year.

I don’t think the government will get what they want this Christmas.

Published in: on December 10, 2009 at 6:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Does Nestlé deserve a break?

It was great to discover earlier this week that Nestlé had launched the Fair Trade version of their four finger KitKat. This marks a great step forward in the campaigns to see major manufacturers adopt the Fair Trade mark, but has also generated some mixed reactions.

Having joined a boycott of Nestlé products whilst I was at university following the baby milk scandal and outcry over various labour rights abuses, this latest revelation has made me think again. Many have argued that this move towards using Fair Trade cocoa is merely a token gesture and will not change the practises of the company in other areas. Nestlé previously launched its own range of Fair Trade Coffee, but the marketing campaign was accused of being dishonest and misleading, and the promises of investing further in Fair Trade coffee failed to materialise.

Some are determined to continue their boycott of Nestlé products, in order to force the manufacturer to amend its policies and commit to a fairer trading system. Whilst it is true that the Fair Trade KitKat only represents a marginal section of Nestlé’s overall sales, I am determined to remain optimistic. Many of Nestlé’s other products may be tainted by their poor human rights record, but we can be assured that where we see the Fair Trade mark, producers are getting a better deal for their cocoa.

The move by Cadbury and Nestlé may only represent a partial commitment to Fair Trade, but it also symbolises a great achievement on the part of campaigns that have fought hard to get Fair Trade products onto supermarket shelves, and raise awareness of the plight of producers in developing countries. The battle is far from over, and campaigns will continue to encourage large multinationals to change their ways, and commit to providing a fairer deal for all.

I will be buying the Fair Trade KitKat, supporting Nestlé’s new initiative, but my boycott of other Nestlé products rests. If support of Fair Trade products increases sales, perhaps this will encourage companies to extend their commitment to Fair Trade.

Published in: on December 9, 2009 at 1:49 pm  Comments (1)  
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Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness

I came across this Chinese proverb when reading Harriet Lamb’s book on highlighting the issues raised by the Fair Trade system. Yet (as with many proverbs) it can also be applied to the campaigns currently taking place to persuade the world’s leaders to make commitments to prevent the damage caused by climate change.

As world leaders meet in Copenhagen this week, and with talks already under way, the media frenzy surrounding the summit has been garnering support for action on climate change. In an historical feat attempting to persuade the key politicians to commit to cutting carbon emissions, newspapers all over the world have published an editorial to highlight the issue (it even made the Guardian’s front page).

The editorial tackles the recent criticisms of scientists claiming that climate change theory is just a hoax ‘In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage’. Arguments about the reliability of data in various scientific reports are dismissed in favour of provoking an active political response to the undeniable fact that the polar ice caps are melting.

‘The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.’

While there will undoubtedly be furious debates on cutting emissions, and endless arguments on the formulation of the treaty, the expectation is that this will be a historical summit, not for its hopeless lack of action, but for marking a vital step towards tackling climate change. I really hope that the following fortnight of negotiations results in the latter. Let’s see them light a candle for future generations.

‘The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history’s judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.’

The Paragraph

A year in a paragraph.

This year has been challenging to say the least. I finished a busy term at SOAS completing a hectic month of exams and began the summer researching my dissertation for my Masters. I took a break from my studies to volunteer on a summer camp for young people, but was involved in a serious car accident on the journey there. I suffered multiple injuries, underwent three separate operations, and initially was unable to walk. Thankfully the operations all went smoothly and with physiotherapy I was soon back on my feet again. There is still a long way to go before I’ll be back to full fitness, but in the meantime I’m making the most of an enforced rest and enjoying reading, writing and painting. The experience has taught me not to take things for granted, and has revealed the true value of a supportive family and friends. I am so glad to be here and celebrate with them this Christmas.

Published in: on December 2, 2009 at 2:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Year In A Paragraph

I’ve just been writing my entry for the family Christmas newsletter and have been trying to put my experiences this year into a paragraph. Previous years entries have usually contained academic achievements or descriptions of my various travels, but this year it presented more of a challenge. It’s always an interesting task, reflecting on the year that has passed, and looking forward to what lies ahead in the year to come.

How to express my feelings about the year I’ve had, in a way that will neither shock the various friends and acquaintances it will be mailed to, nor undermine the difficulties this year has presented? How to fit it all into one tiny paragraph?

In the end I compromised and wrote something that fell between the two extremes. Most people already know what happened; the overwhelming number of cards, presents and thoughtful messages I’ve received is a testimony to that.  Others will no doubt grasp the impact the accident has had from the entries the rest of my family members have written.

Still, it wasn’t an easy task; just reflecting on what happened made me think back to the weeks in hospital, the feelings of fear and frustration, and the ongoing difficulties it has presented. Then I remembered the fantastic messages of encouragement I have received from friends and family all over the world, their prayers and kindness. If I can get through this challenge with their help and support, I have nothing to fear about what next year will bring.

Published in: on December 2, 2009 at 1:47 pm  Comments (2)  

World AIDS Day

It’s been amazing today to see so many people wearing the red ribbon and supporting such a worthy cause. I thought I’d share with you some thoughts I wrote earlier this year when I was studying the issue in relation to the impact the disease has on the developing world.

HIV and AIDS not only impacts the health of the person infected, but has social, economic, cultural and political implications for those affected by HIV/AIDS and the country as a whole. HIV/AIDS  is having a profound effect on lives, livelihoods and development – undermining household production and threatening the sustainability of families:

Mrs Hantuba appeared a highly capable, resilient woman, determined to look after her unexpectedly expanding household. But a current of quiet desperation intruded and welled as the interview continued. She did not have enough to feed and clothe all of the children, let alone to keep them in school. `There are so many children’, she said, `and no one to go to for help’. The interview was in mid-October and she was well aware that it would soon be time to plant again. `But I have no money, no oxen, no funds even to buy seeds’. (Carolyn Baylies: The Impact of AIDS on Rural Households in Africa: A Shock Like Any Other?)

Is poverty the problem?

HIV/AIDS  is an indiscriminate disease, affecting both the rich and the poor, regardless of class and gender. However, the rich have access to healthcare and lifesaving resources that the poor do not. Illness is often seen as a private affair, the family responsible for healthcare incurring costs that compound deprivation in poor families. As a result income diminishes, children are taken out of school, the supply of food is compromised, and possessions are often sold to pay for healthcare.

It can also lead to family disintegration, in situations where the mother dies 65% of families end up dispersed, and the children who are often sent to live with distant relatives are more likely to end up not attending school, working, or on the streets (survey in Zimbabwe, 2000, UNAIDS).

Yet it is the women who often bear the burden of caring for the ill, or are left to support the family (in Zambia, in 2/3 of families where the husband had died, the monthly disposable income fell by over 80%: UNAIDS).

Ultimately it is the poor and marginalised that count the cost of HIV/AIDS. The environment in which infections are transmitted is related to the societal factors such as poverty, sanitation, malnutrition, environmental degradation and access to health care.

Is there a solution to the hopelessness?

UNAIDS suggests a multi-pronged approach could help to tackle the overwhelming problem. By combining public policy based on scientific evidence, high level leadership (goverment involvement), and a multi-sectoral approach (social, economic, and biomedical) the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS could be alleviated. HIV/AIDS remains a virus whose impact infiltrates every sector of society, and we need further improvement of policies that address the relationship between poverty and development.

Published in: on December 1, 2009 at 4:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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