A kids-eye view of Haiti

Back in January, international development agency Tearfund gave fifty children in Haiti disposable cameras and asked them to take photos of their homes, families and life in Haiti following the earthquake in January 2010.

The resulting photos give a fascinating insight into the lives of Haitian communities and their lives after the devastating natural disaster that ripped apart their lives, livelihoods and loved ones.

Tomorrow is the official launch of the photo exhibition in Westminster, and the photos will be displayed for a further month in Methodist Central Hall. From donkeys to teddy-bears, the children’s photos document different aspects of the children’s daily lives, and provide some thought-provoking viewing.

These are children who have lost family members in the disaster; many are homeless and waiting for their homes to be rebuilt. They take delight in the small things; cuddling a cat, or watching their mother brush her hair. If you want an entirely different view of Haiti in the wake of the earthquake, then it is well worth a visit.

Published in: on June 6, 2011 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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‘No thanks, I support cancer’

I have just been collecting the Christian Aid envelopes from some of the houses near where I live as part of Christian Aid week.

Most people were very friendly and gave very generously. But one lady uttered a most confusing response “No thanks, I support cancer”.

I hope that means that she gives to Cancer Research or Macmillan, or a similar charity. Unless it was a very open admission that she advocates for the onset of terminal illness and suffering….

Needless to say, I shan’t be calling at her house again.

Published in: on May 12, 2010 at 7:58 pm  Comments (1)  

A Magnetic Personality

In the ongoing saga that is my long-term relationship with hospitals, today I went for an MRI. Having been for almost every other type of scan over the past year, it just seemed like another part of the whole adventure.

I have to say I was quite (irrationally) nervous. Knowing that my skeleton now relies on several pieces of metal to hold it together, the idea of entering into a room filled with electromagnets wasn’t quite my idea of fun.

My arrival at the hospital went smoothly, I traipsed through the labyrinthine corridors and finally found the reception desk marked ‘MRI’, conspicuously empty, with only a few porters hovering around the area. The waiting room was crammed full though, and when the receptionist eventually returned and booked me in, I squeezed myself into a vacant chair in the corner.

I don’t know what it is about small children, but their presence often distracts from any concerns or worries, and even conjures a smile on the grumpiest of faces. I had unwittingly sat next to one such child. The little boy was brightening up the waiting room with a beaming smile, and an endearing giggle. Unfortunately he had also picked the noisiest toy in the play area and was trying to replicate a one-man-band on a toy keyboard that played the same repetitive tune over and over again. This soon explained the mother’s weary expression.

Eventually (my nerves forgotten) the mother and boy were called in for their appointment which provoked high-pitched screams from the child, separated from his beloved toy. Minutes later, an anxious nurse emerged from the room, retrieved the keyboard and the crying soon subsided.

When the time came for my scan, I had forgotten all about my nerves, and the nurse seemed almost disinterested in my explanation of all my metalwork. I was told to change into a gown, and then ushered into the MRI room where I lay flat on my back on a large tray, and was padded in on all sides to stop me moving during the scan.

Being inside an MRI machine is a surreal experience. It’s strangely claustrophobic and incredibly loud, even with the headphones provided to block out the noise. It sounds like being locked in an engine room of a huge ship, but with every movement of the engine directed at you. It only lasted twenty minutes, but felt longer, and I distracted myself from the onset of pins and needles in my right arm by likening the rhythmic movements to the deep bass beat in house music or the powerful drums in heavy metal. I could have sworn that the last set of rotations the MRI machine made was based on a riff from a song by Rage Against the Machine.

Needless to say, the experience was not half as nerve wracking as I had first thought, and I am discovering there is no end of entertaining events to be seen in an otherwise dreary and depressing hospital environment.

[No evidence of having been magnetised by the experience so far… but if you do find you’ve lost your phone/keys/spare change in coins etc. do let me know]

Published in: on April 15, 2010 at 7:33 pm  Comments (1)  

Fairtrade Fast

Sunday marks the end of the 40-day fast of Lent, and the drawing to a close of my self-imposed Fairtrade challenge. I have attempted to eat only Fairtrade or locally sourced (British) food for the lent period.

There have been a few obstacles along the way, notably the difficulties of eating Fairtrade or British products when eating out, or when invited to a friend’s for dinner. However, it has been a successful experiment, despite the initial unconvinced response from my family. I have succeeded in my mission (mostly – see obstacles above), perhaps not quite 100% of the time, but without kicking up a fuss in cafés or restaurants, and not wanting to inconvenience friends who have so kindly cooked for me, I have met my challenge more often than not.

The challenge has inspired some and confused others. My mother now avidly reads the labels on all the food she buys, and the local Fairtrade stall has had a booming business from us and others in the past few weeks. We have experimented with ordering an organic vegetable box (the majority sourced from the UK), although I’m still not sure if an extra layer of mud really is any better for you.  A variety of Fairtrade teas, cereal bars and biscuits now line the shelves in our kitchen and a visit to the local farmers market this weekend promises to bring some interesting additions to our diet.

It has been fascinating to see how far our food travels to reach the supermarket shelves, and has raised questions of supplier relations, whether giant supermarket chains are just sourcing the cheapest possible products, or whether they have any ethical standards for trading with the producers. A campaign I worked on last year lobbied supermarkets to treat producers fairly and engage in ethical trading practises. It has seen success in the implementation of an independent watchdog to monitor trading practices.

It has been encouraging to see the growth of Fairtrade, and now even in my local shop there are far more Fairtrade products on the shelves than when I first started this challenge. Whilst Fairtrade tea, coffee and chocolate are becoming mainstreamed, there is still a way to go before products like Fairtrade rice are more readily available.

I intend to carry on buying and eating as much Fairtrade or British products as is feasibly possible, but also recognise the importance of buying products exported by developing countries that play such an important part in contributing to their economy.

As I reach the end of my Fairtrade fast I’m very much looking forward to Easter Day, and hope that I might get to enjoy one of these delights!

Published in: on March 27, 2010 at 10:47 am  Leave a Comment  
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Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink

I saw an impressive contemporary dance show last night, a piece called Scattered, performed by Motionhouse. The piece was formed around the theme of water, moving north to south across the globe, from ice in the arctic, to the desert and even a section representing the depths of the ocean. It combined dynamic dance moves, aerial acrobatics, and stunning visual projections onto a carefully curved stage that looked like a wave. It was an inspiring performance, which left me reflecting on the vital role water plays in our everyday life.

I too often take the supply of water for granted. Turning on the tap, the shower, even flushing the toilet are all actions I hardly give a second thought. Yet for many, a clean reliable source of water is hard to find. The section in the dance show representing the desert portrayed one dancer in the centre of the stage, parched in the heat, surrounded by the others all with bottles of water, indifferent to her plight until she collapses from exhaustion and dehydration. 

Without water, the simplest of tasks becomes a huge obstacle. Any time there is a water cut, life suddenly gets more difficult. For some, accessing a clean and safe water supply is just too expensive.  The urban poor, with approximately 1 billion living in slums across the globe are often denied access to basic services, with utility providers directing their supply to the wealthier areas. WaterAid estimates that it costs 37% of a person’s annual income to connect to the water supply, a prohibitive sum for many.

The 15th African International Water Congress is currently underway this week, taking place in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, focusing on perspectives facing energy challenges and climate change. The hope is that this international congress will begin to successfully tackle some of these perceptions, and advocate for improved access to services for the poor. Water is life-giving and life-sustaining, an issue that cannot and must not be ignored.

What would Beyoncé do?

Today marks International Women’s Day, connecting women around the world and highlighting the plight of many women who still suffer human rights abuses across the globe. Talking to one of my friends at the weekend, she confessed that she sometimes tackles situations thinking ‘What would Beyoncé do?’ taking inspiration from a powerful role model for independent women.

Uniting independent women all over the world today, several charities have put together thought-provoking campaigns to draw attention to issues affecting the global female population. The role of women in agriculture is essential for maintaining livelihoods and providing for the household needs in many countries, yet female workers are among the most marginalised, often facing discrimination and lacking land rights to be able to farm. This is particularly evident in the country I grew up in, rural Tanzania, where poor farmers face increasing challenges to their livelihoods. Independent women are often those who suffer the most.

I’m not sure what Beyoncé would do if her livelihood was compromised in such an extreme fashion, but I’m sure she would admire these women of courage who keep going despite all the odds. Perhaps we should be inspired too, and respond in whatever way we can, regardless of our gender.

Published in: on March 8, 2010 at 1:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Fairtrade Fortnight – Will You Make the Big Swap?

Fairtrade Fortnight was launched today with the Big Swap campaign, encouraging individuals, businesses and communities to swap their everyday products for a Fairtrade version. The main aim is to get the nation converting to Fairtrade tea, a simple but effective move to help tea producers in developing countries.

I felt rather smug as I enjoyed my Fairtrade muesli this morning and shunned the slightly dubious teabags at work in favour of (a genuinely better tasting) Fairtrade cuppa. My lunchbox was complete with Fairtrade snacks, and a sandwich made with local cheese and some homemade chutney. I felt I had done rather well on my swap thus far. However, there have been a few challenges along the way.

I picked up an ‘English Toffee Sauce’ last week, only to discover it was made in New Zealand, and even the block of cheddar cheese in the fridge was only packaged in the UK, and clearly didn’t originate from its namesake town. The consequences of refusing to compromise on my aims to eat only Fairtrade or local products also left me with a slightly meagre dinner this evening, watching the others enjoy something that looked far more appetising.

However, this has pushed me to be a bit more creative with my recipes and resulted in some great Scottish salmon fish cakes last week, and a superb (if I do say so myself) Chocolate and Ginger cake I baked for my grandfather’s birthday. The cupboards are now well stocked with Traidcraft products after we almost bought out a Traidcraft stall yesterday, much to their delight. Tomorrow I plan to raid the co-op store and the health foods store in town so I’m not left envying other’s food again.

I feel I should also underline that I am not doing this swap to encourage a boycott of all other products, I recognise for example that the producers of green beans in Kenya (although not Fairtrade certified) rely on the income they earn from exporting their products to our shores. The purpose of this experiment is to explore the journey our food takes, and to explore some local recipes using fruit and vegetables that is in season. It is also a great opportunity to raise awareness of Fair Trade products – of which there is a great variety, and of course to support local farmers and independent stores.

What can you swap?

Published in: on February 22, 2010 at 8:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Fair Trade Fast

Lent begins tomorrow, and I have set myself (and my unwitting family) a challenge. I endeavour to eat only Fair Trade products or (as the list of Fair Trade products readily available is far from comprehensive) locally sourced food (i.e. produced within the British Isles). This has already created some difficulties, and given rise to many debates around the dinner table as we examine each label and packet to discover how far it has travelled.

The aim is to start thinking, buying and eating more ethically. We are spoilt for choice here in Britain, with fresh fruit flown in from across the globe to allow us to be able to enjoy exotic treats all year round. So much so, that it is becoming increasingly difficult to buy British. Local food is fresher, hasn’t travelled so far, and most importantly buying such products helps to support British farmers and local businesses.

Buying Fair Trade is also important, guaranteeing a premium price for farmers in the developing world, ensuring a steady income and helping them to build up their communities and offering them hope for the future. It may still have to travel across the globe to reach our supermarket shelves, but the Fairtrade Foundation commits to environmentally responsible practises as well as offering the producers a fair wage.

It will be an interesting experiment and I’m sure there will be frustrations along the way, but I think it is easily achievable, and doing so will highlight some of the interesting paths our food takes before it reaches the supermarket shelves. I will keep you updated on my progress, and if you feel inspired by my challenge, here are some useful Fair Trade recipes, or even a Carbon Fast you can join in with. For now, I’m off to make some pancakes, having come across these Divine dishes, my mouth is watering already!

Zero Poverty

Today saw the launch of Zero Poverty, a Europe-wide campaign seeking to raise awareness of poverty across Europe and the rest of the world. The campaign has been launched by Caritas Europe to encourage public action during the European year against Poverty and Exclusion. The campaign is based around several ‘missions’ to be achieved by everyone who signs up, including signing a petition to tackle poverty in Europe, with the hope that by reaching over one million signatures they can push the European Parliament into action.

I have to admit, at a first glance it seems dubious that the campaign will really achieve anything; after all, the final policy decisions will be made by politicians in the European Union. However, there is much to be said for the power of the public voice, and if the petition is successful, it will raise some key issues to the forefront of European policy. The campaign also encourages those who register to engage in their ‘missions’, ranging from simply buying a copy of the Big Issue, to writing a blog post about it all (yes, I have been sucked in already!).

Whether this campaign will end up relegated to the list of utopian ideals such as the MAKE POVERTY HISTORY campaign, or if it has the potential to launch a wave of public support remains to be seen. Its success may lie in the coordination and collaboration of charities and organisations across Europe, and building a foundation for future policy changes. It is unlikely that we will see poverty eliminated, but every step towards that goal – even merely raising awareness of the problems that lie on our doorstep – will make a difference.

Published in: on January 27, 2010 at 11:42 am  Comments (3)  
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End of an Era

The takeover bid by Kraft to buy out Cadbury spells the end of 186 years of the beloved brand. It will be sad to see the end of one of the last independent British companies, the deal brings fears of job losses, and could mean the end of wholesome family values that have driven the company for well over a century.

There are fears that Kraft will abandon Cadbury’s commitment to Fair Trade, with so far only a token gesture made towards sustainably sourced cocoa from Rainforest Alliance plantations. Having entered into a huge amount of debt just to buy out Cadbury, cutbacks will sadly be inevitable. At the very least I hope that Kraft will keep the Fair Trade commitment, and not see it as a token gesture of corporate social responsibility.

However, to look on the bright side, the media frenzy over the takeover bid has resulted in some classic chocolate based puns: ‘Cadbury Flakes in face of Kraft bid’, ‘despite a Wispa in the ear’ from Lord Mandelson, and even an awful play on words by the Guardian ‘America’s Kraft is to gobble up Cadbury’.

I just hope that quality doesn’t deteriorate, the Bournville dark chocolate bar is still my favourite, and I would hate for that to end up tasting like cheese.

Published in: on January 20, 2010 at 2:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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