During our trip we visited ActionAid projects in the following countries: Pakistan, Nepal, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The projects ranged from education and skills development to disaster relief and HIV/AIDS. What did the people affected by the projects have in common across the different countries? Why are these people suffering such poverty that they require outside aid? What do we mean by poverty anyway?
The world bank compares poverty globally by examining the income of people in those countries in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) terms (where PPPs measure the relative purchasing power of currencies across countries) but also recognises that the social and psychological effects of poverty are terrible qualities experienced by the worlds poor. It is not possible to quantify or compare these effects among countries and people however so the economic variable is a more useful comparison tool.
Absolute or Extreme Poverty is then defined as having a daily income of less than 1 USD. Moderate Poverty is defined as having a daily income of between 1 and 2 USD. Most estimates from international organisations indicate the number of people living in extreme poverty as approximately 1 billion and the number of people living in relative poverty as 2.5 billion. The current world population is approximately 6.5 billion. Why does nearly 1/6th of the worlds population live under conditions of extreme poverty and why should we care?
A question like this is never going to have a single answer and the reasons for poverty are unique to each area. However, by examining the factors which affect each region it is easy to identify contributing factors which are closely inter-related and work in combination to trap people in the misery of extreme poverty. The often-cited “Poverty Trap” is not just a theory. It is a real and terrible economic phenomenon which has been studied by top economists such as Jeffery Sachs (special economic advisor to Kofi Anan) [Ref. 1]. His conclusion is that extreme poverty is a vicious circle that cannot be broken by the people afflicted by themselves - a certain amount of outside aid is necessary. Moderate poverty is not a vicious circle in that economic growth can and has occurred without outside aid. The aim of the UN millennium project on ending extreme poverty is therefore to help countries trapped in extreme poverty to progress to at least moderate poverty from where they can continue to grow economically.
Why does 1/6th of the world’s population live in extreme poverty?
Factors which combine to cause poverty:
Geographical Remoteness - people living in geographically remote areas suffer from economic and social service isolation due to poor or non-existent transport routes and from the lack of arable land. The projects we visited in Laos, China and Vietnam were located in 3 separate countries but were all located in remote mountain villages within 100 miles of each other. The routes to these locations were extremely rough and could only be navigated by 4×4 in dry seasons (not at all in wet) and for one we had to travel the last 6Km on motorbikes as the trails were much too narrow to allow access by car. Also, mountainous regions yield far fewer crops than flat terrain and so limit agricultural output. Subsistence farming is the norm in these locations. [Ref. 2]
Environmental Degradation - people living in areas that have suffered environmental degradation (e.g. soil erosion, pollution, salination, flooding) suffer from lack of clean water, lack of arable land and increased risk of disease in the case of flooding.
Natural Disaster - Disasters such as earthquakes, flooding, drought, typhoons etc. can cause massive initial casualties which focus world attention for a week or two. However, the survivors are left without shelter, access to clean water and with devastated farmland. When the initial disaster relief gets withdrawn these long term issues are often left unaddressed. In the area of northern Pakistan affected by the earthquake in October 2005, people are still living in tents on the hillsides in July 2007.
Over-population - studies have shown that poverty tends to result in over-population which of course exacerbates poverty in a vicious cycle. Over-population puts additional strain on food, water and social resources which contributes to poverty. It is well recognised that in affluent societies the birth-rate tends to decline to such an extent that the population will actually decrease unless inflated by immigration.
Lack of Education - the lack of adequate provision of education is a major factor in the poverty trap. Children born into this situation are deprived of any opportunity to better their situation.
Politically Closed Systems - people living in politically closed systems have little or no opportunity to trade internationally, can suffer repression for their political views or ethnicity. It’s no co-incidence that most of the people we met on our visits to projects sites were from ethnic/tribal minorities within their countries.
Other factors - include violent conflict and pervasive diseases e.g. malaria, HIV/AIDS.
Why Should We Care?
Purely Selfish Reasons:
1. Environmental Destruction.
Poverty is closely related to over-population and environmental degradation. The loss of bio-diversity, loss of carbon sinks in the form of woodland and peatbogs, erosion of soil and pollution of water resource has major effects on the global environment including weather patterns and directly affects us all. The increase in natural disasters such as flooding in the UK and USA in recent years is as a result of global warming caused by increased Co2 emissions combined with decreasing carbon sinks. Water and air quality are not restricted to one country as demonstrated by acid rain and the dust cloud over Asia. The large number of species facing extinction is due to the lack of funds available to poor governments for conservation and due to poaching as a means of income by poor people with few alternatives.
2. Economic Benefit.
Global capitalism works more efficiently when countries can trade on an equal footing and reduces waste in the form of inefficient protected markets and the unnecessary transport of goods. Helping developing countries out of poverty will also contribute to economic growth in affluent countries in the form of increased trade and market efficiency.
3. Armed Conflict.
Extreme poverty regularly results in violent conflict as increasing numbers of people compete for a decreasing resource base. Modern armed warfare results in huge numbers of casualties, can quickly spread to other countries not initially involved and causes mass forced emigration i.e. refugees/asylum seekers. May people in affluent countries are worried by the prospect of large numbers of refugees arriving at their borders and the possible effects on society and the economy. By reducing poverty, one of the major causes of armed conflict and therefore forced emigration is reduced.
4. Illegal Drug use in Affluent Countries.
Crops such as poppies and coca are grown in poor countries by farmers unable to make a living selling food crops. By giving these farmers a viable alternative to drug crops, the availability of illegal drugs and the associated crime and social problems can be vastly reduced. It is clear that police and court attempts to curtail drug use in affluent countries within the last 30 years have failed miserably. This failure is a glaring example of how ignoring poverty in other countries directly affects us.
Diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and Tuberculosis are more prevalent in poor countries lacking money for prevention measures e.g. education, mosquito nets, contraceptives, and treatment medicine. The increase in disease increases the chance of mutation resulting in more virulent disease which cannot be combated by the modern medicines we possess in affluent countries.
Why Should We Care?
1. The Ethical Argument.
Modern utilitarian ethical ideology has as its central premise that the outcome of any decision or action is justified ethically if it results in more conscious creatures being better off than if an alternative was chosen. In short, it’s better to make more people happy than fewer. All the major religions have similar premises. It should be fairly obvious that people living in poverty would be happier if they were better off and that affluent people would be happier knowing that they were better off.
2. Human Rights.
People living in poverty suffer human rights abuses such as lack of adequate food, shelter, access to education, lack of political and religious freedom.
3. Loss of Culture, Art, History and Diversity.
Lack of resource to maintain diversity in the form of art, historical monuments, unique music and language results in the degradation and loss of these priceless cultural traditions.
It should be obvious from looking at the factors contributing to poverty that one quick solution is never forthcoming when attempting to combat poverty. Donation of emergency relief aid packages in the the form of food or medicines can help mitigate sudden disasters that otherwise would cause alot more death and suffering but fail to address the root causes. International aid and development organisations recognise this and so work on a number of fronts in each area to eliminate the main causes of poverty to allow people to break the poverty trap and reach a point whereby they can continue to progress. For this reason ActionAid works in the following areas: Food security, HIV/AIDS, Education, Capacity Building, Gender, Micro-credit schemes, Governance, Water Resources, Trade Justice, Disaster Relief and Land Rights.
It should be equally obvious from looking at the reasons to combat poverty that it is in everyone’s best interest to work towards achieving the end of poverty regardless of ethnicity, political or religious persuasion.
What Can You Do As An Individual Living In A Society Of Comparable Affluence?
The ethical argument for action is clear and has been presented by moralists and ethicists for many years. [Ref 3]. There are several things you can do increasing in effort required but also effectiveness:
1. Individual Monetary Donation
As a bare minimum donate an affordable proportion of your wage to international aid and development organisations.
2. Active Fund-Raising
Actively fund raise by organising events e.g. concerts, fun runs etc.
3. Exercise your political clout
Help put political pressure on your government to fulfill their continual, self-congratulatory and rarely fulfilled promises to developing nations to increase aid and cancel historical debt. This can take the form of simple email petitions to government ministers which take less than 5 minutes or more active protest or political involvement.
The importance of this step cannot be underestimated. With single stroke of a pen, the UK government could cancel all historical debt from developing countries thereby immediately improving the lives of many millions of people. It would take a huge number of individuals doing activities 1 and 2 to achieve a similar result.
Undertake voluntary work. This can take many forms, from working in a high street shop e.g. Oxfam a few hours a week to performing volunteer work abroad as part of a vacation or sabbatical.
Ref 1. The End of Poverty - Jeff Sachs
Ref 2. Guns, Germs and Steel - Jared Diamond
Ref 3. Practical Ethics - Peter Singer
ActionAid - Thailand
Projects in Tsunami Affected Areas, Andaman Coast, Thailand
Locations: Ko Muk Island - Trang Province, Tab Tawan - Phang-gna Province, Ko Lao Island - Ranong Province, Khuraburi - Phang-gna Province, Thailand.
Date: 22nd January 2007 - 24th January 2007.
We are so used to things going wrong now that it has long since ceased to be a surprise. So when the engine wouldn’t start on Monday morning it was just a matter of course. Richard got a taxi to Trang airport while I tinkered with the engine before coming to the conclusion that all it needed was a good dose of start pilot and sure enough it soon spluttered back into action after an application. But it didn’t end there. Turning the car around to head out of the city to go to the pier, I got forced down some one way streets and into a warren of smaller ones so Richard got left behind. I was assured that he’d get a lift with the ActionAid staff in their van. Unfortunately not, so the nightmare of trying to get to the pier began for Richard. As it turned out, there was no need to rush because the boat was having trouble too so we had to wait for a few hours for it to show up. Eventually though, we arrived on Ko Muk island. This island was heavily affected by the December 2004 Tsunami which destroyed all its buildings and infrastructure. The huge amount of work undertaken by charitable organisations and NGOs since then has gone a long way towards rectifying things. Boats have been repaired and fishing equipment donated and housing and public buildings have been reconstructed. ActionAid continues to work in the area through partner organisations Save Andaman Network (SAN) and Sustainable Development Foundation (SDF) to help ensure long-term rehabilitation.
Arriving on Ko Muk we were struck by the beauty of the location. An upmarket bungalow resort was located on the beach and several tourists were strolling along the beach. Further along the island though, the local people are living in very small, basic structures and are heavily reliant on the fishing trade.
One of the projects on the island is Disaster Management and Risk Education. This project has local teachers working on creating a detailed curriculum and lesson plans on disaster awareness. The completed curriculum will be presented to the government as a basis for the subject to be introduced into schools at a national level so that the risk of another natural disaster causing such huge loss of life is mitigated.
While on the island we met with one of the women’s groups set up by ActionAid to help develop long-term sustainable livelihoods. The groups now operate small businesses in a variety of areas including coconuts, chili paste and deserts. These groups have been created to help diversify the trades that the community work in and reduced their dependence on the fishing trade which was severely damaged by the Tsunami and has resulted in lower fish yields throughout the region.
After staying overnight on the island, we had a long drive to Tab Tawan the next day where we visited a project run by Foundation for Children. Aside from the obvious physical destruction caused by the Tsunami, many people especially children suffered psychological trauma. The project has been running for 2 years and mainly focused on afterschool activities for children. The focus was on team building and helping children to come to terms with the disaster. Activities undertaken at the FFC centre included sports, painting, fishing, gardening, additional education etc. The project has been a success with around 70 children attending activities and has led to the children having a better social community. From here, we had another few hours drive north to Ranong where we stayed the night.
On Wednesday morning we had a short trip to the pier to take a boat to Lao Island. The pier was crammed with fishermen, many of them Burmese migrants who operate here illegally rather than have nearly all their profit taken by the Burmese military regime. The 20 minute boat trip deposited us on Lao Island where there is a sizable Moken community. Commonly known as Sea Gypsys, the Moken are a diverse ethnic group from either Burmese or Thai and are stateless people - not having citizenship or citizens rights in any country. They commonly spend alot of time at sea but have villages on many islands around the Andaman coast. Many of these villages and their fishing boats were destroyed by the Tsunami. While on the island we visited the Moken village and the school which now educates both Moken and Thai children on the island.
ActionAid and Foundation for Children have been working with the Moken on Lao island for over 2 years and have achieved many successes. Emergency help in the form of drinking water and medical aid to treat malaria and cholera outbreaks were provided initially along with housing and boat repair. The village now has an electricity generator provided by ActionAid. As in other areas, local groups have been set up to receive education and build capacity in various trades. The Moken have been issued with identity cards that name them as Moken so they no longer fear being arrested as suspected Burmese illegal workers when visiting the main land. This card can also be used to recieve medical treatment from Thai hospitals. Moken children are now being educated in the same school as the Thai children who live on the island and the relationship between the two groups has improved.
However, there is still progress to be made. The living conditions of the Moken on the island are not very good and they are still reluctant to integrate into Thai society. Their lack of citizenship allows them to be exploited by the people who own the land that their villages are built on. While other NGOs have been and gone (one leaving an unused christian church in the village) ActionAid continue to operate in the area to help with long-term issues.
After departing from Lao island, we made our way to Bann Hinlard in Khuarburi where we visited a community of Burmese migrant workers. ActionAid has been working with partner organisation Thai Action Committe for Democracy in Burma (TACDB) to set up community centres to encourage learning, skills development and to educate migrant workers on their human rights. The problems faced by Burmese migrants are complex and will take a long time to overcome. Issues surrounding work permits, legal status, land ownership and language difficulties can only be resolved through long-term planning. ActionAid is working in the communities to help with day to day issues concerning livelihood and education while simultaneously campaigning for change in both Thai and Burmese government policies to help ensure that the human rights of Burmese migrant workers are not abused.
The projects that we saw on the Andaman coast are only a small sample of a large and numerous range of projects that ActionAid is involved in. Other issues are prominent in the portfolio, especially land rights and womens rights. ActionAid is working both at on the ground and through political channels to attempt to improve the living conditions of poor and marginalised groups of people in Thailand and to ensure that they can claim their rights. As with all the other ActionAid projects that we have visited in various countries, we have been impressed by the commitment and dedication shown by the staff of ActionAid Thailand. We would like to extend our gratitude to the following people who accompanied us on our visit and were exceptional hosts.
- Rungtip Imrungruang: Tsunami Program consultant
- Kulachart Daengdej: Tsunami Policy Officer
- Piyanut Kotsan: Impact Assessment
For more information:
ActionAid Thailand http://www.actionaid.org/thailand/
Save Andaman Network http://www.saape.org.np/news_events/post_tsunami/Presentation6-Thailand.pdf
Sustainable Development Foundation http://www.sdfthai.org/
Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma (TACDB) http://www.tacdb.org/en/
Foundation for Children http://www.ffc.or.th/htmleng/engpage1/page.htm
ActionAid - Vietnam #2
Urban Projects in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam
Locations: Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.
Date: 12th December 2006 - 13th December 2006
Despite getting in late on a flight from Hanoi on Monday, we were up at 7am to visit the War Remnants Museum in the centre of Ho Chi Minh. The
horrors of war are graphically depicted through stark photography in an unfortunately one-sided, no-holds-barred approach. Afterwards, we made our
way to the ActionAid office in the Go Vap District of the city again in the company of Ms. Van. Here we met other members of the ActionAid staff and
discussed the 5 main themes that are being worked on in this area.
Food Security: Most of the people involved in the city project are migrant workers who have come to the city from remote villages seeking work. The
Go Vap area is a run down and therefore cheap area of the city to rent accommodation. There is also alot of industrial estates in the area where migrants
workers seek employment and live on the sites. ActionAid operate a Micro-Credit scheme here similar to that in the northern areas to allow people to set
up small business selling bread, fruit or other items. They also provide training for the scheme members on how to best invest the money and make
profits. The scheme ideally gives sex workers an alternative employment and has been in operation since 2003.
Education: The education schemes in the city are mainly aimed at migrant children who are often forced to work during the day to provide money for the
family. The children who can be seen selling chewing gum, postcards or lottery tickets on the streets are often migrant children. Some also work as maids
or cleaners in cafes and restaurants. They do not work in garment factories because they do not have the skills required. The working children can attend
free evening classes in the locality. Other work under this theme includes funding improvements in local school infrastructure, scholarships for HIV affected
other disadvantaged children and the running of 4 counselling centres in local schools to advise children on various issues.
HIV/AIDS: ActionAid set up groups for sex workers to educate them on protection from HIV and provide support for medical treatment, especially
mothers - there is now a drug available which reduces the risk of transferring HIV to offspring to 30%. Other work fronts include financial support to
families for funerals resulting from AIDS deaths, provision of a milk alternative to breast-feeding for HIV negative children of HIV positive mothers,
testing for HIV and the creation of peer groups for monthly gatherings. These gatherings are also used to discuss other issues such as domestic violence,
trafficking of women and children, life skills etc.
Gender: ActionAid work with the government labour department and trade unions to protect the rights of workers, mainly women in garment factories.
The law has a 8 hour day working limit and a minimum wage but this is commonly flaunted. They also organise seminars with local business leaders on
labour issues such as Vietnams entry to the World Trade Organisation.
Capacity Building: This area includes the training of ActionAid staff, training for relatives of drug-users or HIV positive people on medical care and
alternative education activities for working children e.g. drama and music.
Later, we went to the home of a woman - Ms Sun - who was a member of the Micro-Credit scheme. One of her sons had died from HIV contracted
through drug use and his wife was in prison for drug-dealing leaving Ms Sun to care for her young grand-daughter. Previously, she worked wrapping
candy. This labourious task earned her 20,000 dong (1.2$) a day. Using a 1.5 million dong loan from ActionAid, she set up a business selling freshly
made bread from a trolley. This work earns her 30-40,000 dong a day for 6 hours and she still wraps candy in the evenings. The loan is being repaid
through a closely monitored account whereby 62,000 dong is repaid every week and 14,000 is invested in the group savings fund. This allows 24 weeks
to repay the loan, after which another can be applied for. The Micro-Credit scheme allowed Ms. Sun to find alternative employment which although is by
no means easy, nets a larger profit for less hours than the candy wrapping.
Afterwards, we visited the rented accommodation of a family which had recently migrated to the area due to lack of opportunity in their home village. Ms.
Dzung and her husband sell fruit and earn 40-50,000 dong a day. One of her two daughters has a scholarship (i.e. ActionAid pay the school fees). She is
also a member of the Micro-Credit scheme and thinks the interest rate is excellent. Because she is a migrant, her citizenship card is not valid in this area
which excludes her getting a bank loan and the black market rate is 20%. Before using the loan to set up the fruit selling business, Ms. Dzung worked as
a maid earning 15-20,000 dong a day for 30 days a month with no holidays. Also at the house was Ms. Phi, a ActionAid employee who directly
approaches sex workers to educate them on HIV prevention and to convince them to come to monthly meetings. She found that HIV awareness was very
low among sex workers in the city but through her work she has educated a large number on prevention of STDs.
In the evening, we attended a group meeting. The participants were female migrant workers and the theme was stress management. Issues identified that
were causes of stress were school fees, rent, low income, unstable careers, high inflation and spousal conflict.
After this meeting we attended a working children’s education class. These children aged from 7 to 13, all worked during the day selling things on the
streets or as maids/cleaners. As this was the last meeting before Christmas, ActionAid pledged to give a small gift to each of the children (Christmas has caught on in Vietnam in a similar vein as in the west). 13 year old Nghia has health problems, including an eye infection and a heart condition but works selling lottery tickets. Uyen has a drug-addicted mother and works as a maid in a small workshop.
The classroom was a purpose made building constructed by ActionAid in 2003 and was used for these classes and as a venue for other group meetings. As part of their exercises, the children had drawn Christmas cards which they very kindly presented to us. Its easy to imagine that working on the streets from the age of 8 or 9 would harden these children and rob them of their childhood but while this is no doubt partly true, they still retained their curiosity and sense of fun and within a few minutes had lost their wary attitude and were clambering over Richard to see his photos.
The next day we visited Le Hon Primary School which employed a counsellor funded by ActionAid. This is one of 4 schools which employs a counsellor and was chosen because many of the children who attend are involved in other ActionAid projects. Many of the children are linked to sponsors through ActionAids Child Sponsorship Scheme. The scheme links a child with a sponsor who pledges 30$ a month. 70% of the money raised is spent on project activities in the area, 10% on administration, 10% on direct child related projects and 10% goes to the general fund. It may seem surprising that only 10% goes to directly child related projects which include improving school infrastructure e.g. furniture, clean water. However, by funding the project activities, the whole community benefits including the child’s family and other children in the area.
The ActionAid project in the Go Vap area of Ho Chi Minh City was our first visit to an urban project and was very informative. It was interesting that even in the city area, the poorest people are those who come from the villages - forced to migrant to seek work and a better life. Often though, the city cannot provide any legitimate work due to the low skills of the migrants and the already over-crowded labour market and it is the poor and underprivledged of the country who are again forced to take the lowest paid and most demeaning jobs. The work that ActionAid is doing in these areas gives these people the opportunity to make a better life for themselves but it is government policies that are at the route cause of many of these problems. However, the influence that NGOs have on government is small in a political system such as Vietnam’s so until such time that more can be achieved through political methods, ActionAid is working with the country’s poorest and most disadvantaged people at a grass-roots level to make important differences to their lives.
For more information:
ActionAid - Vietnam #1
Education and Skills Training Projects and Running Water Project in Vietnam
Locations: Dien Bien Phu Town, Tin Toc Village in Moung Pon District, Village in Thanh Nua District, Vietnam.
Date: 6th December 2006 - 7th December 2006
Having endured the 11 hour bus journey from Hanoi to Dien Bien Phu on Tuesday, we were slightly unhappy to be woken up by unknown people early on Wednesday morning asking for our passports. As it turns out, they were from ActionAid’s partner organisation in the area - TechnoAid - and copies of our passports were necessary for us to be granted permission by the government to see the project areas. At 2pm we headed to a hotel on the north side of town to meet with Ms. Pham Thai Hong Van (we stuck with Ms. Van) from the fundraising department of ActionAid Vietnam. We then headed to the nearby office of TechnoAid to find out about the sites we were going to visit the next day.
TechnoAid are a local NGO consisting of 7 full time staff. These members were previously employed by ActionAid for five years up until 2004. At that point, the ActionAid projects which had been undertaken were nearing an end but the team members had alot of ideas for further projects in 7 provinces in the Dien Bien Phu area. They set themselves up as an independant NGO and currently work with several large NGOs including Care International, Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), Netherlands based international development organisation SNV and of course ActionAid.
During our meeting they expanded upon some of the themes in which they get involved.
Micro-Credit: The Micro-Credit scheme is a method to encourage people to save while giving them small loans by which they can set up or improve an existing business. The NGO effectively acts as a bank with a credit fund. Members of the scheme invest set amounts into the fund each month and the fund is used to extend small loans to individual households. The interest on the loans is very small especially compared with a mainstream bank or as is more available to the scheme members - loan sharks. Bank interest is typically 8%, a loan shark rate will be 20% while the Micro-Credit scheme rate is 1.5%. The interest just covers the rate of inflation costs and the administration costs for the 7000 members so is effectively non-profit. Loans range from 300,000 dong (20$) to 2.5 million dong (200$) with a graded scale whereby smaller loans must be applied for and paid off before larger loans can be granted.
This scheme has proved very successful and useful to the members. Due to their remote locations, there is little access to mainstream banks which are unlikely to grant loans to subsistence farmers anyway. By becoming members of the scheme, the participants can regularly save money and use the loans to expand their business when ready.
Literacy Education: Due to the mountainous regions in which they live, many communities have no access to secondary schools. Primary pupils are educated with no tuition fee (though other fees apply) until the age of 9. After this, they must attend a secondary school. Many children must travel a long distance to the school and therefore end up boarding Monday - Friday. Unfortunately, the schools are not in a position financially to provide any accomodation so pupils have to build their own shelters and bring enough food with them every week. They live in small groups, in poorly constructed shelters and have no supervision. Most carry rice and salt with them to eat, with the wealthier ones having rice and eggs. The monsoon season tends to destroy most of the shelters. Faced with these conditions its not surprising that many children stop education at age 9 and that 70% of the secondary school pupils are male.
The education scheme that we saw in Laos was a copy of this project. Its purpose is to teach reading, writing and numeracy to previously illiterate villagers. Through the education classes, the pupils are taught literacy and numeracy using themes that are relevant to their lives e.g. health issues, agriculture, law, gender issues etc. There are three graded levels, each taking between 5 and 8 months. The education classes are conducted by teachers supplied and trained by ActionAid.
Governance and Local Democracy: Despite the heavy bureaucratic policies of the communist government of Vietnam (as shown by having to present our passport at regional offices before being allowed to visit the villages) there is some local democracy. Members of the People’s Council are democratically elected and they appoint members of the People’s Committee which seems to have the task of day to day running of services such as schools. TechnoAid encourage people to become involved in local politics by reading the information released on planned expeditures in the area and raising any concerns in the committee meetings.
Water Projects: 800 villages in the Dien Bien Phu area do not have clean water which accounts for 80% of the population. The government has introduced a water program in recent years but it only provides water for agriculture, not for domestic use.
Other themes that TechnoAid are involved with include Gender Equality, HIV/AIDS, Food Security and Children’s Rights.
Having been given the run down, we headed off to see the historic sights of Dien Bien Phu which include defunct French military equipment and the still intact bunkers and tunnels which surround the hillside battlefield of A1. This position was the last to fall in the 1954 Vietnam-France war which ended France’s colonial ambitions in Inco-China thereby gaining independence for both Cambodia and Laos aswell. The massive defeat of the French army by Ho Chi Minh’s peasant army despite American support was to prove an omen of things to come in the North Vietnam- South Vietnam/America war which began due to the partition of the country after the French withdrawal and ended with reunification in 1975.
On Thursday 7th, we took a car into Muong Pon District and submitted our passports to the local officials before driving further into the mountains to the project villages. As we wove through the rice paddies cut into the steep hillsides, we noticed that 90% of the people working the fields were women - the previously mentioned education problems were no doubt a major contributing factor. When we arrived at Tin Toc Village, we met local villagers to talk about the running water project that had been implemented in 2000 and any other issues. The village consists of 39 households with 250 people altogether almost all of whom are from the Black Thai (the name comes from their traditional clothing) minority ethnic group. Before the running water project, the only available water was from ponds several kilometers away. The pond water, being stagnant, was frequently polluted by buffalo and cow droppings resulting in many villagers suffering from disease. The running water project installed 3 cisterns in the village which take water from a pipe which runs several kilometers up the mountain. Because of the height of the water source and because it is always running, this guarantees clean water for domestic use. The funding, management and maintenance of the water system is all funded by ActionAid. Moung Pon District has 10 villages, 5 of which have running water projects installed. The other villages are not suitably located for this type of project (i.e. the cost of installing a pipeline is exhoribant due to distance) so must still use pond water.
Aside from the water issues, the mountainous land gives rise to a whole host of other problems. The farm land area is small so there is little surplus crops for sale. The farmland cannot be extended uphill as the resulting deforestation would lead to flooding. The transport problems result in the difficulty of access to education for children which tend to be taken to the fields with their parents due to the lack of any childcare facilities other than elder daughters.
During our visit to the village we had a long conversation with Ms Ni, a 46 year old mother of 8. She told us that she was one of the luckier people in the village because her husband works hard and doesn’t drink. 9 out of the 39 households had alcoholic fathers. Two of her children have married and left the house leaving her with 6 children in school. Each pupil must pay a fee of 86,000 dong each year for the various fees - building upkeep etc. However, despite paying these fees the school is in a delapidated state and the government is claiming lack of funds for not repairing it. There is no transparency as to where the fee money goes or what it is used on. Indeed, when we asked the local school-teacher about this issue she got very angry and left. Draw from that what you will. Ms Ni is involved in the Micro-Credit scheme and used loans to branch into pig farming as an alternative source of income to rice. Her youngest child is 3 years old which is the same age as one of her grandchildren. Apparently this is not very unusual and with the population of Vietnam already reaching 85 million, may force the government to adopt a similar one-child policy as that of China.
Next, we visited an agricultural water project which had been completed in 2000 by ActionAid Vietnam. The project had cost 600 million dong (40,000$) to construct a weir and channels to direct river water to a large area of previously dry paddy fields and benefited 200 households (1200 people).
Afterwards, we entered into Thanh Nua District so had to go to the regional government office again to get permission. In the village we visited an education class that was being conducted. The classes teach literacy and numeracy through the use of relevant themes which inculde HIV, Gender Rights, Agriculture etc. At the time of our visit, the theme was domestic violence. The women didn’t believe us when we told them that there is the odd case of women being violent towards men in the UK. As in the Laos projects, all the students were female and most were attending the classes after spending the day in the fields.
On our return to Dien Bien Phu, we visited the 1954 war memorial, which was also being visited by a number of aged veterans. Despite decades of brutal warfare which affected almost every family in the country, Vietnam is undergoing huge change from a centrally planned agricultural economy to a socialist market economy. Having long signed trade agreements with Europe and America, the country has now been admitted to the World Trade Organisation. It remains to be seen whether the change in economic policy will benefit the minority groups of Vietnam whom inhabit the mountainous and remote areas of the country. In the mean time, these people are keen to help themselves and the work of organisations like TechnoAid provides this opportunity.
ActionAid - Laos
Locations: Nabone Village, Nam Dua Village, Ponsay Village, Nam Thi Village and Lak Seep Village near Lak Sao, Bolikhamsai province, Laos.
Date: 27th November 2006 - 28th November 2006
On Monday the 27th of November we left Vientiane to spend two days visiting projects in the Central Eastern side of Laos. These projects were being undertaken in partnership with the Laos government and it was members of the local government branches that kindly showed us the project sites.
Getting off the bus in the dusty town of Paksan we walked to a hotel where we phoned Ms. Thongsakoun, the government co-ordinator of the project. Within a few minutes we were in a car and taking a short trip to the Provincial Education Centre were we met with governmentofficials employed in that sector including Mr Khamsy Ngommalath - deputy head of the provincial education service.After discussing the project sites we were to visit we got back in the car for the long trip to the village sites near the town of Lak Sao. The road trip takes in some beautiful scenery, with Karst formations on either side sloping down to narrow valleys and scattered villages. However, the remoteness of these settlements is part of the reason for their poverty, due to the difficulty of transport to and from the areas.
After four hours of mountainous road we reached Nabone Village. This village had been identified by ActionAid and the government as one of the poorest in Laos. Until recently, most of the villagers had been subsistence farmers with any extra income coming from selling surplus rice in local markets. The aim of the ActionAid project in this area was to introduce infrastructure and skills to allow the villagers to produce other products for sale. The needs assessment and decision process resulted in two different products being identified as suitable for this village - fish and textiles.
Materials for the building of small fish farms were provided and eight tanks were constructed in the village. Each tank holds a large number of catfish which are now bred by the villagers. The fish provide an extra element to their diet and an important source of income. There are not any large lakes in the area so fish is not widely available in the local market. Eighteen traditional style looms were also constructed in the village, along with other simple machines for silk and thread processing. The looms were constructed from simple wooden materials which are available in the area and have no motorised parts which makes their maintenance very easy. The local women were trained by a textiles producer bought in by ActionAid and now know how to make a variety of textiles, mainly the complex traditional pattern used by Laos women on the hems of their skirts. The sale of these textiles creates a profit for the village women who previously worked in the fields and allows them to spend more time caring for their children at their home. We were very warmly welcomed by the people of Nabone Village and they kindly presented us with some handmade textiles.
Next, we drove a bit further to come to Nam Dua Village. The assessment completed for this area had resulted in the construction of a goat farm. Similar to the fish breeding project in Nabone Village, the project aimed to provide an alternative source of income to the village from the breeding and sale of goats. 120 goats were currently on the farm and several kids had been born recently. This project had only begun two months before so no sales had been made yet. If the project proceeds well, there will be scope for the villagers to expand the trade to include milk and skins. The kindly folk here presented us with some Cambodian style headscarfs which will no doubt come in handy when we get there.
The last destination for the day was an education class in Lak Seep village, 10Km from Lak Sao town. This project had begun in 2004 and its purpose was to teach reading, writing and numeracy to previously illiterate villagers. The class members were almost all female and there are clear cultural reasons for this. There are no fees for tution of primary school pupils (up to age 9) although there are other fees (building maintenance etc.). After this, most female children are kept home to work in the fields or to help look after younger siblings while their brothers continue to go to school. The result is that many females never learn to read or write properly and their calculation skills are poor. This can cause problems for them later when dealing in the market place or travelling to other towns. The low importance attached to the education of females in South East Asia is a large factor in the gender inequality that is evident in the region, others include traditional stereotypes e.g. women do housework including fetching water and wood; women care for children; female children are less desirable than male children for parents; females tend to marry at a young age etc. Through the education classes, the pupils are taught literacy and numeracy using themes that are relevant to their lives e.g. health issues, agriculture, law, gender issues etc. There are three graded levels, each taking between 5 and 8 months. After reaching level 3, the students can participate in a skill-training exercise to learn an alternative skill such as weaving or fish farming. The education classes are conducted by teachers supplied and trained by ActionAid
and are currently operating in 15 villages in Laos with a view to expanding to another 10 villages next year. Of the 43 classes initiated, 18 have completed level 3 so far.
The next day we went to KamKueth District Education Office where we met government officials who informed us about the other sites we were to see that day. The first was Ponsay Village where villages were being trained in the art of rattan weaving, having completed their level 3 education classes. The rattan weaving trainer was supplied by ActionAid and had been teaching 111 students in 3 villages in the area. Rattan is a vine that grows in forested, tropical regions and is useful for making furniture and baskets. After 2 months of training the villagers could construct quality baskets and mats which fetch a good price. This however was only level 1 training and future training would give them the skill to produce more complicated and large furniture pieces. Rattan is available in the local forest and is easy to harvest. Weaving rattan is not widely done in Laos and it is a highly valued product in Vietnam so future sales should be good.
After this we visited a school building in Nam Thi Village which had been constructed with the help of ActionAid. The government education budget is not enough to provide schools for all villages resulting in some children having to choose between travelling long distances to a school in another village or not going at all. This building was being used as a day school for local children and as a night school for the ActionAid education projects.
The majority of the projects we visited in Laos are still in their infancy and it remains to be seen whether they prove to be successful long term. However, the signs are good and the government is showing enthusiasm and support which will undoubtedly make the expansion of successful projects easier in the future. The government employees we met were keen to help and seem dedicated to their work although they are hampered by a lack of funding due to the poor economy of Laos. This combined with the inaccessible terrain and lack of trained teachers makes education in Laos a difficult task but the work that ActionAid is doing is definitely helping some of the region’s poorest inhabitants improve their prospects in life.
ActionAid - China
Locations: Lin Tie Village near NingMing, GuangXi province, China.
Ling Jiao Eco-village near Hengxian, GuangXi province,China.
Sherpai Village near Hengxian, GuangXi province,China
Date: 18th September 2006 - 22nd September 2006
Having arrived in Nanning on the morning of the 18th of September after a 13 hour sleeper train ride we were in need of some nourishment. Luckily, we met up with Li Ql (pronounce Lee Chee) – the HIV and AIDS Project Coordinator for the GuangXi province who brought us to lunch. After lunch, we got back on the public transport - bus this time - to the out-of-town bus station then onto another bus to the city of Nanning. Upon arrival, we met the other members of ActionAid based in the area - Mr. Liu - the Development Area Coordinator and May, a volunteer. We had a bit of time to explore the city centre area of Nanning and were surprised at how relaxed it was in comparison to other cities in China. Down by the river, old men played Erhu and sang traditional songs, while children painted models and zoomed around in toy go-carts. I couldn’t resist having a go with the pump action ball bearing guns and it was a major struggle to resist the temptation of peeling off a few rounds in Richard’s direction. Further along, in a tree-lined square, middle-aged women waltzed gracefully to the strains of French music. It was hard to believe that this area of China had been identified by ActionAid as one of the poorest but as the staff pointed out, there is a major difference between city life and village life in China. A fact that was to be demonstrated first thing in the morning.
It was a long and bumpy ride out to Lin Tie village in a 4×4 on Thursday morning (nice to see one working). The poor standard of rural roads in China is a major contributing factor to the poverty of rural villages as transporting materials along these roads can be prohibitively expensive. Eventually we arrived and spent some time viewing the Water Irrigation Project that had recently been completed. This project installed a 3 Km long pipeline which channeled water from the mountains to irrigate previously barren land. The project materials were paid for by ActionAid but the installation was undertaken by local volunteers who clocked up 280 man hours of work in just 16 days. The project cost was low at 14,000 Yuan (~950 pounds) and resulted in large areas of land which were previously too dry to farm becoming fertile. In mountainous regions, every square meter of flat land is vital for growing rice - the staple diet of subsistence farmers in China.
Next we visited the village itself to see the community centre that had been constructed for the elders of the village. Following the strategy that has been adopted by ActionAid worldwide, a needs assessment exercise was performed with the community. This revealed that a community centre for the village elders was the number one priority for this village. This came as a surprise to us but later conversations revealed the reasoning. Almost all the middle generation now work in the city (as there is no money to be made from mountain farming) and are therefore away for most of the week. The elder generation are left to work the fields and look after the children. People cannot move their family to the city because their residence card states their birth village and their children cannot be educated anywhere else. This is a method that the government is using to try and prevent wholesale evacuation from rural areas to the cities and all the associated problems that would result. However, despite the responsibility and workload that the elders were forced to shoulder, they had no place where they could meet up at the end of the day. This resulted in them being confined to their homes where they were often isolated and lonely. After the needs assessment was carried out, ActionAid again donated the materials for the community centre but the design and construction of the building was carried out by local volunteers.
Buoyed by the success of these projects, the village now has a committee that meets to discuss future projects that they can undertake. By coordinating the development of the committee and the use of local labour to complete the projects, ActionAid has given the villagers a fresh confidence in their own ability to undertake solutions to the problems they face. On our way around the village, it seemed to us there were more pressing problems that needed to be addressed - the sanitary conditions were poor, with no collection of rubbish. Also, there were no toilets of any sort in the village. However, the needs assessment process had ranked these as secondary problems. This is why it is a useful and necessary process. If left to outsiders, the most pressing problems that the people faced my never get revealed or solved. The villagers are currently discussing methods of dealing with these issues and they are using the community centre as the venue for conducting these meetings as well as a host of other activities including the teaching of Mandarin (some villagers only speak the local language) and the preservation of the folk music tradition.
Before leaving the village, we went to the local primary school where ActionAid had undertaken some simple but effective projects. Basketball nets had been donated which gave the children some activity to do after school, especially those who were forced to board due to living too far away. The distance in fact was not great but due to the road conditions it would not be possible for them to travel every day. Also, the children had been taught about HIV and AIDS and were given leaflets they could use to inform their parents about the issues. AIDS awareness is still low in many areas of China but due to the proximity of this area to the Vietnam border and the resulting drug route, this area was deemed to be at a higher risk than others.
Walking around the school, it was striking the difference between here and the more wealthy city schools. The children were amazed to see us as for them it was the first time they had seen a foreigner in the flesh. This was true of some of the teachers as well. Needless to say, after we got trounced by them at basketball, they weren’t so afraid of us anymore.
Back in Nanning and we somehow managed to get coerced into cooking dinner. A trip to the market was in order. Not for the faint of heart! Buckets of fish lay side by side with turtles, eels, crabs, toads and various other unidentifiable things - all of them living. The sight of a woman picking toads out of a bag, slamming them onto the ground to stun them and then gathering a bunch onto a weighing scale with a cheery grin on her face is an image that will stay with me for a long time. Not to mention the dog flesh, goat flesh, chicken innards, pig guts and snakes that were liberally spread around. We ended up with some goat meat and chicken and a bunch of vegetables that looked vaguely similar to their western counterparts.
After dinner we checked our emails and were delighted to see that the PSB had found us out and weren’t too happy about us scarpering from Kunming. Naught that could be done about it though. If they hadn’t of taken so long etc. Also, there was a delay in getting the distributor sent out which will put even our extension date in jeopardy.
On Friday we attended the monthly group meeting that is held for people with HIV in the area. Team building exercises were held followed by a discussion on the group’s future project. Most of the members had contracted HIV through the use of shared drug needles due to a lack of awareness of the danger. The group was set up to allow people to meet fellow sufferers and to try to rebuild their confidence and provide a method for them to attempt to make a better future for themselves. The group was given the loan of a fixed sum that they could invest in a project that would pay the loan back in a set period. Submissions of potential projects were made by group members and the final one would need the backing of all the members. Most of the members were subsistence rice farmers so the project that was chosen was to invest in a crop of sugar cane that could be sold for profit. Due to the hurricane damage to the American crops of sugarcane, the price had increased substantially and it was reaping good returns for farmers in the south of China.
By setting up this group, which will become autonomous after 12 months, ActionAid is attempting to give HIV sufferers in the area increased social interaction and encouraging them to find methods of improving their situation.
The rest of the evening was spent on buses. One back to NingMing, then one to Nanning, then one to Hengxian. In Hengxian we met up with Liu Yanyan, the Development Area Coordinator for the area. In the morning we were to attend a “Green Map” exercise in a local village.
The village turned out to be Ling Jiao Eco-village near Hengxian. This village is sponsored by the government as a flagship village which has pioneering design for sustainability. The Green Map exercise involves creating a map that charts the natural and cultural environment. The idea is that the process of drawing the Green Map will force people to think about the natural resources that are available to them and how to protect and use these resources in a sustainable manner.
The project invited school teachers from surrounding villages to come to Ling Jiao to learn about how to draw the Green Map so that they could teach their school children and undertake the exercise in their own village. The village of Ling Jiao was an ideal place to site the exercise as it had an abundance of natural resources which had been designed in a very clever manner to ensure their potential was both harnessed and protected. Water was channeled effectively to irrigate the fields, septic tank systems piped methane gas into homes for use as cooking gas and the village was designed to maximize the use of communal areas for cultural activities such as music and dance.
We spent 4 or 5 hours exploring the village and gathering information to draw the Green Map. The exercise undoubtedly was a success for the visiting teachers who had the opportunity to explore the eco village and learn from its design. The Green Map exercise made them take notice of the natural and cultural features of the village and think about how they could introduce similar features in their own villages.
On Sunday we traveled to the remote village of Sherpai where the local project committee which had been set up by ActionAid were celebrating the completion of their second project – the opening of a bridge. Due to the remote location of the village and the poor road infrastructure, transport to and from the village was difficult. The construction of a new bridge over a part of the road that was prone to flooding made access to the village much easier in the rainy season. In a similar manner to the village of Lin Tie near NingMing, the project committee had grown in confidence and were now considering a number of other projects that they could undertake with government funding – the improvement of the road surface being a primary objective.
Yet again, we have been very impressed by the commitment and enthusiasm the staff of ActionAid China have demonstrated for their work and we have also gained a good appreciation of the difficulties that rural populations face in China. It was surprising to us how much difference simple, low cost (e.g. water irrigation, AIDS awareness) projects could make to these areas. Small projects undertaken by local volunteers were making a huge impact to these communities and giving them the skills and confidence to undertake future projects on their own initiative. By facilitating the development of these skills, ActionAid is arming people with the knowledge and enthusiasm to help themselves and their communities.
For further information:
ActionAid - Nepal
Location: ActionAid Country Office, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Date: 26th September 2006
Due to the need to get to Tibet before the winter snows made the roads impassable, we didn’t have enough time to visit any project sites in Nepal. However, we did manage to spend a few hours getting the low down on ActionAid’s activities in Nepal from Fundraising and Communications Manager, Archana Sharma. Archana explained the Rights Based Approach that ActionAid is pioneering amoung the NGO sector and detailed many of the problems that ActionAid is endeavouring to address in Nepal.
ActionAid’s mission in Nepal is “to empower poor and excluded people to eradicate poverty and injustice”. The phrase “excluded people” is initially confusing. Excluded from who or from what? The answer lies in Nepal’s Hindu caste system which although not as strong as it is in India, is still a powerful social force. The Hindu caste system distinguishes groups of people by their descent and surname. There are five castes, each of which supposedly has a higher or lesser degree of ritual purity and social status. The uppers castes are the Brahmin (priest) and Kshatriya (warrior) castes. The lower castes are the Vaishya (merchant) and sudra (peasant) castes. Beneath these are the Dalits (or untouchables). In the cities, where there is better education, the caste system is recognised as being obsolete. However, in the countryside, low paid, menial jobs are inevitably filled by Dalits. Dalits are routinely discriminated against by the other castes and there are cases of intra-dalit discrimination.
ActionAid works with over 100 local partner organisations in Nepal to raise awareness amoung Dalits of their own rights. Discrimination due to caste has been illegal in Nepal since 1963. However, many Dalits are unaware of their rights under the law and accept the social system as it stands. By setting up social groups where Dalits can organise to demand their rights, ActionAid is empowering these excluded people to obtain a better life for themselves. These methods have proven successful and caste-based discrimination is gradually decreasing in ActionAid programme areas. In other areas, Dalit children are now attending schools which they were previously denied access to.
Another major area that ActionAid is involved in is Women’s Rights. 57 women’s groups, with membership of over 1,200 women were formed in 2005. These groups are engaged in educating local women about their rights and how they can claim them. In rural areas, it is common for women not to obtain birth and marriage certificates. This can lead to problems later. For example, husbands could remarry and deny that they were ever married to their spouse. Claiming free primary education for children could also be a problem if there was no birth certificate to identify the child. Initiatives carried out by ActionAid through its partner organisations have led to an increase in the number of registrations of vital events such as birth and marriage which enables people to claim their rights.
Recognising that the role of government is key in effecting change in many areas, one of ActionAid’s main objectives is to influence government and other key national and international agencies in the formulation of pro-poor policies. This is carried out through the organisation of demonstration marches and rallies and the direction lobbying of local and national government. Successes in this area include the abolition of dual-taxing of farmers growing herbs on private land, the effective rehabilitation of former bonded labourers, an increase in the budget for the prevention and treatment of AIDS and the enforcement of law guaranteeing equal wages for men and women.
During our brief visit, we got a good overview of the work that ActionAid is doing in Nepal. However, Nepal is one of the world’s poorest countries and the problems its people face are numerous.
For more information on these issues see:
ActionAid Project - Pakistan
Location: Shala Bagh village and Khilla Chattgran Village near Muzaffarabad city. Azed Jammu & Kashmir region. Pakistan.
Date: 12th & 13th September 2006.
Pakistan is a country of great contrasts – from the dessert of Balochistan, the verdant greenery of Punjab and the vast snowy mountain ranges of Hunza in the Northern Areas, this is a land of many different races and languages. Pashtuns, Punjabis, Sindhis and Afghans to name but a few can be found intermingling in the cities. All these people share two things in common – an inability to drive and a great sense of hospitality.
There is, however, a major gap between classes. The well educated upper classes have huge houses and employ servants. The majority of the population is under-educated, live in poor housing conditions and have local income.
Having broken our transport yet again and being inflicted with a rapidly decreasing amount of time, myself and Richard split up in Abbotabad. He would get the Land Rover fixed while I would make my way to the city of Muzaffarabad to see first hand the work ActionAid is doing in the Azed Jammu & Kashmir area. This area was worst affected by the October 8th 2005 earthquake in which 400,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and 73,000 people were killed. 70% of the schools and colleges in the area were destroyed resulting in the death of 18,000 students. The streets of the city are still full of the remains of collapsed buildings which clearly demonstrate the destructive power of the quake which measured 7.6 on the moment magnitude scale.
Arriving by minibus in the city centre, I headed to a taxi stand to find the location of the ActionAid office. The taxi driver didn’t have a clue but luckily a young student who was passing did. Hoping on the back of his motorbike we careered through the busy streets up to a hill above the city where we found the address within a few minutes. His asking price – a handshake and a nod.
I received a warm welcome from the staff at the ActionAid office led by the field coordinator Ms Alia Farooq and soon after explaining what I was doing there I was being ushered out the door to see one of the project villages. Ms Farooq had been a victim of the earthquake just as much as the people she is working to help now. Her own home in the city collapsed, killing 3 of her family members.
The village of Shala Bagh was devastated by the earthquake on 8th October 2005. All the buildings were destroyed or irrecoverably damaged and large numbers of people were crushed to death beneath the debris. This was a village which previously had no problems. People had houses and jobs and lived normal lives. After the quake they had nothing. The government response to the quake was poor – people were offered a paltry monetary compensation which was subject to huge bureaucratic wrangle i.e. corruption.
ActionAid held extensive negotiations with the surviving residents to find out what they needed in the aftermath of the quake. In the early days it was basic emergency shelter and food. ActionAid provided tents followed by a model (quake proof) shelter and trained the local people in how to build their own. They also provided chickens and goats which could be bred for food. As time progressed, the needs of the villagers changed. ActionAid held regular discussions to find out what these needs were. At the time of my visit, almost one year after the quake, there was now a community centre where men and women from the whole area come to discuss problems and issues. There was also a medical unit providing health care with a doctor, 2 nurses and a dispensist. A local shop had been set up with a grant of 5000 PKR (?50) which was now self-running and making regular profit. Local women were being trained in sewing and needle-craft and some women were making income by making and repairing clothes for people from other villages. The chickens and goats were multiplying and the crops for which ActionAid had provided the seeds were in full bloom. New buildings were being constructed to replace the emergency shelters.
All this demonstrates ActionAids methods of working. People are not given handouts then left to fend for themselves. A comprehensive survey is undertaken to allow the community to express its needs. Afterall, they are more likely to know than anyone else. The needs are then prioritized and action is taken to train and skill the community to progress these issues themselves. In this way, the skills stay within the community. If ActionAid arrived, built shelters and left, who would maintain them? Who would build new ones? By training the community to build themselves, they are arming people with the ability to help themselves.
Once the immediate needs of food and shelter have been addressed, the community is encouraged to invest in its long-term future. People are trained in the areas that they feel they need skills in. In this community, the women wanted to be able to mend their families clothing – hence the sewing classes which then becomes a source of income as well.
During my visit there it was plainly obvious how much respect people had for Ms Farooq. Her ability to communicate with the villagers and her strong personality and sense of duty make her the perfect person for this role. ActionAid always endeavor to recruit staff from the actual areas they are working in. There are great benefits in this as in a lot of areas, an in-depth understanding of cultural and societal issues is essential. It would be foolish to attempt to parachute someone in to this area and expect them to be able to perform this role. The other ActionAid staff members that I met were all from the local area and passionate about their work. By training local people in the methods that ActionAid has developed through years of experience in similar situations, the organization is making the best use of resources and ensuring a level of commitment that may not be achievable otherwise.
In just under one year, the village of Shala Bagh had recovered from a scene of total devastation to a bustling community which has the necessary structures in place to help it progress and thrive. The support ActionAid needs to give this village is steadily declining and soon the community will be entirely self-sufficient.
The next day, I visited another village in the area. Located in the hills surrounding Muzaffarabad, the village of Khilla Chattgran was also badly affected by the earthquake. The local private school is populated by children from the local area, many of whom are now being sponsored under the ActionAid Child Sponsorship Scheme. Eight year old Samya Zaib is one such child. His monthly fee for school is 180 PKR (?1.50). Previously, ActionAid had undertaken a food and water programme in his village to address the immediate needs of the community. Now they are further developing the village by having helped villagers set up a community centre and by the Child Sponsorship Scheme. This demonstrates ActionAid’s commitment to the long-term development of communities – giving people the opportunity to build the structures they require to thrive in the future.
For Further Information:
Dwyer Rooney's excellent blog from our London to Sydney Adventure