Monday, 8 June 2015

Where there is no toilet (& sewage treatment options when there is one)

Human poo & pee causes more death, malnutrition and economic problems than any other single issue; yet like animal manure, can be a source of nutrients that can build health soils, regenerate landscapes.  This is the first of a few blogs where I'll explore consequences of terrible sanitation, better treatment options some of the radical new approaches to changing habit and practices that work, and some that really don't.

When there's no toilets in a community people "go" in the open, behind bushes, buildings, wherever they can find.  If you visit lots of villages you soon get that whiff of exposed poo, and if you spend a bit of time with that community you get to understand what happens when people are in such close and regular contact with their "wastes", from the high levels of diarrhoea and a host of other water borne diseases they live with (and pay for in money for medicines and visits to distant clinics).

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Nepal earthquake: emergency shelter and earthbags

In this blog I discuss earth-bag construction as an option for shelter recovery in Nepal. I start off with a quick overview of how the humanitarian coordination is going with the relevant links to access this info for those people unfamiliar with the system.  So skip down a bit if you want to get straight to the earthbag issues, links, etc.
An earth bag school under construction in Nepal, before the
earthquake. This one, a school, built by the local community with design and
training help from Edge of Seven, others shown below.
Critical points are: these are extremely earthquake resilient, energy efficient
and require a fraction of the logistics of importing bricks and cement up the damaged roads, etc. 

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Ocean blessings in Bali

Wonderful and remarkable how Balinese women prepare each day little blessings, today an ocean cleansing ceremony,  the beach completely filled with local families playing in the powerful surf. While the wave riding addicts among us ride the planetary blessings:)

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Shelter, jobs and social stability in Lebanon

Last month I went to Northern Lebanon, on a short mission with CARE International, to help them figure out a strategy to deal with the dire housing problems faced by Syrian refugees.  To short cut to this presentation (more pictures than words, go here).  Almost immediately I was blown away by the scale of the crisis in Lebanon: a country of just over 4.2 million people is hosting almost 1.5 million refugees.  That's around a third of the population! Meaning that Lebanon now has the highest per capital concentration of refugees in the world.

Tripoli, looking East over the mountains towards Syria

Imagine Britain or France taking in 20 million people, and the kind of impact that would have on public services that people often complain aren't good enough as it is.  Well, it's not really any different for Lebanon, except that their public services have been in worse shape than those in rich European countries.  Talking of Europe, it appears that the entire EU block has offered asylum to a grand total of 134,000 Syrian refugees, so around 10% that Lebanon has taken.  Yet the population difference  is so great it means that Europe is offering refuge to 1,000 times fewer refugees compared to Lebanon.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Shelter after floods in Pakistan. Part 1. Sabina's story

This is Sabina, who I met during one of about 30 field trips I made in Sindh, Pakistan during my time working there, chatting with Mustafa from the local NGO, HANDS

Mustafa and Sabina.  I think they were talking abotu that solar light she's been using every night for over a year.  And the price of vegetables on the market if I remember rightly.  She said she can afford to buy veg only twice a month and grows none around her house.  She could absolutely grow food in raised beds outside her window.  That has to be (already is) the next addition to the way we work...

HANDS had found Sabina's family and community, displaced and in desperate need of help, after major flooding in September 2012. They brought it to the attention of DFID - the British agency for international development - for whom I was working as a humanitarian advisor.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Arabian Nights - in the arms of Green School

Two hours, they said.  Two hours of a high school play. Uh oh, this could be a long night…

But then it was beginning, gentle, exotic drumming floated over the humid night as a line of robed actors walked through us, with a confidence and grace that comes with knowing. “Asalam Alaikum” calls their leader, “Alaikum Asalam” intone the others, in unison, in rhythm.  We were in, I was spellbound.

Arabian Nights, the stories of the thousands and one nights, stories within stories, mysteries and comedies, tragedies and philosophies; acts within acts, all masterfully put together so we always knew where we were, who was who. The passion was palpable; I could feel the hours of preparation in the choreography as scenes and actors changed places or characters. Props? Who needs them? At one point they created a journey across mountains, through rivers and oceans, just by the movement of their bodies, the waving of the sea, the shape of a boat (arms linked together, the shape of a leaf). 

And how they unfolded each tale! I have rarely been so engrossed, charmed, inspired, amused and thrilled at a group of people working together on some scripted lines, some suggested scenes. 

Enthralled, enraptured we sat, perhaps 80 of us, parents, children, friends of friends, on cushions around the floor or along the amphitheatre steps under the leaf-like umbrella that forms the roof of this remarkable theatre and morning assembly hall (now transformed into the realm of original mysteries).

And how the school, this collection of incredible buildings, each exquisite and unique, that are host to a throng of passionate people from around the world, who we see in the day, busy in their comings and goings, in the never-ending endeavour of teaching, of learning, is transformed at night, the curved walls, the bamboo structures beautifully crafted together into a whole, like a basket, surrounded by over-storey coconuts and living bamboo. Dark green everywhere, the boisterous clouds overhead, the occasional howl of a forest creature.  This is quite a place.  And this night belongs to Ibu Sarita, our school’s drama teacher who has brought this performance to light and created a kind of magic.  And these young adults whose lives are surely enriched now, their memories of this time, this night and one other they’ll perform, which they will keep for their forevers.  

How great is this? To see that learning is more than memory, that memories are made from creating something that is beyond the one, part of a collaboration of efforts that weave light and sound and words.
“And the nights of Baghdad shone bright like day” they soared, in defiance and joy at once.  Joy and tragedy together, as we all know too well the bitter history of yesteryear, wrought by Western leaders who still live and breathe today. And so, from a thousand-year-old enchantments we are dumped into the folly of today. With the echoes of incredible wisdom in the original book that inspired this play – of love, the meaning of prayer, of sunset, God, the words that define an empire, death and infinite joy – the lights went down, the story done, the moment complete.  Like the outraged King at the beginning of this tale who only wanted the stories to continue, I only wanted more. Until dawn if need be, and beyond. 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

To live in Bali... first impressions anyway

Immediately struck by light and sound, colour and smell, arriving in Bali, almost a month now..  Kira and I plus about four thousand other foreigners who happen to be in this particular slot of new arrivals.  Mostly tourists you'd think.  Who knows? Are we tourists? What are we doing here anyway? Well we are yet to figure that one out. For now we're here for school: the green school, a unique arrangement of outstanding bamboo buildings in the middle of a forest, where an exciting new approach to education is underway.  Right now we're not feeling very green haven flown half-way around the world and surrounded by concrete and car fumes at the airport.

Bali is, so far, a cacophony of different experiences. The ocean, open between here and Antarctica pulsates with waves every day, without fail, there's always something to ride.  The beaches are totally diverse - some black, others brown, some white, some covered in shacks selling grilled corn and fresh coconuts, others empty and desolate, farmland stretching right up close to the shore.

August is windy. So it's kite season.. look up to see a few dozen bizarrely-shaped specs shimmering there, often static on some kind of fixed lines into the middle distance, like stepping stones into the sky.

We ride by motorbike, until Monica arrives.  Two on a bike OK.  The school is maybe 25 mins inland across paddy fields which shine in morning light, and on the right day the volcanoe mountain looms in the background, cocunut palm pasted into the frame. Idyllic, or classic tropical scene. Until the junction...
A hundred, a thousands speeding cars, trucks and bikes. all at once, in a continual flow like  river of metal and fumes.  Eeek. and we have to cross into that? We wait.. see a break, follow some other nutter who's making the leap, and we're in, like jumping into a river, nipping around the slower moving mighty wagons, or cars. How slow are cars in this chaos?  Soon enough we're back to the side roads, and the air is fresh again.

Ubud is the cultural heart, where for decades a melting pot of creative types have been gathering. I stopped one day for a haircut.  Turns out to be a centre for therapy and massage, run by an elderly gent who was taught some ancient arts of meditation and massage passed down for generations.  Now it feels like the whole town is dedicated to this, with yoga and therapy retreats behind every garden wall.  Where surf lodges fill on the coast, travellers here come to stretch and breathe. And eat... the vegan cafes seem to outnumber the conventional. organic everything, dairy free banoffee pie - imagine? I've had food here i've never experienced before - and i'm not talking Balinese spice, but vegan creativity with the very same veg and nuts and fruit you find everywhere.

Everywhere bamboo, little baskets make of leaves with flowers and offerings, a little stick of incense wafting. in front of every shop, on street corners. And children learning how to weave and cut and make it all.  This I like.

Back to the sea - always the sea, warm and accessible, rock and sand.  This is where everyone goes to play. At weekends filled with locals from the towns and cities equally thrilled with the setting sun, selfies from every rock. Weddings and ceremonies.  Temples so near the beach, donging and haunting rhythms heard far out in the waves.