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When I was at University one of the core modules for my area of study Housing Management and development was DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND THE LAW. Domestic violence was considered in the context of property rights but for the purpose of this article I would like to look at the impact of domestic abuse on the economy.

A tall order perhaps but bear with me whilst I illustrate my point.

The fact about domestic abuse is that it ebbs away at the confidence and self esteem of the person at the receiving end of it. It makes them question their self worth making ineffective in all areas of their lives.

Imagine if you will a woman who is responsible for ensuring that the family is fed, clothed and has to work the land to grow the food to feed the family but is beaten by her spouse on a daily basis!

In some cases she is indeed the sole bread-winner in the family as the man’s income is spent on alcohol! What sort of life would children growing up in such a household have to look forward too!

It is widely accepted well as least in the case of African countries that the economic development of these countries rests with women. That being the case what would happen if women are ordinarily unable to participate in economic generating activities due to domestic abuse?

Does society owe such women the duty of care to secure the economic development of a county? What form should that care take?

I am happy to note that in Nigeria steps are being taken to address the issue of domestic abuse. The idea is to provide some for of safe house for women and children fleeing domestic abuse. You can read the rest of the story here
http://www.ngrguardiannews.com/editorial_opinion/article01/indexn2_html?pdate=111009&ptitle=Transit%20Home%20For%20Female%20Victims%20Of%20Domestic%20Violence

The question is most African countries are so conservative, how will such a facility go down in society? Will women have the courage to seek support and refuge in such a facility?

What will their peers make of it?

My first job as a Social Housing practitioner saw me in charge of just such a facility here in the UK and it gave women new hope and a chance to rebuild their lives and those of their children.

I am therefore hopefully that this type of facility becomes common practice in African countries too.

 

As usual your points of view are welcome

Today is 15 October 2009 and Blog Action Day 09 is here! Blog Action day sees bloggers around the world write blogs on an issue that affects humanity and this year the theme is CLIMATE CHANGE

I thought I would add a twist to it by looking at climate change and poverty as I strongly believe that these two go hand in hand in the parts of the world where my work is based.

On the whole the people I work with in East Africa are in rural areas and live off the land. This means that they rely on the land for food and financial security. In a typical village with a woodland and river streams, the trees and land will provide building materials for shelter, fuel and the river will provide water and fish. The trees are cut down both for fuel but also to make charcoal that is sold on mostly to city and town dwellers. They also rely on the land to provide recreation and entertainment!

How I hear you ask, well for a start they grow all the ingredients for fruit juice and alcohol, and again trees and animal hides are used in the making of music instruments. There are no cinemas, theatres, Supermarkets, there is no electricity and they cannot turn a tap on for water. This is their lot!

The other type community I work with are slum dwellers. These are mostly folk that have left the sort of life I have described above to try their luck in the city! They live in the most appalling environment you can imagine and I would argue that the folk in rural setting have a much better quality of life than the slum dwellers. Their environment is littered with plastic bags, stagnant water that attracts malaria causing mosquitoes, they may have electricity but this is unreliable and expensive and therefore the most popular fuel here is charcoal and paraffin. They often cook in the same room they sleep in.

The activities of both these communities are bound to have an impact on climate change through land degradation and activists have started to take action to get folk in these communities to change their ways.

On my last visit to Uganda in May this year I met a coffee  grower whose family have grown coffee for 50 years! His entire crop is being threatened by a virus called coffee wilt, the same virus affects banana trees. This is a real threat to his livelihood. Coffee trees need shelter from the harsh African sun and this shelter  is provided by the banana trees. The same land is used to grow vegetables such as beans, carrots and potatoes in a system called inter cropping.  This means that the household has food security and income from coffee.

One morning old man Hassan had a visit from a government official who requested that he gives up part of his land to plant pine trees in order to help the environment. The pine trees would be provided for free and there maybe a cash incentive too! Old Man Hassan said NO and I asked him why?

I have two daughters due to go to university and that has been possible because of coffee and they are about to cost me more in fees and maintenance for  pre=”for “>whislt at university over the next 4 years. How will afford to keep them at University if I cut down the coffee trees and plant Pine instead? furthermore, how will we as a family feed ourselves if we give over the land to Pine growing?

I could see his reasoning, there is no welfare state to take care of his basic needs, he has  no hope of accessing AID to help him directly with his priorities as he sees them, should he care about planting more trees for the sake of the environment?

I have recently written about the effects of plastic bags on poverty in the developing world and you can read about that here.

Plastic bags are also the route cause of sewer blockages and this is leads to stagnant water in city slums that attract mosquitoes. Our reaction here in the developed world has been to send mosquito nets. In this CNN report Ozwald Boateng and his colleague Hassan Kimbugwe ask why not get rid of the sewers that provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes?

Mbuya slum, Kampala Uganda

These slum dwellers have found ways of earning an income and cleaning up the environment at the same time. A project in Burkinafaso sees women collecting plastics bags from their streets and making handbags out of them, whilst the women in Uganda make beads out of paper . These projects are very exciting from the point of view that they provide income for the women but also provide a means of recycling both paper and plastic in countries where recycling is not part of the fabric.

They are some tough questions that remain, one that springs to mind

Can we realistically protect the environment and lift folk out of poverty at the same time?

Route N2 Madagascar

We here in the west are demanding more recyclable materials such as Sisal and as we can’t grow them the developing world is growing them for us. But did you know that this may involve cutting down forests or woodlands?

laundry Antisarabe Madagascar

As usual if you have a view or thoughts on any of the issues raised here please share them

The debate to save the environment continues all over the world, folk. An item that many of us have used for years and perhaps continue to use without due regard is the plastic bag.

The dangers of plastic bags on ocean life are well document but some folk may not be aware of how plastic bags contribute to poverty in Africa and other developing countries.

How, I hear you ask? Well imagine this, in developed countries when we think about assets, to most of us it’s the homes we own, valuable jewellery etc in some developing countries especially in rural areas, their assets are goats, cows, sheep and other live stock. These are what people trade to send children to school, buy anti malaria tablets etc.

Most African countries do not have the means to recycle plastic bags; in addition some folk are not yet aware of the dangers of carelessly discarding plastic bags.

Imagine therefore if you will a situation where a family wakes up and their prized goat is dead because it swallowed a plastic bag that was carelessly disposed of! I have seen this with my own eyes and the despair in people’s eyes when they realised what had happened

Some African governments such as the Ugandan government have realised the effect of plastic bags on the environment and outlawed them in 2007 and incredibly whilst in some circles this was welcomed there was outrage in others.

Some amongst you may donate clothing to send out to Africa, like plastic bags there are no facilities to recycle nylon and other artificial fabrics; these too end up on agricultural land causing untold damage. Please therefore bear this mind, next time you donate an item of clothing to be sent out to Africa.

There is one thing that doesn’t make sense even to me, African women weave the most amazing baskets, which are environmentally friendly, and are free unlike the plastic bags, why then do folk out there chose to use plastic bags instead?

Roman Polanski was recently arrested in Switzerland over a crime committed  in the USA way back in 1978. The world of film has vowed to stand by him and many have signed a petition to have him released.

What has caught my attention in all this was a radio interview I heard the other day in which the views of ordinary Swiss and US folk were solicited.

Those in USA were of the view  that regardless of what time has elapsed the Swiss authorities were right to arrest Polanski whilst those in Switzerland were of the view that, it was wrong to arrest Polanski especially given the time taht has  elapsed and he should released immediately.

A comment from a Swiss woman stood out for me in particular she said,

Switzerland tolerates terrible crimes all the time why are the authorities so fussed about an incident that is over 30 years old?

An interesting if not curious statement to make, and what sprung to mind was all the money that the corrupt african leaders have reportedly hidden in secret Swiss accounts over the years, whilst their country folk  die of hunger!

Is this what the Swiss woman was referring to?  I don’t know for sure but I certainly wondered.

So is it right that  Swiss banks should if it is true allow African leaders to steal from their countries and hide their loot in the Swiss bank vaults? If Africans asked the Swiss authorities to return this loot would they?

Should Switzerland be focusing on this instead of a crime committed in 1978 in which the victim has since dropped the charges?

My answer is of course not, abuse of any sort should not be tolerated  regardless of the amount of time that has elapsed.

However the Swiss authorities need to be more consistent in their approach as opposed to being selective as to which crimes they will prosecute

That is according to David Lane speaking at the Pittsburg G-20 . He reasons that Africa has over 1 billion producers and consumers of services of goods. He calls for G20 to make Africa part of the solution to ending poverty in Africa and further more that the next G20 meeting should be held in Africa.

I must say that I agree with him on all accounts.

Yes  he is right in the first instance that Africa has an awful lot of consumers and suppliers.  Africa is also the producer of some of the high end/value products in the world such as diamonds, gold, petrol, coffee, cocoa etc but these products are merely extracted and taken to consumers elsewhere, and when returned the African’s almost always can’t afford them, and those that can often have to travel millions of millions to be able to consume these products. Does any of this make sense to you?

The next point – the next G20 meeting should be held  in Africa and the campaign has started and if you agree please add your name here

 

Africa is almost always part of the agenda at these summits with leaders of the richest countries in world pledging more help for the continent, however these meetings are never held in Africa, unlike  the COMMONWEALTH HEAD OF STATES

 
I can imagine that a lot of money is spent at these meetings, imagine therefore what such a meeting would do for the economy of a small central African country, like Rwanda, Burundi or Uganda, unless of course the organisers of such a meeting opted to fly in everything that would be used, including food service staff etc. But even then, there would inevitably be a trickle down of sorts.

 The economic benefits aside, if you have a matter to resolve with someone isn’t it best that you go to them and do this face to face. Some of the points that come out these meetings regarding Africa are , MAKE AFRICA LEADERS MORE ACCOUNTABLE, END CORRUPTION, IMPROVE GOVERNANCE,  and so on and so forth, but  if the leaders of Africa only ever here this on TV and radio, wouldn’t they be forgiven for thinking it has nothing to do with them,  a sort of hearsay, Afterall would you take anyone seriously who talked about you behind your back? The natural reaction is one of IF YOU HAVE  SOMETHING TO SAY TO ME,,,,,,

Obama and Clinton have led the way to going to the leaders of Africa and given them some tough love and I do hope that the G20 will follow in their footsteps. They are currently discussing how to lift the world out of the recession but surely the recession is worse amongst the bottom billion of Africa.

 Can the G20 ever see Africa as a key economic player and not a basket case that needs hand out? Is this indeed the solution to Africa’s  ending poverty? Can a whole continent be lifted  out of poverty by AID? Of course not treating Africa as  an economic partner,  a consumer and supplier of goods would go along way to resolving te poverty. food shortages etc experienced by its people.

 

If you have a view either way, I would like to hear from you as usual

If you have followed my blog the over the past  week, you are now at the end of my journey through East Africa.

Leaving Africa I headed back to the UK where I live with a renewed sense of I MUST DO MORE TO HELP GET THESE WOMEN HANDICRAFTS AND TEXTILES TO MARKET!

I had seen women in dire circumstances but doing whatever they could to help themselves out of poverty, without feeling sorry for themselves whatever neither did they ask for handouts of money. One by one they asked that we  share our skills with them so that they could improve their products and be able to compete in world markets, they asked for  fair access to world markets and skills to enable them to serve the sick in their communities!

I also felt that although money was important to kick start programmes it was not necessarily the only factor in efforts to end poverty for reasons of exclusion and practices such as those of Vulture Funds amongst other things. In my minds eye the answer lay in Trade as this is a more sustainable route out of poverty and yet Africa lags behind other continents in trade terms and international trade is very low.

It is largely agreed that the economies of countries cannot grow or be sustained on the basis of international loans or grants. This is certainly true for African women too. The governments/economies lending or giving the money do not have an infinite amount from which to lend/give indefinitely. As well as being unsustainable it is undignified.

Consideration should be given to the kind of trade that adds value at source wherever possible to enable governments to generate income through increased tax revenue. The process of value addition must encompass investments in human resources to ensure that women in particular have the right skills to lift their families out of poverty. There are more details about this on www.raisetrade.com

I hope that my recent blogs have given you the reader an insight of what life if like for folk on the ground and that it ahs demonstrated that resolving poverty in Africa is not simply about the money. I would be interested in others’ view points as well as experiences on issues relating to poverty in Africa

Over the past two weeks I have written about my travels in East Africa last year and what poverty in Africa is really like and shared the views of folk I work with on the ground. In the last thread I wrote about the folk in Ruhanga  and the search for clean water

Leaving Ruhanga behind I headed to Kampala the capital city of Uganda and I reflected on a statistic, I had read in that days’ paper

it said “the gap between the rich and the poor has widened in Uganda and life expectancy has dropped to 43 due to HIV and AIDS

If that is the case where is the country headed I wondered and being 43 myself (at the time) that means I am considered very old here whilst the UK where I live  I potentially have another 30 or 40 years of life ahead of me!

Once in Kampala I called in on the Mbuya Charity who are based in the slums of Kampala and support women affected by HIV and AIDS.

Mbuya is a suburb of Kampala and on the face of it is pretty affluent, it is home to some in the expat community, local celebrities as well the rich of Uganda. But dig deep and you come across appalling slums especially with an area referred to as zone 6.

The Chair person of Mbuya charity Jolly Wako lives in zone 7 this too has pockets of slums especially where Jolly lives incredibly her house borders a trendy bar is separated by a fence ironically called Zone 7, this bar belongs to a local celebrity and his brothers.

Jolly’s husband died in a motor accident and she has had to bring up their children single handily and against all odds  2 have made it to University and she expects the third to follow suit.

I came across this charity through an online registry calling itself Uganda Women’s network. As it was not possible for me to visit in person a company representative went to check them out and reassured me that this is a group that we could work with

I am therefore here to meet the group for the very first time and learn about their work, hopes and fears, successes and challenges. When arrive Jolly is at home alone and explains that this being a Wednesday it is a day for outreach work and as such most of the women are out in the field.

Jolly in Blue with a straw mat weaver

Jolly in Blue with a straw mat weaver

I ask what is involved in the outreach work.

Jolly: most of the 120 women are HIV positive and are on medication as well as receiving counselling. The out reach workers ensure that the women take their medication correctly,  are well fed as well as encouraging slum dwellers to go for HIV tests.

The group aims are to encourage peer support especially as regards to income generating activities. Jolly informs me that they have no support from anyone.

I ask her what sort of support/help the group is looking for?

Jolly: our biggest challenge is lack of counselling skills! Most of the women we work with need a trained counsellor to help them come to terms with their diagnosis. We do our best but we are hardly qualified for the task at hand. It would be great if we could access such training so that we can do the much needed work.

We are grateful to our friends who are helping us access external markets with our handcrafts and beads. Are aware that as soon as people realised that we were making beads suing old calendars and magazines they started selling them to us?
No I wasn’t aware I was surprised but realised too how naïve I was. Of course old calendars and magazines are raw materials for Jolly and her group who require them in their business in order to produce beads for sale and quite rightly those that have this raw material would sale it to them as this is income for them too. This got me thinking about all the magazines and old calendars that are thrown away in the UK perhaps a subject for another article

Before I left Jolly, I put in a call to a contact of mine at the Saatchi and Saatchi branch of Kampala who agreed to give Jolly and her group the free paper they need for the beads.

He was surprised when I told him where I was calling from the owner of the trendy bar next door is his best friend but he had no knowledge of the poverty beyond the perimeter wall!

housing poverty Mbuya zone 6 Uganda

housing poverty Mbuya zone 6 Uganda

The contrast between the homes of the poor and the rich here is astounding. The rich people’s homes are set in large grounds with perimeter walls along with large dogs to keep the undesirables out. over the fence are rusty tin houses with no running water or inside toilets, the people in these slums share a  communal latrine, (the two door shed in the above picture)  children run around with shoes on their feet these are the very people that clean and scrub the homes of the rich they  are grateful to have such work as it brings in a much needed income and they are fed

better housing beyond the perimeter wall

better housing beyond the perimeter wall

It is hard not to be overwhelmed by some of the things I see during the course of my work, but my visit to this Ugandan Charity pulled a few heart strings. As an individual there is very little I can do to change these women’s circumstnaces. What they asking for is simply someone to shae skills with them  is that too much?

If you would like to help Jolly and the Mbuya charity please get in touch. If you have views or thoughts you would like to share regarding any of the issues raised here, it will be a pleasure to here from you

Last week I wrote about my visit to Dar es Salaam  Tanzania and conversations I had with Omari from the Investment Facility for Africa, as well as Ethnic Supplies textile producersFlotea and Elihaika. In this post I will present the points of view from folk in Uganda

I was in a contemplative mood as I left Tanzania for Uganda and tried to take in the conversations I had, had with Omari, Flotea and Elihaika. They all appeared to agree that change is necessary in order for circumstances of the desperately poor in Tanzania and indeed elsewhere in Africa to change to change.

What was interesting to note was that all three are doing there bit to end poverty be it from a different angle/approach but more so that this change or ending poverty was not necessarily about money, instead that the environment in which business is transacted needs to change, skill shortages, property rights for women need to be addressed and that access to international trade is vital in the fight against poverty.

In Uganda I headed to our project in Ruhanga in SW Uganda, where the community is in dire need of access to clean water. Currently the women and children walk for up to three hours just to access clean water. The water they have access to is disease causing, the children and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk. After the women collect the water they return to the bottom of the valley to collect firewood to boil the water on an open fire to rid it of disease causing germs.

This routine leaves no time for any thing else and time for income generating activities is certainly reduced. What tends to happen is that the women often fore go the boiling of the water step because of exhaustion and consequently this leads to illness which means they can’t go out to work! Catch 22! This water is especially dangerous for the young, elderly and those with compromised immune systems and ultimately ahs implications for healthcare budgets.

It may not be easy to associate the lack of clean water to poverty but there is a real and clear link, water is an essential part of life and therefore like us folk here cannot do without. What compounds the situation in this village in particular, 9 out of 10 households have no access to electricity, this means that most chores have to be completed during day light. This means that women for instance cannot do their embroidery or basket weaving in the evening which are some of the income generating activities that they are able to participate in.

One man in this village is doing his very best to change the fortunes of his village. He was given some land by his father and he decided to put this land to some good use. As the village is on the main road to Rwanda and DR Congo he decided that he would make all these people passing through his village stop and spend some money in his village. He embarked on a project that has become known as Uganda Lodge http://www.ugandalodge.com/ . He soon run out money to make his dream a reality but as luck would have it he bumped into an English woman Ann McCarthy who was on holiday in Uganda, Ann was so taken in by this part of Uganda that 5 years on she has made this project a way of life.

Ann came across me, when she read an article about my work in the same part of Uganda and we have since registered a charity LET THEM HELP THEMSELVES OUT OF POVERTY so that we can raise some money to bring clean water to the people of Ruhanga. We have not achieved this yet, and if you are able to help us please get in touch.

What has been achieved, so far, is that this village was virtually unknown to the outside world, but today thanks to Ann’s efforts, Ruhanga is a place for people in the west to visit and share their skills with the local community, these visitors have been able to help out in local schools, work on the construction site and as a result there is a space for village people to learn about computers as well as sewing machines for women to use.

There is a nursery school that has enabled children from the village to start school before age 7 as was the case before. the challenge now is to get more people from the west to come in and experience life in atypical African village, but also learn about what can be achieved through joint efforts that are not necessarily about charity but rather HELPING PEOPLE HELP THEMSELVES OUT OF POVERTY

Will you take up the challenge? We would love  to hear from you and I can guarantee that this would be the most fulfilling holiday you will ever take!

In the post  head to Kampala the capital of Uganda where I visited a slum right in the middle the richest part of the city.