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

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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

Yes I know, a strange statement to make and over the next few days I will epxlain myself and hopefully it will make sense.

An awful lot of money has been poured into Africa by way of loans and grants but some African countries remain desperately poor and the debates as to why this is continue. For the purpose of this blog and the ones that will follow over the enxt few days, I have drawn on my experience as an African woman and by virtue of my work with African women involved in textile and handicraft production to explore some of the reasons why ending poverty is not simply about the money. The views I put forward are mine as well as those of the women I work with and others I come across during the of  course of my work.

What is it about the money?

We have all heard the saying “money isn’t everything”, Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar took this one step further when he said “money isn’t everything but it is up there with oxygen”. This is certainly very true of the many desperately poor and hunger stricken Africans. By the end of the series, I hope to have demonstrated that money is only part  of the equation

The one thing that most folk agree on is that AID in the form of money has failed because it doesn’t necessarily get to those that need it, it creates dependency and several reasons have been put forward as to why this is. There two reasons that really stand out in my mind’s eye one is VULTURE FUNDS the other is EXCLUSION

Vulture Funds

These funds work on the basis of buying up third world debt, knowing very well that the third world country is so poor and is unlikely to pay and when this become evident the “vultures” pounce.What is shocking about this is that these vultures are not breaking the law well not here in the UK anyway. There is however an irony in this because the third world country is unlikely to pay and the only way that country can pay is by dipping into the AID that is allocated to it for health, education, or food. Furthermore, AID is made available through our Tax system and as such we the Tax payers are putting money into these vultures’ pockets. So as you can see there are really circumstances when the money simply doesn’t get to the destined country let alone folk on the ground.

Exclusion

The desperately poor in Africa are amongst the most excluded people in the world. As such these folk do not know their rights or how to fight for them. The exclusion is wide spread and takes many forms, social, political, economic, health, education etc and when any part of a population or an individual is excluded in all those areas it becomes near impossible to eradicate poverty, disease, etc. It is also means that these folk are unable to take those in power to task on matters of accountability when it comes to AID.

The question one asks is whether it is best to give these people money or to empower them/address their exclusion. If giving more money isn’t necessarily the answer to ending poverty what is, and why aren’t govenments looking at different ways/models of ending poverty? Models that seek to bring about accountability, responsibility, sustainability and above all dignified ways out of poverty

I will explore the issue about money from the point of view of people on the ground in the next blog

Yesterday afternoon Nigel and I went up to London to attend a fundraiser BBQ at the Nigerian High Commissioner’s residence in Kensington.

The BBQ was in aid of the Commonwealth Countries Countries League education fund (CCLF).

The aim of this fund is to enable girls in deprived commonwealth countries continue their secondary school education. The fund is unique in that the money is paid directly to the school to guarantee the girls’ places but also to ensure that the girls’ families/guardians do not divert it to other things.

One of the ways that the fund raises money is through their annual fair and I was introduced to the folk at the education fund by the Ugandan High Commission in London in 2007 and since then I try to get to their events whenever I can. This year’s fair is in the Kensington Town Hall in London on 17 October 2009.

But yesterday’s event was different. We got the opportunity to meet a former recipient and her story was so moving that there was hardly a dry pair of eyes in the audience.

Her Name is Ladi and she is from Nigeria

Ladi’s father had 3 wives and between them bore 13 children and he died unexpectedly living 13 children of primary school age. Ladi’s mother was the first wife therefore all the children from the other two wives were dumped on her door step.

She had no income of her own  so she did what she could to find the money to feed the children and any little money went on the education for the boys as the girls were expected to get married as soon as possible

Fortunately for Ladi primary school education is free in Nigeria so she was in school until age 13 and was expected to get married at this age because her mother could not afford to pay the fees for  her secondary school education.

As luck would have it Ladi came across CCLF and they agreed to fund her secondary school education and on completion she went on to university. She found a job and paid her way through University.

Ladi majored in Banking and is currently doing a Master’s degree at a London University and is herself sponsoring 20 girls through secondary education.

She said “I am grateful to you good folk for your generosity and you will never know what that means for girls like me”

I turned around and looked at Nigel and everyone around us and we all had tears in our eyes.

Nigel said to me imagine that!

Indeed, on the way up to Kensington we had a conversation about education and recalled a conversation in which my father had said to Nigel to “I paid good money for Ida’s education and I hope you never forget that”

We found it hilarious at the time but my father was serious, education was very important to him especially the education of girls and here we were years later faced with a young girl who had  almost missed out on a decent education by virtue of the family/country she was born in.

The mood was very somber on the way home as we went considered Ladi’s words. We compared the situation of girls in the developing world to that of children in western world that fail to appreciate how lucky they are to have access to free education as a right.

For my part I suddenly felt so emotional and my father’s words hit me like a ton of bricks, and today being father’s day I miss him dearly and feel awful that he is not here for me to thank him for my education!

I hope that Ladi’s story will inspire you to help girls like her

Mothering Sunday is almost upon us.  I would like to suggest some ethical gifts handmade by African mothers that your mother might appreciate. The thinking behind this is to enable African mothers to help themselves out of  poverty.

handmade basket from Madagascar

But please don’t take my word for it, if you can spare a few moments please take a look at this

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00j1z5w/The_One_Show_10_03_2009/

As the presenter say, a loan of £18 is not an awful lot of money to us in the West, in fact for some folk would not think twice on spending it on a bottle of wine.

The idea behind Ethnic Supplies is to ensure that African mothers such as the one featured in the show have access to a wider market for their goods than the odd passing tourist. when this happens jobs are created which in turn enables others to access education and health care for chidlren, it ends the cycle of dependancy.

Bianca

Bianca is a Mum from Weybridge and is modelling some of our clothing and fashion accessories from East Africa

Our best selling ethical fashion accessories  is the Hand made basket from Madagascar, this abg is so versatile that it can be sued for all sort of purpose, for more details please follow this link

http://www.ethnicsupplies.co.uk/shop/detail.asp?Product_ID=346

Fairtrade fortnight started yesterday and there are various  activties up  and down the country here in the UK.

I have possed the question, HOW FAIR IS FAIRTRADE on a few online forums and got three responses.

Of the three responses, two felt that Fairtrade  is not as fair as it could be. The other felt Fairtrade is not fair but goes somewayto bringing about change for framers in the developing world.

By the end of yesterday I had another question based on the level of response I got.

HOW MUCH DO FOLK IN THE WESTERN WOLRD KNOW ABOUT FAIRTRADE?

Then I came accross this article today

http://www.sourcewire.com/releases/rel_display.php?relid=45772

The article in part appears to provide an answer to my question. people here in the UK do not know much about Fairtrade seemingly because the government has not done enough to publicise it,both by way of benefit to the environment as well as a means to sustainable and dignified ways of poverty.

This doesn’t come as a surprise to me. This is because in  November 2007 I attended an event that was looking at encouraging outward investment into African countries and happened to sit next to a guy from the Fair Trade organisation. I asked him how the female producers at Ethnic Supplies could go about registering with Fair Trade. He looked me in the eye and told me that Textile and handicrafts are not included.

My question therefore is if the Fairtrade foundation does not recognise textile or handmade fashion accessories, how can the public change it’s buying habits?

In other words how can fairly traded  fashion be perceived as cool and fashionable if the powers that be do not advocate for it?

I would like to hear from anyone who has views on this matter?

It has been an interesting year here at Ethnic Supplies in many ways than one. Business has been much better than we had anticipated, due to us positioning ourselves to take advantage of those opportunities. We have made so many new friends and along the way who have worked hard to ensure that we succeed.

As we go into the new year, we are especially excited to have been selected to participate in fashion show as school in Glasgow during the Fair Trade week. The most  exciting thing about this is the fact that the school children are invited to submit their own designs for our producers to reproduce.

We were behind the Let them help themselves fund raising initiative this year to get clean water into a village in SW Uganda. We will continue to support this initiative in the coming year through our fund raising activities.

Increasing our visibility and putting our message out to the public will continue to be central to what we do.

For now we wish you a merry Xmas and a happy new year