What if You Are Needed?

This is an interesting campaign.  It is a specific fundraising campaign in the struggle to raise money to help combat famine in the Horn of Africa.  But in the pursuit of it’s stated aim it asks a very interesting question.

Thanks to Make Wealth History where I first learned about this campaign – here is the relevant post – have a look – it raises some other interesting questions –



We struggle to become ourselves.

We try to create a ‘self’ that will be acceptable to others.

A self that will fit in.

We try and try and try and try and try and try and try –

to become.

But we already are.

Maybe we could just learn to

be whatever it is that we exquisitely, discretely, uniquely are already?

Instead of forcing.

Bending and fashioning and defining.


Delve and develop and radiate.

And shine.

(Photograph by UNICEF)

Reverse Robin Hood – Rob the Poor and Give to the Rich

A couple of months ago I posted this quote from John Berger –

The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other.  It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich.  Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied…but written off as trash.  The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.  

I was very taken with it.  In particular, I was taken with the idea of, ‘the modern poor’, being, ‘written off as trash.’

Is that true?

Do we blame people for being poor as though it is always an action they have taken or a choice they have made?

I suspect we do.

But I don’t know why.

Any ideas?


Photograph – Children in a company housing settlement, Puerto Rico, Photographer, Jack Delano.  December, 1941.

Repository: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA,hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

Part Of: Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Collection 11671-25 (DLC) 93845501

General information about the FSA/OWI Color Photographs is available at hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.fsac

Persistent URL: hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsac.1a34030

Call Number: LC-USF35-437

As Seen on TV…

Fikirte is a young and poor Ethiopian woman, with many problems whose life goes rapidly downhill when she meets the handsome Damtew. Damtew, is obsessed with wreaking revenge on Fikirte’s (innocent) grandfather and so he murders him and then begins to prey on poor Fikirte.

He swindles her of what little she has and then seduces her half-sister, giving her HIV. He spreads vicious rumors to turn Fikirte’s family against her and to crush her dreams of finishing school. And as if that’s not enough he tries to murder her – twice.

If you think poor Fikirte sounds like a character in a soap-opera you’d be correct – she is one of a cast of characters of Yeken Kignit (“Looking Over One’s Daily Life”) who kept millions of Ethiopians glued to their radios for two and a half years. It also persuaded some of them to change their lives.

Because Yeken Kignit isn’t your run-of-the-mill melodrama – it’s a drama created to deliver life-saving messages in an entertaining way.  And it’s not the only one.

In 1993, a radio drama—Twende na Wakati—began to air in Tanzania.  At that time, myths about HIV and Aids were rampant in Tanzania, many of them causing actual harm such as a belief that HIV was transmitted by mosquitoes and that using condoms could cause you to become infected.  Two years later, Tanzanians who followed the drama talked more about AIDS, reduced their number of sexual partners, understood the dangers of unprotected sex and increased their use of condoms.

These soap operas are part of a concerted effort to use drama as a strategy for education and social change. And it all began in the 1970s…

(cue exciting music)

At that time, Mexican TV research executive, Miguel Sabido hit upon the idea of using long-running TV drama – telenovelas – to promote social change.

From 1977-1986, Sabido produced six telenovelas each of which contained a number of social messages – this was very effective, especially in the area of family planning. During this time Mexico’s population growth went down by 34% and a lot of research has pointed to the influence of Sabidos telenovelas on this social trend.

These telenovelas are very much in the style of the soap-opera, but planted within the melodrama are characters and story-lines designed to increase understanding and thereby engage the audience as agents of social change in their own lives.

Nowadays known as the Sabido Method – the goal of these dramas is social change and they are thought to be one of the cheapest and most effective strategies that can be used for this purpose.  This method – widely used now in all forms of entertainment – is proving particularly effective in disseminating education about family planning, HIV, teen pregnancy and gender equality.

Stay tuned for further developments in this application of technology and the arts to help effect social change.


Rwandan Women Build a Future

What most of us know about Rwanda – other than the fact that it is a small country in central Africa – is that in 1994 there was an horrific genocide where hundreds of thousands of people were murdered in 100 days.

Few of us know that since then Rwanda has more women in its parliament – 56% – than any other country in world.  Or that Rwanda is a leading force in peacemaking, agriculture, healthcare, education and communications.  Or even that nowadays, Rwanda has a fibre-optic network connecting its cities to its remote areas.

After the genocide, 70% of the population of Rwanda was female and many laws that discriminated against women had to be changed.  Laws were passed to address the discrimination against women and jobs previously the preserve of men became open to women.  Women also began to take a role in the judicial system and this had very profound effects.  Very important changes have been made in laws governing sexual violence, marital rape, labour, property, inheritance and education.

There are still problems in Rwanda.  There are many scars from the “War,” as it is known, many lives altered forever.  Most of the population is rural and life for rural women is not as significantly altered as for their urban sisters – but it is changing even there. Interestingly, Rwanda is not only a better place for women since the society has become more equal, it is a better place for everyone as it is also benefitting from steady economic development.

In the aftermath of the genocide, many women who had been imprisoned in rape camps were not only traumatised they were stigmatised because they had HIV and babies as a result of their rapes.  But they overcame even these obstacles because, as one woman describes it,  “Since all of us had suffered from this, we were able to support each other.  That is what saved us.” . . .(1)

For the most part, men have not had too much to say about the changes in the law but according to Evarist Kalish MP, a member of the Liberal party and the chair of parliament’s human rights committee, many men recognise that women may provide the best leadership.

“More than men, women are the victims of the war. They have different priorities to those of men. They have more concern about issues related to violence in general, and gender-based violence in particular. Women have faced discrimination so they want to put a stop to discrimination. All of this will contribute to preventing another genocide.” (2)


(1) Rwanda: Defying History, by Anne-Christine d’Adesky, June, 14, 2011. http://worldpulse.com/magazine/articles/rwanda-defying-history

(2) Chris McGreal – The Guardian, 17/12/2008,  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/dec/17/rwanda-women-politics-human-rights

Teach a Girl – Change the World.

Camfed (Campaign for Female Education) is an international, non-profit organisation focused on educating and empowering girls and young women in a bid to eradicate poverty and help develop societies.   Camfed programs operate in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania and Malawi.

In 1993, an English woman named Ann Cotton started Camfed at her kitchen table after a visit to Africa.  Nineteen years later, Camfed has helped 1,451,600 children with their education.  In addition, they have also set up the Cama Network – an offshoot of Camfed which trains and organises women to provide support, healthcare and education to others in their communities,

Wonderful as these things are there has been an unexpected outcome from this whole endeavour – the Camfed graduates have become individual philanthropists themselves.

The girls who have benefitted from the help given by Camfed, are now helping an average of 5 other girls at any one time – not including their own families who they also help.

As Ann Cotton says – “They are becoming real role models in their communities. It may be that the neighbor’s child can’t go to school because she doesn’t have a skirt, so she’ll provide that. Or maybe she’ll pay another girl’s school fees.  This was something we didn’t expect at all. It shows the power of education.”(1)

Human beings.  Endlessly wonderful once they get a chance.


(1) Half the Sky, Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, p. 203

Spirit Levels Up

Sometimes life takes it out of us all and it’s just good to have our spirits raised.

I hope you enjoy this clip from Les Choristes.

(Thanks to euzicasa for reminding me of this movie – he has another version of this song here – http://euzicasa.wordpress.com/2012/01/22/les-choristes-caresse-sur-locean-au-palais-des-congres/)

Little by Little One Walks Far*

UNFPA is the United Nations agency that deals with providing much needed family planning and reproductive health services in the developing world.  In 2002, the American government decided not to give a promised 34 million dollars to UNFPA.

In different parts of the country and without ever having met, two ordinary American women, Jane Roberts and Lois Abraham, asked the women of America to send $1 dollar each to UNFPA.

Nobody – not even UNFPA – thought it would work. But it did.  Soon a deluge of envelopes with single dollar bills began arriving at the UNFPA offices from women – and men – all over the United States.

From this an organisation called 34 Million Friends of UNFPA (www.34millionfriends.org) was formed and millions of dollars were raised to help families all over the world.

In 2009, the U.S. administration restored the funding to UNFPA but 34 Million Friends still continues to work to support this vital service.

And all from the efforts of two ordinary women – a social action butterfly effect if ever there was one.

(*Peruvian Proverb)