Live Below The Line: Day 2

Just a quick one tonight as my bed is calling me. Mainly sharing some things I have learnt today:

I am not fit. I used to be a lot less tired after cycling the amount I have today, but I think a combination of poor diet and lack of fitness means today has tired me out a bit.

Places look different in the day than in the night. I went to review a film for work (technically work and free for a review ticket so no rules broken – review to follow) which started at 8.30pm. Part of me wanted to stay around in town and avoid cycling home and back but I also thought most waiting around options would involve spending, or being tempted to spend so I took advantage of cycling back to drop of some stuff and have an hour to myself. I then proceeded to get lost at lest twice on the way to the cinema, met my friends in a sweaty mess. I thought I had the journey back nailed but then got really lost. I seemed to have missed a crucial turning so followed cycle route signs to Camberwell, the next biggish place I needed to be. Turns out, what I knew but seem to have forgotten tonight, that cycle routes are not always the most direct route but I got there in the end.

My sweet tooth is very demanding. Although I have been full most of the time over the last two days, I saw the person opposite me at work (also on Live Below the Line) tuck into a custard cream and realised that was what I was craving, some kind of sweet snack. So on my trip to the shop on the way home I got a pack of chocolate digestives and have already eaten four.

There are so many ways to do this challenge. After comparing motes at work people seem to have different, equally as good approaches. Some have gone for blandness over quantity whereas others are eating less but having more extravagant meals. Our web editor though seems to have an impressive stash partly thanks to scouring the shelves for things going cheap about to go out of date, including cheese which would normally blow a fair chunk of the budget. The competitiveness has set in though and he found himself having to prove over email that, yes he could get all that food for £3.50, photos and all.

Spending

Chocolate Digestives – 37p

Pitta Bread – 25p

One apple – 16p

Total spent: 78p

Non Live Below The Line Spending: £4.50 on a pack of tights

Food Eaten

Breakfast – apple and crumpet

Lunch – coleslaw in pitta bread and a packet of crisps

Mid Afternoon – packet of crisps

Dinner – left over pasta and coleslaw, two biscuits

Midnight snack – two biscuits

If you have some spare cash and want to sponsor me, you can visit my fundraising page here

Live Below The Line: Day 1

When I woke up this morning I had a clear mission: to go to the supermarket and buy supplies for the next few days. I have £5 until the end of Friday but according to the Live Below The Line rules I can buy stuff at the beginning of the week to last. But I also didn’t want to get ahead of myself so didn’t want to max out my budget on the first day.

Today's Shop

I quickly realised that this week was basically going to be sponsored by Sainsbury’s Basics range, and was not going to be that healthy. I did however manage quite a stash of food, and although it doesn’t look hugely appetising it will hopefully keep me full.

The first bug event of the day was meeting a couple of friends for a Bank Holiday Monday picnic. Straight away they offered to provide me with some food which I declined (a little grudgingly) saying I would bring my own. Lucky for me they came to South East London from the West and North where they live; I was glad to escape lots of cycle miles for the day and also thankful that I lived in an area with a nice park to tempt them with. The picnic was very enjoyable and I chowed down on my coleslaw sandwiches and actually felt quite full by the end of it.

Dinner was surprisingly OK too – pasta, onions fried in margarine and tinned tomatoes. I ate with my flatmate whose dinner smelled amazing, a lovely looking lentil curry with chapati, but apparently it actually tasted horrible due to copious amounts of a disgusting smelling spice called asafoetida that she was accidentally too liberal with. She was actually a bit jealous of me…that is until she stewed up some rhubarb for pudding.

An early night is called for I think as tomorrow comes the big test: First day back at work after a break for Easter, I am going to have to avoid my usual coffee and chocolate cravings and resist and biscuits or cakes that pass under my nose. Luckily, as I work at Christian Aid’s head office, a lot of my colleagues will be joining me on the challenge

Also, I am starting to panic a bit as my quest for free transport means I will be cycling to work everyday as well as anywhere else I need to go and I am far from fit. Got a few things on tomorrow too so will be covering a fair few London miles. This should be interesting.

Spending

Crisps – 69p pack of 12 ready salted

Crumpets – 35p

Two packs of instant noodles – 10p each

Two tins of soup – 17p each

Coleslaw – 46p

Pasta – 9p (bargain of the day!)

Pitta Bread – 25p

Chopped tomatoes – 33p

Apples – 47p for 3

Onion – 9p

1/5 of a tub of margarine (I’ve weighed it out and everything) – 20p

Total spent: £3.47

Food Eaten

Breakfast – apple and crumpet with margarine

Snack – crisps

Lunch – coleslaw in pitta bread and more crisps

Dinner – pasta, onion and tinned tomatoes

If you have some spare cash and want to sponsor me, you can visit my fundraising page here

Live Below The Line: Day 0

Tomorrow (Monday) I will be starting the Live Below The Line challenge, raising money for Christian Aid, and spending £1 a day or less on food and drink (apart from water), travel and socialising for five days.

One of the reasons Live Below The Line say they set the challenge is because they think it will allow “people in the Global North to better understand the daily challenges faced by those trapped in the cycle of extreme poverty.” The Extreme Poverty Line is defined as £1 a day.

Now, I am under no illusions that by spending £1 a day for just five days, while my rent and utility bills are still being paid, and I can go back to my normal life at any time, is anything like living on the Extreme Poverty Line. 1.4 billion people around the world have to live on this for all their needs, many of them have families to feed and live a lot more strenuous lifestyle than I do. I am never going to know what it is like and I am doing this by choice, not necessity. However, I do think that in a society where we consume so much, much more than our share, it is good to take a step back and take stock.

I also love challenges and, having done a similar challenge before, have been feeling pretty cocky. But last time I did this I was living a student life in Cardiff, a city a lot cheaper than London. I also had my fingers in a lot of pies and hung out with a lot of people who were also into alternative ways of living meaning meaning that through a sharing culture, volunteering, and group outings to skip food from bins, I managed to get a lot of free food anyway. At the moment, although I live on less than the London living wage, I am definitely not living so much of the free lifestyle, although it is something I would like to get back to.

Today I scouted out some prices and was pleasantly surprised at how cheap some food was when you looked for it. I could definitely feed myself for under £1 a day, it would be quite unhealthy but doable. But the pleasantness wore off as I started to question how shops managed to sell their bargain ranges so cheap. I’m sure someone is loosing out along the way, probably a lot of people. I’m going to have a lot to think about this week.

Keep checking the blog for updates throughout the week and a spending diary for each day.

If you have some spare cash and want to sponsor me, you can visit my fundraising page here.

Paving The Way For People With Disabilities In Lebanon

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on March 22 2011

The Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union’s mission is to promote dignity through equal opportunities and ensure the social and economic integration of people with disabilities in Lebanon. Amy Hall finds out more, and looks at one particularly inspiring case study; the story of 19 year old Naghem Hasha…

People are only ‘disabled’ because they are in situations that make it harder for them to do things than ‘able bodied people’. Lack of facilities, discrimination and little of understanding mean that people can miss out on education, employment and face social exclusion.

This is especially a problem in Lebanon where Christian Aid partner, the Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union(LPHU), calculate 7% of the population have some kind of disability. Poverty can take many forms, and although in Lebanon things like life expectancy are high, many people are locked in poverty by laws and structural inequality. People with disabilities are often marginalised from public life.

Naghem Hasha is a 19 year old student and wheelchair user who is determined to prove negative perceptions wrong. Tabitha Ross, Christian Aid’s Middle East Communications officer, spoke to her on a recent trip to Lebanon.

“People look at you and treat you differently,” says Naghem. “If I cared what others say, I wouldn’t even leave my room. I can prove that I am more than my chair. It doesn’t matter what others say and think – what matters is what you say and think of yourself.”

It is partly this determination, and help from LPHU, which means that Naghem is now the first wheelchair user at her university. Young wheelchair users in Naghem’s home region of the Bekaa do not usually have the chance to study at local universities, but LPHU raised awareness at the university about inclusion and accessibility and Naghem now studies Business there.

“My friends from school who had disabilities did not go to university, even though I went to school in Beirut,” explains Naghem. “Some of them didn’t go because they had to live at home and they couldn’t find a course in their area; some had difficulties in getting accepted, or there was no disability access in the university. Some didn’t want to enter a world in which they would be different.”

However, Naghem has had no problems with discrimination at university and says she is treated like anyone else. She is cautiously hopeful about the future: “There’s still lots of barriers here to doing what you want. As much as I can, I liberate myself from my situation, so we’ll see what I am able to achieve.”

The Director of her university, Saad Hamzi, thinks Naghem’s future is bright. “She’s open and loves people and they love her back. She’s very active and has been getting good grades, especially in maths.”

It also seems Naghem’s pioneering spirit has paved the way for more local wheelchair users to be able to attend university. “Naghem has really opened the way for others, says Saad Hamzi. “She’s encouraged us to accept others like her case, or even more complicated cases.”

LPHU’s mission is ‘to promote dignity through equal opportunities and ensure the social and economic integration of people with disabilities’ – and it seems that for Naghem, they are well on the way to doing that.

Egypt’s Child Workers

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on March 22 2011

In the midst of the recent revolution in Egypt, Amy Hall takes a look at the on-ground rehabilitation work with Egypt’s next generation…

Egypt has become famous for its recent revolution, toppling one of the world’s longest serving presidents, Hosni Mubarak. Protesters were unhappy about their standard of living, the lack of accountability and transparency in society, and high levels of corruption.

Despite its high profile as a tourist destination, 20% of people in Egypt live below the poverty line and there are 2.7million child workers. Tabitha Ross, Christian Aid Communications Officer for the Middle East, visited Egypt last year and spoke to some of these children, working in limestone quarries.

13 year old Haytham Abdulazuz works at a quarry full time: “I didn’t like school because the teacher hit me and was always unpleasant to me. It’s better to work here and have some income for me and my family.”

Mina Said, now 15, left school at 13 but is now back in education thanks to help from Wadi el Nil, a Christian Aid partner organisation Christian Aid supports Wadi el Nil to train and empower adult quarry workers to claim their rights, such as the right to education for their children.

Mina said he suffered no violence at his previous school but the low quality of teaching meant he felt he was better off earning money for the family. “The subjects were difficult and there was not enough time and the teachers didn’t explain clearly so I felt lost.”

Mina now says he enjoys school and wants to stay in education; “If you don’t finish school, the only place for you is the quarry, and many men die there.”

Mina was keen to go back to school, partly after he broke his arm in an accident at the quarry where his family had to pay two thirds of the medical costs. However, he says he was nervous: “Sometimes they won’t take boys back if they’ve missed too much, but Wadi el Nil arranged with the school for us to go back, and made sure we could catch up by providing special classes. I really enjoy it with my friends, about 10 of us, who all came from the quarries.”

16 year old Issa Khalef Hana works in the quarry part time and goes to school hoping that his opportunities will increase if he finishes his education. He also says the owner of the quarry where he works treats his workers a lot better than others as he “covers the electric cables and doesn’t fire you if you have to take some days off, or have an accident.”

As Egypt works to build a more positive future it is hoped that less children like Issa and Haytham will have to risk their lives working in quarries and more, like Mina, will be able to go to school. This is the generation that will want a better Egypt for themselves and their families so their children won’t be spending their childhoods in quarries – and Christian Aid and Ctrl.Alt.Shift will be behind them all the way.

Freedom Of Expression In Lebanon

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on March 9 2011

Amy Hall reports on the work of Mouvement Social in Lebanon and how they combine creative space with academic excellence and support for young people…

In education when too much emphasis is put on exams, league tables and grades, the opportunity for creativity can be neglected. But the arts can also be a great healer and outlet for frustration.

Mouvement Social, a Christian Aid partner in Lebanon, promotes the value of creativity, as well as access to a good academic education. They are a volunteer movement of young people who provide social services to Lebanon’s poorest and most marginalised communities, including making sure children who have been excluded from school get a good education.

Christian Aid Communications Officer Tabitha Ross visited Lebanon and spoke to young people who had been to Mouvement Social schools. Children traumatised by conflict can be disruptive in school which often leads to exclusions. Widespread poverty means many parents can’t afford to send their children to school if there are no free ones locally. Also, some children are excluded from Lebanon’s school system on grounds of nationality,  such as the children of Syrians or Kurds working in the country.

Ali Al Afee, who is 14 years old, is a pupil at one of Mouvement Social’s schools. He was expelled from his last school after a cycle of violence: “I got angry whenever someone spoke to me. I also used to hit teachers – and the teachers used to hit me too, with a big stick.”

Ali lived through the war in Lebanon in the summer of 2006 during which his neighbour was killed after a bomb fell on his house. Now he dreams of being a film director: “I like the arts. The theatre helps people to express themselves and talk about the important things in life.”

16 year old Hanan Madyak’s parents had been too poor to send her and her sister to school before she found out about Mouvement Social alternative education centres, which are free. After training in photography she is now an intern at a studio that has offered her a job when she finishes her education.

“Mouvement Social created a 180° turnaround in my life,” she says. “If I’d not come here, I’d have stayed at home, learning nothing. There’s many girls in this situation.”

Hossam Houhou is now aged 17 and says his life has also turned around. He went to extra classes and a summer school provided by Mouvement Social and now helps run the issues based theatre workshops on things like domestic violence, drug abuse and the differences between people.

Mouvement Social also puts great importance on achievement in the more academic areas of school as Ali explains: “The rules here are strict.  There’s an evaluation system and you get penalties for violence… I think it’s a good system.”

Mouvement Social’s combination of creative freedom and high standards of academic teaching are made stronger by its commitment to Citizenship, defined by Hossam as: “How to accept the other.”

“The solution is to work on yourself and accept others, and then society will change.”

Zambian Government Called On To Investigate Copper Unfairness

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on March 1 2011

A leaked report has surfaced which accuses a mining company working in Zambia of shady business dealings and cheating the country out of tax money. Amy Hall reports…

Tax dodging is big at Ctrl.Alt.Shift. Developing countries could be losing out on US$billions because of it, while some dodgy multinationals are making US$billions.

Zambia is one of these countries; as one of the poorest countries in the world it has a life expectancy of just 47. Mopani Copper Mines Plc, a subsidiary company of Glencore International, has been accused of shifting its profits out of Zambia so it has to pay less tax there.

A draft of a report into Mopani, which mines copper and cobalt, has been leaked and accuses them not only of ‘tax irregularities’ but also of not following the ‘arms length principle’ meant to stop tax dodging when selling to different parts of the same company. Doing this makes it easier for companies to offload tax bills and shift profits around.

Copper is big business in Zambia, accounting for three quarters of the value of its exports. It is one of the eight largest copper producers in the world but there are dramatic differencesbetween the prices Zambia gets for its copper and the prices received by Switzerland for identical products. If Zambia was able to receive the prices it would have almost doubled the country’s GDP.

Auditors, from Grant Thornton and Econ Poyry, said they didn’t think that Mopani’s records of how much money was coming in and out of the company were trustworthy, leaving US$50 billion unexplained. They are now calling on Zambia’s tax authority to reassess their tax bill.

The Centre for Trade Policy and Development, a partner organisation of Christian Aid, has also joined calls for the government to investigate. Their director Savior Mwambwa said: “The auditors’ report appears to confirm the claims of Zambian civil society that mining companies are depriving the people of Zambia of social and economic benefits that are rightly theirs.”

Glencore International have been quick to defend Mopani. A spokesperson for the company said: “This draft report contains factual errors and inaccuracies. It is based on broad and flawed statistical analysis and assumptions.”

Mopani has received a €48 million loan from the European Investment Bank owned by EU member states. David McNair, Senior Economic Justice Adviser at Christian Aid says that the Bank should investigate the accusations against the company and possibly review who they lend to, “Given that tax abuse runs counter to European development policy.”

Meanwhile campaigners are concerned that countries like Zambia all over the world are missing out on money that could contribute to the welfare of their people, thanks to dodgy multinationals, a shady world finance system and lack of political will.

Call on the G20 to End Tax Secrecy here.

Building A Forum For Women In Bangladesh

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on 31 January 2011

Discover how women in Bangladesh are learning more about their rights, their purpose and potential power in the home, government and society as a whole. Amy Hall reports…

Traditionally, women in Bangladesh are not encouraged to take part in public life and have less access to education; but increasingly Women’s Forums and savings schemes mean that groups of women have strong voices within their communities.

Christian Aid’s Gen Lomax recently visited Bangladesh and met women involved in groups that work with Christian Aid’s partner organisation CCDB. Perceptions of women’s equality have begun to change since these groups were set up and some Women’s Forums have received training in influencing politics. They have learnt about their rights, and are becoming increasingly demanding towards the local government ensuring that it is more accountable.

The women Gen spoke to found these groups valuable in increasing the voice of women within their community but also in gaining independence as individuals. Mononoma Kunda, 49, is a member of Bashundhara Forum and has been since 1985.

She has received training on rights and advocacy which she put to good use when a powerful neighbour occupied some of her land: “When I joined the forum, I raised my voice and we discussed this problem. We then took this to the local government and they measured the land, and now the man has left!”

Mononoma has not always had this independence though, “My husband did not want me to go to the forum because he wanted me to make meals and stay at home. Sometimes he was very angry. Now he always encourages me. He sees that now I am independent, I earn money and his opinion has changed…We have built faith, love, trust, and now we respect each other. Now I make joint decisions in my family. The forum is our pride.”

Another proud husband is Shakti Kirtoniya. His wife Monika Kirtoniya has received agricultural training via the Sonali Swapna Forum (Golden Dream Forum). “I feel happy that my wife is part of this forum.
Before she just worked at home. But now she has a business and works outside. She earns money which we can spend on our children, on our lives. Now she knows so many things, she has received so much training and is a skilled woman with experience.”

At 16 Nipa Mojumder is already part of the Sonali Swapna Forum. Nipa is not part of the forum, her mother is. Her parents are supportive of her activities and she says that their generation is beginning to change its perceptions. “It is not possible to develop our country if men and women don’t work together… My parent’s generation is very conservative, but now this is changing. They want women to work outside. Previously there were superstitions about everything, now this is changing.”

By organising together women all over the world are raising their voices and becoming active in public life. This empowerment has a positive affect on their families and people around them and seems to be the only way towards sustainable development.

Pakistan Floods: 6 Months On

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on 27 January 2011

Amy Hall reports back on what is happening in Pakistan since the massive floods that hit the country six months ago and on what Christian Aid has been doing to help the people affected…

Six months ago Pakistan was hit with flooding which killed 2000 people and left a fifth of the country underwater.

Since then people have been trying to rebuild their communities in a recovery which has been predicted to takeyears. With food prices rising and mass unemployment, life has been hard for the 20 million people affected by the flooding.

Much of the world was slow to pick up on how much devastation the country was facing and some decided to focus on the negativity surrounding how the President was dealing with the situation. Instability caused by the flooding has also led to concerns about the already insecure situation in Pakistan. Despite the slow start however, Christian Aid’s Neill Garvie told us that NGO work in Pakistan has been well coordinated with effective communication mechanisms in place.

Christian Aid has been working with its partners in Pakistan as part of ACT Alliance, a group of 105 organisations working in humanitarian assistance and development worldwide. Christian Aid has raised £4.8million to help the victims of the flooding, and assifrom those funds has reached 15, 460 households so far.

Emily Reilly from Christian Aid visited Pakistan in the months following the floods. She spoke to women affected by the disaster who told her one of most useful things they had received were female specific hygiene kits and mobile medical units with female and male doctors. In the aftermath of the flooding, diseases associated with lack of hygiene became more prevalent as conditions were cramped and many people were living in makeshift shelters by the roadside. Women were suffering from hygine related diseases at a higher rate than men as, because of the conservative culture and lack of facilities, women could not find private spaces in which to wash and keep clean.
In the future, Christian Aid’s partners will keep up their efforts to provide food, shelter, water, sanitation and healthcare to people in the region, whilst also working on disaster risk reduction and helping people to have more secure livelihoods. If this strategy is continued, if Pakistan should face a similar disaster in the future, the devastation will be more manageable.

Christian Aid have also joined in partnership with Muslim Hands, an organisation working to help rebuild a village made up of Hindus, Christians and Muslims, a circumstance unusual in Pakistan. The country is 95% Muslim, and most of the other 5% are Hindus and Christians.

“We’re really excited about this partnership,” Neill Garvie told us. “The aim of this project is about making sure people have somewhere to live, but if another outcome is that people share and participate with each other more across faiths then that’s great.”

“I think situations like this demonstrate that although you can have conflicts between religions, at the end of the day these kinds of disasters affect everyone equally. Whatever background you come from it doesn’t matter and it can bring people together.”

It is hoped that development and disaster reduction projects like this will not only help Pakistan recover from the devastation the flooding has caused, but also help to foster unity amongst its people and lay the foundations for a more stable future.

Bangladesh, And The Aftermath Of Cyclone Aila

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on 26 January 2011

Amy Hall finds out from Christian Aid’s Gen Lomax how the nation is getting on after the devastation of Cyclone Aila in May 2009, as well as what help has been provided by our partner organisation, Shushilan…
When Cyclone Aila hit coastal areas of Bangladesh in May 2009 it caused massive devastation. Nearly 300 people were killed and thousands of others displaced in one of Bangladesh’s worst cyclones in recent years.

It is now nearly two years on and the affects are still being felt, including in one of the worst hit areas, the Satkhira district. Many people have had livelihoods disrupted or destroyed but some positive links have been formed as families try and pick up the pieces.

Gen Lomax is a Communications and Development Officer for Christian Aid and has recently visited Bangladesh talking to people in the Satkhira district, one of the areas worst affected by the cyclone. During her trip she learnt about the work of Christian Aid partner organisation Shushilan.

The cyclone, combined with issues like lack of infrastructure and increasing climate change, has had a profound affect on communities. In Bangladesh about 830, 000 hectares of cultivable land has been damaged by saline (salt) water intrusion. This is a problem which has been worsened by the cyclone and is linked to climate change.
However, crabs can survive in this kind of environment so Shushilan has been training people in crab rearing as a more sustainable way of supporting themselves and their families.

Asha (a name meaning hope) is 28. She and her husband, Shonteshi (35), work side by side fattening crabs. As well as helping them provide for their family Asha said that this work has also brought them closer together:
“Before Aila my husband was involved in crab fattening, but now I am involved more too. I feed the crabs, catch them and then sell them in the market.”

Mofazzal Kagzi is 69, in Bangladesh the life expectancy for a man is 67 I am using the figure 66 based on (UNSD, 2008). He is a fisherman but when Cyclone Aila hit his village his pond was destroyed and all his fish escaped. He has been supported in rebuilding his pond replenishing his stocks with fish better adapted to the highly salinated water.

Mofazzal is forward thinking. When asked about the changes he has seen in his lifetime he said, “The positive changes I have seen are in relation to women. Before women never used to go out. Now they go out, they ride bicycles, and they are able to work outside of the home.”

On the more negative side, Mofazzal has also noticed changes to the climate: “Before we used to have six seasons”, he explains. “Everything was going well. But now there are changes. Too much rain, then drought, then heat.”

Climate change continues to be one of the greatest threats the world faces and is particularly putting poor communities in countries like Bangladesh at risk. Scientists have linked more intense cyclones in the Bay of Bengal with warmer seas linked to global temperature rises. Many people, like those Gen met in Bangladesh, depend on the environment to support themselves and it is these people on the front line that are already hit worst.