Women Rise Up to Nurture Climate Scientists in Africa

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Jan 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As a child, Kenyan meteorologist Saumu Shaka helped out on her parents’ small farm growing maize and pigeon pea — and learned how the weather can hold food producers hostage.

“Looking back, the yield has declined over the years,” said Shaka, 28, who works with the Kenya Meteorological Department.

A decade ago, her parents would get 25 sacks of maize from their six hectares in Taita Taveta County, southeast of Nairobi.

Today that has dwindled to five bags at most because of erratic rainfall that can also spur crop-destroying pests.

As climate change fuels extreme weather and threatens harvests, Africa needs more scientific expertise to help small-scale farmers adapt, especially women who tend to be hit worst, said Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, director of Nairobi-based group African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD).

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women represent nearly half of farmers in Africa and produce up to 80% of basic food crops.

They are also largely responsible for preparing, storing, and processing food.

But in many cases, the FAO says, they have limited rights, mobility and access to resources, information, and decision-making power, making them more vulnerable and less able to adapt to climate change impacts than men.

“This means women’s continued under-representation in climate change research is no longer acceptable,” said Kamau-Rutenberg, noting that few have opportunities in science education.

AWARD is leading the One Planet Fellowship, a new initiative that will train 630 African and European scientists to use a gender lens to help African smallholders adapt to climate shifts, unusually offering Africans the opportunity to serve as mentors.

Under-investment in African scientific research capacity means “we still don’t even know the specific ways climate change will manifest in Africa,” said Kamau-Rutenberg.

In September, the three-year career development program welcomed its first cohort of 45 fellows from Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Zambia, Malawi, Benin, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Togo, Mali, Ethiopia, and Burkina Faso — over half of them female.

The aim is to “set an example and dispel the myth that there are no African women scientists ready to step into leadership,” Kamau-Rutenberg added.

AWARD collaborates on the initiative, worth nearly $20 million, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, France’s BNP Paribas Foundation and Agropolis Fondation, the European Union, and Canada’s International Development Research Centre.

‘Firsthand Experience’

As one of the inaugural fellows, Shaka is seeking home-grown solutions to the challenges faced by farmers like her parents, who are battling to grow enough food on a warming planet.

Her research focuses on cost-effective “climate-smart” agribusiness techniques to help young people boost jobs and food security, which she will promote on social media platforms.

African scientists “have firsthand experience and solutions that are practical and applicable to their societal set-ups within their individual countries,” she said.

Women scientists, moreover, are better able to understand the specific challenges in designing community-tailored solutions to help fellow women, said the senior meteorologist.

Droughts and floods, for example, impose a health burden on women, who have to walk long distances in search of water and stay alert to the risk of waterborne diseases, she noted.

Pamela Afokpe, 27, an AWARD fellow from Benin, said “in-continent” experts could relate to the needs of African farmers more easily.

Afokpe, a vegetable breeder with East-West Seed International, is working to get more farmers growing indigenous leafy vegetables in West and Central Africa by helping them access high-yielding varieties resistant to pests and diseases.

Up to now, a limited number of African experts have contributed to the landmark scientific assessments published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which synthesizes research and guides policymakers.

Out of 91 lead authors of the 2018 IPCC special report on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, only eight were from Africa, as were just a tenth of the 783 contributing authors.

South Africa’s Debra Roberts, co-chair of a working group for the IPCC ongoing sixth scientific assessment report and the first female co-chair from Africa, said the panel’s work showed tackling climate change required all of society to respond.

“Women have different lived experiences and views on the problems and solutions,” she said.

“We need to hear those voices if we are to be able to identify context-relevant solutions from the scientific literature. There is no one-size-fits-all,” she added.

Over the IPCC’s three decades of operation, there have only been three female co-chairs, two of them on the current report, she noted.

“We have a long way to go still,” Roberts told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

Energy Priorities

Women also need to be involved in the practical design of climate solutions, such as expanding off-grid solar power and clean cooking, which can reduce drudgery and minimise health issues linked pollution, said agricultural experts.

As forest loss and climate change make resources scarcer, women have to go longer distances to gather fuel-wood, which puts additional pressure on their time, health, and personal security, said Katrin Glatzel, a research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Dakar, Senegal.

In Mali, a public-private partnership has provided 1.6 million people with more efficient stoves, reducing pollution by half compared to a traditional three-stone fire, she noted.

Glatzel said it was important to include and empower female scientists and farmers in the switch to cleaner, modern energy, so that their concerns could be addressed.

A 2019 survey by charity Practical Action in rural Togo found women prioritized energy for pumping drinking water and processing crops, while men favoured mobile-phone charging and heating water for washing, she noted.

In northern Benin, meanwhile, a solar-powered drip irrigation system means a cooperative of 45 women now fetches water once or twice a week rather than daily, she added.

Bringing women on board with technological innovation for rural energy services is key “to ensure that end products meet their needs and those of their families,” she said.

Original article By Busani Bafana for Thomson Reuters Foundation-  Source Global Citizen

Photo on Unsplash

To find out more about African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) and ways to get involved, go to their website.

To find out more about the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and ways to get involved, go to their website.

Equality Wellbeing

‘It’s a miracle’: Helsinki’s radical solution to homelessness

Tatu Ainesmaa turns 32 this summer, and for the first time in more than a decade he has a home he can truly say is his: an airy two-room apartment in a small, recently renovated block in a leafy suburb of Helsinki, with a view over birch trees.

“It’s a big miracle,” he says. “I’ve been in communes, but everyone was doing drugs and I’ve had to get out. I’ve been in bad relationships; same thing. I’ve been on my brother’s sofa. I’ve slept rough. I’ve never had my own place. This is huge for me.”

Downstairs in the two-storey block is a bright communal living and dining area, a spotless kitchen, a gym room and a sauna (in Finland, saunas are basically obligatory). Upstairs is where the 21 tenants, men and women, most under 30, live.

It is important that they are tenants: each has a contract, pays rent and (if they need to) applies for housing benefit. That, after all, is all part of having a home – and part of a housing policy that has now made Finland the only EU country where homelessness is falling.

When the policy was being devised just over a decade ago, the four people who came up with what is now widely known as the Housing First principle – a social scientist, a doctor, a politician and a bishop – called their report Nimi Ovessa (Your Name on the Door).

“It was clear to everyone the old system wasn’t working; we needed radical change,” says Juha Kaakinen, the working group’s secretary and first programme leader, who now runs the Y-Foundation developing supported and affordable housing.

“We had to get rid of the night shelters and short-term hostels we still had back then. They had a very long history in Finland, and everyone could see they were not getting people out of homelessness. We decided to reverse the assumptions.”

As in many countries, homelessness in Finland had long been tackled using a staircase model: you were supposed to move through different stages of temporary accommodation as you got your life back on track, with an apartment as the ultimate reward.

“We decided to make the housing unconditional,” says Kaakinen. “To say, look, you don’t need to solve your problems before you get a home. Instead, a home should be the secure foundation that makes it easier to solve your problems.”

With state, municipal and NGO backing, flats were bought, new blocks built and old shelters converted into permanent, comfortable homes – among them the Rukkila homeless hostel in the Helsinki suburb of Malminkartano where Ainesmaa now lives.

Housing First’s early goal was to create 2,500 new homes. It has created 3,500. Since its launch in 2008, the number of long-term homeless people in Finland has fallen by more than 35%. Rough sleeping has been all but eradicated in Helsinki, where only one 50-bed night shelter remains, and where winter temperatures can plunge to -20C.

The city’s deputy mayor Sanna Vesikansa says that in her childhood, “hundreds in the whole country slept in the parks and forests. We hardly have that any more. Street sleeping is very rare now.”

In England, meanwhile, government figures show the number of rough sleepers – a small fraction of the total homeless population – climbed from 1,768 in 2010 to 4,677 last year (and since the official count is based on a single evening, charities say the real figure is far higher).

But Housing First is not just about housing. “Services have been crucial,” says Helsinki’s mayor, Jan Vapaavuori, who was housing minister when the original scheme was launched. “Many long-term homeless people have addictions, mental health issues, medical conditions that need ongoing care. The support has to be there.”

At Rukkila, seven staff support 21 tenants. Assistant manager Saara Haapa says the work ranges from practical help navigating bureaucracy and getting education, training and work placements to activities including games, visits and learning – or re-learning – basic life skills such as cleaning and cooking.

“A lot of it is really about talking,” says Henna Ahonen, a trainee social worker. And that is “easier when you are actually doing something together, rather than in a formal interview”, Haapa says. “The connection is just … easier. You can spot problems more readily.”

Hardly any of the tenants come straight from the street, Haapa says, and those who do can take time to adjust to living indoors. But after a three-month trial, tenants’ contracts are permanent – they can’t be moved unless they break the rules (Rukkila does not allow drug or alcohol use; some other Housing First units do) or fail to pay the rent.

Some stay seven years or more; others leave after one or two. In 2018, six tenants moved out to lead fully independent lives, Haapa says. One is now a cleaner, living in her own flat; another studied for a cookery qualification during his five years at Rukkila and now works as a chef.

Ainesmaa is on a two-year work experience programme designed to lead to a job. He says the opportunity to sort himself out was priceless: “Look, I own nothing. I’m on the autism spectrum. I think people are my friends, and then they rip me me off. I’ve been ripped off … a lot. But now I have my place. It’s mine. I can build.”

Housing First costs money, of course: Finland has spent €250m creating new homes and hiring 300 extra support workers. But a recent study showed the savings in emergency healthcare, social services and the justice system totalled as much as €15,000 a year for every homeless person in properly supported housing.

Interest in the policy beyond the country’s borders has been exceptional, from France to Australia, says Vesikansa. The British government is funding pilot schemes in Merseyside, the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, whose Labour mayor, Andy Burnham, is due in Helsinki in July to see the policy in action.

But if Housing First is working in Helsinki, where half the country’s homeless people live, it is also because it is part of a much broader housing policy. More pilot schemes serve little real purpose, says Kaakinen: “We know what works. You can have all sorts of projects, but if you don’t have the actual homes … A sufficient supply of social housing is just crucial.”

And there, the Finnish capital is fortunate. Helsinki owns 60,000 social housing units; one in seven residents live in city-owned housing. It also owns 70% of the land within the city limits, runs its own construction company, and has a current target of building 7,000 more new homes – of all categories – a year.

In each new district, the city maintains a strict housing mix to limit social segregation: 25% social housing, 30% subsidised purchase, and 45% private sector. Helsinki also insists on no visible external differences between private and public housing stock, and sets no maximum income ceiling on its social housing tenants.

It has invested heavily, too, in homelessness prevention, setting up special teams to advise and help tenants in danger of losing their homes and halving the number of evictions from city-owned and social housing from 2008 to 2016.

“We own much of the land, we have a zoning monopoly, we run our own construction company,” says Riikka Karjalainen, senior planning officer. “That helped a lot with Housing First because simply, there is no way you will eradicate homelessness without a serious, big-picture housing policy.”

Finland has not entirely solved homelessness. Nationwide, about 5,500 people are still officially classified as homeless. The overwhelming majority – more than 70% – are living temporarily with friends or relatives.

But public-sector planning and collective effort have helped ensure that as a way to reduce long-term homelessness, Housing First is a proven success. “We’re not there yet, of course,” says Vesikansa. “No model is perfect; we still have failures. But I’m proud we had the courage to try it.”

The mayor agrees. “We have reduced long-term homelessness by a remarkable amount,” he says. “We must do more – better support, better prevention, better dialogue with residents: people really support this policy, but not everyone wants a unit in their neighbourhood … But yes, we can be very proud.”

Original article by Jon Henley –  Source Global Citizen

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

To find out more about Housing First and ways to get involved, go to their website.

To find out more about the Y-Foundation and ways to get involved, go to their website.


California Officially Bans Hair Discrimination

California just became the first US state to ban discrimination against natural hair at school and in the workplace.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act into law in July and it officially went into effect in the state on Jan. 1. State Sen. Holly Mitchell led the effort to pass the legislation that incorporates hair-based discrimination associated with race to the state’s anti-discrimination law, according to the Hill.

The prominence of hair discrimination caught Newsom’s attention after a video of high school student Andrew Johnson being forced to cut off his locks before a wrestling meet went viral in 2018.

“Far too often, Black people are shamed and excluded from jobs or school because of objections to natural hairstyles, but courts have been slow to recognize that bias against natural Black hair is a form of race discrimination,” Ria Tabacco Mar, director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, told Global Citizen via e-mail.

The CROWN Act recognizes how Eurocentric beauty standards are harmful and perpetuate discrimination and bias.

“Professionalism was, and still is, closely linked to European features and mannerisms, which entails that those who do not naturally fall into Eurocentric norms must alter their appearances, sometimes drastically and permanently, in order to be deemed professional,” the text of the legislation reads.

Workplace policies prohibiting natural hair — afros, braids, twists, and locks — disproportionately affect black people and are “likely to deter black applicants and burden or punish or punish black employees more than any other group,” according to the CROWN Act. Black women are twice as likely to feel pressure to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards in order to be taken seriously at work compared to white women.

Discrimination against people based on race is known to encourage exclusion and impoverish certain groups of the population who are already disadvantaged by lack of resources and services. Racial discrimination in the workplace is one of many systemic barriers that make it difficult for black people in the US to escape poverty, including lack of access to education, high incarceration rates, and more. In 2018, 23% of black people in the US lived in poverty.

California paved the way for other leaders across the country to make an effort to end hair discrimination. New York City released guidelines to prevent hair discrimination in February, and New Jersey is awaiting Gov. Phil Murphy to sign the state’s CROWN Act soon.

“California has taken an important step toward ensuring that all of us have the freedom to work and learn regardless of how we wear our hair,” the ACLU’s Tabacco Mar said.

Original article by Leah Rodriguez –  Source Global Citizen

Photo by Prescott Horn on Unsplash

To find out more about the CROWN Act and ways to get involved, go to their website.

To find out more about the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project and ways to get involved, go to their website.


Majority of US States Want to Accept More Refugees

Since the Trump administration issued an executive order in September that provided US governors with the option to stop accepting refugees, more than 30 states have expressed the desire to continue with resettlement programs — and Missouri can now be added to that list.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson sent a letter Monday to the US State Department indicating that the state will continue to resettle refugees, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“Today, Missouri’s population includes thousands of refugees who have become vital members of our communities,” Parson wrote in his letter. “I am confident this demonstration of compassion will mark the first step in these immigrants becoming patriotic and productive fellow Americans.”

Parson faced pressure from groups like the International Institute of St. Louis, which works to resettle refugees and even encouraged visitors to its website to write letters to Parson asking him to support refugee resettlement in Missouri. Refugee resettlement has broad bipartisan support among US citizens.

There are nearly 30 million refugees worldwide, the most ever recorded, according to the United Nations.

Refugee status is given to those fleeing persecution or conflict. However, the UN also mentions natural disasters and “severe socio-economic deprivation” as two other major global drivers of displacement. Climate change, by driving the rise of sea levels, drought, and the frequency of natural disasters, can also lead to displacement, and the number of displaced persons due to climate-related issues will likely only increase in the coming decades as climate change continues to intensify.

Most refugees are unable to choose a resettlement country. Those who end up in the US are often first recommended by the UN’s refugee agency, according to USA for UNHCR. Once recommended, they must go through an extensive screening process that includes background checks by federal agencies such as the FBI, and multiple in-person interviews. Then, once resettled, refugees can find themselves in new and unfamiliar communities, and not all of them can speak English before arriving in the US.

The US, once the world leader in refugee admissions, has seen rates of refugee resettlement hit “historic lows” during the Trump presidency, according to the Pew Research Center. The administration also intends to admit no more than 18,000 refugees during the fiscal year 2020, which would be the lowest amount since 1980.

So far, 33 states have written to the Trump administration to say they wish to continue to accept refugees, according to Quartz. The remainder of the states have until Jan. 21 to write to the administration to indicate where they stand on refugee resettlement programs.


Original article by Brandon Wiggins-  Source Global Citizen

Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

To find out more about the International Institute of St. Louis and ways to get involved, go to their website.

To find out more about USA for UNHCR and ways to get involved, go to their website.



Norway opens its doors to 600 people evacuated from Libya to Rwanda

Hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers evacuated from Libyan detention centres to a transit camp in Rwanda are to be resettled this year in Norway, according to Rwanda’s foreign minister.

Speaking at a news conference in Kigali on Wednesday, Rwanda’s foreign minister Vincent Biruta said the African nation was currently hosting more than 300 refugees and asylum seekers at the Gashora transit centre south of Kigali, most of whom hail from Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea, according to CGTN Africa.

Only Norway and Sweden had so far agreed to resettle people from the camp, Biruta added. Norway agreed to resettle 600 people, while Sweden had so far accepted seven, according to Biruta.

Rwanda signed a deal with the UN and African Union in September aimed at resettling people who had been detained in Libya while trying to reach Europe. More than 4,000 people are believed to still be living in Libyan detention centres, according to the latest figures.

In a statement to Reuters, Norwegian justice minister Jøran Kallmyr said the plan to resettle 600 people proved that “we don’t support cynical people smugglers, and instead bring in people who need protection in an organised manner”.

Kallmyr added: “A transit camp like the one in Rwanda will contribute to that effort.”

Norway’s four-party government coalition agreed last year to accept a total of 3,000 refugees from UN camps in 2020.

The UN in Libya has come under intense criticism for complying with EU migration policy, which entails funding the Libyan coastguard to intercept boats with refugees and migrants destined for Europe. Many people end up detained in militia-run centres and subjected to grave human rights abuses, including sexual abuse, denial of food and water, and forced recruitment into the on-going Libyan conflict.

Elisabeth Haslund, Nordic spokesperson for the UN refugee agency, said that of the 4,000-plus people estimated to still be detained in Libyan centres, roughly 2,500 people are refugees and asylum-seekers.

“As the violence and unrest have been intensifying in Libya and thousands of refugees are still at risk in the country, the evacuations of the most vulnerable refugees are more urgent than ever,” said Haslund.

UNHCR very much welcomes Norway’s decision to resettle refugees who have been evacuated to Rwanda and also notes the important and valuable financial contributions from Norway to help support the operation of the transit centre in Gashora.”

As the 600 people who are expected to be resettled this year in Norway had not yet been chosen, Haslund added, it was impossible to give details on their age, gender or country of origin.

Original article by Kate Hodal –  Source The Guardian

Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

To find out more about the UN Refugee Agency and ways to get involved, go to their website.

Equality Wellbeing

Low-Income Countries Now Have Access to Affordable Life-Saving Breast Cancer Drug

The World Health Organization (WHO) just gave a game-changing breast cancer treatment its stamp of approval.

The WHO prequalified its first biosimilar (meaning an affordable copy) of the medicine trastuzumab on Wednesday. Trastuzumab has shown high efficacy in curing early-stage breast cancer and, in some cases, more advanced forms of the disease, according to the WHO. Prequalification from the WHO gives countries the guarantee that they’re purchasing quality health products. This is the first biosimilar out of a few that were introduced over the past years to be prequalified by the WHO.

Trastuzumab is an antibody and was categorized by the WHO as an essential medicine for about 20% of breast cancers. First released in 2006 by a company by the Netherlands, trastuzumab sparked debate in the UK about who could afford to use it, according to the Guardian. The drug usually costs around $20,000 per treatment period, making it an unavailable option for many women and health care systems in most countries. The biosimilar version is around 65% cheaper.

Prices for biosimilar trastuzumab should decrease even more as the WHO is expected to prequalify more products. Some other versions of the drug are already available for around $4,000, but without approval from the WHO, they can’t be sold in every country.

“Women in many cultures suffer from gender disparity when it comes to accessing health services,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, said in a news release. “In poor countries, there is the added burden of a lack of access to treatment for many, and the high cost of medicines. Effective, affordable breast cancer treatment should be a right for all women, not the privilege of a few.”

Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women. In 2018, 2.1 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer and 630,000 of them died from the disease. Many of these women could have survived if it weren’t for late diagnosis and lack of access to affordable treatment, according to the WHO.

WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer estimates that by 2040 the number of diagnosed breast cancers will reach 3.1 million, with the greatest increase in low-and middle-income countries. Lack of screening programs, health education, and inadequate funding all attribute to the rise of breast cancer in developing countries.

“WHO prequalification of biosimilar trastuzumab is good news for women everywhere,” Dr. Tedros said.

Original article by Leah Rodriguez –  Source Global Citizen

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

To find out more about the World Health Organisation (WHO) and ways to get involved, go to their website.


New App Helps LGBTQ+ Brazilians Navigate Safe Spaces as Murders Skyrocket

MEXICO CITY, Dec 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — An app that maps safe spaces for LGBTQ people and features a panic button to warn friends of risk was launched on Wednesday in Brazil, one of the deadliest countries to be gay or transgender.

The app is called Dandarah, after a trans woman who was murdered in 2017, and received its initial funding from Jean Wyllys, one of Brazil’s few openly gay congressmen, who fled the country this year due to death threats.

“The LGBTQ community in Brazil as a whole, and especially the transgender group, is facing a large scope of violence,” said University of Toronto’s Monica Malta, a mental health expert, who has studied violence faced by trans women in Brazil.

“We hope that this app will be a strategy to help us [address the violence],” Malta, who helped develop the app, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Despite recent rulings in favor of LGBTQ rights, including a Supreme Court decision in June making homophobia a crime, religious conservatism and widespread violence often make Brazil a hostile country for gay and trans people.

Brazil had the highest number of trans murders globally — at 130 — in the 12 months up to Sept. 30, according to the Trans Murder Monitoring project. Almost 40% of deaths worldwide took place in the 200 million-strong nation.

Dandarah follows a global trend of digital platforms helping to keep LGBTQ people safe, with the GeoSure app, which rates risk for travellers in 30,000 neighborhoods worldwide, adding an LGBTQ safety category to its service last year.

The Brazilian app uses crowdsourcing to designate risky areas for gay and trans people by letting users mark locations where violent incidents occur, as well as police stations and safe spaces, like trans-friendly health clinics and charities.

If they feel in danger, its panic button allows users to alert five registered contacts who receive the user’s location and phone numbers for emergency services.

According to watchdog group Grupo Gay da Bahia, 320 LGBTQ people were murdered in Brazil last year.

Malta decided to launch the app after her study of nearly 3,000 trans women across Brazil revealed their “terrible and widespread experience of violence and discrimination.”

“The key issue for us to think about was how could we build upon everything the community had and foster something that could give them a better tool to not only report [violence] but also reach out and support each other,” Malta said.

The rights groups and researchers behind Dandarah hope it will help paint a clearer picture of anti-LGBTQ violence in Brazil, where there are no official statistics on these attacks, and many crimes go unreported for fear of discrimination.

“It encourages the population to report crimes so we can reduce omission and impunity,” said Bruna Benevides, a trans researcher and activist involved in the project, adding that the app is hosted on a secure server to protect users’ identities.


Original article by Oscar Lopez from Thomson Reuters Foundation– Source Global Citizen

Photo by Teddy Osterblom on Unsplash 

To find out more about the Trans Murder Monitoring project and ways to get involved, go to their website.

Equality Wellbeing

‘The bike saved me’: cycling project for vulnerable people under threat

We noticed people were walking three hours to come to us, to see friends, to go to college, to do voluntary work,” says James Lucas, co-founder of the Bristol Bike Project. “It can take it out of you if you are doing that every day. If you are used to just having money for a bus, or you have a car or are used to having your own bike, you can take that mobility for granted.”

The not-for-profit cooperative’s Earn-a-Bike programme has been repairing abandoned or unwanted bicycles for the most vulnerable members of society for 10 years. Now, though, the project faces an existential threat. The owner of the 1970s office block Hamilton House in Stokes Cross, where it has been based since the beginning, are looking to redevelop the space.

“It’s generally people with long-term physical or mental health issues, people who are long-term unemployed, it can be people in recovery programmes, people who are homeless and living in sheltered housing,” says community coordinator Krysia Williams. “There is an endless number of reasons why people might come to us. We take it on trust whether people think they are eligible for our programmes.”

Vicky was referred to the Bristol Bike Project through one of 50 local organisations. She moved to Bristol this year and says the project helped her find a new network of friends after years of social isolation, struggling with PTSD and living in sheltered housing for recovering drug users.

“I wouldn’t have been able to go to the Recovery Toolkit [a programme for people with experience of domestic abuse] without it,” she says. “There wasn’t a bus [that went] there. Cycling there was just great mental and physical health exercise. The bike was the one thing that saved me.

“For the first time in many years I wanted to be around people. The bike is my only means of getting around. My life has improved so much for the better. I used to wake up and think, ‘oh my god I can’t believe I’m conscious again’. I never thought I could have the feeling that I do now.”

The work is made possible by donations from the public. The project receives more than 100 bikes a month, many of which have sat unused in sheds or garages for years. Others come from places such as train stations and student accommodation that send abandoned bikes to the project. Profits from a workshop that services and repairs bikes for the public subsidise the community work.

Rather than simply being given a fully repaired machine, “earn-a-bikers” attend a three-hour session to refurbish a donated bike and help carry out final maintenance checks – the idea being that learning to look after a bike is more empowering than simply being given one.

If recipients subsequently encounter issues that are more than they can deal with, they can return to the workshop to carry out any subsequent maintenance as part of the project’s DIT (do it together) ethos. Recovering alcoholic Mark describes it as a “lifetime guarantee”. “This is the only transport that I have,” says Mohammed, an Algerian asylum seeker. “I need it to go to college and improve my English. I can’t get anywhere without it.”

Co-founder Lucas says he often hears people who are struggling with drug addiction say that riding a bike helps them avoid temptation: “They are able to cycle past the places where they would normally stop and get sucked into a world that they don’t want to be in any more. Having a bike is your vehicle for getting out of that place.”

Williams says bikes have become even more crucial to the city’s asylum seekers since the location where they have to sign in was moved from the city centre to a location eight miles away: “We were noticing people were either struggling to afford the bus – which takes up most of the allowance [they] receive from the government – or they were walking the 16 miles. Others were missing appointments … [which] jeopardises their asylum claim. A bicycle is a quick, amazing easy solution.”

Esam is a Kurdish asylum seeker from Iraq who has been living in Bristol since 2007 while he awaits a decision on whether he can remain. “Bristol Bike Project has become like a village for me,” he says, “a society. I’ve been adopted.”

Abdul says his three daughters have all received bikes that they ride for eight miles a day to school and back, and to visit family and friends. “We don’t look at these bikes as used bikes,” he says. “I don’t think that’s crossed the girls’ minds. The bike does its job and we appreciate it.”

But the Bristol Bike Project fears its work is under threat and says it has been operating with just a month’s notice to vacate for two yearsHamilton House owner Connolly & Callaghan has been seeking planning permission since 2017 to put apartments into some of the space used by arts and community ventures in the three-building complex.

The owners say their apartment proposal was conceived “to save the community uses of Hamilton House” after years of precarious finances. While the flats are envisioned for upper parts of Building C, the ground floor housing the Bristol Bike Project is also to be revamped, for commercial use. In early 2018, the bike project was among tenants given notice.

Since then, says a Connolly and Callaghan spokesman, the owners have continued to house the bike project: “C&C admires the work of the Bristol Bike Project – and has provided them with space at very low rent for some 10 years. Indeed, C&C has supported them for some 18 months longer than expected” and recently agreed to hold off work on the space until 31 January.

While the apartment scheme has so far failed to win planning approval (in July it was again rejected by Bristol city council), other renovations are going ahead. That January date looks like the last reprieve for the bike project at Hamilton House.

“It’s been a long time to have that constant threat over you in your head,” says Williams. “We’ve had to put a lot of staff and volunteer energy into preparing for it. I think us staying in this area is going to be nigh-on impossible.”

However, the team remain determined to find ways to grow and continue to serve the community. “It’s a bike project but it’s really a people project,” says Williams. “With people’s support we will find somewhere. We will be paying a lot more than we do here but maybe we can reach out to new communities as well. If we can do that without losing the people we are already working with then great.”

Member and workshop volunteer Debbie says the project runs on the willpower of its volunteers and workers. “People care about it. When you’ve got the power of people you can surmount a lot more problems than if you are just being paid to do a job.”


Original article by Alexander Turner – Source Global Citizen

Photo on Freepik

To find out more about the Bristol Bike Project and ways to get involved, go to their website.


Refugees and Local Farmers Work Together to Improve Life in Settlements in Uganda

BIDI BIDI, Uganda, Dec 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – One of the few possessions refugee Emily Bronte carried with him when he fled war in South Sudan for Uganda was a battered copy of an aid agency booklet on how to run a farming cooperative.

The booklet, with its cartoon donkeys illustrating negotiation techniques and instructions to pray after every cooperative meeting, might not seem like the first thing you would grab if you were running for your life.

Yet its contents have helped the 46-year-old, who got his unusual name at the suggestion of an Italian missionary, to feed and educate his children, and given him hope for a future in which they do not rely solely on handouts.

Bronte is one of a number of refugee farmers in Bidi Bidi, a vast settlement in northern Uganda that covers an area more than twice the size of Paris, in a rare example of cooperation between refugees and their hosts.

Groups of refugees have formed cooperatives with local farmers who are unable to cultivate all their land and would rather see it farmed than lie fallow.

“I talked to the landlord and he gave me one acre. He said he wanted the land to go to good use,” Bronte told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Bidi Bidi, home to about 230,000 South Sudanese refugees.

The landowners lend the refugees plots of land that they farm, either solely or in groups. Some charge rent, but most take only a share of the harvest — a generosity attributed to the fact that many have themselves been refugees.

“I didn’t pay,” said Bronte outside his mud-brick home, as small children played at his feet while older ones helped fetch firewood for cooking.

“He (the landlord) didn’t even ask for money from me. He said that during the Ugandan war, they (Ugandans) ran to South Sudan and that in the place where he settled, the people helped him.”


Uganda has been widely praised for its open-door policy towards refugees.

The country has about 1.4 million refugees, estimates the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the third highest number in the world after Turkey and Pakistan.

The government allocates new arrivals a plot of land big enough to build a mud-brick house and plant a small vegetable garden, gives them freedom of movement — they live in settlements, not camps — and the right to work.

But like many host countries, it is struggling.

The South Sudanese who make up the bulk of the refugees in Uganda look unlikely to return any time soon, with a peace deal signed more than a year ago yet to be implemented.

Global aid budgets are being squeezed with the UNHCR warning this month that the “gap between needs and available funding continues to grow” and the United States, which once accepted large numbers of refugees for resettlement, now takes far fewer.

Although Uganda’s refugees live relatively harmoniously with the host population, there are tensions over resources such as firewood.

Last week, the UNHCR said two refugees and two Ugandans had been killed in clashes in Nyumanzi, a settlement near Bidi Bidi. It was not clear what sparked the violence.

Uganda’s minister for disaster relief and preparedness, Musa Ecweru, said his country needed more funds to help refugees develop new skills and farm better.

But he said the world had a responsibility to create the conditions that would allow refugees to return home, calling the surge in numbers a “collective failure.”

“It is the only durable solution,” said Ecweru in an interview in Kampala. “For as long as they are persecuted, I will welcome them. But that does not suggest that I am capable of protecting them.”

Ministers from around the world will gather at the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva this week to address these challenges after a decade in which the UNHCR says the number of refugees worldwide has doubled to well over 25 million.

Among their goals is to increase the self-reliance of refugees, making them less dependent on United Nations aid and better able to sustain themselves.

In Uganda, a developing country where land is still relatively plentiful, refugees are already encouraged to build their own houses and use their gardens to grow food to supplement their UN rations.

Many have set up small businesses, but the remoteness of their settlements means work opportunities are limited. Although allowed to move freely, they need to stay close to the settlements to access food and medical assistance.

Victor Odero, regional advocacy director for the global aid agency International Rescue Committee (IRC), said there needs to be a shift in focus from standalone interventions in a crisis to economic empowerment of refugees.

“Humanitarian aid is short term and largely underfunded. Those long-term development goals are the first to be cut when budgets are reduced,” he said, calling for a “total paradigm shift” in refugee aid.

‘Life Became Good’

The IRC provides new farmers in Bidi Bidi with seeds and funds the hire of a tractor to plough newly acquired land.

Among those who have received such help is Samuel Sokire, 61, who has had to flee his home in South Sudan for Uganda three times, most recently during a flare-up of violence in late 2016.

By January 2017, he had built a house in Bidi Bidi. But he wanted more.

“When people were still building, I was already begging a place to cultivate. That was in January and by the time the rains came (in March), I got more land. Life became good,” said Sokire, who also borrowed land through a farming cooperative.

“The UN only gives 2.4 kg of beans per person per month. It’s not enough.”

Sokire had two big advantages — his knowledge of Swahili, spoken by many older Ugandans in the area, and the grinding machine he had carried from South Sudan he could lend or hire out to neighbors.

The land he farms belongs to local landowner Ojobile Kennedy, who had his own reason for wanting to share his land with refugees — their presence has scared off the wild animals that used to destroy his crops.

“Before, the monkeys and warthogs would destroy everything, even if I spent half the night banging jerry cans to scare them off,” said the 42-year-old, gesticulating to demonstrate.

“We let them (refugees) clear the land, let them do their own thing. We are happy about the refugees.”


Not everyone in the group is thriving, though.

Single mother Buludina Sumure’s asthma means she cannot walk far, limiting her access to farmland.

This year she paid to rent a small plot near her house, but it became waterlogged in the rainy season, and the sesame and maize seeds she had planted failed.

Asked if she hoped to find a better plot next planting season, Sumure raised her hands in resignation.

“I don’t know how the land will be,” she said. “This land is not ours.”

Even those refugees who are managing to make a go of farming know their situation is precarious.

Bronte has a good relationship with his landlord, who does not charge rent. But he fears that could change if the UN were to stop providing food to the refugees because they would struggle to give away a share of their harvest.

“Although you know your friend, you don’t know what he is thinking,” said Bronte, who supports his sister, nieces, and nephews, as well as his own wife and children.

“Being with a family, you have to think, tomorrow what is coming?”


Original article by Claire Cozens from Thomson Reuters Foundation – Source Global Citizen

Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Unsplash

To find out more about the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and ways to get involved, go to their website.

To find out more about the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and ways to get involved, go to their website.


Equality Wellbeing

How UNFPA Supplies Is Working to Improve Women’s and Girls’ Reproductive Health

Family planning is a core component of achieving gender equality and plays an important role in reducing poverty — but 232 million women around the world still lack access to contraceptive methods, according to the United Nations.

“It is very important to assert and reassert that the ability to plan and prevent pregnancy is vital,” Dr. Natalia Kanem, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), told Global Citizen.

According to the UN agency, “few things have a greater impact on the life of a woman than the number and spacing of her children.”

What Is UNFPA Supplies?

UNFPA Supplies, established in 2007, is a program under the United Nations Population Fund dedicated to expanding access to family planning commodities.

It supports countries with the greatest needs by helping them strengthen their supply chains, thereby increasing women’s and adolescent girls’ ability to access contraceptives and maternal health medicines.

UNFPA Supplies also integrates reproductive health supplies into national policies, strengthens governments’ capacity to manage supply chains and reproductive health services, and secures reproductive health supplies with an aim to increase the quality and reduce the prices of these commodities.

Kanem explained why this is essential.

“Young people have not had the power to control their own destiny — and part of that is because of reproductive health,” she said. “Family planning is a crucial aspect that gives women and girls the power to control their economic future.”

The program’s work has not been without criticism. At the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) held in Nairobi, Kenya this past November, protesters demonstrated against the event and circulated online petitions, and some religious leaders denounced the summit altogether.

Kanem stressed the importance of conversations amidst the controversy.

“From my perspective we need to pull back the curtain and talk about anything that is considered taboo. FGM [female genital mutilation] was not even spoken about a few years back … same with menstrual health and period poverty — which punishes someone for something that is not in their control,” Kanem said.

How Does It Work?

UNFPA Supplies is committed to operating in some of the poorest countries with the highest needs of contraception supplies. Currently, they support 46 countries including Mali, Haiti, El Salvador, Iraq, and Yemen.

“Many of these countries are in humanitarian situations where [health] systems get disrupted, so our work is essential,” Dr. Gifty Addico, chief of commodity security branch in UNFPA’s technical division, told Global Citizen.

She says women’s issues, such as access to contraception, underpin a large part of the UN’s development agenda.

UNFPA Supplies works with governments to build their capacity to better manage systems so that women and adolescent girls can access a range of contraception choices, regardless of where they are located.

“Ultimately the responsibility is with government,” Addico said.

She explained that the fund has a sustainability strategy that “graduates countries” when they effectively manage contraception-related supply chains.

For example, UNFPA Supplies worked with the Nicaraguan government to build their capacity to increase access to family planning commodities until they deemed the government was sufficiently providing this service to its residents.

“It’s important we are there as development partners because women and girls can’t wait,” Addico said. “A women’s desire to decide when or whether she has a child must be fulfilled regardless of the political context.”

What Impact Has It Made?

UNFPA estimates that 1.3 million lives may have been saved since 2007 through the use of family planning methods provided by the program.

UNFPA Supplies helped governments procure $89 million worth of contraceptives and medicines for maternal health in 2018 alone. This had the potential to prevent an estimated 10 million unintended pregnancies, which in turn averted: 25,000 maternal deaths, over 150,000 child deaths, and 3.2 million unsafe abortions, according to the program.

By averting these pregnancies, UNFPA Supplies estimates it saved families and health systems $620 million in health care costs.

UNFPA Supplies also supports areas affected by humanitarian crises. In 2018, emergency reproductive health kits were distributed in 22 countries in crisis, providing contraceptives for 1.7 million women and adolescent girls.

What’s Next for UNFPA Supplies?

At ICPD25, political leaders and corporations pledged billions of dollars to support the UN agency’s work. However, the agency said they need an additional $222 billion to meet its 2030 goals of eliminating maternal deaths, ending gender-based violence and harmful practices, and achieving universal access for family planning.

UNFPA Supplies needs $192 million to continue its work in 2020.

“I’m not even sure it’s a cost. It’s an investment with 10 times [the] returns … that’s something I’d like to invest in,” Kanem said about the economic payoff from investing in women’s health.

Original article by Jacky Habib – Source Global Citizen

Photo by Boris Smokrovic on Unsplash

To find out more about the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and ways to get involved, go to their website.