Tuesday 1 March 2022

Where the Sun is Used to Freeze


Skills training by Solar Freeze for Kakuma youths/credit: Ashden

With temperatures soaring across most of Africa due to climate change, preserving agricultural produces, medicines and other perishables is increasingly challenging. In eastern Kenya, a group of young people from smallholder families have created a pay-as-you-store solar cooling service, benefiting small-scale farmers, as well as health clinics and small businesses in Kakuma refugee camp, the oldest refugee camp in East Africa.

“Like many people our age, we watched our parents and grandparents work tirelessly, toiling in rural farms, only for a huge chunk of their fresh produce to rot away due to lack of proper cold storage units,” says Dysmus Kisilu, 27. “Often times, middle men would quickly swoop in and offer dirt cheap prices, and farmers would be forced to sell for a song out of fear of post-harvest loss,” says Kisilu.

Kisilu and many of his friends sought a better life in the city, but in 2016, some of them pulled their skills together to create Solar Freeze, a social enterprise harnessing solar power to offer off-grid small-scale farmers portable and affordable cold storage units in which to preserve their fresh fruits and vegetables.

“The growing seasons are now erratic and produce goes to waste because it cannot be stored. Whole communities are being destroyed as climate is changing. I knew I had to do something.”

Two years later, after meeting refugees in the huge Kakuma camp, Kisilu decided to expand into the humanitarian context. Kakuma, located in Turkana County, one of the poorest counties in Kenya, is home to 160,000 refugees from South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Uganda. The camp has no access to energy from the national grid. Only 20% of its clinics have electricity and it is produced by polluting diesel generators, which operate only during specific times. Solar Freeze allows Kakuma’s clinics to store their medical products and vaccines, such as Covid, yellow fever, measles and rabies. The company has since diversified to include cold storage to food and drink shops, fishing and other businesses and households in the camp — a much needed service in the heat of the camp, and particularly as global warming increases.

Options for customers include buying cooling units on a lease-to-own basis or renting space in them on a pay-per-crate basis. This helps even worse-off individuals access cooling, as there is no upfront cost and the fees are low.

Solar Freeze team also launched an ‘Each One Teach One’ programme to train youth from agricultural families, especially women, to install, operate and maintain their units. The initiative was expanded to Kakuma and now also includes operation and maintenance of other solar products like solar-powered irrigation equipment, and sales.

“The education was super — it was not discriminatory to me by saying that I could not do it as a woman,” says Sakina Kariba, a refugee in the camp from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She was trained as a solar panel installer and now works freelance installing throughout the camp. “I am happy that even if I leave the camp today and I decide to go to back to Congo or another part of Kenya, I now have a skill that I can use.”

So far, Solar Freeze is working with 3000 smallholder farmers — reducing waste of fresh produce by 95% — and has 180 cold solar units in Kakuma.

Solar Freeze’s model is replicable to combat harvest loss and provide clean energy to off-grid small-scale farmers and vulnerable populations in sub-Saharan Africa. About 470 million smallholder farmers in developing countries lose an average of 35% of their income to food spoilage. The company plans to expand its work into other refugee camps, and to nearby nations including Rwanda and Uganda.

Last year, it has won the prestigious Ashden Awards in the Humanitarian Energy category. The Awards highlight some of the world’s most impressive climate pioneers and innovators and help them power up their impact.

The climate solutions charity is now calling for entries from similar climate innovators for their 2022 Awards. The application deadline is 15 March.

Monday 17 January 2022

How to make pre-school accessible to every child on the planet?


Teacher Hosna Ara Dipu interacting with pupils of BRAC Pre-Primary School at Korail Slum, Mohakhali, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo credit: courtesy of UNICEF

 As Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on education systems around the planet, educators and leaders from around the world are trying to build them back better. They are particularly focusing on early education, which has a lifelong impact on children’s education and well-being.

In Sweden, the pre-school curriculum has been designed to respect the language and culture of refugee and migrant children. In Zimbabwe, an organization works with parents of children with disabilities and pre-schools to promote inclusion. These are the types of innovative initiatives from around the world, which the Global Partnership meeting will look at today.

Many studies have shown that the absence of early childhood education can lock children into deprivation and marginalization. And benefits for children attending quality early education impact not only the children, but generations and society as a whole. Yet, too many young children are missing out. Two in five children, mostly in lower income countries do not attend pre-primary school — especially girls, children with disabilities and children living in vulnerable situations, according to a recent UNESCO report.

“Ensuring early universal access to education is the foundation for inclusion in the lifelong journey to learning and a decent life,” says Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO. “Numerous benefits for children attending quality early education span generations and spill into society as a whole. Yet, too many young children are missing out. If we want them to reach their full potential, we have to get it right from the start”.

Educators and leaders from around the world have recently launched a Global Partnership Strategy (GPS) for Early Childhood Education, a series of recommendations and action plans to help governments make pre-school compulsory and inclusive, and tackling new challenges arising from the pandemic. The guidelines address barriers related to socio-economic status, ethnicity, gender, language, disability and remoteness. They also call for educators to be given the knowledge, training, and support to implement inclusive practices and work with families from all backgrounds.

Here are just two examples, amongst many others presented at the meeting, showing positive, promising and innovative initiatives, which could be reproduced elsewhere.

1. Over half of Roma children in Europe are still missing out on pre-primary school. In the small town of Orehovica, in the northern part of Croatia, Roma and Croatian pre-schoolers get together twice a week to play and learn. The activities have been adapted to their needs and specific culture. This has created a sense of belonging for everyone regardless of their ability or their background. Teachers have been trained on inclusive education practices and how to best support these young children before they enter primary school. Parents also play a central role at the school and feel supported and valued. The positive impact is not only evident on the children but has spilled over into the entire community leading to better social cohesion.

2. Disabled children are more likely to miss out on pre-primary school because these settings are not adapted to their specific needs. The Masvingo Community Based HIV/ AIDS and Vulnerable Children Organization (MACOBAO) in Zimbabwe has done research (this is very important as there is not enough data on pre-primary children, especially those who are excluded) and identified the reasons children with disabilities could be excluded from pre-primary school. These range from discrimination, stigmatization, prejudice and isolation. Once they had this information, they set about educating parents, communities and schools about their responsibility in insuring that children with special education needs access early childhood development and education. To do so, the organization organizes home visits to establish trusting relationships with the parents. These meetings encourage parents to access services for their child and to overcome their fears about enrolling their children in preschools.

Educators hope that these examples and recommendations will be promoted widely across the globe and lead to collaborations at regional, national and global levels in order to bring about concrete actions and real changes.


Tuesday 19 October 2021

#OneThingForTheFuture - Young leaders create memories and history for future generations


Two blocks of Lego retrieved from the Beirut blast; the Crested Crane, the national bird of Uganda; the Peepal tree, which grows in Nepal. These are among seven objects selected by seven young people from six continents to be stored in “the Future Vault.” 


 These objects represent core issues affecting young people today, such as education, climate change, the future of work and political representation of young people. 


 These young people are now asking political leaders and youngsters everywhere to join them in saving the one most important thing they want to preserve for future generations.



 All of the objects will be stored in a digital format (illustrations and descriptions) so that the meanings and messages are resistant to damage and accessible from the first day of the 22nd century.  


 They seven young people are the UN’s Next Generation Fellows, global leaders nominated by youth movements around the world. They consult with their Generation Z peers to capture concerns about the planet they will inherit and propose innovative solutions, some of which have helped shape major UN global reports. 


  “Too much is at peril. We need to preserve what is important and meaningful for future generations, so that they are not forgotten by the change that is going to happen in the next decade or so,” explains one of the young leaders,” Valeria Colunga, 21, UN’s Foundation Next Generation Fellow from Mexico, and an activist and podcaster.


 So far, the Future Vault also includes among many other things, a replica of a warrior queen’s mask from Benin representing the need to protect women’s rights; St Lucia’s Dou Dou Falls, representing the need to protect our ecosystem; and a ration card from Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp, representing the need to protect people’s homes.


 “Coming from a community so immediately affected by rising sea levels and more intense natural disasters has made me acutely aware of the urgent actions needed to address climate change. My submission of an image of the Dou Dou Falls from my native St Lucia shall therefore represent the need to protect our ecosystem, as this is vital to our survival,” says Jevanic Henry, UN’ Foundation Next Generation Fellow from St Lucia. 


 The young people hope their time capsule will inspire future generations to build their own futures, but also prompt adults and world leaders to act for the nearly half of the world’s population who are under the age of 30 and for the 10 billion people who are yet to be born this century. 






Tuesday 17 August 2021

Afghanistan Crisis: Human Rights champion Dr.Sakena Yacoobi pleas for help


Dr Sakena Yacoobi teaching/Credit: AIL


I wanted to share with you this heart-wrenching letter I've received from peace activist and educator Dr Sakena Yacoobi about the crisis going on in Afghanistan. Please read her first-hand account of the chaos and help out in any way you can. 


Yacoobi is an amazing woman: people call her Afghanistan’s “mother of education". She has founded the Afghanistan Institute of Learning (AIL) there and dedicated her life to educating women and children. I've interviewed her for a piece in the New Internationalist a few years ago. 


Here is her letter: 


Dear, Friends, Supporters, and Colleagues,

This is one of the most difficult letters I have ever written. After twenty years, our government collapsed with almost no resistance. The constitution we worked so hard for, the rights our women sacrificed so much to gain, thrown out the window like scraps for the dogs. Our military and the Ghani government fled, leaving our women and children to face the Taliban with no support. The world watched it happen, without care. We begged, screaming for help. So, now we see peace is again made on the back of women and children. It is what it is. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has fallen, and Kabul is in complete chaos. My office and staff are unharmed, for which we thank God. 

The nation of Afghanistan is in turmoil. My schools still stand, as of now, we have been instructed that we can continue as long as we separate boys and girls. The day the Taliban took Kandahar, they planted their flags in the courtyard of three of them. My schools must be important, as they visited the very first day the Taliban took control. Our Women Learning Centers remain open as they primarily serve women. As of now, my staff is unharmed. We hope and pray this remains true. We have been told that Radio and TV Meraj are not to operate until we are given notice, we will wait for that instruction. We hope and pray that the Taliban wasn’t lying when they told the world they did not intend to shut the schools, but our universities have already shut their doors to women and told them to go home. Burqa sales have tripled, as have the prices to purchase them. Women who lived through the Taliban before, go now to purchase these garments, while the daughters raised under the American occupation throw them in the faces of their mothers, refusing to wear them. 

We are a nation at a crossroads, but AIL will do what AIL has always done. We will continue to educate and provide a safe space for children and women. We will continue to offer food and job training and medical care for as long as we can remain in our facilities. When it is no longer possible to remain in those buildings, we will find new buildings, and work from there. Wherever we have schools now, we will have schools next week or next month or next year. AIL was started in secret and it will continue in secret if it must. While we are afraid, we are not defeated. Our mission remains the same. We will set up schools in every province, now that the worst has come. We know what to expect. We know the Taliban very well. There is no question of how they operate, or what they expect. We know how to manage them. We will do so. 

Letter after letter, phone call after phone call, came in this weekend asking how you can help. We need humanitarian supplies. The refugee situation we updated you with last week and the week before has only deteriorated. We have 300,000 internal refugees and 80,000 children who are without shelter and food. Where we were short of supplies, now we are out. Those in need are overwhelming us. Aid agencies have left with the American’s. AIL will not be leaving, so we will expand our facilities to help those who lost everything, including their homes, in the fighting. We need dry milk, clothes, school supplies, medicine, hygiene items, and Covid is still present, so soap and sanitizers are critical. Many of you have asked what else you can do, and to that I say contact the UN and government officials and tell them you want them to use every possible tool they have to protect our women and girls through diplomatic means. Sanction Pakistan for their invasion of my country, and pray for the safety of my people. 

Our democracy may have fallen for now. Ideas do not disappear so easily. One cannot kill whispers on the wind. The Taliban cannot crush a dream. We will prevail, even if it takes longer than we wanted it too. 

Much love to you all,

Dr. Sakena Yacoobi

 What you can do to help:

Donate to AIL https://www.afghaninstituteoflearning.org/

UK MP information line, simply tell them whom you wish to speak to or give address information to find out the name of your MP. 020 7219 4272

Email the White House https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

Email Number 10 Downing Street https://email.number10.gov,uk/

Request Peacekeepers https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/contact

International Committee of the Red Cross https://www.icrc.org,/en/contact

Friday 9 July 2021

“A Refugee is…” – The Refugee Dictionary


UK for UNHCR Trustee Mevan Babakar, who was a refugee from the Gulf war in the 1990s


What does the word “refugee” mean to you? 


For Maya Ghazal, a Syrian refugee and a pilot, “A refugee is a human being with hopes and dreams like everyone else. A refugee can be anyone, like a pilot flying your plane – a pilot like me!”


And for actor David Morrissey, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, ”A refugee is “a boy who had to give up his childhood to provide for his family.”


What is it for you? 

To mark the 70th anniversary of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, on 28 July, UK for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency’s UK charity, is asking Britons to help compile a dictionary that will define only one word – “refugee” – but in thousands of different personal, emotive and thought-provoking ways. 

 The (physical) dictionary with its 1000s definitions of the term “refugee” will be unveiled on 28 July, the day, 70 years ago, when the convention first legally defined the term ‘refugee’ in universal terms and outlined the rights and obligations of women, men and children fleeing the horrors of war and persecutions to seek safety in another country.

Since then, the word refugee has taken on countless personal meanings, so “The Refugee Dictionary” aims to remind us of the rich tapestry of stories and futures made possible because of this significant human rights convention - and celebrate and encourage the UK’s proud tradition of giving refuge by inviting the public to join in.


It is hoped the project will bring thousands of new meanings to the word and highlight that refugees aren’t confined or defined by one word, but are individuals with myriad rich stories, hopes and lives.


UK for UNHCR is encouraging everyone to take part, from those who have sought refuge in the UK or people whose family members were refugees, to those who simply want to celebrate the positive role of refugees in their communities and to the country.


You can enter your definition until July 12th here. 


Tuesday 16 February 2021

A Domestic Worker' Story - photo essay on love, loss, and displacement


Caroline’s daughter, Elodie with Juning’s second son, Roel, on the family farm in Bantayan Island/Credit: Caroline Irby

Award-winning photographer Caroline Irby grew up in London with Juning, a Filipina woman, who stayed with her family for 22 years, first in Hong Kong, then in London.  “I can’t say where Juning’s influence on my early years began and ended: she was in almost every part of my life.”  Caroline says that today no smell is more comforting than the smell of rice, which Juning loved to cook. And it is now her children’s staple.

But Juning had four children of her own living on her native Bantayan, a small island in the Philippines 7,000 miles away.  

It was only when Caroline became a mother herself that she grasped the price Juning and her children had to pay. “I can’t shake off a feeling of strangeness that their lives and mine carried on in parallel for all those years, mine with their mother, theirs without. We are all part of the same curious equation, and after decades of living in tandem but remotely, I wanted to try to understand how this all happened and what the effect on the people involved had been.”


Juning’s four children left behind
The result is Someone Else’s Mother”, a beautiful and sensitive photo essay, interweaving Caroline's own recollections of a childhood spent with Juning with conversations and photos with Juning and her four children – gleaned in London and over three visits to Bantayan.

I found the book particularly interesting and moving because, although it tells the very personal story of Caroline and Juning and their families, it also echoes parts of the stories of millions of nannies and their host families across the world.

Every day, just from the Philippines, 5,000 people leave their country in search of work abroad. For decades, this movement has been female dominated: more than 70% of Filipino emigrants are currently women.


When she became a mother, Caroline decided to look after her children herself as much as possible, aware that is a freedom of choice Juning couldn’t have.

Juning explained: “I was desperate to earn more money. My children were still young and I left them with my mother. It hurt me when I left them, but I had no choice: I had to work abroad for their education.”

And Roly, Juning’s oldest child, told Caroline when she visited Bantayan in 2018 with her own children:  “I was lonely. Everywhere I was looking for her care. You were lucky, Caroline: you had her care for so many years. I had no one to talk to when I had a problem.”

Juning achieved her goal of feeding and educating her family: three of them have university degrees. Between them, there is a farm, several other homes, nine children, two foster children, and the extended family is well supported. “Quietly, Juning has been a vessel for a huge amount of change.”

Yet, “Someone Else’s Mother” is a bittersweet story with no happy ending. The thoughtful texts and light-infused photography weave together a story of  attachment, loneliness and displacement, love and loss, memory, sadness and hope, guilt and inequality. It is also a story to try to understand.  

And nannies and domestic workers all over the world will recognize parts of that story.

The book, published by Schilt in 2020, can be ordered online and from bookstores (and here).

Juning’s grown up children with Caroline’s children on Batayan Island/Credit: Caroline Irby

Friday 29 January 2021

World's first graphic novel made by homeless people


Authors working on The Book of Homelessness/Courtesy of Accumulate

I love graphic novels and I love stories told by the people who are experiencing them, so this is my kind of book.

The Book of Homelessness, recently published in the UK, shares the life stories of people affected by homelessness through their own drawings, texts, poetry and photography. Their stories are personal, emotional, raw and honest. They talk about pain, abuse and dysfunction, about families, war, rejection and misplaced love, and  about overcoming difficulties and fighting and succeeding. 

By telling their own stories in the form they wanted to tell them, the authors hope to show the complexities of homelessness and what causes it – and perhaps help change perceptions around homelessness.

 The project is the brainchild of Marice Cumber, founder of youth homelessness charity Accumulate, which describes itself as “the art school of the homeless”.

The charity encourages young homeless people’s creativity through courses on fashion, photography, sculpture, graphic design and more. They also hold exhibitions and source funding to send really talented individuals to arts college. (So far, they’ve sent 20 to arts college).

Accumulate launched a crowdfunding initiative for the book two years ago, and creative workshops with the participants – who were all living in hostels, shelters or temporary accommodation – started last January.

Samantha Morton, herself previously homeless, has written an intro to the book entitled “How homelessness shaped my life”, and Colin Firth has said about it: "This is a remarkable collection in any context. The fact that these beautiful, personal works are the expressions of our neighbours who are homeless makes it untenable to ignore them ever again."

All profits from The Book of Homelessness are shared with its authors and Accumulate so it can continue to provide creative workshops for people who are homeless.

Please visit Accumulate to purchase a copy of the book (£25)