Rain is Beautiful: one refugee’s journey


Catch a glimpse of this stunning, touching and insightful documentary by Nick Francis (speak-it.org) & Marc Silver (marcsilver.net). The film features Omar, a Somali refugee who fled the war in Libya last year to live in a camp on the country’s border with Tunisia.

This episode of his story, Rain is Beautiful, begins with emotional farewells at the camp as Omar leaves his friends behind to begin a new life in Sandviken in northern Sweden. He is met at Stockholm airport by the Swedish migration board, visits a doctor, gets his ‘right to remain’ signed and learns what margarine is.

Understanding GBV in Grenada

It’s interesting to observe how, when your mind is fixed on a certain theme you seem to see it everywhere. I’m sure there’s some sociological or psychological term for it but I never paid that much attention in my social science classes until it got to the final year when I specialized in film and television studies.

Anyway, that preamble is slightly by the by. Half way through my masters in violence, conflict and development (VCD)  my fellow students and I often joke that we’re in a VCD paradigm. Yet two weeks into my stay in Grenada, the island my parents hail from and which is generally remarked upon for its peacefulness I was astounded to hear of numerous “choppings” (hands being cut off with a machete during disputes).

When by the third week three women had been murdered in the space of eight days in so-called “crimes of passion” it became apparent that the violence the island was witnessing was beyond a chance happening (the previous year the murder rate was 11.5, what the .5 accounts for I’m not quite sure).

Yes, there is rising unemployment that would give weight to the arguments put forward by the likes of RB Freeman (I’m not a fan) but surely that can’t be the full picture? As the intro to my lecture on Unemployment, Labour Markets and Violence suggests: “Arguments that unemployment is a cause of violence and of large-scale armed conflict are common. Evidence that this is so is less clear.”

When talking to an local member of parliament and a senior media professional on the island about the spate of killings they were keen to file the issue away as an abnormality, in fact even the Prime Minister has labelled the killings as “un-Grenadian”. But there is a danger that in failing to assess the root causes of these crimes the opportunity to prevent other families from experiencing such a horrific loss. Which is why I was so pleased, just a few days later to see an advert placed by the Department for Social Development calling for a consultant to carry out research in the factors that may shape understanding of GBV on the island:

The Consultant will plan and conduct a baseline assessment that measures public knowledge of rights and responsibilities about gender-based violence and cultural beliefs, myths and practices that support gender-based violence. The findings of Baseline Study would be used to provide direction and insight into the way in which public sensitization campaigns should be tailored, measure the impact of the project following the implementation of all project activities and assess progress made towards the prevention and eradication of gender based violence in Grenada.

Source: Gov.gd

No prizes for correctly guessing that I’ve applied for the job but whether or not I get it is not really the point. This is a very valid piece of research that has the potential to provide a wealth of much need information. I look forward to reading it as it will add much to our limited understanding of this all-too prevalent form of violence in the Grenadian context. Let’s just hope that the NDC government lasts long enough for the project to be completed!

New blog – Marketing NGOs

Getting ready start posting again after a hiatus due to exams, work and a month in Grenada (pictures and posts to follow). I’ve had to siphon off some content that I would normally have posted here onto a new blog – Marketing NGOs. I’m not quite happy with the name (nor the header image) but it’s search friendly so guess it’ll have to do until something better springs into my mind. If you’re interested here’s what it’s about:

This blog is about helping small NGOs to bridge the information divide. Through news, trends, comment and interviews Marketing NGOs aims to show small and start-up organisations how they can “make big promises; overdeliver” (thank you Seth Godin for that one).

It’s aimed at all those organisations out there who are forging social change, changing lives and delivering results but who just don’t have the time, resources or know-how to let the wider world know just what a great job they’re doing.

The goal of this site is to provide you with the inspiration, knowledge and confidence to use marketing and communications to shout a little bit louder and bring even more support to your cause.

About me? After more than a decade in media working for publications including The Guardian, The New Statesman, New Internationalist, and Rolling Stone (Italy) I left to launch a non-profit organisation. This site is a synthesis of my experience in media, as a director of a small organisation that needed to make its presence felt and it’s underpinned by the insight into the international development industry gained while studying for my MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development.

Disastrous humanitarianism in Sudan


A brilliant piece of journalism by Channel 4 New’s Jonathan Miller on the absurdity of the humanitarian aid system. The report details how, on the eve of its first anniversary South Sudan was struggling to cope with a refugee crisis that experienced aid workers were saying was the worst they have ever seen.

Broadcast on 5 July the piece revealed how  UNHCR – which is in charge of the reflief operation – was widely accused of failing to act fast enough to provide the refugees with safe sanctuary.

The refugee camps sit on a flood plain between two rivers fed by rainfall in the highlands of Ethiopia. It was known that the area floods every year and the UN has been fiercely criticised for failing to address the abject conditions facing the swelling numbers of displaced.

When television news makes me want to shout and cry at the same time I know it’s doing its public service job well

The call to strike hunger at its roots

“Someday there will be no excuse for looking back and saying why didn’t we do more, more quickly,” warned UNICEF’s director Anthony Lake as he addressed journalists in Geneva last month.

Fresh back from Chad where he witnessed children dying of malnutrition, Lake was joined by the heads of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNHCR in April for a rare inter-agency public statement on the humanitarian crisis facing parts of West Africa.

Their key call was for an end to the “global indifference” plaguing the Sahel region and they urged the international community to take action to prevent the looming catastrophe while there was still a window of opportunity.

Drought, high food prices and chronic poverty have combined with displacement caused by the Malian uprising to create a potential perfect storm in the Sahel. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned that more than 16 million people directly at risk of food insecurity and malnutrition this year.

Yet unlike tsunami or earthquakes, droughts and food price increases take time to develop, and the resulting hunger crises are forecast well in advance. As early as last December the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) launched a strategy to better respond to the risk of a new food and nutritional crisis in the region. By January the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) indicated that famine was imminent in parts of Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.

Despite this, more than three and a half months after the UN issued an appeal for $724m to fund a humanitarian response but less than half the amount has been funded.  The politics of international assistance is partly to blame. In an era of austerity medium- and long-term planning is often the first thing to be cut from an aid budget. But many agencies and NGOs have been openly critical that this has been a largely off-camera crisis.

However Charlie Beckett, director at the London School of Economics’ forum for research and debate on international journalism was less convinced that the media is the guilty culprit in this story. The former Channel 4 News programme editor said: “’It might be unrealistic to expect mainstream news to put something that hasn’t happened yet at the top of a bulletin or on the front page, especially when there are so many real stories happening right now.”

The challenge of responding to multiple crises in a single-issue world is one that the UNHCR High Commissioner, António Gutteres acknowledged during the Geneva press briefing. Yet he insisted that while fighting in Syria had pushed other pertinent issues off the international news agenda there remained a responsibility to act in a manner that not only addressed the short-term symptoms but attempted to solve the underlying issues causing food insecurity.

Like trying to clear a garden of weeds by simply pulling out the leaves, trying to address food insecurity by dealing only with its symptoms is destined to fail to meet the affected community’s long-term needs. The common factor in these crises which emerges time and again is a form of poverty that is shaped by multiple, interacting causes.

This complex reality sits uneasily alongside the “flies in their eyes” type of fundraising that many NGOs report has become increasingly prevalent as Western economies worsen. Organisations who understand this are taking steps to break down the barriers between relief, recovery and development by incorporating disaster risk reduction into their brief.

Preventative programs are not only cheaper to run than costly and often inefficient food aid operations but they are also more sustainable as they harness and develop the skills and knowledge of local residents.

One such charity that has shown how mitigation and preparedness can help create a more sustainable form of development is Practical Action. Ditching the conventions of relying on relief measures, the Rugby-based NGO works with local communities across the developing world to enable them to prepare for, cope with and adapt to future hazards by building stronger livelihoods, disaster risk management and increasing food security.

Such an approach does create fundraising challenges as the charity readily admits. “An emotional response is always the best way to prompt giving – people give to people. But we won’t over-dramatize or provide just one very emotional part of the story,” said spokeswoman Abbie Upton.

Much of the charity’s fundraising is sought via niche publications like the Ecologist and Church Times as opposed to mainstream media, thus allowing them to reach an audience that is more likely to respond to thoughtful propositions or through direct presentations.

Such donations have enabled Practical Action to launch a Drought Preparedness Project in Namoroputh on the Ethiopian border. This life-changing venture for some of the most vulnerable families in the world has brought an oasis of green garden vegetables to an otherwise dry and arid neighbourhood.

Large green leaves of kales, cow peas, sorghum, beans and a pumpkin plant jostle for space in the 10m x 5m piece of land that has become a precious treasure that is a testament to how a small water project can impact on the lives of many people.

“After Practical Action set up the water supply system in the village, I couldn’t resist the urge to be the pioneer of vegetable farming,” said Martha Emase, the owner of the first kitchen garden in Namoroputh location. “It’s beyond my imagination how in less than fifteen months my community and I have moved from accounting for every drop of water to channelling waste water to our small plots.”

The truth is that droughts cannot be stopped and the potential crises cannot be solved by humanitarian interventions alone. As a FAO report published earlier this year stated: “The real challenge is to break the recurrent cycles of food and nutritional crises that continue to weaken communities’ resilience.” The increasing trend towards projects such as those run by Practical Action which take a longer-term approach to development and work with local communities offer a ray of hope in preventing the famine next time.

Global Innovations for Digital Organizing

Global Innovations for Digital Organizing: Open Data, Good Governance, and Online/Offline Advocacy | TechChange | The Institute for Technology and Social Change.

It’s not like I don’t have enough to do at the moment, but this course looks really interedting. I’ve long admired the work that Tech Change do and reckon it could provide useful learning for my thesis next year.

A closing window: looming food crises in the Sahel

Press conferences can be dull at the best of times. The prospect of sitting through a 40 minutes audio recording of the heads of UNICEF, WHO and UNHCR didn’t exactly fill me with glee but as I’m in the middle of researching my entry to the Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition I thought it was worth a shot.

The reality is that this recording makes for compelling listening. Anthony Lake (Executive Director, UNICEF)Margaret Chan (Director-General, WHO) and António Guterres (High Commissioner, UNHCR) talk honestly, openly and with surprising passion about the need of the international community to take action on the coming crisis which still has scope for the potential damage to be limited if action is taken now.

Gutteres makes a key point that we live in a one-issue world. While Syria has pushed other pertinent issues of the international news agenda there remains a responsibility to act in a manner that not only addresses the short term symptoms but attempts to solve the underlying issues causing food insecurity