Showing posts from March, 2012

Unjust Eviction

"The neighbours think you are running a brothel. I would like you to leave within one month." 

So began my only personal experience of eviction.

It hardly affected me as I was leaving in a week to get married, but my 3 flatmates had to find alternative accommodation. We were astonished at the allegation. We were not prostitutes. We were not running a brothel. We all dressed modestly, were leading what most people would have regarded as 'good' lives and working in responsible professional jobs with no connections to the sex industry.

When Mr. T. told us he was worried by what the neighbours were saying we wondered how such a rumour could have started. Here is how we explained it. We were 4 young single women, each with a (not living-in) boyfriend/fiance. This meant there were 4 men visiting very frequently as well as other male friends or relations calling in from time to time. One of my flatmates was engaged to a musician who played in the orchestra of an opera house. H…

Freedom of Movement

A bit late in the day and no time to do much, but I'm determined to stick with a daily post in Lent following the Christian Aid 'Count Your Blessings's calendar.

Today the focus is on some of the effects of the conflict in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory which has continued to affect the most basic of Palestinian human rights, such as freedom of movement. I would love to write a lot about this, but time and energy don't permit this - another time perhaps. So maybe this photo of the West Bank barrier wall can speak for itself. I'm off to bed to nurse my cold.

Christian Aid suggests giving 20p if you have a passport and 10p for every trip out of Britain you have made in the last 12 months. I have a passport and have made one trip out of Britain in the last 12 months, so that's 30p. Doesn't seem much in gratitude for the freedoms I enjoy.

Image: West Bank Barrier: Wikimediacommons

War kills civilians

The nature of war has changed since the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 - one of the decisive battles of the English 'Wars of the Roses'. 

It's never just been soldiers who are killed in war, but over the last century increasingly more civilians are casualties. War kills and wounds far more civilians than soldiers and many of the civilian casualties are children.

According to Christian Aid's 'Count Your Blessings' Lent calendar 75% of those killed or wounded in war are civilians. By contrast in World War 1 only 5% were civilians.

Christian Aid suggests you give 10p for every country you know in conflict. I can immediately think of 10 countries, so that's £1.

Image: Battle of Tewkesbury from Ghent MS: WikiCommons

Unity, Freedom and Justice

Sierra Leone is one of the most fertile countries in West Africa, but also one of the poorest and hungriest after its brutal civil war that ended 10 years ago. It's motto is 'Unity, Freedom and Justice' - a noble aspiration, but much work still needed for that vision to become a reality for all.

This country will be the focus of Christian Aid Week 2012 (13 - 19 May).

The Methodist Church of Sierra Leone (MCSL) is one of Christian Aid's partners. Among other work aimed at tackling poverty MCSL has a project in the Bonthe region. This is part of a campaign to reform the chieftancy systems, working with local communities and chiefs to make the system more democratic and ensure marginalised people such as women and young men have a voice and are involved directly in development to improve lives. 

Today the Christian Aid 'Count Your Blessings' Lent calendar tells me that: Christian Aid partner MCSL works with Sierra Leonean chieftancy systems to resolve conflict. It su…

Displaced Persons

Forced migration as a result of conflict affects so many people in the world. There's nothing new about it of course. I suppose it has always been a fact of war. But that doesn't make the injustices and the suffering of it any easier for people to bear.

I remember that even 15 years after the end of World War II my school collected toiletries and other essentials to send to people still living in Displaced Persons Camps. This was as a result of the chaos caused by and following the war. It was the humanitarian disaster evident in Europe in May 1945 that led to the founding of Christian Aid, as well as other humanitarian relief organizations. Christian Aid continues to work with partner organisations around the world to help people affected by conflict.

People affected by conflicts around the world are displaced, on average, for 20 years, according to today's message from Christian Aid's 'Count Your Blessings' Calendar for Lent 2012. I have never become a displace…

Justice and Protection

The Rio Cuango is one of the richest sources of gem diamonds in Angola, a country where in spite of its rich natural resources including oil, most of the people are poor.

The focus of Christian Aid's 'Count Your Blessings' calendar this week is peace and reconciliation. Nowhere is that more needed than in places like Angola after decades of conflict and a civil war that killed and brutalised so many. Christian Aid's partner agencies there work on
pressurising the government to protect human rights and invest in essential infrastructure, HIV prevention and awarenessclimate change adaptation for secure livelihoodsYou can read more about this through the links on this page of Christian Aid's website

In the UK I have never faced feeling forced to bribe an official in order to get access to a service or something I need. In the last year one in three people in Angola faced such a demand. 

Christian Aid suggests today giving thanks for our government and police who act for o…

5th Sunday of Lent: Passion-tide Begins

"...unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."

John 12: 24 NRSV

Image: Wheat close-up: Wikimedia Commons


How many toilets to you have in your house? We have the luxury of 2, linked to mains water and sewage systems. It's a blessing I easily take for granted.

One of the Millennium Development Goals is to halve the proportion of people in the world living without basic sanitation by 2015. In 2010 there were still 2.6 billion people without safe sanitation facilities. Many organisations are working to change this.

Humphrey Oduor lives in the slum area of Kiambiu  in Nairobi, Kenya. Christian Aid's 'Count Your Blessings' Lent calendar for this weekend says this about him
"A decade ago, trapped in a cycle of violence and crime, Humphrey could not have imagined that he would be driving change within his community in Kenya. With help from Christian Aid partner Maji na Ufanisi, Humphrey learnt the skills needed to lead Kiambiu Youth Group and now runs one of the five water and sanitation blocks Maji built in Kiambiu."Christian Aid's partner Maji na Ufanisi (Water and D…

First Birthdays

A child's first birthday is a very special landmark. Perhaps this is especially so in situations where many children die in the first few weeks and months of life. Infant mortality is a key indicator of the health of a nation. It tends to be highest in the poorest countries.

In England and Wales the number of infant deaths has been steadily declining. The infant mortality rate in 2010 was 4.2 deaths per 1000 live births, which is about 1 in 250. In stark contrast, according to Christian Aid's 'Count Your Blessings' Lent calendar today 1 in 6 babies in Afghanistan do not live to see their first birthday.

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. Christian Aid has been working in Afghanistan for 3 decades under 4 different regimes. It works through Afghan partner organisations focusing on protecting rights in conflict, increasing food security and promoting the  rights of women. You can read more about this work here

Christian Aid suggests you give 1p for …

School-days lost because of water

When I was a schoolgirl I occasionally missed the odd day at school due to minor illness. It was not often and never because of a water related illness.

Around the world today children miss a total of 443 million days of school every year as a result of water related illnesses. In other words, because of a lack of clean water to drink. I have written posts on this topic before, for example 'Water'. 

In the 'Count your Blessings' Lent calendar today Christian Aid suggests giving 5p for every clean glass of water you have drunk today. Including water in tea and coffee I will probably drink at least 6, so that's 30p for Christian Aid. 

Image: Drinking Water: Wikimedia Commons

Measles kills children

I wasn't immunised against measles (rubeola) as a child. The vaccine wasn't available. Actually I received no immunisations of any sort in infancy. My mother refused them, influenced I think by the idiosyncratic health views of my maternal grandmother. I have had some done as an adult when I could make my own decisions. All our children received the various immunisation offered by the UK National Health Service, including the one for measles.

I've had measles twice, at 5 years and 22 years old. Both times I remember feeling really ill, but recovered well with no permanent health damage. The first time I realized how dangerous measles can be was when I met a boy whose severe and permanent disabilities had been caused by measles which led to encephalitis.

Measles is often also a killer disease particular in children whose health is already impaired by poor nutrition and unhealthy living conditions. It is highly contagious.

According to Christian Aid's 'Count Your Blessi…

So many children - so much grief

About 3 children die every minute as a result of diarrhoea. That's 4,100 every day.  That's about 1.5 million children each year. This is the fact highlighted on this 2nd day of a week for children in Christian Aid's Lent 'Count Your Blessings' calendar.

According to the World Health Organisation diarrhoea is the second leading cause of deaths in children under 5 years, accounting for 1 in 5 child deaths. The scandal is that most of these are preventable through clean water, sanitation, simple treatment measures etc. 

It has taken me about 15 minutes to prepare this post. In that time around the world about 45 children will have died of diarrhoea and many of those need not have died.

Christian Aid suggests you give £1 if you have not been ill in the past month. I haven't been ill, so that's another £1 in the kitty for Christian Aid. 

Image of clean water from PhotoRack


It's a week for children in Christian Aid's Count your Blessings Lent calendar, starting today with 'education'.

This photo from Wikimedia Commons shows secondary schoolgirls in Iraq.

Since the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, education has been recognised as a basic human right. Sadly, it remains only an aspiration for many of the world's children. For example, Christian Aid tells me today that only 10% of children in south Sudan finish primary school.

According to the Right to Education Project 69 million children in the world are still out of school. More than 700 million can't read.  The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child listed 32 categories of vulnerable children who are particularly likely to be excluded from education. As quoted here these are:
 "abandoned children; asylum seeking children; beggars; child labourers; child mothers; child prostitutes; children born out of wedlock; delinquent children; disabled children; displaced childre…

Mothering Sunday

God of compassion,
whose Son Jesus Christ, the child of Mary,
shared the life of a home in Nazareth,
and on the cross drew the whole human family to himself:
strengthen us in our daily living
that in joy and in sorrow
we may know the power of your presence
to bind together and to heal;
through Jesus Christ you Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.Collect for Mothering Sunday: Common Worship 

Image: Eurico Zimbres: Wikimedia Commons

Mothering and Domestic Violence

For Saturday and Sunday this weekend the Christian Aid 'Count Your Blessings' calendar focuses on mothers in need of refuge and protection from violence.

They cite the example of Pak, a 23 year old women in Cambodia. She lives in a women's refuge in Phnom Penh run by Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre (CWCC) a partner agency of Christian Aid. She sought help after her husband had beaten her unconscious. She is being helped to bring her case against her husband to court and hopefully will receive training to rebuild her life safely with her children.

You can read more about the work of Christian Aid in Cambodia here.

Christian Aid suggests today giving thanks for mothers throughout the world and the organisations that work to protect them. With Mothering Sunday tomorrow this seems a good thing to do.

Image source: Graham Cleghorn

Equality in Democracy

Equality, particularly gender equality, is the theme of Christian Aid's 'Count Your Blessings' Lent calendar this week. Today's focus is parliamentary representation. The UK has made a little progress in this area in the last century. 100 years ago there were no women in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords. The first woman in the House of Commons took her seat in 1919, but it was not till 1958 there was a woman in the House of Lords. 
We still have a long way to go in the UK. The percentage of women overall in the Westminster Houses of Parliament is less than 25%. This is lower than most of our Western European neighbours. The world-wide league table  as at 31 December 2011 produced by the Inter-Parliamentary Union has Rwanda in top place with  56.3% in the Lower House and 38.5% in the Upper House. A number of countries have no women in their lower or single house. Some of those with an upper house include some women in the upper house e.g. Yemen has 0% in…

Maternal Mortality

Yesterday our 6th grandchild was born in a well-equipped maternity hospital with skilled professional care. She and her mother are healthy and well. In Britain now it is rare for a mother to die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. According to Christian Aid's 'Count Your Blessings' Lent calendar the rate is about one death for every 8,000 children born.

I mentioned in Save Mothers to Save the World that I narrowly escaped being one of the 1 in 8,000. It was not always the case here. Maternal death rates used to be much higher. I've found several examples in researching my family tree. For example, my great grandfather John's first wife died a few days after giving birth to their first baby. They'd only been married 10 months.

In Somalia, for every 80 children born, one of their mothers will die from causes connected with the pregnancy. This is one of the highest rates in the world.

Christian Aid suggests giving 20p for every child you are related to, …

Could you cope without reading or writing?

I do not know how I would survive if I could not read or write. For me this is not only an absolute necessity for daily life and work but it is a recreation and a joy. 

I discovered reading early, crawling behind the sofa and pulling out the books in the bookcase. As far as I can remember reading came naturally to me, but then it was encouraged and taught by my parents and teachers. I enjoyed writing from a young age and even started writing my first (and only) novel when I was 8. Yes, I definitely count literacy as a great blessing.

The Christian Aid 'Count Your Blessings' calendar today tells me that two-thirds of the the world's 799 million illiterate adults are women. As an example, in Afghanistan only 43% of the men are literate, but a mere 13% of women. That is shocking and contributes to women's powerlessness.

Christian Aid works with partners like STARS to provide literacy courses for women as well as other provision to improve women's education and health in …

What would your ideal world look like?

The problem with having a vision for an ideal world is that it can seem so divorced from what we see now as to be completely unattainable. You might apply that to Christian Aid's picture given in the Count Your Blessings calendar of an ideal world in 2030: 
"free from poverty and the effects of  climate change".Do you, like me, find yourself thinking that the world has never been free from poverty or that climate change is happening and always has however people try to change it? Or that the problem is so big, how can anything 1 person or even 1 nation do to change things?

The problem with not having a shared vision of an ideal world is that nobody bothers to do anything about gross injustice or the threats to the health of our planet that we can do something about. Many of the poorest people in the world are already suffering from the effects of climate change such as rising sea levels, drought, extremes of weather. Christian Aid is not suggesting giving money today, but …

Save mothers to save the world

'If you save mothers, you save the world'. I'm not sure who said that, but they had it right. The focus this week of the Count Your Blessings Christian Aid calendar is 'equality' and specifically gender equality.  Today is about maternal health - or rather - maternal death.

When I was pregnant with our first child, I was young and healthy, with access to good quality maternity services. I never thought I could die during pregnancy, childbirth or post-partum. As it turned out, I nearly did. Immediately after the delivery my husband was warned that both I and our first-born son might not survive the night. We both lived and flourished. I am now awaiting the imminent birth of our 6th grandchild in a good maternity hospital. I expect both mother and baby to live, but am aware that things can go wrong. 

In the UK the maternal mortality ratio in 2008 was 8.2 per 100,000 births according to a study in the Lancet reported here. The UK figures have hardly changed at all since…

Sunday evening pictures and music

This meditation is based on Psalm 19: 1-6.
The video clips are from the BBC Planet Earth series and the backing track is 'Pilote' by 'Turtle'.
The words of Psalm 19: 1-6 fit the images and music if read slowly, starting when the drums enter.
The words are: "The heavens declare the glory of God,and the firmament shows his handiwork.One day tells its tale to another,and one night imparts knowledge to another.Although they have no words or languageand their voices are not heard.Their sound has gone out into all lands,and their message to the ends of the world.In the deep he has set a pavilion for the sun;it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;it rejoices like a champion to run its course.It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavensand runs about to the end of it again;nothing is hidden from its burning heat."

Ducks pay for schooling

The village where I live used to be wetter than today. It still has village ponds, like the one in this photo, but fewer than before. Areas that used to be water-logged or flood are drier due to improved drainage.

Availability of communal ponds encouraged cottagers of past times to rear ducks to supplement their incomes as poorly-paid agricultural labourers. The ducks would spend their days on a pond and walk home to their owners to be shut up at night. The ducks are still thriving but most of the cottages of the poor are now 'gentrified'. You need more than back-yard duck-rearing to pay for them.

People in water-logged areas of Bangladesh find duck-rearing useful in trying to make a living wage. In Bangladesh today are areas where rivers and groundwater have become salty as a result of climate change. Sea levels are rising, so fresh water near the coast is being salinated. This is making farming by traditional methods harder. One alternative being introduced by CCDB is duck-rea…

Strengthened to Serve: Simon Peter’s mother-in-law

“Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” The other 2 synoptic gospels tell more or less the same story, in Matthew 8: 14-15 and Luke 4: 38-39. They don’t name her either. But the gospel writers’ purpose wasn’t to tell about Simon’s wife’s mother. It was to tell the good news of Jesus. The good news for that ‘mother-in-law’ was that when Jesus came, he took her by the hand and lifted her up. Her fever went and she began to serve Jesus and his friends. Do you feel indignant that this woman, who, a moment ago was confined to bed with a high fever, is the next apparently waiting on healthy men so they can enjoy their sabbath rest? Did her son-in-law and the other young men heave a sigh of relief that there would be dinner on the table? Did they enjoy stimulating conversation with Jesus while she bustled about with pots and pans? But Jesu…

What does 9 tonnes of CO2 look like?

I had absolutely no idea what 9 tonnes of carbon dioxide looks like, until I looked at this representation of only one tonne in Copenhagen

According to the Count Your Blessings Lent calendar from Christian Aid: 9 tonnes is the amount of carbon dioxide generated in Britain by each person per year.

So imagine this giant balloon times nine.

Or imagine a 27 metre square cube times 9.

Here's a 27 metre square cube in a multimedia  art installation in Copenhagen.

In Nicaragua each person generates 0.8 tonnes. This central American country is feeling very keenly the effects of climate change, less predictability of weather patterns and greater extremes. You can read about this on this page from Oxfam.

Christian Aid suggests today that you give 50p for every flight you have taken in the last 12 months. I've taken 2 (short-haul) flights, so that's £1. 

A trillion plastic bags a year

In a week where the focus is caring for the environment, Christian Aid's Count Your Blessings Lent calendar highlights plastic bag use and suggests you give 50p if you have accepted a plastic bag in a shop this week.

I was about to say I haven't. I use jute bags or heavy-weight reuseable plastic bags. Then I remembered the several single-use plastic bags I'd used for fruit and vegetables in the supermarket. So my total today should probably be £2.50. 

According to Green England a trillion plastic bags each year are used world-wide of which the UK uses 10 billion. Most are only used once and some take as much as 1,000 years to degrade into a plastic dust which can continue to contaminate. Plastic bag litter has a devastating effect on wild-life.

It does seem this is a complex issue. If re-cycling is done responsibly, it's not a simple matter of plastic bags = bad, paper and fabric bags = good. For example paper and cotton bags use more energy resources in production than a…

What things couldn't you live without?

What items couldn't you live without? That's the challenge from the #cyblessings calendar today, presented in the context of preparing for and responding to natural disasters.

Christian Aid works with partners in areas prone to natural disasters, not just to meet emergency needs but to engage in long-term planning for disaster risk reduction. The Humanitarian Practice Network has an interesting article about Christian Aid and Disaster Risk Reduction. It's dated 2007 but I think the points it makes are still relevant.

Suppose you lost your possessions in a hurricane or tsunami?
What things would you miss most? I don't count people as 'things' - loss of people would be the greatest loss. The question today is about what things you couldn't live without. Christian Aid suggests giving 10p for every one of those items. Trying to make a list has confronted me with how many things I have that I might miss greatly but actually could live without. The question goes bac…

No poverty in an ideal world

What would your ideal world look like?

Fast forward to say the year 2030. What global changes would you like to see by then?

Today I learn from Christian Aid's  'Count Your Blessings' Lent calendar that
"Christian Aid's ideal world in 2030 would be one free from poverty and the effects of climate change."Christian Aid has a manifesto for change in relation to poverty. it highlights 8 of the global issues that underpin poverty. These are:

climate changeconflictcorruptiondisasterfood and agriculturehealthinequalitytax
Christian Aid suggests today that you should
"pray for those who are currently living with the effects of climate change."One of the effects of prayer is to change the attitude and behaviour of the person praying. I do believe that prayer changes things, but sometimes God asks us to be the answer to our prayers. Now what might that mean as we pray for a world free of poverty?

The countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are in…

Climate and Natural Disasters

Sustainability and caring for creation is the theme for this 3rd week of Christian Aid's Count Your Blessings Lent calendar.

The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 70% of natural disasters affecting the world today are climate related. This compares with 50% only two decades ago.

This is what OCHA has to say about the humanitarian impact of climate change.

"Climate change is not just a distant future threat. It is the main driver behind rising humanitarian needs and we are seeing its impact. The number of people affected and the damages inflicted by extreme weather has been unprecedented.People who are particularly vulnerable include those whose lives are already threatened by abject poverty, HIV/AIDS, environmental degradation, inadequate housing and insecurity. Those living in disaster hot spots – such as flood plains or cyclone tracks - are exposed to repeated climatic shocks that compound their vulnerability. With the th…

Where 2 or 3...a Lenten Meditation


Raspberries and adapting to climate change

For Northern hemisphere readers here's a foretaste of summer with these succulent raspberries - one of my favourite fruits. Enjoy!
This is another day of 'Count Your Blessings' with Christian Aid's Lent calendar 2012 - and the end of a week about change. Providing tools for people to create their own change is key to Christian Aid's work. Working in 47 countries it uses more than 500 partner organisations to empower local people to effect positive change in response to local needs.
For example: Christian Aid has 10 partner organizations in Tajikstan. With the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago and a 5 year civil war this country has faced increasing poverty. This is as a result of a deteriorating infrastructure, decline in state-supported services and high unemployment. Food production is threatened due to climate change with more unpredictable weather and rising temperatures. Of a population of 7 million about 2 million have left to find work in Russia and ot…

Sun, sea and poverty

I've just driven back through cold thick mist from an early morning medical appointment for my husband. It made me long to see the sun and have a bit of warmth again.

Some people in the UK seek sun and warmth on their holidays - the Caribbean being a popular destination for those who can afford to travel that far to escape the British winter. Consequently many people associate countries like Jamaica with sun, sea and beach rather than a place where, as well as wealth, there are areas of deep need, such as in the slum areas of Kingston.

Christian Aid partner S-corner has been engaged in community work in Bennetland, Kingston, Jamaica for the last 18 years. This is an inner-city area known for poverty and gun crime. S-Corner is named after the shape of the cross-roads where its clinic and community centre are located. One example of its work is providing elderly residents like Frederick with a hot meal

The Count Your Blessings Lent calendar informs me today that £1.45 will pay for on…

Parking Fines and Doctors

I was annoyed yesterday. On returning to our car in a hospital car park after visiting a sick friend we saw the unwelcome yellow package stuck to the windscreen. It contained notice of an automatic fine, for parking in the wrong place. I should not have been annoyed. I chose to park there, in the hopes of "getting away with it." I didn't and shouldn't have. 

What I should have been doing was to be grateful for medical services, free at the point of need, that were successfully providing the expert medical intervention our friend needed. There is a lot wrong with the UK's National Health Service. I don't believe the changes proposed in the government's Health and Social Care Bill 2011 will make things better. But - the availability of medical care here is still a blessing that some people in the world can only dream about.

The focus today in Christian Aid's 'Count Your Blessings' Lent calendar is Burundi. After years of conflict this African coun…