Saturday, October 24, 2009

(Butt) Out of Africa

Sometimes we feel guilty even thinking such thoughts: People in Africa are starving from famine. But giving them food and money alone is not going to help them.

Why is it that knowing that famines will occur they do nothing about it?

Why is it that governance and infrastructure remain so bad in so many countries on that continent that the people cannot help themselves?

Why are women still treated as bearers of children and objects for sex?

Why don't they start educating their people and women especially in order that they could reduce their population issues?

How is it that for countries which are supposed to be so poor they cannot feed themselves every time there is drought, leading to famine, leading to displacement, leading to atrocities, etc, etc. that the governments (or some sort of ruling elite) have money to go to war? That their wives and children can afford the best clothes and shop in the most expensive stores in London, Paris, etc?

I have written about women, education, etc elsewhere (click on links for an example). I was surprised to find this article in the Times yesterday:

Do starving Africans a favour. Don’t feed them

It encapsulates what I had been thinking for some time but did not have the courage to say in print.

Throwing food and money at Africa will never solve the long-standing problems they have. The UK welfare system demonstrates well how feeding, clothing and housing the feckless alone won't make them aspire to do any better.

Where Africa is concerned, where loyalties are so marked by tribal boundaries, the solutionS are not simple. But just giving them lots and lots of money -- which get stolen by those in power -- does not help.

Charities and NGOs are well-meaning, but they are in danger too of engendering a culture of dependency. Why work so hard to harvest those few crops when foreign aid would feed us? What would these NGO and charity workers do when there are no known crises?

Charities and NGOs should have only one over-arching aim: to work themselves out of a job.

That means the agenda is not to jump on a plane and go to a site of crisis or give TV interviews to encourage people to give.

It means finding out the long and tedious way how an individual, a family, a village, a community can be helped. Giving micro-loans (not hand-outs) to train, learn a skill, start a business, husband the land, that would have more long-term positive impact than giving money.

The wonderful thing is there ARE people already doing this. I have trading links with two:

Bishopston Trading has done much in KV Kuppam, training men and women to retain and learn skills, helping them make a viable living. They have also started a school which will make a huge difference in years to come.

Tabitha have worked in Cambodia by turning their traditional skills into profit-making endeavours and returning these profits to the people so that many more could benefit from the training, micro-loans, house-building and well-digging projects.

No, we must not completely butt out of Africa, but let us be wise as to how these people can be served. History has shown that the likes of BandAid is nothing more than that: a sticky plaster.

We need people who are willing to do the hard grind. Create and design projects that really make a difference.

We need trade agreements that would support these countries, not penalize them.

We need corruption to be dealt with, and the sickness removed from its core.

And if we should look around us, we probably already know someone who knows someone who is actually at the coalface, doing this work day in and day out outside the focus of TV networks. Write out a cheque to support their work.

14/03/2010: Half of all food sent to Somalia is stolen, says UN report

Even Band Aid is not above criticism

Bob Geldof: My rage at this World Service calumny

Suzanne Franks: You can't take the politics out of humanitarian aid

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Granny Smith loves her Postie (part 2)

What a relief I saw my postie this morning! It's the same guy.

Last week I had the privilege of receiving a proper letter. Not a bill, not a statement, not a flyer to the "Office Products Buyer" with an offer, but a letter.

It's from a women's charity helping women suffering domestic violence. It was asking for a donation for a November fund-raising event.

Since I had also been very much involved with the local women's centre I really wanted to do my part. I decided to send on two new sets of Hemp Table Napkins embroidered with my original designs for their raffle.

When I say 'original' I mean I use either my own or a non-copyrighted idea/concept and then digitize it using my embroidery software, going into the tiny details of the stitchwork to get the 'picture' right. This usually involves hours and hours of painstaking and finger-squeezing mouse-work.

The two sets of colour-co-ordinated Christmas theme Table Napkins are as follows:

(Unfortunately my photography skills are not great.)

I sent these off yesterday by Recorded Delivery (First Class) with the hope that it would get to its destination before the postal strike begins. "First Class" means it should, normally, get there the next day.

Guess what? The last time I checked, the parcel had not arrived. (In fact another parcel I posted First Class by Recorded Delivery last Friday has not arrived either.)

Which means it would be caught in the backlog of the strike action. Not a happy bunny.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

This Granny Smith loves her postie but ....

Earlier this year I found myself running to catch up with my postie to give him some Divine Easter Eggs, the dark chocolate ones. He accepted those with a great smile on his face.

Then I realized that that was the second time I'd given him Easter eggs. I've had the same postie for TWO years. That is quite a record around here.

Every time I get used to one face he/she goes on another walk.

The impending postal strike is very frustrating. Last week someone from Business Link rang to find out how my business was doing.

Well, apart from the fact that:
  • they closed the sub-post office which means I have to drive to the next nearest post office, thus having to limit my despatch to twice a week
  • the unabated rise of postage costs without a corresponding rise in customer service
  • I could weigh and buy the correct postage online and stick it on my parcels but I still have to queue to get proof of posting just in case my parcels get lost*
  • Royal Mail losing my orders and sending me at least five letters with a ludicrous list of excuses (you haven't done this, you haven't done that -- when I had) before they would agree to pay me compensation, and not paying the cost of replacing the lost goods which has gone up 20% in price
  • the economic downturn
  • the sterling exchange rate going against me
  • my suppliers putting their prices up 20%
  • swine flu and the government telling people not to use handkerchiefs
  • and intermittent, random, unannounced regional postal strikes
I am doing alright. Am I? The business suffered a 50% drop in sales in one month and is just picking up again, and then this strike.

Every time I get news of a strike I run out to talk to my postie: you're not going on strike, are you?

No, he says, it's central London post offices.

I haven't seen him for weeks now. Where has he gone?

I have been going: where do I go to demonstrate against these useless striking postal workers?

Then by chance, thanks to Twitter, I read this written by a postal worker.

He/She details how Royal Mail has been piling more and more work on them; that the 10% drop in the volume of mail is not reflected in their actual workload; that there is a disparity between the ethos of the traditional postal worker and that of management; that there is clearly a lack of skill in their negotiation of contracts such that the postal worker on the walks have to bear the brunt while the likes of A. Crozier gets the bonus.

(NB: I've been there before as a junior rank management consultant when the partners promised the clients the heaven and worked us like hell.)

What I like most is the statement that "[T]here’s a feeling that we are being provoked, and that this isn’t coming from the managers in our office – who aren’t all that bright, and who don’t have all that much powerbut from somewhere higher up". (Emphasis is mine.)

Why on earth, for example, are postal workers not allowed to leave their sorting offices before 8am (or is it 9am?) in our local sorting office? My mail does not get delivered till after 12 noon these days.

So if this write-up is true then the problem, as I have suspected for some time, reading between the lines of what the different parties are saying in the media, and from my own (ill-)treatment by the Royal Mail, it is the management (middle? senior?) that needs our attention.

Time to send in the corporate anthropologist.

There is something very wrong with the set-up. There is a lot left unsaid or "unsayable" (is there such a word? If not, I just made it up. It is different from "unspeakable".) People are not seeing the whole picture, or are simply refusing to do so.

The result of these strikes is everyone: the Granny Smiths, home-based self-employed folk like myself, the postal workers and the Royal Mail as a business, suffer.

Send in the social anthropologists, I say. They will lurk, observe, participate and breathe in the same air. They will smell the antagonism and ask the relevant questions. They will be able to delineate where the invisible (sub)cultural boundaries are. And they will be able to suss out the issues. They have the knack of seeing just below the surface, in a holistic manner.

Trust me. I am a social anthropologist.

We may not have the solutions, but we can ascertain the real issues. Maybe (maybe not?) beginning with Adam Crozier's pay packet.

*Today I saw that they have installed two new machines at a post office where I could weigh, buy the correct postage for a parcel, get a receipt for the postage (paying by cash or card), and drop it into a special box. (Previously at this post office you have to queue just to get someone to open the hatch to drop off a parcel.) But I would still need to queue up just to get a proof of posting. Why can't they design a machine that could issue a proof of posting as well? How stupid is that?

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Back Out

I was just trying to sit down and it went.

Went where? What went?

Gone walkabout. My back.

I heard a sound that resembled something being crunched, "crrrck," and I could not stand up.

Then the memory was only of pain.

I must not fall down, I must not fall down, I said to myself.

If I fell here and lose consciousness, no one would find me for another, hmm, ten hours.

Managed to get to the computer to send a couple of messages, then thought that lying down would help.

It helped only insofar as Radio Four sent me to sleep and I forgot the pain for a while.

Then I managed to have a phone conversation with husband.

Until that point my fear was how do I get my son home from school? Do I call the school and ask them to ask another parent to send him home?

Do I request a staff member to make sure he got across the road safely?

Then what happens when he gets home? Could I get to the door to open it?

What a relief it was that husband said he would come home to pick the son up. Meanwhile I was told to get a doctor's appointment.

By this time I was in tears and when the GP's receptionist spoke to me she knew I had to be seen to, "It's either I saw the doctor or the doctor would have to make a house call."

"Could you drive?"

Too much pain, no.

"Could you get a taxi?"

A taxi? Ah! Good idea. So managed to get to the GP in a taxi.

Forgot to request for a vehicle that has a high seat because I just could not get down to there.

Driver saw that I was in pain and offered me a seat at the front of his MPV. Ouch, ouch, ouch! Took me ages to get into the car.

And then when we got to the GP it took me ages to get out. En route the driver was telling me what drug I should take.

How do you know these things? I asked.

It turned out he used to be a pharmacist!!

While doing my electronic check-in I dropped my walking stick. A much older lady bent over to pick it up for me. Cool! Not. Truth is there was no way I could bend over to retrieve the stick.

Doctor decided I had pulled a muscle. Medication needed to help me get past the pain barrier. The last thing I must do -- it seemed -- was to lie down and do nothing.

I must keep doing things, the normal day-to-day things, pain or no pain.

A week later I am about 90% back to healthy life. There is still an occasional spasm, but no where close to the agony I was in.

People comment on my 'funky stick'. Bought it in Devon some time ago. Thought it looked nice and it came in useful when the snow was ground into ice. And now I use it to give me some confidence when the spasms come and I feel like toppling.

Husband has been doing a lot of what I normally do. And then complained that he was also getting a backache. Proof: mothering is back-breaking work. QED. Quite Enough Said.

Office workers and professionals carry piles of papers and files, etc, about. Mothers are always bending over: load the washing machine, unload the washing machine, lift a basket of wet laundry, carry the wet laundry to the line, hang up the wet washing, stretching and bending with each sock, shirt and whatever else, retrieve the dry washing, carry the dry washing somewhere else, fold the dry washing, carry a full basket of clean clothes to the various rooms, return the clean clothes to their respective receptacles, in low drawers and high shelves. And then start on another load of washing.

Load the dishwasher, bending over for each item of crockery or cutlery, put in the washing tablet, unload the dishwasher (but I am lazy housewife and tries not to do this), return crockery to cupboard in a kitchen built for Europeans, not tiny Singaporean Chinese. Stretch, get on my toes.

I suffered RSI when working in an office, (and still do as I also do a lot of work at the computer at home) but not backache to the extent that I had been suffering since I became Mum.

Those of you who have never shown appreciation to the person who does these back-breaking chores in your household, please do so. And please help out whenever possible.


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