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March 28, 2014

Take up something this Lent!

Lent is not only a time to give something up.  It is an opportunity to take up active citizenship, to kick start the changes we need and have a positive impact on our environment and society.
 
Check out Trócaire's new one-stop-shop activist toolkit with great tips, ideas and information for campaigners, volunteers, cyber-activists, schools and church groups.  
 
 
This Lent, the Trócaire team has been meeting people around the country who are bringing about change in their local school, university, parish, or community.  
 
Our Water Project Officer from Malawi, Chitsanzo Kamawatima, visited Ireland recently to bring this year’s Lent story to Irish audiences. 
 
trocaire lent campaigners malawi
Top left: Mary Friel (Trócaire), Canon Brown, Chitsanzo Kamawatima, Fergus Lambe (volunteer), Grainne Neeson, Orla Neeson at Newry Cathedral 
Top right: Orla Quinn and Chitsanzo Kamawatima with students and staff from University College Dublin’s Volunteers Overseas programme 
Bottom left: Eamonn Neeson,Coordinator of Mourne volunteer group with Chitsanzo Kamawatima
Bottom right: Trócaire volunteer Kizito Mutahi in Dublin Co-op with people signing the petition
 
He shared information about the impact of water scarcity on communities in Malawi and what we could be doing locally and globally to address the harmful effects of climate change, which is devastating lives and livelihoods his country. 
 
Chitsanzo’s message had a strong impact on BA and MA students in University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin, Mary Immaculate College Limerick, NUI Galway, Dundalk Institute of Technology, University of Ulster and Water Engineering students at Queen’s University in Belfast. He also spoke to parishes in Ballyfermot, Dublin, Newry, Limerick and the Dominican Grammar School in Portstewart.  
 
Trócaire volunteers around the country are mobilising people to take action. They are asking the Irish government to tackle the climate change crisis and encourage the public to live more sustainably.  
 
Collective action is a powerful force to bring about change. Use our activist toolkit to become the change-maker in your community so that collectively, we can tackle the global water crisis. 
 

Get involved

 
 
 
Many thanks to all the wonderful people who facilitated our visits around the country: Jane Mellot, Noirin Lynch, Zoe Liston, Ang De Marco (and Julia Shroer), Maurice Harmon, Kathy Reilly, and Ann Cleary. In particular a special thanks to Eamonn Neeson the Trócaire volunteer co-ordinator in the Mourne region who hosted Chitsanzo in Newry and organised an action packed morning speaking to crowds at Newry Cathedral.  
 

March 14, 2014

Volunteer report: Trócaire’s vital water projects in Ethiopia

by Rebecca Smyth, Trócaire Volunteer
 
In February 2014, Rebecca Smyth travelled to Ethiopia to visit Trócaire projects in the remote southern region of Boranaland. Here she shares her experiences.
 
Travelling to Ethiopia with Trócaire brought it home to me that small changes make a big difference and can transform lives for the better, as well as just how similar we human beings are around the world! This was so evident when I visited a water project funded by Trócaire. 
 
We travelled for four hours (of which two hours were off road) through the beautiful, red earthed and dusty landscape of Boranaland in the Southern most part of Ethiopia to visit the remote, rural community of Webb. 
 
Travelling to Webb I was very aware of how hostile the landscape and climate is in this region. With the area gripped by drought as recently as 2011 it reinforced just how vital Trócaire’s work really is here.
 
When we arrived in Webb the first thing we saw was the Ella, or ‘singing well’ which is traditional in this region. 
 
singing well ethiopia
Visiting the singing well in Webb, February 2014
 
The Ellas are deep, deep holes in the ground. Before the well was restored, it required a human chain of about thirty people on a rickety rope ladder to draw up water who sing in order to keep in rhythm (hence ‘singing wells’).  
 
This system was both inefficient and dangerous: it is time-consuming, it is laborious, and I heard tragic accounts from some of the women in Webb on members of the community who lost their lives falling from the ladder.  
 
With the help of Trócaire’s partner organisation, SOS Sahel, the local people made the well safer and more accessible. We could see with our own eyes how life has been transformed for the community.  
 
Now, rather than a precarious human chain of thirty or so people, there is a gentle slope down to an open space with troughs for the animals (cattle, goats, donkeys and camels) and separate reservoirs for the people.  
 
Only six men are needed to bring water up from the well to fill the troughs and reservoirs.  There is now less animal-human cross-contamination since the water sources are separated which has cut massively the rates of water-related diseases.
 
What also struck me is that water is time. By having a safe water supply, the people (mostly women and children) have been given their time back. 
 
trocaire water programme ethiopia
Teresa Hill (left), Barso Djirmo, the Abba Herega or 'Father of the well' (centre), and Rebecca Smyth (right)
 
They do not need to spend as much time fetching and carrying water and so can attend literacy classes or school, or take part in cooperatives. 
 
Not only does this reduce gender inequality, it also diversifies income.  
 
Rather than households being solely dependent on livestock – as is traditional with the Borana people, who face intense pressures due to climate change causing more frequent drought – they now have other forms of income, such as the incense and gum cooperatives.  
 
This in turn has facilitated the reinstatement of the traditional ‘social welfare’ system: the extra money earned goes into a collective fund used to support families in difficulty, to send children to school, to university. Their lives have been truly transformed! 
 
As we drove away from Webb in the midday heat, I was struck by the conversations I had with the women in the village. Just how similar our hopes and dreams are for good health, security and a better future for the next generation. Every human being deserves these things.
 
I suppose that’s what working for a just world is all about.
 

Get involved

 

Read more about Trócaire's water projects in Ethiopia

March 07, 2014

Success in the struggle for water in Zimbabwe: Thandiwe Ncube’s story

by Margaret Masanga and Nelly Maonde, Trócaire Zimbabwe
 
Trócaire marks International Women’s Day (8 March) with an inspirational story of resilience from Zimbabwe.
 
"If you fall into a river in Matabeleland, you get up and dust yourself." - Unknown
 
In a village in Matobo district of Southern Zimbabwe, Thandiwe Ncube (53), remembers a time when she dug for water on the sandy riverbed that feeds into Inditshi dam.  Sometimes she dug for hours for a single bucket of water for her family to survive each day. 
 
Thandiwe explains, “The nearest borehole is in the next village, 3-4 kilometres away. We had either to walk up and down in the scorching sun to that borehole or cut the time short by digging for water here on the dam.” She laughs as she narrates how she sometimes ‘disappeared’ into the hole before striking water. 
 
thandiwe ncube international women's day zimbabwe
Thandiwe Ncube (53). Photo: Margaret Masanga
 
For women in Thandiwe’s village, the morning began with a decision – to either walk the 3-4 kilometers to the borehole for one or two buckets of clean water or to dig for the contaminated water closer to home. Most chose to dig. “I would rather make an effort to dig. Once I reach the water, I know I can have enough for all I need to do.  Then I can always treat the water to drink.”
 
To address this pressing daily issue, Thandiwe, a mother of four, grandmother and widow, joined other men and women in the village as part of the Inditshi Dam Committee. The rehabilitation work carried out on the dam has helped to retain much of the water from record amounts of rainfall.
 
Fellow committee member Julia Nyathi (57) explains why the dam is so important to the women of her village:  “We are the ones who wake up early in the morning to fetch water. It means leaving our homes and children several times a day for long periods to walk long distances and fetch water. That is why I am in the committee, and always ready to get my hands dirty and make sure we have water.”
 
Though silt build-up continues to be a threat to the dam, the presence of new water has revived the area. The women involved in gardening are excited at the prospect of planting more crops, irrigating them and accessing water close to their homes. “Now that the dam is full, the water is closer to the surface, and we do not have to dig very far”, Thandiwe says pointing to an area over the embankment. It has the look of a wetland. “Now I can spend more time in my field, sell some vegetables and buy books for my grandchildren. I am inspired,” she adds. 
 
Thandiwe is involved in more than one livelihood activity to ensure she always has an income. In the bushes surrounding the dam, she and other women mould bricks. These are sold locally at ZAR700 (USD88) per 1000 bricks. Sometimes she gets an order for 2000 bricks and at other times sells nothing for months. “While I wait for brick buyers, the garden produce brings in a little income which we use to buy food items and meet school needs for my grandchildren. I could do more if I had the energy, resources and ideas.”
 
For Thandiwe, water is important to everything she does. “Look at me, I am clean. My clothes used to be dirty all the time. Now I wash them often, whenever I want.”
 
It is clear that the recent heavy rains have improved the water available in the area. But next season may be different. The challenge is to improve the capacity to conserve current and future supplies and use the water efficiently. 
 
With funding from Irish Aid and the Irish public, Trócaire is working with local partners in Zimbabwe to support communities in dry and semi arid regions of  Southern Zimbabwe to improve their livelihoods.  Through the rehabilitation and construction of new dams, communities are accessing and using the water for agriculture  and other livelihoods to improve their  food and income security. In 2014 alone, Trócaire will reach over 30,000 women and men with water for agricultural production and other Livelihoods.
 

Women and water

 
Data from surveys conducted in 45 developing countries show that women and children are responsible for water collection in the vast majority of households (76%). This is time not spent working at an income-generating job, caring for family members, or attending school. 
 
A study by the World Bank and the IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre of community water and sanitation projects in 88 communities found that projects designed and run with the full participation of women are more effective and sustainable than those that do not. 
 
February 27, 2014

Reclaiming historic memory and public space in Guatemala

by Aisling Walsh, Guatemala
 
The 25th of February 2014 marked the 15th anniversary of the publication of ‘Memory of Silence’. 
 
This report on the findings of the Guatemalan Truth Commission, documented the acts of genocide, crimes against humanity and grave human rights violations that were committed by the State security forces during Guatemala's internal armed conflict that lasted 36 years. 
 
This historic day has been commemorated each year since 1999 as the when survivors, witnesses and families of those who died come together with human rights organisations and civil society in Guatemala to honour the memory of those who were massacred, tortured, disappeared and raped during the internal armed conflict. 
 
guatemala day of dignity
Top: Children light candles to remember the victims of the conflict. Bottom: Memorials to those who died or disappeared during the internal armed conflict. Photos: Aisling Walsh
 
The publication of ‘Memory of Silence’ in 1999 was a crucial step in the search for justice for victims of the conflict and their families. 
 
In the intervening years some progress towards achieving justice has been achieved, primarily as a result of the ceaseless activism and advocacy of civil society groups such as Trócaire’s partners the Centre for Legal Action on Human Rights (CALDH) and the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR). 
 
Most notable was last year’s trial of former president General Ríos Montt, who was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced to 80 years in prison. /blogs/justice-in-guatemala-as-rios-montt-found-guilty-of-genocide
Nevertheless, it seems that for every step taken towards a more just society in Guatemala conservative forces pull the country another two steps back. 
 
Only ten days following the sentencing of Ríos Montt the Constitutional Court overturned the guilty verdict on the pretext of procedural irregularities during the trial, and set a date for retrial for January 2015. 
 
In February this year the Guatemalan Constitutional Court took the unanimous decision to dismiss the current Attorney General and Chief State Prosecutor, Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey, before the completion of her full term in office. She presided over the historical Ríos Montt trial and has been active in pursuing cases of femicide, violence against women and corruption. 
 
This year’s celebration of the ‘National Day for the Dignity of the Victims of the Internal Armed Conflict in Guatemala’ was seen as an opportune moment to remind the government and the general public of the importance of the ‘Memory of Silence’ report and the rights of victims to truth, justice, reparations and the non-repetition of past crimes. 
 
Many activities centered on creating spaces for children and young people to learn about the history of the internal armed conflict and the importance of continuing the pursuit of justice in order to achieve a truly peaceful and free Guatemala. 
School children, teenagers, performers, musicians and civil society organisations took over a whole block of downtown Guatemala City for a festival of art, theatre, music, poetry and dance to commemorate the victims of the conflict and to demonstrate their solidarity with Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey. 
 
This symbolic act of reclaiming public space was particularly powerful in the current context of increasingly oppressive laws aimed at restricted civil society mobilisation and repression of human rights advocates here in Guatemala.
 
February 27, 2014

Food Not Fuel: Evicted families in Guatemala still face an uncertain future

by Aisling Walsh, Guatemala

Update on the Rio Frio community who were forcibly evicted off their land in the Polochic Valley to make way for a sugarcane plantation. 
 
Driving through the lush green valley of Polochic in eastern Guatemala you could easily be fooled into thinking that you are crossing a natural paradise bursting with life. 
 
However, row after row of regularly spaced palm trees stretching from the shores of Lake Izabal into the mountains of Alta Verapaz belies a more sinister reality. 
 
They are plantations of African palm and sugar cane: the new frontier of resource exploitation and Polochic has them in abundance.  The few remaining tracts of land where maize still grows between the plantations serve as a poignant reminder of all the productive farmland that has been lost since 769 indigenous Q’eqchi families were forcibly evicted from their land in 2011 to make way for the spread of the plantations that aim to feed the US and Europe's growing demand for biofuels. 
 
Juana and Manuel Laj Ical, and their 10 children, were among the displaced families. Since 2011 they have been living at the edge of the village of 8 de agosto (8th of August) in shelters constructed by Trócaire, with support from Irish Aid, that were intended to serve as temporary housing while the Guatemalan government found alternative lands for them. 
 
Manual and Juana Trocaire Guatemala
Left: Manuel Laj Ical and his daughter Wilma at their house in 8 de agosto. Right: Juana Laj Ical finishing one of her handmade bags at her rented house in the community of Soledad. Photos: Aisling Walsh
 
Three years later 14 families still remain at the site waiting desperately for the chance to settle permanently and begin farming maize and beans, the life source of the Q’eqchi people, once more. 
 
When Aidan Gillen reported for Trócaire from 8 de agosto last year he spoke about the challenges faced by the community and the emotional and psychological trauma that Juana, her family and her community have suffered as a result of the violent evictions and the subsequent insecurity in the resettlement process. 
 
A census was carried out by Trócaire and national organisations, the Guillermo Toriello Foundation (FGT), the IXIM Collective for Rural Studies  and Committee for Unity for Campesinos (CUC) last April to assess the living conditions among the displaced communities. 
 
It found that 54% of children from the evicted communities are suffering from chronic malnutrition and 2.5% were suffering from severe malnutrition. Most families are surviving on a diet of corn tortillas and bean and eat fewer than three meals a day. 
 
They have little or no space to grow food, are often denied access to rivers for fishing and they are prevented from either working or renting new land by the same land-owners that evicted them. 
 
The families continue to experience poor treatment and discrimination at health centres. Most children do not attend school, either because the schools refuse to enroll them, they face bullying, insults and discrimination from teachers and pupils, or the schools are simply too far away. 
 
Trócaire  recently visited 8 de agosto to see how Juana and Manuel and the other families were managing. Manuel and his youngest daughter Wilma are the only two members of the Ical family that have remained in 8 de agosto. They told us how conditions in the village continue to deteriorate: they cannot find work, receive only sporadic deliveries of corn meal, rather than whole maize, from the government, and they constantly fear that the few crops they have managed to grow will be destroyed. 
 
They continue to experience threats of violence and only two weeks ago there was an attempted kidnapping of one of the children. 
 
Remaining community members in 8 de agosto
Remaining community members in 8 de agosto. Photo: Aisling Walsh
 
Three families will soon move from 8 de agosto to a new village of Sactela to live on land purchased by the government. However, Manuel continues to wait it out in 8 de agosto in the hope that he and his family will soon be included in one of the government's resettlement schemes.
 
Juana, no longer able to cope with the situation of constant insecurity in 8 de Agosto, has moved to a nearby village where one of her sons lives with his family. She has been able to rent a small house with the money she makes from the sale of hand-woven bags but still hopes that she and Manuel will eventually be able to live together again on their own plot of land.
 
 Juana and Manuel are struggling to keep their family safe and healthy and their spirits alive in the face of multiple, and seemingly endless injustice.
 
Little by little families are abandoning 8 de agosto, and their hope of future in the Polochic valley, where land is now scarce and the possibilities of finding paid labour are minimal. While others feel they have nowhere else to go or they are unwilling to leave the valley that has been home to their communities for hundreds of years. 
 
Hopes for resettlement
 
Trócaire has been supporting the families from the Polochic valley and national organisations such as FGT and CUC in negotiating with the government to provide new land for the evicted families. 
 
In December 2013, 30 families were granted land and resettled in the newly created village of San Valentin and 110 more families are due to be resettled in the village of Sactela. 
 
However, it became clear on visiting the newly formed community, ‘The Soldiers of St Stephen’ last week that government support has not stretched far beyond handing over the land. The 30 families were left without food or shelter for 20 days following the initial resettlement and now have to make do with basic shelters made from tin, plastic and wooden sticks. 
 
The women of the new community of Soldiers of St Stephen
The women of the new community of Soldiers of St Stephen gather to discuss how the resettlement has gone for them. Photo: Aisling Walsh
 
While the community members said they were relieved to finally have their own land they expressed concerns about security and stability. They were still subject to threats from the plantation security guards and some community members still had standing arrests warrants. 
 
Trócaire is continuing to work with our partners and the communities of Polochic in the negotiations for land and to provide support during the resettlement process. 
 
European policy continues to fuel poverty, hunger and land grabbing in Guatemala
 
Despite overwhelming evidence that biofuels are neither socially nor environmentally sustainable, the European Union's Renewable Energy Directive, which sets a 10% target for renewable energy use in transport by 2020, accompanied by financial subsidies to support biofuel consumption, has been a serious driver of land grabs and food-price volatility, leading to further pressure on people’s access to land and water in developing countries. 
 
The recent vote by the European Commission to decrease the biofuel quota for member states from 10% to 7% of all fuel consumption by 2020 does not go far enough to prevent further the displacement of families such as Juana and Manuel to make way for industrial scale growth of biofuel crops. 
 
 

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