Tag Archive: India


AMDG

 

I chose Africa because itÕs the continent with the lowest cell-phone penetration but the fastest sales growth. By yearend, Africa will have 261 million cellular subscriptions, more than 10 times the number in 2001. The penetration rate is approaching 28%, according to market watcher Informa Telecoms & Media in London. Everyone knows AfricaÕs legion of problems: overpopulation, tribal conflict, AIDS, malaria, dreadful infrastructure, corruption--and much more. Yet growth for the continent as a whole may well hit a 25-year high of 7% this year. Could cell phones help Africa to finally emerge from poverty? The nearly unanimous answer from interviews with several dozen low-income Kenyans and Ugandans was: yes. Time and again, people eagerly told me stories of how ownership of a cell phone had helped them earn more money or eased the burden of existence in places where even short trips can be a time-consuming ordeal. Here are some of the people I met and the stories they told:

Having arrived in Dodoma and having not made the journey in about four years, it was great this year to be able to track my route using Google Maps. From Nairobi to Arusha and then Arusha to Dodoma are two long coach journeys, about eight hours each. We pass through some of the most interesting places on earth – very near the cradle of humanity – The Olduvai Gorge, where the oldest hominid skulls have been discovered, dating back 1.8 million years. Having Google Maps and Wikipedia to hand during the coach journey made it a fascinating journey. Mobile technology has certainly transformed the lives of many people in Africa, with phones more widely distributed than computers, and more people having mobiles than bank accounts. With the advent of the smart phone – even at the most basic level of capability, it is clear that having a phone now means more than just making phone calls or texting. I often point out to the students they carry around more processing power in their pocket than the Apollo Spacecraft.

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atelier-mobile-bankingIn reading up about how the mobile or cell phone has super-charged development I was very interested to find out that a Manchester based academic, Richard Heeks, Director of the Center for Development Informatics in Manchester, has done a lot of research on this and has identified some ways in which mobile technology is changing the lives off even the poorest communities. Firstly he identifies its ability to connect the excluded. It has already been noted how Kenyas M-Pesa is changing the way people save money , spend money and move money around. Circumventing the rather laborious process of setting up a bank account by transferring credit via phones – now it is easy to see the fruits of saving money, investing money, rather than the precarious way of living from hand to mouth etc. In India, A Little World, has invented a way of using a finger print scanner and mobile phone to set up bank accounts, they now how over 3 million users. Employees can now even cycle out to the most remote villages and set up ‘shop’ under a tree – allowing the most basic saving and investments in things such as fertilizer etc. Farmers can check competing prices in various local markets before making the decision of where to sell their goods… in fact an app developed here in Uganda, Farmers Friend, has been invented with that very purpose in mind. I have a fond memory of a cotton farmer in Rural India, sitting on his cart and bullock whilst pointing out to me his dual sim card phone, so he could have a business line and a private line. At once four hundred years behind UK farming technology, and more advanced mobile technology ( I hadn’t come across dual-sim phones in Britain then).

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downloadAnother thing that phones allow that the middle man can be cut out or at least be kept tabs on. Their are innovative ways all over the world sprouting up to report and log instances of local corruption, the Bhoomi project in Karnataka, India is a great example of this, stopping corrupt officials from demanding a bribe before they offer land registration certificates (which farmers need to get a loan). Thirdly crowdsourcing – I love the app I heard about in Nairobi, Ushahidi,  testimony in Swahili, which was developed after the terrible violence in the Kenyan elections of 2008. Text messages allowed them to map report about violence, and now it used to map natural disasters, or in Ghana mpedigree uses it to map where drugs are running out.

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One of the things I love about East Africa is how resourceful everyone is, they don’t expect to rely on hand outs, so there is this incredible network of tiny businesses, and the mobile phone has unlocked this great entrepreneurship.

AMDG

Jeans or Sari? In the cities the growing use of Western Style dress is a hot topic for debate

I have just spent a busy 24 hours in Bangalore accompanying one of students who may be getting surgery to straighten her spine.  As I had other jobs to do, we took one of her teachers with us so that they wouldn’t be alone.  It was a bit hectic, we had to rush around the city in rickshaws, meeting the doctor, getting an x-ray, going to a hospital to sort out the post-op care.  Both the teacher and the student were only visiting Bangalore for the second time,  and it was clear they preferred small town or village India to big city in India.  What was particularly interesting was their commentaries and chatting about the amount of girls and young women they saw in Jeans or western style dress.  There was a big discussion about Sari v Jeans and Sari definitely came out top in their eyes. This lead to a few long conversations about the role of women in India and it certainly was sobering and the question of fashion soon seemed to become irrelevant.

Back in March 2010, the Economist ran a striking cover story about what it called ‘Gendercide‘ responding the famous Indian Economist Amartya Sen claim that 100million baby girls have been killed through sex-selective abortions.  Because of a variety of factors, the dowry system, traditional prejudices, need for physical labour, inheritance law, girls are clearly seen as less preferable to boys. As well as this ancient preference for a son, there is a modern desire for smaller families and cheap and widespread availability of ultrasound technology. This combined factors has led to a dramatic rise in sex selective abortions.

Unlike China, India’s democratic roots  and civil service have set up an impressive infrastructure for elections and also data gathering, particularly through the 10-year census.  The data is seen as reliable and detailed.  It also very revealing.    Currently in India the sex ratio according to 2011 census is 914 women per 1,000 men. It was 927 women per 1,000 men in 2001. According to The World Factbook this is the third most distorted sex ratio in the world after China and Armenia and it seems to be growing.   The census data also reveals how cultural prejudices affect this.  In both rural and urban India the Sikh community has the most distorted ratio (895  girls per 1000 boys).  This is followed by Hindus (935),  Muslim and Jains (940),   Buddhist (955).  It is only the Christian community that has more girls than boys (1009), but indications suggest that even that may be dropping.

Obviously the effects of this ‘gendercide’ could be profound on the community.  In Northern States in India where the practice of sex selective abortion and also infanticide seems most common, they are already having to ‘import’ brides from other states.  Son preference is most prevalent in an arc of countries from East Asia through South Asia to the Middle East and North Africa – however it seems highest in Asia. In fact it is only South Korea that seems to have recovered it sex ratio to from that equivalent to India in 1990 to approaching a more normal level today. The economic rise of South Korea, the only country to go from being an aid recipient to an aid donor in one generation, is well known. But is a change of culture that is leading to girls to be valued more.

This is another reason why education is so important, and the work being done here in Manvi so impressive.  But there is still a lot to do, the Jesuits here have set up an impressive network of womens groups in the villages, such as the Devadasis pictured on the right.  They value education more and will encourage the girls to go to school.  But still there are deep problems.  In a dramatic incident last week our social workers who have been developing a malnutrition programme had to rush a seriously malnourished baby girl to hospital.  There is a lot of confusion around the case, they suspect food provided for her had been sold on, that the child may have HIV, and that the grandmother seemed to be blocking any effort to help her survive. From the (foriegn) social workers perspective, the family seemed happy to let her die.  There is no proof to any of this, but it would not be a surprise in a culture where the difference between a boy and a girl can have a big effect in the lives of the poor. What is needed is faithful presence and the slow continuous work of changing hearts and minds.  The British Governments arm for development (DFID) are offering large amounts of funding targeted at getting girls into and keeping them in education. It is called the Girls Education Challenge, and in a new departure funds that would usually go into government budgets and be wasted due to corruption are now being offered to the private sector.  The Jesuits who already educate over 9,000 girls in Karnataka state, with over two thirds of them being from low caste and vulnerable backgrounds are well placed to use this funding to expand their educational work.  In fact that was my other business in Bangalore.

Inspiring Commitment

AMDG

When I reflect on different places I have worked in my life, the greatest memories I have are when I have worked alongside people who inspire me, whether it was my boss or colleagues.  It is great to be involved in something that you believe in, and that you go into work every day with people who share that same passion, especially if they are more intelligent than you or more creative, and you learn so much of them. Sadly the opposite is also true, how sad it is to hear so many people who go into a job where cynicism, selfishness, power or greed become the dominant values. It drags you down. Even worse if your boss is a bully, or you are lead by someone who is less talented than you, knows this and it makes them insecure and vindictive. Luckily in my life I have experienced more of the former that the latter, or at least I remember more of the former energy rather than the latter.  I have fond memories of  St Igs in Enfield.  As I come to my final couple of weeks here in India, I am beginning to reflect on what it has meant to me living and working alongside the Jesuits here.

There is something about the mission here in Manvi that epitomises for me something very important to Saint Ignatius, it is what we call the ‘Magis’.  Magis means simply ‘the more’ . doing more for others because you believe what you are doing is what Christ has asked you to do.  Magis is about choosing wisely, discerning, what we do, how we use our energy.  As Jesuits it is taken for granted we all (at least most of us) want to do good, the magis is choosing between different ‘goods’ to doing what is the best.

Walking to work in the fields – lunch carried on the head!

I will share one example of where I see the Magis at work in this mission.  After 9 or 10 years work here in Manvi the school is established, it is thriving, all the locals rich and poor want to send their children, we have Hindus, Muslims and Christians in the school.  But are resources are limited, so we have to turn away someone, who? The wealthy, the higher castes… their wealth and influence means they can choose to go to other local schools. So the poorest, the Dalits, the Devadasi, and girls always get priority here.  Now with the establishment of the School, the PUC and the soon the University, you could forgive the Jesuits for relaxing, consolidating the institutions, and staying here in Manvi.  It is a very poor area, the locals themselves admit it is ‘backward’, but a town of 40,000 affords certain luxuries, there is a cinema, we get electricity here maybe for 14 hours a day, water is available, there are shops, doctors etc.  But no, what has inspired me recently is how, the students, social workers, our Slovak Doctor and Fr Eric, keep going out into the villages. The temperature is reaching the mid 40’s here regularly at the moment, the villages are hot and dusty, when you come back you are covered in sweat, grit, sand. People are often  late, don’t show up for meetings or appointments. But they still go, to monitor and extend the malnutrition programme, and to convince those in more remote villages to bring their children to our schools.

Now school can come to them – courtesy of Jessica from Switzerland

In the villages there are now a network of 12 kindergartens and a few primary schools that have been built or in planning.  A few weeks ago a very generous donor from Switzerland bought the mission two new school buses.  This means that Eric and some hand-picked students  go regularly to the remoter villages and invite families to send their children to school.  The villagers are very impressed by the students  but they still need some persuasion. How much will it cost – as much as you can pay is the answer, which is usually rupees a year (just over a pound!).  But how will they get there?  Now we have two buses we can come and pick them up every day – for free!  The school comes to them.  This dedication and commitment of Eric and the students is inspiring for me…. refusing to rest on their laurels, they are reaching out for more and more marginalized children.   However this intensity of work also needs to be balanced with good rest, and a good community and prayer life.  Because I have been inspired – I would like to share that inspiration with you too!  Thanks for reading, don’t forget to leave a comment if you have a few minutes – the Jesuits and children here are delighted when I pass on your comments.