News: On World AIDS Day, 8,000 will die.

Bloggers unite against AIDSDecember 1st marks the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day.

While the global percentage of adults living with HIV has leveled off since 2000, 33 million people are still living with the virus.
Every day, 8,000 people die of AIDS, and 7,500 more get infectioned.

End it is not just a medical issue, AIDS is also the cause of a larger and longer term social problem. Just as an example, by 2010, 18 million children will be orphans due to AIDS. (Full)

This post is part of the Bloggers Unit Against AIDS Campaign.

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Rumble: Our social project takes a flight....

the world needs a helping hand

In less than one month, we raised US$3,844 via this blog, through "Change Starts Here", our social project. How about that for a change, hey?
That includes $61 raised via comments on the kickoff post.

Today, Elizabeth joined as our 7th member of The Road's Kiva Lending team.

Thus far, together, we have allocated 30 loans to micro financing projects in about 20 countries.
A detailed status, you can find on our score card.

Original cartoon courtesy Daily Ink

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News: UN compound attacked in Baghdad

FLASH: A rocket struck near a UN compound in the heavily fortified Green Zone on Saturday, killing three foreigners and wounding 14, according to UN and military officials.

The victims were working for a catering company that provides services for the United Nations.

The UN presence in Iraq has been limited since the organisation's Baghdad headquarters was bombed on August 19, 2003, killing 22 people. (Full)

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News: Few guests show up at UN poverty jamboree

Extract from the AFP press release:

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hosted a "retreat" for world leaders on Friday aimed at "converting intentions expressed at a Group of 20 summit in Washington this month" into concrete recommendations ahead of the next G-20 meeting in London in April.

However, he admitted that only 10 national leaders were among the 34 or 35 high-level delegates who turned up, and no conclusions were announced.

Even the heads of the IMF and Worldbank skipped the meeting, citing conflicting schedules. (More)

Ban said he still hopes the conference can come up with concrete plans as well as updating a 2002 Monterrey Consensus on aid to developing countries ahead of the next G-20 meeting in London in April.. (Full)

So, let me get this straight: They wanted to retreat in Qatar, to convert intensions made in Washington, to update on the Monterrey Consensus ahead of the London meeting. And not mentioned: they already met in Dubai earlier this month to prepare.

No wonder only so few showed up. They got confused!

More on The Road about the UN and poverty.
Picture courtesy AFP

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Rumble: A twisted mind

A freak of natureI cdnuolt blveiee that I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd what I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid! Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in what oredr the ltteers in a word are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is that the first and last ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can still raed it wouthit a porbelm. This is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the word as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? (Moer)

Thanks to Temmy -eh I mean David Lee- for the tip!

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Picks of the week: Photoshop and Google Maps Outdone

Here are the interesting links I harvested this week:
Grass on Photoshop

  • You thought Google Maps was the best? Here is something even better for you: OpenStreetMap offers a free editable map of the whole world. It allows you to view but (and this is new) also edit geographical data. This means the maps continue to get better, in an "open source", collaborative way.
    As a result, those areas which typically don't feature with details on Google Maps (those areas we -humanitarians- work in), and get detailed up to an unexpected level. (Discovered via Aid Worker Daily)
  • Through, you can support your favorite charities by donating or by creating fundraising badges on your website.

  • Blood and Milk is one of my favourite development blogs, full of inspiration. Through Alanna, I discovered this link:

  • TrackerNews, an initiative by Instedd, is an news aggregator with a twist. Its beat covers health, humanitarian work and technology as it applies to both. You can also follow their blog.

  • And now for something completely different: Photoshop Tutorials features amazing digital pictures and techniques.
More Picks of the Week on The Road.

Picture courtesy John Emanuel Shannon

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Rumble: Hero rats detect landmines, tuberculosis

110 million landmines lie in the ground on every continent. It will cost $33 billion and at the present de-mining rate, it will take 1,100 years to clear them all.

70 people are killed or injured every day by landmines. That's one person every 15 minutes, 26,000 people per year. (More)

Bart Weetjens, an engineer with Apopo, a Belgian organization focusing on “vapour detection technology,” uses pouched rats to detect land mines and disease detection.

The rats are smart, thrive on repetitive tasks, have a top-notch sense of smell and are cheaper to train than dogs.

Watch also the second part of this video.

Via the HeroRAT website, you can help and adopt-a-rat. Choose between Allan, Chosen One, Kim and Ziko, all rats trained for mine detection.

Discovered via TrackerNews's editor's blog

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News: OneWorld votes for "People of 2008"

One World's People of 2008One of the news sources I check regularly, OneWorld, is running "People of 2008", a showcase of people who stood for human rights, fair distribution of the world's resources, simple and sustainable ways of life, the right to inform and be informed, participation and transparency in decision making and diversity.

The finalists are out and you can now vote amongst aid workers who gave their lives to help others, creative entrepreneurs who are improving lives in India and Africa, and Europe's "mayor of the future" who's tackling climate change head on.
There is a woman who organizes her community to look after those living with AIDS. Others are fighting for justice in Peru, women's rights in Iran, and peace in Pakistan and the Middle East. And the incredible women of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who are working everyday to hold their families together despite unthinkable danger and unspeakable personal tragedies. (Full)

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Rumble: Flying remains an adventure

Updates from The Road's Twitter:

08:30 - At Copenhagen airport... 8:30 and the sun just came up... Ready to fly back to Rome.

09:45 - "This is your captain speaking. Unfortunately, we have been hit by a ladder of the ground crew. Repairs will take an hour."

10:30 - "This is your captain speaking... We are still looking for the spare part." - anyone got a spare wing light for an MD82?

repairs on plane this morning

In the end, we took off with a little more than one hour delay. But the adventure was still to come. Approaching Rome's Fiumicino airport, the clouds got thicker and thicker. It looked like we were landing for 45 minutes. Turbulence got heavier, having people "Ohhh" and "Oosh". Plane swing up, down, left, right. Funny to see how much flex an MD82 has.

We got a direct hit by lightning (which was a bit of an anti-climax, as there was not that much of a bang, just a lot of light and a bump as if the plane hit a speed bump).

The final approach showed the strength of the wind as we were crab-crawling sideways towards the landing strip.

The applause for the pilot was well deserved...

More on The Road about travel, airports and flying.

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News: Renewed fighting in Congo

Renewed fighting in Congo today pushed 10,000 new refugees into Uganda. (Full)

MSF created "Condition Critical", a site dedicated to the war in DRC, filled with news, blogs and pictures.

More on The Road about DRC.

Thanks to Gianluca for the tip.

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Rumble: The Road's Kiva project 8: Khursheed Anwar

Khursheed Anwar's group

Here is a summary of The Road's 8th social project:

A micro-financing loan to the Khursheed Anwar Women's Group in Pakistan.

Khursheed baji is the wife of Anwar and has been living in Riwind, Pakistan for the past 6 years.

She completed her education only until the 5th grade because her family was poor and could not afford her education expenses.

Khursheed baji is the mother of five children: two sons and three daughters. Her elder son runs a small hotel in his community. The remaining children are enrolled in a neighborhood school. Khursheed baji’s husband has been selling wood for the past 10 years, and she sells clothes. She buys second hand sweaters at cheap prices and resells them in her community.

Khursheed baji has successfully repaid her first loan, and is now applying for a loan to buy more warm clothes and sweaters to increase her profit. She is joined in her loan group by a few more women:
- Rahmat baji is requesting a loan to buy more shoes for resale.
- Sakina baji is requesting a loan to buy tools used to fix electronic items (air conditioners, tube lights).
- Parveen baji is requesting a loan to buy oil and gas for resale.
- Safia baji and Naseem baji are requesting a loan to buy more wood for resale.

This is a group loan. The loan funds will be distributed among the group members, each of whom will invest in their own business. The members mutually guarantee one another's loans. If one member does not repay, the other members are responsible for repayment. (Khursheed's full profile on Kiva)

This loan goes through "Asasah", the local micro financing partner of Kiva.

Loan Request: $1,550
Repayment terms: spread over 11 months (Deadline Dec 15 2009)
We gave her a loan of US$75

This is The Road's 8th social project. The funds for this loan were donated by the VK0IR Heard Island expedition team.

More on The Road's social project "Change Starts Here".
You can keep track of our project via our score card.

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Picture of the day: Chaos at Bangkok airport

people stranded at bangkok airport

Thousands of travellers got stuck after Bangkok's airport was stormed by protesters.

More Pictures of the Day on The Road

Picture courtesy David Longstreath/AP

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Rumble: Design specification

I am very proud of my clear specifications for a webdesign project at work....

Tab Design by graphic artist Peter

Do you think I am turning into a geek?

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Rumble: Dilbert of the day.

Waiting for the plane last Sunday, I got bored and flipped through a used newspaper I found laying on one of the seats.

Between news about inflation, strikes and collapsing stock markets I found the only thing in the whole paper that made me smile: this Dilbert.


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Rumble: The Wall Against Hunger

my girls on the wall

My girls are part of the Wall Against Hunger. Are your loved ones too?

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News: Nov 25 - International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

drc civil war congo

Violence against women is largely unreported. Fear and stigma often prevent women from reporting incidents of violence or seeking assistance.

55 to 95% of women who have been physically abused by their partners have never contacted the police, aid groups or shelters.

Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, motor accidents, war and malaria, according to World Bank data. (Details)

Since 9 years, November 25th has been declared "The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women", calling the world's attention to gender-based violence.

Over 1.3 million people signed the petition supporting the fight for this cause. Make your voice count, sign the petition now:

Violence of women is also an issue of prevention from the ground up. Aid agencies have been working on better girls' education, and using food aid as a tool to help women out of extreme poverty. (Example)

Picture extracted from Michael's excellent article Congo: The Rape Capital of the World.

More on The Road about sexual violence and emancipation.

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Rumble: The Road's Kiva project 7: Kim Houy Lach

Kim Houy Lach Group

Here is a summary of The Road's 7th social project:

A micro-financing loan to the Kim Houy Lach Group in Cambodia.

Kim Houy Lach from the Ba Khong Khang Kaeut village in Cambodia is 26. She is the mother of two children.

Her husband, Saom Mom, is a farmer who owns a 0.7-hectar plantation and cultivates rice for a living.

Kim is a poultry breeder and has raised about 40 ducks and chickens on the yard near her own house. Since this business is going well, she would like to expand it and asks for a loan to buy more poultry for breeding.

The loan is organised through the village bank which consists of fourteen people in her village. All the members will use the loan for different purposes. (Kim's full profile on Kiva)

This loan goes through "AMK", the local micro financing partner of Kiva.

Loan Request: $1,500
Repayment terms: 11 months (Deadline Dec 15 2009)
We gave her a loan of US$100

This is The Road's 7th social project. The funds for this loan were donated by the VK0IR Heard Island expedition team.

More on The Road's social project "Change Starts Here".
You can keep track of our project via our score card.

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News: The State Of the World Today...

I might be bitching on the snowstorm or my flight delays yesterday, but this is nothing compared to the sad state of affairs in the world.

A grab out of the humanitairan turmoil today. Were you aware?

  • The crisis in Congo starts taking the shape of a genocide (Full)
  • Children dying in Haiti, victims of food crisis (Full)
  • 5 million people in Afghanistan now dependent on food aid (Full)
  • Jordan rings the alarm bell on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza (Full)
  • Zimbabwe is on the virge of collapse (Full)
  • 17 million people are in urgent need of food in the Horn of Africa. (Full)
Picture courtesy Logan Abassi (MINUSTAH)

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Rumble: Information Technology in Evolution...

The school I graduated from, had one PC at the time: An Apple II. It stood in the library, and was almost inaccessible for any student. If they could, they would have put it under a glass bulb to make sure nothing happened to it.
I wrote string loads of programs in BASIC, but it remained a paper exercise as was never allowed to key it in.

After I graduated in 1983, I worked for an IT research company. We worked mainly on high tech graphic stuff. Such as digital imaging. Such as the stuff you can now do 1,000 times faster and 1,000,000 more accurate on any laptop. With freeware software. But we, we needed a 15 by 10 metres room full of PDP and VAX minicomputers. The number-crunching power of this room was roughly 1/10th of my laptop. My laptop also stores 1,000x more information.

In 1985, I bought my very first home computer, this Apple IIe:

apple IIe

It costed around US$5,000. Had a whopping 64 Kbyte of memory. No hard disk, but storage in two 128 kbyte mini floppies. The screen featured 40 characters per line. I sneaked in another 64 Kbyte of memory and upgraded to 80 characters per screen, but that is how far I could go.

Just last week, we bought this little thing for my youngest:


This iPod Nano has 18 Gbyte of memory, roughly 100,000x more than my Apple IIe but at 1/20th of the price. Hard disks are no longer used. The screen has a better resolution than anything we could dream of in the 80's.

And still, with all of this technology, we can not get half of the flights in the air due to 10 cm of snow. Proof of the matter: I am looking at it, here at Brussels airport.

flights delayed...

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Rumble: It is cold here...

I am home for the weekend. Left Rome on Friday evening 7 PM, and it was 17 dgs C. Arrived in Belgium two hours later, and it was +1 dgs C.

Today it is freezing and snowing. Brrr...

I tell you: climate and weather does have an effect on people.

This is how it looked at noon time:

A cold november morning in belgium

In the afternoon, it started snowing:

Cold November day in Belgium

And just as the sun was setting in weird yellow/soft pinkish colour (the pictures below are unretouched!), it was clear I was going to have problems getting to the airport. If flights would not be cancelled, that is.

Belgium and it is not supposed to be winter yet.

Belgium and it is not supposed to be winter yet.

It snowed so hard, cars were skidding on the road. Belgians are not prepared for winter weather. Not even by essentials, e.g. we hardly ever put winter tyres on. So when it snows a bit, everything is a mess.

I live 40 km from Brussels airport. It took me three hours to get there. Train delayed by 30 minutes. Stopped half way, I had to change to another, which I missed. Next one stopped due to a frozen track and had to go back. I am at the airport now. Flight delayed by 2 hours, for starters.
Life is an adventure. ;-)

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News: Bill Clinton - Charity only goes this far.

Hillary Bill ClintonFormer US president Bill Clinton has garnered hundreds of millions of dollars for his charitable foundation, which provides AIDS medicines, health-care services, and agriculture assistance in Africa and elsewhere.

The Clinton Foundation is one of the most successful fund-raising organizations in the US. Bill Clinton biggest accomplishment as a philanthropist has been to convince pharmaceutical companies to reduce the cost of AIDS and malaria medicines for impoverished regions of the world.

Now that Ms Hillary Clinton has been offered the post of "Secretary of State" in Obama's upcoming government, the Clintons are in a bind.. Why? Well the contacts Mista Clinton has and should have for his philanthropic work, might conflict with interests of state, which Missas Clinton stands for.

There is already an uproar in the US charitable world as Mista Clinton has turned over more than 200,000 names of donors who have given to his nonprofit group, a move he has resisted in the past, promising anonymity...

What’s more, Mista Clinton is expected to divorce himself from the Clinton Global Initiative, an annual meeting of world leaders, wealthy philanthropists, and celebrities. It is unclear how the conference would continue without Mista Clinton. Since it started in 2005, Mista Clinton says the meeting has generated $46-billion in charitable commitments. (Full)

Picture courtesy Evaluation

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News: Ecuador commercializes the rain forest. By not touching it.

Ecuador Forest
There is more biological diversity in Ecuador's Yasuni rainforest than almost anywhere else in the world. No surprise it is protected as a national park and UNESCO biosphere reserve.

But the Yasuni region also sits atop Ecuador's largest known oil reserve, several hundred million barrels. Oil is the country's most important export. Without petrodollars and petro-jobs the country would likely be even poorer than it already is. No wonder several oil companies are pressuring the government to issue drilling licenses.

Hoping to prevent this from happening, Ecuador's environment minister requests for compensation to keep the oil under the forest, under the form of "CO2" or carbon credits.

Yasuni National Park, in EcuadorCarbon credits are a way companies and countries have been stimulated to initiate environment friendly initiatives trying to cap global CO2 emissions.
If a country or company pollutes, it needs to ensure it holds an equal amount of "environment credits". CO2 credits can be bought on the international market from companies or countries who 'produce' environmental improvements, e.g. planting a forest.

But no country or company received carbon credits yet, for... "not doing anything" i.e. for keeping "nature untouched". And that's what Ecuador's critics are now claiming: "How can one be paid for not touching nature?"
What then if companies start asking money for not drilling oil in the Northsea, in Kuwait's desert. How about if any country with a tree asks for money not to chop that tree. Or worse, how about any country would ask credits for not starting a lucrative but polluting project?

Ecuador might also venture in more innovative solutions, which probably look more feasible. Projects such as offering a "virtual" carbon credit on the Internet, for anyone to buy. So maybe next month, you can buy your kids a piece of virtual untouched Ecuadorian rainforest. (Full)

More on The Road about environment and pollution.

Picture courtesy AFP

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Rumble: Art from the girls

fish sculpture

Hannah, my youngest, made this sculpture. A tropical fish amongst the coral...

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Rumble: Knowing when to duck

A report released by the UN last month documented 490 attacks on UN offices, convoys, and premises between July 2007 and June this year, resulting in the deaths of 26 staff.

At least 63 NGO (non-governmental organizations) aid workers were murdered during the same period. (Full)

WFP released this video showing the security challenges aid workers face:

More on The Road about aid workers

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Rumble: The Road's Kiva project 6: Ganna Shkirta

Ganna Shkirta

Here is a summary of The Road's sixth social project:

A micro-financing loan to Ganna Shkirta in Ukraine.

Ganna successfully runs her own fruit and vegetable sales business in downtown Korolyovo, Ukraine. She started her business 7 years ago.

One of the main secrets of her success is its favorable location in a busy neighborhood. Many customers have become loyal clients.

Ganna loves her work. She manages all her finances herself. Currently, she has about 15,000 Grivnas (+- US$2,700) invested in her business. Her monthly net profit is about 5,000 Grivnas (+- US$900).

Ganna requested a loan to purchase additional merchandise to increase her sales. With the additional profits, Ganna plans to continue developing her business, providing stable and consistent income for her family. (See Ganna's full profile on Kiva)

This loan goes through "Hope Ukraine", the local micro financing partner of Kiva.

Loan Request: $875
Repayment terms: 8 months (Deadline Aug 15 2009)
We gave her a loan of US$50

This is The Road's 6th social project. The funds for this loan were donated by the VK0IR Heard Island expedition team.

More on The Road's social project "Change Starts Here".
You can keep track of our project via our score card.

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News: US foreign aid and impartiality. A bad score.

US foreign aid - biased?

The United States, the world's largest international aid donor, is among the worst at promoting the independence, impartiality and neutrality of humanitarian aid to needy populations, according to a survey by a Madrid-based nonprofit group that monitors donors' performance.

The Development Assistance Research Associates (DARA) Humanitarian Response Index 2008 measures how effectively the world's 23 largest donors deliver aid. The United States ranked 15th in overall effectiveness and only 13th in the level of generosity measured by the size of its economy.

But it ranked near the bottom, 22nd, when it came to ensure that political considerations don't exclude worthy recipients of aid. (Details)

DARA's findings reflect what it called the United States' use of humanitarian assistance to achieve military or political goals in eight crisis zones the group studied, including Afghanistan, Colombia and the Palestinian territories. (Full)

Discovered via AidNews

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Rumble: One of the reasons I like the job I do

Peter in Dubai

There are days where I, as an aid worker, think: "Am I really making a difference?". There are other days where I reflect: "Maybe in the grand scheme of things, I don't, but I surely have the power invested in me, my position, to change the lives of those around me."

And that is important. Even before I became a manager, I took "the influence I could have on those around me" seriously. But in a more senior position as I am in now, this became even more apparent.

Today, I was reminded of that. I participated in job interviews. There were five candidates. Several of them were jewels of people. People with potential, with a drive, with a will to make a difference both in their job, and in the world.

We asked them "Why do you want to work with us?". Several answered: "Because you are not a company, you are an aid organisation. You make a difference. That difference is important in my choice of employer."

I might not have many things I am good in, but one of the qualities I have is to spot the diamonds in a crowd. I can spot those people with potential. And with the power invested in me as a manager, I have the opportunity to change the lives of these people in a way. I can give them a job, which I know will be a good match with them. A job in which they will grow and bloom. But it is not only that. I know for several of those we interviewed today, this day will be remembered as "the day I joined the organisation". And they will remember it with a smile.

That is the difference I made today. And that also makes me smile. I made a difference today.

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Rumble: Web 2.0 and African farmers

The use of technology in rural development has always been a hot debate amongst "those who mean well". Some say it is better to use and encourage traditional methods. Others are convinced technology has no frontier and needs to be brought to those that can benefit the most.

Web 2.0, the collaborative Web, is one of those technologies. This video illustrates how data communications together with collaborative technologies such as blogs, vlogs, podcasts, wiki-type knowledge bases and discussion fora could help spread knowledge in rural areas.

BROSDI (Busoga Rural Open Source & Development Initiative) is an example of a not-for-profit organization in Uganda that works with government and the civil society in improving rural livelihoods using Web 2.0 technology.
Discovered via For Those Who Want to Know".

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Rumble: The Road's Kiva project 5: Sopheap Chun

Sopheap Chun Village group

Here is a summary of The Road's fifth social project:

A micro-financing loan to the Sopheap Chun Village Group in Cambodia.

Sopheap Chun is 22 mother of two children. She is married to Chhit Ka, who is a palm juice collector.

Sopheap is the village bank president of a bank loan which consists of fifteen people, in Andoung Russey (Kampong Chhnang Province in Cambodia). She is also a pot maker in the local village.

She is looking to purchase new equipment for their business. A loan would also allow her to buy additional materials to produce more palm sugar.

This is an End-of-Term village bank loan, considered as the most beneficial to Cambodia’s poor. It allows them to repay portions of the principal whenever they are financially able to. Most start to make payments many months before the end of the loan term. (See the group's full profile on Kiva)

This loan goes through "AMK", the local micro financing partner of Kiva.

Loan Request: $1,900
Repayment terms: 11 months (Deadline Dec 15 2009)
We gave them a loan of US$100

This is The Road's 5th social project. The funds for this loan were donated by the VK0IR Heard Island expedition team.

More on The Road's social project "Change Starts Here".
You can keep track of our project via our score card.

Read the full post...

Picture of the day: Soldier of the Congo


A government soldier walks through the looted village of Kayna after a day of fighting in eastern Congo. (Check this excellent picture series on The Boston Globe)

More Pictures of the Day on The Road

Picture courtesy REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

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News: Global recession and aid: Bad outlook for the poorest.

Red CrossRemember my post After the global financial crisis comes the global humanitarian crisis?

Well today both the optimists and the pessimists hit the news. Or maybe they are both pessimists.

On one hand the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (said to be the largest humanitarian organisation in the world) is considering cutting staff and shelving projects as it braces for recession-hit donors to slash aid contributions.
It warned of greater social unrest in poor countries as high food prices were compounded by slowing economic growth, job losses and falling income.

They added "It is 'revolting' that the US could find $700bn to bail out its financial sector while rich countries continued to fall short of their pledges to raise aid spending to 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product."

During the 1990-1993 downturn, global aid spending fell by a quarter and did not recover to 1992 levels until 2003, the UN added. (Full

On the very same day, the UN asked for $7 billion to fund its humanitarian work around the world in 2009. That is almost double of last year's appeal. (Full)

The need is greater, but the funding outlook for humanitarian aid is worse than before. The poorest will fall between the cracks of this dilemma.

Picture courtesy PSDTUTS

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Rumble: Living in Italy - Part 5: Itanglish

My usual disclaimer: I love Italy. I love living here. I love the country, its people, its food, its culture... But it is a country with quirks, which make you smile.

Many people here don't speak a second language, not even younger people. They are not short of trying, though, as I described in my eBook chapter Itanglish - Italian food in English.

Last weekend, I saw this sign along the beach:

Sign in Itanglish

It seems they did not do too well in French neither.

More posts on The Road about Living in Italy

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Picture of the day: A busy day

Empty debate

The caption to this picture said:

"Members of the European Parliament attend a debate on the EU response to the world financial crisis and Washington's G20 Summit, in Strasbourg"

More Pictures of the Day on The Road

Picture courtesy Reuters/Vincent Kessler

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News: November 19 - World Toilet Day

Did you know today was World Toilet Day?

60% of all rural diseases are caused by poor hygiene and sanitation condition. At any one time, half of the world's hospital beds are filled with people from water-borne diseases caused mostly by water polluted with untreated sewage. Proper sanitation is the best preventive medicine in the world.

Yet, 2.6 billion or 40% of mankind still do not have access to proper sanitation and toilets. And 2 million children die every year from diarrhea. Do we need more reasons to convince us that sanitation is so important?

And yet, sanitation is a problem that people are often shy to discuss. But a reluctance to talk about sanitation is part of the reason why an estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide do not have access to sanitation. Under the motto "DON'T BLUSH, SPONSOR A FLUSH!", the World Toilet Day wants to break the taboo and improve sanitation globally. (Read more)

More on The Road about sanitation, water, poverty and environment.

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Rumble: The Road's Kiva project 4: Teresa Mamani

Teresa Mamani Villa Group

Here is a summary of The Road's fourth social project:

A micro-financing loan to the Teresa Mamani Women's Group in Bolivia.

Ms Teresa presides The "Mujeres Vencedoras" (or "Winning Women") Community Bank in El Alto (Bolivia).

The members, all women, primarily earn a living from dress-making, and from selling food and vegetables. Some own neighbourhood stores, while others own independent micro-businesses.

The majority of the women already know each other and have experience in solidarity groups. It is a group of very happy and motivated people.

Owing to their punctuality and commitment from their previous three loans, this group is classified as one of the most enterprising by "FundaciĆ³n Agrocapital", the local micro financing partner of Kiva. (See the group's full profile on Kiva).

Loan Request: $3,900
Repayment terms: 3 months (Deadline March 15 2009)
We gave them a loan of US$100

This is The Road's 4th social project. The funds for this loan were donated by the VK0IR Heard Island expedition team.

More on The Road's social project "Change Starts Here".
You can keep track of our project via our score card.

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Picks of the week: Firewood, humane investment and Oops


Here are the interesting links I harvested this week:

  • Starting on a lighter note: If you suffer of flight anxiety, you should NOT want to visit The Oops List. A simple site with nothing but links to pictures, audio and video about aircraft (and other) accidents. Full of treasures. Mostly hilarious. Some sad. Others plain scary. My favourite is the clip called "My Dog Skip".

  • Onto more serious matter: Get Beyond Firewood highlights the plight of refugee women, a very pragmatic way. Every day, millions of refugee women and girls around the world risk being raped, beaten —even killed— as they search for the firewood they need to cook food for their families. This site offers alternatives for firewood. Simple.

  • The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children advocates for the rights of refugee women and children.

  • Good.AllTop aggregates news about "doing good". It also features The Road to the Horizon (with thanks!).

  • MyC4 allows you to invest in a good cause. They raise capital for African entrepreneurs as a tool in the fight to end poverty. So far 10,300 investors from 78 countries have invested €5,668,392 in 3,306 businesses through this site. The average interest rate for investors is 12.9% p.a.

  • If you want to invest in a good cause, but you are not looking for interest, your Pick of the Week is definitively Kiva. If Kiva and micro-financing is your thing, join The Road's Lenders Team! Check out our score card for The Road's latest micro-financing investments in Kiva.

  • And last but least, you should have a look at my latest labour:
    - AidBlogs shows all the latest post from the aidworker blogs I list in the right column of The Road.
    - The Signs Along The Road is a scratch pad for random clips.
    - For Those Who Want to Know summarizes all blogs listed my "Resources for/by Aidworkers"
    - Aid News summarizes all recent humanitarian news, assembled from over 50 different sources.
More Picks of the Week on The Road

Picture via The Oops List

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News: NATO escorts food aid shipments to Somalia

I reported before about the logistical challenges to bring humanitarian aid to Somalia.

Since June 2005, when a vessel carrying food aid to Somalia for the World Food Programme (WFP) was hijacked, the issue of piracy in the Golf of Aden got international attention.
The hijackers demanded a ransom for the release of the ship, its crew and cargo. The ship was released after being held for 100 days. Following that incident other ships -commercial vessels, yachts and cruiseliners- have been under attack or were were hijacked. (More). Even today a Saudi oil tanker got hijacked by Somali pirates.

As the sea is one of the only means to have humanitarian aid reach Somalia, there is now no other alternative then to have NATO vessels escorting the relief shipments:

More posts on The Road about food aid, Somalia and WFP

Video courtesy WFP

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News: Congo - a picture that changed a life

Protegee and her niece

On this Nov. 6, AP reporter Jerome Delay took this picture of two girls, Protegee carrying her niece, Response, as they looked for their parents in the village Kiwanja in the midst of the confusion of the Congo (DRC) civil war.

Protegee was in a crowd of thousands about 90 kms north of Goma, eastern Congo, having walked for three days by herself. She had been separated from her mother and fled on foot from their town about 12 miles (20 kilometers) away.

Encouraged by reactions from readers all over the world, the reporter returned to the spot and managed to reunite Protegee with her mother. (the full story)

Read the eBook story Goma, The Scent of Africa about my work with refugees in East Congo.
More on The Road about DRC.

Picture courtesy AP Photo/Jerome Delay

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Rumble: I love flying

Flying to Brindisi this morning We have become used to life being a series of arrivals or departures, of triumphs and failures, with nothing noteworthy in between…

There is not much to say about most aeroplane journeys. Anything remarkable must be disastrous, so you define a good flight by negatives: you didn’t get hijacked, you didn’t crash, you didn’t throw up, you weren’t late, you weren’t nauseated by the food. So you are grateful.

The gratitude brings such relief you mind goes blank, which is appropriate, for the aeroplane passenger is a time-traveller. He crawls into a carpeted tube that is reeking of disinfectant; he is strapped in to go home, or away. Time is truncated, or in any case warped: he leaves in one time-zone and emerges in another. And from the moment he steps into the tube, and braces his knees on the seat in front, uncomfortably upright – from the moment he departs, his mind is focused on arrival.

Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express.

Just for the record. While there are people who feel exactly like Paul Theroux, I don't.

I love travelling, and I love flying. Even if it was just for a 45 minutes flight from Rome to Brindisi as I did this morning.

I get into the plane. Make my little nest. Put up a psychological curtain between me and the other 127 people in this space, take a book, read a few lines, doze off, wake-up, gaze through the window at the ever-changing world, and admire the skills involved in landing this metal box safely on a strip which looks no bigger than a handkerchief.

I love flying.

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Rumble: Sunset this evening

sunset fregene

Sunset this evening. A painting of fragile colours.

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Rumble: The Road's Kiva project 3: Fatuma Jumbe

Fatuma Jumbe Group

Here is a summary of The Road's third social project:

A micro-financing loan to the Fatuma Jumbe Women's Group in Tanzania .

Fatuma Jumbe, 51, is married with 6 children. She has a tailoring business which she began 15 years ago. Working from 8 to 5 daily, she is able to make a monthly profit of about US$80.

She has taken out three previous loans, all since repaid, to buy vitenge (traditional Swahili fabrics) which she sells at her sewing shop. She now would like to buy a sewing (interlocking) machine.

Fatuma will share this loan with her loan group, Mabibo Freedom, whose 15 members hold each other accountable in paying back their loans. In the picture, Fatuma is sitting on the left in the front row. (See their full profile on Kiva).

Their loan went through "Tujijenge Tanzania Ltd", a local micro financing partner of Kiva.

In a group loan like this one, each member of the group receives an individual loan but is part of a group of individuals bound by a group guarantee.
Under this arrangement, each member of the group supports one another and is responsible for paying back the loans of their fellow group members if someone is delinquent or defaults. This is not only a financial guarantee, but also stimulates the social solidarity and responsibility aspect of micro-financing.

Loan Request: $4,000
Repayment terms: 3 months (Deadline April 15 2009)
We gave them a loan of US$100

This is The Road's 3rd social project. The funds for this loan were donated by the VK0IR Heard Island expedition team.

More on The Road's social project "Change Starts Here".
You can keep track of our project via our score card.

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Rumble: Living in Italy - Part 4: Customer Service

I wrote this last year, but never posted it. Here we go.

Fastweb at last

Look at this. I am now the proud owner of a Fastweb ADSL modem with a WiFi interface in my Italian home. It only took me about four months to get connected.

Back in September, I picked up a Fastweb flyer from a booth at one of the shopping centers. Fastweb is one of Italy's main Internet Providers. The salesman checked online if my area could be connected to fast ADSL, and all seemed OK. He promised it would only take three weeks to get me online, even though I did not even have a physical telephone line in the house yet.

One thing you need to know about Italy: No matter how much I love this country, its culture, its food, its climate and its people, one thing they suck at is "service provision". So I was a bit suspicious about the guy's "three weeks".

The week after I got the flyer, I called the salesman, who wrote down my address, my credit card etc, and promised to get the connection request going.
After two weeks, nothing heard.

So I called him. The sales guy said: "No problem, all is OK! We are working on your request!". I answered: "But how can you start the connection procedure, I have not even signed the contract yet?". He answered: "But you gave your credit card number, so all is OK!".

Of course, nothing happened. A week went by without any news, and I called back to insisted on a copy of the contract so I could sign it. It took me three weeks to get a barely readable faxed copy.

Two weeks after signing the contract, still no sign of "connection"-life. The sales guy did not pick up my calls anymore, so I called the company. Nobody spoke English.
Vanessa, one of our admin assistants, was so kind to take over the phone and explain what I wanted: "The status of my connection request!". After 30 minutes, she put down the phone and sighed: "They can not find your original request..".

Two days later, without warning, a guy from Fastweb showed up in our office, and had me sign a new contract. Which I did.

To make a long story short, after many phone calls, with an increasingly aggravated Vanessa, (the poor thing!) trying to hold down her temper with the provider, I got an automatic phone call from the company asking to "Push 1 if my name was Peter...", "Push 2 if my mobile telephone number was..", "Push 1 if I indeed wanted to get an ADSL connection"...

A week later another automated phone call: "Push 1 if my name was Peter...",.. These calls kept on coming, once per day. At 8 pm, like clockwork: "Push 1 if my name was Peter...". But for the rest, not a peep from the company.

Vanessa started to call them again requesting for a status. And she called. And she called.

Six weeks later, out of the blue, a human being called me for an appointment to connect the telephone line. You have no idea of surprise and happiness. Even better: the guy actually showed up on the agreed day and time, and my telephone line was connected in a matter of minutes.

Five days later, someone else showed up to install the actual ADSL modem, and.. I was online...! In five months only!

I just tested the speed with this gimmick and I got 4,500 kbps download and 300-400 kbps upload. Not bad, if you realize I live in a pretty rural area... I am a happy camper! Have Internet, Will Blog!!

Customer Service

Update 1 - One day after getting connected: Fastweb called "to make an appointment to connect my telephone line". I answered: "But you guys installed it yesterday!". They insisted this was not possible and wanted to come by to install the telephone line...
It turned out I now had TWO contracts with the company. And they kept on calling me..

Update 2 - One week after getting connected, Vanessa calls them to cancel one of the two contracts. Panic: they can't find the first contract anymore.

Update 3 - One month after getting connected: They call me. Vanessa is not around. In broken English, they ask me if I am connected. "Si!", I answer. If they can cancel one of the two contracts. "Si! Si!", I begged.

Update 4 - Six weeks after getting connected: An automated phone call at 8 pm: "Push 1 if my name was Peter...",..

What do you think? Should I install a second ADSL modem, just in case? :-)))

PS: Vanessa: I can not thank you enough for your help! Mmmmwah!

More posts on The Road about Living in Italy

Cartoon courtesy

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News: Bush goes, Oil Drops

Oil Price drops as Bush leaves

Price of Oil compared to the period of the Bush reign.
No further explanation needed. (Full)

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Rumble: Meet Becks. Development worker in Madagascar

Becks and colleague George in Madagascar. the banner says 'USE CONDOMS'
Through The Road, I met Becks Hill, a nurse from England who was enthusiastic about a development and awareness project she did in Madagascar.
I decided to interview her to know more on what got her into development work, what drove her.

Please meet Becks. Nurse and development worker (Full interview)

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News: "Aid hampered in East Congo", but what does that really mean?

As civilians flee the fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo, an increase in attacks on aid workers has left humanitarian organisations struggling to help them.

"We've got enough aid, but now the problem is access," said the OCHA office in Kinshasa, adding there have been 21 attacks on aid workers in Nord-Kivu since the fighting resumed. (Full).

While some aid agencies are hesitating to go into the most affected areas, several others are on the forefront. Check out this unedited video from WFP to understand what the situation is on the ground, and what it means when we say "We Provide Aid"... It is shot at a point while people were fleeing fighting in the surrounding hills:

More on The Road about Congo

Video courtesy WFP/Marcus Prior

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Rumble: There are moments you just have to trust the pilot - Part 2.

As an add-on for yesterday's post. "There are moments you just have to trust the pilot"... because "lack of better"?

follow-me vehicle Rome

For the sake of clarity: this is a vintage picture. I think they have now upgraded from Fiat Cinquecenti to Fiat Panda's :-)

Picture courtesy

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News: "Art or Aid" might be the question at the UN next week

Project Barcelo: Art or Aid?

Next week UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Spain's King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero will unveil a newly decorated "Chamber for Human Rights and the Alliance of Civilizations" at UN HQ in Geneva.

The room is decorated by Spanish artist Miquel Barcelo, and is seen as one of his most important works so far. The ceiling created by Barcelo has been compared with Michelangelo's work at the Sistine Chapel. It turns the room into a cave dripping with thousands of multicoloured stalactites and is swept over by a stormy sea.

"The cave is a metaphor for the agora, the first meeting place of humans, the big African tree under which to sit to talk, and the only possible future: dialogue, human rights," Barcelo explains, who worked for 13 months on the art piece. He used over 100 tons of paint, specially designed equipment, and got help from specialists in various disciplines, including from particle physics laboratories, engineers, architects and specialists in heritage restoration.

Project Barcelo: Art or Aid?

The renovation of the room cost nearly 20 million euros ($25 million), 60 percent of which was covered by sponsors. The rest was paid for by the Spanish government, including 500,000 euros ($600,000) allegedly taken from a development aid fund.

"Art has no price," Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said, alluding to criticism from the Spanish conservative opposition which said the money should have been used for vaccinating children or opening water holes in developing countries. (Full)

[Ed: I am not sure if a ceiling filled with needles and pins pointing will create a conducive environment for a room destined for debates on "Human Rights and the Alliance of Civilizations". Spain should do well to explain if indeed the funds did come from their aid kitty. If so, they would have done better by getting some street graffiti artists in!]

Picture courtesy Art Knowledge News and REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

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Rumble: There are moments you just have to trust the pilot...

Ryanair crash Ciampino airport Rome

Earlier this week a Ryanair Boeing 737-800, did an emergency landing here in Rome.

On its approach to Ciampino airport, the airplane hit a large flock of birds about 50ft off the ground. It experienced multiple bird strikes to both engines, most probably loosing its main power.

The pilot performed an emergency landing, by slamming onto the airstrip. Through the force, the plane veered back in the air and bounced again onto the tarmac. Then the plane slipped off the side of the runway, but the pilot managed to get it onto the tarmac again. He stopped the aircraft at the very end of the strip.

After evacuating the passengers from the plane, the airplane's left main landing gear collapsed (sounds almost like a cartoon script), rolling the plane on its side, severely damaging the wing and the belly of the fuselage.

Ryanair Crash Rome

For what could have been much worse, only two crew members and three passengers suffered of minor injuries. (Full)

This makes me think "there are moments you just have to trust the pilot". Including when approaching runways like these:

Tioman Island airstrip

Lord Howe Island, Pacific

Wake Island airstrip

Kabua International Airport, Majuro atoll, Marshall Islands

Macao International Airport

Macao International Airport

Kuujjuaraapik airstrip

Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland

Landing on a rock

Off the coast of Greenwood, Canada


I have never been much of a military person,
but one can not but look in amazement
at this evac landing in Afghanistan.

Alpha strip - Antarctica

And for the real adventurous, there is of course...
the Alpha strip on the Antarctic.

You might also read The World's 10 Most Dangerous Airstrips, and how it can really go wrong in Italians, the Art of Flying and the Laws of Probability.

Pictures The Aviation Herald, and With thanks to my Friend E, flying enthusiast!

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