Snapped: Just to be sure

One of the fishing trawlers in Fiumicino port near Rome. Looks like a living example that the weakest shackle determines the strength of a chain.
Apart from the fact the anchor seems to be a second hand from an oil tanker. Slightly oversized. Maybe they nicked it from one of the Libyan freighters at the oil terminal a mile off shore here...

The weakest link in an anchor chain

More in this Snapped series.

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Snapped: Italy goes Bollywood

Snapped on the way to work. Italy goes Bollywood. How curry mixes with minestrone.

Italy goes Bollywood

More in this Snapped series.

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Two new websites. Something I wanted to do for the longest time

For ages, I have been looking for a way to get an easy and flexible overview of the latest articles for all the news sites I am monitoring. I gave it a try with NewsFeeds, which runs on Google Sites. Unfortunately it was not fast enough for my purpose, so I decided to redo it. And I wanted to style it in the way PopURL does it: plain and simple, the latest 10 posts. And if you hover over an article, a balloon pops up with the first lines of the article and the time it was posted. Click on an article and the original opens up in a new window...

I think I found the final solution: Have a look on My Home on the Road. Pretty neat, even though I say so myself.

On the home page, I give an overview of the latest posts for all the sites I manage. Subsequent pages give an overview of the latest news in the western press, the world press, magazines and social media sites. I also added topic pages. One has a Google News filter for humanitarian topics, a page with technology sites, one with odd news and the last one shows the latest news in the places I live (Belgium and Italy).

For the geeks amongst you: the site runs on selfhosted WordPress, and uses a triple caching mechanism: one to cache the feeds, one to cache the SQL database queries and one to cache the HTML.

If you have suggestions for any sites I should add, let me know.

Yet another thing I wanted to do since the longest time, is to gather all noteworthy stuff I have written, stories and articles, in one place. Their new home is Scribbles. Most of them have been published on The Road before, but I intend to add stuff I wrote a long time before the Internet came into being.

In case you loose track of all blogs and sites I manage, here is an overview.

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Snapped: Lago Maggiore

In February, spent a loving time near Lago Maggiore, in the very North of Italy, close to the border with Switzerland.

Lago Maggiore

More in this Snapped series.

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Snapped: Microsoft Windows goes Italian

Microsoft Windows crashes in the most unusual places. Here it does its thing in a Rome shop window.

Windows crashes in Rome shop window

More in this Snapped series.

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Snapped: Cinque Terre

Last fall, I visited one of Italy's treasures, Cinque Terre, at the Riviera in the Northeast of Italy. A stretch of rocky coast where town, vineyards and isolated houses are glued onto the rocks, or perched in narrow gorges. I think one can write a blog only about travelling through Italy. More than a blog.

Cinque Terre

More in this Snapped series.

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Snapped: Wet pants, the road to Bitche and more

My mobile phone gave up on me this week. The guys at work had it replaced in no time and copied all settings, messages and pictures.. While checking if everything was still there, I browsed through the picture galleries. I seem to have quite a backlog of photographs I took while thinking "I should write a blog post about this".

This weekend, I caught up, and wrote a short series, called "Snapped". Each has one picture and a short comment. The images are all taken with a crappy Nokia phone, so the quality is not very good. The memories are.

Here are the first two:

In June, the weather got very hot all of a sudden. When I'd get into the car in the evening, everything felt as if it were at melting point. So one day, I decided to leave the car windows wide open. Something I normally never do. A summer storm passed by in that afternoon. Of course I'd totally forgotten.
Water flushed out of the car when I opened the window in the evening. Puddles of water on the seats. Which are in cloth, not plastic or leather. I never knew cloth and foam could soak up that much water until I had to sit on it for 30 minutes to drive home.

I don't think I had wet pants since I was four.

wet pants

On the road from Belgium to Austria last Easter, we drove through Luxembourg. And got lost on a detour. We knew were were lost, as we were on the road to "Bitche". We decided to keep a brave face and not to bitch. Time lost, is lost forever. But whenever you get lost, you discover something new.

the road to Bitch

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The geek in me: One Terabyte portable harddisk, Evernote and CCleaner

Western Digital Elements one terabytes

Remember this post where I did a fast forward from my old Apple IIe computer which had a whopping 2x 128 kbyte floppy storage space (and no harddisk of course), to the current technology we have at hand?

Well, this week, I took another leap forward. For ages, I was struggling with my 30 Gbyte harddisk. Download a movie, and 1 Gb is gone. I like to store my pictures in their original resolution, eating 500 kbyte per per picture.
For a while, I used my 60 Gbyte iPod as external harddrive, but I outgrew that quickly.

Now my worries are over. I bought a 1 Terabyte Western Digital Elements external harddrive. One TERABYTE. or one thousand Gigabytes. Or one million Megabytes... I think that will keep me going for a while...

And you know the best part? I paid only about US$75 for it, here in a local shop. I come home, plug in the power supply, connect it to my computer via the USB cable, and I am ready to rock and roll... One Terabyte... Let those movies come to daddy, baby!

Evernote screenshot

Another geeky discovery this week was Evernote. This free desktop and web utility lets you cut and paste anything you find on the web, anything on your screen, anything in a file, into nifty little notes, which you can organise in folders. It stores text, pictures, video and links. You can edit the each note to your heart's content.
The desktop tool synchronizes automatically with your web-based account so you can access your notes from any computer.
It also comes with a browser plug in, allowing you to easily grab anything from the web and store it in a note.

CCleaner screen shot

The last tip for the week is CCleaner, a free Windows utility that cleans up all temporary and unused files, and performs a health check on my Windows registry by removing all unused references which programs and utilities leave behind when uninstalling. CCleaner found about 150 unused entries on my computer. Starting up Windows goes a lot faster since I used it.

Voila, from your local resident geek, it is [over and out]

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Living in Italy - Part 15: What makes food in Italy taste so good?

fruits and vegetablesIn principle, this could be the shortest blogpost I ever wrote:

Question: "What makes food in Italy taste so good?"
Answer: "The ingredients"

Here is the longer version:

In a world where as a consumer, we want to have any type of vegetable or fruit in the shop, at any time during the year, we gradually slide into the habit of eating "plastic". There is no other word for a fruit or vegetable which was picked while unripe, only growing to its mature size (and of course its perfect look) while transported in an under-cooled container.

I remember the perfect December strawberries at breakfast in New York: shiny bright red on the outside, and white on the inside. Nothing but water. No taste whatsoever.
Same - or even more so - in Dubai, where fresh vegetables were almost non-existent. As local living habits were on the route to become North American, so were the eating habits. In the supermarkets, it all looked perfect: apples, asparagus, berries, oranges. Big sizes too. But taste like water.

And on top of that, upon popular demand by the consumer, fruits and veggies can not go off fast. We should be able to keep them in the fridge for three weeks at least... Plastic goes for ever, no? God knows what they treat veggies with to keep "fresh" for a month.

Not so in Italy. In general, you can only buy fruits and vegetables which are in season. The taste is like I have never experienced before. But you have to use it within the next days, as they go off in no time.

Look at this freshly picked Tuscan tomato a friend brought from her garden. See its colour, its firmness?

Tuscan Tomatoe

Freshly picked, it made a lovely meal by itself. But, amongst the two dozen tomatoes, there was one unripe tomato. Still firm green. Just for the curiosity, I left it on the cupboard for four weeks. When eventually it was ripe, it looked perfect, just like the others, but tasted like nothing. Why? It did not ripen in the sun, on its vine as the other tomatoes did. It grew to maturity on my cupboard.

Look at this salsa I made: the only ingredient were freshly picked Tuscan tomatoes. I added some herbs and let it all broil for two hours. Look at the intensity of the colour, look how firm it is. If I'd do this with Belgian tomatoes, it would be all watery with only a hint of red.

And that is one of the reason I love to live in Italy.

More about Living in Italy on The Road

Top picture courtesy Nanaimo Info Blog

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Song of the day: Wait it out (Imogen Heap)

Where do we go from here?
How do we carry on?
I can't get beyond these questions...

Clambering for the scraps in the shatter of us collapsed
that cuts me with every could-have-been

Pain on pain on play repeating
with the backup, makeshift life in waiting

Everybody says time heals everything
but what of the wretched hollow?
The endless in between
are we just going to wait it out?

There's nothing to see here now,
turning the sign around
We're closed to the earth 'til further notice

A stumbling cliched case,
crumpled and puffy faced
Dead in the stare of a thousand miles

All I want, only one, street level miracle
I'll be an out and out, born again, from none more

And sit here cold, we will be long gone by then
In lackluster, in dust we layer on old magazines,
fluorescent lighting sets the scene
in the one life that we've got

And sit here
Just going to wait it out
And sit here cold
Just going to sweat it out
Wait it out

This song should be played at the opening of the upcoming Copenhagen Climate Summit meeting.

Video courtesy TED

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Picks of the Week: Green, Ethics in Business and Shattered Lives

Shattered Lives

The interesting links I harvested this week:

  • MSF (Doctors Without Borders) Belgium launched Shattered Lives, an advocacy campaing concentrating on sexual violence affecting the lives of women, men and children.
  • If you are interested in political and social justice reporting Mother Jones might be your thing.
  • Sean Gallagher is a photographer we have featured before on The Road. His blog has interesting videos and pictures from his travels in China and North Korea, and side notes of his travels.
  • I have not figured out Duckrabbit's blog fully, but I *do* know it has loads of advocacy and media projects related to development and humanitarian issues. Definitively worth a bookmark.
  • On the homepage of ApeSphere, I read: "The place of business in society needs to change. Profits can no longer come before people or planet." Hear Hear!
  • The Real 100 is a mix between business with ethics, ethics with business, noble thoughts, inspiration and values. I did not make that very clear, did I?
    Try this then: It contains articles based on a list of organisations and companies that inspire. Got that? Now go and get inspired, will you? Have a look.

More Picks of the Week on The Road.

Picture courtesy MSF Belgium

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Picture of the Day: Green versus Desert

Forest belt in China trying to stop desertification

China is creating a 4,500 km (2,800 mi) long forest belt to control sandstorms pushing forward the sands of the Gobi desert. (More)

More Pictures of the Day on The Road.

Picture courtesy Biopact

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Copenhagen Climate Summit Heat: from business to condoms.

Climate change mug

The more the December Copenhagen Climate Change Summit comes closer, it is interesting just watching the headlines flashing by. It seems everyone and his dog is starting to claim their stake, and to put their own spin onto climate change trying to ensure they "profit" from whatever comes out. Financially, politically or visibility wise.

If you do "Copenhagen summit, climate change", "business, climate change" or "climate engineering" searches on Humanitarian News, you will see the blogosphere and news heating up:

Politics were first:
US and Europe clash over Copenhagen deal
India will be key player at Copenhagen conference
Maldives too broke to attend climate summit
Chinese adviser: 2C target unrealistic
US climate change bill faces fresh delays
If Obama Can't Defeat the Republican Headbangers, Our Planet is Doomed
E.U. calls on U.S. to do more to tackle climate change
Emissions per person in parts of China above rich nations
Merkel and Sarkozy want carbon tax on imports

The business hook:
Climate Change: Big Business Now, and Fixing to Get a Whole Lot Bigger
Carbon-Capturing Cement Worth as Much As GE’s Power Plant Business
India not to succumb to pressure on carbon emission pact: Govt - Business Standard India

The humanitarian angle:
Doctors Urge Climate Pact To Avert ‘Global Health Catastrophe’
Development v Climate Change: a new UN report tries to square the circle
Global Warming Is A Medical Emergency
UN: Rich Countries Will Suffer Unless They Help Poor on Climate Change
Europe's €15bn climate aid price tag
Diverting Aid for Climate Change Threatens Children
But of course: U.S. Climate Envoy Says Some Calls for Aid 'Wildly' Off Mark (Bloomberg)

And there is the cash factor:
Poor countries need “hundreds of billions” to fight climate change
Scientists Find Net Present Value of Climate Change Impacts of $1240 TRILLION on Current Emissions Path
Africa: Continent Puts Price On Climate Adaptation Aid

When researchers join hands with big business:

(for as far as they are not already owned by the business)
Engineering better than tax climate: economists
Influential U.K. Panel Outlines Possible Geo-engineering Ideas
I won't quote more climate engineering stuff, as it makes me depressive. "Let's not treat the cause of the problem, but engineer a workaround"...
From massive solar panels in the sky, fake carbon sucking trees to spraying sea water in the atmosphere: "Climate engineering" puts dollar signs in everybody's eyes. Companies start drooling and pseudo-researchers get wet dreams.

My all time favourite, though, is:
Condoms could combat climate change
Or how we should encourage the use of condoms in the developing world. Slowing down their population growth will slow down the heating of the planet. I think that is a very sustainable solution, clearly tacking the root cause of the problem. Dah.
Maybe we can arm up both sides from any conflict in the world: the Chad rebels and Sudanese army, Ethiopia and the Somali insurgents, the Taliban and Afghan government troops, India and Pakistan, Taiwan and China, DRC and Rwanda, Japan and North-Korea, Israel and Iran. We encourage wars in the vicinity of the world's largest populations. That should kill a few billions. Voila, problem solved: a few billion less and the carbon offset is no longer relevant. Ozone holes will close, and the world will be green.
It would also generate a lot of business in the arms trade, mega bucks in rebuilding economies. We would all feel good as we would donate to thousands of charities helping the affected population. It certainly stop the upcoming economies from catching up so fast with the Western industries: we let them bomb each other.

Picture courtesy Zazzle

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Song of the day: Run Away (The Corrs)

Say it's true, there's nothing like me and you
Not alone, tell me you feel it too
And I would runaway
I would runaway, yeah
I would runaway
I would runaway with you

Cause I have fallen in love
With you, no never have
I'm never gonna stop falling in love, with you

Close the door, lay down upon the floor
And by candlelight, make love to me through the night
Cause I have runaway
I have runaway, yeah

If you are in for a magical life version of this song, try this.

More music on The Road.

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Kicking people until they have a conscience

Louis Paul Boon

When I was seventeen, as part of the tests to graduate secondary school, we had to read three books from one author, and make short summary. I choose Louis-Paul ("Lowie") Boon, a Flemish writer, columnist, socialist and anarchist. He was not really educated. He was a house painter. But he was a born artist and story teller.

He lived in poverty while he wrote his first book. After 400 pages of it, he discarded the relevance, and hung it from a string on his bathroom wall, so he could save on toilet paper. His wife took the manuscript, read it, took the last page and wrote on it: "Etcetera, Etcetera, Etcetera". She wrapped everything together in brown paper and sent it off to a publisher. It won the Leo J. Krijn Prize for literature.

I did not read three books from Louis-Paul Boon. I got fascinated by him and read all of his books, about 30 or 40 by then. Some of the books had the size of an encyclopedia. And I did not write a summary, I wrote a 100 page thesis. My teachers collectively declared me a nut case and I graduated (almost failing my maths exam, though, but that is a different story).

No surprise Louis-Paul Boon left a lasting impression on the teenager I was, and still am. Not only in his writing style and approach to life, but also in some of his basic principles. One of them was "You have to kick people until they have a conscience": You have to repeat ethical values to people, slam their face with it, until they understand. Head-on. That sentence remained within me, lingering.

Being young, you want to prove yourself, so I got into the commercial world, into the business. And not just any business. After some adventures at a hitech research company, I joined a company -at that time- at the heart of the world's financial world. I worked at their headquarters, in a building designed by Ricardo Bofill and set on an old castle estate near Brussels.

If you thought banks were the summon of "prestige", think again. This was a step beyond that... Everything, even the cafeteria furniture was custom designed. You can imagine what was at the center of the business. Money.

Gradually, Louis-Paul Boon started to creep back into my mind. My commercial instincts got into a battle with my ethic values, which had remained dormant during the first years in my career. Then came the evening that changed the rest of my life. I could no longer work for a commercial company. The lust for life, for adventure, for the horizon, but mainly the drive to 'make a positive change in this world', got stronger.

My conscience won the battle. I gave up my management career, went to the Antarctic, wrote a book, and started my professional life from scratch as a technician for the Red Cross.

Gradually, once more, my commercial and competitive instincts got the upper hand. While I continued to work in the humanitarian world, I gradually got sucked into the hard core "business" aspect of it: concentrating on my core work, I would do the stuff I did well, and do it head-on. I would not always put it all in a humanitarian context.

As the years went on, my team grew. I hired hundreds of people over the years. Many left a trace in my mind and heart. It was not until the midst of the 2003 Iraq crisis, we hired Larisa.

Larisa asking questions

Larisa started the Pink Revolution in our team. She would question all and everything. She was a pain. She would be the one saying "you can not kill to feed the hungry". Not meant literally (thank God!), but rather: "you can not run over your ethics while doing your humanitarian work".

She triggered my conscience back into a ferocious battle with my competitive instincts. And this time, the conscience would get the upper hand. It has ever since, I'd love to believe.

My conscience is a big as a 30 story flat now. It dominates everything I do. Every time I raise my voice (a lot), piss off people (a lot), hurt someone (luckily rarely I would think), I can not sleep at night. I am trying to lead a life where my ethics determine what and how I do it. It dominates.

That makes me a pain to work with. That makes it impossible to manage me. Many see me as a loose canon. I simply can not keep quiet. I feel guilty if I have something on my mind, and do not speak up, or question. I fight battles, often loosing battles. I bang my head against the wall continuously. But I do not give up. This blog, The Road, is part of that dynamic, by the way.

The "conscience" is one of the reasons I continue to work in the humanitarian world. Not only because it is "humanitarian", but maybe, maybe, I can work on "change from within". The UN is criticised a lot. But it is easy doing that from the sidelines. I want to do it while being in the midst of it. Trying to make a change from within.

And maybe, maybe, I can instill a change in people. Even if it was in a small part, I want to change the world. And remind people of their conscience. Every day is a battle to continue doing that. It is so easy to get sucked into your daily job, without loosing sight of the wider, the humanitarian, the human context.

Every day, I have to remind myself. Every day, I have to weigh the conscience part, with the work I have to deliver. Not loosing sight of either. Every day. Every day, I want to kick people until they have a conscience. "Lowie" in me has not died. Is he still alive within you?

Pictures courtesy Ricardo Bofill, Klara

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Climate change: 20% of China is now desert.

Sean Gallagher is a photojournalist living in China. With the support of Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting to highlight the impact of desertification in China.

Almost 20% of China's land is now desert, affecting 400 million people. In Western China over one million acres of fertile land turn into desert. Per year. Last year they suffered a peak drought.

Climate change, wind and water erosion, industrialization, agriculture, untimely policy changes, you name it.

China's desertification is not only a problem for the Chinese. It impacts the world as a whole. I am not talking about what 1,000,000 acres of desert mean to the world's climate, alone: the more fertile land turns into sand, the more China is looking for agriculture land abroad, competing with European biofuel companies and Arab countries trying to secure their food production too. And money buys land in Africa. Easily. Even if this means they need to reduce their own food production.

Video courtesy Sean Gallagher. Discovered via Resolve and Duckrabbit

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New aidworkers and nonprofit blogs

Man in Cambodia

I have discovered four new aidworker blogs which are worth a read:
Roving Bandit: Lee in South Sudan
Kampuchea Crossings: Nathalie in Cambodia
In Development: Chris in Kenya
From Here to Finvara: Kelsey in South Sudan
I added them to my aidworkers blogroll (see the widget in the side column), which I treasure. These are my colleagues from all over the world. You MUST check them out regularly. Their latest posts, you can find in AidBlogs.
While I am on my soapbox, have also a look at Woody's blog. He works in DRC, and posts very short posts with pictures that always make me smile.

As you have noticed, my nonprofit and development blogs list just grew too big to put in the side column. I moved it to my Delicious list. There are 342 blogs in the list at the moment. I publish a snapshot of their latest posts on The NonProfitBlogs. Check also their posts on Humanitarian News.

Picture courtesy Kampuchea Crossings

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Climate change: The girl who silenced the world for 5 minutes

With the media heating up for the December Climate Change Summit in Denmark, it is time to for some reflection.

Does the name "Severn Cullis-Suzuki" mean anything to you? Severn was 12 when in 1992, she raised money to attend the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. She spoke to the summit members in a speech which became famous. A speech which -sadly enough- could have been given today. It makes one wonder what progress really happened in the past 17 year.

Do we actually make progress on protecting our planet for the sake of our children, and their children? In an age where Green Goes Commercial, where corrupt companies like Monsanto and Cargill start dominating our food chain, and chase the food prices up so the poor no longer have access to food. A world where Western companies buy up fertile land in Africa to grow biofuel crops so less land becomes available for food agriculture?

Did we make progress, or are we still sliding downhill?

Check out the most recent news and blogposts about the Climate Change summit in Copenhagen on Humanitarian News.

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Summer is over. Snif.

Rome weather forecast

We hardly had a single drop of rain in July and August. Two weeks ago, it was that hot, I had to buy a fan.
A week ago, almost at the flip of a switch, the weather turned around. Thunder, lightning, rain... I had to close the windows at night.

And according to the weather forecast, it looks like the summer is over. In the next 10 days, we will have one day of sunshine.

Time to go for a winter sleep.. See you all in 8 months. Bye!! ;-)

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The dream of OLPC and the aid bubble

OLPC - One Laptop Per Child

Fellow aidworker Alanna wrote a provocative post on UNDispatch about the "end of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) dream".

OLPC set out a couple of years ago, designing, manufacturing and distributing a simple laptop (or call it a "Netbook") geared towards kids, specifically in developing countries. Their mission was formulated as:
To create educational opportunities for the world's poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning. When children have access to this type of tool they get engaged in their own education. They learn, share, create, and collaborate. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future.

From the beginning, the plan was ambitious, innovative,.. and controversial. "Tall trees catch a lot of wind" is surely applicable. The more as it was such an easy target for cheap sarcasm: "How will a laptop feed a hungry child"? You can imagine...

OLPC cartoon
Alanna's post is creating a bit of a sturr in the ICT4D (ICT For Development), and in the development blogosphere as such (Check out the latest posts via a Humanitarian News search). I might disagree with Alanna on the OLPC, I surely appreciate provocative posts to stir up discussions. ;-)

Here are my views:

  • Anyone trying to make a difference, and is not afraid to put words into deeds, especially if it is innovative, provocative and controversial, deserves my respect. Especially if it is well thought through. OLPC has my respect.
  • Proper education is one of the principal ways to eradicate poverty. There are different means to boost education in the developing world. Rendering technology more affordable and accessible is one.
  • ...But it is not the only solution. Cheap laptops can not feed hungry children, that is for sure. But neither can "feeding children teach them how to read". Boosting education in the developing world has many challenges. Starting at the basics:
    • How do we get the kids to come to school, if they have to work in the fields helping their parents to grow enough food?
    • Once they come to school, how do we keep them in school up to the point their education becomes applicable to their lives?
    • How do we train teachers, and keep them into education. How do we avoid poaching of teachers by the commercial world?
    • How do we ensure kids have enough nutritional food, are they properly de-wormed (and are healthy enough), so they can capitalize to the max on the efforts brought? (there is a whole series of studies illustrating how proper nutrition boosts a child's capacity to learn)
    • How do we make sure there is a proper school infrastructure, proper teaching material, proper latrines?
    • How do we make sure the educational programme is institutionalized and self-sustainable (I need to write something on sustainability as this is one of my sore points at the moment).
  • Attacking OLPC because they triggered only one part of the solution, is unfair, I think. However triggering debates to ensure OLPC is properly integrated in a wholesome solution, is constructive.
  • However, as the cynical aidworker I sometimes am, I have to say that wholesome solutions to complex development goals are virtually non-existent. It is simply not built into the humanitarian system. It is very very very difficult to have different organisations work together for a common goal. Even if it would be as simple as "address the problems of this ONE school in all of its aspects". Leave alone all schools in a country. Beh.. Different organisations have different means and goals. But most of all, they compete. They compete for the same donor-dollar. In the end, why would I, as organisation X, work with organisation Y, if I know that in the end, we will be approaching the same donors for the same money? X and Y are competitors in a competitive world. And that will remain forever (unless at a certain point, there is a more even balance between the world's needs and the world's capacity to give. Dream on!).
  • And finally: OLPC is an easy target. I will challenge anyone to bring up examples of aid projects which are the right bang for buck, with wholesome approaches, lasting and self-sustainable projects. There are not many. There is a lot of "make believe", but there are not many good examples. If the aid organisations would be commercial enterprises, the "aid business bubble" would have burst decennia ago. And would have burst every five years.
OK, that is a lot of ranting, what is the solution then? According to me, we have to start at the basics. Some food for thought:
  • Better and stronger oversight of the aid spending, both by the organisations themselves, governments and independent bodies. Make the audits public. Make the impact data public.
  • Work out better criteria to measure impact, sustainability and integration in wholesome solutions.
  • Ensure outcomes are measured by impact, and not by amount of money spent. (You think I am kidding? I am not! No donor is ever happy if at the end of the project, you return the balance of unspent money. Ever!)
  • Entice cooperation between organisations, while recognizing that healthy competition is good.
  • Transparency, transparency, transparency, transparency.
Shoot me. I am a dreamer.

Pictures courtesy OLPC,

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The heart is what counts

In what seems to become an ongoing series about humanitarian advocacy ;-)... Here is another video which spoke to my heart.
Compare this piece of (he)art with the MSF video we discussed earlier, and you will see what I mean when I say "you don't have to fake stories to move a public"

Added to inspirational video collection.

Video courtesy the Strongheart Fellowship Programme

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Sunset this evening

sunset in Italy
Miracle Beach at Fregene tonight. No words needed.

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A false start this morning

flat tyre in Italy
Here I am, waking up tickled by sunlight. I get a shower, water the plants, clean up the place a bit, get into the car, drive up the highway. And then I hear a funny noise in the back...

Oops, punctured tyre.. No problem I have done this before... A Smart does not come with a spare tyre, but with a handy electric pump. I park on the emergency lane. 30 ton truck racing 2 inches past you. You "pump it up" and drive off..

Oops... puncture too big.... I barely make it to the next gas station. All flat again. No problem.. I have a can of tyre glue filler (how do you call that stuff?), made for just that. Except that there is no tool to get the valve off the tyre. No way to fit the glue tube onto the tyre.

flat tyre in Italy
Well, this is a gas station, so I ask the pompista. Nope. "No tools." He points at the gas station at other side of the highway: "Ask there". Luckily there is an underpass. Off I go.
I explain with the best of my Italian, that there is a problem with my "bomba" and I am looking for a "bombista".. The guy gives me a funny look but no luck. "If you get the tyre here, I will fix you up with a second hand one", he says. I think that is what he says.

Meanwhile next to my car, a queue is forming. Three buses of Dutch tourists wanna go to the loo, and line up right next to my car. And each has a comment. Not thinking I would speak Dutch. We're in Italy after all. Until I comment on their comments.

Long story short, my luck comes in the form of an angel, a friend working close by. She dropped by the local garage, picks up a wrench and a tool to remove the valve. When she arrives, I introduce her to the Dutch tourists as the representative of the local automobile club. They all comment they want to change tyres too.

Anyway, glue goes in, but as soon as I pump up the tyre, it comes out of a dozen different holes. It seems I drove into every single nail in Rome. Tyre has to come off. Smart no come with jack. Back to the pompista to explain I have a problem with my 'bomba'.. No tools. Friend's car has. Fits well. Off comes the tyre.

flat tyre in Italy
With tyre and friend back to the other side of the highway. I ask again for the 'bombista'. Friend asks me what I mean? I say "a guy who fixes tyres".. "Ah" she says, 'GOMMISTA', you mean. 'BOMBISTA' is someone who makes bombs..." No wonder nobody had tools for my "BOMBA" (bomb). Oh well.

The GOMMISTA gets the tyre off, and fixes a second hand one he has laying around. "Should get you going to the next garage", he says. 20 Euros. Cheap to get back onto the road.

Back to the other side of the highway (thank God for underpasses), fixed the tyre while realizing this is not the typical picture: Normally you would have a blonde saved by a mechanical savvy guy. Here I am being saved by a female angel..

Anyways, dropped the car off at a garage, and got a ride back home. Back where I started off, four hours later. Car to be picked up in the evening.

Will give it another try tomorrow morning...

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What's been keeping me busy
Nope, I don't mean just the past few days - I spent the weekend home in Belgium. I don't mean the hours spent trying to get Windows XP reinstalled on Lana's laptop. And figuring out which driver was the right one for her wireless card. And preferably did not conflict with the network card. Beh.
I don't mean neighter the debugging of the LAN ("Daddy, why does the Internet only work for 5 minutes in one go?") - which was just a reset of the wireless router...

No, I mean in the past weeks... What's been keeping me busy (outside of work)..

Well. I kicked off several new sites:

  • Humanitarian News is my mega-multi-mucho aggregator, taking in the latest posts from about 600 different sites.. It is my first project made on a non-blog platform.. My first timid tries in "Drupal", a webdevelopment platform (the real dudes call it a "CMS or Content Management System") used by The In-Crowd for Real Websites. The whole site is automated, with half-hourly broadcasts on Twitter: @HumanityNews.
    "Humanitarian News" has been up since a week now, and collected over 4,000 different articles. Just the mere amount of articles has proven to be quite an asset. Just do a search on Sudan for instance, and you will get what has been published about Sudan in those 600 different sites: news articles, press releases and posts in the Blogosphere..
    And it is not just quantity, but also quality: as the sources are all handselected, the contents is quite relevant for anyone working in, or interested in the nonprofit sector...
  • I also released You and Us and Me with news clips about the environment, green issues and nature conservation. To be followed on Twitter via @NewsOnGreen.
    For the moment, You and Us and Me is fed from about 30 different sources. This week, I will look for more sites...
  • People keep on sending me suggestions for my delicious nonprofit blogs collection. The latest posts of these are posted automatically on NonProfit Blogs, to be followed on Twitter: @NonProfitBlogs.
And I wrote stuff:
That's what has been keeping me busy....!

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Advocacy, the other way: "Why Congo Matters"

The discussion around MSF UK's controversial video sparked quite a lot of comments around the topic 'How do you portray aid and poverty' or 'How do you make people think about these subjects'.

So I thought it is a good idea to show another way. A way that touched me. Meet Emily Troutman.

Emily TroutmanEmily Troutman is a writer and photographer living in Washington. She just came back after a month travelling around Kivu, in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She made a video collage of her pictures, mounted it with some gripping music and appropriate text. Its simplicity took me in, and contrasted sharply with the MSF video we talked about a few days ago. Have a look for yourself:

I contacted Emily, and we had an interesting exchange:

Why did you make this video?
Emily: It was a rare opportunity to give voice to an issue that at this moment only exists at the fringes of the mainstream media.

Was this your first trip to rural Africa?
Emily: I also traveled with UNOCHA in the Gulu area of Uganda in 2006. I took some wisdom and knowledge from that trip into Congo. For example, I already knew what real poverty and starvation looked like, so I was able to pay attention to what could maybe be called higher-level needs, but are still urgent: space, pots to cook in, blankets. Of course in Congo, the biggest issue is safety.

What was different in the experience between the two trips, Congo and Uganda?
Emily: In Congo, I generally saw less hungry people, but still some malnutrition, and a whole new complexity of issues facing internally displaced people (IDPs). In Congo, IDPs are still running in a way that they were not in Uganda in 2006. I was also profoundly impacted by the enormity of the jungle in Congo. My four day trip to Pinga, through an area where civilians and aid workers have been shot, really brought home the sense of danger that the Congolese face in simple day-to-day tasks like gathering wood, or walking to market.

These are areas where the authorities or even the people, are not always happy to see a photographer
Emily: The DRC was a very frustrating place to take photos because the work I was doing was technically illegal.
It is exceptionally difficult to get permission to take photos there, so most of the time when I shot, it was in IDP camps or traveling with UN MONUC escorts. I have a profound respect for those photographers who risk their lives to take photos of the military or shine light on issues like child soldiers.

But DRC.. So many have published stuff about the DRC?
Emily: I recognized that Congo, like so many intractable problems, has a way of receding into the noise of daily life. Even for me, it became one of these world crises that are too far away and too foreign to matter on a daily basis. It becomes hard to summon the energy to pay attention. Like, why even look at the issue if I can’t do anything to help?

And did you? Did you help?
Emily: I wanted to go, just so I could see. And ultimately, to decide if that experience of seeing and sharing what I saw could transform how all of us think about Congo, and more generally, the problems of “other people.” Although I have written and photographed similar issues in the past, Congo seemed uniquely overlooked, especially in light of the scale of its tragedy.

People talk a lot about “awareness” and “action” and “making a difference.” But honestly, this was not an aspiration of mine. I only wanted to be open to the moment and encourage those I photograph to also be open to me. The next part is like a witnessing, seeing what happens when two people enter a silent pact to tell the truth. I wanted to make the video because it is an easy way to draw people in; a photo doesn't ask anything of us except our attention.

You can find the stories behind the pictures, on Emily's blog. More of her work, you can find on on her website.

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Meaningful error messages. Not.

meaningless computer error message

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My blogs

I blog for fun and out of passion. I love social media and the power of crowdsourced information gathering or dissemination. Here is a short overview of all my blogs and websites:

1. My main blogs
  • My House on The Road really my home page. It shows the latest feeds from all my sites, as well as the feeds from a selection of other news sites I follow constantly.

  • The Road to the Horizon
    ... is my main blog. This is where it all started. On "The Road" I publish my travel short stories, news commentary, bits and pieces of things I pick up as I live my life as an expat, a traveller, and an aidworker.
    On Twitter: @TheRoadTo
    On Facebook: TheRoadToTheHorizon

  • BlogTips
    ...pulls together all my tips on blogging, specifically as tips and tricks for nonprofit bloggers and nonprofit organisations.
    On Twitter: @BloggerTip

  • Shot from the Hip where I post random pictures taken with my mobile phone. Life around me
    automatically twittered via @TheRoadTo

  • Scribbles a spin-off from The Road, where I highlight my "most notorious" writings: articles and stories I wrote over the years.

  • Have Impact!
    ...concentrates on our micro finance projects, which originally started as a social project "Change Starts Here" on The Road

  • Verslaafd aan de Horizon my Dutch eBook about three expeditions to the Antarctic and the Pacific.

  • The Non-Profit Press
    ...publishes press releases and news from nonprofit causes.

2. My news aggregators
3. Web clippings
  • The Horizon where I collect my random Internet clips, as I browse around the Internet.

  • The Road Daily a Newsvine site, where I clip news articles. Articles can be commented upon.

  • International Aid Workers Today similar to "The Road Daily", but here a community of people interested in humanitarian aid submit their clips.

4. Experimental blogs
  • Ander Nieuws the same as "The Other World News", but with Dutch headers.

  • De weg naar de Horizon another Dutch site where I cross-post short pieces from The Road to the Horizon.

Pictures courtesy Ning and RSA Education

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