Take a Stand this month against period poverty

Take a Stand this month against period poverty

Period poverty is a growing problem in Ireland. It can be an off putting topic for some, but the fact is that women and trans men who are homeless or living in hardship cannot afford sanitary products, which can be dangerous to health and take away a person’s sense of dignity. According to CSO statistics from 2015, just under 9% of Ireland’s adult population lives in consistent poverty.

Take a stand against this injustice with Period Poverty Ireland, who have started a gofundme campaign for those with no access to sanitary products, or sign their petition asking our Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to provide free supplies to those in need. The Homeless Period Dublin also accept donations of sanitary towels and tampons to provide homeless women or those in direct provision with what is a necessity. Let’s follow Scotland’s example, who recently decided to give out free sanitary products across Aberdeen.

Follow Period Poverty Ireland on Facebook for updates

Cooking up a better future in Bhutan

Cooking up a better future in Bhutan

Globally, 3 billion people – almost half of the world’s population – still use open fires to cook their food, causing more deaths than AIDS, Malaria and tuberculosis combined. Sari Perdana highlights a safer alternative.

Whether you are a smoker or not – you probably know the feeling when you accidentally breathe in the smoke of a cigarette, leaving you with a heavy cough and stinging eyes. Can you imagine that there are people who are exposed to the smoke of 400 cigarettes an hour on a daily basis?

Danger of household air pollution

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), this is the case for 3 billion people globally who still rely on open fires for cooking using firewood, coal and animal dung as their fuel. Burning solid fuels produces high levels of toxic fumes, also known as household air pollution, causing a range of diseases such as pneumonia, stroke or lung cancer.

“Every hour approximately 500 people die from the diseases attributable to household air pollution”

Every hour approximately 500 people die from the diseases attributable to household air pollution. The victims are predominantly women and the children accompanying them throughout the long process of cooking, they spending several hours in front of the fire every day.

Open cooking fires are not only a threat to the health of millions of people, they also entail environmental consequences. 21% of global black carbon emissions are generated by inefficient open cooking fires – having up to 1,500 times higher impact on global warming than CO2. Chopping down trees to fuel fires also causes deforestation as well as soil erosion.


Although a stove that is designed to eliminate the smoke and consequently all smoke-related disease has been on the market for years, the high cost required to purchase and maintain these stoves has been a barrier for people living on less than $2 per day.

To counter this challenge, the Bhutanese Cooperative Dazin developed a social business model that includes impoverished communities in the distribution of smokeless stoves and the production of the fuel ‘cookies’ (small, dense briquettes). This is how they explain this model:

‘A woman living in a rural area of Bhutan gives her wood waste to us, instead of burning it as she normally does. We turn this crowdsourced wood waste into condensed fuel ‘cookies’ and in return, give her a smokeless cookstove on lease and enough fuel cookies to cover her needs. The surplus fuel (70%) made from her crowdsourced wood waste, is sold at a competitive price to urban customers ensuring economic sustainability and further development. The stove cost in rural areas is recovered within 7 months due to the fuel sales in cities.’

Satisfied Customer (1) Dazin


Open cooking fires are a huge problem that can only be solved if the needs of the beneficiaries are at the core of the solution.

Social Entrepreneurship is a way of combining the solution with a business model to ensure long-term impact.

During their yearlong pilot project in 2014, Dazin has proven the beneficiaries’ interest in a collaboration, and that their inclusive approach reduces wood consumption by 50%, eliminates black carbon entirely and reduces C02 emissions by 4 tons per stove every year.

Following their pilot success, Dazin is now running a crowdfunding campaign to expand their impact from 180 to 2,000 beneficiaries in Bhutan this winter.

Check out their Crowdfunding page and become part of the solution!

Author: Sari Perdana

Sari Perdana is an undergraduate student at the Dublin City University where she studies Global Business. The 21-year-old German is currently spending her mandatory internship in Copenhagen at the non-for-profit cooperative Dazin. She firstly got in contact with Suas during a Global Issues Course which amplified her interest for development work. View Sari’s LinkedIn profile.

Photo credit: Dazin, http://www.dazin.org/
The fear-bola crisis

The fear-bola crisis

Laura Hussey analyses recent Western news coverage of the Ebola virus and finds that it leaves much to be desired.

‘All flights from West Africa should be immediately discontinued to the USA, and Europe should do the same thing’. This pearl of wisdom was bestowed upon the American people from none other than Bill O’Reilly on his infamous segment, ‘The O’Reilly Factor’, which aired on Fox News recently. Thinking rationally, surely no logical person could legitimately consider such a crude suggestion? It is broadcasters such as O’Reilly who undoubtedly promote the alienation of Africa in Western eyes by portraying the groups affected by Ebola as ‘the other’.

Promoting fear

While, of course, the Ebola virus should not be played down; is it really necessary to promote fear and anxiety for the sake of entertainment or higher ratings? It seems that comedians have been the latest group to notice the almost comic effect of some of the hysteria-inducing reports by certain Western media outlets.

Russell Brand, in his video series The Trews, deconstructs this recent report by Mr O’Reilly on the Ebola Virus in Western Africa. Brand urges his viewers to try to be rational, and rather than worry about the spreading of Ebola, to focus efforts on helping those in West Africa who are affected.  ‘It exists in our minds that we will have some banishing virus which will wipe out humanity’, Brand explains, ‘there’s an obvious sub-textual consideration that people don’t mind as long as Ebola is in certain countries or in certain continents that’s okay, it’s a manageable concept.’

Whose story to tell?

Brand and his guest on the show, Morris from Sierra Leone, illustrate the huge importance bestowed upon media executives to fairly and accurately report this disease. Morris explains, ‘Africans are not given the opportunity to tell their own stories, to own their own narratives about the issues that are affecting them, for people to listen to their ideas about how they feel their problems should be solved. The media in this crisis has a massive role to play because one of the things that’s going to cause this thing to keep spreading is the disinformation, misinformation and the hysteria’.

Contained or out of control?

Similarly, Russell Howard’s Good News – whose aim is to bring to light optimistic stories from around the globe – took some time during his show to poke fun and compare the reporting of this virus on British and US news stations. The comic cut to British news clips in which the message to stay calm permeated the reporting stating, ‘a small number of cases will reach the UK’, ‘we can contain it’. The accounts are measured and level-headed.

Meanwhile, their transatlantic cousins, Fox News, took a slightly different approach, ‘Fox News Alert’ the reporter proclaims, ‘the Ebola emergency here in America…(is) spiralling out of control’. Titterings of laughter could be heard throughout Howard’s studio audience as they watched these sensational reports delivered in such panicked tones. ‘The media have worked the American people into such a frenzy!’ exclaims Howard.

Unreal paranoia

However, it is unfair to judge the US media by one news channel, there are other news outlets, such as CNN who have similarly tried to highlight the preposterous frenzy that has been generated by the media.

In an article by Saeed Ahmed and Dorrine Mendoza, the journalists attempt to relay their frustrations over some of the coverage of the virus: ‘This is getting ridiculous’, they write, ‘while the threat of Ebola is very real in Africa, the paranoia it’s generated in the United States is unreal.’

The article also notes that a Nigerian student was recently declined a place to study in Navarro College, about 60 miles from Dallas. The college sent out rejection letters stating that they weren’t accepting students from countries with confirmed Ebola cases. Evidently it seems the advice doled out by Fox News is being adopted; it is incredible to see the rejection of students solely based on which area they’re living in. If institutions of higher education are allowed to reject African people because of this issue now, where will it end?

Biggest threat

Western media outlets have an integral role to play in the management and dissemination of information about the Ebola virus, and the subsequent perceptions of Africa. Russell Brand asked a question which clearly permeates this entire debate, and is one that desperately needs to be considered – “it is worth questioning what the biggest threat to our collective wellbeing is: rare tropical diseases, or the media coverage of them?”

Author: Laura Hussey

Laura is a Masters student of Irish Writing and Film in University College Cork. She is Community Engagement Officer of the UCC Societies Guild and hopes to pursue a career as a journalist when she’s a legit grown up. Laura enjoys reading, maintaining a subscription to Netflix and saying the word ‘like’ a lot.

Image credit: Community Health Volunteers with Ebola prevention kits walking through West Point in Monrovia, Liberia. Volunteers conduct general Ebola awareness and prevention of Ebola and are teaching people how to isolate and care for the sick in their homes. UNDP, Creative Commons license


HIV and hope: the role of support groups

HIV and hope: the role of support groups

On World AIDS Day, Emma Haverty reflects on the important role of support groups for people living with HIV/AIDS.

In the township of Kayamandi, 30% of the population live with HIV, much higher than the overall prevalence of 12% for South Africa. Recently, I volunteered with an NGO named Setjhaba Youth Awareness (SYA) in Kayamandi, who are working to provide health education in the areas of HIV/AIDS, as well as T.B, STIs and teenage pregnancy. Two local women, Nonyameko Monaheng and Vuyokazi Ncgwembe, run the NGO and are passionate about raising awareness of these issues. One way that SYA does this is by facilitating a HIV support group, which I had the opportunity to attend and participate during my time in Kayamandi.

The importance of support groups

Nonyameko and Vuyokazi felt they had a responsibility to provide an outlet for the men and women they had built positive relationships with during their time as HAST (HIV, AIDS, STIs and TB) counselors in Kayamandi Clinic. Both of these women are trained counselors with over 12 years’ experience of work in HIV and AIDS testing and counseling. They set up a HIV support group to keep the bond that they had made with these people through the clinic and to ensure that they did not “lose hope”.

“One member of the group remarked that she had “found a new family that is also living with HIV”

All of the people attending the support group are HIV positive and are either taking treatment or awaiting it.  It was felt by the women that a support group would be needed to   encourage regular adherence of ARV treatment, as this has been an issue in many communities in South Africa. They also felt it was important for those who are HIV positive to feel like they belonged somewhere in a positive way, instead of feeling “different” from those who are HIV negative.

How this support group works

The meeting took place weekly in Kayamandi Child Welfare Officeach meeting has a different topic centred around the effects that being HIV positive has on their lives in a physical and emotional way. Each member was given an opportunity to speak about how that topic has affected their lives. Advice was given on how to deal with the session topic. The support group finished with everybody in the group holding hands and saying a prayer.

The group also provides a space for discussion on other challenging issues including domestic abuse, marital violence and rape.as many of these women live in environments where this violence is part of their daily lives.

The success of this support group is reflected in its attendance. During my time in Kayamandi, there was a new member every week.  Such is the demand for places, a second support group has now also been organised.

Nonyameko finds that the support groups have had a positive impact on the community as it has helped the women to open up about their feelings on HIV.  They can ‘relieve’ themselves of the emotional pain that is part of living with HIV in a safe and confidential space.

One member of the group remarked that she had “found a new family that is also living with HIV” while another said that she now “felt confident to talk about my status”.


At one of the support groups two cousins met each other. Neither of the women had known that the other cousin was HIV positive, but now they have a much closer relationship. There is no doubt that the members of this group have benefited. Nonyameko has noticed that members of the group are more willing to speak about their lives and how they have transmitted HIV- which in many cases was traumatic. One member remarked that it has helped her accept not only her status but herself as a person.

During the group sessions, many members referred to experiencing discrimination as a result of being HIV positive. The women felt this sometimes in their local churches, by their neighbours and sometimes by their family. The negative connotations that have been associated with HIV and AIDS since the 1980’s- shame, guilt, fear- still exist for many of the women in Kayamandi. Being part of a group where there is reassurance every week that being HIV positive does not mean any of these things is a huge benefit to these women.

Having a space where everybody can share their story, give a shoulder to cry on or be offered one, is a powerful/significant/important part of the support group, and was a special part of my time in South Africa. It is clear that the effects of HIV go far beyond the physical into the emotional too. Sadly, discrimination is a word that can still be associated with HIV and AIDS. But hope is another one, and many of the group members have this.

Author: Emma Haverty

Emma has completed a Masters in International Human Rights Law and has volunteered overseas in South Africa and India. She has 7 years experience of teaching pupils with mild, moderate and severe general learning difficulties. Emma has written more articles on her experiences overseas for EIL Ireland.  See Emma’s LinkedIn profile.

Image credit: Kayamandi Township, Emma Haverty



When a Band Aid is not enough

When a Band Aid is not enough

Mary Coogan explores how Band Aid 30 continues to perpetuate stereotypes and simplistic messages rather than addressing the underlying structures of global inequality.

Around eight years ago, I was snowed in for the first time in my life. This happened in Lesotho, a small, landlocked southern African country. It may not have been Christmas time, but there certainly was snow in Africa that year, and probably not just in Lesotho.

Band Aid

Thirty years ago, Bob Geldof, Bono and various pop stars got together and recorded the first Band Aid single in response to the famine in Ethiopia. Just last week, the record was wheeled out for the third time as a way to generate funds for the Ebola crisis in West Africa. The lyrics have been altered slightly, and some of the acts featured were not born when the original Band Aid song was recorded but the underlying message remains the same as it was 30 years ago; Africa has problems and you can fix them…..by buying this record.

“The underlying message remains the same as it was 30 years ago; Africa has problems and you can fix them…..by buying this record”

Bob Geldof and his followers seem happy to draw some connections between a famine, born of natural disaster and aggravated and perpetuated by manmade political manipulation, in one region of Ethiopia and a public health crisis in three West African countries. Their message is the same as it was in
1984; ‘give us your money’.

The stereotypes and sweeping generalisations of the original Band Aid prevail; ‘a kiss of love can kill you and there’s death in every tear’ – really, every tear?  The underlying message here is that everyone in West Africa has Ebola, which, grave as the situation may be, is simply not true.

‘No peace or joy in West Africa this Christmas time’; there are 16 countries in West Africa, three of which are currently impacted by Ebola. There is also an underlying assumption that everyone around the world celebrates Christmas and views it in the same way as we do. Perhaps it would have been a good idea to ask the Christian communities of Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, Burkina Faso, Senegal and the Gambia how much peace and joy they anticipate for themselves this Christmas?

Missing voices

One thing that has always puzzled me about all three Band Aid endeavours was the complete exclusion of African artists and African voices generally. There is no mention of the dedicated community workers, NGO workers and local leaders who have been battling Ebola since the beginning of the crisis. Did anyone from Band Aid 30 take any time to ask them their opinion on what is really needed to tackle the crisis, or what the message of the campaign should be? Or are they assuming that they, as a group of white western celebrities with no training in public health, have the answers?

There is no shortage of musical talent in the region; some of the best known artists on the continent recently released  ‘Africa stop Ebola’, with the aim of spreading hope and tackling misinformation about how to protect yourself against the disease, but yet voices like theirs have never featured on a Band Aid song.

White saviours?

You might ask if this really matters? If it generates funds which can alleviate some of the suffering, surely that is a good thing? Of course anything that can be done to support the countries currently facing Ebola is a good thing. However, I would argue that focusing solely on generating funds really does amount to nothing more than a band aid on a much deeper wound. That wound is a global system that is designed and managed to favour more ‘developed’ countries through its trade agreements, exploitation of natural resources and debt structures.

Reverting back to the model of ‘send money to the poor Africans’ simply encourages paternalistic stereotypes, reinforcing the idea that Africa must be ‘saved’ by the West. Uganda successfully contained an outbreak of Ebola in 2012, and Nigeria successfully halted the spread of the disease earlier this year. Community health workers, NGOs and local leaders have been battling the disease on the ground since the first outbreak in Guinea almost a year ago.   The ‘give us your money’ approach ignores the above facts and promotes the old idea that ‘they’ are the problem and ‘we’ are the solution – they are crying tears of death while we ‘can spread a smile of joy’.

“Reverting back to the model of ‘send money to the poor Africans’ simply encourages paternalistic stereotypes, reinforcing the idea that Africa must be ‘saved’ by the West”

A simplified message

An inclusive discussion on the inherently unequal global structure which underpins the current challenge may not fit so neatly into song lyrics and may not generate as much funds, but does that make it alright for celebrities, however well intentioned, to continually avoid the elephant in the room?

Liberia and Sierra Leone have both experienced years of conflict and had begun the long road of rebuilding their infrastructure, including health systems, in recent years. Control of natural resources, including diamonds, formed an important part of the story of those conflicts and the demand for these natural resources lies mainly in Western countries.  Exploitation of natural resources is part of the centuries old story of Western influence in Africa, and underpins the global trade agreements which restrict African countries to the lower end of the value chain as producers of raw materials.

A recent article in The Guardian points out that Sierra Leone’s recent growth figures largely represent mining activity, and mining corporations have been granted enormous tax incentives. Christian Aid reports that the resulting lost revenue came to nearly 14% of GDP in 2011. They predict the country will lose more than $240m annually from tax incentives in coming years, with the vast bulk made up from tax incentives granted to a couple of British mining companies. Addressing this issue would be a far more sustainable way of generating funds to support development in Sierra Leone, than a patronising Christmas single.

“Sierra Leone will lose more than $240m annually from tax incentives, with the vast bulk made up from tax incentives granted to a couple of British mining companies”

Geldof, Bono and others like them have an opportunity to use their position and influence to encourage a more honest and open debate about global inequality. They can chose to ask and be asked difficult questions, as opposed to misleading the wider public that all that is needed to stop a famine, end poverty and kill off Ebola is buying a record.

This approach did not ultimately change the long term outlook for the people of Ethiopia 30 years ago, and it will certainly not change the long term challenges for the people of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia once Ebola has been brought under control. It simply serves to reinforce a negative image of Africa as a monolithic place of suffering, where the only relief, the only solutions must be delivered from us – ‘tonight, we’re reaching out and touching you’.

Avoiding the bigger picture

My biggest issue with the Band Aid approach is that it completely ignores the bigger picture. Instead of engaging in any debate about the structural causes of global inequality, Geldof and his crew are actually doing very little to bring about real and lasting change. Food insecurity and food shortages have not, after all, been assigned to the annals of history through the wonder of Live Aid.

At the end of the day, it will be the people and governments of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea who will be left to pick up the pieces, and they will face the same uphill battle on the global scale as they did before Ebola. They will be doing their best on the same uneven playing field while people on the far side of the world think ‘well, I did my bit, I bought the record just like Sir Bob told me to’.

“If the same number of people who have already bought the Band Aid 30 song lobbied for trade justice the long term outcomes could be quite different”

If the same number of people who have already bought the Band Aid 30 song lobbied for trade justice the long term outcomes could be quite different. Bob Geldof slated Adele for not getting involved in the song, and he has also lashed out at critics of Band Aid 30, saying that they were ‘all talking b*llocks’.

It would be much more constructive, as well as much more respectful, for Geldof to actually engage with his critics and to acknowledge that, just maybe, he is missing a bigger point here.

Author: Mary Coogan

Mary is originally from Co Wicklow and holds an MSC in International Development from UCD. She previously volunteered in Ghana and South Africa before working as Development Coordinator on the 2011 Suas Volunteer Programme. Mary worked full time at Suas for two years as Volunteer Programme Officer before joining the Volunteering Team in VSO in 2013.

Image credit: Bono and Bob Geldof, Matthias Muehlbradt, Creative Commons Licence

Break in Case of Emergency – Ebola

Break in Case of Emergency – Ebola

Cian Doherty looks at the ebola outbreak and gives an update on the current situation.

Cillian Murphy (playing an average-ordinary-everyday-joe) wakes up from a short coma in the Mater Hospital. He pulls the cables off his body and gets out of bed. In the corridor, he pushes aside sheets of plastic suspended from the ceiling and steps over the white biohazard suits that litter the floor – as if some kind of exotic snake has been through, shedding skins. Bloodied mattresses can be glimpsed in rooms to the left and right. He calls out. No response. A deathly silence hangs in the air.

“Unlikely Event”

Now before you make plans to head for the hills, this hasn’t actually happened yet and a similar situation most likely never will. As much as recent reports in some media would have you believe, there have as yet been no confirmed cases of the Ebola virus in Ireland.

According to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC), the likelihood of an outbreak in Ireland is “very low”. A statement from them confirmed that the country was well equipped to deal with an outbreak in the “unlikely event” of a case appearing here, with the National Isolation Unit at the Mater Hospital available for use should it happen.

The Silent Killer

However in West Africa it is a different story. Since it was first reported in March, this epidemic has killed at least 4555 of the more than 9216 people it has infected in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal. It is the largest outbreak of the disease on record, more than all previous ones combined. In Sierra Leone, one of the hardest hit countries in the region, it has claimed the life of the country’s chief medical officer, Sheik Umar Khan.

“It is the largest outbreak of the disease on record, more than all previous ones combined”

International NGOs such as MSF and the Red Cross are also operational in Sierra Leone, as well as Irish ones like Concern and GOAL. Their work includes sensitisation campaigns to educate people around the dangers of Ebola, contact tracing, isolation of sick patients and the maintenance of treatment centres. Fear and lack of understanding are at unprecedented levels among the people, leading a GOAL staff member in Kenema, Vandy Siaka, to liken the outbreak to a “molecular shark” swimming in their midst. “Normality as we once knew it, is fast becoming a fond memory”.

The virus can be transmitted through direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids from infected people, both dead and alive. Early symptoms are similar to a flu-like illness with fever, headache, muscle pain or a sore throat, leading to external bleeding, massive internal bleeding, vomiting and diarrhoea in its final stages. The disease has no proven cure and currently there is no vaccine. Quarantine, high standards of hygiene and early burials remain the best deterrents.

It can kill up to 90 per cent of those infected, though the mortality rate in the current epidemic is running at around 50-60 per cent. One relatively positive element is that infected people are only contagious when symptomatic themselves, and due to the debilitating effects of the illness, mobility in this condition is not at all easy. That is why the most vulnerable to contracting the virus seem to be healthcare workers – accounting for about 10 per cent of fatalities – and people caring for ailing loved ones. Death can be particularly horrific and agonising, especially in situations where there are no palliatives or painkillers available.

“It must also be remembered that the number of fatalities is still a tiny fraction of those dying every year from preventable diseases such as TB and malaria”

Despite all the headlines, it must also be remembered that the number of fatalities is still a tiny fraction of those dying every year from preventable diseases such as TB and Malaria.

The Cordon Sanitaire

There is such concern over the spread of Ebola that governments in West Africa have begun to impose the ‘cordon sanitaire’. This disease fighting tactic was common in the medieval era of the Black Death where a line is drawn around the infected area and no one is allowed out.

In Sierra Leone, this was combined with a four-day lock-down at the end of September in an effort to contain the virus. We can only imagine the chaos these measures would bring to a country like Ireland, let alone one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world, such as Sierra Leone.

Ebola in the West

The World Health Organisation declared the current outbreak an international health emergency on August 8th.  Two US health workers caught the virus while working in Liberia, as did a Spanish priest, Miguel Pajares. The Spaniard subsequently died, while the Americans recovered with specialised treatment of the new experimental drug ZMapp in an Atlanta hospital. A British man who contracted Ebola while working as a volunteer nurse in Sierra Leone was also successfully treated with ZMapp recently in a special isolation unit in London.

Ebola  is not as contagious as a virus like the flu (virulent influenza) because it does not pass through air. So the possibility of a large-scale outbreak in the developed world remains unlikely.

However, a far more pressing issue is the long process of clinical development and production of the new drug which is much slower than the actual spread of the disease. On this front, Irish scientist Prof Adrian Hill is to lead trials in Britain on a vaccine in the coming weeks, with results expected at the end of October. If successful, this should save thousands from suffering at the hands of this deadly virus.

Author: Cian Doherty

Cian is a Dubliner working for GOAL as a Donations Officer. He studied arts in UCD and completed an MA in International Relations in DCU. Cian has volunteered in Mexico,  Mozambique and as a United Nations Volunteer in Malawi.

Photo credit: GOAL, Vandy Siaka and other GOAL staff prepare to go out into the community in Kenema, Sierra Leone