Thursday, 30 August 2012

Benefit for the poorest

Thousands of mangrove saplings are planted each year

I want to say something about a friend of mine here in west Wales who is planning to celebrate her 60th birthday by organising a benefit for a project on the other side of the world.

Sarah Wright, who runs her own business, Sustainable Solutions, based in Cardigan,  is raising money for Mangro, a community based regeneration scheme in Orissa, one of the poorest regions of India.

It’s a cause close to her heart, as the project is run by a charity set up by her own family.
Sarah’s parents started the Integrated Village Development Trust (IVDT), which is based in Oxford, about 25 years ago.

One of the charity’s projects, MANGRO is a community-based mangrove regeneration initiative in Kendrapara, Orissa, where more than fifty villages are working, with the help of the charity, to protect themselves against the consequences of climate change, and to prepare for an uncertain future. This is where proceeds of Sarah’s benefit birthday party will go.

Sarah  said: 'In my 60th year I find myself one of the most fortunate people alive - I have a home with a bed of my own, running water, electricity, warmth, food in the cupboard, my children are alive and healthy, and so are my grandchildren.  I even have a parent still alive and independent.

 ‘In addition I live in a community where people are caring and friendly, there is no war, very little risk of crime, and the environment is beautiful.  Two things that disturb my peace of mind  are the continuing exploitation and damage to the natural world and the poverty and suffering of other people across the world.’
She added: ‘The Mangro project tries to tackle both of these things using very small amounts of money, by empowering ordinary people, especially those often disempowered such as women, children and the poor in general, to improve their own lives and the environment around them.
'So on my birthday I want to celebrate and support this project, and invite everyone who wants to to come and join me in celebration in Cardigan on the evening of September 22.’
IVDT is a small organisation with no paid staff. Trustees visit the various projects each year to monitor and assess progress, and carry out training of staff and volunteers, as well as running workshops for teachers in the area, women’s groups and children.

The charity’s priority is to help the most marginalised people – women and children, dalits and tribals. IVDT works in rural communities in parts of India which are being left behind by progress, leaving many people even more vulnerable than before.

It is also important to the charity that the project beneficiaries themselves become empowered and are able to take control of their future.

In addition to the work in India, IVDT is involved with campaigns in the UK, trying to address practices and change attitudes which have helped to create some of the most serious problems which are faced in the project areas.

For those who are local and want to support the cause, Sarah’s benefit birthday party is at the CastleCaf√© Cellar Bar in Cardigan on Saturday, September 22.

There will be live music, the bar will be open and Indian food will be served.

Tickets are £5 and are available at the Pwllhai producers’ market (Thursdays and Saturdays), at the Eco-shop in Cardigan and at the Castle Cafe.

To find out more about the IVDT Trust and how to donate, please visit the website:

   The MANGRO Nature Reserve was set up five years ago on derelict land. It is now a
   wonderful sanctuary for wildlife, especially birds.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Dear Mr Cameron ....

I am not an idler or a scrounger, nor a ne’er do well, even though I have recently given up my full time job.

I gave up my employment because it was becoming increasingly oppressive to continue. I had been on a pay freeze for four years and my real income had become so low in the face of increasing inflation that it really was not worth my while continuing to work in a situation that demanded ever more production for ever decreasing payments.

I am now better off mentally, emotionally and physically, if not financially. You could say I have a rich sort of life, but it isn’t the sort of ‘rich’ that you understand.

I am not a drain on the state, I still work part time, and make no benefit claims. I pay my taxes, small though they are. I have worked all my life, I have taken many brave risks too as I have run my own businesses for much of that time. My parents’ generation might have called me a ‘working  class Tory’ – I am one of many. But I do not support the Tories, I cannot. And in that, I am one of many too.

However, I am continuing to support your so-called ‘big society’ through the wide range of voluntary work I have always done. Even when I was in full time work I gave up extra hours of my time to volunteer in various ways in my local community. I still do that.

I am writing this to you because I know that I am a pretty average sort of person in this country today and I want you to know that many people like me are totally disillusioned with the Britain over which you preside and which you claim to lead.

More than that, many of us are becoming very angry about the way we are having to live and we are beginning the fight to put an end to the sort of Government that constantly puts us down – your sort of Government.

I know many people who either cannot find work, or are unable to work through illness or disability. They are not idlers and scroungers either. They care very much about the diverse and valuable contributions they are able to make to our society. Our country would be a much poorer place without them.

We are the ordinary hard working folk who care about our communities, and we know how the ordinary people feel about your Government. You need to start listening to us, Mr Cameron, if it isn’t already too late.

Yours sincerely,

 Miss Very Angry.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Caring is a revolutionary act

‘Caring is now a revolutionary act’ – that statement referring to life in the UK today struck such a chord with me I had to write this blog about it.

The words were written in one of the latest letters to UK Prime Minister David Cameron, from a man who calls himself Keith Ordinary Guy.

Since March this year Keith, who lives near the city of Bath in south west England, has written a letter every day to Mr Cameron, 140 in all. He has received just five replies, none of them from the man himself and none of them attempts to answer his questions (no surprises there then).

This weekend there was a rather disturbing episode involving the police and members of Ordinary Guy’s family who were returning home after a charity gig in their village. Pepper spray was used by the police in what Keith has called ‘an unbelievable display of police heavy handedness’.

But he reckons this was just ‘very bad police judgement on a routine car patrol through the village’ and adds it would be ‘a stretch to link this with the letters’. He may be right, I really hope he is.

Keith Ordinary Guy, who is 61 and a former community and youth worker, has quite a following on his Facebook page – A Letter a Day to No 10. And there is a website with all the letters, and the replies -

Over a recent article detailing this one-man’s peaceful but effective and persistent protests, the Daily Mail predictably ran a headline asking: ‘Is this Britain’s biggest whinger?’  Ordinary Guy doesn’t whinge. He makes clear, simple arguments and comments that many of us ‘ordinary folk’ would support.

On his website he explains: ‘On 17 March 2012 I  decided I had reached my tipping point regarding the multiple abuses being perpetrated against me and the people of my country by the government, the banks, corporations and the “market”.

‘In order to mount a prolonged protest I decided to write a letter a day to David Cameron and to make those letters a matter of public record via my Facebook account .’

In his letters to the Prime Minister Keith comments on Government policy on privatisation of the public sector, welfare reform (what normal people call benefit cuts), banks and bankers and foreign policy, among other subjects.

He accuses the Prime Minister in one of his recent letters: ‘You may have power on your side, but you do not have justice or goodness on your side, they belong to us and all who care.

‘In such times in which we now live caring becomes a revolutionary act.’

If that is (sadly) the case, we should all now be revolutionaries in 21st century Britain. Keep it going Keith! And long live the revolution!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

'Silence' of the countryside

right here, today
House martins chat and twitter as they fly; bees are buzzing, and flies too. The roar of a distant plane reaches down from 30,000 feet;  a finch calls, sparrows chatter on; swallows squeal as they swoop and dip; a cow lows, a while later a horse neighs. A milk tanker passes in the lane and a tractor follows with a farrow rattling behind.

A buzzard calls and somewhere goldfinches chatter out of sight; a crow caws and a seagull cries. Later, a  blackbird is startled and shouts a warning.

All these are transient sounds, coming and going all the day, that we notice only if we sit and listen for them. I spent more than an hour to list those above.

But what is that? That all-pervading, nerve breaking persistent insistent noise? It is the drone. It is Watchkeeper, the MoD’s unmanned aerial vehicle, which is being tested day and night over our countryside.

The level of the noise is enough to invade your consciousness. It is louder than the distant plane, the seagull and the milk tanker, than all those sounds.

And once it has you, you cannot shake it off. It goes round and round with its constant hum. The drone, the sound of our summer. And the soundtrack for the many who come on holiday here to our beautiful once-quiet countryside of west Wales.

Get up, stand up


The defining moment of Kevin Macdonald’s film about Bob Marley’s life was both explosive and profoundly depressing for me.

Although released last year to mark the 30th anniversary of his death, the film has just reached this far outpost of west Wales.

Perhaps it was fitting that it opened here in Theatr Mwldan to mark the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence this week. But maybe we would have appreciated the chance to see this movie sooner.

However, installed in the brand new third screen auditorium at Mwldan, we spent a happy hour and a half or so following the young Jamaican’s early life and musical development in stories told by his family, friends and band members, while listening to and watching archive footage of concerts, jams and streetlife in Trenchtown. It was an unsentimental journey following the legend who when asked about success says simply: ‘My richness is my life.’

There were archive clips too of the man,  who gave away a lot of his money to the poor, talking about his life, religion and ambitions … ‘I want for everyone to live all together – white, black, Chinese – all to live in peace.’  -- One Love.

By now this Rastafarian ska reggae prophet has a huge following in the UK and Europe as well as in his home country.  Then he is persuaded to go to Africa, where he is a sensation across the continent.

It was the film of the Bob Marley and the Wailers concert, which followed the installation in 1978 of Mugabe as leader of the newly ‘liberated’ Zimbabwe, that formed an instant cold rock in my stomach.

There were scenes of the ceremony filmed live as it occurred. Mugabe takes the oath of office and I feel sick as we cut to Marley’s massive cry of freedom as he launches the celebration concert.

‘One love, one heart …Let's get together and feel all right…..’

And from Zimbabwe -  ‘… arm in arms, with arms, we'll fight this little struggle, ‘cause that's the only way we can overcome our little trouble.’

‘To divide and rule could only tear us apart; 
In everyman chest, mmm - there beats a heart.
So soon we'll find out who is the real revolutionaries;
And I don't want my people to be tricked by mercenaries.’

The cold rock of depression hit the emotions, the explosion happened in my brain.

It was reliving the moment 34 years ago when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe – a moment full of hope --  and remembering at the same time what has happened there since. It is the supreme irony of -  then - applauding Marley’s cry of freedom, while knowing what is to come. It is living in a time warp of horror.

Macdonald deals with the moment brilliantly. He swiftly moves the action from the celebration – minutes after it starts the people go wild, there is a stampede and tear gas is used to tame the massive crowd, including the band.

A moment of wild celebration is immediately suppressed. The expressions on the faces as all the people walk slowly away tells the story of years of oppression.

We know now that there was much worse to come – and it is still not over. As I watch the film I wonder if as a human race we have given up on ourselves.

The story follows the journey of Marley’s battle with cancer to his death at the age of only 36, but Macdonald does not let us dwell on the sadness there.

He moves the story on to today and shows us that Marley’s tremendous ‘One Love’ legacy lives on across the globe among the dispossessed of many races. The film ends as the credits roll with a sequence of references to the legend among popular political movements.

In Tunisia at the start of the Arab spring, people were singing ‘Get Up, Stand Up’. And that was the slogan on the wall at the point where the revolution started. In many African countries, in India and around the world Marley’s lyrics form the soundtrack to revolution. ‘In the slums of Nairobi today, there are murals of Marley and people quote the lyrics to you,’ says Macdonald in a recent interview.

He shows in his film that the legend lives on. Today people around the world still ‘stand up, get up’ and work to make ‘one love, one heart, one people’. He shows that we have not given up on ourselves yet, but reminds us that there is a great deal still to do.

*Marley the DVD is released on August 20 in the UK.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Winners and losers

Nothing changes

The beggar is in the Penniless Porch.
Where else would he be?
Our young man, sitting on the stone,
With his little hat in front of him,
Humbly asks for alms in 2012, in
England’s smallest fairest city.

All the long day,
His open honest face looks up
At you … and you … and you
... And me.  At
all the many hundreds who
pass through this archway.
Who looks at him?
Who looks out for him?

People look the other way,
If they see him at all.
 While the country has eyes
Only for medals - for
Gold, silver and bronze, and
‘valuable’ Olympic corporate sponsorship.

Spare a few coppers, mate?
The beneficent Bishop built
This Beggar’s Gate 600 years ago.
To give some shelter to the poor.

And now, still,we walk by
And look the other way,
As we rush to catch the latest winner,
And see the tears fall at
the medal ceremony.

Can we learn to pause now?
To wait, to stop, for just a moment?
To really see our man,
who waits in the Penniless Porch?

1/8/2012. Wells, Somerset.