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"Smarter Aid, not more Aid!"

Saints – Heed your Pope!

Who am I?

Who am I to judge?posed Pope Francis in 2015 when asked about gay people.

No-one should be surprised that “full marriage equality” was not achieved straightaway on St Helena.  It has been a struggle everywhere else in the world. (For non-St Helenians, please read Lermarc's all-too familiar story below and the grand finale.)

More to peering than appears?

For the Beer Garden and Karaoke Hostesses the shift starts early 4.00pm and never ends?

“You won’t get a word out of her!”  That was the familiar rebuke directed at the teenager as she peered in to her telephone.  Unabashed the girl remained transfixed, oblivious to all around her. “Let her be, it’s just her age.” calmed Grand-Ma.

Just a few hours later and half-way around the world, the girl’s exact peers, girls of her age, even younger, were doing much the same.  Thousands were still on duty at midnight.

Legacy; Legitimacy and Loi!

Photo source not known. A single plank is the norm.

Legacy; Legitimacy and Loi!

A tribute.

Are we all like Salmon?  Does nature dictate that we should end our days where we were born?  The truth is most of use have a yearning to do so.  But then there are exceptions and none more so in “pioneering” countries like Cambodia, where the cause of humanity has been challenged in ways that few of us would have expected.

Denwick, Northumberland, River Aln Salmon Leap
Casey Nelson “Barang in the land of Khmers” is the latest exception to the rule.

Rocking All Over the World

Yet the tiny rock island of Saint Helena seems to crop up all over the world. My elderly Aunt died recently and my Cambodian wife took a liking to one of her knick-knacks pictured above.

It led me to a another journey of discovery and coincidences fuelled of course by Google Search.

Northumberland and Saint Helena have pride of place in my blog as the two best places to live in, not that I am biased. It is a totally objective opinion based on well-established liveability criteria such as the quality of the local bars and fish-cakes.

Railway Superbreaks Cambodia-style

From Alnmouth, it’s possible to take a rail superbreak, transport and hotel all-in, anywhere in the UK.  We’ve been to Whitehaven in Cumberland and to Aberdeen where my Cambodian wife took a liking to the free Buck’s Fizz served at breakfast.  Oddly, the cost of these packages can be less than booking the fare-only.

So once Cambodia’s rail system was restored, I couldn’t resist the temptation. A trip to Kampot or Sihanoukville is a bit long for me, but Takeo just an hour and a half from Phnom Penh, was just the ticket.

Governing well, or not so well?

William George Armstrong, 1st Baron Armstrong CB FRS (26 November 1810 – 27 December 1900) is one of Northumberland’s most famous sons, and whose home Cragside, pictured above, remains one of the county’s most attractive venues for visitors.  Not many people know that despite his brilliance he was an early victim of poor governance.

“When in Rome do as the Romans do” may be sensible advice generally, but it should not lend itself to human rights and governance.  We are all supposed to share universal and inviolable rights, aren’t we?

Now this blog is going to be quite unusual in that it is not a grumble about Cambodia, but it does suggest that countries like the UK do allow Cambodian ways of doing things to creep in, for lots of reasons, such as expediency.

Careless Talk Costs Lives

Dark Skies at Kielder Water Northumberland, United Kingdom
As dark as possible helps astronomy but not politics!

(Kielder Water exemplifies where modern development, environmental issues, and local people’s interests work together to benefit all.  You can read more on this other blog)

Probably we will never know the real motive, but what he said and stood for must have upset someone.  

Built-in obsolescence

Larger image below or read on website here Page 16

Built-in obsolescence, the personal kind, doing yourself out of a job

A recurring theme in my blogs is the unwillingness of many in the aid and development business to see that real success is "to do yourself out of a job". 

Right over Might (Part 2)

My first “right over might” blog was prophetic, courtesy yet again of Tottenham Hotspur kindly giving way again, this time not to an Alnwick trader but a football club.

It was all the way back in the 1960s when our family left Northumberland for Leicester, and since then both of my brothers have been avid Leicester City fans, right through even the dark days when the club was bankrupt. 

The George in Alnwick and surrounding area was rocked by the raucous screams from thw two of them as Hazard equalised for Chelsea and when the final whistle blew, gifting Leicester the Premier League championship.

Everyone is absolutely amazed by the success in the face of the rich and powerful clubs who normally dominate. Nobody saw it coming a year ago nor can they believe it now.

That is a lesson and encouragement for underdogs everywhere.  The club’s Thai ownership and connection hopefully will impact across South East Asia.  Spread Leicester’s hashtag #fearless!

The Trouble with "Aid", Nate's Exit.

A community self-help group managing their money.  In a typical development project of US$120,184, $24,000 or just 20% was allocated in the form of direct money to beneficiaries. In the end they received less; one of the 8 groups received nothing at all.

In my blog last week, I referred to the decision of a fellow longtime "Aid" worker to give up in frustration. Was he sensing something now allowed in Aid circles (Failure?) Nate invited me to give a guest-post to go with his writings.  Here it is, as posted on his site.   If you would like a sound-track as you read, try "You really got a hold on me".

No good winking at a Sheila in the dark!

Most readers will have no idea what this means, least of all its relevance to “Life after Aid”.

Foreign Aid – Is it just an illusion?

This blog is one in a series around the theme of "Smarter Aid"
The original blog has now passed 50,000 viewings.

Just down the A1 road from me, in Morpeth Northumberland, lives magician David.  But for fate and circumstance, he might have trodden the same path as Nate and myself, in to the equally mysterious world of aid and development.

I can’t help thinking that there are many parallels between his craft and ours.

Where there’s muck, there’s brass!

Where there’s muck, there’s brass!

This is a Yorkshire English saying that says you will find money in dirt.  Wherever you have men with spades or with JCBs, you’ll see them forever digging holes.

Bizarrely, at times, the pastime has been the answer to the world’s economic woes.

And then, once we have all that dirt dug up and piled up what do we do with it, and the hole left?

Do we create a modern art-work?

Or do we create a self-perpetuating cycle of self-harm as in today’s Cambodia?

Us and Them! Them or Us?

Image: Pubfront July 2015 http://www.northumberlandarms.co.uk/ @klimek78
Right to bear arms or to bare arms?

Us and Them!  Them or Us?

The sense of belonging is a natural human instinct; one that is cultivated throughout life, but it can have its drawbacks, and even dangers.

Those dangers rest in every country, in every walk of life, and we need to trace their roots.  To do so, I must try here to emulate the great Alistair Cooke, with a soliloquy that if it cannot match his style, it can ramble in much the same way to get to one vital point he always wanted to leave with his vast audience.

My point here is that danger begins when "us and them" becomes "them or us!"

Lucy v Sasha. Who is right? Ask Doris!


This is my third and final blog about St Helena, at least for a while.  I must turn my attention to more pressing issues and ones that I can maybe influence.  A report today in the Guardian shows how futile trying to change DfID can be, but at least one Ethiopian farmer succeeded.  So there is hope for a brave Saint!

I suspect that the farmer’s success will be just one more rare exception to the rule.  With donors like DfID one quote comes to mind attributed, some believe wrongly, to Albert Einstein:

Insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect different results?”

The Buck Rests Here!

Last week my attention returned to Saint Helena, hence the blog.  However that led to me dropping in to the local papers to discover that the long-awaited, eagerly-sought Wass enquiry in to alleged child abuse had been conveniently released just before Christmas.  Funny how bad news appears when everyone’s attention may be elsewhere?

Well to everyone's relief, at least those who have Saint Helena’s best interests at heart, the enquiry cleared it of the worst things the UK tabloid press and some “Non-well-wishers” had accused it of.  The report did go in to considerable detail about the island’s governance – the subject that concerns me – hence this follow-up blog.  Both local newspapers had given a lot of coverage of the findings, but they and the Island, in my view could do with suggestions on “Where to go from here”.