Amy Hall is a freelance journalist covering social and environmental justice stories from the local to the global. She previously worked at New Internationalist and has written for publications including The Guardian, The Ecologist and Red Pepper. She is based in Brighton on the south coast on Britain.

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Amy Hall is a freelance journalist covering social and environmental justice stories from the local to the global. She previously worked at New Internationalist and has written for publications including The Guardian, The Ecologist and Red Pepper. She is based in Brighton on the south coast on Britain.

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Civil war, mental illness, poverty, gang violence: the many roots of homelessness

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© Iris Gonzales

Philippines

Maria Precilda met her partner Marvin Bueta in 2014. It was love at first sight. Now a young mother, she lives with her family in one room in a Manila slum.

I was working as a cook for a middle-class family in a city to the east of Manila.

I had left my hometown in the southern province of Leyte to find a job. We didn’t have a lot of money so I had to stop school to support my parents and two siblings.

And then I met Marvin. He was a construction worker across the street from where I worked. He took my breath away. I got pregnant and had to stop my job as a cook. Marvin brought me to his parents in Bicol, a province in the south. I couldn’t go home because I was afraid to tell my parents I was pregnant. I was only 21.

He had to go back to Manila to earn a living while I stayed with his family in their village. There were more than 10 of us who shared a cramped space. I slept in the living room; all the time my belly was growing.

After I had the baby Marvin and I needed to find our own place. We did not know where to start. We stayed with Marvin’s brother and his family in a slum area in Manila for two months. It was another cramped space. And again we slept in the living room. Sometimes our baby cried and woke up the whole household. It was difficult, not good for anyone.

Finally, we had to move. We found a room for rent in the nearby block. It cost $50 a month. It’s expensive and eats a huge chunk of Marvin’s monthly income of $119. I can’t work yet because I have to take care of our baby, Mark. So this is our home for now.

Interview by Iris Gonzales.

Britain

Amanda Dunn lives in Luton just outside London. The 47-year-old mother of three lost her job at a local airport and was evicted when she couldn’t pay the rent. She’s been in a B&B for the past 6 months with her 13-year-old twin daughters.

Shelter

I lived in a two-bed flat. One of the bedrooms I had to shut off because of the damp. Central heating wasn’t working or the cooker. Eventually I called the council. They served the landlord notice to repair it. At this point I refused to pay the rent – I told him ‘You’ve got to come and fix the heating’ – he refused. So it ended up in court. I got evicted and then we were put here.

I had to apply for housing benefit which took forever. When the woman from the council came she said, ‘There’s an eight to nine year waiting list for council properties here in Luton... Your best option is to start looking further north.’

My daughter Katie is just like a stick. She gets stuffed with takeaways every night but the dietician said it’s not the sort of food she should be having. And there have been a couple of instances at school where Rachel has shouted at teachers. They understand though – it’s not like Rachel at all to lose it.

My own mental and emotional health has got worse. I just cry. All the time. I can’t sleep without sleeping tablets.

We looked at a place by the airport. The man was happy with me being on benefits, the woman called me scum.

I want nothing more than to get a job. I’ve always worked – but you go to these interviews and they look at your address and ask: ‘Why are you in a hotel?’

Original interview provided by Shelter. Edited by Amy Hall.

US

Derek Chartrand Wallace lives in Berkeley, California. He is a 37-year-old, full-time college student surviving on financial aid.

A few semesters ago I experienced serious mental trauma including crippling social anxiety, depression and insomnia. I’d never been through anything like that before and was totally unprepared for the effects on my home life, friendships and studies. I couldn’t afford a therapist which meant I had to struggle on my own. I’ve only recently started to get my life back together.

Nithin Coca

In the interim my marks suffered which meant that the financial aid I rely on was put on hold. I couldn’t afford the room I was renting so I had to put my stuff in storage and start staying with friends and co-workers. That gets old fast so this year I’ve often been on the street, sleeping in abandoned buildings, construction sites, even in empty trucks.

Lately I have been using my storage space as a safe house at night. But it is against the rules so who knows how long I can keep that up? Dodging police is always a thrill a minute and being ‘homeless under cover’ has felt a lot like being a superhero with a secret identity.

Homeless shelters here are on a needs basis so the elderly, disabled, women and children have first priority over able-bodied males like me. I applied for Food Stamps [Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program] but was rejected for being a full-time student on financial aid (even though it is on hold). But there is a lottery for low/no-income dwellings through the County Housing Authority and I’m going to apply for that.

Interview by Nithin Coca.

Mexico

Threatened by gang violence, Osman Rivera, fled his home in Honduras. The 48-year-old father narrowly escaped kidnapping as he travelled north to Mexico.

Tamara Pearson

I’ve been working for 30 years painting cars. But the pandillas (gangs) charge what’s called a ‘war tax’. If you don’t pay, they kill you or your family. I was making only enough to cover costs and pay the tax.

I left on 13 December 2016. I crossed the Guatemala border, then travelled to Mexico. After that I took a combi (van-bus) with six other migrants and two Mexicans. After one of the Mexicans got off, a black combi without number plates began to follow us. It was late and the black combi kept trailing us. I was suspicious.

When our bus stopped to allow the other Mexican to leave, I jumped out too. The road was on the edge of a steep hill and I rolled down. The others were kidnapped [migrants are robbed and held to extort money from their families]. Armed men used lights to look for me. I stayed in a ditch filled with water. I waited six hours, then at midnight made my way to the road. A man on a bike told me the immigration police were near so I went into the forest and kept walking. Eventually I got a lift. I arrived in Mexico City on 30 December.

At the moment I’m staying in the Tochan migrant refuge. I’m sleeping on a mattress on the floor in the common room, because all the rooms are full. My plan is to legalize my stay here and eventually go to Baja California to start a car painting shop. I want to help my family. I have a seven-year-old boy and I want to give him a future.

Interview by Tamara Pearson.

And finally... Gwenno

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© Michal Iwanowski

Why was it important to you to make a political album now?

I had been living in London and I felt there was a period, before the financial crash [of 2008] when people didn’t really discuss politics. When I moved back to Wales, I definitely had more conversations about politics.

And historically, the Welsh language is a politicized form of communication so it felt quite natural and comfortable for me [to sing in Welsh] in a way that I wasn’t quite as able to connect with in English.

Your mother was part of a radical Cardiff choir, Côr Cochion Caerdydd. How did your upbringing influence you?

I’m a child of the 1980s, and there was a lot happening then. Musically and culturally it was amazing, because at that time the choir were singing a lot of Chilean songs, songs from across South America, songs from South Africa.

I think when you’ve had a less conventional upbringing you always try to run away from it, because it’s just a bit embarrassing. Then you start to see it in a positive light and realize how great and enriching it was. It becomes inspiring and a pillar to hold on to when you’re thinking about why you’re doing things.

Why is it so important to you to keep minority languages alive?

Welsh is one of the oldest living languages in Europe. I grew up in Riverside, which is a multi-cultural area of Cardiff. There are 93 languages spoken in Cardiff and Welsh is one of those. In different languages you get a different perspective. Languages are tied up in the social history of people.

Do you think English is losing its hold over global pop music?

Maybe. I find it fascinating, because languages are tied up in economics a lot of the time. Anglo-American pop culture was so dominant after the Second World War, but things are really changing. The music industry has less control over what people hear and buy. People are just searching for themselves, particularly with the internet, and finding different things. I think that’s creating a lot of space for different music to be heard.

What impact do you think Britain leaving the European Union will have on minority languages?

I think Welsh and Cornish have more status within the EU than they do within Britain. Wales and Cornwall are so low down on the pecking order within Westminster, it’s quite scary. But I think that there’s hope. The UK needs to rearrange itself a bit and become less centralized.

I find Scotland to be a real inspiration, particularly at a grassroots level, where most of the people that you speak to are very self-aware and in touch with what’s happening. They put a lot of pressure on their government.

What has been the proudest moment of your career?

The thing that has energized me the most and has been such an amazing surprise was this album. I wanted to make something that was interesting to me, so that I could stand back and think: well, even if no-one else likes it, I know that I was uncompromising in what I was saying and how I was saying it.

I find the openness of other people to have a listen to something that most don’t understand so encouraging.

What is your next challenge?

Recording a second album. I think albums are a document of their time and place. I just feel like the world keeps changing every day in a ridiculous way that it hasn’t done before. It’s an interesting time to live in, definitely, but it’s so chaotic! It’s exhausting, but I think music can be a communication tool that is uplifting and positive.

Amy Hall is a freelance journalist based in England.

Y Dydd Olaf is out now. gwenno.info

Gwenno

PrEPped to go?

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Health rights advocacy group APCOM’s PrEP mascot hits the campaign trail in Bangkok. © APCOM Thailand

‘Be careful. You could get HIV, you could get HIV!’ This is the voice Greg used to hear every time he had sex. That was until he started taking a pill aimed at preventing him getting infected.

Greg was a participant in the PROUD study into the effectiveness of the drug Truvada (emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate) as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for men who have sex with men.1 PROUD, which took place in English cities, found an 86-per-cent reduction in the risk of HIV infection for those taking Truvada, compared with a control group which did not.

PrEP has come at a time when the global battle against HIV is in trouble. Every year, nearly two million people become newly infected. Funding to support the fight against HIV in low- and middle-income countries has fallen, while in some countries HIV drug resistance is growing.2

The World Health Organization recommends offering PrEP as an additional prevention choice to anyone at ‘substantial risk’ of HIV infection, including men who have sex with men, sex workers, HIV-negative people whose partners are HIV positive, and people who inject drugs.3

A seven-country survey of people at high risk found that 61 per cent would ‘definitely’ use PrEP if it were available; but, according to UNAIDS, less than one per cent of people at ‘substantial risk’ of infection have access to it.4

Despite a sustained campaign, PrEP is still not available through England’s National Health Service (NHS), so those who want to use it have to buy it online or through private health providers. NHS England said it would not fund full PrEP availability, claiming it is the responsibility of local authorities, but supporters won a judicial review in the High Court arguing that the NHS was responsible.

The NHS’s decision to appeal against this angered many, including Pat McCusker of sexual-health organization Yorkshire MESMAC.

‘The NHS is kicking their responsibility to end the HIV epidemic in the UK into the long grass again,’ he says. ‘There is a long-standing element of prejudice when it comes to meeting the needs of communities that already face other forms of marginalization.’

In August, NHS England began a 45-day public consultation on clinical commissioning policy for PrEP.

The price challenge

PrEP is available in a variety of countries, including the US, France and Kenya. According to UNAIDS, generic manufacture can bring down the price of PrEP to under $70 per person per year, but in some countries it is only legal to import the version of the drug made by Gilead Sciences.5

‘Costing is a huge challenge,’ says Kevin Rebe, a doctor who specializes in infectious diseases at Anova Health Institute in South Africa. ‘Trying to find funds where you’re not removing money from the treatment pool. We have to make an investment case that you need both.’

Midnight Poonkasetwattana is Executive Director of APCOM, which advocates for the health rights of gay men and transgender people in Asia and the Pacific. He describes the availability of PrEP in the region, where 5.1 million people are living with HIV, as ‘dire’ and thinks governments need to be smarter. ‘The more we can prevent the population being HIV positive, the less money will be needed for treatment in the future,’ he explains.

PrEP advocates argue that claims it will make people less likely to use condoms and increase rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are inaccurate and discriminatory, comparing them to debates around the contraceptive pill.

‘Saying that everyone is going to drop condoms and they’re going to be all promiscuous... there just isn’t really any data for that,’ says Rebe. ‘It’s quite a prejudicial myth.’

The PROUD study found that STI rates were about the same in those taking PrEP as in the control group. ‘The reality is that a lot of PrEP programmes are going to attract people who can’t, don’t or won’t use condoms anyway,’ says Rebe. For others, PrEP can act as an additional back-up.

McCusker is about to start taking PrEP himself and found it an easy decision to make. ‘It’s an effective medication which is about as safe as aspirin and reduces my risk of getting HIV through having the sex that I enjoy,’ he says.

Does he think he will take it for the rest of his life? ‘Well, I think I’m always going to like getting buggered, so as long as I enjoy that and I’m concerned about HIV then, yes.’

‘The science is very much behind PrEP but it’s definitely not for everyone – it’s not a vaccine,’ says Sarah Hand, Chief Executive of AVERT, which works to raise understanding of HIV and AIDS.

PrEP has come at a time when the global battle against HIV is in trouble. Every year nearly two million people become newly infected

The side effects of Truvada can include nausea and headaches. More serious risks are damage to kidneys, liver and bone density, as well as the worsening of existing Hepatitis B infections. But McCusker is not put off. ‘We’re talking about a medication that’s been available for decades now,’ he says. ‘Some of the healthiest, most active, most buff and beautiful gay men I know are HIV positive and are taking Truvada.’

Rebe thinks that concern over side effects ‘shouldn’t paralyse us on moving forward. You see the odd patient – one in hundreds – where the kidney function might be of concern, but even where that’s happened we’ve been able to monitor and then restart PrEP successfully.’

Gilead Sciences has created a new drug called Descovy, similar to Truvada but safer for the bones and kidneys. Although the company has said that this drug is for HIV treatment, not for use as PrEP, the PROUD study has reported that in late 2016 or early 2017 Gilead will launch the DISCOVER study to compare it to Truvada. This may coincide with Truvada patents expiring and generic versions being more widely available.

Women left behind

‘The drugs you take to stop you dying of an incurable illness and the drugs you take for prevention are two different things,’ says academic Cheryl Overs, who feels that the needs of women are being ignored in the PrEP debate. Women are more likely than men to get lactic acidosis or serious liver problems, according to Truvada’s information sheet. She has called for more research into how PrEP can work for women.

‘The research budget matches the volume of the advocacy, not the numbers of people who are living with HIV. Male activists are letting women down very, very badly,’ she says.

Picketing the department of Health in London over the failure to provide PrEP on the public National Health Service.

Peter Marshall/Alamy Stock Photo

There are around 17.8 million women living with HIV around the world – 51 per cent of all adults living with HIV, with the 15-24 age group particularly affected.6

Some argue that access to PrEP is just as important for women as men, particularly as enforcing condom use can be difficult. It can also be useful for women who want to conceive but are concerned about HIV transmission, and provide back-up HIV protection if a condom fails or if a woman is raped.

‘We know that women should have access to PrEP, but the key question is which women,’ says Overs. ‘Women do not just need healthcare below the waist. You’re a whole person and you’re a reproductive person. There’s pregnancy to consider, the impact of STIs and so on.’

Most needy, least likely

Sex workers, in particular female sex workers, are one of the ‘high risk’ groups for which PrEP is intended but about which there are misgivings.

A 40-country consultation of male and female sex workers, published by the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) in 2014, raises concerns about PrEP’s efficacy and effectiveness among sex workers, despite its clinical benefits.7

‘The more we can prevent the population being HIV positive, the less money will be needed for treatment in the future’

The report made several recommendations for the development of PrEP and early-treatment programmes among sex workers, including more research and an increased commitment to promoting their rights through full decriminalization of sex work and strengthening the capacity of their organizations.

Overs is worried that PrEP could be pushed onto sex workers by clients, brothel owners, the state and health authorities. She argues that sex workers may be forced to provide sex without a condom, in order to protect their livelihoods, whether they are on PrEP or not.

‘Health and safety in the workplace is not determined by the women,’ she says. ‘The idea of the market demanding condomless sex for women is really frightening.’

While condoms are relatively self-explanatory and can often be bought cheaply and without too much involvement from a third party, PrEP relies on repeated HIV testing and ongoing access to health workers for check-ups and prescriptions. A person taking Truvada as PrEP who already unknowingly had HIV could develop a resistance to the drugs which would jeopardize future treatment.

‘The people who most need PrEP are the most marginalized; therefore, they’re the least likely to have what it takes to get to a doctor. Health systems are very weak where PrEP is most needed,’ says Overs.

‘It’s not just about PrEP; it’s about that entire range of services that people might need,’ says Poonkasetwattana, for whom community-led service provision is key. UNAIDS recommends that potential PrEP users are involved in developing the service.

PrEP may be useful for targeting at-risk populations but Sarah Hand explains that in some places in the Global South, such as in Eastern and Southern Africa, the situation is more complex as HIV is significant in the ‘general population’.

‘We still need to overcome the issue of just getting that population group engaged in HIV testing and recognizing that they’re at risk of HIV,’ she says. Getting them on PrEP is several giant steps down the line in the current reality.

PrEP could be a useful weapon against the HIV and AIDS crisis, but it is not going to stop it. While a daily pill may work on a biological level, the structural inequalities and injustices that have allowed HIV to spread across every continent in the world, from discrimination and stigma to poverty and poor health systems, also need to be addressed.

For Poonkasetwattana, community engagement and mobilization is where hope lies. He thinks there needs to be more funding for grassroots-led HIV prevention services.

‘Communities need to be well resourced,’ he says. ‘We need leadership and we need to be bold if we are serious about ending the epidemic.’

Amy Hall is a freelance journalist based in England.

  1. The PROUD study, documentary by Nicholas Feustel, 2015, vimeo.com/132412294
  2. UNAIDS press release, nin.tl/ fundingfall and WHO, 18 July 2016, nin.tl/HIV-resistance
  3. WHO, Consolidated guidelines on the use of antiretroviral drugs for treating and preventing HIV infection, 2016, who.int/hiv/pub/arv/arv-2016/en
  4. NCBI, 2012, nin.tl/PrEPattitudes and UNAIDS, 2015, nin.tl/UNAIDSfocus
  5. UNAIDS, 2015, nin.tl/oralPrEP
  6. UN Women factsheet, 2016, nin.tl/womenHIV and UNAIDS, ‘Aids by the Numbers’, 2016, nin.tl/AIDSnumbers
  7. nin.tl/NSWPstudy

A thousand small bricks to make a home for all

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A full house enjoys a performance at The Rose Hill Tavern community venue, Brighton © Helen Rebecca Lucas

There is a very real story of 2016 Britain which tells of hysterical anti-migrant headlines, increasingly enraging racism from public figures, lists of foreign workers and foreign children, a rise in hate crime and an outcry about refugee children who look 'too old' to be helped. But there is also another story – one that's growing from the grassroots. Communities determined to say that these people do not speak for us and there is space and safety for anyone who needs it.

One example is in Brighton and Hove, on the south coast of England, where people are clubbing together to provide long term, independent housing to migrants with no other access to support and no medium or long term prospect of secure immigration status.

The Thousand 4 £1000 project aims to sign up 1,000 residents to standing orders of £1 a month. It is thought to be the first project of its kind: providing a safe and secure place to live on a long term basis, paid for by hundreds of local people. Donations stand at over £650 a month and are going up all the time.

Thousand 4 £1000 was launched by Brighton Migrants Solidarity (BMS), frustrated about the amount of people they met who were either street homeless or 'sofa surfing' while their immigration status was uncertain.

Helen Rebecca Lucas

Official statistics reveal house prices in Brighton and Hove were nearly five times higher in 2015 than in 1995 – the biggest increase in the country. It has one of the highest levels of rough sleepers in the country. With housing such a big issue in the city, housing for migrants with no access to money and support seemed almost impossible, despite the number of groups that work to support migrants in the city.

'The government has a deliberate policy of making life miserable for people. It's an extremely hostile environment for the wrong sort of migrants,' says Jacob Berkson of BMS.

The turning point for BMS came as Europe's refugee crisis ballooned in the summer of 2015 and more people were actively looking for a practical way to help. They decided that there must be at least 1,000 people in Brighton and Hove – a city with a population of over 247,800 known for its more progressive politics – who could spare £1 a month to provide practical support.

One year after the idea was first raised, the first three residents moved into a house rented through Thousand 4 £1000, with furniture donated by other local residents. They currently get the house at a reduced rent, through a housing association and managed by a co-operative but from January 2017 the project aims to provide somewhere more long term at market rate.

One of the residents is Ahmed*, who is originally from East Africa, and had spent two years homeless in Brighton, sleeping on friends' sofas and eventually wandering the streets.

'My favourite moment was when one resident was pleased he'd forgotten his keys. He thought it was is brilliant – he hadn't had keys to forget for a long time'

'I was on medication for depression. I was just hanging around Brighton because I was scared to sleep anywhere,' he says.

Despite having lived in the city for 16 years Ahmed has never had secure immigration status and for the last two years has been trying to get his visa renewed with the Home Office, unable to work or access state support.

'Now I feel much better,' he says. 'I'm at home in a nice house because of nice people.'

'I signed up to help some of the most vulnerable people in our society to have housing,' says local resident Ed Jones. 'There are many people who can not legally work and have no recourse to public funds, for example because their asylum applications have been refused but can't return to their home country due to war or the threat of violence. Many of these people end up being homeless as they have no alternative.'

NACCOM (No Accommodation Network) estimates that about 6,000 people a year in Britain come to the end of asylum process but do not leave the country, mostly because there is nowhere else for them to go. In 2015, 64 per cent of asylum applications were initially refused.

Others could have had their asylum claim granted but find themselves homeless as they can be evicted from any accommodation paid for by the government just four weeks after they get their status. The Refugee Council estimates that these problems could have affected 9,768 refugees in 2015.

'During that time people are generally so vulnerable and uncertain about the future,' says Lucy Smith, Communications, Media and Advocacy Worker at NACCOM. She says this limbo can last anything from a few weeks to many years.

'It can be really devastating for people who often will have worked or been highly educated in their home country. It can have a big impact on people's mental health and physical health as well.'

BMS have also run a spare room network in Brighton, which is a City of Sanctuary, but believe that the Thousand 4 £1000 approach provides more independence and better enables people to actively take part in their community. It is also a way to show collective solidarity.

A banner of the Thousand 4 £1000 initiative in Brighton

Helen Rebecca Lucas

For Ahmed, Thousand 4 1000 has come just in time. 'I thought about committing suicide,' he says. 'I used to ask myself, why me.' He says he is still under threat of deportation to a place he has not lived in for 32 years but having the house has made him less anxious.

BMS also works with other migrant support groups, including Brighton Voices in Exile who work with the residents on their cases. They also provide a monthly bus ticket and £25 a week.

Berkson is happy with the way the project is going so far. 'My favourite moment was when one resident was really pleased to tell me that he'd forgotten his keys. He said “I realised that I'd forgotten my keys and I thought this is brilliant – I haven't had keys to forget for a long time.”'

Once Thousand 4 £1000 has exceeded its £1000 a month target, they will look at housing more people in rented accommodation, with a long term aim of buying a property.

While he previously felt rejected, Ahmed now feels welcomed by Brighton: 'I'm very proud of this city. It's a nice city, I love it and it's my home.'

Find out more about Thousand 4 £1000 on the Brighton Migrant Solidarity website.

*This name has been changed to protect the person's safety and privacy.

Helping in two clicks: how digital technology is making INGOs irrelevant

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An SMS alert tells recipients of aid – in countries like Kenya – to collect the cash donated from a local mobile money agent. © Ton Koene/PA Images

Zoran is a friendly looking 45-year-old father of two who lives in Kosovo. In order to supplement what he and his wife earn in their day jobs he also grows vegetables to sell at the market. Zoran is trying to raise $1,700 to install a water irrigation system for his greenhouse. Borrowing $25 from you could help him do that.

Zoran is one of over 5,600 people or groups from across the world available to lend to through the Kiva website in just a few clicks.

Users choose a borrower and say how much they want to lend. A network of local field partners, such as microfinance institutions (MFIs) or non-profits, deal with making the loans. When the borrowers repay, the money lands back in the lender’s Kiva account to either lend again, donate or withdraw. So far nearly $12.2 million has been lent through Kiva by nearly 1.5 million people.

It’s not just microfinance platforms like Kiva, Zidisha or Deki that offer this ‘direct’ approach to helping people in need. Others, like GiveDirectly, allow you to get cash transferred straight to the recipient to do with what they think is best.

GiveDirectly locates extremely poor communities using publicly available data. Households are then targeted using criteria that vary by region – for example, they may include whether the potential recipients have grass or permanent roofs. An audit takes place to verify eligibility, including data-consistency checks using GPS co-ordinates and satellite imagery. Around $1,000 is transferred to families using electronic payment systems, usually an SMS alert to collect the cash from a local mobile money agent.

These organizations offer the chance to bypass traditional NGOs and give money straight to people living in poverty.

Like child sponsorship?

‘People are getting fed up with charity,’ says Deborah Doane, international development and sustainability consultant. ‘They mighthave been giving direct debits for 20 years but the same issues remain.’

David Nichols, a 27-year-old from Bristol, has been lending money through Deki, a platform similar to Kiva, for around six years. This is now the main way he gives to charity. ‘I prefer to know where my money is going,’ he explains.

Nichols is not alone. When asked what would restore their faith in the charity sector, 78 per cent of responders to a British YouGov survey replied: more transparency over how a charity’s money is spent.

‘When you’re giving to a large charity – a monthly donation – you don’t know how exactly that’s having an impact,’ says Doane. ‘That’s not because NGOs aren’t doing useful work. It’s because some of what they do isn’t easy to quantify.’

We don’t seem to have given up on NGOs entirely, however. The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer found that trust towards NGOs across the world is at its highest level since the global financial crisis.

Oxfam has taken a leaf from the ‘peer-to-peer’ book with Projects Direct – its own direct-giving platform that presents a list of community-based projects for people to donate to and get regular updates from.

In terms of their marketing, many direct-giving and lending platforms owe much to child sponsorship – a model that was sharply criticized by New Internationalist in the 1980s and 1990s for fostering paternalism, singling out individual children, misleading donors, and failing to address the root causes of poverty and inequality.

‘It’s very hard, as a fundraiser, to say to someone, “come and deal with the ins and outs of the global financial system” – who wants to do that?’ says Ashley Erdman, founder of HumansFor, which works with individual donors to help them find ways to give that tackle problems of power and inequality.

The internet offers personal connections and an apparent ‘democratization’ of giving and lending. And it’s popular. In Britain alone, the average online donation rose by 20 per cent from 2010-14.

But there are problems. Kiva, for example, has been criticized for not being as ‘direct’ as it might seem. Loans are normally disbursed by the local microfinance partners before the money has actually been raised. A more controversial issue is the interest charged by many of the local microfinance institutions (MFIs) that act as intermediaries. Some have even been described as ‘loan sharks’ who charge borrowers rates of over 20 per cent, although the loans come from Kiva with 0-per-cent interest.

It is argued that the intermediaries or MFIs should have their costs covered by the lenders, not the impoverished borrowers. Kiva argues that the rates the borrowers are getting are still better than any others they might obtain locally.

Questions have also been raised about GiveDirectly, in relation to targeting and creating potential tension within communities, as some people receive money and others do not.

Then there is the question of who has access to a mobile phone, on which direct giving relies: men are more likely to own one than women. GiveDirectly says this need not be a barrier: what recipients need is a SIM card, which they can be given. And recipients can always buy a mobile phone from GiveDirectly, the cost of which is then deducted from the transfer.

‘My own choices’

Adina Claire, Fundraising and Communications Director of the charity War on Want, has concerns about how data is used to find people to help. ‘Where’s the data coming from? What about all those communities that you can’t locate because the data is not available? Those are the really poor communities,’ she says.

GiveDirectly has also had problems with fraud. According to the aid monitoring group GiveWell, in 2014 two GiveDirectly field staff colluded with mobile money agents to steal $20,500. GiveDirectly has since taken measures to address the vulnerabilities exposed by this case.

Julia Kurnia, founder of Zidisha, another microfinance platform, has argued that cash transfers are no more than ‘handouts’. Microfinance is a business transaction – where, she argues on Huffington Post, success is ‘a result of my own choices’.

Doane disagrees. ‘We need to think more about aid as a social benefit that’s done much like welfare. You provide it, then people are accountable to their lives and what they’ll do with it. Some people will succeed and some people won’t.’

‘Development is not like online shopping’

GiveDirectly is taking this further with a basic-income experiment. The plan is to provide at least 6,000 Kenyans with an income high enough to meet their basic needs for 10 to 15 years and then test the impacts.

These platforms are just some examples of the intersection of tech and charity. In 2014, 12 of the 50 people on the Chronicle of Philanthrophy’s list of the biggest US givers came from the technology industry. But under ‘philanthrocapitalism’ the lines between profit-making and non-profit activities can be blurred.

For example, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar set up the Omidyar Network to make investments in both non-profit and for-profit enterprises. The Network awarded Kiva a $5 million grant in 2010.

There are close links with the tech titans. Both Kiva and GiveDirectly have benefited from Google’s Global Impact Awards: $3 million for Kiva in 2013 and $2.4 million awarded to GiveDirectly in 2014. Google staff also sit on the board of directors.

GiveDirectly has also received $25 million from Good Ventures, a foundation started by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and his wife Cari Tuna.

So how can someone with money to give decide where to direct it?

‘Look for organizations that are analysing and challenging the policies and power of our governments and global institutions,’ says Erdman.

‘It’s nice to make a connection; it feels good, but what’s the impact?’ asks Claire. ‘Development is not like online shopping.’

Amy Hall is a freelance journalist and frequent contributor to New Internationalist.

The London students who refuse to pay rent

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Goldsmiths' rent strikers. by Amy Hall

Rats, cockroaches, floods, ceiling collapse, an exploding toilet and extortionate prices are just some of the complaints from more than 1,000 London students who are refusing to pay their rent for university accommodation.

The rent strike is part of a wider Cut the Rent campaign against expensive university accommodation which campaigners say pushes studying in the capital out of reach for students from less-wealthy backgrounds. Maintenance grants for the poorest students were scrapped for 2016 and universities can now charge up to $13,200 a year in tuition fees.

Students can receive a loan to pay for fees and living costs but the money is not always enough to cover rent and bills.

The current rent strike began at University College London (UCL) in January, spreading to other universities with a massive increase in students pledging to withhold rent in the last three weeks as a payment deadline passed. Students have also used protest and petitions to get their point across.

Around 700 students at Goldsmiths, over 300 at UCL and smaller groups at Roehampton and the Courtauld Institute have joined the action, including some living in privately owned accommodation.

The National Union of Students (NUS) is supporting the strike and Vice-President Shelly Asquith has said the organization will cover the cost of legal advice students may need to seek. It is thought the strike could spread to other universities. There are also Cut The Rent campaigns in Kent and Edinburgh.

London is a microcosm of the wider UK housing crisis. People in the British capital now spend nearly two-thirds of their income on rent, which has risen by over 7 per cent each year. Salaries in the UK have been going up by just 1.5 per cent annually.

These students explain why they've had enough:

Billie Paul, Goldsmiths University of London

Billie Paul is angry. A 19-year-old first-year English student, she moved to London in September from the seaside town of Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. Unhappy with what she was getting for her $230-per-week rent, she was taken by her flatmate to a Cut The Rent campaign meeting.

Billie pays more for her one bedroom in university accommodation than her family pays for a three-bedroom house back home. 'That was a real shock to me because when I came here and saw the prices I thought I would at least be getting a decent standard of living.'

'Since we moved in we've had repeated issues: sometimes no hot water, plug blow-outs in the kitchen, bad flooding. It takes so long to get anything fixed. The only thing that seems to work is doing banner drops - then they rush to fix things and take the banners down – or when we put something on the halls' Facebook pages,' Billie explains.

'But compared to what I've heard from others; our flat is quite good.'

It's the cost of rent that really gets Billie going. Although she has been able to make it through this year with the maximum student loan and grant available, due to her family's low income, she is worried about how she is going to get through the rest of her degree.

'I'm going to have to get a job to support myself... I have depression and having to work as well as doing my studies is going to drain me and that's a real worry.' She has friends who receive less financial support and are trying to juggle more than one job as well as their studies.

'I'd love for our campaign demands to be met,' says Billie, becoming even more animated. These include 'safe, secure and liveable' accommodation, in line with housing charity Shelter's guidelines. Cut the Rent also want weekly rent to be capped at half the average maintenance loan, a reduction to $147. 'I don't think that's unfair,' she says. Currently the average is $220 – 75 per cent of the average loan.

Billie would like the university-led action to take off across London. 'I think the sense of growing discontentment is spreading,' she says. 'We're in a privileged position being at university - the average tenants, especially in poor areas, don't have that luxury of safety net.'

One of the Goldsmiths campaign organizers, Billie says they receive messages every day from more students joining the rent strike. 'There's been such a growing anger among students over the last 10 or so years: increased tuition fees, capping of grants, privatization and we have a rent strike – something has to happen eventually.'

Bethan and Billie

Amy Hall

Bethan McKinney, Goldsmiths University of London

'I was worried when I realized how much it was going to cost to live here,' says 19-year-old art student Bethan McKinney, who is originally from Gloucestershire.

'I remember when I moved in, my mum going white when she saw where I was going to be living and getting all the wipes out and cleaning, trying to blitz the whole place to get out the mould, the grime and whatever it was that had grown all over the kitchen.

'So many people have bugs and infestations,' she says. 'This is the fourth day our kitchen hasn't been working.'

Because of her low-income background, a government grant has provided help through her first year but she says she now needs a job. 'I'm going to be working from nine until five for two weeks straight, starting tomorrow, including weekends. I'm disabled; I have a chronic illness which makes me very tired but this is something I have to do to feel I'm going to be able to financially support myself; but it's probably beyond my capabilities.'

'It's really worrying to think about the future consequences from the amount of debt that I'm racking up.' Bethan shudders when she thinks about it.

Despite the stress – it's also assessment time for many students – Bethan says she is determined to see the strike through. 'We're aware that debt collectors are something that could happen,' she says, but is hoping for safety in numbers.

However, Bethan says that students living in halls managed by Campus Living Villages, a private company, have faced more trouble over the strike than those living in accommodation run by the university. It's particularly difficult for those about to rent a house for their second year. 'They've been refusing references or giving really poor references and they've been sending threatening emails about charging late fees for payments,' she says.

'It's not like we're trying to inconvenience the university; it's a much wider thing than that. It's about housing and it's about privatization and the whole education system. This is the best way we've found to protest in order for the people in power to pay attention.

'I think the rent strike is something that we almost have a responsibility to do because the way that housing is being dealt with right now in London is entirely unjust.'

Chris Thomas, University College London (UCL)

'I looked at university as a place where, based upon your academic merit, you've worked hard in school, you can come and have the education you really wanted and study something that you love. But then you get here and you realize that's not the only selecting factor,' says 18-year-old Chris Thomas from the garden of Ramsay Hall where he lives. 'Actually, your family wealth becomes a selecting factor,as well as your academic merit ,and I don't think that's right.'

Although he has been able to pay the rent so far, Chris, a first-year student of philosophy, joined the strike this month because of his visible fury at the widening inequality in higher education.

He explains that some people are put off applying to university in London altogether and others end up dropping out. 'I would love lower rent but it's also the bigger picture that's really important.'

Chris

Amy Hall

UCL have admitted a 40.12-per-cent increase in rent since 2009, which they defend as being below market level. 'They don't need to keep up with the market prices because they own these buildings,' says Chris, arguing that the university's planned expansion is futile. 'Who are they expanding for really? They're expanding for the future but then only the richer students are going to be able to come here.'

This is not the first time UCL have been challenged on housing. In 2015 they paid $587,000 compensation to students who had been living in 'unacceptable' conditions in two halls of residence. The UCL Cut the Rent campaign is now calling for a 40-per-cent rent cut.

Chris loves university and wants everyone to have the same opportunities available to him. 'It's a place that can nurture your passion for your subject and you're taught by world-class academics.'

'There seems to be a distinct distance between the academic side and the more corporate side of the university.

'You're never going to live this centrally in London again for the rest of your life but that doesn't mean you should be paying extortionate rents.'

UCL says that any surplus made from accommodation, $23.5 million according to Cut the Rent campaigners, is 'reinvested into the accommodation.' But Chris says it doesn't feel like that's always the case. 'We just feel used for their asset gain.'

Beyond burnout

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Resistance strain: the psychological impacts of activism are seldom discussed. © Tim Gainey / Alamy

In 2009, the Iranian Green Movement became headline news as millions of people took to the streets to protest against alleged vote-rigging in the presidential elections. Scenes of green-clad protesters and their brutal repression by the security forces went viral on social media. One of the most iconic, and tragic, videos circulated was of the fatal shooting of Neda Agha-Soltan; it became an internet phenomenon.

Behind the headlines, online activists including Cameran Ashraf, then 29, worked around the clock to spread the information. Based in Los Angeles, Ashraf first heard about the protests on the news, and realized he could use his technical skills to support the movement. ‘I’m half Iranian and my cultural ties with Iran are pretty strong,’ he explains. ‘I just really believed in it. These were people that looked like me, people my age; they weren’t doing anything violent.’ Ashraf says he quickly became highly trusted among some of the movement’s key activists, and was engrossed in hosting services for a website and providing digital security. ‘I barely slept for two years,’ he reveals.

Activists like Ashraf can be repeatedly exposed to traumatic situations as they fight for what they believe in. These experiences can bring on post-trauma symptoms including flashbacks, insomnia, sudden personality change or withdrawal. If these persist, they may develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The British National Health Service estimates that one in every three people who have a traumatic experience is affected by PTSD.

‘Burnout’ has become a common term, but the deeper psychological impacts on the activists are rarely discussed.

Warning signs

Emily Apple is one of the founders of Counselling For Social Change, based in Cornwall, southwest England. In 2014, the group plans to begin retreats to a permaculture site where activists and campaigners can receive therapeutic support.

The organization was partly inspired by Apple’s own diagnosis of PTSD after many years as an activist, including experiences of police violence and undercover surveillance: ‘We’d seen so many people go through PTSD and realized that we are not making activism sustainable,’ she explains. ‘It is opening up that debate and saying that trauma work is actually part of the resistance.’

When experiencing post-traumatic stress, some push away the warning signs that something is wrong. Ashraf explains that this was his experience: one signal came in 2009 when he went to see a new Star Trek film at the cinema. ‘I was a huge Star Trek fan but seeing people laugh was so alien, seeing people enjoy themselves was so weird. I was, like, “What the heck is going on? Happiness is foreign.”

‘I think when you believe in the cause so much, you can actually view these warning signs as deficiencies, as proof that you’re not doing enough. So rather than hearing them, I basically kicked enjoyment out of my life.’

Ashraf began receiving treatment for PTSD in March 2011 after his darkest period. It was a decision that, he says, changed his life: ‘I had a breakdown where I completely went dark for two weeks. I didn’t talk to anybody; I don’t remember anything about that time. I just remember not turning on my computer, not answering anything – but stuff was still going on, people were being arrested... I just lost it.’

Emily Apple says that these warning signs are key: ‘I carried on far longer than I should have done and would have been far better if I had got help earlier, but it took me getting physically ill.

‘When people are being physically tortured by the state, people want to take action; but when you’ve got police harassment, intimidation and long-term psychological damage because of the tactics that they’re using, we don’t take action.’

Theoneste Bizimana is a psychologist and co-founder of the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities programme (HROC) in Rwanda, which provides support to trauma survivors.

He has seen many activists with post-trauma symptoms, including PTSD. ‘There is no support for activists in my region,’ he explains. ‘Many activists fully commit themselves to serving and solving other people’s problems. Activists need time to work on their own trauma and be encouraged to write or tell stories and communicate about their work.’

Emotional first aid

Simon Griffiths is a member of Activist Trauma Support, which was founded in 2005 and provided ‘emotional first aid’ that year to activists during the G8 summit in Scotland, including a missing persons helpline. It also became involved in the Climate Camp movement.

The bulk of Activist Trauma Support’s work is now web-based. It provides information on activism and mental health, and a directory of places where people can get support. It also runs awareness-raising workshops.

‘I think when you believe in the cause so much, you can view the warning signs as deficiencies, as proof that you’re not doing enough. I basically kicked enjoyment out of my life’

Griffiths says that there can be a dismissive attitude towards taking the psychological effects of activists seriously: ‘It’s the kind of work that isn’t seen as being as important as direct struggle. But, on the whole, it does seem like those attitudes are changing.’

Activist Trauma Support encourages campaigners to support each other and take steps to protect themselves. Griffiths says that basic things such as sleeping, eating healthily and exercising are vital but easily forgotten. ‘Although it may sound counterintuitive, keeping a journal can be a really good way of de-escalating things like panic attacks, intrusive thoughts and nightmares. A journal allows you to take a measure of control and get some context, as well as making you aware of any patterns.’

Brian Martin is Professor of Social Sciences at the University of Wollongong, Australia. He believes support networks outside of activism are useful: ‘Sometimes it’s like, if you’re not doing late nights and so on then you’re not a real activist – you’re not committed to the cause.

‘Activism is like any kind of activity: you get ups and downs. Sometimes you’re totally elated, sometimes it’s very depressing because things are going badly. If that’s your entire life, then it can be quite damaging.’

In Shut Them Down! – a book reflecting on the 2005 G8 summit – Activist Trauma Support wrote about how emotional support for activists is an important tool in making state repression less effective: ‘Beatings, arrests, isolation custody, violation of rights, threats, lies… Their focus is on creating fear, getting inside our heads and stopping us from taking action again.’

Ashraf is certain that a better understanding of mental-health issues would build stronger and more sustainable movements. ‘It’s essential for modern movements to survive, especially as many are movements of attrition. For example, you can see it’s going to be a long process in Egypt; it’s going to take a while to get some kind of healthy situation.

‘It’s really vital that these issues be opened up and talked about. The more people do that, the more comfortable people will be. In Iranian culture – in a lot of cultures – any discussion of psychological issues is taboo, so it has been hard.

‘The first thing is to respect what you feel. There is a level of self-disrespect that goes into activism, I really believe that. Feelings that come up, you mustn’t shut them out, because they will help you get through it – and they’ll help you keep going.’

Amy Hall is a journalist and editor based in Brighton, England.

Krey vs Rio Tinto: a community struggle against coal expansion

John Krey moved to the village of Bulga in New South Wales expecting a quiet retirement. The 73-year-old did not expect to be taking up another full-time job: fighting mining giant Rio Tinto. For the last four years, Krey, with fellow-members of the Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association (BMPA), has worked to stop the expansion of the Warkworth open-cut coal mine to within 2.6 kilometres of his community.

‘It’s a David and Goliath battle and we’re determined to beat the buggers,’ says Krey, a former quantity surveyor. ‘The history of open-cut mines in our area is that it destroys villages.’

In April 2013, the BMPA won a legal challenge against a previously approved expansion of the mine. In the ruling, the judge highlighted the project’s ‘significant adverse impact on biological diversity’, as well as negative social effects and noise and dust pollution. However, soon after, the New South Wales government proposed policy changes, which gave economic benefits a higher priority. Rio Tinto reapplied for expansion and it was granted by the Planning Commission in January 2014.

‘The Planning Department has worked hand-in-glove with Rio Tinto to ensure this project was fast-tracked to approval,’ said Steve Phillips in a press release for the Lock The Gate Alliance, an Australia-wide movement that fights coal and gas expansion.

The mine’s expansion should be global concern – Greenpeace predicts that Australia’s coal exports will account for 1,200 million tonnes of carbon dioxide pollution each year by 2025.

The Supreme Court is now considering the case and, at the time of going to press, was expected to give its decision in March 2014.

Meanwhile, the BMPA has also taken its case to the Independent Commission Against Corruption and is not ruling out direct action. Activists from elsewhere have said they are prepared to ‘stand in front of the bulldozers,’ says Krey.

PODCAST: Challenging the 'stranger next door' mentality

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Sharing a cuppa with friends is good for the soul. under a Creative Commons Licence

Sharing a cuppa is good for the soul chichacha under a Creative Commons Licence

In Britain, where fear and anger of the ‘stranger’ next door is often promoted by politicians and the mainstream media, Friends And Neighbours (FAN) groups began as a network of people making a difference through the power of conversation.

The idea has now spread as far as Pakistan, all with the same structure and principles. Regular meetings of around an hour are held with the same opening and closing words and every attendee is given a certain amount of time to talk on a nominated topic.

Although the FAN charity, which supports these autonomously operated groups, does not consider itself an activist organization, it has brought people together and challenged perceptions within and between a diverse range of people.

This year the network celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Amy Hall speaks to FAN fans in England, Wales and Pakistan to find out what the meetings have done for them.

Download podcast.


Find out more at the FAN Charity website or follow @thefancharity on Twitter.

Thanks to Water Pageant for the music used in this podcast. Find out more about the band on their MySpace page.

Thanks also to Yuri Ferreira Nogueira and Floor Mattress whose music was used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Sinking homeland

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Protesting for 'climate change to be seen through a human rights lens'. Itzafineday under a Creative Commons Licence

As his homeland disappears under water, a man from Pacific Island nation Kiribati is battling to become the world’s first legally recognized climate-change refugee.

Ioane Teitiota, who is 37 years old, moved to New Zealand in 2007, along with his wife, to seek asylum. The couple now have three young children and Teitiota argues that returning to Kiribati would put the family in danger.

Made up of 32 atolls, Kiribati is one of the world’s lowest-lying countries, with a population of more than 100,000. Teitiota has described extreme high tides which kill crops and cause sickness by contaminating drinking water.

His legal team argue that the current Refugee Convention is out of date and needs to incorporate people fleeing climate change.

Steve Trent, Executive Director at the Environmental Justice Foundation, agrees: ‘Climate change needs to be seen through a human rights lens,’ he says. ‘Tens of millions of people are going to be permanently displaced and at the moment they have no recourse to any kind of legal protection.

‘Policymakers, parliamentarians and those involved at a multinational level are being glacially slow in recognizing and addressing this. We have a moral, political and economic obligation to address this issue now. If we don’t, the costs will be far higher.’

After hearing his asylum appeal on 14 October, the High Court in Auckland reserved its decision and had yet to pronounce at the time of going to press.

On Tuesday 26 November, a New Zealand court ruled that Ioane Teitiota's claim fell short of the legal criteria, such as fear of persecution or a violation of his basic human rights. He now faces deportation unless he appeals to a higher court.

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