Global Studies student selected as CNN Hero

Writes Postgraduate International Development student Jenifer Colpas Fernández

International Development student and Tierra Grata CEO Jenifer Colpas Fernández was selected as CNN Hero this year, in recognition of her remarkable work in Colombia, which has helped provide access to clean energy, water and safe sanitation to rural communities through decentralized, affordable and non-polluting solutions.

CNN Hero Jenifer Colpas Fernández

Taking a shower at night and often with clothes, or practicing open defecation because you are afraid that someone will approach you, is a feeling that thousands of rural women experience due to the lack of access to safe bathrooms in Colombia and beyond.

Being aware of this situation, which occurs daily in the most remote rural communities of my country, Colombia, made me take the decision (6 years ago) to dedicate my life to developing and implementing solutions to improve people’s sense of dignity and well-being, while providing them with opportunities through access to basic services of clean energy and safe water and sanitation.

To date, we have reached more than 12 thousand users, with the implementation of more than 1,300 solutions, in more than 40 rural communities. Furthermore, we have gained the recognition of international organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UN Environment, and more recently CNN Heroes.

Tierra Grata team is made up of people passionate about rural development, committed to providing what is essential to everyone.

Our mission is to provide people with essential products and services, and we will continue working until each person who lives in rural communities wakes up every day to live and fulfil their dreams, not to just manage to survive.

CNN Heroes is a contest during which CNN selects people from around the world that are doing great things. The winner of the contest will be the hero with the majority of votes so Jenifer needs our support. Voting ends on the 7th of December. You get 10 votes, every day, to help your favourite heroes. Vote today, come back tomorrow for 10 more votes. Vote again every day until December 7th.

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Dreaming of a Green Christmas

Writes International Development student Hannah Gardner 

I absolutely love Christmas! But hate the waste it brings. Want to enjoy Christmas without the waste? Read on…  

Appeasing the societal pressure

With so many years of commercialism heaving down on the holiday, it’s easy to feel the pressure to buy gifts for your loved (or less loved) ones. Not that gift-giving is inherently wrong, it’s just that when we’re not sure what to get someone, (and I’m speaking for myself here) we can often buy them something just for the sake of it, to appease the societal pressure.

Something my sister does is *not* giving Christmas gifts if she can’t think of anything meaningful to get for someone. Instead, she gives gifts randomly, when she sees something a certain person would like or need. This makes gifts much more special, loudly conveying a depth of thought.

However, I know this may not be the most conventional approach, and many of us will still feel the pressure to follow the norm. One way to avoid buying arbitrary gifts, is to turn to charity gift cards, such as those offered by Oxfam. Oxfam sell various gift cards, from “Food for a Family” for £10, to a larger gift like “Safe Water for a Community” for £50. Check out their ethical gift guide. Another way of thoughtful gift-giving, is to make waste-free Christmas treats, like gingerbread. Baking for friends, family and colleagues saves you from the trap of capitalism, and keeps the money in your wallet!  

The wrapping paper trap

When we do have gifts to give, the next trap we often fall into is the issue of wrapping paper. While a fun way to present your gift, wrapping paper usually ends up in landfill.

Although, again, we might feel some sort of societal pressure to present gifts in a certain way, wrapping paper isn’t an imperative part of gift giving - you can give naked gifts! 

Alternatively, some ways I’ve wrapped gifts in the past included using the patterned loo-roll paper from Who Gives A Crap. And lastly, there’s never really a need for sticky-tape, use twine or ribbon. My sister wraps gifts in scarfs sometimes; that’s a win-win as you get to keep the scarf too!  

Hopefully these tips have been helpful, but if nothing else, one way to keep it greener this Christmas is to ask yourself if there’s a more sustainable way to approach the situation in every decision you face. Little changes make all the difference – be proud of yourself for even the smallest of switches!  

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Isolation is not an option: UK international relations post-Brexit

writes Politics and International Relations student Alette Moller

For some of us, Brexit is a word of the present which reminds us of an attitude of the past. An isolation which is suffocating in a multicultural world. For others, Brexit is a step into a greater sense of self and security. However you view it, Britain’s position on the international stage has shifted, and the government is looking to strengthen political ties outside of Europe.

A new era

It is now over five years since Britain voted to leave the EU, with Brexit being described by some as the ‘damp smell’ that Britain can endure but not ignore. Widely, moreover, Britain’s international reputation is regarded as being ‘in tatters’. A proud Briton, for example, should never ask Putin’s close ally Alexander Lukashenko what he thinks of this nation. His description of Britain as an ‘American lapdog’ is slightly less than flattering. According to Lukashenko, he hasn’t heard of the UK ‘for a thousand years’. However, it is important to look closely at what power Britain can muster away from the EU, and how effectively it can wield this.

Boris Johnson has been seeking economic and political ties outside of Europe, with the view of heightening Britain’s influence. More specifically, the Government aims to have trade agreements in place with countries accounting for 80% of Britain’s trade by 2023. From 2019 to 2021, trade agreements with over 60 countries outside the EU have been signed, and the UK’s request to join the CPTPP has been met with favour. The CPTPP is a free trade agreement between countries around the Pacific Rim. Yet, is this is all a bandage, perhaps, over the large crater that is the British economy’s predicted loss of $56 billion a year outside the EU, according to the European Commission?

Photo by Fred Moon on Unsplash

Isolation: not an option

It is clear that a future outside of Europe comes with disadvantages, and it is hard not to take a negative stance on a post Brexit future. Regional power groups have become a way for nations to build significance and influence globally. Therefore, being that no country can reasonably stand in isolation, not only has the UK requested to join the CPTPP, but there is also momentum in London to strengthen the CANZUK Union, being the UK’s economic integration with Canada, Australia and New Zealand. However, the irony is such that Britain has left one regional power bloc in which it had influence, to join others within which it may have none. For example, in a deal agreed between the UK and Australia, the latter will likely receive an exports boost ‘six times greater’ than the UK.

No special relationship to fall back on

Another relationship that is important to examine is Britain’s relationship with America. Post Brexit, Britain looked cautiously over at the US, and pondered whether the special relationship might materialise. What has been clear for some time, however, is that the US, as a powerful democratic state, does not need Britain’s permission to act. As journalist Andrew Rawnsley highlighted in the Guardian, Britain chose to ‘estrange itself from the liberal democracies in its neighbourhood’, at the same time that US dependability was acutely waning. Notably, America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan reveals a ‘not so special relationship’ with Britain, as Biden paid no heed to what the UK thought. The cautious eye of Britain has not been satisfied, and an ‘all-weather friend’ is notably absent. Britain’s global interests appear to be at stake.

Covid, containers and complications

Not only does Britain face the reality of being subjected to power plays outside Europe, but must consider the reality of trading with nations further away. Brexit means a stronger reliance on container shipping for the UK, as it trades with nations outside of Europe.

Covid-19 revealed a structural vulnerability in global trade, and container shortages are a resulting symptom. Unfortunately, these container shortages and price hikes have coincided with a time when Britain needs to foster trade with countries further afield.

What next?

Political and economic ties in which Britain is the weaker partner may seem to be the future of UK politics. Despite this, Britain has the fourth highest number of unicorns in the world, being a new company which reaches the valuation of $1 billion or more. Britain also has some soft power, with about one in four countries worldwide possessing a head of state who has studied in the UK. There is the looming threat of such soft power fading, of course. Naturally, the illusion of taking back control and power through Brexit is proving to be futile in an interconnected world. Overall, therefore, when we look at Britain’s international relations post Brexit, we see the post-imperial nation continue on its decline, yet perhaps with more rapidity than was hoped.

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People are preparing for a final showdown to stop coal extraction in the German Rhineland

writes International Relations lecturer Dr Andrea Brock

A small earth wall separates the tiny village of Lützerath from the enormous diggers operating in Garzweiler II, one of three opencast lignite coal mines operated by energy company RWE in the German Rhineland. 

The mine is 235 metres away, and coming closer every day. A number of houses in Lützerath have already been torn down, the area covered with gravel, grass, and some wildflowers. It’s hard to imagine that people lived here just a couple of years ago. Other houses are fenced off, with RWE security in front, twenty-four hours a day. Most people have resettled and have moved away.

Challenging eviction

But one farmer is holding out. Eckhard Heukamp is challenging the imminent eviction from his farm in the courts, arguing that the coal mining plans from the 90s should no longer allow for continued extraction in the light of climate change and coal phaseout. He was already displaced once, 15 years ago –when his farm in Borschemich was demolished, the land long dug up. Now he is fighting for his parents’ house and farm, which dates back to the 18th century.

He is not alone – citizens initiatives and groups are organising regular demonstrations, events, and a permanent vigil at the edge of the village facing the mine. Activists have set up a permanent occupation on Heukamp’s land – the ZAD Rhineland. The term ZAD comes from the French Zone à défendre – a militant occupation to stop big development projects. The most well-known ZAD is probably the ZAD de Notre-Dame-des-Landes that stopped a new airport being built near Landes, France, and famously resisted militarised eviction by the French state.

The ZAD Rhineland was set up to defend Lützerath against RWE and the police, and to stop coal extraction in the Rhineland. People are ready to put their bodies in the way in what might be the final showdown, the decisive battle. “If Lützerath stays, they won’t be able to get to the next five villages”, someone tells me. “But it will be hard”. 

We spend all day building defence structures. Treehouses, barricades, lock-ons, and towers are popping up everywhere. People are giving climbing workshops and sharing blockading skills, discussing police repression and state violence, building up solidarity structures and a new kitchen, plotting and planning for day X – when RWE comes to cut trees or police show up to evict the camp. 

Police violence and repression

The last big eviction in the Rhineland – the eviction of Hambacher Forst, which was recently declared illegal – ended up lasting five weeks before it was stopped by the courts. Thousands of police officers were brought in, but many more people came to defend the forest. Police were heavily criticised for the brutality with which they treated activists and the little regard they showed for their safety. One journalist died during the police operation, many ended up in precarious and unsafe situations. 

This is happening all over Germany – only last year, during the eviction of the Dannenröder forest in central Germany, a protester was seriously injured when he fell four meters from a tripod after police officers cut the safety rope which held the tripod in place. The occupation was set up to stop another ecologically destructive infrastructure project – the new A49 motorway. Another protester, Ella, was sentenced to over 2 years in prison for allegedly injuring a police officer during the eviction – despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The collaboration between police and private security services in the Rhinish coal mining area has been well documented; repression, criminalisation, and violence go hand in hand. Few companies are as powerful as RWE. It’s structurally entrenched in the local political economy, and protected by German police forces who frequently act as private security. Many villages and towns are themselves RWE shareholders, and numerous politicians are on RWE’s payroll. In 1979, the German news magazine Spiegel warned:

Unrivalled and barely manageable, RWE is ruling over one of the largest monopolies of the Western world. 

Today, Europe’s largest emitter continues to lobby for continued lignite coal mining – the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. If successful – the German government’s coal phase-out is set for 2038, much too late. Meanwhile, RWE is suing the Netherlands for 1.4 billion Euro compensation for phasing out coal by 2030. 

It’s up to all of us to stop climate catastrophe

As politicians are getting ready for the next round of COP negotiations in Glasgow in November – where they’ll talk and achieve little to nothing – people in the ZAD Rhineland know that it’s up to them – to all of us – to stop climate catastrophe. 

It might well be that this time, too, the courts will rule that the eviction of Luetzerath was illegal. But by then, the trees will have been cut, the land dug up, the village destroyed.

It’s windy at the edge of the mine where I’m sitting. I’m told this has been the case ever since RWE cut down the trees that once protected the village. And yet, the windmills next to the mine are not moving – the powergrid is overloaded – there’s too much wind, and coal power stations take too long to switch on and off. 

The digger keeps moving towards us, ruthlessly. The power stations in the background keep burning coal, generating electricity for a system that requires abundant cheap energy to power endless growth, to generate profit for those in power at enormous ecological and social costs. 

Another world is possible

The ZAD Rhineland shows that a different system is possible – a system that operates on the basis of solidarity, not competition; of degrowth, not growth; on climate justice, not green capitalism or ecological modernisation. True sustainability needs not just an end of coal, but the abolishing of those who protect coal interests – police, security, prisons – and of the economic and political system they are part of.

Joining the ZAD Rhineland is a good place to start this fight. From 29 October, the ZAD invites all of us to come to the anti-eviction skill share and protest camp, and to stop RWE. Whether you want to sit in a treehouse, build barricades, or cut veggies – please join, if you can. Every body counts. 

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Living with the Naranjal Community in the Peruvian Amazon

by Anthropology of Development student Anna Stephens

The Naranjal Community (comunidad de la Naranjal) are a community of indigenous Ashaninka people who live on the banks of the Yamiria river, a tributary of the Ucayali, in the Huánuco region of the Peruvian Amazon.

I lived with them for ten days during dry season. The plan was to establish a connection and prepare the place for future English lessons to be taught by volunteers, as well as to conduct interviews and participant observations for my master’s thesis on traditional ecological knowledge and the impact of globalization.

My experience

Arriving at the community alone, I was initially quite afraid, knowing that no one spoke any English and that the lifestyle was so radically different to mine. Once you cross the river, there is no internet connection, very little electricity, no running water, and barely any shops! It truly feels like entering another world; however, after my first few days there, I was able to experience the magic of the place: my trip turned out to be life changing.

El Apu

The community have a chief whom they call “el jefe” (the boss) or “el apu” (the leader) and he organises everything alongside the vice president, Veronica. I found him to be a very kind, intelligent man on a mission to improve relations between the community and outside world. Although they have not encountered many foreigners in their lifetimes, the whole community are keen to learn English and engage with tourists. As of yet there is no tourism in the area, and very little in Huánuco in general, but it is an important part of their vision for the future.

An important part of the Ashaninka lifestyle is crafting artisanal products from natural materials collected in the rainforest such as jewellery, bags and pots. They sell these at markets in Lima or across Peru. Veronica is the main organiser of this, and she was pleased to show me the traditional handmake costumes she makes.

From being treated like the stranger that I was, I ended up being told that I would be missed. It’s been a blessing to experience such a radically different perspective of the world!

After spending my first night there, sleeping on the floor of a disused school (next to a cemetery), I serendipitously met a local family who invited me to live with them. As a result, I spent most of those ten days living in their open, hand-crafted, wooden bungalow home, sharing meals with them and many interesting conversations about our respective cultures. I taught them yoga and English and they took me on trips along the river, all the time sharing their world with me.


The family who took me in and shared their life with me

Life in the community

Life in the community is simple and pleasant, although they do not have the luxuries which most of us have in the West. Apart from having the river provide them with water, they sleep on blankets placed on the floor. Sleeping on the ground was initially very challenging for me, but SemillasLife are in the process of organising materials to make things more comfortable for volunteers. It only took a few days to adjust to this aspect of life, which proved to me just how incredible the adaptable nature of human beings is.

I couldn’t help but notice that people laugh a lot and live in the moment. This is not by choice but is rather a necessity, as most of the community do not own clocks or electronic devices (there are only a few TVs dotted around). The river plays a crucial role in their lives, being the place where they bathe, wash their clothes, congregate and keep their boats. The river also provides the community with the small fish which form the main staple of their diet, and would be eaten with rice, yucca or potatoes grown in the local ‘chagras’ (farms). At sunset the community would routinely gather at the grassy area around which their community is organised to play games, and the boys would play football whilst the girls played volleyball.

History of the community

The community is officially 34 years old, however its true history stretches far beyond this. I was told stories of families (initially three) settling in the area and attracting more and more people overtime. Comunidad de la Naranjal has developed impressively over a short period of time, and now consists of several hundred people. They now have three schools, several small shops, two churches, and a multitude of farms as well as hand-built homes. Interestingly, other visitors to the area understood my Spanish significantly better, which is perhaps due to the strong accent and dialect of the Ashaninka people. Learning some words in the local dialect helped to facilitate communication between us, which became increasingly easier as the time passed.

The Ashaninka language

I began to learn some words in Ashaninka with the help of members of the community who are keen to preserve their language. I believe that it is an important sign of respect as a visitor. For example: Titere (“tay-te-ree”) – good day; Shaytere (“shi-ta-re”) – good afternoon; Sinididi – good night; Hakana – thank you


The river

Essentials to bring to the Amazon

The water of the river is drinkable, but water filters are recommended. I’d advise anyone planning a trip to bring mosquito repellent, a towel, sunscreen, long clothes, a waterproof jacket, shoes for walking in the jungle, a knife, first-aid products, a water bottle, a backpack, a pillow, and a warm blanket.

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