Friday 25 October 2013

AppWriter Cloud

I've recently been really enjoying a tool Martin came back from Thailand with: AppWriter Cloud.  One of his fellow vendors at the conference there was touting it and was kind enough to give me a free login for it.  It's an add-on to the Chrome browser that reads web pages aloud - and it can read any web pages, including the pages within my Google Drive, meaning I can use it to read pdfs and other documents to me as well so long as I upload them there first.

It's a bit temperamental, and using it requires me to have a Windows virtual machine running as it doesn't work in Chromium, but I'm still delighted with it.  After years of failing to get Orca* to work for me, something that works most of the time is fantastic :-)  I find reading pretty hard work, even on a screen where I don't have to deal with holding the weight of a book, but this has suddenly made it a lot easier!  Yay!!

* the Linux version of JAWS - the text to speech programme blind people generally use

Friday 11 October 2013

Give a man a fish...

I was intrigued and excited by the story in 'Act one' of this recent This American Life episode.  In it, Planet Money reporters looked into the work of GiveDirectly: a charity that, rather than giving poor people cows or seeds or other goods or training, simply gives them money.

The reporters went to a village in Kenya where the poorest residents had each received the equivalent of US$1000.  From what I could gather, they were people living in a cash economy and this money was roughly what they would normally earn in a year.  The reporters were keen to find out what that money had been spent on.

The villagers lived in thatch-roofed huts and the majority of them had used part of their money to replace the thatch with corrugated iron.  Iron is not only more water-tight and much less hassle to maintain than thatch, over its 10 year life-span it also works out considerably cheaper (you have to buy special grass for thatch).  With the remainder they did all kinds of things: mostly buying income-generating assets such as a cow or a motorbike, but not always.

The story that moved me the most was that of one man who spent the remaining money on a mattress.  Previously he'd been sleeping on the dirt floor (maybe on some kind of a mat - I can't remember for sure), now he sleeps on an actual mattress.  When he was asked why this was important to him, he said something like: "Before, I was just the image of a human, but now I am a human.".  I was stunned.

It got me thinking, too.  I've never heard of a charity that gives away mattresses.  Cows or grain mills, yes: but not mattresses.  Yet it was a mattress that this man wanted, and he wanted it because it gave him dignity.  And surely that's really important?

It also made me realise my own racism.  It keeps on popping up within me: racism.

When I heard about GiveDirectly, I was uncomfortable.  It didn't seem right to just give these people money.  I wasn't confident that they'd spend it well, whereas I was confident that a trustworthy aid agency would give them the right goods and training to really improve their lives.  "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day" and all that.

However, a while ago when I heard that the New Zealand government was proposing to limit what certain beneficiaries could spend their money on, I wasn't very happy about it.  Partly I was concerned on a practical level - how could WINZ know what was best for everyone in all their different circumstances? - and partly I was concerned that it would take dignity away from already vulnerable people.

Why had I thought it would be any different in Kenya?

In the This American Life story they also talked about how all the people in a nearby village had recived cattle from another charity.  In the GiveDirect village, some people had chosen to buy cattle, but others had bought all kinds of other things instead - including the man who had more-or-less bought himself dignity.  It seems that my concerns about the New Zealand welfare proposal may well have been valid, but I'm ashamed that I didn't apply the same respectful thinking to vulnerable people far off as I did to those in my own country...

NB If you don't want to listen to the whole This American Life story (it's 28 minutes long), you could listen to a 6 minute version on the Planet Money website or read an article about the investigation on the New York Times website.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Caring for onesself

In a recent issue of Meeting Place, (the magazine of ANZMES, the CFS support society for New Zealand) I was struck by three articles placed close together.

The first was by a Christian woman with whom I have corresponded over the years.  She made a complete recovery from CFS a few years back and was writing here about the therapy through which God healed her: Mickel Therapy.  It is a talking therapy and is based on three principles.  In my words, they are:
  1. being honest/not being afraid of creating waves
  2. looking after your body and your needs
  3. not letting people abuse/manipulate you.
Although the therapy is secular, she was keen to emphasise how these were principles that she has since been seeing again and again as she reads the Bible.  The principles all seem to me to deal with different kinds of looking after yourself.
Soon after this article came two more.  One was from a woman who had recently been on a holiday on a cruise ship.  While she was on the cruise she found her health greatly improved.  She wondered if this might be because she wasn't pressuring herself to get things done, so when she returned to NZ she put in place some strategies to limit how hard she pushed herself day to day.  Since doing so, her health has been much better than it's been in years.  The other was from a man whose quality of life greatly improved once he learned to live within his limits and look after himself better.

It was both encouraging and scary to see what a difference learning to look after themselves had made in the lives of these three people.

It reminded me of something we'd been discussing in our Bible study group a few weeks earlier.  We're studying Paul's letter to the Colossian church and, on the week in question, were looking at Colossians 3:5-17.  In verses 12-15 Paul says:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.
We talked about whether this meant that we should just let other people walk over us (something that I believe the church often encourages women, in particular, to do).  However, we concluded that it probably actually meant an active and strong kind of love for other people: the kind of thing you can only do if you are deeply established in Christ (something that Paul was talking about in the previous chapter).

How sad (and scary!) to think that the church, by taking passages like this in isolation and using them to encourage people to let others treat them badly, may actually be encouraging people to do something that could leave them significantly ill for years on end!