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News & Updates

Ernesto Sirolli: 'Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!'

› Posted December 12, 2012

Ernesto Sirolli got his start doing aid work in Africa in the 70's — and quickly realised how ineffective it was. Enjoy Ernesto Sirolli's amazing TED talk: click here.

When most well-intentioned aid workers hear of a problem they think they can fix, they go to work. This, Ernesto Sirolli suggests, is naïve. In this funny and impassioned talk, he proposes that the first step is to listen to the people you're trying to help, and tap into their own entrepreneurial spirit. His advice on what works will help any entrepreneur.

Ernesto Sirolli is a noted authority in the field of sustainable economic development and is the Founder of the Sirolli Institute, an international non-profit organization that teaches community leaders how to establish and maintain Enterprise Facilitation projects in their community. The Institute is now training communities in the USA, Canada, Australia, England and Scotland.

In 1985, he pioneered in Esperance, a small rural community in Western Australia, a unique economic development approach based on harnessing the passion, determination, intelligence, and resourcefulness of the local people. The striking results of "The Esperance Experience" have prompted more than 250 communities around the world to adopt responsive, person-centered approaches to local economic development similar to the Enterprise Facilitation® model pioneered in Esperance.

Winter News about Projects in Africa

› Posted February 25, 2011

During the winter there seems little to write about since we are not in the travel-to-Africa mode but there are some things to share. On a literary note, an exceptional editorial essay, by Nancy Gibbs (her writing tends to be of the highest quality), in Time magazine, “To Fight Poverty, Invest in Girls,” is dead-on. Although Gibbs’ essay is not about the plight of African women and girls, she does quote a Malawian girl and provides persuasive argument that would certainly benefit the leaders of many African countries, not to mention leaders around the World. See the article online.

There was also a nice article about our well repair project posted on November 4th, by, “Repairing Water Wells in Africa". Further, in relation to this project, a dedicated group of high school students, with work through New Global Citizens (see the link on our main page), has undergone some tremendous fund raising efforts to help us train and outfit a few select Malawian men and women to repair and service bore holes (wells). These people will have a skill and means to earn a living as they move about their local areas and many more bore holes will remain operational over longer periods.

Yet another bit of good news arises from a November communique, to me, on the part of the Kenyan Ambassador to the US, Dr. Wenwa Akinyi Odinga Oranga. Ambassador Oranga wrote to say she wanted to visit and discuss our projects, and in early December she came to Arizona State University to attend a meeting I set up that included students involved in projects for people in Africa, our Dean of the Schools of Engineering, Professor Johnson, the Associate Dean, Professor Collofello, my colleague and partner in the projects, Dr. Pizziconi, and various other faculty members.

Ambassador Oranga, herself with a Ph.D. in Chemistry, outlined her ideas on how we might collaborate on projects with the University of Nairobi. Not long after her trip to ASU, she returned to Kenya and shared some of our ideas with her brother, the Prime Minister of Kenya.

This past week, she sent a message to indicate that she wants to talk more about our ideas and will follow up with a phone call. Our follow-up plan is to meet the Ambassador at her Consulate in Los Angeles later this spring and I anticipate having the team of students who are working on a project for a man in Kenya who suffers a disability due to a bicycle/ automobile accident a few years ago.

I am proud of the work on the part of that group as well as another team involved with a project to develop maternity clinics from old, decommissioned, 40 foot long steel shipping containers. These containers are the same that you see on the backs of trucks and trains, as well as in ships designed to take them across the seas. Once they are deemed no longer sea-worthy, these containers are stockpiled in ports around the world. We have seen them in Dar es Salaam, Durbin and Long Beach for starters and the plan is to develop a prototype on the ASU campus and then produce the clinics in Africa. Our students are working with a local (Phoenix) OB Gyn who has provided insight in what they need in the design and has agreed to travel with us to Malawi to train midwives on how to use and maintain the clinics.

Malawi Trip, Entry 6

› Posted July 22, 2010

July 18th -20th | South Luangwa National Park, Zambia and Lilongwe, Malawi

Two days of safari rides into South Luangwa National Park provided many wonderful sightings of birds, mammals, and plants. Of the latter, the most interesting was probably the orchid that grows in trees where the seed has sprouted and taken root.

We saw many of the classic African animals to include two prides of lion, a leopard, hippo, impala, water buck, cape buffalo, crocodiles and much more. The bird life was also tremendous.

However, in terms of our project, we were able to deliver the specially built hand cycle designed and developed for Anastasia, a girl of 15 who is afflicted with polio while she also seems to have some other complications. She had to be lifted onto the seat then we adjusted it to make it easier for her to reach the foot rests. Through our driver, Sly, we learned that her first statement was that she wanted to go to church, and later said, “Grandma will be surprised.” Sly told us that she continued to demonstrate a great deal of happiness with the cycle, which her mother had to help her with.

Her uncle was also there and we talked about how she would need to practice in order to gain strength enough to power it herself. Both the mother and uncle promised to work with her to practice riding the cycle but they were also happy that Anastasia could now be transported without having to carry her. We left they with extra tires and tubes for the cycle along with a hand pump so they could keep the tires inflated properly.

Afterward, we drove to see Elizabeth who had received a cycle in 2007. We had seen Elizabeth last year when we visited her home and noted that she had clearly gained strength through use of the cycle.

Even though her progress had been note worthy, we did not anticipate the great change in her now. Due to the cycle, she had been able to return to school. That opportunity, in turn, had allowed her to learn to speak English to the point that she could communicate with us. Further, we found her at a shop where she now has a job—again, an outcome of the cycle as she is able to ride the 5 km to and from work on the weekends. Elizabeth remains in a room during the week but returns home on Sundays.

She has worked up a proposal for us to help her start raising chickens and she gave that proposal to us before our departure. She also has collected information and photos of others in the village who are also disabled in some way. Elizabeth had the collection of information, along with photos, of each of those people and presented them in a book for us to take home with the hope that we will be able to do something for them as well.

Later, we talked with Sly about starting a production facility in Mfuwe where there are plenty of people who have skills to produce devices we design. That plan is something we will have to work on through correspondence in the near future.

On the 20th, we made the long drive back to Lilongwe with Ben, our driver. The road, being long and dusty, provided good reason to shower and wash clothes once we arrived. We chose to go to Ali Baba’s for dinner; a favorite place for us and our children on past trips.

Malawi Trip, Entry 5

› Posted July 22, 2010

July 15th -17th | Little Field Orphanage (Chigamba Village near Nyenje Trading Centre), to Lilongwe, to South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

The hearing clinic at the Little Field Orphanage was well received by the villagers (morning) and all the orphans were tested in the afternoon. The villagers crowded around the building where we slept and used for the clinic. The structure had been used as a medical clinic in the past but for some reason it is not in use at tis time. Word had spread in the village and many thought medications would be dispensed.

The audiology team members found numerous cases of ear infections that needed to be treated medically and others who were fully deaf. At 11:00 we made an announcement that the testing of villagers would end at noon but when that time came, we had to have the team disappear into the back room in order to convince the villagers there would be no more testing. They would have stayed into the night and yet the team members needed to rest and eat before they resumed testing with the orphans. As it was, a few villagers hung around and even protested.

That afternoon, as the orphans were being tested, Clarice and I took a walk down the dirt road toward a lake. A man on a bicycle came along just as we started and he dismounted in order to walk along with us. Soon he asked if we were husband and wife and when we said,“Yes” he immediately expressed surprise. Although we know that it is not customary for married couples to walk along the road together, we had not, in the past, experienced such a surprised reaction to our doing so. He repeated the verbal expression of his surprise and, on my prompting, shared it with three women who were walking along the road in the opposite direction.

They appeared to be coming back from the fields as one carried a long blade tool that resembles a machete, while the other a type of hoe. The one with the blade assumed a stance, with the tool across her chest, in what seemed a humorous defense of the tradition that disallows women to walk with their husbands. A man, who is a teacher at the orphanage, came by on his bicycle and joined the conversation and, he too, shared that such a practice, “… cannot be done.” Little else was discussed as the issue remained their focus of attention until we stopped to turn around. Only then did the first man say that we had taught them something and he wanted for us to come to his home to meet his family.

We were not prepared to continue our walk as we had already walked for quite some time, so declined and headed back. As we did, two young girls, carrying large bowls of flour on their heads, passed us and never stopped even though they passed other children who asked to have their pictures taken.

The hearing clinic had finished by the time we returned so we sat and talked with on of the Malawians who had helped with translations. Solomon is a student at the University of Maine and has been financially assisted by a woman benefactor he happened to meet a few years ago. When asked about his future intention, Solomon was clear that he wanted to return to become an educator. He was interested in our other projects so we showed the video of the well repair and then the recently developed hand cycle for which he was impressed.

The next morning, Janet Littlefield came to see us as she had not been there for the hearing clinic. She and Bill had driven to Lilongwe to drop someone off at the airport and he went on to Ntchisi Forest Lodge in order to see for himself what the place looked like.

After saying good bye, we headed back toward Lilongwe. When we reached the Shire River, I stopped at the Hippo View Hotel, which was familiar to us from a trip in 2004. Although we had not stayed there, it was a nice place to view the river. Even though we did not see hippos, we did hear them from across the river.

We stopped at the Dedza Pottery Factory for lunch—another location that was familiar from previous trips—and enjoyed the break before getting back on the road for the final leg. We arrived in Lilongwe in time to go directly to the bureau of exchange to get more money and then stop to see Mcdonald Ganisyeje at Land and Lake. He had heard from our clearing agent to say the shipment of medical devices had arrived and I had to go immediately to the airport to pick them up. So we headed to the Golden Peacock to unload before Kyle and I drove to the airport.

Mathews was waiting for us and we quickly loaded the largest box onto the top carrier. It was so large that it barely fit, while the next largest had to be pushed into the back of the Land Cruiser. I paid the duty, and Mathews fee of MK 20,000 then found that our vehicle would not start. One of the workers twisted the terminal and that was enough to re-establish the connection—something I should have thought of—and we were on our way.

We stopped to buy some beer and then returned to the Golden Peacock for dinner. Afterward, we unloaded the boxes and separated the devices so the one destined for Zambia was ready for the next day’s trip. There were bags of cereal and children’s backpacks that had been added to the shipment by Vin Pizziconi and I shared some of the cereal with the Golden Peacock workers who had helped unload the boxes. I also gave a backpack and cereal to Suleman for his young daughter and son.

After a special breakfast at the café in front of Land and Lake Safari, we loaded the trailer, to include Anastasia’s hand cycle, and climbed into the 9 passenger Land Cruiser for our day’s drive to the village of Mfuwe, and the Zambian, South Luangwa National Park. The drive takes most of a day as we must pass through customs at the border, pay USD $50 to enter Zambia, and once past the first major town (Chipata), the road is dirt.

We arrived in the afternoon and were met by one of the greeters who gave a short welcome and talk about safety issues (don’t walk about at night as elephants, leopards, and other animals pass through the camp) and scheduling for the meals and safari rides. Hippos come up on shore so the trail that leads from the camp to the dining area cannot be used after dark. There was a great degree of excitement amongst our group as even then we began to see animals in the wild, along the Luangwa River, they had only seen on TV or in zoos.

We settled into our cabin-tents, enjoyed the sunset, sounds and sights along the river, and waited until the driver brought the specially outfitted, open aired, Land Rover to drive us to the dining area for dinner. Afterward, we returned and headed for bed as the next morning’s wake-up would be early with a 6:00 AM departure for our first of four safari rides.

Malawi Trip, Entry 4

› Posted July 22, 2010

July 14 | Blantyre to Little Field Orphanage (Chigamba Village near Nyenje Trading Centre), Malawi

Another new development—or perhaps a repeat new development. After loading up and heading out of Blantyre, we stopped at a ShopRite for provisions then began our drive on the Zomba Highway. After only about 15 miles along the paved, though bumpy road, the top carrier collapsed again. Everything had to be taken off the top and loaded inside along with the 8 of us.

Zomba was the next large population center and we arrived about 11:00. With a little guidance, we found someone who had top carriers and feet that would serve our needs. It took about 5 hours, some searching for steel to allow our carrier to fit the new feet, a local welder, and a great deal of patience, to get us back on the road.

Then, as we headed out of Zomba, another new development came upon us. For the first time in our experience in Malawi we came upon a speed zone equipped with a camera. Although I tend to drive under the speed limits—50 kph in this and most residential areas—the police had their camera set up at the bottom of a hill and caught me doing 61 kph. Apparently this location is lucrative for them as we saw many pulled over and we later learned that both Janet Littlefield and Bill, had been caught in the same place only recently.

I was given a citation and told to pay the fine (MK 5000) to a police officer who sat near by on a log. The entire episode was conducted in a friendly manner, and I did my best to maintain a pleasant demeanor as well, but given the day’s events, my normal effort to maintain safe speeds, and our reason for being there, the citation was somewhat difficult to take. None-the-less, I was glad to see that some effort was being carried out to reduce driving speed in at least this location. Malawian drivers, and especially minibus drivers, tend to drive too fast through congested areas.

With the delays, we were once again forced to drive in the dark and, at times, it seemed we were not on the right road. We reached Liwonde, on the Shire River, which is familiar to Clarice and I from previous visits, just after dusk. Our turnoff from there seemed obvious enough but we then rode for many miles, up a steep grade, with few trade centers along the way.

At one point, we came upon a typical police gate across the road and were glad to have opportunity to get assurance that we were on the right road. For some reason they made a point that my bicycle, on the front-mounted rack, was illegal but we told them that placement of the bicycle had not been mentioned by other officers. We were able to get them to focus on helping us with directions and Clarice gave one officer a pen—always a desired item—and we were on our way.

We reached the turn off at Nyenje Trading Centre and then found the dirt road that led to Little Field Orphanage. After another 5-6 km, we came upon our destination and children started to pour out of the gate as we drove onto the compound. There was a lot of excitement amongst the children and local people, and Janet and Bill were glad to see us. However, we hardly received any greetings from the volunteers who had been with us a few days before at Ntchisi Forest Lodge.

It was about 7:30 when we arrived and the children were having reading time along with the volunteers. As much as possible, the volunteers were reading with 1-2 children in the room where we sat down to eat dinner. The noise level was significant and we had a difficult time in talking with Bill and Janet. We learned some things about the operation of the orphanage and could readily tell that conditions were far more primitive than what we experienced at the SOS facility or any other place we had visited.

We were lodged in an old clinic outfitted with bunk beds. After another difficult day, we were ready for sleep.