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Story by Helvetas December 21st, 2016



The wait is never-ending, as Suraj Ghalan queues for his passport and for a better life. Like half a million of his compatriots, the 21-year-old farmer’s son is leaving his native land of Nepal this year to make a living elsewhere. He accepts all the attendant risks of migration. About his destination, Saudi Arabia, he knows little more than that you are not allowed to look at women, and that other people from his village are obviously earning good money there. One good thing at least is that he got some advice at the Migration Information and Counselling Center before leaving. Suraj found out how to identify a good job agency, and how important it is to register with the authorities.


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The sun is blazing down, and it is unbearably hot. Dust rises in swirls from the parched soil. The canister on the woman’s back sways back and forth, the water inside it sloshing in time to her steps. Adewe Gebru and her friends walk for up to eight hours to collect the bare minimum amount of water they need to survive. Ethiopia, their homeland, is in the grip of the worst drought for thirty years. They still have to wait a long time for the saving rains. They finally come in July, but the next harvest is still several months off.



Now he’s got to pedal like crazy, because his second child is due any minute at the maternity clinic! Pascal Sahgui had just explained to us, calmly and thoughtfully, how you set up a new vegetable bed, which crop rotations improve yields and the best way to use fertilizer. A member of the “Association des Maraîchages” in northern Benin, Sahgui trains people with an interest in horticulture. Most of the candidates are women, and even among the trainers Sahgui is the only man. His wife, for one, would never echo a common complaint among women that their menfolk shun working in the fields and contribute little to the household.


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If you buy a football in a Swiss sports shop, there’s a good chance it comes from Sialkot, where 70 percent of all footballs worldwide are made. Muhammad Javed (pictured with his wife) is one of the workers who stitch those balls. He feels lucky to have found a job with Talon Sports, the company that marketed the first Fairtrade footballs back in 1993. When Javed contracted hepatitis three years ago, he got a great deal of support rather than the sack. His employer sent him to see a specialist and paid for his medication. Javed has gone back to stitching soccer balls and is once more able to take care of his family.



Two entrepreneurs with great ambitions: 21-year-old Djénébou Traoré (left) and 22-year-old Sita Bao want to run a successful international export firm. The foundations are already in place, for their newly established women’s association, “Association des jeunes filles diplômées et déscolarisées”, produces and sells syrup and dégué, a popular ground millet dish. They receive advice from teachers running a course to help young Malian men and women to realize their professional projects. Djénébou and Sita have given no thought to marriage and family planning so far, and some people have mocked them about their ambitions. “It just motivates us even more,” they say.


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The Soviet tractor he inherited from his father may look a little quixotic, but it still runs like a dream. Mamadzohir Boimativ is using it to hoe his peanut fields in the north of Tajikistan. The smallholder farmer is doing his best to produce lots of delicious peanuts to send to Switzerland this year for the first time. He found his clients via the online “Market Access Platform”, where the 54 year old presents himself and his work to the Swiss public. By the end of this year Boimatov and other Tajik peanut farmers will have received over 900 orders. They are overjoyed that their organic peanuts are proving so popular in far-off Europe.


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Abuela, what was your life like when you were my age?” 68-year-old María Paz from Bolivia doesn’t complain as she tells of the shortages and restrictions of her youth. She is happy that her granddaughter Geovanna’s life is easier than her own. They are only two generations apart, but women’s everyday lives and opportunities have changed out of all recognition in that time. As a girl, María was only allowed to go to school for three years. Geovanna, on the other hand, has already completed a secretarial training course after graduating from secondary school. Now she wants to do further studies to increase her chances of finding a good job with a large institution. Her grandmother María lends her moral support.


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The audience in Rapperswil watches spellbound as jihadis try to force people in Timbuktu to bow to their rules. “Cinema Sud” shows moviegoers what people’s lives are really like in the Global South. This environmentally friendly cinema was brought here on two bikes, and the mobile solar panels have stored up enough energy during the day for the evening screening. Now on their sixth tour, the projectionists and friends Jan Birkhofer and Nik Stettler covered 532 kilometres by bike, produced 10 kWh of power, erected their homemade screen 23 times in 12 different towns, and attracted 2,197 viewers to their film screenings.


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When the rains gradually subside and the sun begins to shine a little more frequently, Anita Chaudhury goes out almost daily into her family’s small banana grove to look for the strongest harvested banana plants. She fells them with a few blows of her machete and carries the metre-long trunk segments to the simple machine that crushes and grinds the raw material into a thin pulp, which runs into a vat. Anita Chaudhury scoops some of this pulp out of the vat and, with a sweeping motion, spreads it evenly over the paper mould – a sieve stretched over a frame. She does exactly as she learned to do on an agricultural crafts course: she makes paper. Anita Chaudhury leaves the frame in the sun, and a few hours later she is able to remove the dry paper from its base.



Once again, suffering struck Haiti. Only six years after the terrible earthquake, the inhabitants of the island nation could only look on helplessly as a hurricane laid waste to their homeland. In many municipalities the local authorities reacted quickly and effectively to the disaster, for they had been trained in disaster relief. In the northern municipality of Verrettes, for example, within two days the local civil defence organization had drawn up a detailed list of storm damage, the hardest-hit families and the supplies needed. This was an incredible achievement, given the ruined roads and the disrupted telephone lines, and it gives hope for the future.


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COP 22 in Marrakesh: global warming, climate agreement, compensation schemes. We generally read about climate conferences in abstract terms. What we seldom see, though, are the many committed people from around the world who put their heads together to come up with intelligent joint solutions. One passionate campaigner for a better world is the Indian Rupa Mukerji (standing, fourth from right). She is a lead author of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report and is Helvetas’s climate expert. This photo shows the end of a discussion with young women from Peru, Bolivia and Morocco. Mukerji is particularly interested in the younger generation’s worries and fears, and how they can best work together to bring about real change.


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Korotimi Kamaté needs strength – strength to drive the spade again and again into the hard soil of her garden, and strength to determine the course of her own life. The young woman is doing work experience so that she can earn an income of her own from horticulture. She also needs strength to live up to the standards she has set herself. “I just want to be like my mother. She is a very strong woman.” More vegetables mean more money, and so the 24 year old wants to extend her garden, metre by metre, over the coming year. She also wants to learn how to grow potatoes, because she hasn’t really got it right so far. She’s going to pursue her goals with renewed energy in 2017.