WoMEN for Women in Iraq

Excerpts from Barefoot in Baghdad by Manal Omar

Baghdad

I was among the first international aid workers to arrive in Baghdad in 2003. I would also be among the last to leave. The two intervening years inside Iraq would transform my life forever…

My international colleagues were struggling to force Iraqi culture into convenient boxes, but I simply accepted its unique, fluctuating shape. International journalists marveled over the fact that women who were covered head to toe walked side by side with women with orange-colored hair and wearing tight jeans, but I simply shrugged. It was natural to me. The mosaic of identities inside Iraq was not hypocritical or schizophrenic; it was what made the country powerful. Nevertheless, that mosaic was shattered by the eruption of violence that followed on the heels of the U.S. invasion…

The hopes and dreams that Iraqis once dared to share evaporated in the smoke of car bombs. The diverse people who populated Iraq – Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Muslims, Christians, Sabaeans  had once sipped tea at their doorsteps, but now they had disappeared from the streets. Women hid behind closed doors. The only images from within Iraq were of death and destruction. The only feelings people described were betrayal and despair. Overnight, that brilliant diversity – Iraq’s own secret superpower – was forgotten, buried under the rubble left by bombs…

Iraqi woman
An Iraqi woman and child watch US soldiers carry out a raid in Tikrit 

I had been offered the position of country director with Women for Women International, a group that helped female survivors of war to rebuild their lives… Women for Women International focused on the most vulnerable women. This usually meant those who were the primary breadwinners in their house: widows, divorcees, or unmarried women living with elderly parents. In addition to the economic challenges, there was a social stigma attached to these women. This meant that their finding work was even more difficult…

First, the program addressed the pragmatic challenges of securing food, water, and shelter. Our main objective was to train the participants in a job skill that would enable them to earn an income. Second, the program hosted bimonthly sessions in which women would discuss ways to improve their lives. A large portion centered on protecting their rights. At the same time, we would organize awareness workshops centered on health care, family planning, and access to education…

 Logo

 

Without any programs established, our staff consisted only of a local logistics team: Yusuf, Fadi, and Mais. Since we did not have an office space, the first time I met them was in the hotel restaurant… The three staffers stood in a line, looking at me as if I had landed from outer space. I reached out to shake their hands. All three appeared to be frozen in place, and then they shook my hand awkwardly and gave me tight, forced smiles. The look of disappointment on their faces was obvious, although I didn’t know its source…

I jumped in to try to break the ice… “Well, that’s all good. But at the end of the day it’s still a bit odd. Women for Women, and all I see in front of me are… men.”… The moment would have been less painful if I had slammed into an iceberg. The three continued to look at me with blank stares…

Later I learned that the three men had been promised an opportunity to work with an American woman. Instead, their boss looked a lot like an Iraqi women….

“Look,” said Fadi… “ when we joined the organization, Mark told us an American woman was coming. We were thrilled. We had seen all these blond and blue-eyed women and thought we would have the chance to get to know one. Instead, we got an Arab.” He grinned.

“Not, that’s not it,” Mais interrupted. “It’s not just that you’re not blond, although that was a bit of a shock. It’s that you’re also covered. I mean, who covers in America?”…

I laughed… and assured them that I could understand why they were disappointed. I also told them there were more where I came from. There were many Muslim American women who were veiled, gregarious professionals. They were excited to hear about my experiences growing up and pleased to see that I had liberal views despite my conservative dress…

Manal

Manal Omar

Mais and I reached the checkpoint outside the convention center…  A soldier asked for our IDs, and we promptly handed them over…
“Women for Women. Now that’s a great organization. Are you with them as well?” he asked Mais. Mais nodded, not daring to say anything.
“Well, then, I guess it’s only appropriate that you get searched with the women.” He pointed toward an Iraqi female translator seated a few meters away…

The Iraqi woman searched me, but she was too embarrassed to search Mais properly. She just patted him on the back and sent us on our way.

Mais turned completely red and murmured about how he had been humiliated… Two hours later… Mais was still fuming about the incident at the checkpoint. I could hear him as he told Fadi and Yusuf how the soldier had humiliated him.

“Saddiq? (For real?),” Yusuf asked. “Are you saying that you were patted down and body searched by a woman?”

Mais nodded, his face again turning red.

“I can’t believe you are complaining,” Fadi whined. “I am never that lucky!”

The entire ride back they both continued to tease him and asked him to recount the experience.

Ticklish

Body Search Cartoons

The security situation was fragile, and Mais argued that new employees had to be recruited based on strong relationship. At first, I thought this had been a setup for Mais to hire his brother or cousin. Instead, he brought in a childhood friend, Salah. After I saw how easily Salah integrated into the team, I understood Mais’s point of view.

The companionship between the four stood as a living testimony of a diverse yet unified Iraq: Fadi was a Christian, Mais a secular Shia, Yusuf a practicing Shia, and Salah a Sunni from the western province of Fallujah. These four men represented different communities in Iraq, and each one introduced me to a different side of Baghdad.

Early the next morning Salah stopped by with his wife, Nagham… She shared with me her stories of the four men who were now my self-appointed bodyguards. I was always aware of the camaraderie between the four friends, but I never realized how deep their relationship was with one another. She described them as neighbors who became friends, friends who became brothers…

Their friendship stood in defiance of talk of the inevitability of a segregated Iraq. As the situation inside Iraq disintegrated around me, I had the privilege of watching these four interact. They loved each other in a way Western culture reserved for blood brothers. Each one was quite literally prepared to take a bullet for the other. And somehow I had been allowed into their circle…

071113-M-7404B-006

Iraqi Boys

Yusuf’s and Fadi’s families had adopted me as a long-lost cousin. Yusuf’s mother sent pots of food for me, and his sister, Maysoon, would send her housekeeper twice a week to clean my home and do my laundry… During this time, Hussein and Maysoon would often visit… During these visits, I also came to know Hussein.

A true representative of the modern Iraqi man, Hussein amazed me with how supportive he was of Maysoon. He loved the idea of her finding work outside their home. He would often tell me stories of the first time they met. They were college sweethearts, and he had admired her vibrancy and confidence during their freshman year…

Family1 Family1
Iraqi Family

There was a strong lobbying group inside the U.S.-appointed Interim Governing Council calling for an introduction of religious laws when applying the personal status laws in Iraq. These laws covered everything from the right to education to freedom of movement to inheritances to property rights to marriage and divorce, and child custody…

The passage of the 1959 personal status law had been the envy of all women’s rights movements in the region. It was a source of great pride. The law ensured that Iraqi women could marry under civil law instead of religious law, made polygamy more difficult, granted mothers custody of their children, and imposed a minimum age for marriage. Iraqi women had gained their rights in these and other crucial areas while other countries were struggling. Iraqi women were voting in the 1980s, for example, while Saudi women were still struggling for recognition… If the personal status laws were interpreted through a religious lens, however, the situation had turned dire. In almost all religious interpretations used in the Middle East, personal status laws placed women at a disadvantage…

On December 29, 2003, with less than a thirty-minute debate, the Interim Governing Council (IGC) voted for Resolution 137… Resolution 137 would push women’s rights back centuries. Whereas Iraqi women had been looking for ways to leap forward, they now found themselves in the unenviable position of fighting for the status quo…

Gender

Gender Equality – Steps Backwards

Work was flourishing. We had managed to recruit more than five hundred participants in Baghdad, Hillah, and Karbala, and our job skills training program had launched effectively. In addition to offering training in the more conservative jobs of carpet weaving and hairdressing, we introduced an untraditional course on carpentry… Due to the large number of widows and divorcees who were not allowed to call a male carpenter into their homes, a niche existed for female carpenters…

Iraq
From Women for Women

Ironically, over the first six months I spent working on women’s issues in Iraq, I had been fully dependent on men. First, there was the male staff at Women for Women International. Yusuf, Fadi, and Mais had become my lifelines. I was dependent on them for everything from food and water to the ability to move around the country freely. Within months it became clear that any success I had in launching a program would be directly tied to them. Only years later did I fully grasp the extent of their loyalty; the risks they took were the sole reason I was able to leave Iraq alive. ..

Second, there were the male leaders in the communities. From Diyala to Karbala,to Tikrit, the one thing that remained consistent across the communities I visited was the need to go through the male elders before ever meeting with a woman. During my trips around the country I would have to meet with a room full of men in order to describe in detail the programs we planned to set up for the women in their community…

In almost every instance the men demonstrated a visible reassurance at hearing that Islam was my reference point for working on women’s rights…

womens rights
From Women’s Rights in Islam

“Did you know a woman had the right to charge her husband for breast-feeding?” an elderly man from Huriyah explained to me. He told me how this was an example of Islam acknowledging the mother’s role in contributing to society’s growth. It was also one of the many ways Islam supported the economic independence of women. He further explained that any property a woman acquired by her own work or through an inheritance belonged to her independently of her husband.

A son of a tribal leader of Fallujah outlined for me the women of the historical narrative of Islam. Among the stories he shared was that of Umm ‘Umara, a woman who lived at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and fought in many battles. He explained that she was famous for her effectiveness with weapons, and the Prophet (peace be upon him) stated she was better than most men.

I pointed out what I hoped was obvious: somewhere along the lines we lost that remarkable tradition, and women had suffered the consequences. In most cases the conversation was enough to grant me permission to meet with the women in the communities…

Women1
From imaq.me

At some point during the first few months in Iraq, I came across Ashraf Al-Khalidi, a young civil society activist… Ashraf saw the potential in a democratic Iraq, and he worked day and night to fulfil his role in making it happen. He was a native of Karbala, and he urged me to expand my programs into the governorate…

Although he was based in Baghdad, his family home was in Karbala’s city centre. Ashraf had six sisters; two were married and four were still at the family home. His father passed away and, as the oldest son, Ashraf was considered the head of the household… The fact that Ashraf was an active member of civil society strongly distinguished him from other male heads of households. He urged his sisters to continue their education and encouraged them not to rush into marriage. I was touched at the way his sisters would run to greet him, love and admiration radiating as they embraced him each time he visited…

Man
The New Arab Manhood: Ali from Iraq.

I stood straddling the toilet, yelling out the window for help… Thirty minutes earlier I had managed to lock myself inside the bathroom of one of our Baghdad women’s centres, which we were renovating… The first ten minutes I had been paralyzed with horror as I realized that I had not only locked the stall but also locked the front door to the bathroom as well. There was no logic to the fact that I had locked not one but two doors except that I was so exhausted that I was no longer thinking. And now I had to pay the price.

After the initial shock wore off, I started to bang and yell on the stall, but to no avail… It was almost sunset. The official opening of the women’s centers was the next morning, and we had been working late hours to make sure the center would be ready in time. I shook my head as I realized that nobody could hear me. My imagination ran wild as I realized that it would be easy for the staff to think someone else had taken me home. I prepared myself to be locked for the next twenty-four hours in the Baghdad bathroom stall. …

Just as I accepted the idea that I had been left behind, I heard the outer door of the bathroom rattle. Then there was a knock. I started to yell. “Manal?” It was Yusuf. He must have noticed I was missing… I was so happy to hear his voice… Finally, the bathroom door swung open and Yusuf charged in. I could feel my face grow red as I imagined the sight that greeted him. There I was, my head peering over the bathroom stall, thrilled that I had been saved. Well, partially saved.

“What are you doing?” he asked…

“This door is locked too,” I offered feebly.

Yusuf shook his head as he looked at the bathroom stall. By now Mais, Fadi, and other staff arrived to witness the scene.  I avoided Fadi’s eyes, knowing that he would never let me forget this… I was embarrassed to the core. Here I was developing a centre to empower women, and I was already playing a damsel in distress…

 Princess
From GotGame

The distinction between a humanitarian aid worker, a journalist, a contractor, and a civilian officer in the military were opaque at best among the Iraqi population. Given that the first civilian casualties in Fallujah had turned out to be mercenaries employed by Blackwater Security Consulting, it was no wonder that Iraqis could not differentiate between civilians and soldiers. The Iraqi population was increasingly doubtful of the intentions of international aid workers inside Iraq…

“Yusuf and I have the perfect solution!” Fadi declared… The two of them had decided that the only solution was for them to move in with me in the house in Mansour. Yusuf explained that all attempts to strengthen security could not eliminate the fact that I was a single non-Iraqi woman living alone, the easiest of targets. As they saw it, the equation was simple: if I was willing to risk my life to work inside Iraq, then they were willing to risk their lives by staying by my side 24/7…

I checked to make sure their families were aware of what they were thinking… Women for Women was happy with the arrangement, provided it was clear it was strictly voluntary and being done out of a personal rather than any professional commitment. My parents were not as easy to convince. … Reluctantly, my father agreed it was better than my staying alone. … In any other context, the ideas of a boss living with her staff – a Muslim woman living with male bachelors – would have been scandalous. Yet in the surreal backdrop of Baghdad, it seemed like the natural solution…

 Feminist

From Muslim Men can be Feminists

By the end of summer of 2004, the situation in the streets of Baghdad had deteriorated as much as I ever could imagine. At that point, a hundred international aid workers, contractors, and journalists had been kidnapped, and twenty-three had been killed. And countless Iraqi had died… What I was witnessing was the onset of a major civil war; the nation was being torn apart in its infancy… My dear friend Reema Khalaf endured the trauma of negotiating her teenage son’s ransom and had fled to Dubai the moment he was released. The neighbour across the street… who used to send me freshly baked pastries was not widowed. At every turn the Iraqi families I had become a part of were being ripped apart…

War
from Iraq War – Timeline in Pictures

With the withdrawal of all international aid workers, the primary target of the insurgency became Iraqi civil society itself… Late one April night in Amman, I received the dreaded phone call all of my Iraqi friends got sooner or later… Our dear friend Salah, who had also been one of my drivers, had vanished… Over the next six months, we were sent on numerous wild goose chases…. All the clues led to a dead end…

It had been two years since Salah’s disappearance. Yusuf described how Nagham was packing all of Salah’s winter clothes and taking out his spring wardrobe.

When he asked what she was doing, Nagham responded, “Everything must be in place when Salah returns.”

To this day, no trace of Salah… have been discovered….It is hard to believe that there are thousands like Salah in Iraq…

Family3

Iraqi women struggle to survive as violence claims their men

A few weeks after Salah disappeared, armed gunmen came to Yusuf’s parents home and asked for Yusuf. Fortunately, he was not home. The next day Yusuf’s car windows were broken and his tires were slashed. A death threat was found on the driver’s seat…

Hussein had already been brutally murdered…

Over the past seven years, my most vivid dreams are about my experiences in Iraq. In my dream, I experience Hussein in the same ways I experienced him in life: simple, gentle, and profound… He slaps his hands on his knees, just as he would do when he visited me in my house… His gesture says, “Sitting here is great, but I must be moving on.” Before he leaves he calls out to his three children. Fatima! Ali! Hamza! They come running into the room. I watch as they hug and kiss one another…. In my dream, Hussein and I exchange sincere smiles, albeit smiles of sadness and loss. He turns for one final glance at his children, and hope fills his eyes. Then he is gone…

 Woman1
Iraqi woman crying when talking about her killed husband

THE END

 

Do Not Give the Needy Money…

“Do Not Give the Needy Money: Build Them Industries Instead”

J.W.Smith

(From Transparency for Development)

* * *

“With the record of corruption within impoverished countries, people will question giving them money. That can be handled by giving them the industry directly, not the money. …. When provided the industry, as opposed to the money to build industry, those people will have physical capital. The only profits to be made then are in production; there is no development money to intercept and send to a Swiss bank account.”

(from J.W. Smith, Economic Democracy: The Political Struggle for the 21st Century)

* * *

Eritrea, 1990s

“So while we toiled away building our factory, the entire population was trying to rebuild their country. There was compulsory military service still, and those called up were put to work building roads and bridges. They did it with a lot of smarts – if you drove down the main highway into the bowels of the country there was a new 100m-wide trench of a road that had been cleared and would be a motorway eventually. On either side, palm trees were being planted and you saw an Eritrean who might be in her seventies, coming down a green slope carrying a bucket of water and tending to a palm tree. Everybody was doing something…

We eventually finished the construction of the building to international standards, and the team from Australia arrived to set up the manufacturing equipment. I watched with dismay as the first lenses were produced. It was painfully clear that the lathe and most of the equipment Fred had bought were not capable of producing usable lenses.

This was another test of character, because I had done what I promised Fred and could have simply moved on, letting the Fred Hollows Foundation sort out the mess. But by this stage the Eritreans had put their trust in me, so I sourced some generic lens-making equipment and started to put in place a plan to make world-class lenses at a fraction of the price of those distributed by multinational companies…

I wanted the Eritreans to be able to sell their lenses around the world so that they could make decent money out of this. I didn’t just want to produce lenses for eye camps in the villages. That meant the lenses had to meet international standards or no one would buy them…

It was important to me that the lenses we made were of equal or better quality than those from the multinational lens manufacturers. So I sent samples of our lenses for independent evaluation to the world expert on intraocular lens manufacture, Professor David Apple at the Medical University of South Carolina Storm Eye Institute.

“You have chosen a design which we think is an absolute state of the art in terms of surface finish and general Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) appearance,” he said in his report. “I’ve never seen better lens manufacture.”…

We had succeeded in doing something that was theoretically impossible: manufacturing world-class intraocular lenses in one of the poorest, most technically compromised countries in the world.

The other result of the new process was that the price of generic lenses plummeted globally. Ours cost three dollars to make, a fraction of what they had been produced for previously. We could get them onto the market for less than ten dollars, making quality cataract surgery accessible to the poorest of the poor.

This was also a perfect example of 100 per cent technology transfer to the local people. I don’t have to do anything at those labs and haven’t since 2003. We did the job, got in and got out, and they are expanding their operations and product ranges themselves.

Now the lenses are exported to about eighty countries and, by 2020, thirty million people will have had their sight restored due to the innovative lens-manufacturing technology.”

(from ‘Rebel with a cause’ by Ray Avery)

* * *

Nepal

“Building our next lens-manufacturing plant, in Nepal, was a lot easier, because of all the lessons we had learnt in Eritrea…

When we designed the lathes, instead of a whole lot of complicated circuit boards with lots of things that could go wrong, ours was broken into smaller units with little lights, and you could quickly isolate and identify a problem when one came up. These were named BRTs – Big Round Things – and if there was something wrong, a BRT’s light wouldn’t be shining and you just replaced that unit…

We enjoyed training local people. The Nepalese have always had a tradition of moving to other countries to live. Many of our protégés now work overseas, but they trained people to take their place before they left because we taught them that was what you had to do when you have been given a skill. You passed it on. And as they move around the world, the general level of skills will rise as they take knowledge with them.”

(from ‘Rebel with a cause’ by Ray Avery)

Good intentions

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Proverb

AS

“Good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”
* * *

“I had not been impressed by my first close-up look at big aid organisations. And I’m still not impressed today. I have seen them do too much harm with badly planned interventions, and act with too little respect for the people they are supposed to be helping…

As I have become more deeply involved in aid work I have also become more deeply concerned at many widespread practices which do more harm than good…

An underlying problem is that most aid agencies need to justify their existence and fall into a trap of thinking that being seen to do something, even if it is not helpful in the long term, is better than appearing to do nothing in the short term.

It’s easy to feel that way – children are dying; something must be done. But sometimes, nothing is better than introducing poor-quality initiatives which do not improve healthcare outcomes. There have been too many cases where interventions have harmed people…

A further trap is that once a commitment has been made – which is nearly always in the many millions of dollars – it’s easier to keep throwing money at the problem rather than cutting the losses and investing time and money into looking for a better solution. Everyone is in too deep to be able to walk away. This insistence on sticking with the discredited remedies diverts money from the potentially effective solutions.

The fault in many cases is sloppy science. Anyone following proper scientific methods would not be having these problems. In the rush to be seen to be doing something, solutions don’t get the initial rigorous experimental testing and independent testing they need to ensure they are effective and safe…

Development agencies have an ongoing political problem because they have to be donor-focused. If people give you money, they want to see you doing something with it. That also drives them to do things and to be seen to be doing something at any cost – even when that cost is people’s lives…

Aid is already a business. Organisations compete with each other for funding. I have known senior aid workers to rejoice out loud when a hurricane or tsunami occurs. That’s an attention-getting event that they can do a fundraiser around. It will be on television. The money will come in and the overheads will be taken care of for a few more months.

A huge amount of the resources and energy of large aid organisation is also applied to the media and building the edifice of the organisation. There is a lot of self-promotion. To get that you need to have a quick fix so you can show you’re doing something and there is something for the camera’s to look at…

I conducted a comprehensive analysis of how effective major development agencies, such as WHO and UNICEF, our potential competitors, were at making quality healthcare accessible to the poorest of the poor… Sadly, my research uncovered a litany of well-meaning healthcare interventions that had caused, and continue to cause, preventable death in countries that put their trust in many agencies. Poor science is being deployed with fatal consequences…”

In Eritrea:

“Over a few years I saw the unintended unfortunate consequences of aid going wrong- when the United Nations peacekeeping force and other major organisations came to town, things started to deteriorate.

This was a conservative society with no premarital sex. Girls who slipped up were cast out of their families and often reduced to prostitution. Yet the girls were also friendly and loved to meet foreigners and talk to them about what the rest of the world was like. Inevitably this led to seductions. Then a five-star hotel was build, which was a very attractive place to encourage girls back to. It also gave the aid workers somewhere to stay at $US350 a night so they were even further removed from the real life of the country. Their excuse was that they needed to be near the airport but I think they needed to be near the bars and swimming pool…”

IMCE programme in Africa:

“In January 2010 a report published in the English medical journal The Lancet showed that a $27 million UNICEF programme – IMCI, or Integrated Management of Childhood Illness – that combined numerous strategies and was deployed across several African countries for several years had failed. In fact, some kids who were not on the programme had a higher survival rate than kids who were on it…

In 2007 a Lancet editorial slammed UNICEF over its self-congratulatory claims that the UN agency had produced a steep fall in child mortality with IMCI and that its global healthcare programmes had reduced under-five infant mortality…

Six days after receiving this article and prior to its publication in The Lancet, UNICEF called a press conference announcing ‘A major public health success”. The Lancent concluded that UNICEF was acting contrarily to responsible scientific norms that one would have expected the agency to have upheld. Worse, it risked inadvertently corroding its own long-term credibility…”

In India:

“Aid efforts can go wrong in any number of ways, at every step along the chain. Complicated exercises such as vaccination programmes are extremely problematic. Vaccines go off like a cut lunch in the sun, losing their activity in as little as eight weeks in ambient temperatures. They’ve got to be kept cold, but getting a cold chain that streams right through the programme in a developing country is near impossible.

People end up not getting the true vaccination, or being given double the dose because somebody miscalculated things, which is what happened in one case where the High Court of Assam in India found UNICEF guilty of causing the death of kids who were administered a toxic dose of vitamin A. UNICEF implemented a blanket vitamin A supplementation campaign in two districts of Assam in 2001. In giving judgement, the Chief Justice said that the health workers involved in the programme were not properly trained and briefed and had administered greater doses than many of the children could tolerate… What makes this story more tragic is that a comprehensive scientific survey conducted by the Indian Council for Medical Research in 1999 showed that vitamin A deficiency was not a public health problem in these areas… UNICEF has a global programme to roll out vitamin A supplementation and clearly it did this in Assam without determining whether it was required. It was simply a waste of money and cost the lives of those who put their trust in their caregivers. They were simply killed in ‘action’.”

In Bangladesh:

Perhaps the worst example of what I’m talking about is the litany of mistakes that were made in Bangladesh following a cholera outbreak in the early 1970s. In trying to fix this problem, UNICEF made all the errors outlined above and ended up responsible to what has been described as the biggest mass poisoning in history.

The aid organisation spent millions of dollars over many years of drilling a million or more backyard tube wells in an effort to provide clean water for the population… If they had planned better, had some basic quality standards, SOPs and adopted WHO guidelines for water testing, they would have found that the water from more than half of these wells they sank was tainted with carcinogenic arsenic… By 1993, the general population was showing telltale signs of chronic arsenic poisoning, including skin lesions, cancer of the skin, bladder, kidney and lungs, and neurological and pulmonary diseases.

Four years later, in 1997, despite evidence that the arsenic-contaminated tube wells were causing a major pandemic, UNICEF stated in its ‘in country’ report for Bangladesh that it has surpassed its goal of providing 80 per cent of the population with access to ‘safe’ drinking water in the form of tube wells, ring wells and taps by 2000…

The aid organisation’s actions bred huge mistrust among the locals who had complained for a long time that they were seeing people with outbreaks of blisters on their hands – a symptom of arsenic poisoning – and were pretty much ignored…”

The Life Straw Personal debacle:

“This was a personal water purification system – a straw with a mouthpiece and filters that purports to make water safe to drink even if it’s got every pathogen known to man. Having spent most of my life as an analytical chemist and the other half designing state-of-the-art pharmaceutical-grade water purification systems, I knew that it did not work…Millions of these have been deployed by the major aid organisations because the manufacturer published data that says it works… It’s causing more deaths because it lulls you into a false sense of security. You are more likely to drink from a contaminated water source than you would before because you think the Life Straw will protect you.

Even worse – someone is flogging knock-offs of these useless tool. They look just like the Life Straw but don’t have anything in them at all. People pirate anything and everything in the developing world. Probably 25-50 per cent of drugs distributed are wither subpotent or have nothing in them. There is no shortage, despite of Fred Hollows’ fervent wish, of people happy to make money out of sick people. It is a shambles out there.”

(from ‘Rebel with a cause’ by Ray Avery)

* * *

Sir Ray Avery is the founder and CEO of award winning development agency Medicine Mondiale.

Established in 2003 Medicine Mondiale manages a global network of Scientific,Clinical and business  experts who donate their knowledge and time to develop medical solutions which make quality healthcare accessible to everyone.

Medicine Mondiale is committed to:

  • Developing and commercializing innovative affordable products and technologies that make a significant and measurable impact on improving access to quality healthcare on a global scale.
  • Creating an International Network which promotes the development of sustainable enterprises,products and technologies which improve access to quality healthcare outcomes on a global scale.
  • To develop strategic alliances with national and International academic and research based organizations, and commercial entities which combine fundamental academic research with applied research which fast track the commercialization of novel healthcare technologies.
  • Through a combination of advocacy and global surveillance initiatives, monitor the quality and safety and efficacy of global healthcare initiatives promoted by multinational businesses,Government and Non Government Organizations,with the aim of improving the quality and cost effectiveness of Global Healthcare initiatives.