Sunday, 24 November 2013

Israr Raja and the "9 Dirham Survival Challenge"

BFTF recently received a message from Israr Raja, a Lancastrian with a big heart and a warm smile, who is currently working in Al Ain, UAE .

It turns out that Israr, together with his friend and neighbour Nicolas Wavrin, have decided to raise awareness of how difficult life can be for many around the world by embarking on a "9 Dirham Survival Challenge"...

The Issue
Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day (approximately 9 dirham). There are 2.2 billion children in the world of which 1 billion are living in poverty.

The Challenge
Starting on "Universal Childrens Day" (20th November), the "9 dirham survival challenge’ is an experience to attempt to understand partly what life is like for people living in poverty in our world by living on 9 dirham a day for 30 days. It is important to remember that in reality most people are relying on this amount to cover all living costs and not just food. However, in the challenge the 9 dirham will cover food alone, no other living expenses included.

The aim is to raise awareness of issues of poverty around the world; to inspire young and old to join in this movement to become more mindful citizens and to support Dubai Cares in their work to make life easier for children in education across the world.

How you can follow
To keep up to date with how their challenge is going visit their blog :

How you can support
Why not try to survive for a few days on 9 Dirhams (about £1.50) per day? It would be great to hear how you get on and what your thought are. (BFTF will try to live on £1.50 a day for a week starting Monday 25th Nov).

You may wish to think about what structural problems are causing so many to live in such difficult circumstances (Trade barriers? Lack of a living wage? Government corruption? Something else?) and lobby to let those in power know how you feel.

You can donate at Israr's JustGiving page :
Proceeds go to Dubai Cares, a charity who work in countries as diverse as Haiti, Angola and Indonesia and run programs to improve access to primary education by focussing on four key components: School Infrastructure; School Health & Nutrition; Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) in Schools; and Quality of Education.

BFTF joins Israr for Day 6 of the Challenge
BFTF has decided to join Isar for a week of his "9 Dirham Challenge" which involves trying to survive on food that costs just 9 Dirhams (~£1.50) a day,

BFTF's food today was half a fruit loaf (~40p) nibble on during work and a plate of porridge and a little jam in the evening (~50p) Also had a few cups of tea at work, which BFTF is classing as "free" although for many people around the world, both beverages and water have a significant cost...

Porridge is something that BFTF has only very recently re-discovered, after being given a small sachet from a vegan co-worker. BFTF very quickly moved on from that to buying a packet of ASDA own brand porridge oats and is becoming an increasingly fervent fan of the food. Kids weren't impressed though....

Meanwhile, back at the 9 Dirham Challenge HQ, Israr seems to have cooked up a rather nice egg and potato curry - but will his money last out the week???

BFTF's Evening meal : Porridge with milk and a little strawberrry jam

BFTF joins Israr for Day 7 of the Challenge
BFTF has decided to join Isar for a week of his "9 Dirham Challenge" which involves trying to survive on food that costs just 9 Dirhams (~£1.50) a day,

Today, BFTF finished off the last few slices of his fruit loaf at work (~30p)...

The last slice of fruitloaf. . .

And had a tin of lentil soup (~55p) for lunch, adding some zing with a strong dash of Worcestershire Sauce, the king of condiments. Below is a picture of the tin, because lentil soup itself is not the most photogenic dish on God's earth. It was, however, very delicious...

Lentil Soup, suitable spiced up, is delicious, nutritious, low fat, and economical

And in the evening it was porridge, milk and jam again. Having run out of jam, BFTF needed to buy another jar, and wondered whether to go for the "Smart Price" jam at 29p a jar (containing 25g fruit per 100g jam) or the ordinary Asda own brand at 89p a jar (containing 35g of fruit per 100g jam). BFTF decided to go for the economy grade - which turned out to be more of a smooth paste, without any identifiable bits of fruit in it at all. Weird. Was expecting FEWER bits of fruit, but not none at all.

Smart Price at 29p or Ordinary Own Brand at 89p?

It is worth pointing out that, while BFTF has at least a fighting chance of eating on £1.50 a day, this wage often has to cover all living expenses, including those of dependents.

If BFTF had to find travel expenses, or fuel expenses, or feed a dependent, or pay rent from that £1.50 a day he would be TOAST - and that is the scary part.

Meanwhile, back at the 9 Dirham Challenge HQ, today sees Israr only having enough money for a little yogurt and little milk. But at least this is the last day of the week, so some more money coming in tomorrow.

Of course, Israr is (hopefully) in the position of being able to rely on being paid on time. Many workers aren't so lucky.

BFTF joins Israr for Day 8 of the Challenge
BFTF has decided to join Isar for a week of his "9 Dirham Challenge" which involves trying to survive on food that costs just 9 Dirhams (~£1.50) a day,

This seems to have caught the imagination of co-workers, with a number asking how the callenge is going whether BFTF has corralled the rest of the family into taking part (he hasn't) and what the "rules" are (can BFTF eat roadkill? (no), what about leftover sandwitches from meetings (no) or food from dustbins (no thanks).

Anyway, todays intake consisted of a few slices of fruitloaf during the morning (~20p), a bowl of mushroom soup and Worcestershire sauce at lunchtime (~50p) and then, in the evening, cooked a proper hot meal of new potatoes in a chunky tomato sauce (~70p).

It was a pretty hearty meal, to the extect that Mrs BFTF was surprised that it had not broken the daily budget. BFTF tried to save energy by not using energy by not spending valuable cooking gas frying some onions first. Somewhat to ones surprise, the result was still rather delicious! The issue of energy costs, and the fuel poverty of people who cannot afford the energy to cook food or heat their homes, is a serious one that BFTF hopes to talk about more in future posts

Oh, and ought to confess that BFTF also had a small piece of chocolate brownie and a quaver (not a packet of Quavers, just a single Quaver from a packet that No3 son was eating).
Mushroom Soup with a little Worcestershire Sauce
Should perhaps have done something clever
to make a nice pattern of sauce on the surface...

Meanwhile, back at the 9 Dirham Challenge HQ, Israr has shown more evidence of his good-egginess by revealing that he likes Creamed Rice Pudding and Chip Butties. He has also been featured in the Lancashire Media !

As we used to say in the 80s, Raaas!

BFTF joins Israr for Day 9 of the Challenge
BFTF has decided to join Isar for a week of his "9 Dirham Challenge" which involves trying to survive on food that costs just 9 Dirhams (~£1.50) a day,

It seems that BFTF is rather a creature of simple tastes, and was happy to go with exactly the same food as yesterday, the only difference being lentil instead of mushroom soup at lunchtime!

Somewhat to his surprise, BFTF was easily able to ignore the delicious looking meat and aubergine curry that the rest of the family was eating in the evening, and instead cook up another simple potato and tomato dish.

Potato and tomato curry - 20mins start to finish

On a related note, in 2005, Nelson Mandela addressed 22,00 people in Trafalgar Square, London as part of the "Make Poverty History" campaign. In this speech he commented that :
"Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life."

When we shop for groceries, or indeed any item, we are making choices about what we value. You can read about some of these choices in this post entitled "What do we mean by 'best'?".

And if we value justice for workers we need to make sure that message gets throught to the supplier. For example, this story looks at how BFTF tried to get Halfords to say whether they paid a living wage to the Cambodians who manufacture Halfords bikes in that country.

Why don't you, dear reader, challenge a supplier of something you have bought recently on whether they pay their workers a living wage (which can be a very different thing to the minimum wage).

Meanwhile, back at the 9 Dirham Challenge HQ, Israr has been thinking about how desperation might send a person to eating waste food and has prepared a cool chana chaat for his evening meal

BFTF joins Israr for Day 10 of the Challenge
BFTF has decided to join Isar for a week of his "9 Dirham Challenge" which involves trying to survive on food that costs just 9 Dirhams (~£1.50) a day,

While the day went routinely enough, with some fruit loaf and soup (and a handful of chips at a colleagues leaving do), the evening meal was something of a taste sensation. BFTF hijacked some of the plain boiled rice that Mrs BFTF had made, and stir fried it with a small tin of sardines and some diced tomato.

Wow! That recipe is a keeper !

Easy Rice and Sardines

Worth mentioning that one cause of poverty in coastal communities that rely on fishing is the reduction of fish stocks around the world. Sometimes this is caused by overfishing by the communities themselves (perhaps by the introduction of new techniques such as dynamite fishing) while sometimes it is due to large international trawlers hoovering up the local fish stocks, leaving nothing for the communities in the area.

When you buy fish, you are making a decision about whether you want to support fishing techniques that are sustainable, or fishing techniques that aren't. BFTF recommends that, especially when buying Tuna, Cod and Mackeral, you look for the MSC logo as this ensures that the fish is sustainable caught. Some examples here, and here.

If you are living in parts of the world where the MSC logo is rare, ask about the sustainability of the fish you are thinking of buying.

And lastly, check out this project on sustainable fishing by IFEES

Broccoli and Stilton Soup

Meanwhile, back at the 9 Dirham Challenge HQ, Israr has had a rather alliterative evening meal of Pasta in the Park with the added excitement of nearly causing a nasty head injury to a bystander. Lancastrians eh? You just can't take them anywhere can you?

BFTF joins Israr for Day 11 of the Challenge
BFTF has decided to join Isar for a week of his "9 Dirham Challenge" which involves trying to survive on food that costs just 9 Dirhams (~£1.50) a day,

Todays food began with a hearty bowl of porridge and jam and was followed later in the day by cheese toasties. Mmmmnnnn

This mornings, slightly untidy, bowl of porridge and jam

BFTF also made the "Rice and Sardines" dish for Mrs BFTF who said it was tasty but that BFTF needed to go easier on the black pepper (BFTF likes black pepper a lot).

Meanwhile, back at the 9 Dirham Challenge HQ, Israr had a vegetable curry and also linked to the article about the 9 Dirham Survival Challenge that has appeared in "The Source", a widely read UAE magazine. You can read it too, but getting all clicky here.

BFTF joins Israr for Day 12 of the Challenge
BFTF has decided to join Isar for a week of his "9 Dirham Challenge" which involves trying to survive on food that costs just 9 Dirhams (~£1.50) a day,

Today is the last of the seven that BFTF committed to undertaking in support of Israr's challenge.

It has been a fascinating journey and BFTF hopes that he can continue to stick to the £1.50 per day target, albeing perhaps not quite so evangelically.

BFTF wishes Israr all the best for the rest of his month, and hopes to keep tabs on his progress.

Israr, its been emotional!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Redheads are Ace!

BFTF is saddened to hear stories of how youngsters can be bullied, sometimes quite mercilessly, simply because they have red hair.

It is particularly bizarre as some of the worlds most talented, beautiful and athletic people are drawn from their ranks....

Redheads are Clever :
Adam Savage from Mythbusters

Redheads are handsome and athletic:
Tennis Star Boris Becker


Redheads are talented and beautiful :
Actress Karen Gillian

Did I mention that Redheads are clever?:
Neuroscientist Cristoph Koch

Image Sources : Karen Gillian,
Boris Becker,
Adam Savage,
Christoph Koch

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A Challenge to Local Political Parties

Following on from a recent example of how political parties peddle misleading information, and a recent post on the PCC legislation, BFTF thought it might be a nice idea to challenge the Conservative and Labour parties in Nottingham to see if they could talk to each other and actually agree on anything.

The challenge was very simple, and sent in the email below :

Dear Labour and Conservative Parties in Nottingham

I'm sure you are aware of how the public is becoming increasingly disengaged from politics and that some of the causes of this are the way political parties peddle misleading statistics, argue simply for the sake of it and refuse to see anything good in what the other side is doing.

I'd like to give you a chance to show that you are better than this, that you can talk to each other like grown-ups and can find the common ground between you.

I'd like to give you this chance in the form of a challenge :

"Can you, Labour and Conservative, talk to each other and put together a list of five things the current government has done well and five things that the current government should have done better. They don't have to be big ticket items, small issues will do."

Hoping you can rise to the challenge.

The seat of government in the UK

Image Source : Wikipedia

Monday, 11 November 2013

Tree Planting at High Wood Cemetery

The Invitation Magazine and The Woodland Trust recently teamed up to organise a tree planting event at the High Wood Cemetery in Nottingham.

The Invitation Team, the helpful Council groundsmen a bloke in shades

The event involved planting some 420 saplings around the Muslim area of the cemetery, and as part of the hedgerow in the Muslim children’s graveyard area. There were a variety of small samplings to choose from, including Cherry, Rowan, Hawthorne and Ash. The event was open to all, with a donation of £10 for each tree planted helping to support the Invitation Magazine. Attendance was good and very broad, from young children to the elderly, with a balanced mix of male and female participants.

 A good cross section of people at the event

Some of the trees were planted by children representing youth groups.

A youngster plants a sapling on behalf of Karimia FC

Many were families wanted to plant a tree in the name of departed relatives (as, indeed, was the case with BFTF).

Planted Saplings, some with notes to departed relatives
in whose names they had been planted

It turned out that it is surprisingly simple to plant a sapling, you just dig the spade into the ground, lever the blade forward and then place the sapling in the gap that is created. Simples.

No3 Son waters the newly planted sapling

Children were, unsurprisingly, hugely excited to be a part of the event, as (equally unsurprisigly) many had never planted a tree before.

No3 Son and his tree-planting certificate

The Invitation Team Go Large
(but check out the photobomb in the background)

It was great to see a Muslim organisation reaching out to a charity like the Woodland Trust, this kind of initiative is an important step forward for the Muslim community, so well done to the Invitation for thinking innovatively outside of the communities "Comfort Zone". You can see a short video of the event here

Part of the Muslim section of the cemetery

BFTF hopes that, in the future, the Invitation will take the next step and organise a mass tree planting in the Christian section of the cemetery, or by a school, or in a park - any of which would provide further, and very unambiguous, evidence that Muslims can work selflessly for the benefit of wider society.

Related Content:
Introduction and Interview with the Woodland Trust
Independant Panel on Forestry Report
Some stuff on sustainability, especially printing
Sustainably sourced notebooks
Interview with the Forest Stewardsip Council (FSC)

Image Sources Some images courtesy of the Invitation, the rest BFTF's own.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Talk : Mathematic­s, from failure to functionality

Cafe Sci hosted an interesting talk recently entitled "Mathematic­s : from failure to functionality?", and presented by UoN researcher Diane Dalby. This post is based loosley on the contents of the talk, with some added reference material thrown in.

Diane described how she had progressed from O-Levels, to A-Levels, to a Mathematics degree and then to secondary school maths teaching - a academic route in which Diane commented that she "didn't have to know much about the rest of the world".

After a career break she restarted teaching in a college environment, firstly part time, then full time. The classes were for vocational courses in the beauty, construction and public service careers. Diane commented on her surprise at some of the course titles, such as "maths and physics for beauty therapists"

Then an opportunity came up to undertake a research project in an area that Diane was interested - what do we do with the students who are in a vocational courses and need a degree of maths ability, but who have been put off maths and have not achieved the magic "Grade C or above" at GCSE level.

Constuction Workers in 1932

More background
Diane pointed out that the UK does not perform well in international rankings of maths ability (see the OECD PISA study here).

2009 OECD PISA study. Selected numeracy scores

The first international comparison that the UK participated in was the 1996 IALS (literacy) survey of 20 countries, in which the UK performed very poorly. This prompted a UK government to commission the Moser report in 1999, whose summary started with the emphatic comments that :
"Something like one adult in five in this country is not functionally literate and far more people have problems with numeracy. This is a shocking situation and a sad reflection on past decades of schooling. It is one of the reasons for relatively low productivity in our economy, and it cramps the lives of millions of people. We owe it to them to remedy at public expense the shortcomings of the past. To do so should be a priority for Government, and for all those, in the business world or elsewhere, who can help."
The Moser report prompted the Skills for Life strategy in 2001, as well as the Skills for Life surveys of the working age population in 2003 and 2011. During the interval between 2003 and 2011, billions of pounds of government money was spent on advertising campaigns

A BBC report on the Skills for Life research describes how the differning ethnicities in the UK had very different levels of adult numeracy:

%age of aged 16–65 at Entry 2 or below in England
White British19%
Asian Indian25%
Pakistani British43%
Black Caribbean54%
Black African49%

The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) definitions for the various levels of competency in literacy and numeracy :

Entry Level 1 is the expected school attainment at age 5-7. Adults below this level may not be able to write short messages to family or select floor numbers in lifts.

Entry Level 2 is the expected school attainment at age 7-9. Adults below this level may not be able to describe a child’s symptoms to a doctor or use a cash point to withdraw cash.

Entry Level 3 is the expected school attainment at age 9-11. Adults below this level may not be able to understand price labels on pre-packaged food or pay household bills.

Level 1 is equivalent to GCSE grades D-G. Adults below this level may not be able to read bus or train timetables or check the pay and deductions on a wage slip.

Level 2 is equivalent to GCSE grades A*-C. Adults below this level may not be able to compare products and services for the best buy, or work out a household budget.

The 2011 Skills for Life follow on survey showed, disappointingly, that, despite all those billions of pounds of spending, the proportion of adults with low levels of numeracy had actually increased:

Numeracy Levels in 2003 and 2011 (%)
Entry 2 or below : 200321%
Entry 2 or below : 201124%

A NIACE report (which you really should have a look at, dear reader), considered what lessons could be learned from the efforts that had been made and made a number of recommendations, many of which relate to the fact there is a conflict between wanting to help those with the least skills, and measuring success of that effort by exam results:

"Evidence of ‘what works’ included flexible, individualised approaches within small groups, which offer friendly, fun, informal and small steps to learning.

Equally, respondents were clear about what is not working. They suggested that learning driven by qualifications rather than the learners can distort who is included in learning. (37.94 per cent of all 2006/7 Skills for Life qualifications were awarded to 16–18-year-olds who are not necessarily a priority target group).

Other learners may have been excluded because they are not at the ‘right’ level of learning (i.e. within easy access of gaining a level 1 or 2 qualification).

Many reported they are unable to use ICTs due to lack of training and equipment or technical support.

Contributors were very concerned about funding reductions which will remove ‘weighting’ for adult literacy from August 2011, and lead to large groups, reduced provision and less responsive teaching and learning."

Extreme hairdressing on the International Stace Station

The Research
The research Diane undertook looked at students studying vocational subjects (hairdressing, construction etc) at college. As part of these courses, students who had not performed well at maths in secondary school had to study maths to at least a "functional" level before proceeding with the rest of their vocational course.

Diane performed some 17 case studies, with comprehensive interviews and observations being made of students and teachers in each case.

The results showed a number of clear themes :

a) Attitudes were most postive towards maths at college (even in the first term) than they had been at secondary school, many gave as a reason the fact that college was a place where you were treated as an adult, and that college was a step closer to employment and therefore responsibility

b) The most successful teachers taught maths as a valuable life skill and engaged with the students on topics of relevance to them, such as the costs of alcohol consumption or the relative value of pensions today compared to historical levels.

c) Above all, the students reported that they liked their college maths teachers more that they liked their school maths teachers

Diane wondered what was an appropriate technical level of maths that these students should receive, so that they were had "enough to get by and sufficient to get on"

Diane Dalby

The Q&A
As is often the case at Cafe Sci, the Q&A session was just as interesting as the initial talk..

In response to a question about the benefits or otherwise of streaming, Diane commented that the available research suggested that it did not make a significant difference to outcomes. On the one hand it allowed bighter students to achieve more, but on the other, it left lower achieveing pupils disenchanted and feeling inferior. Diane commented that shw had once talked to a girl who was in the top set for maths but, because she was at the lower end of that set, felt she was "no good at maths". You can read more about the pros and cons for streaming (or tracking as it is known in the US) here , here, here and here.

There was also quite a bit of discussion about whether the teaching of maths in secondary schools was fit for purpose in terms of giving young people the skills to critically evaluate the data and statistics that is put before them by companies and politicians - and whether there should be a greater focus in that than, say, trigonometry (which is rarely of use in combating misleading statistics and government spin).

Pythagoras, yesterday

Image Sources: Pythagoras, ISS haircut, Lunch, Olympic Stadium