Chum Srey Nga

A VSO project is assisting communities living on
Cambodia’s great lake, the Tonlé Sap,
to weather many storms.

Chum Srey Nga, 50, looks
around in amazement at
her floating garden onboard
the boat where she and her
family live, on southeast Asia’s largest
freshwater lake. Already vegetables
that she and many others have been
taught to plant, feed their families
with, and sell, such as Chinese
cabbage, shallot lettuce, and bok
choy, are sprouting up.
For nearly four decades, Chum and
her family drifted by on the Tonlé Sap
in Cambodia. Things were far from
perfect for them in Kampong Luong
commune in the country’s Pursat
province. But fishing put food on the
table and Chum made a living from
their small but unsteady house on
the enormous lake, where many are
forced to live permanently.
Gradually over the years, however,
things shifted, with the community
now facing challenges including
overfishing, deforestation, dam
construction and industrial and
domestic sewage.
“We were rich in fish. It has changed
a lot,“ says Chum, a mother of eight
and grandmother of three, who has
lived in a huge floating village there
since 1979. “Today, the Tonlé Sap
lake has less fish; we cannot catch
as much as before. But what should
we do?”
Thanks to a floating garden,
created via the Generating Resilient
Environments and Promoting SocioEconomic Development of the East
Tonlé Sap Lake (GREEN) project,
a collaboration between VSO and
partners, Chum now has enough
food and income to keep her and her
family secure. The four-year project,
which began in March 2021, aims
to help 4,500 marginalised people
by equipping them with technical
and vocational skills by taking up sustainable farming. GREEN also aims to
establish 50 initiatives through women
and youth-led business incubations and
develop three business plans through
community-led ecotourism studies.
After hearing about GREEN, Chum, who
lives nearly 100 miles outside Cambodia’s
capital Phnom Penh, registered for
training. The initiative, which targets
people in the Kampong Thom, Pursat,
and Kampong Chhnang provinces
of Cambodia, has three areas: water,
sanitation and hygiene (WASH), the green
economy, and education.
Through the project, which involves 20
VSO volunteers, Chum and others have
been given the knowledge, skills and tools
to plant vegetables for floating gardens.
They were taught how to build a floating
raft using recyclable materials, such as
plastic bottles, and to make chemical-free
fertiliser, promoting more agroecological,
sustainable farming.
“Before VSO intervened, my life was a
struggle,” says Chum. “I had no technical
knowledge of how to grow vegetables. But
now VSO has come in, my life is getting
better. I have gained knowledge and skills
in sustainable farming.”
After hearing about VSO and GREEN,
Kem Rai, 38, who lives in a floating village
with her mother and niece in Kampong
Luong and works in fish paste processing,
took part in workshops to hear about the
floating gardens. Kem realised that if she
learnt how to grow vegetables, she could
supplement her income from her fish
paste processing work. “VSO has guided
me to think of new initiatives of planting
vegetables. Joining this project has helped
me earn more than what I make from fish
paste processing, and my family life is now
better,” says Kem.
“I do not worry so much when I have
urgent needs.” She has now reduced her
expenses on food, as she gets this from
her garden, and can save more.
Kem’s family has also suffered because
of climate change. At one point the roof
blew off their house, falling onto another,
and they have been unable to raise fish.
“Climate change has caused us to lose
our job raising fish, because of the bad
pollution in the water. This not only affects
me and my family, but other community
members, as they were forced to stop
keeping fish because of the unclean river,”
says Kem.
“This kind of climate change is
affecting a lot of fishermen and women
in my community, who in the past few
years have reduced their fishing to half
compared to before. Some families have
no options but to stop.”
Through GREEN, the community
has also learnt to become more
environmentally aware, through the
project’s workshops, with this information
passed onto the community. “I raise
awareness amongst my neighbours
and tell them not to throw things in the water, just save it for recycling or keep
it in the bin. Our community people
have understood a lot and changed their
behaviour,” says Chum. “I am looking
forward to receiving more support to
expand my opportunities even more.”
Thanks to the GREEN project, when
there’s trouble on the horizon for these
vulnerable people on the Tonlé Sap, they
now have ways of coping. But VSO needs
to reach more people like Chum and Kem
living on the lake today.

'I'm not scared of prison': Ugandan activists fight law making it illegal to be gay

Herman Shasha’s shop is not far from one of the shrines dedicated to some of the male martyrs, publicly executed in the late 1800s for refusing to have sex with a Ugandan king, after converting to Christianity.

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Teen’s Death Sparks Gripping Film — and Hope

The death of teenager Jackline Chepngeno sparked outrage in Kenya. Now, a documentary on her death and what happened next is picking up awards at film festivals.
— By Amy Fallon, reporting from Kampala, Uganda

Jackline Chepngeno went to primary school one day in September 2019 in Kabiangek, southwest Kenya. But it would be “a day unlike any other,” as a new documentary on the 14-year-old’s story, which made headlines around the world, narrates. A harrowing one.

Chepngeno’s period came unexpectedly in the middle of her English class. Like 65% of girls in the east African country, she was unable to afford sanitary pads. Hours later, after allegedly being period-shamed by her teacher, the teen took her own life. But the story is complicated.

“There’s such global talk and a movement around period poverty and breaking the shame around menstruation at the moment,” says Amélie Truffert, the producer of A Journey with a Hope. The documentary tells the story about Chepngeno’s death, focusing on the stigma related to menstruation and what happens when girls don’t have access to period products.

“It’s a really super hot topic, so it feels like it’s the perfect time for this documentary to be seen,” the South Africa-based director and producer says. At least 500 million women and girls around the world lack access to the facilities they need to manage their periods, according to the World Bank.

The 44-minute documentary, which is Truffert’s first, is a confronting, uncomfortable watch at times — particularly the interviews with Chepngeno’s teacher. There was no proper research phase, Truffert explains. “We learnt as we started talking to the family,” she says. “It snowballed from there — from chats with menstrual health experts, young girls who had gone through similar incidents of period shaming et cetera.”

‘So shaken, she could not stand’

Viewers are first introduced to Chepngeno by her grandmother, Rachel, as “very strong and hardworking.”

Jackline “was the first to wake up in the family,” Rachel says (via subtitles), explaining that they would send Chepngeno to the flour mill to work, and to pick tea on weekends. But on that fateful day when Chepngeno unexpectedly got her period in class, she was reportedly caned by Jennifer Chemutai, an allegation the teacher denies on camera.

The teen was “so shaken she could not stand” after the incident, viewers learn.

Rachel recounts that after arriving home crying, having been told that her clothes were dirty, Chepengo was given clean clothes and her mother told her she could return to school after lunch. But soon after, Chepengo went missing from home. Her body was discovered a few hours later.

“We heard screams … we assumed it was drunks fighting,” Rachel recalls in the film. “I told them not to remove Jackline’s body until the teacher came so that they could see how she reacted to the morning’s events,” says Rachel.

Chepngeno’s death sent “shockwaves” and “grief” through the community, viewers learn, and there was a lot of anger directed at Chemutai. Yet, when asked if she feels she bears any responsibility for the teen’s death, she says no. She has never apologized to Chepngeno’s family, according to the film. According to a 2019 Kenyan news report, Chemutai was exonerated by the government.

French national Truffert and her British partner, co-director and co-producer, Paul Drawbridge, were researching mental health in Kenya when they heard about Chepngeno’s story. They didn’t deliberately set out to make the film, Truffert says. However, they have received a lot of feedback about it, particularly about the teacher’s role. “It’s really conflicting, because on one hand you think she was an adult responsible for a child and she let that child down but it’s so easy to say ‘oh it’s all her fault,’” says Truffert. “Sure, she played a part in what happened, but actually she’s just part of this bigger system of period shaming and … maybe the same thing happened to her, so she’s just repeating that cycle.”

Kenya-based Muna Mohamed, the Regional Partnerships and Business Development Manager at AFRIPads, features in the film. Uganda-based AFRIPads is the top social enterprise manufacturer of reusable sanitary pads in the world. Mohamed works to help educate girls around menstruation myths. In the film, the 29-year-old wipes away tears during an interview. “It’s not HIV/AIDS that she has, it’s periods — come on guys. This is a normal biological process.” Mohamed continues: “If I was Jackline, I would have done the same thing.”

Mohamed tells OZY, “I’ve actually found it quite hard to watch the entire film.” She talks about not having sanitary pads at one point in her life because she faced gender-based violence and mental health problems in her home. Looking at her own past situation as an educated woman without the financial means to purchase sanitary pads, she asks: “What about women or girls who are actually living in serious poverty?”

She says that men and boys must also be part of the solution. A Journey with a Hope also shows male educators from organization The Cup, who viewers are told are “curious and want to get involved in these discussions to learn more” about menstruation. Mohamed says that by having men and boys involved, “we may address a variety of “inter-connected problems” to period poverty, “such as femicide, teenage pregnancies, gender-based violence, and mental health.”

Changing the way periods are seen n May 2020, Kenya became the first African country to put in place a Menstrual Hygiene Policy, viewers are told at the end of the film. The aim of this is to help guarantee that all women and girls in Kenya can manage their periods hygienically and without stigma. This includes access to proper information on menstrual health, along with products, services and facilities, and the right to safely dispose of menstrual waste.

The audience is also told at the end that Chepngeno’s mother, Beatrice, and grandmother are now distributing pads to local schools. “If there’s a positive message that can come from this story it’s that it’s changed the way that they’ve looked at periods,” says Truffert.

Now pursuing a masters in global health so she can specialize in menstruation, Truffert says it’s important that “as many young girls” as possible see the film. “It could really help some young girls normalize periods and start to break down the cycle of shame that comes from menstruation,” she says. “We are still learning and researching today, even though the film is finished.”

And it is getting worldwide recognition.

A Journey with a Hope was a finalist in the New York International Women’s Film Festival (NIFF), won Best Women’s Film at the Bright Film Festival, and recently won the Best Human Rights Film at the Vancouver Independent Film Festival.

It will be shown at the closing ceremony of the Under Our Skin International Film Festival on Human Rights in Nairobi, Kenya. The film “tackles the topic of menstrual health shaming, which is vital to provoke dialogues around stigma faced by young girls and women, and to promote the enhancement of the rights of women and girls”, says Sarah Mpapuluu, the festival’s general coordinator.

The documentary shows “just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the reality on the ground,” says Mohamed. “Thousands of girls and women are suffering from period poverty in Kenya and all around the world, and we need governments to have compulsory budgets for sanitary pads.”

The film ends with the message: "Jackline's last walk home is a journey without hope, a rallying cry for us all. We must hope for change and then we must make it happen."

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the offer.

Welcome to the world of the seemingly very public but yet very inaccessible Prophet Elvis Mbonye and his ever-expanding church, Zoe Fellowship Ministries. The 45-year-old was reported to be worth $115 million in 2020, in a country where per capita gross domestic product stands at around just $800. To some, his popularity — he counts many of Uganda’s elite and, increasingly, those of other East African nations among his devotees — is part of the growing “prosperity gospel” movement. It’s a theology contending that those who give to their faith and pastor will ultimately also receive material benefits. To others, his realm could also be described simply as PR gospel. And some are even more blunt — to them, he’s just a scammer.

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— with reporting by Amy Fallon in Kampala, Uganda twitter

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