Cartoon: Christmas checkpoint

Source: Clifton Rooney © 2015.
Source: Clifton Rooney © 2015.

Consuming Christmas

Photo: Ornament Shop @ Kris Kindl Markt (#0055) (Dec 2, 2011) by regan76. CC-BY-2.0 license via Flickr.
Photo: Ornament Shop @ Kris Kindl Markt (#0055) (Dec 2, 2011) by regan76. CC-BY-2.0 license via Flickr.

With just 1 more sleep and more importantly only 1 shopping day (!!!) left (keep track of your sleeps and shopping days), “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Toys in every store…”

And indeed there are, even here in Kampala, although not remotely comparable to the entire aisles and shops that are dedicated to the festive season in Ireland. In one of Kampala’s biggest stores you’ll find one remote corner at the entrance of the store selling its overpriced Christmas decorations while blasting out muffled Christmas sounds from CDs on daily ‘repeat.’ since November.

I guess in the ‘developed’ world sense of Christmas consumerism, Uganda may be described as minimalist. Decorations are scarce. Christmas trees are scarcer (is that even a word?) and of course, “there won’t be snow in Africa” as Bob and Bono remind us. It’s probably going to be around 30°C, even with El Niño.

It may come as a surprise however, that Ugandans do infact celebrate Christmas. It’s the biggest holiday of the year. Schools are out from the end of November and don’t return until early February. Kampala almost empties out as its residents return to their respective rural areas throughout the country.

Traditionally, the essence behind Christmas lies in its opportunities for giving as wonderfully explained in the 172 year old story of Scrooge in the Charles Dickens novel, A Christmas Carol. In Uganda, Christmas is about going home to family, taking and sharing food, buying cloth for a new Christmas dress and above all, praying together.

While for those of us in ‘developed’ countries it’s also about family and sharing food – and drink, it is increasingly preoccupied with consumerism and (over) consumption.

The countdown to Black Friday deals that dominated my inbox warning me of the time limit for that product I really need – “there are only four left and 300 people are looking at it”; ensuring that the latest Playstation sits in front of your TV on Christmas morning; upgrading your ipad or android from last years’ model; clambering over those in front of you at the till in CEX for the last available copy of the latest Playstation game; scrambling for the cheap deals in Boots on Christmas eve; stockpiling food on shelves that may never be eaten and so on.

And don’t forget the annual (although increasingly rivalled by Halloween) competition for the house with the greatest number of Christmas lights and Christmas fixtures in the garden and around the house has intensified. ESB must love Christmas.

Unlike Chris Rea, I won’t be “Going home for Christmas” this year, so my scramble will be beating every ex-pat staying here for the festive season to the Turkey farm. It’s not quite the same in the heat, away from family, but there is still that Christmas spirit and excitement.

Christmas is my favourite time of year. I love the decorations and the lights, the open fire, the pickles you eat only once a year, the Christmas log, ‘Midnight Mass,’ – even the cold. Ah yes, don’t forget the Christmas decorations. The Euro stores are bulging with cheap deco’s – Santa boots/suits, signs, hangings, tinsel in every colour, splattering of red, green, gold, Christmas tree decorations, lights….

I have to confess that I am a recovering Christmas over-consumer. I know that I haven’t quite recovered when I go to other people’s houses and notice that they have way more decorations, lights, trees and even Christmas chocolate and regretting I didn’t buy more in the sales last year.

How can I possibly invite anyone around to the house with my metal Baobab tree when everyone else has a six-foot artificial green one – even here in the tropics?

Thankfully, I came across an article in The Guardian recently that grounded me once again.

Santa has (temporarily?) relocated part of his enterprise. In our ‘global village’ even Santa has to be economically competitive. The workshop is no longer in the North Pole – it’s in China.

A photo posted by MadeFAIR ???? (@madefair_co) on

Yep, the cheap ‘n cheerful Christmas deco’s and paraphernalia that overwhelm us in Bargaintown and the majority of our stores are produced inside “China’s Christmas village” in Yiwu, some 300km south of Shanghai. There are reportedly 600 factories that produce 60 percent of all the decorations sold throughout the globe (perhaps the other 40 percent are still made in the North Pole?).

The ‘elves’ in Yiwu are migrant workers earning between €280 to €420 a month, for 12 hour shifts – and have no idea why:

“Maybe it’s like [Chinese] New Year for foreigners,” says 19-year-old Wei, a worker who came to Yiwu from rural Guizhou province this year, speaking to Chinese news agency Sina. Together with his father, he works long days in the red-splattered lair, taking polystyrene snowflakes, dipping them in a bath of glue, then putting them in a powder-coating machine until they turn red – and making 5,000 of the things every day.

It’s tiring work and I’d say boring, and not entirely healthy inhaling the dust and paint fumes all day every day. And all to enable those like me, the Christmas consumption fanatics, to add that essential festive ornament to the collection we have accumulated over the years. How ever will I survive my Euro store detox this year?

Yiwa’s ‘China Commodity City’ described by the Guardian article as a “pound shop paradise” is in competition with internet giant Alibaba who have 1.4 million different Christmas decorations compared to Yiwa’s 400,000 products AND Alibaba will have the stuff delivered direct to your door (I wonder would they deliver to Kampala…).

While Yiwa’s lower end market products thrived during our ‘recession’ feeding our need for cheap products, this year things aren’t going as well – does that mean we are out of recession and looking for ‘quality’? It seems so.

According to an RTE article, Retail Ireland is forecasting Christmas retail sales this year of €4.05 billion, which is up 3.5 percent from last year! (not as good as 2007 levels though – c’mon lads, get spending!).

Luckily, for Yiwa, the Chinese have embraced the capitalism of the Christmas brand, and the domestic market is growing. And I’m relieved to read that I’m not the only addict of Christmas tack in the world – Cheng Yaping, the co-founder of the Boyang Craft Factory, understands

“Sitting here every day, being able to look at all these beautiful decorations, is really great for your mood.”

And indeed it is for those of us admiring the decorations and the flashing, singing lights as we sip our Mulled Wine and eat Mince Pies. But I reckon that’s not wonderful news for Wei and his dad and the thousands of others working long hours for low pay in order to satisfy our festive joy, enhanced (or perhaps as a result of?) through pre (and post) Christmas retail pleasures.

Boats at sea in Dublin’s Youth Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals

There have been problems in Syria for years that featured in news but it was news that rarely reached young people. Over the summer, this situation became more pronounced to us when news of the Irish government agreed to accept 4,000 Syrian refugees hit headlines, following the first announcement of Ireland’s response being to accept a paltry 600 refugees.

In the meantime, our art teacher Mr.Rooney was exploring the issues further with his son by engaging art as a tool for learning about the causes of conflict in Syria through personal stories of the people fleeing the war.

By the time school resumed in September it was one of the main topics being talked about: the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.

The sustainable development goals, due for agreement in September between governments across the world, were being discussed in November by students from many schools and youth groups across the country at the Change the World Youth Summit in the RDS in Dublin, organised by Concern Worldwide and the National Youth Council of Ireland.

How could the Youth Summit talk about the big ideas without including one of the big issues?

An invitation to think about linking these two was offered to our Transition Year class by Mr Rooney with Tony Daly from 80:20 Educating and Acting for a Better World, which ten of us jumped at.

A status on Facebook, a tweet on Twitter or a post on Instagram would’ve been lost in the waves of reporting of those perishing on Europe’s shores on a daily basis.

We decided that an art installation on the scale and root causes of the refugee crisis was a useful and creative way for us to get our voices heard and work with our peers on the issues.

Our idea was simple. Get our point across using the universal language of art.

The people and boats: We started by learning how to make different kinds of origami boats and then created 2,800 origami people that represent the 2,800 Syrian refugees that had died attempting to flee their life full of terror at home by boat (this number had increased by hundreds more after the figures had been created in September).

The causes and the sea: We printed newspaper articles about the situation in Syria and the refugee crisis, dyed them blue and glued them onto 30 wooden boards. This was used to symbolize the treacherous seas that the refugees are hurdling over. Alongside this, we printed out many more newspaper articles about European responses to the refugee crisis on orange card, which were to be used to make boats on the day of the Youth Summit in the RDS.

Photo: Transition Year students preparing boats (19 November, 2015) © Presentation College Bray/80:20 Educating and Acting for a Better World.
Photo: Transition Year students preparing boats (19 November, 2015) © Presentation College Bray/80:20 Educating and Acting for a Better World.

To bring the Mediterranean home to Ireland, we then cut out outlines of Irish patrol ships that were sent out to support the rescue of those at sea: the LÉ Niamh, LÉ Eithne and the LÉ Samuel Beckett.

And then, it was show time…

Bringing the artwork to the Youth Summit
On was a frosty morning in November, 10 tired schoolboys arrived at the RDS in Dublin from County Wicklow ready and willing to place the artwork on show and to involve the attendees of the Youth Summit in it.

We were there an hour and half before the event started and planting the ‘sea’ boards on the ground in our corner of the room with the intentions of moving it around the hall over the course of the day. The moving sea, shifting ‘sea tiles’ from the back to the front, symbolised the migration that refugees experience from ‘our corner’ of the room, Syria, to the centre of the room, Europe.

At the start of the event, we were given some horrifying news.

One of us had to go stage and introduce the art installation.

Thankfully Diarmuid stepped up and volunteered to do it. He got on stage and told summit participants about our moving art installation that would be happening throughout the day from the corner.

On arrival at the summit everyone was given a bag at the door that featured the orange cards that the boats would ultimately be made from that contained the headlines/articles/images on the responses to the crisis.

Once the workshops started we invited people to join our corner and write a reflection piece on the reverse side of the orange ‘stimulus’ card, which Diarmuid documented and myself, James, Lance and Daniel showed the event-goers how to turn their cards into boats using origami!

Photo: Boats created by attendees at sea (19 November, 2015) © Presentation College Bray/80:20 Educating and Acting for a Better World.
Photo: Boats created by attendees at sea (19 November, 2015) © Presentation College Bray/80:20 Educating and Acting for a Better World.

Participants then brought their boats over to Sam, Connor, Liam and Connor’s table where they selected a few names and wrote down of those who had died trying to cross the Mediterranean on the 2,800 people paper cut-outs, then placing them in their boat and joining the moving ‘sea boards’.

Some people stayed on to learn how to make origami flowers, which would be placed on ‘the sea’ at the end of the summit to acknowledge those who had died at sea. We made these out of red and white card.

Throughout the course of the day the art project managed involve more than 400 people from the Youth Summit. We were all blown away with the energy, enthusiasm to take part and the reflections offered by the participants.

Ending The Day
By 3pm Diarmuid and I were feeling energised from the reactions at the summit so volunteered ourselves and go up on stage on behalf of the group and read out the reactions of the attendees to their articles/photos etc. on their cards and explain the meaning behind the installation.

Connor, meanwhile, placed the paper cut-out people from the boats into a large bottle to illustrate (literally) how many refugees have died at sea and all the stories, messages that can never be told.

Photo: Flowers of condolences at sea with Jack Ryan and Diarmuid Moran presenting the installation contributions to the Youth Summit (19 November, 2015) © Presentation College Bray/80:20 Educating and Acting for a Better World.
Photo: Flowers of condolences at sea with Jack Ryan and Diarmuid Moran presenting the installation contributions to the Youth Summit (19 November, 2015) © Presentation College Bray/80:20 Educating and Acting for a Better World.

Finally, James placed the flowers of condolence to show our sympathy and acknowledge those who have perished.

As the Youth Summit came to a close we were humbled as a group to the enthusiasm and interest from other young activists in their responses to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Though the boats installation was for one day, we demonstrated an example of art’s potential as a powerful tool for having big conversations about challenging issues.

The question now is, what will your next art action be?


A group of people from Bray (Presentation College Bray and 80:20 Educating and Acting for a Better World) came together to produce a public art installation on the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria.

Involving over 400 participants, the art work was displayed at the Change the World Youth Summit in Dublin on the Sustainable Development Goals in the RDS on 19th November 2015, organised by Concern Worldwide and the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI).

Cradle to Grave

trinity-seriesLynda Kelly’s blog was the overall 2015 winner of the Trinity College Dublin and Development Issues blog series. The shortlist of blogs will be published as part of the series in the coming weeks.


What is development? Does it matter? I think the best way for me to answer these questions is to share what I call my eureka moment. Some might say it happened too late in my life, I was in my 40s, but it changed my life all the same.

For me the only development I ever cared about was here in Ireland. How the government was planning on securing more foreign investment and encouraging more U.S. companies to locate in Ireland was my only concern.

Like most people of my generation, emigration was our only way to find work. In the 1980s I joined the thousands of Irish in Britain looking for work. Finding employment was my only concern.

In truth, what was going on in the Third World, developing world as it’s called now, did not affect me in any way. It never touched my life directly.

Over the years I heard my mother talk about collecting money for the ‘Third World’ babies when she was a child and we always had a Trocáire collection box in the house. I guess these helped me to become desensitised to images of starving children and endless news feeds of yet another famine. As shamed as I am to say it, I just didn’t care.

My life started to change in the 1990s with the wave of US companies locating manufacturing in Ireland; Intel, HP, 3Com, Panasonic, Philips and Gateway all set up locations in Dublin, offering secure jobs and good wages. The city had never experienced such high levels of employment.

The transformation from slum city to cosmopolitan had begun.

People had money in their pockets and liked it. At this time I worked in Dublin as a logistics administrator, and over the next twenty years progressed up the career ladder to the role as logistics/supply chain manager for a leading global logistics company. My company’s catch phrase was “Cradle to Grave” and by this we meant that our company could move electronic components around the world to and from manufacturing sites and back again.

Within the supply chain this is known as a cradle to grave solution.

Photo: img_0050 (1st Jan, 2010) by baselactionnetwork. CC BY-ND-2.0 via Flickr.
Photo: img_0050 (1st Jan, 2010) by baselactionnetwork. CC BY-ND-2.0 via Flickr.

It was only when I saw photographs of some electronic e-waste mountains in the developing world did I realise what the true cradle to grave process for electronic components is.

We in the west legally ship our e-waste to the developing world. These mountains of e-waste kill thousands of people each year. They seep gasses and toxins into the air and into the land so it can never be used for agriculture again.

These toxins also leak into the water supply killing fish. They destroy the farming community. Our rubbish is killing people and destroying our planet.

I worked in the industry for over twenty years priding myself on how well I did my job. Now I wonder how we can fix this. What ‘development’ means to me today is working to create a cleaner healthier world for all humans.

Photo: 2 minutes 23 seconds (28th June, 2007) by CAVE CANEM. CC BY-SA 2.0 (via Flickr).
Photo: 2 minutes 23 seconds (28th June, 2007) by CAVE CANEM. CC BY-SA 2.0 (via Flickr).

We are all so busy manufacturing these electronics and buying into the retail hype to have the latest and greatest gadgets that we never stop to think what happens to the old units.

Development is not just about governments and democracy it is also about the protection of humans, natural resources and our planet. The phrase ‘cradle to grave’ has a very different meaning for me today.

I now know what happens to the electronic components I worked so hard to help manufacture, ship and sell. These are the very units killing whole generations of communities and destroying our world.

I am studying political science and geography in Trinity College Dublin in the hope that my years of logistics experience with my degree will lead me to a role helping to find solutions to e-waste management. We need to find ways to stop the west dumping its electronic waste in the developing world under the illusion of recycling.


The Trinity College Dublin development issues series is run in partnership with undergraduate students on the Democracy and Development course in the Department of Political Science and

For more on e-waste see:


Photo: Instagram and other apps (Sept 1st 2012) By: Jason Howie.CC BY 2.0 (Via Flickr)
Photo: Instagram and other apps (Sept 1st 2012) By: Jason Howie.CC BY 2.0 (Via Flickr)

Technology has changed activism. From public opinion campaigns to e-petitions, technology has changed the meaning of activism, and created a new sphere of online action brought right to one’s living room couch.

It is easier now more than ever to take ten minutes out of your day and partake in social change- sometimes we are even told that a ‘like’ on Facebook is all it takes! (This of course is ridiculous but a point best left un-analysed if a blog is to be kept short!).

An example of how technology had a significant impact is the Arab spring, for which protests were largely organised over social medias.

But what about technology designed specifically for activism? Have activist organisations managed to utilise technology beyond existing platforms and create their own spaces?

I challenged myself to look beyond organisation websites, and decided to focus on apps for smartphones and tablet devices. Surely the availability of activism on a tile on one’s home screen of one’s smartphone is at the least an easy way to get the population doing the minimal for social change. And surely this method has been utilised…right?

Unfortunately there isn’t much greatness in the landscape of social activist app and this can, I assume, be partly because of the expense of app creation and upkeep. So to be clear, this review is not about organisation bashing, rather it is to draw attention to the few good activist apps out there and highlight the potential for this new technology in social change.

The first format of app I found was campaign news apps such as Amnesty international, Global goals app or the smaller genocide app. These have campaign news and calls to action on their particular issue. They ask for an email to create an account, and the app seems to be a more accessible version of a website, there is nothing particularly new or cutting edge feature on each.

The second type of app I found was called Cliqstart, which is for specific organisations, but allows the organisation to have a dashboard of tools to manage their campaigns, engage donors and manage supporter action.

Screen Shot from ‘Buycott’

Buycott was the next app I found, and was probably the most innovative of all.  It allows you to register to campaigns you’d like to be involved in, then using your phone camera you scan bar codes on products and it tells you whether the product is in breach of your boycott campaign. While this app is fantastic with regards to availability of information and creativity, it is mostly crowd created and therefore there is a serious reliability question. If it could become properly regulated and checked, then it could be one of the most useful activist apps out there.


Screen shot from ActOn

ActOn was one of the better apps that I found. You register an account, choose which social issues you care about, and then you get a tailored homepage with articles, calls to actions and local news around your issues.  It was also the most engaging and aesthetically pleasing apps, which may be an important factor for getting mass population to actually use it.

And that’s it. Well, there were some small time apps such as Standing where you turn on your location services and stand somewhere for a few seconds and name your cause – but these were so pointless I didn’t think it beneficial to waste time reviewing them.

What is positive is that organisations like Amnesty and the campaign behind the Global Goals have taken the first step by creating apps. However I believe there to be a universe full of ideas, creativity and dynamic that is yet to be utilised when it comes to apptivism.

For example the Global Goals app could have a function that makes profile photo ‘stickers’ for each goal. It could use its geographical technology to create a localized notice board of actions taking place to let people know when and where to get involved. It could even have a forum of campaigners for each specific goal.

The possibilities are endless, the technology is there, and we as activists have an opportunity now to bring creative campaigns and call to actions to the smartphones of people around the world.


What in the World? series resumes on RTE in December

KMF - what in the world series

The What in the Word? series is back on RTE next week, thanks to the folks at KMF Productions. Get watching!

Have you heard about World Prematurity Day? You have now.

Photo: hat clover by Sarah Hopkins (March 6, 2009) CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 license via Flickr.
Photo: An example of ‘kangaroo care’. hat clover by Sarah Hopkins (March 6, 2009) CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 license via Flickr.

On the 23rd of April this year, I gave birth to my first child, a healthy little boy who arrived 4 days later than expected. By accident of my own birth, I was born in a country where I was afforded the best medical assistance that was available to me during the particularly difficult delivery of my son. (more…)

Rugby to the Rescue?

‘Meanwhile in other parts of the world, events continue…’; cue solemn-faced rugby player reminding us that while the World Cup goes on millions remain hungry and requesting viewers to contribute £5.00 to tackle the issue.  (more…)

11 million lies… how VW cheated ‘clean diesel’ emissions tests and almost got away with it

Photo: MKV CW GTi Photo Editing Test (Nov 17, 2008) by  Dean Souglass. CC-BY-2.0 (via Flickr).
Photo: MKV CW GTi Photo Editing Test (Nov 17, 2008) by
Dean Souglass. CC-BY-2.0 (via Flickr).

Ah yes, this blog fell (unfortunately) onto my lap.

Growing up as a child we had a Jetta, a Golf, a Polo and of course a Beetle. These cars were among the most reliable vehicles on the road. ‘They last forever,’ is what the most serious mechanic would chant.

I have dreamt of owning my own Type 2 camper van one day. They say that visualisations are the key to manifestation (in the popularly Mindfulness lingo), so I have die cast replicas, tea towels with camper van prints (I really do), mugs, pens, pencils, even my mouse pad is filled with them. Yep, I’m (was?) a huge Volkswagen fan.


Screenshot of Wikipedia website (Oct 14, 2015).
Screenshot of Wikipedia website (Oct 14, 2015).

Now at the tender age of just 14 years, beloved by students and ‘instant experts’, intensely disliked by many teachers and examiners; refuge of lazy journalists – one of the world’s top 10 internet sites and, without doubt its most popular general reference source (one of the top 20 websites in 95% of the world) – you guessed it: Wikipedia.

In the digital world, its influence is pervasive and, it would appear relentless.  It is routinely many people’s first port of call in researching an issue and, unfortunately, all too often their last port of call.  But what worldview does Wikipedia represent and what are some of the implications of that view?  And what does it have to do with development education? (more…)