The leading international development agency Christian Aid (which works with people irrespective of creed or background) has teamed up with the Independent on Sunday newspaper in the UK to launch a Christmas appeal for funds to combat the impact of climate change on poor communities.
The partnership demonstrates that secular and faith-based initiatives can work together creatively. The Independent titles maintain a critical stance on religious issues, but recognise that organisations like Christian Aid are inclusive and effective in the way they operate, contrary to some recent criticisms of religious agencies per se.
Money raised by the appeal will be used to help poor communities adapt to an increasingly erratic climate by changing the way they live. It will also be used to support clean energy projects for small businesses and bring power to isolated communities.
Christian Aid stresses that it is committed to keeping administration costs low, and that 93 pence in every pound donated to the climate change appeal will go directly to climate change work overseas.
Donations can be made here. Below, the personal and community dynamics behind the appeal are explored:
The pupils‚Äô faces were keen and attentive in the slightly eerie light. Their impeccable, some would say old-fashioned, behaviour would be a revelation to teachers in most of Britain‚Äôs schools. And this was for an extra lesson, long after the final bell of the day had been rung.
The young students of Tabakoro school in Mali were taking full advantage of the lights which now illuminate two of their classrooms and allow them extra time to learn. On other days their mothers attend adult literacy classes in the local language there. In the run-up to exams in May 2006, the rooms are packed.
But the village, in the rural south of the country, is miles from any power grid. The light comes from electricity generated by a solar panel on the roof of the school building. It is part of an integrated programme of renewable energy systems installed in the village by the Mali Folke Centre (MFC), a Christian Aid partner.
"Before the installation at the school, many of the children had no light at home by which to do their homework. Some families cannot even afford paraffin for their lanterns," says Nango Bagajoks, the head of the junior school who is giving the late lesson. "Now they can come and work here. It is much better for them."
There are now solar schemes run in 30 villages by MFC. In all cases it trains local people to maintain them, to ensure a continuing supply of virtually free energy for health centres and public spaces as well as for schools. A properly maintained system should last for 25 years.
Mali is on the front line of climate change, a country whose land goes from the Sahara desert in the north to relatively lush savannah in the south. In between is the dry area of sahel, where droughts are predicted to double in coming decades.
In this area, MFC develops plantations of jatropha, a plant that thrives in harsh conditions and which helps to stabilise areas close to desertification. It also produces seeds which are made into a bio-fuel substitute for diesel oil.
The centrepiece of the Tabakoro scheme is the solar-powered water system, where pumps supply a water tower that creates pressure for four taps. This replaces the single hand pump, which before had to supply the village‚Äôs 2,000 people.
It might not sound like a huge improvement, but it drastically cuts down the time and effort that women have to spend fetching water and it guarantees clean drinking water ‚Äì with a subsequent decline in water-borne diseases.
The days of pounding maize or millet to flour in a giant pestle and mortar are also over for many women. The village now boasts a small milling machine ‚Äì powered by jatropha bio-fuel ‚Äì to take away the strenuous and time-consuming work for the cost of a few pence.
The nearby village of Zanbala also has a solar-powered water system and lights in the health centre and school. The school recently recorded a 100 per cent pass rate for its 11 year-olds taking their exams to graduate from primary school. This was due to pupils being able to study in the evenings, according to Mamadou F Doumbia, the head master.
He says: "I am very proud. Other schools did not achieve this."