We’re Andy and Valerie Ward and we moved to Orpington over a year ago. Prior to moving here, we had spent nearly 9 years working in Africa, living in Zambia in southern Africa and, before that, in Tanzania with our three children Sasha, Tiago and Imani. We both work in international development – working to improve the situation in poor or developing countries. Valerie works in social development, particularly on gender equality as well as supporting people who are vulnerable and marginalised including those living with  disabilities. Andy works in agriculture to support farmers in producing more and better food in an environmentally sensitive manner. Together we have worked in a number of countries in South America, Africa and Asia and we thought we could share some of our experiences and perspectives through this column.

One of Valerie’s greatest passions is working on gender equality. Having worked in a number of developing countries, we have come to realise that despite the many challenges and flaws in this country,  the chances and opportunities offered to women and girls in the UK are only pipe dreams to many living in the developing world.

Although women make up half of the world's population, incredibly, they represent 70% of the world's poor. We live in a world in which women and girls living in poverty face gross inequalities and injustice, right from their birth. These include: poor nutrition and education, harmful traditional practices, high levels of violence, as well as vulnerable and low paid jobs. We consider the sequence of discrimination that women and girls may suffer during their life to be unacceptable but it is all too common.  Girls and women living with a disability are often doubly, even triply discriminated against.  It is at adolescence that girls’ situations often become more dire.  They face being married early and being saddled with the burden of long hours of household and childcare duties. They are often invisible in development work and suffer in silence.  Fortunately, the global community is now waking up to the fact that we need to put a greater focus on addressing the needs of this group to stop poverty before it starts.  But the challenge is immense and we still have a long way to go.

For Andy, his challenge is how hard farming is, in many parts of Africa. About 80% of farms are small scale (a few acres), farmed as a family. Many of these farmers can’t afford to buy or hire tractors so the land has to be ploughed, tilled, planted and weeded by hand, often in hot temperatures. Big companies often don’t see a profit margin in marketing seed, fertiliser, pesticides and other farm inputs to poor farmers and so the farmers often struggle to find these inputs for sale, even if they can afford them.  To compound matters, smallholder farmers often do not have formal ownership of their land and thus cannot get loans for farm investments. They often have poor harvest storage facilities and are unable to access relevant farming advice and are often unable to get a good price for produce that they take to market.

The problems can often seem numerous and insurmountable with poor soils, unpredictable weather conditions (even without climate change) and diseases. However, it doesn’t mean that African farmers have miserable lives. Before marriage I lived in Nigeria, I spoke a little of one of the local languages and when I visited farmers I would always ask how they were. ‘Ata bey-do-jo’ would be the response which translates as ‘we thank God’. And sure enough, when with the farmers for lunch break or after evening farm there would be a lot of fun and laughter to be had, despite the hardships there was still a lot to be thanking God for.


Faith and Justice Spokesperson

I am delighted to say that Andrew and Valerie Ward have kindly agreed to take on this important role.  Both Andrew and Valerie work in various areas of development and we will be hearing about this in due course.
Andrew and Valerie, and their three children, Sasha, Tiago and Imani. are very much part of our Church and I am delighted that they have agreed to do this as we will all benefit enormously from their input. 

Contact: Andrew Ward  07900 017394