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Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Shared Future

The importance of family planning in an African village may seem a long way from the fertile fields of the South West, but a Somerset charity is working to help mitigate a problem that could have far-reaching consequences. Fergus Byrne has been talking to CHASE Africa’s Rory Macdiarmid.

Family planning is very much ‘the elephant in the room’ in Kenya according to Rory Macdiarmid, part-time Corporate Fundraising Coordinator with Somerset-based charity CHASE Africa. Short for Community Health and Sustainable Environment, CHASE has been working in Kenya since 2012 helping to address the complex and related issues of poverty, ill-health, population pressure and environmental degradation. They provide access to free, voluntary family planning and basic healthcare services using mobile clinics. They also support a programme of tree planting in schools and forest restoration projects.

However, the key to real change for those living in areas where infrastructure or rural conditions simply cannot support expanded population is to offer family planning services. Rory is quick to point out that supporting wonderful charities dealing with water shortages, famine and poverty as well as supporting schools and wildlife projects is making a huge difference to many lives. However, he is also keen to highlight the long term future. ‘We think if you step back and look at the whole picture the biggest driver of the problem and the easiest to tackle is the surging population. Without contraception couples have more children than they want and are unable to feed and educate them as well as they would like to.’ he says. He explained that the world’s population is growing at an alarming rate. Africa had about half a billion people in 1980 and has about 1.2bn today. ‘Much of this growth’ he says ‘is down to a lack of education and poor access to contraception. We are not on a crusade promoting birth control, there is nothing wrong with large families provided they are planned and can be supported. Its giving people the choice that is so important.’

Rory’s involvement in the charity came after he and his wife set off to drive from Somerset to South Africa five years ago. ‘We witnessed the Arab spring revolutions in Northern Africa and the split of North and South Sudan. It was a life changing experience of nearly 2 years, which led on to a 3-year involvement in building refugee camps in Eastern Africa. Dadaab on the Somali border is home to about 330,000 people and Kakuma on the border between Kenya and South Sudan will have a capacity of half a million people when it’s completed! The size of these camps and the grinding poverty that we witnessed across Africa is heartbreaking and sadly there is no quick fix.’

On his return to Somerset, he began working with CHASE Africa to try and address the complex and related issues of environmental degradation, population pressure, poverty and ill-health in Eastern Africa.
CHASE Africa is working hard to deal with a population explosion that Joseph J Bish, Director of Issue Advocacy at the Population Media Center in Vermont recently described as ‘the opposite of a virtuous circle’. Rapid population growth creates an enormous strain on educational systems and local economies, and in areas where there is no ability to build the infrastructure to cope ‘unemployment, instability and entrenched poverty follow suit.’

To date, CHASE Africa’s mobile family planning and health clinics have provided family planning services to about 70,000 women and their education and basic healthcare program has now reached over 230,000 women. The hope is that more of those will continue to take up the charity’s family planning offering.
However, like all charitable work CHASE Africa needs funds to carry on and despite individuals such as Rory Macdiarmid eschewing a salary and the support of high profile individuals like Sir David Attenborough, Ben Goldsmith and Kevin McCloud they need donations. Just £7.50 is all it costs to transform the life of one mother and her family in East Africa by giving her access to family planning for up to 5 years. Giving £5 a month would enable 8 women to make this choice in a year. You can give via MyDonate for one-off and regular donations.

If you would like to know more about the work Somerset charity CHASE Africa is doing or would like to offer financial support visit

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