'Independent' readers give £290,000 to help the poor and vulnerable improve their lives

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The Independent Online

We called it Green Shoots, because we wanted to turn the spotlight on places in desperately poor countries where hope is sprouting.

We called it Green Shoots, because we wanted to turn the spotlight on places in desperately poor countries where hope is sprouting.

And the three charities in The Independent's 2004 Christmas Appeal, who are nurturing that hope among the vulnerable inhabitants of villages and towns in Africa and Asia, clearly caught the hearts and minds of readers.

The direct appeal itself raised a stunning total of £239,193. But there was more. The Independent's charity auction, offering 39 Indy experiences from a power lunch at The Ivy with the editor or a curry cooked in your home by columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, to a tour of the Somme battlefields with our Paris correspondent, John Lichfield, raised a further £49,895.

The highest winning bid among the 39 lots was £3,000 from Martin Fielding of West Sussex for a week's scholarship for a junior tennis player at Nick Bollettieri's famous tennis training centre in Florida.

Then a book sale in The Independent office added a further £1,377, giving the remarkable final total of £290,465, to be divided equally three ways.

Although the donations in response to Asia's appalling tsunami disaster have been unprecedented, as one might expect, the amount of money given to the Christmas Appeal for charities whose work is not world news shows that many people in Britain - or at least, Independent readers - realise that the need to relieve poverty and its consequences is constant.

The horror of 150,000 people swept to their deaths is unmitigated. Indeed, we curtailed our Christmas appeal by a few days out of respect for those who lost their lives in the tsunami. Yet, as Gordon Brown said in December, 30,000 children die from preventable diseases in Africa every day , more than 150,000 a week, and seldom that makes headlines.

That is the African reality confronted by the three charities whose work we highlighted over five weeks, British-based Water Aid and Send-a-Cow, and Namibian-based IRDNC (Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation).

All have a "green" tinge in their remit, linked by their concern for the key environmental principle of sustainable development. They all want to help poor people make much better use of their natural resources without exploiting them.

They were also chosen because they have a belief in human dignity. The money raised will help the poor and vulnerable to change their own lives. They are aided by the charities, but the change is driven from within these communities. WaterAid, the biggest, focuses on the essential problems of providing clean water, and proper sanitation in the poor communities of Africa and Asia.

Here, heavy loads of water often have to be brought miles every day by women, and we showed how in villages from Uganda to Mozambique Water Aid is working towards its goal of no community being more than a mile from a water point. We also illustrated how in places such as the slums of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, using the lavatory can be a nightmare and a severe health risk, and how the charity is striving to improve things.

Send-a-Cow, our second, smaller, charity does exactly what it so charmingly says. It donates livestock to communities in seven African countries, and offers horticultural skills, giving those with nothing an opportunity to work their way out of poverty. We showed how simply owning a large, milk-bearing animal, or adopting a new way of gardening, can utterly transform the lives of families in countries from Rwanda to Lesotho.

IRDNC, our final charity, makes use of one of Africa's greatest natural resources: its wonderful wildlife. We showed how it is helping poor communities in Namibia exploit their wildlife through tourism and controlled hunting, yet do it sustainably, so it is preserved. IRDNC's way may be the only way forward for African conservation.

For all these bodies, the amounts from the Christmas Appeal - close on £100,000 for each of the three - are substantial sums that will make a real difference. Your money will enable them to go that extra mile in improving the lives of desperately poor people, and make the green shoots of hope grow even stronger in some of the world's most vulnerable communities. Thank you.

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