Guest Writer

Imagine you are 15 years old, and tomorrow, just like every year since you started school, you are about to take an ICT exam. Yes, an ICT – i.e. how to use a computer – exam, even though you have never seen (let alone touched) a computer before in your life. You know that if you fail the exam you are that much closer to having to retake the entire year. And even if you do pass, you have been taught solely through photos, narrations and a blackboard, can you possibly know how to use a computer for real? This is what life for school children in rural Ghana can be like. This is what this project aims to change.

My name is Ben Michaud. I have been volunteering in rural Ghana since October 2015 where I currently teach ICT and Physics in three different schools in two neighbouring communities. Around mid-November leaders from Yabraso, one of these communities, approached me with a plan they had put together to build a computer laboratory for their, and the surrounding communities’ children. But they needed my help to make their dream true. And this is where I need your help too.

The whole of the Primary school. The man in the blue shirt is Jacob, the headteacher.

There are roughly 2000 children of school age in the five villages local to the communities where I teach ICT. Probably about 90% of these children have never seen a computer before in their lifes, let alone ever having used one. Despite this, the fact remains that ICT and how to use a computer is on the school syllabus for all school years. This means the children must learn ICT, and ICT teachers, such as myself, are forced to teach abstract notions such as changing font size on a blackboard.

The aim of this project is to raise the money to construct a computer laboratory big enough to teach up to 40 students at a time, the size of individual classes. The building would house 40 computers so each student would learn on their own computer. In addition, as the computer laboratory would be a community building, not school property an extra benefit is that it would be available to students outside school hours. This means they can learn to use computers in ways not covered by the syllabus, such as programming and other forms of entertainment.

The total amount we are looking to raise is £16,500. This looks like a large sum, but I sincerely believe it is achievable! This number was calculated from the original plan the community leaders presented me. It includes a complete analysis of the estimated costs of the project, including a step by step breakdown of the building. Broadly, the total construction of the building will cost around £10,000, this is mostly the cost of the materials as the manual labour will be provided by the community. Around a further £6,000 needs to be raised to buy the 40 computers, printers and a projector we feel essential for completion of the project. Finally, as I am using the crowd funding website ‘’, the last £500 is needed to cover raising the money in this way.

If you are still reading at this point then it is because you are either in agreement with what we are trying to do already and want to know what else I have to say, or that you are at the very least interested enough to want to find out more regarding the project before committing yourself to giving any money.

And I have to admit if you fall on the interested, but sceptical side, then I completely understand. When I was first approached this was exactly how I felt.

When I originally came to Ghana I brought a book with me called ‘Doing Good Better’. The main message of the book centred around the concept of effective altruism, which is essentially how to help the most amount of people in the greatest way with the smallest cost. When I first considered the project I wasn’t convinced the best use of £16,500 would be to build a computer laboratory. I though surely there were other better projects that would do more good, such as deworming projects to increase school attendance or mosquito nets to decrease mortality rates. But with continued urging from the leaders, I decided to look at the numbers in a bit more detail and the numbers seems to give a different story. Below is my analysis of the situation.

So first a bit of background. If you have not read the book ‘Doing Good Better’ or have not heard of effective altruism, I would highly recommend it. It asks several questions that need answering to work out if any given project is worthwhile. These are:

  • How many people will benefit?
  • How much will these people benefit?
  • Is the area neglected and what would happen otherwise

Below is my attempt to answer these questions and I hope explain to you why I feel that this project is worthy of your money.

How many people would this computer lab benefit?

In the communities that would benefit from the project there roughly 2000 school-aged children that would have access to it at school or live close enough to be able to use it out of school. As this is a fairly rural and poor area, most of these children don’t have a computer at home, and the majority have never even seen a computer. Also, at a rough estimate, these 2000 children will have a ‘turnover’ roughly every 10 years. With maintenance and replacement of computers at a significant reduced cost of the initial outlay, I imagine the computer lab will last much more than just 10 years and probably more like 20to 30 years, which would mean 4000-6000 students would benefit throughout their entire school life.

How much will these people benefit?

Well, this project would not exactly save anyone’s life directly. But, luckily there is another way to calculate the benefit. To help calculate effective altruism the book ‘Doing Good Better’, uses the term QALY, which stands for Quality-Adjusted Life Year. In brief, one QULY means someone’s life has been improved by 10% for 10 years.

There are two points to consider here.

Firstly, let’s look at a period over 10 years. These 2000 students have no computers to use. Three times a year they have end of term exams, and as ICT is on the syllabus, one of their exams is ICT. If a student fails too many exams in a year they will fail the year and have to redo it. To complete their education each student attends three schools, primary, middle and high schools. At the end of the final year at each school the students take an external exam that determins which school they progress to. In other words, better grades results lead to going to better schools – so it is a positive feedback loop.

This is the first way having access to a computer is essential to a successful education – it would help a student learn ICT better, potentially leading getting entry to a better school and gaining a better education over all.

The second point is related to the simple fact that the Earth is progressively becoming a global community where digital and computer literacy is becoming more and more important. In order to do well or even live properly in the world, computer skills are a necessity. By not learning how to use computers from a young age a person’s potential is effectively and significantly being limited condemning them to only the basic types of jobs for life. This not only reduces that specific person’s opportunities, life-time earnings and quality of life, but if it happens on a large enough scale, it also slows down the growth and health of the country’s economy as a whole.

So what does this mean? Well it’s hard to say exactly, but if I tried to make a conservative estimate here is one set of calculations:

Say that the computer lab is shut after just 10 years and only 1000 children gain the benefit from it, and that the benefit they gain is – conservatively – assessed to give a 1% increase to their quality of life. This is 1% over their entire lives though, so from the age of 15 to, again, conservative estimate, 55 (this is the current average Ghanaian life expectancy, but is likely to change as the country develops). In reality, based on the life span of the one computer owned by a school in a different community, the computer lab is likely to be in use for up to 20 years or so.

So 40 years at 1% per year per person is 0.4 QALYs per person, or 400 QALYs total for the 1000 students for a total cost of £16,000. This works out at 1 QALY per £40.

Now it is internationally considered that 34 QALYs is roughly the equivalent to one life saved in the developing world. For us, this would mean that we are doing the equivalent of saving a life for £1360, which is pretty damn good when you consider what a western Government is willing to spend to save a life.

Is the area neglected and what would have happened otherwise?

Well, safe to say, yes it is neglected. There are no computers or computer labs in the area. To find an internet café students have to travel half an hour each way into a town called Wenchi. The travel would costs a large proportion of a daily wage and then, on top of that, the student would have to pay to use the computer. This is not practical or useful for a student at school. Additionally, if I don’t raise this money no one else will, at least certainly not in the foreseeable future, and the communities will have no computers. So if this project succeeds it would be a huge deal for the local area; if I don’t, nothing. It is an all or nothing type of thing!

So overall, the answer is yes. Overall I do think this is a worthwhile project to work on. I may not have got all my numbers or approximations correct, but small changes wouldn’t alter the fact that I believe deeply that this is a worthy thing. Consequently, over the next many months I’m going to be working hard to raise money so that the project is fully funded.

But in a way it’s more than just this. In this day and age the world is a becoming what is often called a global community or a global village. But this is only true if you assume everyone has access to a computer and the internet, and the know-how to use them. If you never learn how to use a computer, or even if you only first touch a computer at 15, you will never gain the proficiency, experience or fluidity needed on computers to be able to take full advantage of the world at your fingertips.

And that’s exactly what children in rural parts of Africa in general, and my local community in particular, have to contend with. Without this early access and chance to learn how to use computers they will never truly have the chance to engage with the wider world. Instead, the likelihood is far greater that they will be stuck in poverty most or all of their lives.

Fund raising:

Editors Note: You may not know but Ben Michaud is the son of Michael and Joy Michaud of Sea Spring Seeds


Get your metabolism all fired up – eat chilies

Most developed countries across the world share one common health challenge – obesity. With the number of people who are overweight or clinically obese steadily rising many governments are helping their citizens address this problem. In the United States for instance, the National Institute of Health, an off-shoot of central government, has recently launched a new online calculator tool designed to support people on weight loss programs. Metabolic RateBelieved to be one of the most scientifically accurate devices so far, it will no doubt prove extremely beneficial to those committed to losing weight in a healthy, safe manner. Yet even the most developed tools can only assist in the process as when it comes to effective weight reduction, you really are what you eat. Now it seems the humble chili could be something of a secret weapon. Widely recognized as a significant metabolism booster, the little chili can make a big difference to those aiming to lose weight. Here we take a closer look at how chilies could help shift some serious pounds and also explore some added health benefits associated with eating chilies.

Capsaicin – the game changing ingredient

Chilies are by their very nature fiery foods, but there is one particular ingredient in their makeup which creates this effect – capsaicin. According to researchers the capsaicin not only heats up the taste of the chili but also melts away the body’s fat. A recent study conducted by the University of Wyoming found that capsaicin acts as a stimulant in terms of prompting the body to burn energy. As the body does this, heat is created through a process called thermogenesis and in turn calories are burnt off. The clever old capsaicin sends signals to one particular receptor in the body called potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) channel protein. This is a very important receptor because it suppresses obesity by transforming ‘bad’ white fat cells into ‘good’ brown fat cells. This effect could revolutionize the approach to weight loss as well as offering hope to those suffering with associated conditions such as type 2 Diabetes.

Chilies – the appetite suppressant

As well as enhancing the body’s fat burning processes, it seems that chilies can also make us want to eat less. This is a real bonus feature for those who are trying to cut down their food intake in a safe and managed way. Believed to diminish feelings of hunger, chilies can reduce the potential for snacking – a danger zone for most slimmers. They can also make the body feel fuller for longer, thereby achieving an overall reduction in the amount of food being consumed. Nutritionists at Purdue University found that even a small amount of chili added to meals could significantly slash appetite particularly for people who didn’t normally eat spicy foods.

Chilies – fringe benefits

Substance PLosing weight may be at the top of many people’s lists, after all over two-thirds of Americans alone are believed to be overweight or obese – but even those who are already trim and toned can enjoy the health benefits associated with eating chilies. Capsaicin’s fiery properties not only help burn fat – they can also be a powerful weapon in treating inflammatory conditions. A robust inhibitor of substance P, which is a neuropeptide linked with inflammatory conditions, chilies can prove beneficial in the treatment of diseases such as arthritis, neuropathy and psoriasis. The capsaicin delivers a double whammy effect – not only addressing the inflammation but also acting as a potent pain reliever.

Chilies are also an attractive proposition to anyone experiencing high cholesterol levels. As well as contributing to a reduction in these levels, chilies have also been found to help the body dissolve a naturally occurring chemical called fibrin – a substance central to the formation of dangerous blood clots. Digestive health too can be improved through the consumption of chilies. Often badly maligned as the cause of stomach ulcers, chilies have in fact the opposite effect. Chilies actually help prevent ulcers as they bump off any bacteria ingested and stimulate the cells which protect the stomach walls.

Eating chilies also facilitates a proactive approach to protecting health and wellbeing. As well as helping treat the conditions we have covered (and many more) chilies boost immunity and thus reduce the likelihood of getting sick in the first place. Containing a powerful combination of vitamin C and vitamin A, chilies promote healthy mucus membranes lining our lungs, urinary tract and nasal passages. These membranes protect the body from potential invading pathogens and so boosting their condition provides a powerful form of defense for the body.

A Chinese proverb tells us,

“The more you eat, the less flavor; the less you eat, the more flavor.”

Sounds like the author may have been eating chilies!

This is an article by Helen Fields


Well here we are again planning for this year’s championships! I’m really looking forward to another exciting year. The Chilli Cook-off scene in the UK is really starting to grow and I can’t wait to get going again!

UK Chilli Cook Off

I have to say 2014 was an amazing year! Over 80 teams competed over 12 heats across the UK. The standard of the entries in each of the events really did astound me. The UK has an incredibly talented bunch of chilli chefs and it was an absolute pleasure meeting each and every one of them. Each of the heats produced very worthy winners and I congratulate them all again for the achievement of being the area champions! The 2014 final was held at the brilliant Upton Cheyney Chilli Festival. Although the UKCCA was founded in Reading, Upton Cheyney is fast becoming our spiritual home. In fact, for the second year in a row, I can confirm that the Grand Final of the 2015 UKCCA championships will again be held at the Upton Cheyney Chilli Festival on Sunday September 13th!

UK Chilli Cook Off

The 2014 final saw all of the heat winners battle one more time for the coveted prize of UK Chilli Cook-off Champion. The scoring was incredibly close, with Big Chef/Little Chef and Billy Franks coming within a whisker of the winning. The eventual winners though were the Wonky Donkey Monsters! Nick Latham and Robb Eadie were also champions in 2013 so it’s a remarkable achievement and shows the incredible consistency of their efforts. Robb and Nick flew out to Las Vegas in early November to compete in the Chilli section of the World Food Championships and incredibly they achieved 1st place in the People’s Choice Award!! This was an absolutely outstanding achievement, beating dozens of American teams at their own game! This really does go to show that the UK produces some of the best chilli in the world!!

2014 Winners - Wonky Donkey Monsters! Nick Latham and Robb Eadie

The 2015 championships are already upon us. The first event was at the Burton Chilli Festival in late November. We have plans for another dozen or so local heats this year, stretching out further than ever before to ensure more people can experience the fun and challenge of a Chilli Cook-off! We have several events confirmed already and we’ll be adding more in the next couple of months from London to Warrington and possibly all the way up to Scotland!

So, can you cook an amazing chilli con carne or vegetarian chilli or do you know a friend or family member who can? Here’s your chance to prove that you really can cook the best Chilli in the land and win some terrific prizes on the way!

Visit to find out about our upcoming heats as well as the cook-off rules and judging criteria!

Best of luck to all the teams competing this year!!


PS – Do you have a fair or show coming up or would your company like something different to run as a team building activity? Chilli Cook-offs are great fun and will complement any event! The UKCCA can help you run your own Chilli cook-off and can even make it an officially sanctioned qualifier for the 2015 championships! Just go to and send us some details and we’ll call you straight back.


It’s the most often asked question for chilli lovers – ‘how hot is that chilli?’ The heat in the fruit comes from chemical compounds called capsaicinoids, of which the two most common are capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin. These two typically make up around 90 % of the total capsaicinoids present in any given chilli, but there are many more capsaicinoids, all of which will have an impact on the flavour, and crucially, the heat of a chilli.

Most chilli lovers will have heard of the Scoville test and scale. This was originally introduced in the early years of the 20th century and involves extracting the active components of the chillis with alcholol, adding sugar and then serially diluting the resulting solution until no further heat can be detected on tasting. The more dilutions are required, the hotter the chilli was originally. Although this might seem somewhat unscientific, in reality at the time the test was introduced this was considered a reasonable test, as human sensitivity to capsaicin can be measured in parts per million (ppm), far better than any other analytical technique at the time.

In the 21st century testing is somewhat more refined, and analysis is typically performed using High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). This is a technique that involves separating the individual components and then seeing how much of each one is present. The resolving power of HPLC is very good, and HPLC analysis of capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin is now the most common way of determining content. From the quantities of the two capsaicinoids found a trivial calculation leads to an estimated Scoville rating.

While HPLC is a good, solid technique, there are some problems with it. It relies on the use of standards, small amounts of known compounds, to calibrate the instrument. This is not a problem for capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin, but the many other compounds involved in chilli flavour and heat are rarely looked for or quantified, yet may play a significant role in the flavour and heat of a fruit. It is also not clear what the link between a capsaicin measurement in weight for weight and the Scoville scale should be. Typically pure capsaicin is given a rating of 16,000,000 Scoville units, and this means that a chilli that is 5 % capsaicin by dried weight would rate at 800,000 on the scale. However the heat provided by other components is not as well determined, for instance in some instances dihydrocapsaicin is rated as 15,000,000, whereas others simply treat capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin as the same. The calculation for the ASTM test gives it a rating of ?? of that of capsaicin itself. Clearly there is some confusion, and this is just for dihydrocapsaicin! Many other capsaicinoids are found in the chillis we eat, and will contribute to the heat we detect in the mouth.

Tim Woodman Bath Uni NMR Scanner

Recently at the University of Bath a project has looked at using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to quantify the levels of capsaicinoids in a wide range of chillis. NMR is closely related to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a way to look inside the body for medical applications . NMR has the advantage that all the components can be seen at the same time, and no standards are required for the minor components. Our technique employs the same extraction of the dried sample with a solvent as for HPLC, at which point the NMR spectrum of the resulting solution is studied, following the addition of a spike of a known compound to allow us to see how much of the capsaicins are present.

The project is still in its infancy, however recent results comparing the levels of capsaicinoids determined by NMR with those seen by HPLC has given a very reassuring correlation (see chart below).

Tim Woodman NMR

Chillis studied in the project include some very hot beasts – not least Katie and Lucy, both Capsicum Chinense, which have around 9-10% capsaicinoids by weight, and thus would be in the region of 1.3-1.5 million units on the Scoville scale, depending on how the calculation is done.

We are currently looking at using the NMR method to determine the presence of the more minor capsaicinoids in the extracts.

In the future we aim to investigate the effects of the growing environment on the heat of the resulting chillis. This will entail growing several different varieties (ideally a mild, and medium and a hot variety) under a set of different conditions, including water stressed, nutrient starved and temperature controlled. Some research has suggested that water stress leads to higher heat contents in chilli fruit, but only for chillis that are mild to medium in heat. The hot variety showed little variation. One of the aims of the project is to help the amateur chilli grower to get the ‘best’ from their plants.

Article by Tim Woodman (Bath University)

1 The full name for MRI should really be nuclear magnetic resonance imaging; when introducing the technique it was felt that the ‘nuclear’ would be off-putting for patients and it was dropped. We have no such qualms at the University, and in reality although we look at ‘nuclei’ NMR does not involve radiation, other than radio waves
2 For assessing a particular variety of chilli, ideally at least 10 pods from a range of plants should be studied. In our work so far only single pods have been looked at.


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