- The Isle of Wight County Press ran an article about Glyn, in June 2016. See image here:
- The Guardian newspaper, “Other lives”, ran the following obituary on May 6th, 2016 (read it on the Guardian website here).
“Questioning Development” was the title of a pamphlet written by Glyn Roberts, my dad, who has died aged 78. The phrase summed up his determination to challenge conventions in overseas aid. In the booklet, published in 1974 and translated into French, Dutch, Japanese, German, Italian and Esperanto, he argued that official help for poor countries is often wasted, even harmful, because donors ignore the wishes of recipients. Those helped must be consulted as partners, he said: aid works only when there is solidarity between donor and receiver. His arguments were fresh and, for some, influential.
Born in Manchester and raised in Yorkshire, son of Robert, a writer and teacher, and Ruth, also a teacher, Glyn had dallied with an acting career, campaigned against Britain’s intervention in Suez and later against apartheid South Africa. He ran youth volunteer camps in Africa, did stints as an academic in Sweden and Britain, then in 1979 put his principles to work by co-founding Tools for Self Reliance (TFSR). The NGO’s volunteers in Britain (later Japan, Australia, Netherlands and beyond) collect unwanted high-quality hand tools and ship them to blacksmiths and carpenters – partners – in Africa (and, briefly, also did so to Nicaragua).
Glyn called for a “spirit of practical solidarity” and argued that “giving old tools a new lease of life helps to sustain artisan communities overseas”. Benefits, in fact, were as strong for the thousands of volunteers, often retired, who found satisfaction by refurbishing tools. Desmond Tutu and Trevor Huddleston, among others, became patrons. In 1994 TFSR celebrated sending out its first 500,000 tools. It is still going strong today.
Writing and sailing were Glyn’s other passions. His father had written BBC radio plays and then The Classic Slum (1971) and A Ragged Schooling (1978), accounts of growing up in a Salford slum. While living in Sweden, Glyn once won a bet by hitchhiking north of the Arctic Circle, in winter, in bedroom slippers. He then bought “an 18ft leaky gaff-rigged sloop”, intending to sail home to Britain. Several misadventures ended with it wrecked on a North Sea sandbank. His novelised account, Sailing in a Sieve (1963), was published in Britain, and abroad.
Other exploits followed afloat. Another leaky boat was his home in Paris in the 1960s, when he ran a small UN agency for volunteers. With a friend, he crossed the Atlantic in a small, ill-equipped wooden yacht in 1969. The pair repeated the feat, surviving a broken rudder, 30 years later. Later, he taught himself the violin, harmonica and ukulele, and to sculpt.
Glyn married Sigyn Ärlig, a teacher from Sweden, in 1966. They lived and worked in Ethiopia, Sweden and then in Britain, where she taught detained asylum seekers in Gosport, Hampshire.
Sigyn died in 1994. Glyn is survived by three sons, Björn, Daniel and me.
- The Southern Daily Echo, on April 11th 2016, wrote that “TRIBUTES have been paid to a Hampshire charity boss who helped hundreds of Africa’s poorest residents.
Glyn Roberts, who has died aged 77, founded Tools for Self-Reliance (TFSR) after visiting the continent and seeing traders struggling to earn a living with worn-out equipment.
Mr Roberts came up with the idea of collecting and refurbishing tools in the UK and sending them to poverty-stricken communities.
It led to the creation of TFSR, which began in Portsmouth but now has workshops and a warehouse in Ringwood Road, Netley Marsh” [Full article here.]
- Mary Tolfree wrote the following obituary to be published in Tanzania, in the newsletter of the Small Industries organisation (and partner to TFSR), SIDO:
- “The death is announced in UK of Glyn Roberts, founder of the British NGO Tools for Self Reliance (TFSR).After working for UNESCO in various sub-Saharan countries in the early 1970s Glyn concluded many things including:
- That the only way out of poverty was through productive enterprise (SMEs)
- That development should start at grassroots level, as government aid rarely trickled down to the poor
- That hand tools for skilled artisans were urgently needed but were not available
- That many international NGOs wasted donor funds on high administrative costs
TFSR was born in 1979, and unwanted hand tools being thrown away in UK for want of a new handle or some minor repair, were collected, refurbished and crated into kits of carpentry, building, metalwork, blacksmithing, sewing and mechanics tools. These were then shipped in containers to working people in five countries in sub-Saharan Africa plus Nicaragua.
Rather than establish expensive offices in the countries it supported, TFSR worked with partner organisations of which the Small Industries Development Organisation (SIDO) was among the first. With its headquarters in Dar es Salaam, and industrial estates in every region of the Tanzanian mainland, it had all the facilities for clearing the containers at the port and distributing them through its network of regional offices. Glyn established strong links with Basil Mramba, the first Director General, and then with Epanieto Toroka who succeeded him.
The first kits of tools ever sent were to exiles from the African National Congress (ANC); freedom fighters who had escaped with their lives from the brutal apartheid regime in South Africa and who had been given sanctuary in Tanzania.
The vision and mission of TFSR was based very much on the principles of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the first President of Tanzania following independence, who believed in the co-operative ethic as defined in the Arusha Declaration. It was a great moment in the history of TFSR when Mwalimu Nyerere agreed to become its Patron, together with Bishop Trevor Huddleston, head of the Anti Apartheid movement.
The co-operation and friendship was further cemented in 1992 with the Conference on Youth Unemployment, Partnership and the Need for Hand Tools which took place at ESAMI in Arusha in 1992 with all TFSR’s partners being represented and both Mwalimu Nyerere and Bishop Huddleston participating.
In 1995 Glyn withdrew from being the co-ordinator of TFSR to pursue his many other interests which included writing, music, sailing and sculpting though he maintained strong links. By this time over half a million hand tools had been sent out and several tool-making initiatives had been established.
Glyn loved Tanzania and the Tanzanian people, and twice climbed to the summit of Kilimanjaro! During his last visit, in 2006, he was delighted to see considerable economic progress in the country and to witness first-hand the impact of hand tools in improving the quality of life for the artisans, their families and their communities.
Glyn died from cancer on 6th April and leaves three sons, Bjorn, Daniel and Adam.