Archives - ‘Éthiopie’

Real World Planning

December 3, 2012 | Breanna, DVM, Canadian Urban Institute, Ethiopia

My final month in Ethiopia was a welcomed transition from the sprawling capital city of Addis to the calmer lakeside city of Bahir Dar. My focus shifted in Bahir Dar to more practical project development. I had focused more on policy and research in Addis, but due to the proximity to local actors in Bahir Dar (office is within the urban and regional planning office) and the size of the team (one project manager), I had the opportunity to more closely engage with issues on the ground. I was tasked to design some concept notes on possible demonstration projects that could be set-up to illustrate activities proposed in the Bahir Dar Waterfront Development Strategy and the Bahir Dar Downtown Revitalization Strategy that CUI had created in collaboration with community and local government actors.

After reading many reports on the area, discussions with local actors, and observing micro and small enterprise (MSE) activities around the City, I had some ideas to put forth. The balance CUI strives to achieve is initiatives that benefit the community, spur local economic development, and are environmentally sustainable. Ideally this approach would be taken by all developers since environmental sustainability is increasingly a necessary consideration given dwindling resources, growing populations, and climate change.

We visited an MSE involved in weaving of local products. They had a tiny room of maybe 9 feet by 5 feet where there sat two large traditional weaving machines with the two weavers with their backs against the wall. The weaving machines are simple, but ingeniously made wood contraptions with rows of thread. They had been weaving in this way for 20 years, making one product each a day with no means of increasing efficiency. There is strong local support for expanding their business through modern machines and further developing the weaving sector in the City. Because weaving is not directly related to the environment, I suggested creating a sustainable weaving center (powered by bio-gas with a composting toilet) that also included other weaving activities with sustainable materials. I had noticed many basket weavers in town making durable products out of recycled packaging material. My hope is that the two can come together in this center and demonstrate to local actors innovative ways of reusing materials for economic benefits.

It is unfortunate that I am not here to help carry this project further and extract lessons learned. But it is an excellent opportunity to be given such a responsibility to use my knowledge of development to create tangible activities. It is one thing to study the theories, but project design is completely unfamiliar territory. However, I have noticed that the more projects I observe around the world and the more reports I read on the best practices of these schemes, the more I get an intuitive sense of what might work. Though I am sure this is easier said than done! Only through these types of field experiences can one’s academic knowledge evolve into practical applications.

Ethiopian friends and teachers

October 30, 2012 | Breanna, DVM, Canadian Urban Institute, Ethiopia

One of the most enjoyable aspects of being based abroad is the interactions one can have with people from a different culture. Relationships with people illuminate similarities and differences and provide a new perspective on how to live. This is a unique opportunity that is not fully experienced when one is simply a traveler passing through. Particularly, my engagement with Ethiopian peers offers a fascinating understanding of the joys and frustrations that youth face in the country’s capital.

I am interning at Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) with three Ethiopian interns. They are students studying urban planning. The university system in Ethiopia is quite different than Canada, though it is one that I heard is similar to that of other African countries. Students attending public universities do not have a choice as to what they will study. Based on testing in high school, the government assigns them a major and the university that they will attend. Students rank programs they would be interested in, but mostly the students I speak with are assigned their 4th or 5th choice. For the students scoring highest on their tests, the best case scenario is getting your first choice at a university in Addis (which is considered the location with the best schools in the country). Many students end up having to relocate to remote cities around the country to have a chance at a degree in something on their list of choices.

On the one hand, this system is a rational development strategy—the government needs to fuel certain sectors and therefore must ensure that there are enough qualified people educated in that field. It also serves to decentralize education to draw attention to the economies of other cities, since most migration is flowing into Addis. On the other hand, most students are disengaged with what they are studying and do not have the opportunity to follow their initial dreams, which might lead to them being unmotivated in their careers or even changing careers later on. When I discuss this with the interns, they say they grow to take an interest in their degree, but still have a greater passion and curiousity in another subject matter. However, they accept that this will be the path they must take. It is completely different from the luxury we have in Canada where students can continually change their degrees in pursuit of the most satisfying path for them. I wonder though who is better off? In our society, confronted with infinite choices, we often are left feeling dissatisfied and lost. Whereas here, people are content and grateful for the opportunity to have a good job and healthy family.

With my Ethiopian friends it has also been interesting to see the intersection of globalization and tradition. Many are in touch with Western pop culture; the video stores sell Hollywood movies and they download torrents of popular music and TV shows; they wear skinny jeans, own the latest iPhone, and idolize Manchester United. But, they still maintain an allegiance to Ethiopian traditions. They prefer home-cooked injera and doro wot over pizza and burgers; they attend Church and youth group each week and spend most of their time with their families; and though they enjoy brushes with outside gadgets and entertainment, they do not wish to leave Ethiopia or stray from the customs, language, and values that are prized within their families. As a student of globalization, I have been happy to see this strong preservation and have noticed a similar response in other countries. I don’t think becoming more globalized means becoming more alike, it might just mean becoming more aware of one another and sharing some of the marvels produced throughout the world. For me with my Ethiopian friends it means that while we can understand each other, there is still an abundance of new ideas and practices for me to discover.

When cultures diverge

October 23, 2012 | Breanna, DVM, Canadian Urban Institute, Ethiopia

I am in Ethiopia for three months doing an internship for Canadian Urban Institute (CUI). CUI is a Toronto-based NGO specializing in urban planning activities in Toronto and in countries abroad. In Addis, they are implementing an Eco-City project with the government that is designed to strengthen a “made-in-Ethiopia” model of decentralized urban planning for economic growth and development. Their activities focus on skill building and knowledge transfer in areas that will improve social conditions in environmentally sustainable ways.

This is my third time abroad through the University of Ottawa. I participated in a field research course in Kenya and a development exchange in Bangladesh. Hence, my revelations on this internship have yet to be as revolutionary as the first two experiences. With each journey abroad, I learn more about the realities of development and gain a clearer grasp on the perceptions, challenges, and relationships that shape the nature and outcomes of development practice.

In class, we learn about development interventions—best practices, common mistakes, and the interconnected issues. There is a less discussion on culture. When abroad, I realize that culture—religion, traditions, and values—is the forgotten factor in foreign development projects.

Ethiopians say “enbela” which means let’s share and eat together. I am reminded that North America is a very individualistic society compared to other parts of the world that are more community-oriented. One of my colleagues summed this idea up well, “we share everything in this country—poverty, HIV, perfume…not like your country. You live alone, you eat alone, you live for yourself”.

In Addis Ababa, I am living in a compound filled with high-density condominiums. These compounds are increasingly found in developing country cities. Slums or low-income areas are replaced with compounds that maximize on the number of residences in a smaller land area. Aid organizations are keen to advocate for this type of urban development because in many developed countries it is the rational way to make use of limited space. However, in many cases, this upgrade is not favoured by locals. I now understand why. In my building all the condo front doors open to long outdoor balconies. Almost every home other than mine keeps their door open all day. All the families sit outside their doors in the narrow hallway with their children, playing music and cooking on little charcoal burners; the stairwells are lined with drying grains and vegetables. Many people are not accustomed to this segregated type of living. They prefer to be in open communal spaces interacting with their neighbours and family members. It is a concept that I would never have conceived of as a Westerner. It is one of many concepts that I continually adopt into my cultural literacy as I am evaluating the quality of development projects. Undoubtedly throughout the internship through my observations and interactions more of these cultural divergences will be revealed.