Archives - ‘Éthiopie’

Working at the Forum of Federations

February 14, 2020 | Maha, Honours Bachelor of Social Sciences in International Development and Globalization, Forum of Federations, Ethiopia

My name is Maha, I am a fourth Student at the University of Ottawa, studying in the International Development and Globalization program. I am also, a 21year old Sudanese- Canadian immigrant currently interning at the Forum of Federations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I chose Ethiopia and the Forum of Federations for many reasons, one of them being that I felt that as a Sudanese person, Ethiopia would be a relatable option for me, I also plan on working in Africa after graduation so it made sense. I wasn’t wrong about this, I look like most people here, and as I’ve previously lived in Sudan, I am able to cope with many of the lifestyle changes which I’ve experienced here. I chose to intern at the Forum of Federations, because they’re an organization working to encourage better governance, federalism and gender equality, all subjects which are of interest to me.

I cannot honestly say that my experience here has been completely without fault, because I did struggle for the first week or so and I continue to face small hindrances, but I’ve learned to cope with them. This is my first time being on my own, and to have it be half way across the world from my family was hard. Ethiopian people make this a lot easier, I have never lived among a group of people who are this kind, giving or willing to help. They have taught me how to get by here, what to do, where to go, what modes of transportation to take and even what to wear. I decided to make myself a blank slate, ready to learn, to cope and to thrive while I’m here. I haven’t regretted this decision thus far.

I’ve just ended my fifth week here in Ethiopia, and I have to say that I am beyond happy with my placement. I applied to this position on a whim, and honestly it has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in my adult life. I feel myself growing more and more everyday, not only am I developing better social skills, and cultivating my independence, but I am also networking and learning from an extremely knowledgeable and large network of people. Everyday here feels like a new learning opportunity, and although my role in the organization is not by any means large, they have made me feel as if I am an integral part of their team, I’ve learned to work so harmoniously with a group of people I met a mere month ago.

This experience is also an extremely significant part of my learning experience due to the fact that I, one day, hope to work in Africa. I have a strong connection with the continent, due it being my first home, and a place which I think is overflowing with potential. Being privileged enough to have spent most of my life, living and learning in Canada has only strengthened my love for my country (Sudan) and Africa in general.

All that I have learned in school and continue to learn have also influenced this idea as well. This isn’t a continent that needs my saving, or my knowledge, but I feel that I owe it to my country and my continent Africa to not contribute to the brain drain. This experience has only solidified my opinions about this choice. I want to learn as much as I can and come home and put it to good use. I believe that our lives belong to us, but that our choices and the outcomes they produce belong to the larger majority, I don’t have a saviour complex, I feel that I have a duty complex. To be able to live the life that I do, to have all of the resources that I have, and the support that I have and just squander them seems like the most selfish decision I could ever make. I am beyond thankful for the life I lead, the experiences I’ve had and the ambition I have towards improving the quality of life for even just one person. Nothing makes me more motivated.

Working at the Forum of Federations, seeing how an NGO in one of Africa’s largest NGO home bases works, is a golden opportunity. I know this experience will teach me, and help me to become a better, more focused development student.

Development: Expectations vs Reality

July 25, 2019 | Snit, International Development and Globalization(Co-op)(French Immersion), Forumd of Federations, Ethiopia, Intern

In my final week in Addis, I have been left with a lot to reflect on. Last Friday, we had a little escape from the busy city life and headed to the lovely Debre Zeyt for my final work conference with the Forum. We discussed upcoming goals for the next fiscal year with key partners of the organization and talked about some of the areas of improvement for the next year as well.

It has been incredibly inspiring to meet so many brilliant people so passionate about democracy and governmental reform in the country. Having grown up in Canada, there were many privileges that I took for granted and never really even noticed I had until I saw other people without the same freedoms. There are also so many other barriers that do not exist in the same way in Canada due to historical reasons that do exist in many other countries globally. Not to say that there are not systemic issues in Canada or the West as a result of colonialization and imperialism, but it exists in a different capacity in my comparative understanding.

I have really learned a lot about the intricacies of federalism and what that looks like in an Ethiopian system, as it is often referred to as an ‘ethnic federalist’ system. This has opened my eyes to the realities of ethnic relations in the country and how it is a major consideration in many political decisions. Politics and governance are a lot more complicated than I had originally (ignorantly) anticipated. This experience has also shaped the way that I view development as a whole and have truly begun to understand the interdependency of all development projects. For example, one cannot talk about gender equality or environmental issues without considering governance and ethnic issues.

Development is such a complicated field, and an even more complicated concept. What does it mean to be developed? Who is the country developed/developing for? These are questions we don’t always have simple answers to, and that is kind of both the hardest thing but most inspiring and freeing component of development. Most notably, we have our sustainable development goals, but beyond the basic freedoms, what constitutes as sustainable? I have really been left with a lot to reflect on.

Being in Addis for the last three months have allowed me to understand myself and my parents’ homeland more than I ever would have dreamed. It truly has been the best of both worlds (both an academic experience and a personal learning experience) and I am truly very hopeful for the further development of the country. As one of my really good friends on campus said, “hope is all we can have”. Personally, I know this won’t be my last time in Ethiopia, so I’m very thankful for this opportunity and I am excited what my next experience in the country will be like.

We are more alike than we are different!

June 10, 2019 | Snit, International Development and Globalization(Co-op)(French Immersion), Forumd of Federations, Ethiopia, Intern

My name is Snit and I am a fourth-year student studying International Development and Globalization at the University of Ottawa. I am interning with an International NGO called Forum of Federations as a research intern for three months in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

I have completed one month in Addis so far, and it has been everything I was expecting, but also everything I wasn’t anticipating at the same time. I am a first generation Ethiopian-Canadian, so this isn’t my first time traveling back to Ethiopia. However, this is my longest duration here, and the first time that I’ve ever lived here.

Consequently, I found that I had many assumptions for what my life would be like here, and I have been quite presently surprised. Addis (in my opinion) has been one of the most fast-changing capitals that I’ve ever visited, and it is so interesting to see the impact of globalization on the city. I am going to the gym, hanging out at malls and movie theatres, and also have the chance to explore the outskirts/country side of town, so it is kind of like having the best of both worlds. I have started to find little “Western” places around town which I call “diaspora/foreigner hot spots”, where I go to remind me of home whenever I’m feeling a little home sick. Yesterday I went to a really cute Mexican restaurant, and this week I’m planning on going to a coffee shop that serves iced coffee (I know, it shouldn’t be that exciting to have iced coffee, but in Ethiopia, most coffee shops serve traditional coffee only, so this is a little treat for myself).

Related to what I’m doing here, the project that I am working on is gender mainstreaming in federalism in Ethiopia. Similar to other biases I had, I never really considered all the people working on the ground for gender equality in the country, as oftentimes in class it is posed as almost a “Western” ideology. Yet, I have been pleasantly surprised by the incredible, hardworking, gender experts I have had the privilege of learning from and interacting with. I thought that my life would be drastically different compared to my life in Canada, but everyday I’m finding it more and more similar. I am always reminded that we are more alike than we are different!

For me, this experience is a little different than many other people on their internships because I have been to Ethiopia before, and my parents are Ethiopian citizens. Therefore, I have found that the adjustment has been really unique in the sense that I just assumed it would be easier because I have so many ties to the country, but it really has been a culture shock in many ways! It has been an incredible learning experience so far, and I am excited to see how my experience plays out for the remainder of my time here

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.