Welcome to Ghana

June 22, 2015 | Sara, DVM, AFS Interculture Canada, Ghana, Human Rights Advocacy Centre

I cannot believe that I have already been in Ghana for 6 weeks! It has flown by so fast I feel like I just got here. I have so many things yet to do, I’m not sure I’ll be able to do everything I want to! But nonetheless, so far it has been an amazing experience.

When I first arrived in Ghana I was worried I would have a hard time adapting to a country and culture so different than what I know in Canada, but to my surprise it was quite easy. I realized there are more similarities to Canada than I initially expected, making the transition far less dramatic than originally perceived. Also, I have luckily been surrounded by amazing people that have further helped me in adapting to my new home. My host family has been extremely welcoming, accommodating and generous, allowing me to quickly feel like I belong amongst their family and within their home. In addition, the office where I work (Human Rights Advocacy Centre) has not only provided me with interesting work, but all of my coworkers have been very warm and helpful in showing me around and teaching me about local dishes, customs etc. Not only those that I have come to know personally, but also complete strangers have made me feel comfortable and welcome here in Ghana. It is amazing how friendly all of the locals here are to foreigners, often going out of their way to say hello, ask me questions and welcome me to Ghana.

Besides all of the wonderful people I have come in contact with, my experience so far has truly shown me how beautiful this country really is. For example, over the past weekend some interns at the office invited me to join them and their NGO to Cape Coast for the day and it was truly remarkable. Cape Coast is only a few hours away from the capital city, but it seems like a completely different world. It is covered in rolling hills with lush forests with a feeling of serenity as you drive through the winding roads, which is a sharp contrast to the bustling city of Accra that is covered with people and houses and businesses and is much less ‘green’.

When we got to Cape Coast we first went to the Kakum National Park where we walked along the canopy bridge through the treetops. Although it was a little frightening, it was worth it. It was so beautiful everywhere you looked, the views were incredible. Following the park we stopped at the monkey sanctuary that was close by. Here we saw various types of monkeys and a few other animals such as wild cats, tortoises and one lonely owl. Since we didn’t get the chance to see any wildlife at the park it was exciting to be able to see and even interact with some animals. Last stop on the trip was the Cape Coast Castle where we took the tour throughout the building, hearing all about the tragic history that took place within. By the time we were all on our way home, we were all exhausted from the day’s adventures.

This is only a small glimpse into the possible adventures here in Ghana, and I cannot wait for more.

The Theory of Nothing

June 22, 2015 | Britney, CWY, India, Seva Mandir, Research and Prog. Assistant

For my internship, I have been stationed at an NGO called Seva Mandir in Udaipur, India. Seva Mandir serves over 600 villages located in the Thar Desert surrounding Udaipur with various programs geared towards the needs of the particular village. My first project has been with Maternal Health. We have designed a study to evaluate the services provided by Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) Seva Mandir trained 3 years ago. Due to distance, poverty and the shortage of adequate healthcare professionals, many village women are not able to consult physicians during their pregnancy or deliver the baby at an institution. In these cases TBAs monitor the pregnancy and deliver the babies.

I have been lucky enough to travel to a few of the villages surrounding the city. The transportation to and from the villages is an adventure in itself. Every direction offers new wonders to gaze at; it’s really something special to see the amazing panoramas out the windows. On one occasion we walked around the villages interviewing new mothers about the care and medication they received. The kindness and helpfulness of these women despite their poverty has been outstanding. We were consistently greeted with smiles, cold water and even offers of food despite our obvious comforts. On my most recent trip, we attended a Bi-Monthly TBA meeting. Despite not being able to understand a word of anything, it was a wonderful experience to be in a room filled with such strong, positive women and share in their joy as they proudly received medical jackets to wear during delivery.

Development work has not been what I expected. In classes where we’re given tests with yes or no answers, development can seem like a clean, easy process. As I have come to learn since my first day here, the first thing you need to learn when you start working in a new culture is that you know nothing. During the flight on my way to India, I happened to watch the movie “The Theory of Everything”, which has become a source of inspiration for me as I adjust to my new circumstances. For those who haven’t watched it, the movie is about the life of Stephen Hawking, including his work in physics and the progression of his motor neurone disease ALS. Despite his disability, Hawking has managed to be a brilliant pioneer in his field, as well as become a motivational figurehead for anyone suffering from a disability. Towards the end of the film, the audience is reminded of one of Hawking’s greatest quotes:

“However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.”

The first sentence of this quote reminds me of the difficulties I face in India as a foreign volunteer. It’s challenging to keep up with discussions and contribute at an intermediate level because I can’t speak the local language. I have also suffered from sickness, and due to a mild but unfortunate encounter with a street dog, I have had to undergo treatment for rabies. With Hawking’s guidance I have found that the important thing to remember is that although my contributions might not be what I envisioned, there is still work here that I can succeed at as long as I find ways to adapt to the limitations.

The second part of Hawking’s quote reminds me of the lives village women lead. Especially in the heat wave India is experiencing right now, the conditions for women and young children in the villages is very difficult. Many of them are uneducated and illiterate, unable to remember their ages or recognize their written names. Despite the difficulty and effort it took to train women who were very uneducated, Seva Mandir has trained over 300 women to be TBAs and provide proper aseptic care to pregnant women. This not only empowers them as individuals, but improves the conditions for all women in their village. Children are literally been born into a new world where women have knowledge and the ability to garner an income. The empowerment and training these women have gained might seem small, but this empowerment will be passed on to their children.

So what have I learnt so far? I suppose I would call what I have learnt The Theory of Nothing, putting a twist on Hawking’s famous work. Socrates once said “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”. I wouldn’t say I’m particularly wise, but I can advise that if you are entering an internship embrace the idea of knowing nothing. Don’t be afraid of not knowing the language. Don’t be discouraged if international work is not what you expected. Don’t let your spirit suffer even if your body is ill. Although accepting that you know nothing may seem counterintuitive to your education, it’s important as a scholar to embrace learning from all sources, even from those which may be unexpected. The Theory of Nothing suggests that although our university education has prepared us for this experience with theory, we should acknowledge the difference between theory and praxis. We have learnt the theory, but the praxis is a whole new ballpark. It’s easy as scholars to come into our internships with our newly learned knowledge ready to change everything for the better. But in reality, we are the students of the people we want to help, and only in that way can we help them.

Even Stephen Hawking has found hat despite years of theorizing that black holes are voids from which nothing ever escapes, they are actually horizons from which matter is eventually released. Accepting that you know nothing about the praxis of development work can become a horizon for learning.. if you only take the time to evaluate and understand the nothingness itself.

Dzaleka, le “Warm Heart of Malawi”

June 19, 2015 | Clothilde, DVM, WUSC, Malawi, Student Refugee Program

Maintenant un mois que je suis au Malawi à titre de volontaire pour le Programme d’étudiants réfugiés (PÉR) de l’Entraide universitaire mondiale du Canada (EUMC). D’emblée, je tiens à préciser que le temps passe beaucoup trop vite et que le retour au Québec me semble trop éminent. Résumer quatre semaines de travail dans le camp de réfugiés de Dzaleka auprès de 49 étudiant(e)s qui viendront étudier dans des universités canadiennes en août prochain, et pour certain(e)s en août 2016 est particulièrement ardu. Je commencerai donc par mentionner mes tâches principales qui sont relatives à l’assistance des étudiants francophones. Pour certains, la dernière fois qu’ils eurent à parler le français remonte à très longtemps. La scolarité au Malawi et au camp ne se fait qu’en anglais et le français est souvent la  troisième ou même la quatrième langue de ces étudiants pourtant appelés “francophones”. Comme ils seront placés au sein d’universités francophones, il est essentiel qu’ils puissent pratiquer avant leur départ. D’ailleurs, plusieurs étudiants ayant été parrainés par le passé ont mentionné que le français fut leur plus gros choc à leur arrivée. Mon rôle est aussi de les habituer à l’accent québécois, ce qui s’avère être une tâche particulièrement plaisante et qui occasionne de nombreux fous rire! Autrement, j’assiste les étudiants francophones comme anglophones dans les préparatifs pour leur départ. Je les ai donc accompagner lors de leurs entrevues pour l’immigration canadienne et lors de leurs examens médicaux. J’aurai aussi à mener des sessions d’orientation sur les règles académiques universitaires, sur la culture et les valeurs canadiennes. J’assiste aussi les étudiants dans l’organisation d’évènements comme le «World Refugee Day», la cérémonie de graduation et dans la réalisation d’un documentaire sur la vie des étudiants au camp. J’apprécie particulièrement le fait que  plusieurs de ces tâches demandent une expertise « canadienne » et même « québécoise ». En effet, ayant réalisé d’autres stages à l’étranger, j’ai toujours ressenti un malaise puisqu’à mon avis, des stagiaires locaux auraient pu sans doute accomplir les tâches qui m’étaient assignées beaucoup plus efficacement. En ce qui concerne le camp de réfugiés de Dzaleka maintenant, je crois qu’il est important de mentionner que la plupart des réfugiés et des demandeurs d’asile qui s’y trouvent sont Rwandais, Congolais et Burundais. Il y a toutefois un bon nombre de Somaliens et d’Éthiopiens. 20 000 membres de ces différentes communautés vivent ensemble dans une harmonie relative puisque plusieurs tensions existent. Il reste qu’à mes yeux, bien que le Malawi soit considéré comme le « Warm Heart of Africa », le camp de Dzaleka est le « Warm Heart of Malawi » !


Vietnam- A Whole New World

June 18, 2015 | Andrea, POL, WUSC, Vietnam, Sustainable Rural Development

It’s been a month since I first set foot in Vietnam, and it has not left me alone since. Not that I am complaining! Vietnam can be best described as sensory overload and, while travel preparations are important, I would argue that nobody can brace themselves enough for all that Vietnam has to offer.

From the sights, to the tastes, to the sounds, to the sun!
Some of these things are easier to see, to hear, to taste than others and the sun has proven to be much harsher than I have ever known it to be. But I have tried my best to harness the good and the bed through the lens of learning.

I am based in Hanoi, the country’s capital. With a population of just over 7 million people it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Thankfully, each new person I meet seems to be more hospitable than the last. As a result, I have been able to indulge in traditional street side Vietnamese food alongside the locals, received the best tips and tricks for shopping and traveling on weekends, and have plenty of hands to care for me when I am having difficulty navigating the Hanoian culture. Moving to Hanoi also means 7 million new friends.

Among these new friends are my colleagues. I am completing my internship at the Centre for Sustainable Rural Development (SRD) in the Sustainable Agriculture and Communications departments. The team is small but it makes for a welcoming and intimate workplace culture. We have a chef who cooks us lunch every day and we serve it family style while they teach me Vietnamese slang and convince me to eat whatever organ is being served that day. Make sure to put “open mind” on your packing list if you plan on visiting Vietnam. So much of its beauty and charm is found in places of the beaten path or in corners of your plate you wouldn’t normally dip into that your hesitancy may turn you away from, but resist!

Because SRD is a well-established NGO in Vietnam, many of its employees have great working English and it has certainly eased my transition. They are very open to answering any questions I have about work, the country, and the culture which makes the experience incredibly enriching. I have learned so much in this short month, but I have found that the key to doing so is asking questions. As a result of their hospitality, the Vietnamese are very happy to share. Everything from their opinions, their food, their homes, and their history and I have taken full advantage of their willingness. Yet, I know there is still so much left to learn.
My biggest fear for the next month is that I won’t be able to take it all in and that I won’t be able to learn all that I want to or try everything on my ever growing to do list. So tam biet for now, I am off to study, to absorb, and to train my brain in all things Vietnamese.

Entering Narnia

June 17, 2015 | Hannah, ECH, Uniterra, Vietnam, Uniterra Vietnam

Vietnam has thrown an entire packet of excitement my way. It has opened up a portal to Narnia where I have relished in local coffee, extravagant boat tours, thunderstorms, bike rides, pagodas, kayaks, fresh fruits, language lessons, and of course, the traditionally delicious pho.

Each time I leave the house I learn something new. It is so interactive and has shown me a new side to the world. Then again, it literally is the other side of the world so that only makes sense. The main difference that I have noticed between Vietnam and Canada is the mentality of the people. I have taken immense pleasure in trying to understand and delineate the logic and reasoning behind the way that Vietnamese people run things. And charmingly, I can understand many rationales behind their system. For example, buses do not seem to run on a given schedule, they just run based on demand. Once a bus is full, and I mean full, it hits the road. Any passengers along the way are free to get on if their destination is en route, and the same goes for those who want to get off. If there are not enough seats, not to worry, they have plastic stools and they have aisles. I think this well represents the main rule that applies when in Vietnam; go with the flow. It seems to serve them in the sense that their expectations are lowered because there are no set regulations on how to go about doing things. And as a result, no one gets angry all that often. Order is found in their strong employment of communication. They are constantly updating each other on the situation at hand and expressing questions or concerns. And when they speak to one another, it’s as if they are the best of friends even though they are complete strangers. As an outsider, it is nice to observe because it suggests a strong sense of understanding and companionship among the people. The only expectations people have are to not expect anything of any given situation because everything is constantly subject to change by the millisecond. Granted, I may be wrong in these assumptions, I can only share my experiences through what I observe.

One element of the culture that I find troubling, however, is the strong focus on ‘beauty’. I thought that this was just a Western complex but sadly it seems to exist 7000 miles away from home. Women are obsessed with keeping their skin white. They miss out on delicious lunches so that they can sit inside, and when they can not avoid the beaming sun, they wear clothes on every inch of their body just so that their skin will not have contact with the rays. Every billboard has a very pale woman on the front. For me, her face looks bleached, but for them, they see a perfect angel to aspire to. This phenomenon seems to only apply to women, and even young girls are caught up in the poisonous competition of how to be more ‘beautiful’. Overall, this has taught me not about the Vietnamese culture but about people in general. We are never happy with what we have, and we try too hard to please other people. Some things change from culture to culture, and other things seem to arise inevitably across the board. This could be a natural manifestation that people in societies project onto one another, or maybe it is the direction that society is moving in this day and age. Either way, it is interesting to reflect upon.

Vietnam has been a good teacher so far; since the culture is so different it allows me to effectively compare what I know back home to new things I am seeing here. Many things remain the same; a passion for food, a good sense of humour, and others are different; mentalities and rationales. Since I knew very little about the Vietnamese culture, it has been a very enlightening experience to learn through observation and talking to people. I have enjoyed collecting different pieces of the puzzle and putting them together to gain a better understanding of the differences even within the culture whether it be generational, ethnic, or regional, etc. So far, this internship has given me a colourful experience, enabling me to build a stronger relationship with Vietnam than I would have been able to if I were to just pass through.

A New Life in Đông Hà, Việt Nam

June 8, 2015 | Michaela, EIL, MINES ACTION CANADA, Vietnam, Project Renew3

My first four weeks in Dong Ha, Vietnam have flown by, but it also feels like I have been here much longer than just four weeks. These weeks have been filled with excitement, frustration, 40 degree Celsius heat, isolation, stares, attempts to communicate via language and hand gestures, tears, laughs, struggles, and so much learning. I could not be happier that I get to experience all of the highs and lows of living and working in a new country that is drastically different from Canada. All of the negative emotions and “negative” experiences give journeys like this internship life and soul; without bumps, and sometimes mountains, along the way, learning would be impeded and I would not be able to truly appreciate this experience or grow as a person. This first month has been filled with good days and bad days, and good and bad moments during each day. Sometimes I have surprised myself by the varying emotions and feelings I have experienced just in one day.

Even though I am alone in Dong Ha, which brings many difficulties my way, I am happy that I get to experience this internship alone because I must face all of my challenges on my own. Because there are not many foreigners here, I am forced to make friends with more Vietnamese people, and meeting new people from another country that speak another language is part of what this internship experience is all about. I have met several Vietnamese people who have proven to be very generous and kind, always offering me help whenever I need and wanting to take me out to new restaurants and new places so that I can see and do new things.

While I am now used to many aspects of life here, there are still parts that I find I cannot handle or cope with very well. The heat and humidity may not be comfortable and even though I know I will never fully get used to it, I can say that I can deal with it and have accepted that there is no way for me to escape it. I may not be used to having at least ten or fifteen people call out “hello” to me in Canada when I walk, but here I now find that I even look forward to seeing the smiling and happy faces of the people I pass on my way to the grocery store. The language is difficult, and poses quite a few challenges given that I can only say a few words in Vietnamese and almost no one here speaks English. I have found ways to get around and navigate every day situations using a variety of methods: basic Vietnamese words, hand gestures, the calculator on my phone, and occasionally a translator on my phone.

However, all of these successes are sometimes overshadowed by the strenuous situations that still bother me. The constant staring when I walk on the main roads in town or sit in cafes and restaurants. Countless people telling me that I am beautiful and white wherever I go. Older men sometimes wanting to sit down at my table at restaurants, which has resulted in me wearing a ring on my left ring finger. These aspects of everyday life really affect me and frustrate me some days. It is always a relief to finally be with other Caucasians, such as when I had the opportunity to go to Halong Bay with the two other Mines Action Canada interns, Marianne and Simone. Although, even that relief was short-lived. On the train back to Central Vietnam, the young man working on the train developed quite an interest in the three of us. He would stand in the doorway of our cabin staring at us, and even sat down on Simone’s bed. Once Simone and Marianne got off the train in Dong Hoi, I still had two hours to go back to Dong Ha. Soon after their departure, the man came back. He sat across from me and extended his hand for what I thought would be a handshake. As soon as our hands touched, he lifted my hand to his descending mouth in order to kiss it. I quickly drew my hand away with a shaky laugh. It is uncomfortable situations like these, where I am unsure of how I should act, both as a foreigner and as a woman in Vietnam, that make living here difficult, but also interesting. I do not want to compromise my comfort or my values, but I also do not want to offend anyone or make situations worse. Because I am in Vietnam, I am able to view differing cultural aspects much more closely than I would be able to otherwise. I hope that I will be able to see how the Vietnamese culture influences the way that Vietnam acts internationally and apply that to the international relations theory I have studied. By being so immersed in another culture, I am really able to broaden my mind and think more critically of Canadian life, politics and culture.

In addition to all of the cultural learning I am being exposed to on a daily basis, there is much to learn at Project RENEW, where I am working. This month I have spent all of my time with the Victim Assistance unit and I have really begun to see what an amazing organization Project RENEW is. My first two weeks were filled with reading past proposals in order to learn about the NGO and its projects. I also spent a lot of time editing English copies of past proposals and I wrote two articles for the NGO’s website. Writing these articles has given me an opportunity to finally use some of the writing skills that I acquired during my four years of university.

Interspersed throughout these few weeks were several field visits with my supervisor. I have gone to two blind associations and a district health centre, accompanied the Prosthetics and Mobile Outreach Program, and have visited a few different people and families who have suffered from unexploded ordnance accidents. I feel so fortunate that during one of the visits I was able to meet a really inspirational man. Years ago, he was injured in an unexploded ordnance accident resulting in the amputation of both of his legs at mid-thigh level. Everyday he works, making big bamboo rings (out of bamboo that cuts down himself!) that he then sells to florists. He also grows mushrooms. While my supervisor and I sat with this man, he seemed so happy that we were there and he even showed an interest in me! And I’m not talking about a creepy interest like what I usually have to deal with; he really was just curious about me, where I was from, and my life. He was so kind, and I felt so useless because all I could say to him was hello and goodbye in Vietnamese. These field visits and seeing so many brave and resilient individuals has really given me a lot to think about. My perspective on life in Vietnam and in Canada has changed and I can already feel the boundaries of my mind shifting and growing.

Lately at work I have been working independently on a proposal project, which has given me an opportunity to let my creativity run, searching for new ways to receive funding, and to use the researching abilities that I developed in university. I cannot wait to start writing proposals and to spend time with some of the other components of Project RENEW, such as the Survey and Clearance teams and the Visitor Centre. These other departments will add more dimensions to my forming perspectives of the mine situation here in Dong Ha and around the DMZ.

While I have learned so much during this past month, I know that there is still much more learning to be done over the next two months and I feel that I will never be able to learn everything there is to know about both mine action and cultural life in Vietnam. I have enjoyed applying what I have learned in university classes to my work at Project RENEW and am looking forward to being able to further using these new skills in whichever job my life takes me to next. I feel like I have accomplished a lot and yet almost nothing at the same time. I have faced many challenges, and even though they have been difficult, some of them even leading me to tears, I am looking forward to embracing the new challenges that will come my way in the upcoming weeks.

Working and Learning

June 5, 2015 | Simone, EIL, MAC, Vietnam, Association for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Vietnam

I have been in Dong Hoi, Vietnam, for exactly 4 weeks now, working with the Association for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (AEPD). It is the only organization of its kind in all of Quang Binh province that aims to bring socio-economic empowerment to People with Disabilities (PWD) and bring attention to the dangers of Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) left behind by the Vietnam War. AEPD’s head office is based in the province’s capital city of Dong Hoi, which is located right by the coast. The time period of my internship, spanning from May to July, puts me right in the middle of the summer season of Central Vietnam, which means that there are many hot days ahead of me. While the sweltering heat is often too much for my fragile Canadian sensibilities, I cannot help but take pleasure in the dazzling sunny days and bright blue skies that define Dong Hoi’s daily weather, especially after Ottawa’s abnormally long winter this year.

Given the nature of the work I do at AEPD and the local environment of my internship, I can honestly say that I have never experienced anything like this before. I feel like I’m embarking on a strange working holiday, where I try to manage my everyday work expectations and stress with the carefree attitude of someone who is on vacation. This internship is allowing me to experience so many things all at once. On one hand, even though I have been living here for 4 weeks already, the thrill of travelling to far-off countries has still not gone away. This is probably due to the fact that Dong Hoi feels like one giant beach resort, as it is mostly bordered by lovely white-sand beaches and the colorful blue ocean. In fact, there is a lovely beach resort just five minutes away from my office called the Sun Spa Resort. Furthermore, I am made constantly aware of the fact that so many world-renowned tourist/travel sites, such as Halong Bay and Sapa, are now easily accessible to me. It is difficult to not give in to my temptations and take time off to go on an excursion every weekend. It is even harder to do so when my colleagues often encourage me to explore the country while I’m here. In such an environment, I find it very easy to slip into the same mindset as those backpackers you often see trekking across the country.

And yet, on the other hand, I spend most of my days in the AEPD office, where I deal with the everyday challenges and stress that comes with working in an office job. This is my very first time working full time in an office with a professional non-profit organization, so the whole working experience (the 8 hours per day, the computer work, etc) is quite new to me. During this past month, I have been asked to undertake some assignments that take me somewhat out of my comfort zone, such as proposal writing and grant seeking. Even though I have prior experience researching potential donors with Peace Brigades International (PBI) in Ottawa, I was never asked to assist in forming grant proposals. I was also expecting our superiors to take me less than seriously, since they knew that I was an intern with very little experience. Thus, I was a little caught off guard when my supervisor asked me immediately to form proposals. I suppose this is all part of the challenges that come with working in a new field, which is something that I am quite happy to experience. As for the proposal writing itself, I find that it is quite different from what I normally do in the classroom. The essays that are assigned to me by my professors, for example, deal entirely with theoretical principles, and they deal with issues and practices that I do not personally manage. My proposal writing with AEPD, on the other hand, feels more practical and realistic (for lack of a better word), because I feel that my words have the potential to greatly impact the projects and people that I encounter every day in AEPD. To put it more simply, if I were to compare my work in school with my work in AEPD, I would say that my schoolwork leans more towards the “theory” end of the spectrum, while my AEPD work leans more towards the “practice” side.

In short, it feels quite bizarre to mentally juggle two mindsets – my vacation mindset and my workplace mindset – simultaneously. At the same time, I am developing my academic side, as I’m learning step-by-step how theory and practice compare to each other.

First weeks in Istanbul

June 5, 2015 | Nicolas, Organizational Development Intern

I’ve been in Istanbul Turkey for almost four weeks now. This is such a big, interesting city that I’m not sure I’ll be able to do it justice in these blog posts. However, let me start by talking about the internship. I work at AFS Turkey, or Turk Kultur Vakfi. They are responsible for sending high school students overseas for exchange programs and also hosting high school students from other countries who come to Turkey for their own exchange programs. They also specialize in intercultural learning and organize workshops and activities throughout the country. AFS is a volunteer-based organization, hence the majority of people who work for AFS are volunteers who used to be AFS exchange students, or “AFSers”. To my surprise, AFS is a big organization in Turkey as there are other AFS Turkey offices located elsewhere in the country. This surprised me considering I had never heard of AFS in Canada before applying for this internship.

I’ve stayed with two host-families so far during my stay in Istanbul. My first host family was very nice, welcoming and fed me very well. I developed a good relationship with that family and we’ve decided to keep in touch and see each other again during my stay. As for my second host family, I honestly have nothing but great things to say about them. I’ve known them for barely two weeks now but we have developed a great relationship and they’ve made my stay here a hundred times better then what I expected. They’ve taken me to see Hagia Sofia and the Topkapi Palace, the Grand Bazaar, they’ve taken on a tour of the Bosphorus, and they’ve fed me very well. They also took care of me while I had a stomach virus last weekend. As I thought about it more, it was pretty overwhelming to think that these complete strangers, whom I would have never met under any other circumstances, would take care of me the way they did as if I were their own son. They’ve also helped me adjust to the language barrier I’ve encountered during my stay in Istanbul. I’ve also made a couple of friends who have kept me company and made my transition as a new resident of the city much easier.

If there’s one word I’d use to describe Istanbul, it’s the word big. The city of Istanbul is a very big city. Not only is it very dense, but it is also a very vast city that just keeps going and going. A mere district inside the city is bigger than the population of Montreal. Due to the size of the city, there is always traffic. When I say always, I mean always. There will be traffic for some reason at 2 o’clock in the afternoon on a Sunday when you’d expect it the least. When I stayed with my first host family, I very much enjoyed taking the subway to work because it allowed me to blend in amongst the residents of the city. Despite it being a big city, Istanbul is also a very pretty city due to its location on the Bosphorous. Now that I live with my second host-family, I get to take the ferry across the Bosphorous every day. I never get tired of the view of the city from the ferry early in the morning. I’ve also had the chance to enjoy the city’s rich history. As I mentioned above, I visited Hagia Sofia, the Grand Bazaar and the Topkapi Palace, which is an old Ottoman palace. Hopefully, I’ll get to visit other historical sites and museums during my stay in Istanbul. Up until this point, my stay has been a very positive experience. This is not to say I haven’t dealt with some difficulties living in the city. The language barrier is more pronounced than one might believe before coming here. I also contracted a stomach virus during my third weekend. I’ve had a few days where I’ve missed Ottawa and felt a little homesick. But all in all, a very positive experience so far in Istanbul.

Two weeks in Cape Town

May 25, 2015 | Kailey, ECH, Gender at Work, South Africa, Labour Research Service

Having been in Cape Town for over two weeks now, I have had the opportunity to discuss the cities dynamics with both foreigners and locals. I have also been greatly informed by the staff in the LRS office and the Gender and Work documents. This has been an interesting process because I feel that the dynamics of the social inequality between blacks and whites are much more complicated than generally assumed. One thing I have learned is that we ‘foreigners’ often seem too quick to jump to conclusions about South Africa’s rate of change since the end of the Apartheid.

Apartheid is described as the deliberate and systematic division and degradation of a racial class. Although the separation that exists today may not be deliberate, there is still a clear division of classes and cultures in South Africa. The history of apartheid here is shameful and the continued physical, cultural, and social separation of whites and non-whites in this city is awful, but it is important to not overlook the full picture.

Unfortunately the legacy of apartheid still remains. This is particularly true in terms of inequality, in that the country remains defined by race and economic disparity. However, the country has only been ‘free’ of apartheid for little more than two decades. The amount of progress that the country has made so far is incredible; human rights records are positive and the majority of the population is better off today than they were twenty year ago. Based on conversation with the LRS staff I feel that we just need to be realistic about the time it will take for a transformation this significant to be complete. Further, I feel that the political dynamics in the country are slowing down the transition. Although South Africa is a democracy, it cannot yet be compared to Canada or the USA. Like any other country recovering from a significant and lasting conflict, there are roadblocks; an example of this can be seen in the alleged corruption that continues in the country’s government and police force.

The international community, including the IMF and World Bank, also owe some responsibility to the current situation in South Africa and Cape Town. They originally put conditions on financial loans to South Africa following the apartheid and the restrictions they impose along with the neoliberal political policies of the country now prevent true equality from occurring. As such, Cape Town has followed neoliberal trends of income disparity, concentrating wealth in the hands of the elite class and marginalizing the majority population. South Africa was also one of many countries to fall into the trap of the IMF and World Bank’s structural adjustment programs. The World Bank has been involved in the city of Cape Town with urbanization operations since 1992 and as one would assume, South Africa embraced the free market policies that were encouraged.

Further, the United Nations Development Program, which created the Urban Management Program, promoted the active role of the private sector in South Africa. The financial support that was given by international actors were conditional and accompanied by structural adjustment which included privatization and deregulation among other harmful practices. Many other countries that have had structural adjustment implemented are ‘cut some slack’ for the rate of their progress. However, because of the success that South Africa has had with their transition to date, it seems that many foreigners remain incredibly critical. Neoliberalism triggered the shift from citizen to consumer, where the benefits of citizenship were equal to all those who could pay. The white minority in the country remained the population that could afford to purchase the rights that were guaranteed by the constitution. Security and health care are two such services that come to mind and which are largely afforded to and by the people who can afford to pay for such ‘rights’.

The international community’s demand for good governance and neoliberal polices mean that even though all South Africans now have the right to vote, their new freedoms have not yet translated into a better life or the ability to fully exercise their rights and freedoms. Those in Cape Town at least are still much better off today that they were in the apartheid, however based on conversation at our internship there is a lot of room still for change. It is easy to say that South Africa needs to change more quickly but it remains important that the background of the situation is considered carefully. The situation for the marginalized majority is slowly improving but it is very complicated and politics are at play.

Cape Town has Stolen my Heart

May 19, 2015 | Kaitlyn, DVM, Gender at Work, South Africa, Labour Research Service

I never like to engage in an experience with unreasonably high expectations out of fear of being disappointed or let down. I must admit however, that it was difficult to follow through with this internship in Cape Town without conjuring up some expectations. Now that I have been here for two weeks, I’m very happy to say that Cape Town has not only met my expectations but has far exceeded them.

Since my recent arrival I have made friends, seen a significant portion of the city and its surroundings and am feeling confident with my internship position at Gender at Work and LRS. The South African Gender at Work team is very small and this is reflected in the multi-disciplinary role I will be playing as an intern here. My work ranges from reviewing policy documents, submitting funding applications, to designing pamphlets and signage. My supervisors have given me quite a bit of freedom in the sense that they will not be micro-managing my every move, nor will they be giving me constant direction. This suits my work ethic since I like taking personal initiative in my work; however, they are always very helpful when I have questions. I’m flying to Johannesburg tomorrow to meet with the rest of the team for a few group facilitations, internships and workshops. I’m looking forward to this because it will be a chance to see another part of South Africa and to see some of the more practical work that the organization does.

As of now, I’m enjoying the work because it is giving me great insight into what work could be like at a development NGO in the future. Furthermore, the organizations approach to addressing gender inequality and gender based violence is very cutting edge; focusing on participatory processes and capacity building of locals to empower them to mobilize their own change. The approaches they use for this are very interactive involving community members and other important stakeholders. This emphasizes the importance of everyone’s role in process of changing social structures and dynamics of gender relations. The organization also seems to value the importance of creating their programs based on local contexts that exist here in South Africa. Many development organizations and programs tend to preach this principle of contextual relevance but do not practice it. It’s quite interesting to see how the work I’m doing and what the organization does connects to every day life here in Cape Town. Life here is amazing if you have the means and resources to live a good life, but within this beautiful city lives major inequality and poverty. I find it difficult not to feel guilty when I go to places like Camps Bay or V & A Waterfront, amongst all the other tourists, where issues of townships and poor quality of life seem so far away. I’ve seen inequality and poverty in my previous travels but there is something particularly unique about the Cape Town context. It’s strange to see such affluence co-exist with extreme poverty. This may sound ignorant or naïve because I know this dynamic exists everywhere, but the townships and the crime are spoken about so casually here, as if it’s an acceptable norm. Many local friends I have met have mentioned that the country hopes that their generation (the youth) will be the one to truly change the inequality that persists. The normalization of inequality and hierarchal structures of everyday life reflect a need for organizations like Gender at Work and their endeavor to affect a more equitable society. I’ve been making an effort to keep up with political and state affairs in the country to see how this impacts Gender a Work’s work, and other development organizations alike. The state suffers from problems of corruption and lack of transparency and accountability, where their priorities do not lie in favour of the people who are in the greatest need. This also emphasizes the need for the presence and work of NGOs to continue mobilizing positive change in the South African context however; I wonder how effective this will continue to be in the long run without the accountability and utmost support from the government. Nevertheless, I can confidently say that Cape Town has stolen my heart and I wish I was spending a lot more than three months here.