Feeling at home in Hanoi

July 27, 2015 | Catherine, DVM,WUSC, Vietnam, Sustainable Rural Development, Program Assistantearch Project Officer

After only a little over 2 months, thats a pretty bold statement, but a feeling is a feeling and here it is: visiting Ho Chi Minh City for only a few days was enough to open up the inevitable comparison between HCMC and Hanoi. While the North/South divide has long since passed, the smiles from my Vietnamese colleagues when I happily explained that Hanoi was still my favourite showed pride and maybe even some friendly competition between the cities. Differences in language and even the subtle change between Northern and Southern pho could have easily been missed. Although, the most significant differences between Hanoi and my weekend destinations were the opportunities available to learn about the war. Crawling through the Cu Chi tunnels and walking inside the Independence Palace, where only 40 years ago Northern Army tanks crashed through the gates, the starting point of a united Vietnam, were highly influential moments in my understanding of the country. While I hope it wasn’t the four hour delay and 5:00am arrival in Hanoi from HCMC that influenced this too heavily, but I found myself truly surprised at how much Hanoi felt like my new home when I returned. Being familiar with even the biggest aspects of a city like the skyline oddly became very comforting.

In contrast to Vietnam’s sprawling cities, my time spent in rural areas, from trekking through the mountains of Sa Pa to biking along the rice fields of Mai Chau, very quickly began to feel like an entirely different country. While certain areas are slowly ceding their remoteness to a growing influx of tourists, as of now they remain fairly untouched. Sa Pa, for instance, was an introduction into the lives of the H’mong people, an ethnic minority group, easily identified by their style of dress. While a weekend was by no means long enough to understand and appreciate the culture of the H’mong, it did highlight the intricacies of ethnicity that make up the country.

The comfort of familiarity with Hanoi and my travel experiences have created what I feel is an excellent combination when working and travelling in a foreign country, both which equally influence the other. Having the time to adjust and create my own routine in Hanoi was a great balance to the undertaking of my research mandate. Similarly to my travels, gaining a greater understanding of the city where the entirety of the primary research was conducted limited as much as possible confusion of social norms and most definitely helped break the ice when conducting interviews for the first time. Likewise, visiting other areas of Vietnam presented the bigger picture view needed when working on a project aimed at reaching persons throughout the country. Highlighting the similarities and differences of people and places, while most often opening up more questions than answers, can lead to unexpected ideas and progress.

While many memories made throughout the country will always stand out to me, the smiles from the Bun Cha restaurant or the familiar faces along my walk to work are the little charms Hanoi has shared with me, and hopefully things I will soon see again.

Quand une porte se ferme, une autre s’ouvre

July 27, 2015 | Ornella-Wendy, DVM-DRC, AFS Interculture Canada, Ghana, Human Rights Advocacy Centre

Mon séjour tire à sa fin et l’heure de la rétrospective est au rendez-vous. Après avoir passé trois mois au Ghana, il me reste maintenant moins d’une semaine sur la terre de Kwame NKrumah et pourtant, lorsque j’y pense, j’ai le sentiment d’y avoir passé une éternité. Je me suis imprégné du mode de vie ici à un point tel où je n’ai pas l’impression d’avoir changé d’environnement alors qu’il n’y a pas si longtemps de cela, je vivais ma petite vie au Canada. Mais comme l’adage le dit si bien: toute bonne chose a une fin ! Je n’ai point de mot pour décrire mon expérience au Ghana, mais le terme qui s’y rattache le plus serait ”richesse” et ce, sur tous les plans. Plus qu’une expérience de travail, ce stage m’a permis d’en apprendre davantage sur mon caractère, mes forces et mes faiblesses dans plusieurs aspects de ma vie. Ce stage m’a également permis de, non-seulement, mettre entre pratique les notions parcourues tout au long de mon cheminement scolaire, mais m’a surtout permis de remettre en question certains principes et convictions auxquels j’adhère ou devrais-je dire, croyais adhérer? Travailler au sein du Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC), m’a fait réalisé l’ampleur des défis que présente le domaine des droits de la personne. Tout au long de mon séjour, j’ai été confronté à plusieurs situations qui m’ont poussé à réfléchir sur la vraie définition de ce qu’on appelle ”droits de la personne” et de son effectivité. De plus, j’ai eu la chance de discuter avec plusieurs Ghanéens, connaître leur point de vue sur plusieurs aspects de la société et ainsi mieux comprendre le fondement de différentes perceptions que l’on retrouve au sein de cette société. Enfin, ce que je chéris le plus est le fait que j’ai pu tisser des liens incroyables et créer un nouveau réseau. En effet, les relations interpersonnelles auront été, selon moi, la clé de la réussite de ce stage! À tous ceux qui désirent acquérir une expérience professionnelle à l’étranger ou ne serait-ce que s’ouvrir sur le monde et découvrir différents styles de vie et perceptions, je vous encourage à vous lancer dans cette aventure. Par dessus-tout, si vous décidez d’effectuer ce parcours, n’oubliez jamais que s’imprégner d’une nouvelle culture nécessite que l’on mette en suspens nos référents, et que l’on soit réceptif à tout ce qui nous entoure, mais surtout, que l’on soit prêt à se questionner doublement afin de favoriser une meilleure compréhension de la dite culture. En ce qui me concerne, c’est avec un peu d’amertume que je referme cette porte, mais tout en sachant que j’en ouvre une autre afin de démarrer un nouveau chapitre de mon existence sur cette terre.

Entre la loi et la pratique

July 27, 2015 | Ornella-Wendy, DVM-DRC, AFS Interculture Canada, Ghana, Human Rights Advocacy Centre

J’aimerais consacrer cet écrit à l’expérience que j’acquiers présentement en tant que stagiaire dans le département légal du Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC). HRAC est un organisme non-gouvernemental qui a pour principale mission de militer pour les droits de la personne et l’accès à la justice des plus vulnérables au Ghana. L’organisme a donc mis sur pied une clinique juridique en collaboration avec un réseau d’avocats Pro Bono, chargés d’offrir des services juridiques gratuitement à ceux qui n’en ont pas les moyens.

En tant qu’étudiante en droit civil et en développement international, j’avais pour objectif principal d’acquérir de l’expérience dans la pratique légale et plus particulièrement dans le contexte ghanéen. La clinique juridique était pour moi une occasion parfaite puisqu’il s’agit de recevoir les clients, recueillir les faits et leur fournir une opinion juridique et dans certains cas, une représentation légale.

Mis à part ce côté plus pratique, le département légal du HRAC conduit plusieurs recherches sur les aspects juridiques des différents projets en cours. C’est justement en effectuant certaines de ces recherches que j’ai pu porter une attention particulière au régime législatif ghanéen et la façon dont il est mis en oeuvre dans la pratique. Comme la plupart des pays africains, le Ghana compte un éventail de lois bien rédigées et détaillées. Or en termes pratiques, deux problèmes se posent habituellement. Soit les lois sont désuètes, car basées sur l’ancien régime colonial ou sont la copie conforme de la loi de l’ancienne colonie et ne reflètent donc pas le contexte du pays africain en question. Par exemple, plusieurs anciennes colonies françaises, jusqu’aujourd’hui, utilisent toujours le Code civil français de Napoléon (1804). De plus, pour avoir effectué des recherches pour une avocate afin qu’elle puisse en utiliser les arguments en Cour, il ma fallu me baser sur les lois du Royaume-Uni, car aucune base de donnée ghanéenne ne m’était accessible. Un autre problème qui peut également se poser est que la loi est parfaitement rédigée, mais non cohérente avec les autres lois ce qui crée des contradictions ou bien il est impossible de l’implémenter.

J’ai pu constater cela en travaillant sur différents projets, tels les avortements non-sécuritaires, la situation des personnes présentant un handicap ou une incapacité ainsi que la protection des enfants au Ghana. En ce qui concerne le cadre légal entourant les avortements non-sécuritaires au Ghana, le code criminel ghanéen interdit l’avortement à moins que certaines conditions soient réunies. Par exemple, la grossesse doit présenter un danger pour la santé, tant mentale que physique, de la mère et l’avortement doit être pratiqué dans un établissement médical précisé par la loi. Or, en termes pratiques, on constate que, non-seulement, rien dans la loi ne spécifie le processus à suivre afin de déterminer s’il existe un danger pour la mère, mais le nombre de praticien spécialisé en la matière est très bas et leurs services sont très dispendieux. Bien que la loi soit présente, elle ne tient pas en compte le contexte du pays, les coûts sociaux ce qui tend ainsi à favoriser la pratique illégale d’avortement plutôt.

La situation des personnes présentant un handicap est bien plus flagrante, car le Person With Disibalities Act et le Mental Health Act sont très complets et suite à leur mise en vigueur, le gouvernement avait 10 ans pour rendre accessible aux personnes handicapées tous les endroits publics. Or, neuf ans plus tard, rien n’a été mis en place. Ceci m’amène à m’interroger sur le rôle des organes judiciaires. En effet, si une personne handicapée devait exercer un recours contre le propriétaire d’un espace public et voir même, contre le gouvernement, quelles seraient ses chances de l’emporter? D’un point de vue théorique, c’est-à-dire, du point de vue de la loi, cet individu aurait toutes ses chances, mais en terme pratique, j’en doute fort, car les personnes chargées de rédiger la loi sont ceux-même qui la violent.

Néanmoins, je constate qu’il y a au Ghana une très grande considération pour le système judiciaire. Les Ghanéens n’hésitent pas à utiliser les tribunaux comme règlement de conflits, ce qui montre qu’il y a une certaine ”rule of law”, car le public a confiance envers le système. La semaine dernière, j’ai assisté au procès très attendu et médiatisé d’un docteur qui a violé un jeune mineur lui transmettant ainsi le VIH. Le procès est en cours depuis juin 2014 et la semaine dernière, le tribunal de première instance l’a déclaré coupable et condamné à 25 ans de prison. Ce type de condamnation envoie toujours un message clair et positif quant à l’efficacité du système judiciaire.

Cette expérience de stage m’a permis d’avoir une idée tangible  des difficultés que les praticiens du droit peuvent rencontre dans les ”pays en voie de développement” et concrétise mon désir de travailler dans l’amélioration de l’effectivité des systèmes juridiques que nous retrouvons en Afrique.

Multiculturalism; a privilege or a right?

July 27, 2015 | Hannah, ECH, Uniterra, Vietnam, Uniterra Vietnam

I have always been grateful for the amount of opportunities I have had to go travelling throughout my life. I know it has added to my perspectives over the years, helping me to understand the world in a way that I otherwise would never have tried to, let alone been able to. This time, I am in Vietnam; a country and a culture that I was completely unknowledgeable about before setting foot on its soil. So far, I have had various experiences that have reminded me that I am different, that I stand out. While they have not been as drastic in comparison to the tails I have heard about people visiting other parts of the world, they have been educational to me as my first exposure of what it is like to be a visible minority.

When I was in Croatia last year, I was with my friend who happened to be of colour. Our travels through Europe up until that moment were a breeze. Croatia was different because they were so unexposed to black people that my friend could not escape the boundaries of his skin. He felt trapped in his body and he felt on display. While this is not unique to Croatia alone, nor to my friend in that one setting, it came as a surprise, the degree of unwanted attention he got throughout the trip, and how inescapable he found his own self to be. While I understood the dynamics of his situation, I never could fully grasp the feeling of what he was going through, because it is something I had never felt before.

I have never felt unsafe in Vietnam because of the attention that my appearance inevitably attracts, however, it can get tiresome to always feel that you are being ‘observed’ or seen in a different light than you are used to. It highlights the fact that we cannot control how we are perceived, as much as we try to. I get the feeling that people see me and instantly impose assumptions onto my existence whether it be that I am insanely rich or-as much as I hate to say it-that I am better than them. These are the two main impressions I get based on people’s reactions, telling me I am so ‘beautiful’ or trying to make me pay a higher price for something that I now know all too well is cheaper than their asking price. There have been good moments too, where people genuinely want to say hi and have a short interaction, or to practice their English. I am always baffled by the fact that they are all so amused that I respond every time they say hi, as if I am not a human being who has the capacity to say ‘hi’ back.

Some encounters have been more intrusive than I had anticipated, especially since standing out was never really on my radar to consider when coming here. Stares turned into ‘hellos’, ‘hellos’ turned into extra company at coffee, extra company at coffee turned into physical contact and comments on our ‘white skin’ and ‘beauty’. Some of these encounters have been uncomfortable while others have been rather special to me. They have taught me things about humanity, about Vietnamese culture, anad have even offered insights about myself and the way I approach certain situations. The interactions I do not like, however, are the ones that go beyond curiosity, and are instead rooted in vacant assumptions. No, I am not beautiful because of my white skin. And no, I am not made of money. I get that my money can go a lot further here and that 20 000 Vietnamese Dong is less to me than it is to the average local, but that does not mean that my budget will keep me afloat when I sink back into the sea of Canada’s high prices. I need to consider that, despite what meaning people decide to attach to the colour of my skin. White people are not monolithic much the same as Africans or Asians or Latin Americans are not either.

I think this fact is where I what made me realize what it means to be Canadian. Although I have travelled to many places throughout my life, I never fully grasped the concept of a multicultural Canada or why Canada was so proud to even identify as that. I think this is because it did not affect me directly. The fact that we have many cultures and room for people to add layers to their identities is quite powerful, and it is only the half of it. For me, I realized that multiculturalism holds its value in the simple ease of being accepted. No one in Canada stares or isolates people based on their appearance or background. Sure, Canada still has many issues regarding this and has a long way to go, but being here in a homogeneous country has surfaced the value of uniting cultures through acceptance. Multiculturalism essentially reshapes how we think about identity; a tool that is so valuable to coexisting together while practicing equality. I never realized how forward thinking the idea was, until I thought of all the nations that could do with this social makeover in alleviating its conflicts and disputes.

I do understand that Vietnamese people are not to blame for their reactions; good or bad. The majority of them have not been exposed to anything outside of their homogeneous comfort zone. You can’t blame them, but that is the very point: people in Canada HAVE been exposed making it inappropriate to react in any other way but acceptance towards various cultures. That is why it works. People expect to see various cultures and do not even flinch when a person of varying ethnicity says that they are Canadian, because it is completely possible. It would be weird for a Canadian to say they are Vietnamese, (and they would probably get laughed at) let alone the fact that they would always be treated differently. It would not, on the other hand, be weird for someone of Vietnamese decent to say that they are Canadian. Multiculturalism allows that to happen. It is only in this trip that I realized the importance and value that Canada’s multicultural system offers. It seems more advanced because it promotes equality at the same time as promoting diversity. Now I understand why I should be proud.

What Saigon Really Means

July 27, 2015 | Hannah, ECH, Uniterra, Vietnam, Uniterra Vietnam

Living in Canada, I never really paid much attention to Vietnamese food; I was more of a thai food loyalist. I did, however, notice that all restaurants offering Vietnamese cuisine happen to be called Saigon. Saigon is the trademark name for Vietnamese restaurants much the same as ‘the Queen’s head’ clearly implies an english pub. It is a reality that doesn’t require much reflection or questioning, that’s just the way it is. Restaurants in Vietnam, on the other hand, would not be considered to be restaurants by Canadian standards because of their informal nature. They would identify by their location rather than their restaurant name, contrary to Western practice. So then how come all of a sudden Vietnamese food became popular in North America? And how come all of the restaurants stick to the exclusively exhausted name “Saigon”? Since deciding to come to Vietnam, these questions have weaselled their way into my thoughts. On a cab ride home from Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon), to be more exact. I thought about how there are no restaurants in Canada called “Hanoi”. Hanoi has great food, why wouldn’t they have a restaurant dedicated to Northern cuisine? And then it dawned on me, the infamous happenings that the modern world so eagerly associates with Vietnam; the war.

While at first, the name of a restaurant seems like such a minor detail, the coincidence of such invariability seems like a blind assumption. The war must have something to do with it, since, many Southern Vietnamese people displaced during and after the tragic events. Since they are from Saigon, or the south more generally, they want to reinforce their identity through using the iconic city of the south. Hanoi’s history was different. It was not at the forefront of the  war. Therefore, less people from the North left their homes. And if they did, it was less likely to be a pressing matter. And since the Northern people were associated with being Vietcongs, fighting for a united Vietnam, they were more likely to stay put, unlike the divided south.

I found this realization to be rather enhancing because it made me reflect upon how such small details and make-ups of a society can be so indicative of historical happenings. This is just one example of a simple connection I made, amongst many others that i’m sure have gone unnoticed. Whether it’s one hundred percent accurate, I cannot be sure. But it is a reflection that I can appreciate as offering insights into the ways in which Vietnamese people were affected by the war. Throughout my travels in Vietnam, I noticed that it is easier to ask these questions about the war outside of the North. Mainly because there is more empirical evidence of the happenings; more museums, more bomb craters, more impact. That being said, there is a B52 bomber (from the 1972 christmas bombings) nuzzled into a quaint lake in Hanoi. When I went to go visit it, I noticed that no one really paid any mind to it. Although I do not expect people to act in shock day in and day out over something that happened 43 years ago, it made me wonder what they think of it being there, just sitting in their backyard. Why did they never move it? Two answers come to mind. One is that they want it to remain as a reminder of what happened, and the second is that they simply do not care enough to move it. While at first guess I would feel inclined to say that it is the former, the latter seems equally as plausible considering the apathetic attitude that Vietnamese people seem to have towards the war. This assumption has been confirmed with articles I have read about how Vietnamese youth today are disconnected from their nation’s pivotal history. While this is not representative of all Vietnamese people, it is an observation I did not anticipate. There are so many layers to Vietnam’s history, so many external influences, and so many times that Vietnamese people have proven their resilience. The war does not define Vietnam as a nation, despite the globe’s embedded connection between the two. While it is important to remember the history, Vietnamese people seem to want to move on. And I do not blame them. While the topic of the war gets mixed reviews depending on where you are throughout the country, whether it be varying opinions or varying acknowledgement, the reality is that history happened and it is there to stay. Things as small as the names of restaurants can be indicators of that, if one pays enough attention.

Un défi agréable

July 24, 2015 | Annabelle, DVM, CWY, India, SPID, Program Assistant

À travers mon stage, j’ai appris à propos des différents défis auxquelles une ONG doit faire face. Premièrement, puisqu’une ONG est généralement plus petite qu’une compagnie, les employés sont en contact constants et s’entremêlent à chaque jour. Cette situation presse pour un esprit d’équipe et une communication continuelle entre les employés. Il y a donc un poids additionnel sur l’employeur qui doit gérer non seulement l’ONG, mais aussi la dynamique entre les employés. La cohésion entre employés doit donc être mise en importance puisque s’il y a un problème, cela peut affecter l’environnement au travail.

Deuxièmement, la réalité de l’importance des donateurs m’a vraiment frappé en travaillant pour mon ONG. J’ai pu observer toutes les étapes prises pour répondre aux attentes et exigences du donateur. Bien que certaines de ces exigences puissent être bénéfiques pour l’ONG, je crois que certaines de ces exigences peuvent apporter un stress additionnel à l’ONG et peuvent créer une situation où le travail sera seulement fait à une portion de son potentiel. SPID est une relativement petite ONG qui contient plusieurs projets et a un nombre limité d’employés. Je ne peux assumer que c’est une réalité dans le secteur des ONG, mais la surcharge de travail peut sembler démotivante. Cependant, l’ONG pour laquelle je travaille semble constamment répondre aux exigences et gérer correctement ces programmes et c’est une des forces que j’admire de mon organisation d’accueil.

Travailler directement pour une ONG  m’a permis d’observer les différentes tâches et aspects qu’une ONG doit entreprendre pour un fonctionnement adéquat. Plusieurs de ces tâches ne m’avaient même pas croisé l’esprit; l’importance de l’utilisation des réseaux sociaux comme Facebook et Twitter par exemple, pour la diffusion d’information au public et pour encourager les dons et le support de l’ONG. Je n’avais pas pensé au côté plutôt business de ce secteur. À travers mes études en développement international, j’ai toujours appris à propos de la complexité de ce domaine, mais à travers mon stage, j’ai plutôt appris à propos de la complexité du secteur des Organisations Non Gouvernementales spécifiquement. Ce stage m’a aussi permis de voir la réalité de travailler dans ce secteur. Bien que travailler pour une ONG peut être beaucoup plus instable que travailler pour le gouvernement, par exemple, le montant de travail imposé sur ces organisations signifie que les travaux sont toujours diversifiés et qu’il y a constamment des défis à surmonter. Je crois que ce genre de travail est parfait pour quelqu’un en développement international puisque tu es placé dans une position où tu te surmontes et apprends constamment. En étant la seule stagiaire internationale au bureau, j’ai été submergé dans la culture, dans les barrières linguistiques, et dans un apprentissage continu du secteur, mais aussi des gens autour de moi et la réalité de leur vie en Inde. L’Université d’Ottawa m’avait préparé pour les défis et la complexité du secteur du développement international, mais j’ai finalement pu les voir et les vivres moi-même. Cependant, malgré le fait qu’ils sont considérés comme des défis, je ne peux m’empêcher de les voir comme une chance pour moi de me surpasser, même si cela peut être épuisant parfois, et de me préparer pour ce qui m’attend dans le futur.

Déjà la fin

July 24, 2015 | Clothilde, DVM, WUSC, Malawi, Student Refugee Program

Maintenant presque trois mois que je suis au Malawi et malheureusement, mon stage au camp de réfugiés de Dzaleka s’achève bien trop rapidement. Je ne peux que constater à quel point je connais très peu le Malawi puisque mon temps a été très largement passé au camp. Toutefois, je peux affirmer que je connais bien mieux le Rwanda et la RDC puisque se sont les pays les plus représentés au camp! Les fins de semaine passées au camp avec mes étudiants m’ont permis de comprendre davantage le quotidien des réfugiés même si je ne pourrai jamais réellement saisir la réalité à laquelle ils sont confrontés chaque jour. Plusieurs de mes proches m’ont reproché de ne pas avoir pris le temps de voyager et surtout de ne pas être allée au Lac (plus grande attraction du Malawi), mais je ne regrette en rien d’avoir accepté les invitations des étudiants avec qui je travaille. D’ailleurs, à tous ceux qui feront ce stage dans le futur, je vous conseille vivement de faire de même.  De cette façon, j’ai pu prendre part aux différents services religieux du camp, rencontrer les familles et j’ai aussi appris à cuisiner de nombreux plats. C’est aussi dans ces moments « informels » que j’ai pu bâtir mes relations avec les étudiants et je sais que celles-ci m’ont été très utiles dans la poursuite de mes tâches. Aussi, ces liens de confiances seront indispensables pour le maintien des amitiés lors de leur arrivée au Canada. En effet, bien que ce stage ce termine dans une semaine, je suis consciente que l’expérience se poursuit. Sept étudiants seront placés au Québec et huit autres seront en Ontario, ce qui signifie que nous nous reverrons sans aucun doute. C’est selon moi ce qui rend ce stage si incomparable et qui fait que je suis reconnaissante pour l’opportunité qui m’ait été donnée de le réaliser.

Living as Lorato

July 21, 2015 | Tess, POL, WUSC, Botswana, Stepping Stones International

We now have less than a month to go of our internship, and nothing is as I expected it would be. When doing my research last year, I noticed that many of the past interns had said that they felt that they were falling into a steady routine by the two-thirds mark. But at this point, I feel like I am falling out of the rhythms of work and life I’ve established over the past two months. The other interns and I have been so entrenched in our work life that we have neglected our traveling. So, with work as busy as ever, we have crammed an internship’s worth of travel plans into our last month.

Next week, we will be going on a rhino expedition in South Africa, then, in our second last week, we will be visiting the great Victoria Falls – the quintessential tourist destination in the area. This leaves us with less than two weeks left of work, which is just as well because it seems as though we are slowly getting burnt out: we’ve been pushing ourselves 110% at our internship and it is catching up to us. I am very happy with my workload, but it will be nice to take a break from early mornings and late nights traveling to and from schools across South Botswana teaching students about child sexual abuse.

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Life in Botswana has been great so far. I am extremely lucky to live, work, and spend my time with my roommates – or, as a Motswana corrected me, my brothers. It is challenging to be a foreign woman here; the locals here in the village are not used to seeing someone like me, and they assume that I am Chinese. I take it in good humour, but it is hard not to correct them, or be unoffended when they try to ‘speak Chinese’ (think chingchonghaiiii! to get an idea) to me as I walk past alone. This, coupled with unwanted male attention, is very uncomfortable, and so (thank you, my brothers!) I hardly travel unaccompanied. As someone who is stubbornly independent, this has been quite the learning curve. Mochudi is teaching me a lesson in racial diversity, that’s for sure!

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Despite the lack of consistent power, the constant crowing of roosters, the discomfort of traveling alone, and the quiet death of my hair dryer, Botswana manages to surprise me in small beautiful moments. The sunsets here are breathtaking, and the friendliness of Batswana reminds me that I have been adopted into their large familial network. The open night sky welcomes us home every night, and the simple pleasure of curling up in a cozy – and safe! – house with a book in hand is something I look forward to.

Before we departed, I know a common concern amongst interns was the “authentic experience” – how can I truly experience my destination country? Now though, I realise that every experience I have is legitimate, every experience is valid. I lived some experiences due to my status as a foreigner, but that does not make my time here less valid, it does not make my experience any less authentic. As someone who is not a Motswana, as someone who does not know or truly understand the nuances of being a local, I have to accept my identity as an outsider and try my best to experience all that Botswana has to offer.

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After discovering that a fellow intern had been given a Setswana name – Tau, meaning lion! – I was eager to receive my own. My Motswana co-worker christened me Lorato, love. I was also given another name, Tandi, which is Lorato’s Zulu translation. While the earning of our names is a lighthearted workplace joke, it also speaks to the building and shaping of a new identity here. Lorato Tandi is a verbal marker of my own rebuilding and reshaping, a sign of how I have changed over the course of my mandate.

We have come to the point in our journey where we can almost taste home, and it is strangely relieving but also unsettling. In less than a month, I will be back to the comfortable life that I had been so eager to leave a few months ago. I can only wonder what it will be like to shed Lorato Tandi. Or maybe I will never truly leave her behind.

So this is it

July 21, 2015 | Catherine, DVM,WUSC, Vietnam, Sustainable Rural Development, Program Assistantearch Project Officer

Coming to Vietnam for three months was a big enough opportunity in itself, but my time working with WUSC as a Uniterra volunteer has definitely checked off many of my expectations I had leading up to departure. Being a student of international development and a soon to be graduate, several of these expectations were of course centred around what it means to actually work in this field. As is the nature of this work, I’ve had some ups and downs - uncertainty about the work, my own contribution, or even what the point of all of this is. Compared to the “ups” of my dwindling time here, the not so good moments can hardly compete for my attention. What has been most reassuring during such moments is knowing that I wouldn’t want to change them, even when frustration creeps in and another week goes by leaving you with more questions than when you started.

Conducting research on information and communication technology has presented many opportunities I wouldn’t think I would have found myself interested in. Rarely in my courses have I had the opportunity to study what could be considered non-traditional sectors of the development field, like IT. One such opportunity was interviewing Vietnet-ICT, an NGO working with rural populations to provide IT training to break down the “digital divide” faced by the most disadvantaged groups. Their main areas of work include capacity building for civil society organizations through effective use of technology for promotion and advocacy, improving the capacity of rural women to use technology for entrepreneurial/business activities, as well as advocacy and participating in policy and law development with relevant authorities. Hearing the organization’s Director (an amazing woman running another NGO as well!) describe the development of Vietnet-ICT was incredibly inspiring - to tackle the immense problem of rural poverty in an innovative way and grow an organization to now be partnered with Microsoft was impressive beyond words.

From my own perspective on what “development” ought to be, providing opportunities for people to gain skills to use in the manner of their choice, which in turn solidifies their ownership of their livelihoods is absolutely critical. Rather than directing such beneficiaries into a specific trade or job, IT training is applicable in almost every aspect of life, making such skills so important for marginalized populations to fully participate in and enjoy the advantages of our IT dominated world.

Drawing on these moments I can confidently say that this internship has confirmed my desire to work in the field of development. Similarly to this internship in terms of cultural differences, as the pre-departure training highlighted, being open to anything and everything is just as important for working in this field. Seeing development play out from visiting Vietnet-ICT shows how critical it is to be open to new and different partnerships to address a variety of problems.

NINE

July 21, 2015 | Aretha, POL, WUSC, Botswana, Botswana Substance Abuse Support Network

Dumelang! (Hi, everyone)

It’s week 9 in Botswana. NINE. Can you believe it? Why has the time gone so quickly? Can it stop please? Before coming on this internship reading previous faculty blog posts, I remember the same sentiment being expressed at this point in the internship. “Just one more month, please!” I would read over and over again, from intern to intern and country to country. “The three months is never enough”, “the time goes by too quickly”. Although, as of right now I find myself in the middle of missing home and those new Smores Frappuccinos at Starbucks and not ever wanting to leave the people that I have met in Botswana, the local food I (too) frequently enjoy or my host mother’s Rottweiler named Julie that I now call mine (and am completely in love with). This tension between wanting to be home and wanting to stay here has definitely been leveling me out these past couple weeks and in a way has helped me live in the moment.

Life working at my host organization BOSASNet (Botswana Substance Abuse Support Network) has been incredible. As conversations with my colleagues are more and more frequently laced with statements of “Eish! We’re going to really miss you around here” and “Can you please stay forever” I am forced to reflect on all that this organization has done for me. I know I gushed about them in my last post but I can never gush enough about them, they have continued to see strengths in me that I haven’t seen in myself and work with them—for example I am now the regular presenter on BOSASNet’s radio slot on one of Gaborone’s (the city we’re located in) most popular radio stations. How cool is that? They saw strength in my presenting skills and they gave me an opportunity to work with it and strengthen it even more! And now, since that door has been opened, who knows you could be hearing my voice on a radio near you! This is only one example of the many doors my organization has been able to open for me. I can’t wait to get home and beef up my resume because there is a lot to add to it after this internship! I didn’t think I would be getting so rich of a work experience and I have to thank the Faculty of Social Sciences, WUSC—My Canadian Host NGO, and BOSASNet because together they’ve really given me an experience of a lifetime.

With just over two weeks left in my internship, I have so much to jam pack into my time left here. To think, I haven’t taken the opportunity to travel and see more of Southern Africa yet! Luckily, I will finally be taking leave to go with the other WUSC interns in Botswana to go to Zimbabwe! I’m incredibly excited to get to see yet another part of this incredible continent, and us WUSC interns in Botswana have been working incredibly hard, we deserve to have a little fun! I can’t wait to tell you all about it in my next (and unfortunately last) blog post—well hopefully I’ll be able to stop crying enough to be able to write a blog post in the first place!

Gosiame (Go well) Everyone!