Tanzania Lusciousness !

May 18, 2016 | Taviana, EIL, Uniterra Tanzania - Natural Extracts Industries LTD, Communication Officer

I’ve been here, in Arusha Tanzania, for 6 days now, and to be absolutely honest, as of right now, I want to stay here forever. I am absolutely in love with this entire experience so far and after visiting over 15 countries in the last couple of years, I’ve never felt more at home than I do here, even though it is the most different. What strikes me about this country, well from what I have seen of it so far, is the environment, everything is so unbelievably lush, healthy, green and absolutely stunning. Yesterday (along with the WUSC staff at the head office), we visited a beautiful small village, took a gorgeous hike, planted trees with the people of the village, picked coffee beans, roasted it from scratch and saw a lot of what there is outside the city. It did not at all feel as though we were tourists, we were just guests having a gathering for the day. I genuinely thought I might tear up about how NATURALLY beautiful it was everywhere I turned. The fact that there are very few tourists, in fact I have not seen any obvious ones yet, is plus for me, because it really allows me to witness the authenticity of the country and culture - one of the most vibrant I have ever been around.
The people here are as vibrant as the environment and I feel incredibly fortunate that I have witnessed very, very little social exclusion from being a foreigner. Although, I do get the occasional “muzungu”, white person, but from what I’ve experienced it is not meant to be mean because people continue to smile and greet me. The culture here is incredible for it’s social aspects, constantly greeting and being in large groups of friends and family during all moments of the day. We have had a couple of Swahili lessons and I’m stunned by how much I have picked up already. I can talk to people simply without having to use English, which is an element I really want to focus on learning. People are unbelievably welcoming (and proud) and I constantly find myself conversing, eating and, especially, JOKING with the nationals - the humour here is absolutely fabulous, I have laughed more in a week than I have in a very long time!

Economically, it is challenging to see how impoverished people are, but also a clear eye opener. I try my best to spend the absolute minimum I can, to gain a little more perspective. I have had a tone of extremely cheap street food (I took the chance and geez am I happy I did!). Knock on wood I haven’t been sick yet, but I’ve probably had a dozen meals from the local places and I am in awe at how delicious one can make meat taste!

All in all, personally, I have never felt so much as though I am in the right place for me, and my only regret so far is only being able to stay 3 months. HOWEVER! I am fully aware that I’m at the peak of my excitement now, but might as well express it while it’s all still positive!!

Loving the city !

May 5, 2016 | Shannon, DVM, Mines Action Canada, Ban Landmines Campaign Nepal

I‘ve been in Kathmandu (Nepal) for about four days now and I’m loving the city, it’s very busy which I didn’t expect. There seems to be people everywhere you turn, and worse than people everywhere is the cars, trucks and bikes so basically anything on wheels with an engine. Crossing the street takes strategic planning and I’m extremely grateful that I have Katie with me. We’ve managed to stay alive so far so I think we’re doing pretty well. There is an extremely busy intersection near work and that seems to be our biggest crossing challenge so far, our plan is usually follow the herd of people trying to cross and again so far it’s worked.

The days here are extremely hot which I expected but nothing could prepare me for the air pollution. I have not had to use an inhaler in the last 5 years of my life but being here and walking I’ve had to use it twice already. I can get used to the long walks and hills but the pollution is definitely a big challenge for me, however thanks to my mom I packed a lot of masks so I’m hoping this helps a bit. Another challenge I’ve had is getting used to the time difference, Kathmandu is 9 hours and 45 mins ahead of Ottawa. Over the past two days, I’ve tried to take short naps but they’ve turned into 5+ hour long naps and sadly I’ve missed meals due to my need to nap. Its also really difficult to sleep through the night sometimes because the monkeys and dogs are quite loud and then the monks are up very early chanting and playing flutes. So essentially I’m just tired Shannon most of the day but I’ve told myself no more naps until I’ve adapted to the time difference. So here’s hoping I can stick to the no nap rule.

Meeting the need

May 5, 2016 | Megan, ECH, Mines Action, Canada, Vietnam, Project RENEW

Yesterday was my favorite day of work so far. I had the opportunity to travel with the Victim Assistance Prosthetics and Outreach team to two rural districts of Quang Tri to deliver new wheelchairs. It was eye opening and very moving to say the least. I met many people, all with different stories, but I thought I’d share a few with you all.

We delivered a wheelchair to a man who had both of his legs amputated after a UXO accident in the war in 1970. Before this new wheelchair, he was using one with a broken wheel and a wooden seat. We also met his eldest daughter, who due to the effects of Agent Orange, was born without use of her legs. Her father spent all assistance money he received from the government on a new wheelchair for her three years ago, instead of on a new wheelchair for himself. Their family lives in a community where the majority of people are amputees or victims of AO, and they have created a wheelchair accessible community where everyone helps everyone. It was an amazing sight to see, but also hurt my heart, as the living conditions were certainly not what they should have been. The sad reality is that the government here does not and cannot provide enough financial assistance for those who need it. I also discovered that financial assistance for AO victims from the government strongly depends on which side (North or South) your family took during the war.

I also met a girl only a few years older than me, who was born without use of her legs as well as with a developmental disability because of AO. She lives with her mother, and receives $13usd/month or perhaps every few months – I didn’t quite catch this part – of aid from the government. That money is supposed to cover her care, food, mobility assistance and all other life needs. I’m not sure what planet the government is living on, but $13usd might buy a screw for the type of motorized wheelchair she requires. Sadly, RENEW doesn’t have the funding to provide motorized wheelchairs to recipients, but we were able to deliver a manual wheelchair, the first this girl has ever received. Now, finally, when she needs to move somewhere, her mother can push the wheelchair instead of physically lifting her.

These were just two of the people we visited, but everyone I met had their own unique story, their own struggles and challenges. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to see this aspect of the work that RENEW does, it really gave me a new appreciation for where donated money goes and how RENEW uses its resources. As best as it can, RENEW is trying to meet the very present need of people in this province for mobility aids and further assistance. I really admire how the staff continue to do their best with limited resources and with limited support from the government.

Work to live or live to work?

May 5, 2016 | Megan, ECH, Mines Action, Canada, Vietnam, Project RENEW

One of the main components of Project RENEW is the mine clearance operation. In cooperation with Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and the provincial government, RENEW aims to make Quang Tri safe by clearing land in order for schools to be built, community centres to be created and more farmland to be opened up. Last week I had the opportunity to go into the field with a clearance team and observe what they do on a day to day basis.

I went to the Central Demolition Site, which is where any mines or bombs found in Quang Tri province are transported and are then stored or blown up, depending on the type of bomb. I was given a tour of the full site, including safety zone, the storage bins for bombs that do not need detonation, and the bombs to be destroyed. I was extremely impressed both by how organized the system was and how professional all the RENEW staff were. Everyone has been extremely well trained, and all staff value their jobs and truly believe that the work they do is important.

That is really the lesson I learn over and over while here: the work being done is important. Sometimes the frustration of a slow work pace, or a slow week becomes overwhelming, but it’s those times that I have to remember that in the end, the work being done is important. Landmines must be cleared from the land of Quang Tri in order for this province to move forward in every aspect of life, people must be educated about the risks involved in UXO, and victims and survivors of Agent Orange and UXO-related accidents must be able to receive the assistance they need. Despite sometimes seeming unorganized, chaotic, slow and unpredictable, Project RENEW accomplishes the goals they set out to do – every year more people receive assistance, more students receive risk education, and more land is cleared and turned back to the people for safe use.

RENEW employs mostly Vietnamese nationals from Quang Tri province, ensuring job opportunities for many people, but also ensuring that the people working at RENEW truly have a stake in the results of the work; their families, friends, and lives are all directly impacted by the mines issue. In seeing the passion that people at RENEW have for their work, I can only hope that I will bring that same passion to the work I complete in my life. Have any of you felt this same passion in your workplaces, or are many people you interact with working at what could be any job?

La malédiction des ressources naturelles

April 29, 2016 | Chiara, ECH, Colombie, Mines Action Canada, Campaña Colombiana contra Minas - Colombian Campaign Against Landmines, CCCM), Program Support Officer

Que dire de la Colombie et de ses merveilleux paysages ? Ici, il y a de tout et ce pour tous les gouts. Les personnes de cultures différentes, leur bonheur, leur accent parfois difficile à comprendre, leur nourriture, leur culture, etc. font que je me sens à la maison ici et j’aime vraiment ce pays.

Ce que je commence à observer un peu plus, c’est que les Colombiens sont très fiers de leur pays. Ils reconnaissent sa richesse et sa beauté, mais ils reconnaissent aussi que les personnes aux pouvoir ne vont rien changer pour faire la situation meilleure.

Je m’explique avec quelques exemples. Il faut comprendre que depuis les années 1960, il y a une guerre civile à l’intérieur du pays et depuis ces années, les dynamiques de cette guerre ont beaucoup changé. Il est certain que les demandes des groupes armés illégaux dans les débuts des années de guerres, jusqu’aux années de Pablo Escobar et les années 2000 ont modifié, et les raisons de faire la guerre aussi. Heureusement, dans 10 jours le premier accord de paix sera signé entre le gouvernement actuel et (un) des groupes armés. Il y aura ensuite un processus de réinsertion pour les guérilleros colombiens pour les insérer dans la société pour éviter que ceux-ci continuent leurs activités illégales. Il y a un autre groupe armé nommé ELN qui n’est pas inclus dans le traité de paix et ceux-ci vont certainement continuer leurs activités illégales. Ici je me demande, pourquoi faire des efforts pour arriver à un traiter de paix, si ce n’est qu’un groupe qui est inclus. Je me demande si la paix et la justice peuvent être atteints réellement.

Pour ajouter à cette dynamique, la Colombie détient des réserves de ressources naturelles gigantesques, et les groupes armés profitent des rentes de façon illégales, souvent avec l’aide de la police, l’armée et parfois le gouvernement. Cette corruption et violence politique laisse le pays dans un haut niveau d’insécurité. De plus, il y a beaucoup de communautés autochtones qui sont vulnérables, dû a la relation que celles-ci détiennent avec la terre et le territoire et l’impossibilité de faire ce que celles-ci désirent, car elles doivent avoir l’approbation des groupes armées, des industries pétrolières ou minières pour pouvoir faire ce qu’elles veulent avec la nature. Cela est-une dynamique qui me donne beaucoup de frustration, car c’est le pouvoir du capitalisme, de la corruption et de la violence sur des populations marginalisées. Certains disent que l’augmentation du développement de l’extraction des ressources exécuté de la part de compagnies étrangères serait une nouvelle ère de colonisation, car petit à petit, les industries déracinent les populations et font partir les personnes de leur communauté si celles-ci ne résistent pas le pouvoir.

J’ai tenu quelques conversations avec des personnes qui s’identifient à leur identité autochtone et elles ont souligné la difficulté de rester dans leurs communautés, proches de leurs racines ancestrales lorsqu’il y a ces dynamiques de violences dans leurs communautés encouragées par le gouvernement. Ainsi, certains décident de partir avec leur famille, et ce n’est pas rare que l’on peut rencontrer des familles avec des vêtements traditionnels dans les rue de Bogotá.

Je voulais expliquer un peu cette dynamique, car Il y a beaucoup d’organisations en Colombie qui tentent de faire des investigations sur les violations de droits humains commis de la part des industries minières et pétrolières, des polices, des militaires et du gouvernement. De plus, malgré le fait que je suis heureuse d’avoir pris la chance de venir ici et travailler avec une ONG qui travaille sur le thème des mines anti personnelles, j’ai appris que ce type de travail n’est peut-être pas pour moi. J’aimerais pouvoir en apprendre davantage sur les liens entre les ressources naturelles et les conflits, pas nécessairement seulement en Colombie mais d’autres pays en Amérique latine.

Contrastes et inégalités

April 29, 2016 | Chiara, ECH, Colombie, Mines Action Canada, Campaña Colombiana contra Minas - Colombian Campaign Against Landmines, CCCM), Program Support Officer

Je me suis rendu compte de ces contrastes non seulement en parlant avec mes collègues, mais aussi par moi-même en marchant sur une grande avenue ici appelée la Septima. Et c’est ainsi, en marchant à travers cette avenue, qu’il est possible de se rendre compte des classes sociales des personnes vivant dans les différents quartiers de l’on peut trouver. Un autre thème lié à ce sujet c’est le niveau de sécurité attaché aux différents quartiers, Stratas et classes sociales. Encore une fois, ce sont les explications que j’ai reçues, je ne suis pas nécessairement d’accord avec mais je vais expliquer ici ce qui m’a été dit. Plusieurs de mes collègues me disent par exemple « ne va pas dans ce quartier, c’est pauvre et dangereux », « c’est dangereux, car les personnes ayant une addiction à la drogue se tiennent ici », etc. Ce que j’ai compris c’est que la perception des personnes des classes sociales hautes pense le suivant : pauvres = dangereux et mauvais.

Un autre exemple se retrouve au sujet des universités. À Bogotá, il y a plusieurs universités et mêmes les universités ont des classes sociales. Lorsque je marchais avec un collègue, celui-ci m’expliquait qu’il y a beaucoup d’universités, publiques et privées, et il y a un seulement un certain type de personnes qui peuvent fréquenter les bonnes universités privées qui reçoivent plus de reconnaissance.  Mais si un étudiant fréquente une université normale, celui-ci n’aurait que des opportunités normales. Je trouve cela difficile à entendre, car les personnes travaillent très forts ici mais elles n’ont pas toutes les mêmes opportunités dépendamment de leur fond pour se payer une éducation de qualité.

Je pense que j’essaie de comprendre davantage pourquoi c’est comme ça. Je sais que c’est en raison d’une lutte historique contre la domination, entre les dominés et les dominants. Les dominants sont les familles politiques, les médias, et les grandes compagnies qui contrôlent le capital ; les dominés sont les personnes issues des familles qui n’ont pas fait partie de ces classes sociales, et qui malheureusement sont marginalisés, stigmatisés et n’ont pas les mêmes opportunités.

La dynamique d’inégalités et de classes sociales en Colombie pourraient être définie et expliquée encore plus ; mais je suis toujours en train d’apprendre sur ces thèmes.

So how was it?

April 28, 2016 | Kelsey, DVM, Mines Action Canada, Nepal - Ban Landmines Campaign Nepal – Program Support Officer

When I think about being back in Canada, I already dread answering the vague question of “So Kelsey, how was Nepal?” Nepal is such a beautiful, complex, frustrating, surprising and confusing place that I don’t know how I can do it justice with a 30 second response. How do I explain Nepal’s exceptional landscape? A country about the size of the Canadian Maritime provinces has both the tallest mountain in the world and jungles roaming with tigers, with a sharp contrast between the chaos of Kathmandu with the serenity of the country side. How do I explain the ethnic diversity of Nepal? Not only is it a majority Hindu country with clear Tibetan influences, Nepal is also home to many different ethnic groups with their own dialects. It is also a place where you can go to the same restaurant three times, order the same meal three times and be served something different every time.

However, what gets to me the most is how will I explain the genuine kindness of its inhabitants? I have never once here felt threatened by anything other than cars or monkeys, even as a woman. People are kind and always willing to help. On Holi, everyone was in the streets and genuinely happy, and clearly wanted to share that joy with their communities. Yet, I don’t think there is a better example of the kindness of the Nepalese people than how they treat animals. Before coming here, I got the rabies vaccine because I was afraid of the street dogs; I’ve began calling them community dogs because it is more representative. Everyone seems to do their best to help out the animals. I have often seen people feed random dogs just because they look hungry. At the monastery, the monks cover the guard dogs with blankets at night because it is cold outside. Although the Nepalese generally do not have much, they are generous and compassionate.

So how was Nepal? That is a question with many answers. I don’t want to reduce my experiences here to a single narrative. It was confusing, amazing, frustrating, exceptional and inspiring all at the same time. I have a deep appreciation for the time I have spent here. The unpredictable nature of Nepal is truly its biggest charm and source of learning. As my return to Canada lurks around the corner, I know all my family and friends will want to know about my time here. It stresses me to think about how I will answer their questions and if my answers will meet their expectations.

One month left

April 27, 2016 | Pierre-Nicolas, ECH, Mines Action Canada, Vietnam, Association for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities

As the first week of March ends, it’s weird to think that I’ll be already going back to Canada in three weeks. It’s also weird to realize how my expectations before coming here were so different than what I’ve experienced. Before coming to Vietnam for this internship, I wasn’t sure what to expect and I was worried that I would find it boring and lonely in Dong Hoi. Living in a foreign country can be quite challenging, and I expected to often feel lost, stressed and possibly homesick in my time here. The fact that I was going to live in a small city like Dong Hoi made me thinking I was going to be in a rural area, with few fun activities. Vietnam being a communist state, I also believed that being a foreigner would attack constant attention from both the local population and especially the police.  But, thinking about all of this now, I really had no idea of how different and great Dong Hoi actually was. Like I wrote in one of my first postings on the community of practice, my first weeks here showed me what an interesting and nice place Dong Hoi was, and my time here has been amazing. From the beginning of my stay in Dong Hoi, I have been treated exceptionally well by the Vietnamese and expat community, I’ve had the chance to eat great new foods and my work with AEPD has given me great work experience. In all, all of this is to say that it’s been a great experience so far, and time really has flown by.

While I’m excited to see my family and friends back in Ottawa, it’s a bittersweet feeling knowing I’m be soon saying goodbye to such a great place and to some great friends I’ve made here.  While I expected to feel lonely and maybe bored, my expectations about this place were essentially way off. I’ve gotten to enjoy to the foods, the street noises and the general culture, and these all represent a great change to what I was used to in Ottawa. I find myself everyday enjoying my routine, and I really feel as though I could spend 3 more months here. If there one key lesson I’ve learned from this, it’s that you can’t really know what expect from a new environment until you’ve actually lived in it and experienced it in its entire entirety. It’s easy to imagine and have fears about the unknown, and it’s even scarier to actually take that step to actually find out for yourself. Living here has showed me that even though taking that step is hard, the rewards are effectively worth it. Discovering Vietnam and Dong Hoi has also taught me that even though third world countries don’t necessarily have the same luxuries as back in a country like Canada, it still has its own charm and advantages that other developed countries simply don’t have.

While I plan to enjoy my last weeks here, I’m just simply glad to have had my expectations proven wrong. I’m glad to have taken the steps to get here and I would always recommend this kind of experience to anyone else.

The spirit of Nepal

April 27, 2016 | Jennifer,DVM, Mines Action Canada, Nepal - Ban Landmines Campaign Nepal – Program Support Officer

When I arrive in Ottawa Sunday night I will have about 12 hours to recover and go to class Monday morning. What a strange and fast adjustment that will have to be. I’m used to waking up to the sound of the children monks chanting and shouting my name to wake me up (I made the mistake of telling the kids my name, so now they like to wake me up by screaming at me every morning at 6:00am). I’m used to brushing my teeth in the dark because of the power load shedding, with bottled water to rinse off my brush so I don’t get sick. I’m used to “chunky monkeys” in my coffee at least once a week because the milk has gone bad because the young boys who work in the kitchen at the monastery don’t understand the importance of expiry dates and refrigeration. I’m used to walking 20 minutes to work and risking my life crossing the insanely busy and chaotic Ring Road, now with the confidence of a local. And I’m used to passing by at least 1 cow, 3 goats and several ducks right outside my office twice a day. These are all small things that I never thought I would get used to, or even appreciate. But here I am on my last day of work, reminiscing about the amazing experience I have had here, and I truly think I am going to miss all of these quirks. I have learned that I take so much for granted back home, and I am worried that I will quickly forget how easy life is in Canada compared to the rest of the world. When people ask me “What do you miss most about home?” my answer is two thirds materialistic. 1) Family and friends, 2) Strong Internet connection (Nepal is the 2nd worst in the world) and 3) A tie between pizza, mac ‘n cheese, and avocados. Right now, if you were to ask me what I think I will miss most about living in Nepal, apart from the beautiful landscape, is more important than the quality of the wifi. I think I will sincerely miss the spirit of the people here. It’s hard to describe a feeling, but a great example would be how thousands of families lost their homes in the earthquake last year, but instead of every man for himself, neighbours and families and friends all worked together to rebuild with each other. If one family didn’t have enough to put food on the table, their neighbour would spare some extra rice for the children. The sense of community amongst the Nepalese is truly inspiring, and I hope to be able to bring a piece of that back with me to Canada. As I say my last goodbyes to this beautiful country it is a bittersweet feeling, as I am excited to see my family and friends back home, but I am also reminded that Nepal has so much left to teach me, and I just may have to come back one day.

Go with the flow

April 27, 2016 | Angela, DVM, WUSC, Botswana, International Student Management (ISM) Program Assistant

As my internship in Botswana is coming to an end in about two weeks, I’m constantly answering the question “when do you leave?” So, I’m always reminded of how much time I have left in the country. Around the mid-way point of my placement and a bit after it, my mind could not leave the notion of time running out and the worry of whether I was spending my time the right way or not. I would ask myself “what have I done so far”, and “have I experienced what I wanted to/needed to?”

What I learned from thinking this way, was that I had a whole list of expectations for my internship and myself. These expectations ranged from the work I would be doing, the people I would be meeting, the places I would visit, and things I would see. A lot of those expectations were not met and this reality accompanied with the notion of time running out set me into a state of regret and self-doubt. I think that’s where I felt the lowest in my internship. I would ask questions like “what did I do wrong” or “why didn’t I take this chance” “should I have planned more” and so on.

After some tough love from my close friends and family I snapped out of my gloomy mindset. I stopped analyzing things and I let go of my previous expectations of how my experience “should be”. I changed my outlook and let myself move forward by just going with the flow. If something happened that didn’t meet my expectations, I didn’t resist it or face it negatively. To give an example, for the longest time I was hung up on the fact that there are not a lot of other expats in the area for me to interact with. I was upset that I didn’t have a group to socialize with because that is what I pictured before my arrival. But my family brought up a good point in asking “what if that’s not why you’re there” or in other words “what if I don’t need a group of expats to enjoy my trip”. Sometimes we think we are aware of what we need so we search for those things with a tunnel vision. I’ve learned that thinking with a one track mind, rather than seeing the value in what I’ve already been presented leads to unnecessary negative feelings.

Moving forward with this open state of mind, I ended up having some of the best moments during my placement. After this bump in the road, suddenly the little things that I was unhappy about didn’t bother me anymore. Prior to this mindset, when I said to people that I had about two weeks left in Botswana, I felt a feeling of doubt, regret, worry, stress, sadness, and frustration all in one. Now when I say how much time I have left in the country I don’t feel bothered because I know that I’ve accomplished a lot during my ~12 week stay. In sum, I would say that we do not know what a stay abroad has in store for us before we get there. No matter how many times we travel, we can’t say what we will learn or how we will grow. However, there is always positive token that we can go home with, it’s just a matter of understanding what that token is.