La beauté du Népal

June 13, 2018 | Marie-Michèle, Développement international et mondialisation, Népal, Uniterra, Tuki Association, Communication and Documentation Intern

Cela fait maintenant plus de 5 semaines que je suis à Katmandou, au Népal et je suis encore en admiration devant la beauté des paysages et la beauté des gens. Les communautés népalaises sont si accueillantes et charmantes qu’il m’est impossible de vouloir être ailleurs pour l’été.

L’une des spécificités des népalais est qu’ils sont des gens très curieux et vont prendre le temps de connaître tout le monde avec qui ils travaillent. C’est une caractéristique qu’on devrait retrouver dans toutes les communautés. Mais surtout, ils veulent savoir ce que les étrangers pensent de leur pays et adorent en parler. Ce sont des gens très fiers d’où ils viennent et vont s’assurer que tout le monde y passe un séjour inoubliable. Ils ont fait un très bon travail dans mon cas puisque je crois déjà que mon passage au Népal restera à jamais gravé dans ma mémoire.

Ce que je suis en train de vivre est une expérience fructueuse, mais je ne réalise pas encore tout à fait l’ampleur de l’impact qu’aura ce stage sur ma vie pendant et après mes études. Pendant la première partie de mon stage, j’ai eu la chance de faire l’une des expériences les plus enrichissantes de mon voyage jusqu’à maintenant. J’ai fait des visites terrain, avec CECI Népal, dans trois différents villages qui sont supportés par l’organisation. Ces visites terrain sont l’opportunité inégalée de faire un suivi des progrès apportées par les différents projets de développement international. J’ai aussi eu la chance de faire des « homestay » chez des fermiers et de capturer l’importance de chacune de leurs activités quotidiennes. J’ai pu comprendre quelles sont les difficultés auxquelles ces gens font face dans une journée et comment notre organisation les aide à gagner leur vie, puisque la vie après le tremblement de terre de 2015 reste difficile pour chaque népalais d’une manière ou d’une autre, plus particulièrement dans les villages de la campagne. Toutefois, il est important de mentionner que ces gens ont beaucoup à nous apprendre sur leur mode de vie, ou sur leur manière de travailler. Ce sont des gens très enthousiastes d’apprendre et sont ouverts à toute suggestion qui pourrait leur donner un coup de main.

Ce sont des expériences qui sont hors de ma zone de confort comme celles-ci qui forgeront mon caractère et qui confirment le fait qu’aider les gens par l’entremise du développement international continuera d’être une de mes passions.

Starting to Feel at Home

June 11, 2018 | Ashley, International Development and Globalization, Mines Action Canada, Vietnam, Association for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Program Support Officer

I’ve been in Dong Hoi, Vietnam for one month, and I am consistently surprised by how quickly this place has come to feel like home. Sometimes it hits me just how extraordinary my current situation is, that I am on the other side of the world from the place I grew up, in a place where I don’t speak the language, and yet it feels right. I certainly did not feel this way at the beginning, and it has taken a few weeks to get used to the lifestyle that is so different from the one I knew back in Canada, but now I feel like I have a routine, and a social network that I am truly happy with.

My average week day is pretty consistent. I leave my tiny apartment at 7:30 for a smoothie breakfast at my favourite café down the road, and head to work for 8:00. For lunch we have two and a half hours, from 11:30 until 2:00, during which we typically eat in our apartment, and then nap away the heat of the day, before returning to work from 2:00 until 5:30. After work we eat at one of the many local restaurants and walk until sundown. My work environment is the best of all the places I’ve ever worked – the people are lovely, and everyone is clearly passionate about the work we’re doing. On weekends I make an effort to explore other parts of Vietnam, trying to make the most of my three months here.

Last weekend, after returning from one of these weekend trips, I was hit with such a strong feeling of homecoming that it caught me off guard. I had only been away two days, and only a few hours away, but as we drove through Dong Hoi in the taxi on our way back from the train station, I couldn’t believe how welcoming the familiar buildings and landmarks were. We’ve been here such a short time, but my experience has made such a profound impact on me that it feels like much longer.

I can’t consolidate the image I had of Vietnam before coming on this trip to the one I have now. I don’t think it’s really ever possible to understand a different culture in its complexity without fully immersing yourself in it. I have spent the past three years in university learning about other countries; their strengths and weaknesses. My short time here though has opened my eyes to everything Vietnam has to offer beyond that – the kindness of the people; the strange, light-up bicycles that play music and that children ride in the park; the humanity of it – all of it somehow drastically different from what I have experienced in Canada and at the same time not different at all.

Fast and Slow

June 11, 2018 | Séanín, Conflict Studies and Human Rights, Mines Action Canada, Vietnam, Association for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Program Support Officer

I have been in Vietnam for a month and the time has passed both fast and slow. Just like everything else in the country. The cities and traffic are fast, speeding past me, except when everyone disappears around noon to nap in hammocks in the local park. The shops and restaurants close so everyone can eat with their families before returning to work.

In the evening, once it is cooler and the sun has gone down, people line the streets to the sounds of laughter and music. They zip past me on overloaded motorbikes, weaving in and out of traffic, only to clambour at the local stalls.

People speak fast but the pace is slow in Quang Binh. You cannot rush anyone here. You have to adapt.

I feel like I am learning so much but, somehow, it feels familiar too. I have developed a strange rhythm and routine despite not speaking the language. I have made friends with my coworkers and neighbours and even the rambunctious children shouting ‘Hello!’ in the streets. I have come to embrace the social and technological advancements in Vietnam since it emerged from isolation but I also appreciate the traditional aspects of the culture.

It is interesting to live in a country that I have studied at university. It allows me to move past the devastation and destruction of the last two wars and truly see Vietnam as it is today. I can see human rights developing right before my eyes.

My internship has allowed me to practice the theoretical knowledge I tackled in the classroom and apply it to current issues by developing project proposals, outreach programs, and training schedules. It makes me feel like I am making a small difference in a big world. I want to give back to the country and the people who have given me so much during the last month.

I want to do my part.

Quang Binh is smaller, poorer province in central Vietnam and living here has allowed me to meet people from all walks of life. I really appreciate hearing their stories and realizing the differences and, more importantly, similarities between Vietnam and Canada. Our experiences might be different but we all want a safe, happy, prosperous place to raise our families and I think that allows me to make connections across cultural and language barriers.

The time passes fast here but I feel a sense of calm and purpose I never felt in Canada. I am glad I took the opportunity to live and learn in another country despite the challenges. I think it has made me a better, more well rounded student as well as a better person.

My only regret…

June 11, 2018 | Georgia, International Development and Globalization and Additional Minor - Political Science, Vietnam, Uniterra, Hue Tourism College, Soft Skills Officer

I am working in Hue, Vietnam as a Soft Skills Officer for Hue Tourism College, providing soft skills and job training for students. It has been over a month since I arrived, and I have truly loved every minute of the experience so far. The people are wonderful, I enjoy getting to work with all the students at the college, there are many places to travel, and the food is delicious! Although there are some things that took a bit of getting used to (i.e. all the motorbikes), I have come to love Vietnam and could see myself staying here for a much longer period of time in the future.

When I first began my internship, I thought at first that I might be a bit lonely as there are no other short-term volunteers here. However, after spending a few days here, I was immediately struck by how welcoming everyone is. Within the first week, I had been able to make many local friends in the city. Since I have been here, I have found Vietnamese people to be truly genuine, welcoming, and helpful and I have made many great friends. I think the openness of the people here has made this a wonderful experience! I look forward to getting to know people here better over the next two months.

I have also greatly enjoyed getting to know the students at Hue Tourism College. Over the past few weeks, I have been working with English classes as well as a student club, and have been able to spend a lot of time with the students. As it is a tourism college, most of them are studying topics such as tour guiding, hotel management, restaurant management, and cooking, and they are happy to get to work with a foreigner. They have all be incredibly welcoming to me, inviting me out for coffee and showing me around the city. The photo here is from when we all went out for Vietnamese milk tea to practice speaking English. I feel so lucky to have such friendly students to work with.

Outside of work, there are so many incredible places to see in Vietnam! I have been using my weekends to their fullest, and have travelled a lot around the country. For the first few weekends I explored areas around Hue, including the ancient Tombs of the Kings and the old Imperial Citadel. Hue is an ancient capital, so there many interesting tombs and ancient buildings to visit. The picture here is from the Imperial Citadel.

Recently, I also travelled up north to Halong Bay, a place that I have wanted to see for years, and was absolutely blown away. I can honestly say it is one of the most amazing places I have ever seen!

Apart from the wonderful people and travel, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the delicious food here in Hue! Hue is known for having excellent food, and I cannot get enough of it. One of the most popular dishes here is called bún bò Huế, which is delicious beef noodle soup. There is also a lot of great seafood here. As a Nova Scotian, I am eating as much of it as I can get.

Overall I am greatly enjoying Vietnam! My only regret is that I am only here for another two months.

On est tous ensemble

June 8, 2018 | Daphnée, Études des conflits et droits humains, Sénégal, Uniterra, Union des Radios Associatives et Communautaires (URAC), Conseillère en journalisme et communication

Lorsqu’on remercie un Sénégalais, très souvent on reçoit gno far comme réponse. J’ai d’abord cru que cela voulait tout bonnement dire « bienvenue » ou encore « ça me fait plaisir ». Intriguée, j’ai demandé à un ami ici ce que ça signifiait. Il m’a avisé que la traduction exacte de gno far est « on est ensemble ». Pour moi, c’est deux mots décrivent bien mes impressions après mon premier mois à Dakar.

L’une des premières spécificités que j’ai constatées au Sénégal est l’importance du contact humain, l’esprit de communauté. À Dakar, la capitale, il est inconcevable d’aborder quelqu’un sans d’abord le saluer, lui demander comment il va et comment se déroule la journée. Rien à voir avec le Canada où je ne connais pas le nom de mon voisin et où je saluerais encore moins un inconnu sur la rue. Ici, on prend un moment, on s’arrête et on demande à la personne comment elle va. Parfois, les salutations peuvent durer un long 5 minutes lesquels nous avons baptisés à la blague le « salut éternel ». Ici, on ne connait pas l’empressement. On fait le bien-être de l’autre son affaire. Le concept de bulle personnel est flou, voire inexistant, au Sénégal. Les gens arrivent à l’improviste à la maison et les invitations affluent si bien que le temps en solitaire est plutôt rare. Si certains peuvent trouver cela agressant, je trouve à l’inverse que cela offre un vent de fraicheur comparativement au Canada où les personnes sont généralement cloisonnées dans leurs engagements et obligations.

Les Sénégalais sont reconnus pour leur vivre ensemble, leur bon vivant et leur hospitalité. Fidèles à leur réputation, c’est dans ce même environnement que j’ai été reçu. Ici, les rassemblements ont tous un point commun : la nourriture. Il est très fréquent d’être invité à partager un même plat avec des amis, voire parfois même, des étrangers en pleine rue. Depuis notre arrivée, les invitations pour des repas aussi copieux les uns que les autres se sont multipliées au grand désespoir de mon tour de taille. Des amis d’amis nous accueillent comme si on était déjà des membres de la famille. Tous nous ont offert leur hospitalité, mais aussi leur aide en cas de besoin.

En quelques semaines, les Sénégalais m’ont appris ce que signifiait être ensemble et pour cette unique raison, je leur suis reconnaissante et je peux affirmer n’avoir aucun regret d’avoir osé quitter mon confort canadien pour découvrir leur beau pays.

The one month mark

June 8, 2018 | Constanza, Specialization - Psychology, Haïti, Uniterra, Organisation de Gestion de la Destination Nord d’Haïti, Conseillère dans la création de l'Association des Jeunes Artisants de Milot

Hitting the one month mark in my internship in Haiti, I have had the chance to observe, participate and act upon what it means to be a student abroad. When I first arrived, it was a busy first couple of days in Port-au-Prince, we were located in a very nice hotel called La Lorraine, and our days were filled with introductory trainings given by the Uniterra-CECI country team. They were very welcoming and enthusiastic that we had chosen to work in Haiti. In the beginning, there were multiple orientations given that included an introduction of the organization, followed by Uniterra’s overall mandate and then an introduction to Haiti. I must admit, the first week was overwhelming, arriving in a new country and trying to absorb cultural differences, while registering new information, there were plenty things being processed. Then we flew out to the northern department of Haiti, called Cap-Haitian, where we would meet our field team. This was another big warm welcome and a fast-paced transition. It was great to get another perspective on Haiti, going from the capital to a smaller city that was full of color, historical monuments and beautiful landscapes. This was where we would be staying for the next three months.

I decided to do my internship in French, because all throughout my education I did it in French immersion schools and continued my degree in French at the University of Ottawa. I wanted to further apply my oral and written skills by completely immersing myself in a French speaking country, who also have Creole as an official language. Seeing that I would be doing my internship in French, I was excited to challenge myself and work for three months in my second language. Like any new beginnings, it was an adjustment getting used to the continuity of French, it varied because usually in school, you have various lectures in French, you interact with a couple of friends in French, but eventually you finish off using English as the dominant language.

However, in Haiti, it was the complete opposite, I had to make an immediate adjustment in order to keep up. There was also Creole being spoken, and sometimes it would be hard to communicate with others. Despite that, with time you start to realize that the majority of Creole words are similar to French words, and with time, I have gotten used to the language and have even learnt some common phrases. In the field, it has been great working with the Canadian NGO, Uniterra-CECI and the local NGO, OGDNH (organization de gestation touristique du Nord-Haiti), they have given me plenty of resources that would be useful, and have helped me adjust to speaking French. They have been a big aid in my mandate by providing good local resources and bridging the language barrier between French and Creole, when working with the association of young artisans of Milot. My country team from Uniterra-CECI, have also been a big resource in terms of answering questions about my mandate, or any other concerns I may have, and they have also helped me manage my way through certain words that I might not understand in Creole and French.

So far, I have learnt how to navigate on my own through public transportation from city to city, I have learnt to better communicate with my co-workers, the local organization and locals in the community. I am currently writing a proposal for the association of the young artisans of Milot, in order to acquire finance for their project they have envisioned. Overall, it has been a big learning curve, by adjusting and working full-time it can become overwhelming and sometimes isolating, it has been important for me and for others who decide to do an internship, to not be afraid to feel this way, but to acknowledge it and to find ways that bring you comfort and learning how to adapt in new situations. Utilize the country team, they understand your position and are there to help.

For me, it has been important to really leave myself some down time at the end of the day, since speaking French all day takes up my energy, since processing it and then producing documents can be lengthy, especially when trying not to make grammatical errors. But it’s also important to enjoy spending time with co-workers, either after work to grab a drink or on the weekends, they have been my doorway into how to do certain things in the city and how to make it worthwhile. It’s also been great to have weekends off, because it gives me the opportunity to take trips to peaceful sites, visit historical monuments, hang out at local restaurants, visit the beaches etc. It allows me to live within the Haitian culture, by talking to locals, trying new foods, getting acquainted with the norms of the city, it is my way in trying to fully adjust within my new environment. All to say that with this learning curve, I hope to continue growing within my mandate here in Haiti.

Life in Malawi

June 8, 2018 | Sidra, Joint Honours - Criminology and Women's Studies, Malawi, Uniterra, Coalition of Women Living with HIV and AIDS, Information Management Officer

As I wrap up my fourth week in Lilongwe, Malawi, I find I am adjusting well to life here, as I am better equipped to navigate the international internship. In preparing for the internship prior to my arrival, I focused a lot on physical aspects, such as packing. I am finding that the pre-departure trainings were beneficial in helping to manage expectations and keep an open mind. I find this has been crucial to the process of settling in, because every day I am faced with new challenges and discoveries.

Since life in Malawi is quite different than that in Canada, simple things like getting around the city and passing time have presented the most challenges. While at first, I found myself constantly comparing, as I develop my skills in adaptability and resourcefulness, I am understanding Malawian culture a lot better. For example, with the current issue of the country wide power shortage, I have had to learn to do regular tasks differently, like cooking food. I have learned to embrace these differences, because they have taught me a lot about myself and increased my capabilities. Especially after our second visit to the market, I find that I am much more confident and comfortable when I walk around. I am fascinated by the marketplace, because one can get anything and everything. There are stores here for our convenience, but it has been to interesting participate in activities with locals to gain better insight into a different way of life.

In particular, working at COWLHA has been incredibly eye-opening as I have been able to witness grassroots activism. Since I myself am studying Criminology and Women’s studies, I was a little nervous about how I could effectively contribute as an intern. However, I have realized that over the past three years I have learned a lot of transferable skills that can be implemented in many contexts. Whether it be skills in computer literacy or research I find that am able to apply prior knowledge, while also learning on the spot. Over the course of my undergrad I took various classes on globalization but at COWLHA I have been able to witness it firsthand. While I am no longer in a traditional classroom, at work I can see how concepts like empowerment and resource mobilization are used in different contexts.

As the nerves have subsided and I have established a routine, I find that I am prepared to further immerse myself in this experience. Though, it took a few weeks to find my groove, I am eager to continue to develop my skill set and knowledge through personal and professional experiences. I look forward to learning more about the culture to better understand the desire and needs of the people. So far, this experience has truly reinforced that people are more alike than different. I am happy to contribute in any way, shape or form, because I realize that this is mutually beneficial. I would like to use this experience to propel me into becoming a global citizen and continue to pursue opportunities here that will help me use my education for the greater good.

Life in Dakar

May 30, 2018 | Kaylea, Psychologie, Uniterra Sénégal, CNC, Conseillère en Archivage

It’s been 3 weeks since I first arrived in Dakar, Senegal and wow, it has been a whirlwind. The people I’ve encountered here so far have been the kindest people I’ve ever met. Every time I walk down the street, I’m welcomed by a “hi, how are you?” by those passing by me. Being a foreigner here has been a fantastic experience so far. While there are not a lot of foreigners in the region I live in, I always feel safe and welcome as I walk home from work, or down the street to buy vegetables from the local vendors.

The food here is delicious. There is a boulangerie on every street that sells fresh baguettes every day. The traditional dish here is called thiebou jen, a spicy stuffed fish simmered with vegetables in tomato sauce. A major staple in the senegalese diet is rice, accompanying most dishes. In my region, goats and cats fill the street. Sometimes a wild dog will show up, but they mostly stay on the beach.

There are mangoes and flowers growing everywhere along the city streets. The national tree, the baobab is protected and undisturbed by the growing city. Often, you will see baobab trees in the middle of a street, left untouched by the construction going on around it. The city is brought to life by beautiful flowers, and the screaming goats heard from miles away.

While the traffic can be heavy, the taxis never have a hard time weaving their way through it. Taxis are very popular here, you never need to go far to find one. Dakar is a large city, however, it never costs more than $3 Canadian to get from one side of Dakar to the other.

At my work, we get a two-hour lunch break each day, normally going out to a restaurant. My colleagues seem to be thrilled to have us here! Unfortunately, I arrived at a bit of an inconvenient time, as the company received a lot of different interns for the summer and is also being evaluated at the same time. So, I haven’t yet started on the mandate of my internship. However, my colleagues have given me plenty to do (translating, planning what work I will be doing, etc.) in the meantime.

There is a lot to see in Dakar! Even though I have only been here for just a few weeks, I’ve seen a lot. There are tons of amazing beaches here, three islands, and a ton of historical landmarks. Collines des Mamelles, a massive renaissance monument located at the top of Dakar, is the tallest statue in Africa. One of the islands, Île de Gorée, is home to 1,500 habitants, and contains one of the most esteemed boarding schools in all of Africa!

French is my second language and my minor at school. I chose to come to Senegal because I knew the official language was French, and I wanted to practice. Luckily, the French spoken here is very easy to understand as it is spoken slowly and well pronounced. The locals are also very understanding and patient. If I don’t understand something, most people repeat, explaining in another way. My French improved a lot in the short few weeks that I have been here!

So far, my experience has been incredible. Between the kind people and amazing food, I don’t want to leave!

Home Is Where the Heart Is

April 3, 2018 | Emilia, DVM, Uniterra, Peru, Alianza Cacao, Gender Communication Officer

A few months went by very quickly for me: in a 3-month internship, every day and every week counts. I became accustomed to a different lifestyle and I got to develop close relationships with colleagues, friends and neighbors. I think relationship-building has played a crucial role in my integration to the city. For me, it was part of the learning process to spend time with colleagues in the office, agronomists in the field and farming families on their land to understand the sociocultural context of the region and my role within the organization.

Data Collection with Technological Agents
I ventured into the beautiful Peruvian jungle during field visits to cocoa farms in the regions of San Martín and Huánuco. My main goal was to collect data for communication products with a gender focus. Starting with a video project, I interviewed women leaders in the cocoa industry to learn about their challenges, their successes and their overall experience in agriculture. I also wanted to know what benefits they received from Peru Cocoa Alliance (PCA) as cocoa farmers. I mainly learned that they appreciate the knowledge they acquired through the Schools of Excellence, the field days and personal visits from the organization’s agronomists to increase their productivity and quality in cocoa. Another assignment was to assess women farmers on their soft skills such as verbal communication, negotiation and conflict resolution. The data collected from these qualitative surveys will be used to adapt PCA activities and workshops to the farmers’ needs. The video project and surveys were targeted towards PCA technological agents which are a select group of cocoa farmers. They assist PCA Schools of Excellence during an 8-month period to learn about innovative farming techniques and technology such as integrated pest management, pruning, soil nutrition, and much more. PCA also works with technological agents to develop their soft skills and transfers knowledge on small business management. Additionally, the organization added a personal development component including self-confidence and a gender approach in the schools’ curriculum. The main role of technological agents is to generate a positive impact in their community by disseminating knowledge on farming techniques and technology. PCA also partners with businesses that sell farm machinery and nutrients to improve the quality of soil and increase cocoa production. Through the Schools of Excellence, the participants learn how to create their own businesses and become local distributors of the private partners’ products according to the market’s demand.

Cocoa in Regions Affected by Political Violence
I visited many cocoa farms in regions that were once strongly affected by political violence and terrorism. Through conversations with farmers, I was shocked to hear horror stories that happened in their communities. In many cases, farmers were pressured by drug traffickers on one end and threatened by the government for cultivating the coca leaf on the other end. A farmer told me about the oppression she felt when living in constant fear of being killed either by the government or by drug traffickers. She is a hard-working woman farmer dealing with psychological traumas of the past with no access to mental health services. This encounter generated a whole line of questioning for me and left me wondering what can be done in terms of human development for victims of political violence. It also helped me understand why cocoa production is so crucial for farmers in these regions. It is a product used to replace the production of coca leaves and to prevent the continuation of illicit activities. It offers an alternative market to increase farmers’ overall quality of life.

Travailler sur le terrain et enrichir ses connaissances

April 3, 2018 | Geneviève, ECH, Uniterra, Tanzanie, VETA, agente aux communications et marketing

Voici maintenant quelque temps que je procrastine pour écrire ce blogue. En fait, ce dernier témoignage de mon expérience veut dire que celle-ci tire bel et bien à sa fin et que cette belle aventure est maintenant derrière moi.

J’ai beaucoup appris durant les derniers mois, tant sur les plans académique, professionnel que sur le plan personnel. Je continue d’entretenir les relations que j’ai formées avec les gens qui ont tant enrichi mon expérience et j’essaye de continuer à apprendre le swahili.

Je peux fièrement dire que je comprends maintenant beaucoup mieux les défis qui proviennent d’un partenariat avec un pays du Sud et que les outils que j’ai développés durant mon stage me serviront dans ma carrière.

Mes collègues au Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture m’ont vraiment aidé à rendre mon expérience des plus agréables tout en m’aidant à intégrer le mode de vie, en m’enseignant la langue et en ouvrant mon regard à leur réalité.

Je continue de travailler avec eux à distance en espérant pouvoir les supporter davantage.

Je n’oublierai jamais cette étape de ma vie et j’espère que je pourrai un jour retourner visiter les gens que j’ai rencontrés et qui sait, peut-être retravailler avec eux !

J’encouragerais fortement les étudiants en sciences sociales à considérer cette opportunité qui rajoute beaucoup de valeur au curriculum en nous donnant l’occasion de travailler sur le terrain et d’enrichir concrètement nos connaissances.