In case of an emergency…

October 26, 2016 | Michelle, DVM, Forum des Alternatives Maroc “FMAS” Chargée de communication en appui à la société civile pour la COP22

While we discussed sickness during the pre-departure days, and while I somewhat expected to get sick while I was here, I also (naively) hoped that it simply wouldn’t happen, and that if I set my mind to it, I would be fine. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

In my second week, during a meeting, I started to feel ill and immediately knew that something was about to go badly. On my way back to our apartment, in 28 degrees, I started feeling extremely cold. By the time I got home, I was shivering uncontrollably and putting on every piece of clothing that I had brought to Morocco, including a down coat.

To make a long story short, I vomited and shivered and sweat and couldn’t get warm for the better part of two days. My entire body was in extreme pain, and my head ached like crazy. In a sort of delirious state, I told myself that this would pass if I just waited, but eventually started getting scared and thought I might need to see a doctor.

When this dawned on me, however, I also remembered that I had used all of my cash and would not be able to make it to a bank machine to get more in order to pay for a taxi. If that weren’t enough, when I picked up my phone to call the insurance company and figure out which hospital to go to, it was out of credit. So there I was, insanely sick, with no money, and no ability to phone anyone.

Thankfully, when my colleague got home from work, he called the insurance company and figured out which medical facility we should go to if it came to it. My supervisor also extended the offer to drive me there, for which I was immensely grateful. Even so, I realized that if I had been alone, I could have been totally screwed, and learned some important lessons in the process:

1) Figure out where the (most appropriate) hospital / clinic / medical facility is, what its hours of operation are and how to get there before you get sick.
2) Make sure you have enough money (cash) for a taxi to get to a medical facility.
3) Make sure you have enough phone credit to call the insurance company or someone else to help you.

In the end, I did start feeling a tiny bit better, and gradually regained some strength. There happened to be a scale in the apartment, and when I was finally well enough to get up and walk around a bit, I was shocked to discover that I had lost 3kg in such a short time frame.

I don’t really have a clear idea what caused this - perhaps a sip of tap water, or perhaps some fruit offered to me from some very kind local people on a train. Regardless, I have been quite careful ever since and pretty much given up on the idea of “getting used” to tap water here in order to minimize the amount of plastic bottles that go straight into the garbage, even though this pains me.

Creating your own role

August 2, 2016 | Hana, ECH, Alternatives, Maroc - Forum des Alternatives Maroc,

I have been blessed with my job experiences in that I have learned to create my own role, create my own tasks and make my unique skills of use to others. I study human rights and conflict studies but I have an innate passion for numbers and some graphic making competencies. What I learned through my different work experiences is that people generally are not too great with visualizing data and that my skillset is actually really useful and helpful for just about any organization and especially ones that deal with the public and have to distill information. Knowing this after the first couple days passed and I wasn’t given any work I decided to show my superviser some of things I’ve done so he could make use of my graphic design abilities. This then opened a new horizon, giving me work to do, a freedom with my work as my expertise was trusted and proven and work that I genuinely like to do and helps me strengthen my portfolio.

While I understand my situation is a little unique because my skills are a little unique you never know what will be of use to someone and so for those who are finding it hard to get into the flow of work and who don’t really have work to do, try and talk to your supervisor(s) and show them your skills and interests. That way they can find something that’s tailored to you and so you feel of use at your work place.

I have attached one of the graphics I have done. It is a map of Morocco divided by the 12 regions of Morocco that outlines the election observation committee’s observation capacity. The colors represent the percentage of the regions that have observers, the size of the people represent the number of observers and then there are the names of the observer supervisors under the region names. This is only one out 49 different maps I have done since I’ve gotten here.

Ma phase la plus difficile du stage… c’est le départ

July 28, 2016 | Winnie, ESAPI/GSPIA, Alternatives, Nicaragua, Alternatives Nicaragua, Colectivo Madre Selva

La formation de prédépart nous a donné les outils nécessaires pour faire face à un certain nombre de choses lors du stage à l’international. Certains ateliers nous ont fourni les instruments pour gérer les risques et le stress et d’autres ateliers nous ont fourni des instruments pour comprendre notre organisme d’accueil et notre rôle au sein de l’organisme en question. Dans certaines situations, il fallait poser des questions puissantes et dans d’autres, il fallait se créer un réseau, se faire des amies sur qui compter, lesquels aideraient à mieux affronter certaines situations.

Hélas, nous n’avons pas appris comment se défaire de tout ce que l’on aura construit, ou encore comment gérer la séparation avec des amis une fois le séjour terminé.

Durant les trois derniers mois, je me suis faite toutes sortes d’amis, aussi bien des hommes que des femmes, avec des nationalités différentes. Parmi ces amis figurent ceux avec qui j’ai passé la majeure partie de mon temps et dont m’en défaire sera difficile. Compte tenu du faible niveau d’utilisation de la technologie ici dans mon pays d’accueil, la seule façon que j’ai de pouvoir revoir mes amis est de revenir au Nicaragua. Or, les chances sont assez faibles pour l’instant. Mes moyens sont limités et la plupart d’entre eux ne possèdent pas de comptes sur les réseaux sociaux. Ceci s’explique surtout par le fait que l’accès à l’internet demeure encore un luxe dans ce pays.

Pourtant, les liens créés avec ces personnes sont à un point que je me demande comment je vais pouvoir gérer cette séparation. De plus, je n’ai jamais aimé dire au revoir aux gens, car je n’aime pas les adieux et le moment de dire au revoir est venu. Je suis donc contrainte d’y faire face.

Lors de mes dernières expériences à l’étranger, la séparation était assez facile, car rare sont les cas où j’ai passé trois mois. Le plus souvent, j’ai eu à faire deux mois, 5 semaines ou quelques jours, à l’exception bien sûr de mon expérience d’échange universitaire. Les conditions du séjour ne m’impliquaient pas autant avec les personnes de la place. Trois mois sont assez long.

Effectivement, l’échange universitaire s’est effectué sur quatre mois et la séparation n’était pas aussi compliquée qu’aujourd’hui. Je n’avais pas eu le temps de créer de vraies relations qui conduiraient à une amitié solide. Je n’avais pas eu le temps de bien connaitre les personnes de mon entourage. J’avais juste le temps d’étudier. Le temps passait tellement vite qu’à peine ouvert les yeux, la période d’échange était déjà terminée.

Alors, je ne me souciais guère de revoir les personnes avec qui j’avais passé mon séjour à l’étranger. La relation n’était pas suffisamment solide pour que je me préoccupe de ce qui arrivera par la suite.

Aujourd’hui, je laisse, au Nicaragua, de véritables amis dont il me sera difficile de les oublier d’aussitôt. Ces sentiments s’adressent surtout aux personnes qui ont pris soin de moi durant ce stage : Marlyn, Dalila, Don Louis, et surtout José Antonio et sa maman Panchita Francesca.

Ce sont là les personnes qui m’amène à me poser la question de savoir comment est-ce que je vais pouvoir gérer cette séparation qui va créer un très grand et triste vide dans nos cœurs respectifs.
L’unique réponse que j’ai pour l’instant c’est le temps. J’imagine que le temps m’aidera surement à passer à travers cela. Mais, pour l’instant, il s’agit ici, pour moi de la phase la plus triste et donc la plus difficile de ce stage.

I’ll miss my corn guy

July 27, 2016 | Hana, ECH, Alternatives, Maroc - Forum des Alternatives Maroc,

With only a couple days left I can’t help but noticing the everyday things that brought joy to my Moroccan life. One such this is the feeling of community. Every everyday interaction you have with someone carries some type of warmth, whether you’re buying something, saying hi to someone or getting help to figure out where you’re going. Stores here are not like stores in Canada, prices aren’t fixed, people are animated and want to talk to you. They want to teach you their language and culture, they want to know about your language and culture and all of it is done with genuine interest and a sense of humour.

I could never have anticipated how attached I became to the guy I buy eggs from or the guy I buy fruit from or my personal favorite, and who seemingly disappeared, the corn guy. These people don’t even need to try to talk to me just by virtue of me going to them for my food needs I’ve developed a relationship and an attachment, so much so that If I go to another corn guy it feels like it’s cheating. The juice guy, the laundry guy, the olive guy, the bakery lady, the other bakery lady, the telephone guy and the list goes on. It’s a true sense of community and has helped me integrate into the neighbourhood seamlessly.

Thank you so much wonderful vendors, you made my stay homey and full of joy (not to mention food).

What Nepals means to me

July 27, 2016 | Halla, CECI, Uniterra, Non Timber Forest Products, Market Research Officer

What does Nepal mean to you?

Nepal means to me a very experimental experience.

Nepal means to me finding random spots around the house to hang up my laundry. Nepal means to me trusting that the restaurant sanitized the vegetables they serve me. Nepal means to me earthquakes, and the monsoon season. Nepal means to me trying to charge my laptop and phone in the washroom, because that’s the only plug that works during load shedding. Nepal means to me figuring out where the tuk tuk will drop me off, and whether I will make it out alive from the bus ride. Nepal means to me mosquito bites. Nepal means to me a very beautiful culture. Nepal means to me the vibrant colors of the tikkas and kurtas. Nepal means to me the perseverance of a 65-year-old woman to go to her farm every morning at 5am. Nepal means to me the laid back atmosphere of forgiveness. Nepal means to me early morning milk tea. Nepal means to me Dahl Bhaat lunches and dinners. Nepal means to me Anu’s cheese sandwiches after a long day at or trip for work. Nepal means to me feeding the stray puppies and cows. Nepal means to me an aftermath of last year’s earthquake and blockade.

Nepal means to me mountains peering over hills. Nepal means to me sun rays blanketing the tip of the mountain and the bed of the hills. Nepal means to me a river flowing in the valley. Nepal means to me a bush of green, and a land of brown. Nepal means to me hills. Nepal means to me the city. Nepal means to me the mask that I must wear during polluted days. Nepal means to me a buzzing 5 a.m. hour, and a quiet 8 p.m. hour. Nepal means to me smoldering heat going south, and freezing cold going North. Nepal means to me elephants, cows, dogs, crows, pigeons, water buffalos, cats, goats, chickens, and insects.

Nepal means to me people. Nepal means to me Rebecca. Nepal means to me Katie, and Shannon. Nepal means to me Gele. Nepal means to me Sarita, and Subu. Nepal means to me Dhiraj, and Madhulika. Nepal means to me Dibya, Shushma, Sagun, and Keshav. Nepal means to me Kaushila, and Abhya. Nepal means to me Anna, Kate, Benoit, Rosie, Nathalie, Veronica, Richard, Anna, Virgenie, and Danny. Nepal means to me Anu. Nepal means to me Didis and Dais. Nepal means to me Jis, Uncles, and Aunties. Nepal means to me a self growth experience. Nepal means to me a reassertion of what I value in life. Nepal means to me a question of who I am and who I want to be. Nepal means to me learning how to budget. Nepal means to me caring about people and animals who need caring for. Nepal means to me loving myself and protecting myself. Nepal means to me taking care of my body. Nepal means to me treasuring the little things.

Nepal means to me being different, and acknowledging differences. Nepal means to me showering everyday, even in the cold water. Nepal means to me reading the fine print on anything. Nepal means to me my first experience with a full-time job. Nepal means to me missing my little sister’s high school graduation, and my older sister’s thesis defense and graduation. Nepal means to me a different type of education. Nepal means to me documenting, observing, learning, and teaching.

On the hunt for mountains and snickers

July 27, 2016 | Halla, CECI, Uniterra, Non Timber Forest Products, Market Research Officer

Field life is fun, always on the move, always working, and always meeting new people. I love being productive, because it keeps me from getting lonely, or most of the negative trains of thoughts. It’s quite stressful at times, but a good type of stress.

Two things that have been relieving some of my stress are snickers and mountains. The thing is….snickers and mountains are also the two things that are hard to come by in the field. It’s like playing a game of Finding Waldo, less the man docked in a convenient red and white striped crew neck. My team and I have even began keeping a tally to see who finds the most of the two (winner gets a snickers bar). Playing silly games like these also help pass the time in the car, while traveling. Our Driver-Dai is in on it, too! It’s always fun having our Driver-Dai stop the car when he too spots a mountain, we all get down and have mini photo sessions. Or when we spot snickers bars in small wall convenience stores, and our Driver-Dai backs up in narrow roads, and we get a few bars. Being on the hunt for mountains and snickers has revived my love of road life, and traveling and has made working long hours easier!

Dumsor / Load Shedding

July 26, 2016 | Oneyka, ESAPI/GSPIA, AFS, Ghana, Legal Resource Center, Project Officer

Dumsor pronounced, “doom-sore” is a popular term Ghanaian’s use to describe persistent, irregular and unpredictable electric power outages in their country. It’s a term derived from their traditional Twi language, commonly spoken by everyone here, which means dum (to turn off or quench) and sɔ (to turn on or to make light), so the term roughly translates as “off-and-on”.

These blackouts here in Ghana are caused by a power supply shortage. This is mainly because, Ghana’s current generating capacity is currently 400-600 megawatts less than what the country needs. So electrical distributors often “shed load” with regular blackouts. This term, “Load Shedding”, in addition to “Dumsor” is what I often hear when I listen to my co-workers, host family and even the news stations on the radio, and it also appears in the news papers. For a while I was not exactly sure what it meant, but after little research, I found that it means, when electrical generation systems can’t supply the amount of power demanded or required by consumers, those responsible for the supply will lower demand by cutting back electrical supply to prevent uncontrolled service disruptions such as power outages or equipment damage. They may impose “load shedding” on certain areas via rolling blackouts or agreement with specific consumers to turn off equipment at times of high demand. When this occurs, the government usually puts up a schedule describing which areas would be affected, what time they will be affected and how long the power outage will last.

This has been the case in Ghana for some time now, I mean, it has always been the case in many west African countries, I can testify of Nigeria for sure! But the situation seriously deteriorated in Ghana starting last year. At the beginning of 2015, the dumsor schedule went from 24 hours with electricity and 12 without to 12 hours with electricity and 24 without. This situation was seriously affecting the very way of life for many Ghanaians, schools had to increase their fees to sustain the power cuts through generators, students writing exams were forced to learn and study in darkness with a lamp or candle or torchlight, businesses whose main form of work required electricity were deemed inoperative and defunct when there was no light and homes were forced to continue their activities, such a cooking, cleaning, etc in darkness. In the host home I currently live in, the family usually spends time in front of the tv when they all come back from work but when the power is cut they make due by having family conversations together. In the business I work in, the same also occurs, when the light goes off and all our laptops and electronics finally dies, we either end up having some conversations, writing our reports in books, or we get sent home to continue our work supposing there is light there. But for some of us, even our homes don’t also have light so it is often difficult for the average Ghanaian to deal with, which they also find frustrating.

During my time here, there have been only 2 days where there was no electricity supplied my NGO’s region and we did the same thing I mentioned above (spent some time working, and later got sent home). As per the region where my host family lives, the power cuts are even more drastic. After the third week of my stay, they became even more frequent, going out for at least 3 out of 7 days of the week (more or less), going off at 6am in the morning, only to bring it back at 7pm or going of at 7pm in the evening, to bring it back at 6am. But it could also go off completely the whole day.

Reverse Culture Shock

July 20, 2016 | Anita, POL/SVS, Alternatives, Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Centro Sandinista de Trabajadores

Time is winding down very quickly. For us here in Managua, Nicaragua, we are down to our last 15 days already. If you asked me how ready I was to go home about a week or two ago, I would have said that I am 100% ready, no questions asked, no hesitation, without a doubt. Now I’m just not so sure anymore. I love the climate here, I sincerely enjoy speaking in Spanish, and now that lived the last three months of my life this like, going back to Ottawa will definitely be a readjustment.

I’ve got a lot to think about and a lot on my plate when I get back. The preparations start now and the anticipation are killing me. For example, I have to figure out my living situation, I have to find a job, I summer courses (which I’ve never done before!) and after that… I graduate! Graduate!?!? What is life without my safety net that is school? Where will I find the structure that shapes my everyday life? Now I’ll be going into the real world. I’ll have to adult. Learn how to balance a cheque book… stop eating so much pizza for every meal… stop going to bed at 4 AM because Netflix… the list goes on.

Change of routine is one challenge I know I will face when I go back home. For three months, as an intern I have been doing next to nothing. While, yes, indeed this was expected, it doesn’t cancel out the fact that once I kick back into full time work gear, it may be overwhelming.

I also fear that I’ll experience a lack of familiarity of Ottawa. For instance, after moving from Vancouver to Ottawa for school, despite my love for Vancouver and the fact that I still identify with the city, every time I go back, it’s just not the same. I know the streets, but I don’t feel AS at home as I once did. I have friends there but I’m not AS close to them as before. I fear the same thing will happen when I get back to Ottawa, and I will feel inclined to want to come back to Nicaragua.

I used to say three months is simply much too long, but I’ve been having second thoughts recently. After leaving Canada, it took me a little while to adjust to life here. I was just beginning to feel less like a tourist, more like someone that just happens to live in Nicaragua. And now that I feel adjusted, I’m about to be ripped from my habitat once more!

Moving home almost seems like an oxymoron. It is such a strange concept think about and to wrap my head around, maybe that’s why I feel slightly anxious about it. But I’ve adapted before and I can do it again! Anyone else nervous, excited, scared, or even neutral about moving back home?

Happy English Center

July 20, 2016 | Rebecca, DVM, Mines Action Canada, Vietnam-Project Renew

Yesterday, although it was the weekend, I agreed to go to an English center in nearby Quang Tri Town to participate in activities with some of their students. While it was extremely hot outside, it was a good experience. We walked from the center about 5 minutes to the Quang Tri Citadel. The property is very beautiful, full of trees and the older architecture was stunning. After watching a brief traditional ritual in front of the citadel, we went to look around the museum, which had displays of Vietnamese history and also focused on the War. Following the museum, we made our way to a nice shaded area and began some of the activities. Normally I hate being the focus in larger groups but the teachers and the children from the center were very nice and encouraging so it made helping run the activities much easier. We played a game called “Hello, what’s your name?”, where the kids would introduce themselves to me in English and in other rounds of the game, I would ask them a simple question in English. The children were also able to ask me some questions. Other activities really encouraged the kids to work together in teams and to practice their English, using simple topics like sports and pictures with items like book, bed, and window. The children had to remember what was on the picture as well as how to spell the word. I was really amazed at how well the students worked together and how happy and excited they were to play the games.

It was surprising how good their English was for only being aged 5-9. The teachers’ English skills were generally good. I have noticed here in Vietnam that not all English classes and English centers have teachers that are always that proficient in English, which can really impact how the students will learn the language. It was a much better morning than I was expecting and I am very happy that I was able to participate. The teachers gave me a little plaque of the citadel to bring home as a souvenir from my time there.

Soccer and Mine Risk Education

July 20, 2016 | Rebecca, DVM, Mines Action Canada, Vietnam-Project Renew

A few weekends I had the opportunity to join my co-worker to visit the opening ceremony for a joint pilot project between Project RENEW and the Youth Union members in Quang Tri Province, Vietnam. This new sample project is a soccer program that teens from one district in the province can participate in a small tournament for a prize. The winning team receives a trophy and 2 million VND (which isn’t a whole lot for an entire team to split but it is at least something). RENEW is the donor for this project, the money was collected from small donations and saved until there was enough to fund this project, which included buying matching jerseys for each of the 8 teams. The goal of this project like many other activities and projects that RENEW runs is to inform the communities of the hazards of UXO items.

The soccer program for some of the teenage boys in a local district is an alternative program to get the youth members in communities aware of these dangers, similar to the safety days that the younger children participate in across many districts. While this was just a pilot project I think it could be beneficial to spread RENEW’s message and educate communities on the dangers. If there will be a second tournament then there should be an effort to create even a small tournament to get some teenage girls involved in the program, as RENEW is trying to implement gender equality into all their programs and activities. It was great to see some of the teams play and how happy they all seemed to be participating in the tournament. The slogan of the tournament was “Don’t play with landmines, play football”, with this message RENEW and the Youth Union members can encourage the vulnerable youth to stay away from UXO in an enjoyable way.