Camping in the Rainforest

March 4, 2015 | Jesika, DVM, WUSC, Ghana, A Rocha Ghana

I have recently returned from a 2 week long camping trip in the Atewa forest here in Ghana. The purpose of the trip was to conduct research on the togo slippery frog. We were trying to get an estimate of the population of the frog which are endangered. It was certainly an experience that I will never forget. There were a few things I would like to share that really stuck out on my trip.

The first was the noise and the sounds of the forest. At night it is so loud from the mammals and insects. The noise actually made me less scared of the forest at night because it wasn’t that eery silence that you get in northern Canadian forests. There was also the sounds of gunshots and chainsaws. The Atewa has recently become a protected area but you could still hear the hunters now considered poachers and the logging activities. Which just goes to show there is still work to be done to keep the forest protected.

The second thing was the ants. Yes there are ants in Canada and yes if you leave food out they will come by the hundreds or thousands but here they come by the billions. I am not exaggerating. One evening we arrived back to our camp around midnight (as we had to do out research at night when the frogs come down from the trees and into the streams) and the ground was moving. In the small area where our tents and food was the entire ground was covered in ants. Our tents were covered as well and they were even inside them. The problem is these ants bite and it really hurts when they do. It took us four hours to get rid of them. We had to mix sopey water and wash the tents and dumps buckets of it on the ground. We also made a fire and we were spreading coals on the ground to keep them away. It was an ordeal especially since it was in the middle of the night and we were all exhausted. My ankles were swollen the next day from the bites. I had anticipated that I would be dealing with big spiders and gross centipedes on the trip not ants and although it wasn’t enjoyable I still prefer the ants over other creepy crawlies.

The third was the fire flies. Never in my life have a seen so many fire flies. At night it was absolutely beautiful. You would be surrounded by them. It was as if I was in the romantic part of disney movie. One evening it was thunder storming the rain had just stopped but there was still lightening. The forest was bright even at 1 am. It was enchanting and magical.

My trip to the Atewa was truly fantastic!

Sacrifice, Entitlement, Wealth

February 26, 2015 | Leilani, ECH, MAC, Nepal, Ban Landmines Campaign Nepal

My first weekend away from Kathmandu was beautiful. I went to a yoga retreat set in a place about 40 kilometres away from the city. The weather was gorgeous and the setting of the yoga retreat was a resort-type place that is made up of a bunch of cabins and set on top of a hill with a lovely view of the valley below and, if it is a clear day, a view of mountain peaks in the distance. The cabins were designed and built in the traditional Newari style and were quite charming. The food was fresh and flavourful, a fusion of traditional Nepali and European. The yoga retreat itself was fantastic; lovely morning yoga sessions with afternoon philosophy classes and evening meditation. It was a wonderful couple of cleansing days after the noise and bustle of Kathmandu (though I love that too). There was just one issue with it. Though it was all based on Nepali themes (the architecture and food) and religious philosophies from the Nepali region (Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism), not one of the participants was Nepali. The teacher, though a wonderful, wise, and knowledgeable lady, was American. The resort is, or so I heard, European-owned and all of the participants were expats working in Kathmandu. All of the people I met were doing interesting work and I found myself fascinated by these people since people who study in my field (conflict studies and human rights) often end up doing work abroad.

I found it interesting though how sometimes we would start to talk about the things we missed from our home countries and what we would be happy to be able to do again. Things like not wearing a mask when walking around, keeping your mouth open in the shower, having power all of the time, or being able to find certain foods. This is normal since of course people are going to miss certain things from home. What stood out to me from these conversations though, was the tone of sacrifice that underlay these conversations. As if by living in a place where you should not open your mouth in the shower is some sort of feat of strength that you should be congratulated for. As if all of the people at the yoga retreat were not living lives of luxury compared to the average Nepali person (which they must be because the cost of the retreat was about 8% of the average Nepali GDP per capita purchasing power parity which means the Canadian cost to per capita GDP ratio would put the cost as being about $3,440 if it was in Canada).

The guesthouse that I am staying in while in Kathmandu has a laundry service so you can bring your laundry to the front desk and then pick it up later or the next day. The other day, I was waiting for something near the front desk and several people that were all part of a tour group were milling around by the desk trying to sort out their laundry situation since it seemed that some people’s laundry had gotten mixed with others’ laundry. A couple came downstairs and asked if their socks were there. The woman said a particular pair of the socks she had given them to be washed was very important and she really needed them, she was not unfriendly but clearly a little upset. The man was visibly annoyed, and mildly accusatory, saying how all of his socks were missing and they were all of the socks he had brought. Then the woman mentioned to her friend how their laundry had been damp still so was hanging up in their room and “fingers crossed” would be dry by the next day. The couple seemed not to have noticed that the power is never on for the whole day which means that the washing machine must sometimes not work. Additionally, the guesthouse does not have dryers but rather dries clothes on clothes lines meaning the guesthouse staff have very little control as to whether the clothes dry since they do not control the temperature outside. The couple’s demands seemed absurd to me after having been here for over a month. If the woman was so worried about her special socks why did she not just wash them herself in the sink? Why did the man give all of his socks at once, could not he have planned a day in advance and given his socks when he still had some left to wear in case they took a bit longer to get back to him? This group had been staying at the guesthouse since a couple of days prior and so I know this was an option. The tone of sacrifice at the yoga retreat and the couple’s behaviour at the guesthouse made me start to think about how people view travelling and working abroad.

People often speak in awe of people doing great works internationally. Brave and dedicated aid and development workers, strong and intelligent diplomats, kind and self-sacrificing healthcare workers and teachers make the ranks of people who deserve to be appreciated. I am not saying that they do not deserve this, they do but it is important to put in perspective what they do. The people for whom they do this work, the people of the “developing” country that they work in are doing great works too. Describing life for poor people in developing countries often includes phrases like: “their lives are just so hard, it is tragic.” This might be true but the most important part of the story is going untold in this phrase. The strong people behind this hard life, the people who are living it, who are smiling through it, who are loving each other through it, their work and love and action should not be forgotten or glazed over or overshadowed by the fact that they are poor. In telling their story, it is important not to rob them of their agency in the hope of emphasizing the tragedy.

Many international workers are doing great things but are also not living the hardships that the people they are there to serve are. Many live in large houses, drive nice cars, and can afford nice things because they are paid a salary based on a different country’s currency. It is not that these people are not wonderful people, they are. It is just that the true heroes are all too often addressed as if they a single entity “the poor.” It is they who are the real heroes. The man I saw the other day, waist deep in the Bagmati River, a river of greenish brown waters and an unpleasant smell. The elderly woman I passed while walking to a monastery who was too old to move much but waited patiently for people to give her money since her working life is now over but was not prosperous enough to support her into the future. The children who collect money from passersby in plastic bags. The people who make their homes in shanty-like dwellings that do not look capable of keeping out the rain, cold, or rats. The seamstress who I talked to that would sew an entire dress for under $3. The people who are infected with a parasite and cannot access the medicine to get rid of it. The women who give birth unattended because no midwives or doctors are close at hand. These people are too busy overcoming obstacles with dimensions I could never imagine to take up volunteer work or to become involved in steering the development agenda for their country. I think an attitude shift is necessary for people doing international work from acting as if they are sacrificing so many things to realizing how lucky they are to decide what, out of all of their things, they want to sacrifice, and to have the chance to work with some of the strongest and most resilient people in the world. I for one am going to start perpetuating this attitude.

Tall Tales

February 26, 2015 | Yasmin, DVM, Independant, South Africa, CTRC

After being in Cape town, South Africa for over a month I’m really starting to feel like I’m at home. This country is absolutely stunning in many different ways. What’s disappointing is that when you talk to people about Cape town people tend to have a reaction similar to this ” please be careful, it’s so dangerous there” or “it’s beautiful but it’s not safe”. Before coming here I took what everybody said to heart and definitely had my guard up. When arriving here my roommates were telling me that I couldn’t take the train at night, the mini bus, or walk. They even said I shouldn’t take a taxi alone at night, and in my head I was wondering if I could even leave the house at night considering every way of transportation was labelled unsafe after a certain time.

I’m very independent at home so the thought of worrying about transportation after a certain time was very bothersome. I’m aware that it’s better to be safe than sorry but after my first couple of weeks I started to figure out what was safe or not on my own by having my own experiences. Some things I heard I definitely wouldn’t do; like take a train by myself at night, or even walk in certain areas alone at night. But I have to say that most of the other things seemed to be ok. Since being here I have taken a mini bus alone, although it wasn’t completely dark. I also have walked around my neighbourhood to a friends place or sometimes to restaurants because it’s about a 15 minute walk. I wouldn’t recommend everyone to do this because it all depends on what part of the city you live in but I assessed my situation and I feel completely safe when I’m walking. I also make sure that I’m walking on main streets where there are plenty of lights and cars. I’ve never had a bad experience in a taxi either and I have taken plenty alone at night. This is all to say that I’m not naïve to what is going on this country and I am aware that there is crime going on but as I said it is disappointing when that’s the first thing people talk about when you mention Cape Town.

I think it’s helpful to inform people about what is going on but in a way that is accurate and doesn’t scare people. It’s interesting because I met a friend here who has grown up in Cape town, he worked in the Middle East for 10 years and the worst thing that happened to him happened while he was in London, England. It wasn’t in a developing country where he got brutally beaten by a gang but in a developed country, hearing things like this just reiterates my feelings that it’s not really about where you go but in fact just being weary about your surroundings no matter what country you are in.

When talking to people about Cape town nobody mentioned how friendly and helpful everybody is. What’s ironic is that Canadians have a worldwide reputation of being really nice and friendly but the people and strangers I’ve met here are a lot friendlier than anyone I’ve met in Canada or anywhere else in the world. An example of this happened in my first week of being here when my landlords car broke down at the grocery store. We weren’t even standing there for more than 5 minutes and two separate individuals asked us if we needed help and then stopped what they were doing to boost the car. This exact same thing happened to me in Ottawa in the freezing cold and not one person stopped for me except for a taxi driver who I paid 30 dollars to for a boost which took 3 minutes. I’m looking forward to meeting more new people and learning more about this beautiful country with out having the tall tales taint my mind.

A House of Cards: Working Within (and Against) the Complexities of Global Humanitarian Affairs

February 24, 2015 | Casey, DVM, Independant, United States, UN OCHA

Now half way through my internship placement with the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in New York City, I find myself still unable to understand the compexities in scope and breadth of the humanitarian arena across the world. Amidst staff members and interns representing literally every corner of the globe, from Nairobi to Berlin, Jakarta and Caracas, to Montreal and Cape Town, to oversee the coordination of humanitarian responses is a daunting tasks in terms of inputs, outcomes, and impacts, to say the very least. My specific organization is the Inter-Agency Standing Commitee (IASC). It works to coordinate and facilitate policies and responses between 18 humanitarian organizations, including the World Health Organization, World Bank, International Organization for Migration, UNICEF, and many more stemming from both public and private sectors. Currently, members in New York, Rome, Geneva, Washington DC, and London work virtually around the clock six days a week in humanitarian responses to Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, South Sudan, CAR, Somalia, and many more areas of the world. Reports on a daily basis describe such events as “… 139 confirmed dead in” this city, or “… an increase in the transmission of Ebola” in this region, detailing in disturbingly cold language the effects and outcomes of disasters, violence, and hatred throughout the globe.

It is fascinating to have spent over three years in the classrooms of international development. To learn how to diagnose, how to assess, how to judge. It is interesting to learn what failures there have been in this arena and how responses are contextualized based on the socio-political climate in Washington, London, or Ottawa. It is easy to judge from a university classroom with my $9 cafe mocha as to how wrong development practitioners have gotten it, from modernization theory to the MDGs. It is easy to view the world from an armchair, whether such a chair is in Ottawa or New York.

But just because it is easy, does not mean it is necessarily right. Naturally, the extension of “global development,” especially when emerging from the cartel of states built on the foundation of neoliberal capitalism, must be taken with a critical perspective. Results from these responses touch the lives of tens of millions throughout the globe, and decisions made in the oak wood-panelled offices above and below me are indeed best made when scrutinized from outside organizations. The best results must, by nature, stem from insightful criticism and self-reflection.

This being said, it is not the socio-political flavour of the month that has led me to this placement, nor the latest inclusive or historically-apologetic fad that has allowed me to enjoy this work as much as I have. It is the challenge, the people, the debates. Much like my views on life have been shaped by the ideologies pushed down by mentors and professors - the learned ‘adults’ of this world - I am now in a position to see these ideologies manifest for myself, put into policy, and developed into practice. I can disagree with them and suggest my own. I can see their merits and build on them even further. In virtually all cases, however, my opposition to a viewpoint does not matter, and nor should it. Because here, in the halls of the Security Council, General Assembly, and the countless conference rooms and meeting venues in between, I watchs the titans of international governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, private firms, nation states, and so many more exploit the complexities of this world to suit their own agendas and their respective purposes. It is a difficult “rock and a hard place,” as they say, but it comes with the territory. It makes for the challenge, one that I never could have seen in the classroom no matter how intently I read the pages of the weekly reading.

As suspected, this experience has, thus far, affected by optimism of global humanitarianism, and has affected by outlooks for what role I want to play in this arena in the years to come. One becomes much desensitized by the figures on these reports, those to be targeted by the latest Strategic Response Plan in Yemen or The Sahel. In that way, this is a classroom of another form. One with oak-panelled walls and reclining leather chairs, three piece suits and a view from the 12th floor to the East River and Long Island City. In some ways, it is so much more optimistic than the theory taught in class, but in many more ways it is the opposite. And it is that challenge of paradoxes I love about this placement the very most.

The Adjustment Period

February 24, 2015 | Lindsey, PSY, CWY, India, Seva Mandir

This is my sixth week in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India. Though not my first extended trip abroad, it is my first trip in India and my first time interning in a foreign country. I want to write my first blog post the adjustment period during my time here in India:

Many of the things I was told to expect from India were not necessarily as people had described. I had been strongly warned of disturbing smells, obnoxious crowds, thievery, disrespectful men, and food poisoning. But rarely anyone took a moment to describe the upcoming beauty and comfort to me; the wonderful smells, friendly people, courteous mannerisms, lovely male friends, enticing food options and colours. Though the unfortunate aspects have encroached on the overall experience at times, it pales in comparison to the delightful occurrences.

In light of recognizing the full picture—the good and the bad—I would describe my first five weeks as an exercise in challenging my assumptions and preconceived notions, as well as recognizing I needed to take anything that I had been told with a grain of salt. It has been challenging, of course, but I think the lesson I have learnt in the first while of my internship is that it is often just myself—my opinions and inflexibility—getting in my own way. Reflecting on this has reduced the concept of ‘culture shock’ to a much smaller entity in my day-to-day world; I just need to relax and open up to my surroundings—not overthink how vastly different this place is, but how similar it is to home, and how similar I am.

Allow me to describe an average day during my time here in India: I wake in the morning with coffee being the first thing on my mind (my roommates can certainly attest to this). After I have attained said coffee, I will check my email for any update from my supervisor, and will then work on any documentation or research, either in my room or in the library here at Seva Mandir. Sometimes I take trips into villages for field work, which is fascinating. If it’s a break day from work, or during the evenings, my friends and I will visit tourist sites around Udaipur and check out restaurants (or go to our favourite spots thus far—take note if you’re coming to Udaipur: Brewmans, which is a coffee shop nearby, or the Rainbow Restaurant in Old City, which has my favourite viewpoint for sunsets and sunrises). For exercise, we like to climb up to a hill top temple nearby, which, for those of us out of shape, is a challenge. If we’ve having downtime in the evenings, I will often read, or journal.
For all intents and purposes, my day-to-day life in Udaipur, Rajasthan is not vastly different from my life in Ottawa; I’m still me–I’m just in a different country. I think the main difference is that I feel more of a license to act like an adventurous person, which is something I want to take back to Canada with me; the sense that you should always be searching for challenge, learning new things, and taking a moment to notice the beauty around you.

That being said, I think it’s important to establish the foundation with which you are going to start analyzing and understanding your surroundings. For me that meant that I needed to realize how normal my day-to-day is, first, besides the dramatic statements made about India prior to my trip here. Now that I feel more grounded in my environment, I find most of my cognitive energy shifting to focus on the bigger themes around me. If I had established a negative sense of community by only focusing on the non-familiar, I think this would be a very different blog post.

Cape Town : Une beauté intrigante

February 24, 2015 | Sinda, ECH, Indépendant, Afrique du Sud, CTRC

Cape Town est une ville à l’Ouest de l’Afrique du Sud qui ne m’a pas laissé indifférente à l’énergie qu’elle dégage et les défis qu’elle expose. Entre intérêt et confusion je suis entrain de vivre une des plus belle et la plus riche expérience de ma vie.

Ça fait maintenant plus d’un mois que je suis arrivée dans cette ville ensoleillée pour faire mon stage pour trois mois à peu près.

La première chose qui a attiré mon attention est la diversité qu’embrassait cette ville entre la modernité des pays de l’occident et les problématiques sociales des pays en vois de développement. Je suis originaire de la Tunisie en Afrique du Nord, durant toute ma vie et tout le long de mon éducation j’ai développé cette idée assez commune à propos des pays de l’Afrique que ce soit du Nord, Centrale ou du Sud, ce sont des pays qui constamment feront fasse à des défis de développement peut importe le changement qu’ils entremettront ou les leaders qu’ils choisiront.
Me voilà aujourd’hui dans cette ville qui a vécu une des plus violente histoire de la ségrégation raciale, 21 ans auparavant et qui depuis est devenu sans doute un des pays, si ce n’est pas, le pays le plus développé et le plus riche du continent Africain, avec une inégalité difficile à décrire et des répercussions d’une économie élitiste qui suscite la colère et divise le peuple.

La ségrégation raciale en Afrique du Sud demeure présente et très dérangeante, elle prend évidemment une nouvelle forme, et elle s’exprime économiquement. Les quartiers pauvres sont majoritairement peuplés de « personnes de couleurs » et avec le taux le plus élevé de criminalité étant donné qu’ils ne peuvent pas s’offrir une sécurité privé, tandis que les quartiers riches et aisés sont majoritairement peuplés par les « blancs ». Cette division est très agressif et écoeurante, car les quartiers sont très proches l’un de l’autre parfois comme dans le quartier où ce trouve le centre des réfugiés de Cape Town où je suis entrain de faire mon stage, ça me prends seulement 7 minutes de changer de décors, d’un voisinage salle, désorganisé, et dominé par « les personnes de couleurs » à un voisinage « blancs », avec des habitations luxueuses, des cafés à la parisienne, offrant des pâtisseries qu’on a du mal à manger tellement elle sont belles pour ne pas les bousiller.

D’un autre côté, Cape Town offre au voyageur le plus succulent des détours culinaires, avec des marchés partout dans tous les quartiers offrant une variété de nourriture préparé sur place de tout les pays.
Cape Town est aussi l’endroit par excellence connu pour les aventures et la montée d’adrénaline, avec la chaine de montagne à coupé le souffle (Table Mountain et Lion’s Head), des parcs nationaux gigantesques et sauvages et les océans à volonté, entre la mer glaciale de l’atlantique et le royaume indien des requins blancs.

Mais pour retourner à la question sociale qui m’intéresse le plus dans cette expérience et qui m’aide aussi à mieux saisir les défis auxquels les réfugiés font face en venant dans ce pays demandant le refuge et la sécurité. Je me contenterai de dire pour le moment, que peut importe la beauté qu’un pays peut offrir et le développement et la richesse qu’il peut atteindre et accumuler, si l’éducation de base jusqu’à aujourd’hui reste encore payante, si la sécurité devient un privilège et non pas un droit défendu par l’état, si aujourd’hui encore, 21 ans après la fin de l’apartheid on entends parler d’attaque raciste entre étudiants « Blancs » et étudiants « Noirs » parce que les deux ne sont pas égaux d’emblée vu qu’ils n’ont pas les mêmes privilèges d’accéder à l’éducation, lorsque la santé n’est plus un droit dans un pays où le nombre de personnes ayant le sida est alarmant, et le président du pays ose dire à la population « prenez une bonne douche est le virus disparaitra », je pense qu’ils ont encore beaucoup de chemin à faire et ça me désole de voir que dans un pays si riche et si développé il existe autant d’inégalité sociale, on peut toujours dire que ce sont les séquelles de l’apartheid ou de la colonisation est en partie c’est vrai, mais je pense aussi qu’il y a un grand problème de gouvernance aujourd’hui en Afrique du Sud et c’est ce qui me pousse à questionner repenser la notion de développement.
Est-ce qu’on est capable encore de parler de développement lorsqu’aucun des services sociaux de base qui sont à la source du développement humain équitable et durable ne sont satisfait, ou alors on va se contenter de compter le nombre mines d’or et de diamant que ce pays possède et les compagnies étrangères implantées sur ce sol pour épuiser ses ressources et répondre aux besoins d’une élite blanche blanche.

Mais évidemment ça c’est une opinion personnelle assez relative et basée sur ma propre expérience dans cette ville et les interactions sociales que j’ai construit jusqu’ici. Ça reste relatif et je suis consciente qu’il n’y a pas de place à la généralisation.

Celebratory Nepal

February 24, 2015 | Élise, DVM, MAC, Nepal, Ban Landmines Campaign Nepal

During my time in Kathmandu, I had the privilege of experiencing the Tibetan New Year, the Losar, which is the most important festival on the Tibetan calendar. The three primary days for festivities were February 19-21 of this year. For me, the Tibetan New Year celebrations were right at my doorstep, as I live at a Tibetan Monastery guesthouse for the duration of my three-month internship. The Losar festivities at the monastery were a beautiful display of culture and faith. It is celebrated at the beginning of the Tibetan calendar, which is a lunar calendar, meaning it follows the cycles of the moon. The New Year begins with the new moon. Although Losar is a secular event celebrated by all Tibetan people, the Losar has many Buddhist elements. Non-Tibetans are welcome to join and observe the events and celebrations. At the Benchen Vihar Monastery, I noticed many fellow foreigners observing the beauty of the Losar.

In the Buddhist tradition, lamas and monks spend a week engaging in various rituals and preparing their homes for the New Year, a task that involves cleaning and sewing new garments to symbolize a fresh start. The symbolic dances, masks, dresses, and ornaments featured during the ceremonies at the monastery represent the struggle between good and evil. Monks chanted sacred scriptures during the ceremonies, in between the rhythmic dances. A series of horns, drums, and symbols were played throughout the day and night as part of the festivities. It was an astonishing period of celebration, the like of which I have never seen in a Western context.

In addition to the celebrations of the Tibetan New Year, I had the privilege of attending a wedding party to celebrate the marriage of my work colleague. Nepali weddings of the Hindu tradition span several days, during which hundreds upon hundreds of people pay a visit to the bride and groom to give their congratulations and share in the gift of food. The wedding was a beautiful affair. The bride was dressed in a gorgeous gown of red and gold colours, accompanied by an array of fine jewelry. Women in attendance at the wedding ceremony were also dressed in beautiful saris of varying colours. Women from the same family wore matching saris of red, gold, and green, so it was clear that the family of the bride was quite large. The party I attended was just one of a series celebrations for the bride and groom, which encompass everything from saying prayers for blessings to dancing through the streets of Kathmandu.

During my stay in Kathmandu so far, a number of holidays have come and gone, commemorating Hindu and Buddhist traditions. The abundance of holidays of Nepal is especially indicative of the prioritization of religious and social aspects of life. Religion is an essential part of life in Nepal and has impacts for value systems and cultural norms. Religious holidays are a time to spend with friends and family, to enjoy different dishes of food, and to worship the Gods. The holidays are celebratory and can be experienced as a party in the streets or a reunion in the home.

Nepal is truly a country of celebration, where numerous ethnic, religious, and cultural groups meet. In Canada, we tend to celebrate our holidays or milestones on a single day (birthday, Canada Day, New Years Day, wedding day). In Nepal, people do not concern themselves with upholding a particular schedule. Some celebrations, like weddings or the Tibetan New Year, span several days or even weeks in duration. Nepali people take their time worshipping and celebrating important events in their lives. It truly is wonder to experience these celebrations first hand. The upcoming holiday is Holi, one of the biggest festivals in Nepal, and I can’t wait to see what this celebration has in store…

Déjà la moitié de mon temps passé ici à Lima!

February 20, 2015 | Katrina, Uniterra, Pérou, EPS EMAPA San Martin, stagiaire en développement économique

J’ai eu quelques malchances durant la première moitié de mon stage ici à Lima. Après un changement de direction, ma première superviseure qui se casse le pied, et ma deuxième qui quitte le travail pour maladie, il me semblait que tout tombait pile pour m’empêcher de commencer à travailler. J’ai dû affronter quelques mésaventures jusqu’à aujourd’hui, mais le pire fut certainement l’ennui!

Enfin, je vois la lumière au bout du tunnel. Aujourd’hui j’ai enfin complété mon Plan de travail pour le mois et demi qu’il me reste à passer à Lima, et je vais être très occupée! Normalement, cela me donnerait un peu d’anxiété mais après tant d’attente, je suis très excitée à contribuer à ces merveilleux projets.

Je travaille avec l’Association Aurora Vivar, qui mène deux projets pour l’égalité des genres. L’un deux vise à promouvoir le leadership féminin et les sources alternatives de revenus pour les travailleuses des entreprises agro-exportatrices de Paramonga. Très bientôt, il y aura le Jour international de la femme, le 8 mars, où nous mettrons en place une foire et des activités. Je serai en charge de la photographie et des registres, mais ce qui m’anime le plus, ce sont les feuillets que j’aurai la chance de concevoir. Ils porteront sur l’histoire du Jour de la femme, contre le harcèlement sexuel et le respect de leurs droits, et seront distribués dans les écoles de Comas et Carabayllo, au Nord de Lima y à Paramonga.

L’autre projet sur lequel Aurora Vivar travaille vise à promouvoir les carrières techniques, particulièrement de sciences et technologies, auprès des adolescentes du Nord de Lima, à Comas et Carabayllo. Plusieurs moyens sont pris pour atteindre cet objectif, dont un sous-projet appelé “La Chispa de Aurorita”, où nous faisons des ateliers sur les technologies d’information et de communication (TIC), d’électricité, de mécanique, etc. Bref, des domaines auxquels les filles ne participent pas traditionellement, et dans lesquels autrement, elles n’auraient jamais pu se découvrir un talent ou une future source de revenus. Je suis en charge de créer le manuel qui servira à la formation des enseignants sur les ateliers de TIC. C’est une assez grande responsabilité, et le projet avance lentement, mais avec un peu d’efforts, il sera fin prêt à être utilisé… après mon départ.

Malheureusement, je ne pourrai pas réellement observer le fruit de ce travail car les ateliers commenceront en avril, et je termine mon stage en mars. Cela est en partie dû au retard qu’a pris l’organisation suite au changement de direction. Mais c’est chose courante ici au Pérou, la direction change tout le temps, que ce soit des écoles, des organisations gouvernementales et non gouvernementales, c’est une façon de faire pour assurer la démocratie! J’ai entendu dire que dans plusieurs institutions (incluant le gouvernement national), il est courant que la nouvelle direction renvoie les employés qui ne correspondent pas à leur vision ou leur parti… une chance que ce n’est pas le cas dans mon organisation!

Je crois par contre que mes travaux porteront leurs fruits éventuellement, peu importe si je puisse les voir ou pas. L’important est d’y mettre les efforts, et surtout, apprendre de sa propre expérience et de l’expérience des autres!

Namaste from India

February 17, 2015 | Jahaan, ECH, G@W, India, Labour Research Services

I have officially been in India for about a month and a half - half of this internship is already over.

There have been numerous times where I have wanted to write my first blog post for the Faculty of Social Sciences but I refused to do so because for the majority of my experience here in India, I have been confused about what I am feeling - not only about my specific experience, but also about the country in general.

I have decided to write my post now because, although I’m still overwhelmingly confused about this country, I have a fair grasp about my personal internship and how this experience has already contributed to my own personal and academic growth.

Coming to India I genuinely had no idea what to expect. I am the first intern to come to India with the organization Gender at Work and, as such, I really had nothing to base my internship off of, other than the Terms of Reference that I received prior to departure and, of course, the organizations website. The work sounded wonderful to me, I was told I would be working on compiling a report on the challenges to the implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, India (2013). It sounded almost too good to be true, and so in that regard, I was skeptical about how my experience would turn out to be once I arrived in Hyderabad.

It has been incredible - better than what I had expected. I have a strong passion for gender studies and it has been great to be able to do some tangible work in the field and to finally see how these types of power dynamics influence the lives of real women in real societies. More often than not we simply ‘hear’ about the stories of assault and harassment that occur in countries like India but never did I think that I would be able to first hand hear about these experiences from women themselves. It’s also been interesting to see the differences in our conceptions of ‘gender studies’ and ‘gender issues’ between here and in Canada. In Canada, majority of our feminist discourse now surrounds LGBTQ rights and intersectionality whereas, here, it seems as if we’re still stuck on women even being classified as equal. It’s been difficult to adjust to this - that’s for sure. I have also had the opportunity to travel India with Gender at Work in order to interview relevant NGO’s, organizations, corporations, women, advocates, and lawyers. In turn, I have met some amazing and incredibly accomplished men and women. I have attained a newfound appreciation for the type of work that is being done in these communities and have realized that this is the type of work that I want to focus in the future.

Ultimately, I am still confused about how it is possible for a country that operates on so many fundamental and deeply rooted issues and injustices to also be as wonderfully incredible as it is. It genuinely doesn’t make sense to me and I have a feeling I won’t be able to figure it out in the next month and a half. All I know is that I am passionate about this work, and that I am so happy that I have been given the opportunity to come here.

“The first morning of the first day” (Têt)

February 17, 2015 | Marie-Isabelle, DVM, MAC, Vietnam, AEDP

The brand-new Terminal 2 in Hanoi

The brand-new Terminal 2 in Hanoi

Prior to my internship, I read and watched all that I could on Vietnam in an effort to be well versed on the country’s political, economic, social and cultural realities. Upon arriving in Vietnam, I wanted to be fully immersed and to be able to hit the ground running. After travelling over 13,000 kilometers and setting foot in Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport, I soon realized that no amount of research, Internet surfing and YouTube documentary watching could have prepared me for the real thing.

After reading about the devastation caused by the American War from 1955 to 1975, Vietnam’s current development indicators, and with the knowledge that Vietnam is one of the few remaining one-party communist states in the world, I made the assumption that I would be interning in a relatively struggling developing country. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I arrived in Noi Bai’s brand new Terminal 2 that officially opened one week prior to my arrival on January 4th, 2015. The terminal was modern, sleek and pristinely white. The airport was comparable to the one I had just transited through in Seoul, and was far grander than many North American airports. This was in sharp contrast to my initial presumptions of the country.

The newly constructed Nhat Tan Bridge in Hanoi

The newly constructed Nhat Tan Bridge in Hanoi


On the same day, Vietnam also inaugurated its newly constructed 8.8-kilometer long Nhat Tan Bridge that is located just south of the Noi Bai airport. As part of my internship, I had the opportunity to travel over 1,500 kilometers by motorbike, bus and train over the month of January, and I saw a staggering amount of construction and infrastructural investments in highways and high-rises. Vietnam is actually a booming and bustling country with the goal of becoming a middle-income industrialized country by 2020. I cannot help but wonder if I am witnessing a modern-day “East Asian Tiger Miracle”.
The city of Dong Hoi on January 25th, 2015

The city of Dong Hoi on January 25th, 2015


I am currently interning in Dong Hoi, which is the capital city of the province of Quang Binh. This centrally located province is located right above the former demilitarized zone (DMZ) on the 17th parallel, and was subject to heavy bombardment. The city of Dong Hoi was completely destroyed by B-52 bombers during the American War on February 11th, 1965. Today, this quaint city bordered by the Nhật Lệ River and the South Sea shows no signs of shelling or bombing. If the Government of Vietnam were not adamant in preserving historic edifices that were decimated during the American War, there would be absolutely no trace of this dark chapter around the DMZ region. When you travel from city to city, you can only be in awe of the sheer amount of reconstruction and the prevalent spirit of perseverance. My hotel is one of the tallest buildings in Dong Hoi, and I often go to the rooftop to see Vietnam’s fortitude and tenacity first-hand.
“Evidence of bombs and mines in Quang Tri”

“Evidence of bombs and mines in Quang Tri”


While on a tour of the DMZ region, the same rang true. Incinerated American defence structures and captured tanks and helicopters can still be seen because the Government of Vietnam wishes to preserve them. The few remaining charred bunkers and guard towers are often hidden behind new buildings or have been overtaken by vines. The last vestiges of the American War are often labelled as “evidence”, as though its occurrence could one day be denied or forgotten. Despite all of my pre-departure research, there is really nothing that can replace seeing these artefacts and pictures in person. Everything seemed more real, and the extent of the damage caused by the American War was much more palpable. The experience becomes much more profound when war veterans and those who lived in the Vịnh Mốc tunnels share their stories of survival. These are observations and experiences that can only be made in person. This is the true value of going on an internship.
The setting Sun over Dong Hoi

The setting Sun over Dong Hoi


As I write this blog under a setting Sun, the smell of burned incense engulfs the air and people all over the city are making preparations for the most sacred Têt celebrations. This 9-day holiday revolves around the Lunar New Year, and creates an opportunity for renewal and good fortune. Throughout the week, rituals are performed to ward off misfortune and incense sticks are burned to invite the spirits of ancestors to join in celebration. As the Vietnamese look to the future, there is always this deep reflection of the past.