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.

A Flavoured Bridge to the Global Market

July 14, 2016 | Taviana, EIL, Uniterra Tanzania - Natural Extracts Industries LTD, Communication Officer

It must first be said that this is not another account describing the struggles of ongoing problems in a developing country – this is not about what is going wrong with a nation, but a progressing story of what is going right. Amongst the potpourri of facts about the African continent, one principle reality is that agriculture and fisheries together provide livelihoods for roughly two-thirds of people of it’s encompassed 54 countries.

In Tanzania, agriculture accounts for approximately half of the national income and employs approximately 80% of the country’s entire population. The farmers live for their crops; they invest, grow, harvest, care-for, cultivate and know every trick of the trade, all while investing their precious sweat, soul and time. With the rich, fertile soil that is soaking in potential, the crops of these farmers are easily enabled to prosper. However, one crucial question must be posed; why are these farmers struggling to maintain a sustainable income? Although the answer is far from simple, the one major conundrum that must be resolved, is finding a market within which to traffic these raw products. In November 2011, amidst a combination of passion and systemization, the founders of Natural Extract Industries Ltd. swooped in to address just this.

At first, the question of how to use vanilla was a matter of cultural diversity, because, generally speaking, Tanzanians do not commonly consume vanilla in their traditional culinary practices. To the point, however, in the global market, vanilla is in very high demand as the second most expensive spice following Saffron.

The long, strong, sustainable bridge that NEI has constructed between this natural ability to cultivate and a global market seeking to invest, is a excellent modernized reality of how to increase the Tanzanian economy by creating sustainable incomes for these smallholder farmers. From crop to bottle, in a rapidly changing world.

Understanding my Host Organization

June 21, 2016 | Oneyka, ESAPI/GSPIA, AFS, Ghana, Legal Resource Center, Project Officer

I have yet to write on this topic mainly because i am yet to fully or truly understand the host organization or my role in it honestly. I know this is questionable as i have been here for more than a month now but the organization has a very interesting dynamic.

There are currently 6 interns working in the NGO, along with one project director, a financial director and the executive director. We started off in May with just 3 interns, me, another Canadian, and a Ghanian. Two weeks after, another Ghanian was brought in. And just this Monday, two more Ghanians were brought it in making 6 of us. And i believe we are expecting one more soon.

Ghana Supreme Court

Ghana Supreme Court

Now when i arrived, my main task was to edit letters, revamp their social media platforms, add some pics, and some tweets, join conversations on the platform to be more involved with the NGO world. Also, i write news articles on projects that LRC is currently working on for the website. I have also done some fun things like created a fundraising platform for previous interns, attended meetings for the purpose of drafting NGO constitutions, redrafted a constitution, visited the supreme court and wrote letters to the national head of chiefs for an invitation to a forum to discuss initiatives for ensuring a peaceful election this year. All these including writing reports on specific topics.

Now I am currently in the process of drafting a manual to train and educate police officers on election laws. While all these seems intriguing and specific. We have also had loads of down time where we barely do anything, long deadlines that do not really motivate us to work. And very little direction or requirements for the assignments they give us. Within all these, i guess i could say my role at the moment is just to support the organization with whatever i can help them with, that is within my capacity. Not as fancy as having one position title like “project director” or “research assistant”.

Tanzania Lushness !

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

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

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

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

Loving the city !

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

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

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

Meeting the need

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

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

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

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

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

Work to live or live to work?

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

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

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

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

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