Du Hockey à Hanoi

November 24, 2017 | Kevin, DVM, Vietnam, Uniterra, FPT University - Career Development Officer

Étant donné que le hockey est une de mes grandes passions, je voulais continuer d’écouter le hockey car je ne croyais pas pouvoir pratiquer ce sport. Donc durant mon mandat à Hanoï, j’ai eu la chance de pouvoir écouter et de suivre le hockey sur internet. Chaque fois que j’écoutais le hockey, je me disais qu’il serait intéressant de pouvoir jouer au hockey à Hanoï, pratiquement à l’autre bout du monde du Canada. J’ai décidé de faire une recherche pour une patinoire au Vietnam pensant n’avoir aucun résultat. Par contre, à ma grande surprise, j’ai trouvé une patinoire qui était située à Hanoï et où il était possible de louer des patins.

Le soir même après cette découverte, j’ai décidé d’aller y faire un tour et patiner un peu. Je ne m’attendais pas à grand-chose puisque je savais que le hockey et le patinage n’était pas dans les sports les plus populaires au Vietnam. Par contre, encore une fois à ma grande surprise, la patinoire était de grandeur régulière et la qualité de la glace était impeccable. De plus, pendant que je patinais, un groupe de personnes est arrivé pour jouer au hockey. J’ai commencé à discuter avec ces gens et j’ai appris que chaque mardi et jeudi soir, le groupe jouait au hockey à cette patinoire. Le groupe est composé autant de foreigners (des gens venant de France, Russie, Suède, Canadaetc.) mais aussi de locaux.

Depuis maintenant 1 mois et quelques semaines, je joue au hockey avec ces gens 2 fois par semaine et cela m’a permis, à la fois de socialiser mais aussi d’en apprendre plus sur le Vietnam puisque j’ai eu la chance de discuter avec des Vietnamiens et aussi des gens qui sont à Hanoï depuis plus de 10 ans. Il m’est donc possible d’avoir un point de vue sur divers sujets autant des locaux que de gens venant de l’extérieur mais qui y sont depuis longtemps! Par exemple, il y a quelques jours, je discutais avec un Français et un Vietnamien de la construction d’un train surélevé qui est en progression à Hanoi. Le but est d’améliorer la circulation routière ainsi que la qualité de l’air puisqu’une fois terminé, ce projet va permettre de réduire drastiquement le nombre de véhicules motorisés sur la route. Il était intéressant de voir les points de vue divergents entre un Français, qui est ingénieur sur le projet, et un Vietnamien qui va voir le progrès à travers les années.

Un autre aspect qui m’a été possible de faire à travers le hockey était d’en apprendre plus sur d’autres pays, notamment un des joueurs vient de la Lituanie. Cela me permet alors d’avoir une idée de comment est la réalité dans les souliers d’un habitant de ce pays. Il est donc intéressant de voir comment qu’une passion peut regrouper des gens de tout horizon!

The answer is a simple ‘yes’

November 24, 2017 | Celeste, ECH, Myanmar, Forum des fédérations Myanmar- Intern

Three months are quickly coming to an end, and as I am left saying my final goodbyes I have taken the chance to look back on the unforgettable experience I have had living and working in Myanmar. While a part of me is ready to get back to my home and step into the whirlwind of university life again, I am reluctant to leave a place that has given me so much, in terms of a new perspective of the world, new friends who will certainly be lifelong friends, and a newfound pride and respect for myself and the challenges I have overcome.

Working with a NGO has given me a fascinating insight into the non-profit field. I have seen first hand how these organizations navigate political and social dynamics to ensure that their mandate is being fulfilled effectively. My own skills have been put to the test and while I’ve had the chance to write a lot of reports and briefings, I’ve also been challenged to work in new areas, like social media outreach and writing press releases. During the workshops that we have hosted, I have met the most amazing people and heard such incredible stories of resilience and hope. Creating these forum spaces for all levels of political and social stakeholders to voice their blueprints for the future of federalism in Myanmar has been a successful step in moving toward a peaceful, decentralized country. What’s been reassuring is to see that NGOs undergo a constant cycle of reinvention, always aiming to create the greatest impact possible. A few weeks ago, we had the annual project steering committee meetings and it has been great to see the organization commit to improving its outreach to youth and women, as well as aiming to reach a more geographically diverse audience.

Two weeks after I arrived in Myanmar, I had the opportunity to attend a “Gender and Federalism” workshop that had been organized by the NGO I am working for. It remains the most impactful experience I’ve had in the work field. Over the two day event I listened as women shared their personal experiences of gender discrimination and their hopes for a future where women and sexual minorities have access to equal rights and opportunities as men. These women and non-binary folk – politicians, academics, activists – told stories of imprisonment and sexual assault, of forced gender roles and lost chances simply because of their identity; and yet here they all were, continuing to fight for what is rightly theirs. It was a uniquely empowering experience for me and it was the first time, of many, during this internship that I was humbled to have the opportunity to be here, witnessing this.

It’s the little things about my day-to-day life here that I will miss the most. The longjis that everyone wears, so colourful that everywhere you look seems like one giant flower garden. The bitter tea leaf salad and sweet fried nuts that are a staple palate cleanser for every meal. The golden Shwedagon Pagoda that rises triumphantly from the busy streets at the city centre; as I drive to work I have an unparalleled view of it’s spire from between the apartment buildings. My little apartment that I have made my home; I’ll miss the comfort it has brought me but less so the cockroaches and other creatures it has acquainted me with. The daily market just outside my door, always filled with shoppers. I loved picking out the best batch of sweet bananas or Asian pears and then bartering for a fair price – the smell of fresh, raw fish and seafood first thing in the morning won’t be missed as much. Hopping on a night bus and spending each weekend in a new city, exploring the stunning architectural history of Bagan or the vibrant natural beauty of Inle Lake. But most of all, I will miss the hospitality of the people who have welcomed me so kindly. Whether it was a quick chat, smile and exchange or an invitation to someone’s home to share a meal with their family, I have encountered nothing but generosity.

Of course, the experience has not been without its challenges, and to be here now, packing my bags after three months abroad, I am thankful for every one because they have helped me become more understanding of myself and the environment that surrounds me. Arriving in an unknown place where the social, economic, and gender dynamics are presented completely differently than where you come from, there’s a significant need to engage yourself in understanding the history, traditions, and culture that shape them. I know that these three months have profoundly influenced how I will continue my studies in the future.

Personally, this internship has taught me to take things less seriously and just “go with the flow,” something that I often find difficult as an individual who values structure. It has also thrown me into situations where I’ve had to speak up for myself when I normally would have remained silent. But most importantly, it’s shown me that laughter is the best method of connection. There’s nothing like trying to communicate without words to send everyone into a fit of giggles and create a special, shared moment between strangers or friends.

Since before my university career began, I knew that I wanted to participate in an international exchange. I have been extremely fortunate to live abroad twice in my life and I know, first hand, how there is nothing as challenging and rewarding as immersing yourself in the unknown. I’m a firm believer in experiential learning and I am so grateful that the university offers the opportunity to students to bring what they have learned in the classroom to life in the field.

What a privilege is has been to be a part of something so meaningful and unique. If you are reading these blog posts because you are considering taking part in an internship, the answer is a simple ‘yes.’ You won’t regret it!

Official last week in Sri Lanka

November 20, 2017 | Dhyeya, DVM, Sri Lanka, Uniterra, Communication Officer, Women's Development Center (WDC)

Well, I have officially begun my last week here in Sri Lanka. I cannot find words to explain how I am feeling. This past week I have just been focusing on tying up all the lose ends. I went to visit people to say goodbye, and things got pretty emotional. I also find it quite comical that now that I am leaving, I have huge workload. With 4 days left, I am still in the middle of writing multiple reports, finishing up case studies, and writing newsletter articles. My direct supervisor even expressed that she just began loving to have me around, and now I am leaving her.

One of the more memorable experiences in this month was a field visit to a village about an hour away from Kandy. We went to Delthota village to run an awareness program on our project, Women in Tourism. It was eye-opening to see – in person – the barriers that development workers sometimes face. The session was informative and participatory, discussing the opportunities open to women in the tourism industry, including hosting, HR work, and kitchen work. A lot of the women that day were interested, but mentioned that it was unlikely they could pursue because they needed to ask their husbands permission and most anticipated the response as being “no”.

What I noticed is that even though the program was open to all community members, only women were present. The invitation was open, but somewhere along the way our message was not targeting all demographics. That made me question, how could we hold awareness programs which catered to all community members? And would simply increasing the outreach make the project closer to reaching its objectives?

That day, two young women around my age approached me. They said they were waiting for their O/level results. Based on their results, they said they would contact us again if they were still interested. Having these girls approach me and tell me this showed me that these awareness sessions actually are effective.

What I’m trying to point out is that this experience has been exactly what I had hoped for. A challenge in which I was exposed to the reality of working in development in the field. Despite thehardships I had to endure, I wouldn’t change anything. I think it has been difficult for me to accept that I can feel stressed and overwhelmed, yet still be completely grateful for this opportunity.

I spent my final weekend saying goodbye to those who showed me hospitality.

I went on a picnic in the mountains with some neighbours, went out for some dinner with colleagues and friends, gave some gifts to the café staff who supplied me caffeine, and went to say goodbye to my fruit guy. At the central market in Kandy, my “fruit guy” quickly became my “fruit friend”. While I waited for him to package my fruits, he would feed me free fruits and I would tell him stories about my travels while he would tell me about his family. I ended up buying him a box of Lindor, which is a favourite for Sri Lankans (or so I’ve been told). He was so happy that he gave me my last batch of fruits entirely free. He doesn’t have an email or smartphone, so I got his address so that we could be pen pals, and we even made up a handshake. These are the experiences for which I will be forever grateful. Of course, working and travelling was fun, but what I know will draw me back to this island is the people who showed me kindness.

An incredible experience

November 16, 2017 | Catherine, ECH, Népal, Mines Action Canada, Ban Landmines Campaign Nepal - Program Support Officer

My time in Kathmandu is rapidly coming to an end and I have mixed feelings about it. Some days, I’m excited to go back home to my friends and family, but when I realize I have to leave behind this beautiful country and the amazing people I’ve met along the way, it’s a completely other story.

Last summer, when I got accepted for an international internship, I was very excited to be able to experience that kind of adventure during my studies. On the other hand, I also had many fears and insecurities about the fact that I was going to be living by myself for three months in an entire new country. Thankfully, all those fears quickly disappeared when I arrived in Nepal and started working with my organization. It’s incredible how quickly you adapt to a new place and how quick it can feel like home. This internship in Nepal has allowed me to grow both professionally and personally and I am very thankful for that. Professionally, it has given me an entire new perspective on the work of non-governmental organizations and how it can really impact people’s lives. During, my bachelor in Conflict Studies and Human Rights, we talked a lot about the work of those organizations in countries around the world, but it has been a completely other thing to be able to experience it first-hand. The work I did with my NGO also allowed me to work on my creativity and independence in a work environment, which are skills I will be able to translate in my work back in Canada. On the personal level, my experience in Nepal has allowed me to become a lot more independent and has definitely given me the taste for working abroad in the future.

With the end of my internship being so near, I also started to think about all the different things I have learned in Nepal as well as all the things I will miss when I go back to Canada. I have learned to be more patient with others, but also with myself. I have learned to say yes to everything that comes my way and not be afraid of trying something new. I also learned that you really don’t need much to be happy. This one might sound a bit cheesy, but it’s true! I will miss the generosity and kindness of the people. I will miss the amazing food and all the spiciness that comes with it. I will miss seeing temples and monasteries everywhere I go. I will miss bargaining for basically everything I buy, even though I won’t miss getting charged ten times more because I’m a foreigner. I will miss all the amazing festival I got to celebrate during my time here. I will miss trying to speak Nepali with no one really understanding me and I will truly miss the beautiful mountain views every time there is a clear sky in the valley.

During my time here, I’ve been told many times that people come to Nepal for the mountains but come back for the people and after three months, I understand why. Unlike many foreigners in Kathmandu, I wasn’t here to experience the mountains, which gave me even more time to get to know the people around me. Everywhere I’ve been in this country, I was welcomed with open arms and big smiles. I was faced with the language barrier many times, but that didn’t stop me from creating amazing connections with the people I’ve met. I can now say that when I’ll be back in Ottawa, the thing I will miss the most about this beautiful country is its people!

Being someone who was nervous about going to another country for three months, I can honestly say that it’s an amazing experience and would recommend it to everyone. I really hope I get the chance to come back to Nepal in a near future, but in the meantime, I will return home and hold on to all the amazing memories I’ve made along the way!

Chicken Soup for the Field Worker’s Soul

November 14, 2017 | Caroline, POL, Népal - Uniterra - Lalitpur District Milk Producers' Cooperative Union - Intern for communications and documentation

I’ve thought a lot about what I wanted to write my last blog post about. The first covered my initial impressions, and logically the last would cover my conclusions about my time in Nepal. But the problem is that first impressions of a new place are so much easier – the differences from home and initial excitement are so tangible, and I was eager to share my first thoughts on my new home. Making conclusions about a place, however, is much harder. How I can reflect on what Nepal is or what my internship has been like with any finality when I still feel like I have so much more to learn from this experience? With that in mind, rather than making conclusions and at risk of sounding like the latest iteration of Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, I’ve decided to record a few thoughts on what Nepal has taught me about development, working in the field, and global cooperation:

1 – Laugh at yourself

To work in an intercultural setting and engage in development work, I think that you need to be able to laugh at yourself. I realized fairly quickly that what with the lack of privacy and personal space, embarrassment and self-consciousness are simply not present in Nepal the same way they are at home. I can’t believe I’m sharing this anecdote on a public platform, but a few weeks ago I had a black and white kurta made in a store here in Chapagaon. When I arrived to pick it up, I was shuffled to the back of the store to try it on and make sure the fit was okay, but unfortunately I struggled to pull the whole thing over my head without tearing the fabric – in my defense, it is basically like putting on a fairly fitted dress, but without any zippers! Next thing I knew, what felt like the entire store staff and my co-worker from the office, were in the back room helping to yank the kurta over me. Eventually and with much laughter, I did succeed in getting into the outfit.

While the anecdote may seem far-removed from lessons on international work, the learning moment came afterwards when my roommate expressed her surprise that I had not started blushing every shade of red in this fairly awkward situation. It was only then that it hit me that what at home would have been a horribly embarrassing situation didn’t seem all so bad here. Instead, we all just enjoyed a good laugh at my expense and I’m sure I will be remembered at the clothes shop as the Westerner who couldn’t put on a kurta. It seems to me that any time you are going into a new country – whether it be working with a nonprofit or conducting primary research – you have to come in with a certain amount of humility and willingness to laugh about the things you don’t know, as well as the things that you do poorly in the eyes of the locals. This is a lesson I will take with me if I have the opportunity in future to conduct research in another country and am conducting interviews or focus groups. I think that humility and being able to laugh at yourself is part of being open-minded and is helpful in building relationships that will allow people from different cultural backgrounds to trust you.

2 – Don’t be a Wallflower

Working respectfully in an intercultural setting does not necessarily mean being a wallflower. Coming into the internship, I remember having a strong feeling that I did not want to impose my ‘Western’ beliefs or habits on those working in my office. I couldn’t expect that work would be done the same way as it was at home, and shouldn’t go in with the attitude that our way was best. I in no way think that either of these is the case now, but am just a bit more nuanced in my thinking. It seems to me that when working in an intercultural setting, we can go a bit too far to the extreme of thinking that we shouldn’t propose anything new because we don’t want to offend or undermine local customs. In my experience, if done politely and non-aggressively, people have been quite receptive to suggestions and have been keen to hear about how particular work activities (like communications) are handled where I come from. So it seems that we need a balance of being receptive and open to listening, but also of feeling comfortable to throw out new ideas and suggestions that may be different from what is common practice in the country where we are working.

3- Leaving the Field can be Harder than Entering the Field

Now that my departure for Canada is less than 2 weeks away, I’m beginning to think about what I will miss about Nepal. I’ll miss doing my laundry on my rooftop with mountain views, hot Nescafe (can’t believe I’m saying that!) on cold mornings, the smell of the mustard seed factory beside my office, the view of the rolling green hills with icy mountains peeking out behind them, and of course all of the wonderful people I’ve met and gotten to know here. When I left for my internship abroad, I was mostly filled with excitement and it didn’t seem so hard to leave because I knew that I would be back to my normal life in only 12 weeks. Leaving the field, though, I can’t help but think that I don’t know when or if I will be back – and that makes the leaving harder than the arriving for me.

Don’t worry, that’s it for sentimental bit – thanks Nepal for everything and I do hope I will be back!

le changement

November 14, 2017 | Kevin, DVM, Vietnam, Uniterra, FPT University - Career Development Officer

Étant étudiant en développement international et mondialisation, un sujet qui m’intéresse est le développement international évidemment. Le développement d’un pays peut se faire à travers plusieurs façades que ce soit du côté économique en stimulant les investissements afin de mener à des changements ou du côté social en changeant la façon de faire les choses et la mentalité à l’approche de divers processus. Ces changements peuvent se faire sur des périodes différentes de court à très long terme.

Cela dit, je suis présentement à Hanoi au Vietnam et je travaille comme étant un Officier de développement de carrière pour les étudiants à l’Université FPT. Une des approches du développement est de travailler avec les jeunes car ils représentent le futur du pays autant au niveau politique qu’au niveau économique et donc en développant des jeunes prêts pour le marché du travail, il est question d’une assurance pour le bien du futur. En formant la relève afin qu’ils soient en mesure d’avoir un bon emploi, cela leur assure un bon futur financièrement et donc une certaine prospérité économique pour le pays.

Mon mandat se résume à aider les étudiants avec plusieurs aspects de leur vie professionnel que ce soit avec la rédaction de leur CV, de trouver un emploi pour avoir un gain d’expérience ou de développer des attributs qui peuvent les aider durant un entrevue avec une certaine organisation. Pour la rédaction de leur CV, je suis présentement en développement d’une conférence avec un professionnel du milieu, un recruteur pour une grande organisation, afin de présenter ce qu’un CV devrait contenir et avoir une perspective d’un recruteur pour supporter et expliquer ces éléments et leur importance. Pour ce qui est du côté des entrevues et d’attributs qui pourraient aider durant une entrevue, je planifie rencontrer certains étudiants individuellement afin de créer une simulation d’entrevue car il n’y a pas meilleure formation que de la pratique simulée.

En développant ces aspects de leur vie professionnelle, cela augmente alors leur chance de se trouver un emploi en lien avec leur domaine d’étude et d’avoir un gain d’expérience et cela est important car l’expérience d’emploi est aussi importante que le côté académique. Le côté académique développe l’aspect théorique alors que l’expérience permet d’utiliser ce côté théorique afin d’en faire l’application dans la vie courante.

Le rôle majeur des ONG sur le terrain

November 13, 2017 | Maude, maîtrise CRM, Indonésie, UNAC, UNDP Indonesia - Intern Climate Change Cluster at Environment Unit

Nous avons eu la chance cette semaine de partir dans l’une des provinces de l’est de l’île de Sumatra. La mission avait pour but de rencontrer des ONGs qui travaillent sur le terrain pour s’assurer que notre projet puisse réellement améliorer la lutte contre les crimes forestiers. Nous avons eu une réunion avec deux ONGs. Au vu de la sensibilité des informations divulguées, elles nous ont demandé de ne pas les citer dans cet article. Ces réunions nous ont incontestablement permis d’avoir une vision plus informée et juste de la réalité.

Ainsi nous avons appris que les communautés locales n’étaient que très peu impliquées dans la commission des crimes environnementaux tels que les trafics d’animaux et de bois illégal, le défrichement ou encore l’exploitation de terres en dehors des concessions attribuées. La province a en fait connu plusieurs vagues d’immigration au cours des dernières années en provenance d’autres provinces indonésiennes. Ces « migrants » comme le directeur d’une ONG les appelle sont engagés par les réseaux criminels pour investir la forêt et procéder aux conduites illégales. Cependant, la non participation des communautés locales n’est qu’une question de temps selon le directeur. Une fois qu’elles auront compris la composante lucrative de telles activités, elles demanderont à y être impliquées. Il importe donc stopper les réseaux criminels à la tête de ces activités afin de les empêcher de s’étendre davantage en recrutant les communautés locales.

Le trafic d’animaux est particulièrement actif dans le secteur. Ce sont principalement les pangolins et les porc-épics qui sont à la mode maintenant. Exportés vers la Chine principalement, les premiers sont recherchés pour leur viande, leurs os et leurs organes ainsi que les bienfaits aphrodisiaques de leurs écailles alors que ce sont seulement les organes des seconds qui intéressent principalement les clients. Par conséquent, ceux-ci sont éventrés à même le sol, dépecés et puis laissés là. Triste portrait d’une société dont l’imagination ne manque jamais de satisfaire les intérêts de personnes obnubilées par leur bien être pour le plus grand plaisir de réseaux criminels qui ne cessent d’augmenter leurs marges bénéficiaires.

En ce qui concerne les aspects politique et juridique, les ONGs nous ont expliqué que les autorités de la province avaient récemment adopté un décret « tolérance zéro » en matière de feux de forêt. Le problème ne réside donc pas dans l’inexistence de lois mais bien dans un manque d’effectivité et d’efficacité dans l’application de la loi. Ainsi, dans une récente affaire impliquant une multinationale en raison de feux de forêt dévastateurs ayant commencé sur sa concession d’huile de palme, le juge a préféré appliquer le Code Criminel à la loi sur la prévention et l’éradication des feux de forêt. Or, celui-ci requiert la preuve de l’intention de commettre le crime alors que celle-ci stipule qu’il incombe au propriétaire de la concession, in casu l’entreprise, d’assurer une bonne gestion de son territoire. Par conséquent, l’origine criminelle ou non du feu de forêt est sans importance. In fine, dans cette affaire, l’entreprise propriétaire n’a pu être incriminée par le Code criminel en raison d’une absence de preuve montrant qu’un de ses membres avait bouté le feu à la concession. Les conséquences d’un tel verdict sont dramatiques puisque le nombre d’hectares de forêt détruits par le feu ne seront pas restaurés. Affaire de conviction ou de corruption ? Les deux selon les ONGs. D’une part, le juge était convaincu que le feu résultait d’un accident et ne pouvait être associé à un crime. D’autre part, les ONGs soupçonnent fortement que cette conviction ait été influencée par des actes de corruption. Cependant, et c’est là où le bat blesse, les actes de corruption sont très difficiles à prouver. Bien que consciente de leur existence, nous avions cependant minimisé l’importance de leurs rôles dans les crimes forestiers. Par conséquent, c’est une composante que nous allons désormais intégrer dans nos futures recherches.

En outre, nous avons eu la chance d’intervenir et d’assister à une réunion réunissant pas moins de seize acteurs jouant un rôle majeur dans l’application de la loi (directeur de la police, membre du gouvernement provincial, directeur des unités des forêts, membre de l’armée, etc.). Ces aspects de conviction et de corruption n’ont pas été abordés lors de la réunion. Pas plus que la coopération avec les ONGs. L’importance de la coopération et de la coordination a été affirmée et réaffirmée à plusieurs reprises certes mais seulement entre les différentes autorités chargées de l’application de la loi. Cette différence nous intéresse particulièrement car elle fait partie des premières interrogations que nous avons eues. Nous cherchons toujours à comprendre les raisons pour lesquelles les autorités refusent de collaborer avec les acteurs locaux et de les impliquer dans le processus d’application de la loi. La littérature est univoque à ce sujet. Plusieurs auteurs plaident fortement en faveur de la participation d’acteurs privés, publics, gouvernementaux, non gouvernementaux et communautaires dans l’application de la loi. En outre, de nombreuses recherches ont montré les résultats positifs de projets axés sur la gestion communautaire des forêts, c’est-à-dire la gestion des forêts par les communautés locales, (CBM) et sur la participation des ONGs dans cette gestion (Paneque-Gálvez, McCall, Napoletano, Wich, & Koh, 2014). La participation de ces différentes parties permettrait notamment d’étendre le domaine d’expertise ainsi que les réseaux de surveillance des crimes forestiers, deux aspects essentiels d’une gestion des forêts effective et efficace. Affaire à suivre donc.

Que retenir de cette mission ? Les ONGs sont des acteurs qu’il importe de consulter dans l’élaboration d’un projet. Agissant sur le terrain, elles connaissent mieux la réalité et peuvent incontestablement informer positivement le contenu d’un projet. En outre, les ONGs sont des acteurs avec lesquels il importe de coopérer et de collaborer. En effet, comme la littérature ne cesse de le souligner, la collaboration et la coopération jouent un rôle majeur dans l’effectivité et l’efficacité de l’application de la loi.

Current Project on Oyster Nut in Tanzania

November 9, 2017 | Nina, POL, Tanzania, Uniterra - MVIWATA Kilimanjaro - Business Development Advisor

How cool is it to see Mountain Kilimanjaro on your way to work? How interesting is it to know that we can potentially increase the incomes of the small-scale farmers while promoting environmental sustainability and forest conservation at the same time? I have gotten the chance to experience all of this during my international internship in Tanzania.

In collaboration with some German researchers and investors, MVIWATA Kilimanjaro took a part in the “Kweme (Oyster Nut) Project”. The oyster nut plant is indigenous to Tanzania. You can find oyster nuts being grown on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru (Northern Tanzania). The oyster nut vine can grow up to 30m but it has to rely on a carrier tree. The oyster nut fruit, a green oval pumpkin that holds between 10-30 individual nuts, weighs around 10 to 15 kg. It length is 40-60cm long and 20-30cm wide. The nuts inside the fruit are very nutritious and can be made into cooking oil. The use of oyster nuts is disappearing because of the introduction to sunflower and sesame oil. Growing an oyster nut vine can help restore the forest, as farmers need to plant a carrier tree to support the vine. Moreover, planting an oyster nut vine will encourage water conservation in the Kilimanjaro region because farmers need to learn about water management techniques to provide enough water resource for the trees and vines.

We have already secured some European companies who want to purchase the first batch of oyster nut oil in the Kilimanjaro region. The second step is to find oyster nut farmers and collect data on: the genre of the vine (only female oyster nut vine can produce seeds), number of vines, production and market price. Finding oyster nut farmers are difficult because most of them are situated in remote mountain areas. We decided to start our search by going to local food markets. We visited several markets to find and found farmers who sell oyster nuts. Then we asked for their contact information to stay in contact and visit the farms. So far, we have visited 5 villages in 4 districts and we still have more to visit. The outcome of the visits was positive as most farmers were very willing to start growing oyster nuts as there is now a demand in the market for it.

Promoting the oyster nut project will provide food and cooking oil resources for local farmers. Planting oyster nut vines and its carrier trees can help to restore the deforested area in the Kilimanjaro region. Due to an increase in demand of oyster nut oil in Europe, we are considering building partnership with other agricultural organizations and companies to build a stable exportation business in Tanzania.

Challenging my perspectives

November 1, 2017 | Dhyeya, DVM, Sri Lanka, Uniterra, Communication Officer, Women's Development Center (WDC)

I’m currently in my final year of undergrad, in International Development and Globalization. Most courses within my program address the effects that cultural differences have in a context of development, including how they can shape relationships between local populations and expatriates. Although I didn’t have to travel abroad, my main motivation to take part in an international internship with uOttawa was to acquire personal growth, and take responsibility as a future development agent by challenging my perspectives.

My initial experiences were hectic, so I would advise future students to be ready for change, and lots of it! Before departing, the initial position I had applied for was changed, and once I had arrived here in Sri Lanka, that position was changed again. I ended up working as a Communication Officer for a Women’s Development Centre. Specifically, I am working on a project titled “Women in Tourism”.

Tourism is actually one of the leading industries in Sri Lanka right now, yet only 7% of the workforce is made of women. There is a stigma associated with women in the tourism industry, and there are many misconceptions about the safety of the sector. Our goal is to increase the professional opportunities for women of the Central Province in this industry; we provide training sessions, create connections with job banks, and use different outreach methods to challenge misconceptions.

In this position, my tasks vary, and I am assigned to new assignments every week. So far, I have developed case studies on women, drafted reports, drafted contracts, assisted in the entire web design process of the organization, produced content for the social media accounts, and maintained networks of the project.

Working at the Women’s Development Centre has really opened my eyes to the frustrations, communication delays, and clash of ideas that are experienced during development projects. Not only this, but I have had the chance to observe the academic size of development in practice by being forced to apply the skills I have learned in courses.

To elaborate, the organization that I intern with runs a project in a tea estate village where the nearest town is 30 minutes away by vehicle. In this village the organization has initiated a women’s committee and a children’s committee for them to socialize and discuss critical issues. On one occasion, after pre-planning a meeting, we arrived only to learn that a woman in the village was getting married. Due to the wedding preparations, all the women were too busy to attend the organized meeting, and because they were busy, they were unable to bring their children to the children’s committee meeting. This situation happened because of a miscommunication, and the assumption that not all the women would be attending this wedding. The project organizers were forced to question how they could avoid this situation in the future, considering that sitting in a meeting was not always a priority for many of these women or their children. The approach was then restructured to be more bottom-up thus involving the women more in the planning process.

Aside from the internship experience, the personal experience has been both beautiful and harrowing. It took a while, but I was able to find a little coffee shop that serves the best coffee in the city I live in – and I go there so often that the owner and staff know me. I am their only regular customer and they have become my safe place. I have also very much enjoyed taking my weekends to travel to distinct parts of the island. Because I am here for such a short period, I have made it my mission to leave the city every weekend at 5 PM on Friday, and explore some place new. I had the chance to meet many wonderful people along the way who were eager to help me. So far, I have hiked up mountains at 5am to see the sunrise, taken jungle safaris with wild elephants, swam with sea turtles, and slept on a countless number of hammocks. Of course, there are moments when it is hard to adjust, and you are forced to see the inequalities that are hidden in plain sight. But in those moments, you mustn’t forget that those same inequalities – especially in terms of patriarchy – exist in the West, but manifest in different ways.

I feel that this internship has really given me the chance to grow both personally and professionally. I have learned how to function better in an interconnected world because I have been able to improve my intercultural competence. I’m sad to be leaving so soon but happy with all the challenges I have overcome – as hard as they were. I have already made valuable connections in Sri Lanka, and I’m planning to come back here after my degree.

Field Visits

November 1, 2017 | Nina, POL, Tanzania, Uniterra - MVIWATA Kilimanjaro - Business Development Advisor

The Maasai, famous for being cattle and goat herders, live in the highlands of Northern Tanzania. Their daily meals and economic production is based on their livestock. The Maasai follow their cattle and goats in search of new grazing lands and water resources in the Kilimanjaro region. Due to the remote location of the Maasai, members of the Maasai tend to have less access to education and economic opportunities than other ethnic groups in Tanzania. My organization, National Farmers’ Network (MVIWATA) aims to promote capacity building among farmers to increase their profit while providing marginalized groups with training on the latest agricultural techniques, business opportunities and human rights.

We have visited the Maasai village in the Same District of the Kilimanjaro region several times. MVIWATA asked for the help of Chairman of the village to encourage participation of villagers, especially women and youth. We collected primary data from farmer groups and individual groups to better understand their needs. The organization also conducted interactive trainings on HIV and AIDS. With another volunteer who studies international development in Canada, we observed that most participants who attended the workshops were women. We learned that in the Maasai culture, men are responsible for taking care of the livestock. Sometimes men spend several weeks to months away from their homes to find food and water for their cattle. The Maasai women are then responsible to conduct agricultural activities and domestic work at home.

We also provided training sessions on gender equality. In the Maasai culture, women should not speak publicly especially in front of other men. Because the presence of certain young men at the trainings, the Maasai women are timid to speak in front of the villagers. We encouraged them to participate in the training by having discussion sections. We also designed “games” such as passing the ball to another participant who will talk about things they learnt from the trainings. These activities worked really well in promoting women participation in the workshops.

My role as a business development advisor at MVITWATA enables me to gain a better understanding about agriculture business, cultural differences and social challenges in the country. My past experience working as a business analyst at a consulting company and as an investment banking intern allowed me to grasp the financial side of the business but doing an international placement in a developing country make me realize the social side of agricultural business. By doing field visits to farmlands, factories and agricultural companies, I got to know small-scale farmers’ difficulties in building relationship between processors and agricultural companies and farmers’ challenges facing climate change, deforestation and over population. This international internship has given me an opportunity to gain “hands on” experience in agricultural business while bringing positive changes to the community.