Posts Tagged ‘Development’

Metaphor of the Shopping Mall

October 28, 2013 | Aileen, DVM, JCM, Inde, Drishtikon

I tend to think of malls back home as pillars of suburbia, shining their lights to illuminate a parking lot. Going to the mall was cool when I was about 15, but I can’t say I spend much time in Canadian malls these days.

Malls in India are a different story. Your mere presence in those decorated halls suggests you have, if not expendable cash, the financial means to consider purchasing something. There seems to be an army of personnel in every store, waiting to assist you in finding your size. The visible security, the air of sophistication, and the potential to enjoy an expertly prepared cocktail turn Delhi’s shopping centers into something of an oasis.

But if the mall is an oasis, what does that make the outside world? Perhaps the simplest answer is ‘juxtaposition’, but I am tempted to draw a parallel to the differing realities of the rich and the poor. While inside, my vision of the outside world is distorted by the glimmering lights of consumerism, like rising heat in the desert. The harsh realities of poverty and limited life potential seem far away; inside this modern, Western place, I can buy anything I need. We forget we are even in a developing nation.

But waiting outside, Delhi will not be forgotten. Smoke, hanging heavy in the air, greets us as we exit the mall. The traffic whizzes by, leaving only the scent of petrol. After a dozen steps we see a child begging for money, pulling at my heartstrings as she grips my shirt. I cannot look her in the eye as I murmur my declines, clutching my bag of overpriced fabric, with my stomach full of rich Italian food. The social mobility and privilege stemming from my foreign passport and middle-class upbringing means I can walk through someone else’s world, to learn and observe, while knowing I will return to the comforts of my Canadian life. The conditions of my birth were purely luck; I did nothing to earn or deserve them.

But I wonder: when I glorify a shopping center for being a refuge from the hard life I see every day, am I perpetuating a discourse around development that is based in modernity and capitalism? Am I encouraging further disparities in wealth and capability? By spending money in a store that mass-produces their products from factories in – let me check – China and Indonesia, what am I contributing to? Hint: it’s probably not the creation of sustainable livelihoods.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ‘anti’ development or globalization. I couldn’t stop that tide if I wanted to. It’s easy to be critical of development theory while sitting in a classroom at a well-maintained university, where you don’t have to worry about a power shortage or the quality of the tap water. I could get theoretical and discuss the impact of terminology or buzzwords coming from the West, but nuances of meaning aren’t the most important thing at stake. At the end of the day, development is about improving the lives of people around the world, and there is no single ‘right way’ of doing that.

Pilipinas, Maraming Salamat (Philippines, Thank You Very Much)

August 6, 2013 | Czarina, DVM, AFS Internculture Canada, Philippines, Gawad Kalinga (GK), Program Development Assistant

I am still at a loss for words about how to relay my Philippine internship experience.

First, how does one express that sense of peace from “coming home”? As a Filipino-Canadian going back to the Philippines after ten years, I had initially thought that the cultural integration would be a breeze and that this experience will rekindle the Filipino in me. My experience was beyond my expectations! While the language barrier and the “taste bud shock” was indeed nonexistent, I still had to adjust to culture differences. In an odd way, I realized I was both more Filipino and more Canadian than I had initially thought. I’ve “come home” not to any sense of nationalistic pride, but rather to a deeper understanding of what it means to be a global citizen.

Also, how does one express that sense of admiration and awe that calls one to action? Through Gawad Kalinga, I’ve met Filipinos in various sector of Philippine society–as well as international volunteers. I’ve met professionals with day jobs, development practitioners, volunteer teachers from poor communities, university students from elite universities, out of school youth, urban poor children, and the list goes on. While every person I’ve met has their own story and has their own experience encountering poverty in the Philippines, what gets me is how much hope these people have for their country. They believe so much in the people they serve and work with that even though they may be faced with financial challenges and time constraints, they still manage to make time to work towards progress that “leaves no one behind.” And while the general pronoun “they” does not speak for all Filipinos, I’ve met enough who’ve inspired me to believe that “inclusive development” can happen and to thus look for opportunities to be a part of inclusive development in Canada.

Finally, how does one express that sense of confusion of knowing more but understanding that one knows less? If there is anything that this experience taught me is that no amount of class lectures, pre-internship orientation and even first-hand experience will ever fully prepare you for the world of practicing international development. I learnt I needed to be flexible and always ready to ask questions because the world I work in does not exist in a vacuum: every one (really, every one) is contributing to and changing the environment I work in even as I type (and you read) right now and there is just so much I don’t–and can not– know!

So, Philippines, thank you. I don’t yet know the full extent as to how much this experience has helped me grow professionally, but I do know that personally I have grown more emotionally mature and perhaps more ready to be a part of this globalizing world.

Communities in Development

October 27, 2011 | Valerie, DVM, WUSC, Vietnam, Hanoi College of Commerce and Tourism

It is about mid-way through my time here in Vietnam, and so far, the experience has been amazing and enlightening. Since I cannot go into detail about everything, I’ve decided to focus on communities.

Probably the thing that has really hit me most is the presence of a real community of ex-patriots – people who reside either working, studying or volunteering in a country not their own. I had no idea that this even existed. There are people from all over the world who have hardly anything in common except for the fact that they are in the same location as you are, and can communicate with you in English. Suddenly, when you are so far from home and friends and family, these seemingly small commonalities build quick strong bridges.

Perhaps it is only out of necessity, but people are very welcoming to others and so willing to include another foreigner into the pack. Some are here for the longer term, others for shorter stints like myself. The thing I most hoped but least expected to find when I came to Hanoi was a community I felt I belonged in.

The Vietnamese people I have interacted with are also very warm and welcoming. Many people in my area know one another and will stop to say hi when bicycling to the market, or will sit outside together playing Co’ tu’o’ng, or Chinese Chess. There is still an intense gap between myself and the community in which I live – mostly because I am the only non-Vietnamese in my neighbourhood, and certainly because of the language barrier. Every day that I walk to work I am greeted my some new person just saying “Hello!” for the pure entertainment of having me turn around and wave or smile or respond back with “Xin Chao!” to which they laugh and snicker amongst themselves. Sometimes I feel like a novelty, other days like a movie star.

The community I have found at the college I work in is very much similar among the students. My supervisor, however, speaks English well enough to communicate effectively, and translates much of the conversations I am present for. I am so grateful for this. Many times I have been invited to dinners and celebrations as a special guest, and am overwhelmed by the hospitality I receive. The office atmosphere is very warm and without many of the social boundaries between bosses and employees that one would expect in Canada. It is common for the Vice Rector to come into our International Cooperation Office and sit and chat with my supervisor over green tea and longan fruit.

Overall, the relationships that I’ve made between fellow WUSC interns in my area, friends from the college, my host family, select English speakers from the community gym I joined, as well as the ex-pat scene have made this adventure memorable and taught me more about the value of genuine connections, exchanges, and interdependence. I’m looking forward to experiencing more!