Posts Tagged ‘international development’

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Jon: This weekend

October 3, 2011

This last weekend was AMAZING!!!! We went to Dana Nature Reserve, Wadi Rum where I got to ride camels, ride in a jeep, flip down sand hills, eat with the Bedouin, attend a fake Bedouin wedding, climb a cliff, then climb it again at 5am to get to the very top and watch the sunrise. Then we went to Petra where I rode donkeys, saw the sand building that is famous from Indiana Jones, and saw many other buildings.

On a more serious note the more and more I experience here, surprisingly the more and more of an international isolationist I become. After all, imperialism is so rarely done with the thought of “I am going to exploit these people” but with the “I must help these poor less developed people.” So although intentions may be good, whether it be through infrastructure support, economic development, education, or intercultural awareness we are putting our beliefs, actions and values above theirs. Even if we try and say it is an equal exchange, the Arabs have been conditioned for how many years that our way is better so even if they use their own way our ideas will be influencing them. And as far as social cons such as poor, hungry, social inequality (except in extreme cases) to try and eliminate them or even alleviate them for Arabs is robbing their cultures of obstacles that although are hard, sad, and difficult would help make their culture great. Where would the US be if another country had stepped in and had given us our labor laws before we came up with the idea of labor laws ourselves? Would we formulate future laws, policies, or social constructs in the same way? Would we have the appreciated, dedication and respect that we have for them now?

I’m not saying we need to completely isolate ourselves. I know and agree there is room and reason to engage in the world however a much more critical dialogue needs to happen on these issues I believe before we take actions.

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Hilary: It’s been a while

September 26, 2011

It has been a while!!  I have been busy and been traveling!  Since the new program started I have read many articles about Ecuador, globalization, westernization, the Andean cosmovision, education, the new constitution, and so much more.  I wrote a group paper, and spent great time with amazing people.

As a big group of gringos we travel to communities who are working to sustain their indigenous cultures, cultivate their land, offer everything and more to their youth, and contribute to the world or larger community market.  First we visited a rose plantation, which is communally owned and is on its way to being organic.  (It takes a long time to de-contaminate the soil!)  The roses are beautiful, but for me it was a little sad because, well as one of the workers put it.. “we send the best and most beautiful roses to the United States and keep the others for ourselves.”  This community is struggling right now to sustain their communal plantation and sometimes the full time workers do not receive a salary for the month.  But all the same this community needs the work and income to sustain their lives.  I would love to see us use our amazing technology of the world to know about these kinds of cooperatives and what companies work with them to sell flowers in the United States. With a system of transparency that shows where products come from, how, and in what conditions we could really transform the way international business is run!

The next community we visited was called Cariaku.  This community has made amazing strides in terms of investing in their own communal interests and sharing their lives outer communities in Ecuador.  They sell the milk of their cows to outer communities, but the food they cultivate they keep for themselves.  Cariaku has a very unique community structure, which includes and assembly at the top and many representatives that link the local government to other communities in the surrounding area, the province, and the nation.  They also have eco-tourism, this involves the youth in the community to care for the nature, welcome tourists and get involved in sustaining the local culture. 

I have had some great weekends in Quito exploring the city; riding the teleferico, running in the parks, spending time with friends, practicing, writing a huge paper, dancing in clubs, finding live music, and seeing shows of amazing Andean dance!  This past weekend I had a wonderful surprise and was visited by an amazing person who I met on the coast.  I can’t wait for my next opportunity to be able to travel, share stories, spend time, and stop thinking about graduation!!

My classes the past few weeks have been ok.  I am not learning as much as I would like to in class, and most of the other students talk in English… meh.  I am at one of those low points in the study abroad curve where things aren’t exactly as I would like, but with each weekend and time with people outside of the city my experience gets better.  

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Doug: “A state of war”

September 21, 2011

This is how one governmental leader described the series of events over the last week here in Kenya on the news last night. Though a formal conflict has not broken out in the country, the seemingly endless death toll that has emerged in the last seven days has been heart wrenching. But even more frustrating than the series of events themselves is how preventable each accident could have been with better regulation by the Kenyan government. Many of the Kenyans that I’ve talked to, rather than showing sympathy, have expressed more of a weary resignation, saying things like, “Us Kenyans, we never learn…”

Tomorrow is the official mass burial for the 100+ victims of the Sinai gas pipeline disaster. This horrific accident occurred last Monday, at around 9AM, and even made it onto international news stations. Essentially a gas pipeline running underneath the residential slum of Sinai (near Nairobi) burst, after which residents rushed to get containers to collect the free fuel. Tragically, something (people think possibly a cigarette) turned the scene into a blazing fire pretty quickly. The images were almost post-apocalyptic looking, with houses near the gas leak incinerated in seconds. As more bodies were found, Kenyans demanded justice (relatives of victims are now suing both the Kenyan Pipeline Company and the Kenyan government). But one question kept emerging: Did Sinai need to happen? Articles resurfaced from as early as February 2009, in which residents in the slum were told of the dangers of where their homes were located, but refused to move. Also the pipe that burst was over 30 years old, way over the life expectancy for pipelines. One of the major differences I have noticed after living for a month here in Kenya is the lack of effective governmental regulation in so many different sectors in life. In America, despite how much we complain about partisan politics, we place a huge amount of faith in our government to get things done. And oftentimes they deliver. If there is a huge pothole on the highway, usually it is repaved over within a week or two. If there is a water main burst, someone is there to repair it within the day.

But in Kenya (which is considered one of the more relatively advanced African countries) oftentimes those people never show up. Like in the case of Sinai, why was the pipeline not replaced after 30 years? Moreover, how could the Kenyan government not know that this pipeline was due to burst soon? Or if they did know, why did they not move residents away? After all, isn’t one of the sole roles of a government to protect its people?

But the tragedy did not stop at Sinai. Earlier this week another thirteen people lost their lives as a bus lost control trying to pass another car in Mwingi. This is just another addition to the long list of causalities resulting from one of Kenya’s most pressing problems at the moment:  failure to control road safety. Earlier, I wrote a blog post about how crazy matatus (essentially small vans used for transportation) are to ride in. At the time, I thought it was kinda scary but fun, an exciting new experience in Kenya. But now I am realizing how dangerous transportation in Kenya truly is—claiming so many unnecessary lives every year. Many roads are falling apart, while some (those built by the Chinese) are brand new. Seatbelts? Who needs ‘em. Speed limits? Hardly ever even seen a sign for them. Traffic lights and stop signs? Why even bother to obey something if you know you won’t get a ticket for failing to? This is the mentality that the government of Kenya is struggling (failing) to control.

Then, to make matters worse, a few days ago, four more people died in Kiambu after consuming the illicit Chang’aa brew, a cheap, illegal, alcoholic beverage (oftentimes containing ethanol) that has been blinding those who consume it and even killing others. Kibaki (the President of Kenya) ordered an official crackdown on the brewing of the drink last week, but what does that actually mean? The communities affected by this brew are usually those living in poverty, since the drink is so cheap, and they are fed up. These poor areas, the slums, are often the ones who pay the penalty for governmental oversight. Huge crowds (mainly women) stormed suspected pubs, smashing bottles, outraged that some of their husbands suffered the consequences of this unregulated drink.

As an American student who has just started learning about Kenya in the past year, I’m trying to understand why Kenya continues to have these problems after 60 years of independence, and what led to them; but it’s not easy. I’m starting to understand how immensely complicated this field of development is, and how many different factors play into a country’s attempts to alleviate poverty.  But amidst all this sorrow there is still great hope. I went last week with several friends to donate blood at Kenyatta Hospital—the main hospital where many of the burn victims from the Sinai fire were receiving treatment. The number of Kenyans who had showed up to donate blood was inspiring. And though that experience (though perfectly safe) probably banned me from giving blood in the US ever again, it was uplifting to see the support Kenyans had for other Kenyans.

And so life in Kenya pushes onward. Only time will tell what the next 3 months will bring, but undoubtedly it will continue to open my eyes to this country that is, for now, my home.

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Mia: the word of the day is “frustration”

September 18, 2011

We got out of class very early today, so I decided to come home and change into warmer clothes (it was very cold today) before going out to get tortillas to make quesadillas for my family. The paper was on the table when I got home, so I sat down and started reading it. When I turned the page, I saw an article that really pissed me off, and I’ve actually been pissed off for several hours now. Looks like the quesadillas are going to have to wait. 

This article described the sadness of one of the firefighters at the Sinai fire, and goes on to quote him saying that it’s the worst thing he’s seen in all his days of firefighting. This is understandable—over 100 hundred people have died so far, mostly because they were either in their houses, which are right next the river in the slum, or they were trying to get oil out of the river to sell later. Some of the pictures I’ve seen of the bodies have been horrifying—people literally burned to a crisp, with entire bones showing through the blackened flesh. It’s enough to make you want to buy every single person living in that slum a house to themselves so that this never happens again.

As I was considering what I could do to do just that (not the house part), that only thing that came to mind was that I can’t. This seems to be one of the many things in this country that I want to help with, but can’t change, which let me tell you, is maddening. I spent the next several hours trying to find some kind of NGO online that helps people in poverty pay for their medical bills. Google tells me there isn’t one, as does the State Department. This would seem to be encouraging, because it opens the door for me to start one, but then the problem arrises as to how exactly I would go about that…

The idea I have for this NGO is an organization that gives small loans to people in Nairobi to pay for their medical bills or the medical bills of their deceased family members. It’s a huge problem here, and getting loans is next to impossible for medical bills. This organization would start off with a small amount of money, loan it out, and when the money is returned, reuse it with other loans. This seems like a good idea in theory, but the work it would involve, and the paperwork that would be needed, is mind-boggling. Especially for one senior in college, in America, in ROTC. Simply put, it’s not possible for me right now. 

So that’s unfortunate. But maybe, I thought, I could keep the idea in the back of my head, and do some research while I’m serving out my time in the Air Force so that I’ll be well-prepared to attempt this venture later. Thankfully, something like this has already been successfully put into action in the form of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, which loans money to the poor, and is almost completely owned by its owners. Seeing such a successful example of what I might want to do, I thought, maybe an internship with them would be a good idea? Judging by how long it’s taking the current commissionees to go active duty (in layman’s terms, it’s going to be 9-12 months before I have a job after I graduate), I would have time. 

Looking at their site, I discovered that an internship is actually fairly easy to get, and not too expensive. The idea actually seemed to be feasible. And then I looked back at the last few months of my life, and realized that if I actually go through with this, I will have studied/researched in Russia, Kenya, and Bangladesh within a year of each other. This brings me to more frustration.

To most people, it probably seems like I’m just bouncing from country to country with no direction, and to an extent, that may be true. I’ve tried to find connections between Russia and Kenya, and believe me, there are no connections. Russia is developing, and Kenya is developing as well, so the streets and buildings may look the same, and they both enjoy tea, but the similiarities end there. The only connection that I can find is myself (and how JFK funneled money into Kenya to stop the spread of Communism during the Cold War, but that’s another term paper…). I went to Russia to polish up my Russian, and I’m in Kenya to study development and try to bring back enough expertise and experience to educate other people, specifically people in the military. However, it’s beginning to seem to me that I may have tried to do too much, something that probably sounds familiar to most of my friends.

So, frustration. Frustration that despite taking 10 semesters of Russian, I can’t score well enough on the military’s language test to get foreign language pay, frustration that I don’t have enough time and resources to start the NGO that I want to, and frustration that on paper, it really looks like I’m throwing darts at a globe to decide where I’m going next. But most of all, frustration with myself that I’m trying to do all these unconnected things at the same time. And that I got REALLY off track with that quesadilla-making.

These problems aren’t things that can be solved overnight, so I can only keep chipping away at them, and hope that eventually all the work will pay off. Oh, the troubles of a middle-class white girl… Well, I’m going to go get that tortilla, and make some Russian and Swahili flashcards.

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Mia: Updates from Nairobi

September 15, 2011

Updates: I’ve been going to Kibera, I got braids, I gave blood at the hospital yesterday, and I’m going camping tomorrow. 

I started going to Kibera with Jeremy to help with the girls’ play, which was this Saturday. At first I was incredibly pissed off that people lived like that in the slums, and that no one was doing anything about it. But after being with the girls for a while, I realized that yes, it sucks that they live in a place like that, but they’re making the best of it, and they’re doing a great job of it. It’s incredibly inspiring to see a group of young girls reap the rewards of all their hard work (the entire event was to benefit them).

That same day, in the morning, I visited the giraffe center and got to kiss some giraffes. They let you put giraffe food in your mouth so the the giraffe takes it from you! 

After the play, some of the other students and I went to an Egyptian restaurant and enjoyed some Tuskers while watching the Wisconsin football game online…until we lost the feed. Then we relied on updates from Grace’s boyfriend, and Roy gave me updates on the OSU game. We stayed out for a while, and Chris and I had an unfortunate almost run-in with some men with AKs, but the night ended with all of us happily in our beds.

Also, I managed to find time to get braids last Friday. I sashayed into Kenyatta market and plopped myself down in front of several women that were all too happy to braid a mzungu’s hair. At one point there were five ladies working on my head, it was quite the experience! 

On a darker note, the hospital put out a need for blood a couple days ago after some oil got into a river inside a slum and exploded. Over 100 people were killed, and many more were injured. A lot of the MSID students went to give blood and food to the hospital, and there were tons of people lined up there when we arrived. The hospital staff said the response had been great, and that they’d reached their goal for blood. 

Tomorrow I’ll be going camping with Simon’s (one of our coordinators) family, in Ngong Hills. It should be a great time! We will be matatuing out there (a kind of crazy bus), and then piki-pikiing (a motorcycle) to the camp site. Apparently we’re going on a guided hiking tour, so I’m ver excited for that. 

Also, I’ve finally decided what to do with the reception that I paid for, but don’t need anymore. I’m going to be holding a fundraiser to benefit the Longonot Initiative, a NGO co-founded by Kyle, the ROTC guy that went on this program last year. So far the plan is to have it on Dec 18th, and sell tickets for 20 dollars. We’re working on a contract with the hotel, and finding entertainment. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by like-minded people that are very happy to work with me on it.

It can be overwhelming to look around here and see everything that’s going wrong, but it’s impossible to ‘fix’ all of it, and it may not look like it, but people ARE trying to make things better. It’s just difficult to see sometimes. My host mom says that all the kids that come here get overwhelmed and try to do everything at once, and I think she’s right. We’re not expected to come in and make everything better—we’re expected to learn, and hopefully to contribute something in return. Hopefully, that’s what we’ll all be doing by the end of this. 

That’s all for now, I’m off to write some papers for class.

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Doug: Back to school!

September 12, 2011

Well I guess it’s time to start the real “study” part of “study abroad” (couldn’t avoid it forever I guess). Last week we started our first week of real classes after returning from a 5-day-long orientation at Lake Nakuru National Park. Highlights from orientation week included:

  • Trying to learn 21 new names. So far it has been just the 5 of us who came early for the August-Intensive Swahili Pre-Session. Now there are 26 of us total—making it a lot more difficult to go places. A group of 26 wazungu is a pretty big target for pick pockets. One girl already had her bag stolen from underneath a table.)
  • I also had my first experience of being successfully robbed. I was heading downtown with two friends to meet up with the large group of newly arrived semester students. We boarded a bus, and not long afterwards three men with large envelopes (a sure sign of pickpockets) got on after us. They moved to sit closer to us as soon as they could, and when our stop arrived, we stood up to get off. Instantly they started crowding us, “accidentally” pushing me back into my seat, and blocking the exit of the bus. My friend Chelsea realized what was going on and shoved the guy blocking the exit out of the stopped bus. We pushed our way out, and booked it to the other side of the street—only to realize that my travel water bottle had been stolen from the outside of my bag.  Luckily nothing valuable, but still a good reminder that we can never be too careful here.
  • After our 3-hour-long bus ride west of Nairobi to Nakuru National Park, we arrived to the compound in the heart of the park, where we would be staying. We spent the next few days in talks about safety, health, host family stays etc. , doing cheesy bonding games (takes me back to beginning of freshman year of college), and doing evening game drives through the park. Lions, zebra, flamingoes, and buffalo. Oh my! (Going from Arusha National Park in Tanzania, to Nakuru, I’ve seen enough animals to satisfy for the time being).
  • Every morning, afternoon, and evening, a large family of baboons would hop the fence into our compound, and just hang out for an hour or so. We would be sitting in a circle outside, doing one of our talks, and a massive baboon would just come strolling by. It definitely kept things interesting. Periodically our director would have to grab a big stick and chase them away.

Since I haven’t talked about what I’m actually studying here, I’ll briefly tell you guys. The program (University of Minnesota Studies in International Development) is focused on development (surprise!) and there are 4 main academic components:

1)      International Development—here we study developmental theories, what has worked, what hasn’t (and why it hasn’t) and the biggest developmental issues facing Kenya right now. What’s really cool though is that we get to choose a specialization track (Education, Social Services, Microfinance, Environment, or Public Health). I was torn between Education and Social Services, but for now am going with the Social Services track, since I’m thinking of maybe doing Social Work in the future.

2)      Kenya Country Analysis—this is basically overview of Kenyan history, pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial, Kenyan political structures, etc.

3)      Swahili—the never ending attempt to become conversational in Swahili continues (I think I’m getting pretty close)

4)      Internship—this part does not come until late October. At that point we all split off and are sent to different parts of Kenya to work an internship with a developmental NGO for 6 weeks, based on what our development interests are. I finally found out (I was a little impatient) that I will be interning at The Wema Centre (Swahili for ‘goodness’)—a children’s home/ orphanage in the rural coastal town of Bamburi, 20 minutes north of Mombasa. Part of what they do is go into the city of Mombasa and work to get begging street children out of the city and into the orphanage, where many children ages 4-14 live, go to school, and eat meals—(much more to come on this once I get there). Oh, and I also found out I will be living with a Muslim family, with young kids, in a Muslim community, so that should be really interesting (again, more to come later)

Classes here in Kenya are a little different than back home for a few reasons. They almost never start on time, often get out early, and while our professors actually are very intelligent and the classes so far have been very interesting, the academic climate is just much different. Nobody is freaking out about GPA, grades, etc. I love Tufts, but let’s just say I’m not sad to learn for learning’s sake, in a much more chill environment.

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Hilary: 24 new people!

September 8, 2011

The semester has started!  And along with it came 24 wonderful amazing new people!  We are now a strong group of 26 women and 3 young men.  That’s a lot of estrogen!!  As I walked into the auditorium this past Tuesday which is usually empty, I was confronted with 24 new people and a collective anxious and proud energy.  As the week went on I kept switching from staying in the background and watching quietly, to interacting and telling jokes and stories in English and Spanish.  This past weekend we all had a retreat in Los Bancos (a small pueblo just outside of Mindo, about 2.5 hours northwest of Quito).  This was a magical place.  The hotel was beautiful and set in a forest reserve.  I can’t begin to describe all of the flora and fauna that I encountered.  If I only leave with one concept when I leave Ecuador, for now I want it to be diversity.  Diversity of nature, animals, insects, plants, land, and finally diversity of peoples.  Over the weekend I learned the names of all of my new compañeros, learned about their lives here and in the states and started some beautiful friendships!

There are 4 different “tracks” in my study abroad program.  The first 3 weeks in CIMAS is a general program to learn about development and politics in Ecuador.  After these 3 weeks we will be split up into our prospective tracks.  These tracks are education, social services, public health, and environmental studies.  I am in the track of education. It is one of the smaller tracks—only 5 of us!  But I am looking forward to the opportunity to work closely with these 5 people!

Now to backtrack a bit… Last weekend the 5 of us from the pre-session took a tour of the northwest coast!  We visited Atacames and Mompiche in the province of Esmereldas and then traveled to Canoa in Manabí.  The ocean is so tranquil and calming!  I had a great time getting to know other travelers from all over South America!  From Colombia, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Guatemala.  We had great campfires on the beach with guitars, drums, accordions, flutes, singing, dancing, and great conversation. If anyone is in Canoa, please stop by the Hostal Iguana, wonderful people with buena onda (good spirit).  

This past week we had an amazing lecture by Doc Haliday, an ethnomusicologist who has been living in Quito for the last 6 years. He gave a lecture about embracing a new culture and letting go of inhibitions and habits from the U.S. I was loving it. He was describing the process I went through in India and in Guatemala to accept, grow, change, and learn different ways of interacting with the world and then he challenged us to spread our knowledge and what we learn, how we change so that the eyes of the world’s peoples can be opened as well. I am so fortunate to be able to be on this study abroad program, and in Ecuador no less. I am hoping to take advantage of all of the opportunities I have to grow and learn, and then to share with you and anyone who I bump into along the way!

One of the main things that I am learning about here is rights for the land and nature. Right now Ecuador has one of the most progressive constitutions in history. It has mandates protecting the land and the indigenous peoples and cultures who live with the land. This constitution clearly respects that we need the land to live and that if we take advantage of it we will suffer because it provides life for us. (In a nutshell, that is the point of view..)

Another idea that we have spent a lot of time talking about here is energy, the energy of the earth, of people, and the energy of the universe.  This is based of of Incan beliefs of the balance between north, south, east, and west; and also the balance between the four elements, wood, fire, air, and water.  We need all of these to live and to create an equal balance in our lives.  One of our guides was explaining the “myth” of 2012.  It is not that the world is going to die—it is that our poles are shifting, and that is creating off-balance in the land.  In 2012 they don’t have an exact prediction of how many degrees the poles will shift, but it is expected that they will.  He talked about the last tsunami/earthquake that hit Japan as an example of a repercussion of this shift. After this little talk, he took some volunteers to measure the size of their personal energy.  He used to metal sticks that cross when they encounter an energy field or force.  We were standing on the equator at this point and so he could show us the force between north and west/east.  He picked me and discovered that my “energy field” is actually quite large.  So cool to see it!

I am continuing to love my time in Ecuador and am ready and open to keep learning.  I hope you are all learning something too. Continue on your journeys, stay happy and healthy!

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