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Monday
Apr102017

I will be a hummingbird 

“There is no world, there is only 6 billion understandings of it,” Drew Dudley literally turns the idea of “changing the world” on its head and urges us to look from the bottom up, challenging our perception of the seemingly insurmountable task. So, who’s up to bat? The Mother Theresas, Mahatma Gandhis or Nelson Mandelas of the world? No. It’s you and I. Ordinary people, who have the capacity to have an extraordinary influence on others; one understanding, one mind, one heart, one action at a time.

I am sure we have all met a person who was responsible for creating these lollipop moments, Drew was talking about.  A person, who in simply being themselves, without even realizing it, positively impacts the lives of those around them. Throughout my internship, I have had the privilege to meet and work with some remarkable people. Some who passed in and out of my life for only a brief moment, others who I was fortunate to come to know over time, but each one, in their own way making an impact. Coming away from the whole experience, it is clear to see how much I have been changed by the lives of these people, but it’s much more difficult to see how I’ve had any impact on them.  It seems as though that’s exactly what Drew is getting at, it’s in those moments that we never imagined making a difference that is the difference.  We may never have the luxury of knowing or receiving acknowledgement for what was done, but the fact is that every action has an effect no matter how great or small. It’s challenging to be placed in the middle of a complex community, with a complicated history, unique economic, social and environmental realities for a very short amount of time, and expect that our presence is going to make any monumental contribution to the work that is going on there. It’s almost inevitable that anyone would fall short of meeting that objective but I have come to understand that is not what’s important. What is most important is that we do the best we can, always.

In the face of adversity, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the barriers in our way. I would say let your conviction of knowing you’re doing the right thing sustain you and whenever you are feeling discouraged or defeated in whatever battle you are fighting, remember the story of the hummingbird  told by Professor Wangari Maathai . (If you don’t know who this amazing Kenyan woman was, you’re going to want to do yourself a favour and google her, now. Go do it!).

We are agents of change. Each and every one of us. We cannot stand idle. As the great Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” So go fight your forest fires, one drop at a time, be the lollipop to someone’s moment, dare to change someone’s understanding, be unforgivingly bold and speak up. Don’t let your good intentions be undermined by the false presumption that you are insignificant. Never underestimate the impact of a simple action. You are powerful beyond belief.

Patricia Butt was working as an eRoots Coordinator with Crown the Child Africa in Kenya.

Wednesday
Apr052017

Dr. Rosen

During my time in Cape Town, I was very fortunate to be able to have a conversation with Dr. Eli Rosen who seems to be tackling the current gaps in sex education curriculum in South Africa one classroom at a time. We had a lengthy conversation about their work which I attempted to edit down for the sake of brevity.

On their pathway to the field of sex education

Dr: Rosen: For the most part I am educated as a homeopath and I have a master’s degree in homeopathy. I was in private practice for quite a while and part of that was that it was very difficult for me to actually get a practice established because of the fact that I am a very out, very open, very obviously queer non-binary person. As such I ended up starting to look for other employment and something fell into my lap which was doing sex education. And I started doing sex education because a friend of mine has been working in the industry for about 20 years and she had a school where one of the learners in the class was a gender non-conforming person and she wanted somebody to be there that would be relatable. So, I started doing sex-ed with her, doing the gender and sexuality components. I also lecture gender and sexuality at the university level and I’ve been around the country doing gender and sexuality for social work, psychology, and nursing students. So basically a lot of  healthcare people. I started doing the gender and sexuality component at schools for high school sex-ed and I really love it and as a result I’ve ended up getting into it more - I do the entire program now. We do a comprehensive sex education program which is actually part of the curriculum for life orientation. Now comprehensive sex education is based on a very specific model, it moves away from both the medicalized and moralistic models. The medical model is where you get shown very graphic images of STIs and are told if you have sex you are either going to get an STI and die or you’re gonna get pregnant. Then you’ve got the moralistic approach which is the very much religion based abstinence only, and in itself also has been proven not to work.

Comprehensive sex education is coming into the schools all over the world. Sex educators and policy makers from all around the world got together and drafted a policy document in Madrid a couple of years ago.

http://www.desexologia.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Science-Based-Sexuality-Education-Madrid-Consensus-Paper-FINAL.pdf

And in this paper, they actually discussed what would have to be covered in the curriculum in order to be effective to deal with societal issues. And you can’t just look at things like domestic violence or sexual health or pregnancy or HIV infection, because those things in isolation don’t actually help if you just address them as individual issues. It has to be included as a holistic approach to sexuality.

On the ineffectiveness of legislation

Dr. Rosen: Now in South Africa our law gives every child above the age of 12 the right to healthcare, reproductive healthcare, access to contraception, access to abortion, access to education on matters related to sex. Even though it’s laid out in the law, it still hasn’t been followed through with a comprehensive sex education curriculum that has been rolled out to all schools. Last year, there was a framework that was created, the adolescent sexual health five-year plan by the department of basic education. They have written out what needs to be covered by a comprehensive sex education curriculum. The sex ed curriculum is supposed to be getting rolled out in all the schools, whether it be the independent board schools or government schools. All teens should be getting the same comprehensive sex education. In South Africa we’ve got a massive issue with teen pregnancy and increasing HIV infection rates between the ages of 18 and 25. So these are young people who should be getting good information but unfortunately are not, and are engaging in risky sexual behaviour even though they should know better because of all the money that’s been spent on HIV education. It’s just not translating. So, there is actually a mandate for people to talk about these things in schools. And as part of sex ed, that’s what I’m doing. At this point time, it’s a case of trying to find a way to take what we’re doing and make it available to more people and focus on people who need it most.

On the heavy workload taken on by non-profit organizations

Dr Rosen: There are really good NPOs and advocacy groups who are doing really, really great work and they are completely underfunded, understaffed and overburdened with functions that should have been part of the government to begin with. The fact that there needs to be NPOs to fulfill the functions of our government social services is frankly ridiculous. The entire system is run by NPOs which is such a precarious situation when you have funding one year and then don’t have funding the next year. It means the follow through on projects is just about zero. Somebody dies and suddenly the entire organization collapses because they were doing all the work singlehandedly. I mean if you look at Intersex South Africa, when Sally [Gross] passed away everything else came to a grinding halt and there has been nobody to take over and that’s typical of the entire system. There are lots of really passionate people who are doing really good work but it's an entirely hand to mouth, or project to project, situation for most NPOs.

On the positive aspects of their work

Dr. Rosen: I think on a personal level, I get to see that there’s a lot of things that happen that are really affirming. I’ve had kids come up to me after sex-ed classes and say “Hey Doc listen, I run an LGBT Instagram account and I know all the stuff that you said from reading, but I never thought I would see an adult or a doctor standing in front of me saying all these things. It almost makes it real instead of it just being something that we’ve made up”. Actually being able to validate young people’s sexual and gender identities, and affirm all of these complicated concepts which they, because they are internet users, they have already been exposed to. Being able to stand in front of them and say “Hi, I’m a real life non binary person, I’m married, I have kids. I’m a doctor with a Master’s degree. Oh, and I also have blue hair and yes someone like me can be successful”. The kids get to fill out a feedback form afterwards. Quite often they’ll say things on the feedback forms that have me in tears. I’ve actually had a couple of them which I’ve kept on my phone for moments where I feel disheartened, so that I can go back and have a look at it and remind myself why I do what I do.

On what’s next

Dr Rosen: At some point in 2017 I’m hoping to get an NPO set up so that I can start looking at accessing international funding. I want to work on things with a broader scope. I'd like to speak to school boards and administrative staff, and start discussing policy around comprehensive sex education, including LGBTIAQ matters,  teen pregnancy, and policies around what healthcare is provided by the school nurse. The school nurse needs to be a first contact practitioner who is able to sensitively deal with sexual health matters, they shouldn't be perpetuating very harmful myths about virginity or be judgemental when a teen comes to them asking for contraception. Those kids have the right to access contraception by law and yet how do they access healthcare without missing school? The only way to deal with this to make sure there is a policy shift. The only way to make sure there is a policy shift is to start speaking to the people who are making the policies. 

You can follow what we're up to on www.sisterruth.co.za  until our new www.sexysmarts.co.za  website goes live.

Agatha Nyambi was working as an Intern in Sexual Minority Health with the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

Wednesday
Apr052017

Tough Goodbyes

 

Goodbyes are always hard, and leaving Tamale was no different. Saying goodbye was difficult because I have grown fond of the city, it’s people, and even my life there. After grappling with the difficulties and frustration of moving to a new country and adapting to a completely new culture and way of life, six months is just enough time to begin to feel at home. 

After six months you have built a social life and support system, at work you feel comfortable in your position, know how to get things done, and understand all the office dynamics. You begin to feel a small sense of pride when you see how well you have adapted to your new life over the last several months. Even something as small as knowing the local lingo, knowing the correct price for a taxi ride, or just being comfortable walking through your neighborhood at 7 at night asking where to get Indomie noodles for dinner because you’re feeling lazy and don’t have any food in the house anyways. Even after six months you are still learning new things every day, and it is sad to leave that all behind.

Most of all I will miss the people in Tamale whom I worked and became friends with. It was hard to leave not knowing when I might see again many of the great people I met.

Me and my friends ar CALID on my last day at the office

Upon returning to Canada everyone always asks, “What was the best part?” and that is a difficult question to answer. It is impossible to sum up six months in one sentence, or to pin point one event or one aspect of this experience that stands apart from everything else.  I learned so much, not just about community development and international cooperation, but about myself as well. I gained lots of valuable experience, made many new friends, travelled to exciting places, ate lots of new and different foods, learned about a new culture and learned to live within it. It is impossible to choose the best, most exciting, or most important part.

Whenever I do try and answer that question however, there is always a common thread, and that is the people. People whom I met along the way, whom I worked with, became friends with, travelled with, and lived with.  When I think back on this time and the lessons I learned and the experiences I gained I will always remember the people who shared them with me, taught me, and supported me.

 

Myself, Natasha, Doug, and James in front of the Canadian High Commission in AccraIt is difficult to say goodbye not knowing if or when I will be back, but I know that I will always have the memories I made over the last six months. I will never forget the people or places that I grew to love in Ghana, and I know that I will take the experiences and lessons I learned there forward with me into the future!

Travis Jacox was working as a  Resource Mobilization and Management Specialist with Centre for Active Learning and Integrated Development (CALID) in Tamale, Ghana.

Wednesday
Apr052017

Lowering the drawbridge

Similar to what my fellow interns experienced in Jamaica, Haiti has its own language that consists of a mix of other languages. Dominated by French it is also influenced by many African dialects, Portuguese, Spanish and Taino. Just like in Jamaica, the slaveholders mixed people from different African tribes to make sure slaves were not able to communicate with each other. This is how Haitian Creole developed. Surprisingly, until the 21st century, French was the language in which school was taught through out Haiti and the only language in which the president addressed the nation. Still today, although spoken by only 42% of the population, French is the principally written and administratively authorized language. It is a very targeted attempt by the elite living in the capital to keep the general population out of the political decision making process. However, as soon as you step outside Port Au Prince you can easily see that ‘Kreyol’ is this nation’s language.

Picking up creole was easier for me with French being my native tongue. By the time I was able to speak it properly, I noticed a drastic change of attitude in all the Haitians I was talking to. You often hear that speaking the local language makes you understand a culture better, is seen as a sign of respect and very much appreciated by locals. All this is true in Haiti, but there is something more to it. Whenever I answer back to people using Kreyol - whether in a bus, at a restaurant, in the streets, in Haiti, Montreal or the Dominican Republic - I feel like virtually every barrier between the two of us disappears, I feel like I am ‘in’, whatever that means. With Haiti being a very collectivist society where communities are close knit and you are either in the group or out, it did make quite a difference in the long term in the community where I was working.

Sadly, the vast majority of foreigners working in Haiti live in a way that minimizes interaction with Haitians; they have private cars, live in private homes with fences and barbwire, in neighborhoods occupied mostly by other foreigners, and hence never get to exchange with the very people they came to help. And talking with most travellers that did immerse themselves in the Haitian culture, one consensus I found is that they are often the ones benefiting the most from these interactions. For many, this experience allowed them to put many things in perspective, and pushed them to reconsider what they are really looking for, sometimes even completely changing their career paths. I understand that it might be more difficult and require more effort to make meaningful connections with cultures that have more important differences with ours, but we should see this gap as an opportunity to learn and expand our understanding of the world we live in.

 Jean-Christophe Taillandier is working as a  Value-Chain and Agri-Business Coordinator with ISCA in Haiti.

Wednesday
Apr052017

Route Taxis and Jamaica

To the uninitiated, route taxis (and their larger cousin coaster busses) are cars that run a specified route and pick up single passengers who pay a low rate to share with others going along the same route. This mode of transportation became synonymous with my travels across the country and in my view emblematic of much more than a mode of transport. I came to this self-realization when asked by some colleagues near the end of my tenure what my favorite part of living in Jamaica was, and one of my answers was route taxis.

The first reason for this was the freedom they represented. Though they do run a specific route, route taxis will pick one up from almost anywhere. They do not run any set schedule, can be very flexible and go almost everywhere on the island. When I compare this to trying intercity travel on an overpriced Greyhound bus with strict schedules that reach a fraction of places in Canada, it feels stifling. More than that, it represents an easiness that permeates life in Jamaica. A clear example of this happened when traveling in the south part of Jamaica. Despite being one of the safest areas on the island, there had been a spate of murders recently in that area and I was staying far off the main road with no street lights. The route taxi I was taking was supposed to follow the main road and there were many other passengers in the car. The driver however stated that he wanted to ensure that we were safe and drove right to the hotel entrance. I appreciated not only this kindness but also the flexibility and liberating feeling of knowing that almost no matter what happened I would always find a way to get to where I needed to go. This is clearly about more than route taxis but also a well-known Jamaican ability to “go with the flow”. Interestingly, this of course shows my personal perspective including as a Canadian. I talked to some Jamaicans who in fact were shocked that I liked route taxis and made a point of mentioning that their favorite part of travelling to Canada was the formalization of transportation systems.

I should now here note that Jamaicans have an uncanny ability to fill vehicles to limits I had never thought possible. I had been under the illusion for example that cars had a standard capacity of three people in the back and two in the front. It does not take long to be disabused of this notion when living in Jamaica. Cars can have at least three in the front and four to five in the back. The reader is probably unsure why I would be writing this in my piece on why I loved route taxis. I believe however that this is a good demonstration of commendable Jamaican entrepreneurship on the side of route taxi drivers who will do whatever it takes to fill their taxis to the brim. In addition, on the side of the passengers who do not generally complain about a bit of discomfort, again, I viewed the aforementioned Jamaican easy-going attitude. It would prudent to mention that of course some of this is due to adversity, taxi drivers for example are just trying to make ends meet and thus are doing whatever it takes to make every last dollar. Still I saw some admirable qualities that embodied part of why I loved Jamaica in my cramped route taxi ride. And for what it is worth, I found it almost comfortable when I was squished in the back and bizarre when I had a whole seat to myself.

In sum, route taxis where more than a means of transportation for me. In my mind, they were a microcosm of so much of what I loved about Jamaica. Maybe I wrote a lot of my own interpretations into a simple route taxi, but regardless I still catch myself reminiscing about them while being relegated to taking the subway.

James Thiébault was a Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist with Eve for Life in Kingston, Jamaica.