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Monday
Mar062017

Snapshots of hope

Hi readers. Put your hand up if you are shocked, saddened, depressed, overwhelmed, or afraid when you learn about current events in the world. Come on, I know it’s not just me. When I look at the news, I feel like we are living in a more hostile world than ever before. Thankfully, there is some dissonance between what I see in the news and what I see in my personal life. Because guess what, guys? In my personal life, here in Kenya, I have been privileged to get to know some of the absolute best people. These people give me hope for the world: that yes, perhaps though the ones in power might be corrupt or violent, corruption and violence can never win as long as there are people like this inhabiting this planet. So, here are some snapshots of hope: people I have met and moments from my time here in Kenya that convince me that we’re going to be OK, after all.

Local 'street youth' in the officeOne day, as part of the Christmas celebrations at our workplace, our office hosted some street youths from Nanyuki. I do not exaggerate when I say these were the poorest of the poor. During this Christmas celebration, we gave each person a loaf of bread and some milk. Now, one of these street youths had a small little girl– I presume her daughter– with her. When nobody was watching, I saw a young man give his loaf of bread to the young mother. At this moment, I knew I had witnessed something beautiful. This man, with tattered shoes and dirty clothes, likely without a shilling to his name, gave the one thing he had to someone who needed it more. His kindness put us all to shame.

Tigithi School: talking to the teacher about the proposal for the feeding programIn my time here, I also got to see the formation of a new program at a rural primary school. I accompanied the eRoots manager and the social worker for the area as they proposed a partnership with the school with to support their feeding program. We talked about the importance of proper nutrition for learning in the school, and surveyed the grounds to see if there was a place suitable for a small farm. The head teacher agreed, and we formed an enthusiastic partnership. Now, like in other schools in the area, the students can learn how to grow food, and they can benefit by eating that food at lunchtime daily. This will hopefully reduce drop-out rates and improve students' academic performance. At the time I left Kenya, the program has already started and the land is being prepared by the students, teachers, and parents, for growing potatoes.

Through home visits and interviews, I met a lot of remarkable people. One of these people was Susan, who runs a children’s home. When I visited people’s homes, I usually had a questionnaire to give them. The first question on this questionnaire was “How many people are in your household?” Susan answered: “Forty-one.” She takes in children to her home and they call her mother. These are children who have nowhere else to go: street children and orphans. These are children who may not be used to having discipline or having a home. They may not be the easiest children to love. Susan has given her life to mothering these children and giving them a place to belong. A few of her children are sponsored through Chalice, but I can’t help but think how small a sponsor’s impact is compared with the huge impact Susan has on these children as she invests in their lives daily.

I also met Hannah, my name-mate, who welcomed me into her home. Her child is sponsored, and she is the secretary of the microfinance group. She has used the money from the microfinance group to start a small shop, and she is making money for her family from this shop. On her little land, she has a kitchen garden. After we visited, she sent us with a bag full of spinach. It fed us for three days.

Mid-meal photo of us eating nyama choma. From left Peter, Donald, and Priscillah (and me)Then, a few days before we left Nanyuki, our coworkers at the office took us out for lunch. They surprised us with nyama choma, a roasted meat meal that is popular for celebrations. I could not believe the generosity of these folks at Chalice’s Baraka site. For four months, we had been with them as outsiders, and from the very beginning they had welcomed us in as one of their own. The Baraka staff had patiently answered our many questions, moved office seating arrangements to accommodate us, carried us on the back of their motorbikes, translated conversations from Swahili and Kikuyu for us, and had even helped us move. I don’t know what my expectations were, but they went absolutely above and beyond them. And after all that—they surprised us with a special meal! There was no way we could ever deserve such love and generosity.

One day, in the microfinance group meeting, I was asking the members some questions about their goals and plans: Where did they hope to be in one year? This was a group of town-dwellers, so they did not have access to land. They expressed desire to have a piece of land of their own where they can reside and farm. “How can you, as a group, help one another to reach this goal?” I asked. One member of the group, Jesse, was very enthusiastic. He began his statements with the question “What if?” I was very inspired by that kind of attitude. Instead of being discouraged by the many obstacles to reaching his goal, he actively tried to think of ways to overcome these obstacles. At the end of my conversation with the group that day, they had made a tentative roadmap of how each group member would obtain a piece of land. Although each person in the group needed land, they knew that together, they could reach their individual goals faster.

I am just sharing these snippets to remind you, friend, that there is hope. There are people who are doggedly working for the good of their community; there are people who love selflessly and sacrificially. There are people who are lifting themselves out of poverty. There is hope.

Hannah Main is working as a Business Development Coordinator with Crown the Child Africa in Kenya.

Monday
Mar062017

Jamaica, land we love

As I wrap up my 6-month internship here in Jamaica, I look towards the national anthem as an accurate and powerful one-line message. The land of Jamaica is a place I have grown to become particularly fond of. A place I will consider my second home. Each day has been filled with many lessons that will be beneficial beyond work. From the first day we arrived until the day of our departure, each day I continue to learn about working in sexual and reproductive rights, the delicious delicacies and fruits of Jamaica, the history and landscape of the island, the culture, and so much more. Aside from work, a few of my favourite things about Jamaica have been the beautiful mountainous views, the musical culture, and of course, the jerk chicken. So for my last blog post I have decided to write a little more about these said favourite things about Jamaica.

Firstly, the spectacular views that the mountainous island produces are out of this world. I am from a relatively flat part of Canada so to live in a place where mountains can be seen from everywhere on the island is incredibly breathtaking.  During the day the green peaks are a true sight of beauty to the nighttime views of lights up all in the mountains. I never get sick of looking at this, despite the driving through the windy mountain roads that produces an alternate type of sickness (motion sickness). Recently, Georgia, Manal, some local friends, and myself hiked Blue Mountain. It was a truly incredible experience. It takes about 3 hours uphill at a decent pace and 2 hours downhill. The journey to get to the hike start point is a fun and interesting one in itself from local busses to a check in at the local police station to a ride slightly up the mountain in a four-wheel drive vehicle. Along the hike up there is coffee plantations for world famous “Blue Mountain Coffee” and different plants and wildlife to be seen. The coolest part of the hike to me was the fact that this hike crosses two different parishes. The Blue Mountain is spread across two parishes. I think of parishes as like the province of the island. It is said that on clear days that Cuba can be seen from the peak (2256m), although we have heard that is only possible one or two days a year.

My next favourite thing about Jamaica is the musical culture. From reggae, to dancehall, to SOCA, you can never go wrong. There is great music coming from sound systems just about everywhere. February happens to be Reggae month in honour of the legend Bob Marley’s birthday. It’s incredible to see how music brings people together here. It is also spectacular to see the incredible dancing abilities of Jamaicans. For reggae month, there are many live concerts and events that are often free. We were lucky enough to attend Redemption Live, which was a free concert in Half Way Tree (a huge transport center in Kingston) in celebration of Bob Marley’s birthday. Some of the artists that performed were Ky-Mani Marley, Beenie Man, Capleton, Richie Spice, Kabaka Pyramid, Garnet Silk Jr, Jah9, Tifa, Ikaya, and Devin di Dakta. The dancehall and SOCA music is extremely catchy and very hard to resist breaking out a dance move to.

Lastly, my most favourite thing about Jamaica is the jerk chicken. Jerk chicken refers to how the chicken is seasoned and cooked. The jerk is traditionally cooked over pimento wood fires. Pimento is a type of wood that gives it the proper jerk flavor. The jerk is often cooked in a big large drum cut in half and made into a smoker. These can be found on the streets all over and jerk chicken is never too far from reach thankfully! The spices that the chicken is marinated in are ground pimento, ground/chopped scotch bonnet peppers (this gives it the perfect spicy kick), thyme, salt, pepper, garlic, scallions, and small bit of brown sugar. Individual chefs have their secret ingredients, methods, and variations that they use when cooking which adds for delicious surprises here and there.  All I can say is I have never had a bad piece of jerk chicken – it is always delicious!

Overall, 6 months in Jamaica has been an excellent experience. The life lessons have been wonderful and the work experience has been equally as beneficial. Although I am not Jamaican, I posted this picture in my first blog post but I feel as if now I understand this sign even more: “Proud to be Jamaican”

The things I have learned and the relationships I have built will be something I cherish forever and I am sad to be leaving.

Thank you Jamaica – Land We Love!

 

Jennifer Brunet is working as a Health Promotions Manager with Jamaica Family Planning Association/FAMPLAN in Jamaica.

Monday
Mar062017

Representations in development

Discourse, as coined by Michel Foucault, encompasses the body of knowledge produced on a given topic that implies and reinforces certain power relationships. Past discourses of Africa laid the foundations for what was deemed relevant when writing about Africa. From such discourses emerged stereotypical notions of Africa—some of which still influence the current body of knowledge produced about the continent. Primitive Africa –static Africa, the one that has failed to develop; wild and dangerous Africa— the untamed one; exotic Africa—the land of the uncovered and superstitious; unspoiled Africa—the undamaged and untainted by evils of the modern world; utopian Africa –the idealized Africa, the pre-colonial Africa; and finally the broken Africa –land of decay, sickness, state failure and starvation.

Those discourses and tropes have been utilized and reinforced in the earlier stages of development, the starving and dying African child as a great example of many development marketing images of choice. These representations have played a key role in establishing a collective imagery of what “Africa” represented and still represents. Past discourses of Africa have clearly set the limits of our understanding of Africa, using tropes, stereotypes and language to conceive a perceived reality, an “imaginary”, narrow narrative about Africa.

While child mortality, famine and war are still of great concern, misrepresentations of Africa (or “Western inventions” of Africa, as coined by scholar V.Y Mudimbe) set Africa as the opposite of the West, forever cast in “Otherness”. Dominant discourses about Africa have been the continent’s inability to develop or “catch up” with the West due to cultural barriers and inherent “backwardness”.  Mainstream media has played a great role in setting such tropes.  However, with the rise of alternative media spaces, Africans globally have been able to take back control of their own representation by providing more nuanced perspectives. This is why in my opinion, alternative media platforms such as Visiter l’Afrique are so needed.

This platform revolutionized Africa’s media narrative by being one of the first to depict Africa for what it was, far from stereotypes but also without denying its current challenges. It also shifted perceptions of African tourism, often limited to safaris, resorts and famous locations such as South Africa and Kenya. From busy streets, far away villages, breathtaking beaches, to yummy street food, Visiter l’Afrique provides a vibrant visual catalogue from photographers across the globe. From Gambia, Namibia to Burundi, Visiter l’Afrique boldly affirms that all African countries are worth visiting!

As our internships are coming to an end, we must be aware of the power of our words and how we represent our placement countries to our peers back home. What will we be sharing? What images will we be sharing? How will we depict the people we have worked with? How will we contribute in shaping this collective and mainstream imagery of the Global south?

 

Aurore Iradukunda is working as a Health Promotion Intern with Nova Scotia Gambia Association in Gambia.

Tuesday
Feb212017

What does climate change have to do with poverty?

In 2009, the Stockholm Resilience Centre published the oft-cited paper “A safe operating space for humanity”, which attempted to measure nine planetary boundaries, which, if crossed, would result in unknown and perhaps catastrophic effects for the planet. Of these nine thresholds, in 2009 it was estimated that three of these had already been passed: Climate change, rate of biodiversity loss, and the nitrogen cycle. In 2015, these researchers revisited the original measures, and this time they placed more emphasis on climate change. Crossing the climate change boundary permanently, they warned, would have lasting, transformational effects on our fragile home called Earth.

Of course we know this. If you are like me, you watched The Inconvenient Truth in your dimly-lit science classroom. You connect climate change with a graph with a sharp upward line around the industrial revolution, or with an image of a polar bear on a single ice float. You vaguely understand the science behind it, and you imagine an apocalyptic future where Florida is underwater and the arctic is a tropical paradise.  But that is the future, far away, not affecting your daily life. In the winter, when the thermometer shows sub-zero temperatures, you joke that global warming is a myth.

Before we left the Nairobi headquarters of Crown the Child Africa, fellow intern Patricia and I were conversing with the staff there about our destination and the place we would work for the next few months: Nanyuki.

“You will see climate change there,” someone remarked, and the others agreed. I was not sure what they meant by this until after I arrived in Nanyuki.

One woman, Jane, from the rural Mureru group for savings and lending, took aside the Local E-Roots Coordinator, Donald, after the monthly microfinance group meeting. She complained that her sweet potatoes were not growing well: it had been too dry. The rains came later than expected. Even at the resource farm near the base of Mount Kenya, the river on the property is lower than it has been in recent years. This is not surprising. In fact, in 2013 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted this exactly: “subtropical arid and semi-arid regions will likely experience less precipitation.” Nanyuki and the surrounding area is a semi-arid region. The same IPCC report claimed that low-income countries will be the ones who bear the brunt of the effects of climate change.

In North America, it is hard for us to understand the life-and-death effects of climate change. Our way of life contributes so much to the problem, but we are isolated from the effects. While there may be shocking weather events, like hurricanes or the drynesss that led to devastating forest fires in 2016, we are generally prepared for these events: we have hurricane-proof houses, and insurance to protect us if anything goes terribly wrong. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change have a much greater impact on the lives of people in poverty. If you are a subsistence farmer, a dry year could mean your family does not have enough to eat. It may mean you do not have enough money to send all your children to school. All these things are interconnected: if a family lacks nutritious food, the children do not have enough energy to do well in school. Without education, the family is likely to stay in poverty. They will continue to work at subsistence agriculture, which, especially with climate change, is unstable. It is a precarious existence.

I have seen climate change firsthand here. I have seen a field of cabbage gone to waste because the rains did not come as they do every year. The farmer worked hard to plant these cabbages with the expectation that the rains would come. But the rains did not come, and when they did it was not enough to salvage the crop. The hard work and investment went to waste, and the family may go hungry. The sad part is, we in North America bear some of the responsibility for this failed crop. Our excess comes at the expense of these people’s lives.

The last thing I want to do is make people feel guilty. I do not think it is the fault of the individual that we are so disconnected from the people who make our life possible. Rather, it is the driving philosophy of our culture– the idea that we are individuals– that fools us into thinking that we are indeed independent from the rest of the world. Individualism is basically the cornerstone of our North American paradigm. Our economic system is based on the idea that individual players acting in their own self-interest will lead to a favourable outcome for everybody. Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, said “Individual ambition serves the common good.” This thinking is ingrained in our mindset. I really think that individualism has made many good things possible, like democracy and feminism. But it is also flawed. Because of course we are not really individuals. We all depend on others and have others depending on us. And we all depend on the earth to sustain us. We need to be aware that our economic choices do have effects on more people that ourselves, and that these effects are not always favourable.

So you see, there are farmers in Kenya who are depending on us. They are depending on us to stop emitting so much CO2, because in fact that is a factor causing climate change, and climate change is causing challenges for them. I love being in Kenya and working with an organization, Crown the Child Africa, that is actively fighting poverty. I love seeing how programs like child sponsorship, microfinance, and E-Roots are helping people have more stable incomes, food security, and hope. But at the same time, I am ever-aware that in fact, I am part of the problem. I am contributing to this machine that actually keeps people in poverty. According to the World Bank, Canada’s emissions of carbon dioxide in 2013 were 13.5 metric tons per person. In Kenya in the same year, emissions per capita were 0.3 tons per person. Our way of life, the way of life that is based on the false idea that we are individuals and our habits will not affect others, is in fact harming others.

The good news is that extreme poverty rates have more than halved since 1990. The bad news is that this could all be reversed if we do not stop the climate change that is threatening many of the poorest people in the world.

I know you probably came here to read about my experiences in Kenya. But I think the only way to make sense of these experiences is to look at them within a bigger theoretical context. I do not want to be just one more voice warning Westerners of a dystopic future, if we do not urgently change. There have been many of these voices, and change had been negligible. I believe change will only come through us collectively adopting a new paradigm, a new ideology that does not bow down at the altar of money and greed but rather returns to values that human societies have held for millennia: interdependence and the sacredness of life.

Hannah Main is working as a Business Development Coordinator with Crown the Child Africa in Kenya.

Tuesday
Feb142017

Achieving success in Bolga!

As my time here nears the end, it has been an incredible experience to see what kind of work is being done here in Northern Ghana. As I continue to learn about the work that Widows & Orphans Movement (WOM) does, I wanted to take this opportunity to share some success WOM has had through its Microcredit projects.

One of the major thematic areas of WOM is economic empowerment for women achieved through two Microcredit schemes, one in Bolgatanga and one in Bongo. The Bolga Microcredit Program is WOM’s flagship program that has been going on for more than 10 years and has distributed over 1,500 loans. Here is a story of Linda Adongo and how she achieved success because of WOM’s Bolga Microcredit Project.

Linda Adongo, a widow of 12 years, has been a client of for over 9 years. Her journey began slightly after her husband passed away when she had just finished learning the art of hairdressing. However, after her husband passed, Linda was not able to take care of herself, her family and her children, nor was she getting any help from others. She continued to struggle but was motivated to use her skillset as a hairdresser to make a living. In the early days, she used to weave and cater to women outside under a Neem tree. This gained the attention of an NGO which helped with funding for an actual store.

Although Linda had a store, she was still struggling to make strives with her business because she was not able to have enough hairpieces, materials or even clients to help generate business. As a result, she found her way to the WOM office to apply for her first loans. With her first loans, she was slowly able to attract more and more clients. In recent years, she continues to take out loans with WOM, and uses the money to travel to the south (Accra or Kumasi) to purchase more hair pieces, nails, and other materials that differentiate her from other competitors. Prior to this, her clients would have to purchase the piece they want from the market, and then come to Linda. However, with Linda having her own hair pieces and materials, she has created for herself an additional revenue stream because she can now charge for the materials and the service. With her profit, Linda can pay for her children’s school fees and hire other employees to help. The loans she takes Linda has expanded her business to include manicures and pedicures, and purchased a new pedicure machine.

Looking forward, Linda has plans to start an apprenticeship program for others that want to learn hairdressing. Currently, she already teaches and mentors other girls to become hairdressers, some of whom come back and work for her. Because her store is close to a school, Linda is looking to further expand her business for students and parents to buy school supplies and books from her shop. Not only has her business succeeded, but Linda has become more business-minded and confident since taking loans with WOM. She is also a large advocate and support of the work WOM does as she continues to refer her friends to WOM.

Due to the success of the Bolga Microcredit Project, WOM expanded their Microcredit Project into Bongo, a district approximately 20 km north of Bolgatanga, at the beginning of 2016. During its first full year, WOM has disbursed over 250 loans to widows and widow groups. I was lucky enough to talk with Madam Felicia on her journey with WOM and the success she has been having as a result of WOM’s Microcredit Project.

Madam Felicia Azubire has been a widow for approximately ten years now and currently takes care of her five grandchildren. Ever since Madam Felicia was widowed, and her own children were very young, she struggled to care for and provide food for her children, and even – to a point that she was hospitalized due to a high stress level.

In efforts to make money, Madam Felicia started her own business by making and selling malt because millet is relatively cheap and the demand for malt is high. Malt is made from red millet, and then can be used to brew a local drink called pito. Madam Felicia used to benefit from loans from other organizations, but they were never enough and didn’t allow her to make a large enough quantity to make enough money. With small quantities, pito suppliers must buy from a variety of malt suppliers, and the money that gets distributed is very little. Prior to her loans with WOM, Madam Felicia would make only about 20 cedis (approximately 6 CAD) a day and was unable to make food or pay for her children and grandchildren’s school fees.

Madam Felicia has been with the Bongo Project for almost 8 months now, and has received a second loan, upon repayment of her first loan. Not only has she never defaulted on any of her payments, but she has also been the leader of her widows group (11 people). Today, she can buy large quantities of millet to make lots of malt. Pito suppliers buy their entire malt supply from her, and Felicia makes up to 50 cedis (approximately 15 CAD) per bowl! She claims that has WOM allowed her to increase her business, and has opened her eyes to a savings account. Madam Felicia says that every time she makes money, she can save a little money, and revert to her savings account in times of need. Today, when her grandchildren come to her and ask for money, she is now able to provide for them. Madam Felicia sees this as an opportunity to make up for all the times she was not able to take care of her own children, she can take care of her daughter’s children. Her success has extended beyond her business; Madam Felicia is now more confident and gained many leadership skills as she leads her group to meet regularly. As we look to the future, Madam Felicia only expects for her business to expand. She is now using her second loan to buy pigs so they can multiple and she can start to sell piglets as well!  

James Thalla-Joel is working as a Financial Management Specialist with ACIC partner Widows and Orphans Movement (WOM) in Ghana.