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Monday
Jan162017

Musings of a dietitian in Kampala

As a dietitian, food is often top of mind whenever I travel somewhere new. I make a point of visiting grocery stores and markets to compare prices and check out the range and diversity of products. Uganda has a completely different food culture to Canada, specifically Northern Canada, where I was living prior to this internship.
These are some of my observations.

Cost of Food
Coming from Baffin Island, where store-bought food is either flown or sealifted in, to Kampala where Ugandans everywhere are growing food, you would expect there to be a bit of a cost difference. Here are a few food items where I could find data for all three regions.

* This is for the small, scrumptious finger bananas (the larger yellow bananas are cheaper by weight)

1,2: 2016 Nunavut Food Price Survey, Comparison of Nunavut & Canada CPI Food Price Basket Items,accessed from Nunavut Bureau of Statistics

3: The prices I was charged the other day, not representative whatsoever

While there is a dramatic difference in the price of food (you have to wonder just how much the farmer is getting for their harvest!), salaries and rent in Uganda are also less. For example, the median monthly salary for the average male is 132,000Ushs and 66,000Ushs for females (UBOS, 2011-2012). This is the equivalent of $47.85 and $23.92 respectively. Another major expense to factor into the cost of living in Uganda is education. While Universal Primary Education is now available, I’m told that public schools can have classes with as many as 200 children so anyone who is able, sends their children to a private school which can cost as much as $600 PER TRIMESTER. Many people can’t afford food prices to rise.

Quality and Quantity
The local food is simple, pretty carbohydrate heavy and delicious! It is mostly boiled or steamed. Breakfast for most people is often quite small, maybe a tea and chapatti when you get to the office. Lunch is a BIG meal which is I’m most productive in the morning. Dinner can be more of the same from lunch.

For lunch at my office, we pick our ‘sauce’ which is the main protein; you can have beans, cowpeas (mung beans), meat or fish in a broth, groundnut (peanut) sauce or pasted meat which I understand to be meat or fish mixed with groundnut sauce. Then you get to order ‘the food’ (everything else) and you can have any combination of rice, matoke (mashed plantain and quintessentially Ugandan), sweet potato, Irish potato, pumpkin, posho (a cornmeal mixture), cassava and greens. I’m sure I’m missing some sauce and food options, but this gives you a good idea.

I should also mention that Kampala has a great international food scene; so on days when I want to shake things up I can go out for a great Indian or Thai meal. I’ve really enjoyed the seemingly endless supply of fresh fruit, eating fried chicken and Rolexes from street vendors, and trying my hand at cooking over a charcoal stove (lots of practice still needed). Food is just one part of what makes exploring another country so fun, but as a dietitian it’s definitely the part I enjoy the most!
My standard lunch order (clockwise): beans with rice, sweet potato, greens, pumpkin (aka any type of squash), and ‘Irish’. This costs me $1.20.

Emily Murray is working as an Intern in Food & Nutrition with Food Rights Alliance in Kampala, Uganda.

Monday
Jan162017

Jamaica and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

In October 2016, the Jamaican Administration began the process of creating a roadmap to guide the implementation of the SDGs on the Island. Over the week of October 24-28, the government in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Mainstreaming Acceleration Policy Support (MAPS) Mission Team led a series of consultations with private sector, government institutions, and civil society organizations, to collectively assess the most pressing needs of the Jamaican people, obstacles to social, economic, and environmental prosperity on the Island, and solutions to overcoming them. I was fortunate enough to attend and contribute to the consultations representing Jamaica Family Planning Association (JFPA), a local NGO I have been working with since September 2016.

So what are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? Officially known as Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the SDGs are a set of 17 aspiring ‘Global Goals’ and 169 targets adopted on September 25th, 2015 in New York by 193 UN Member States. This new agenda, which is preceded by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aims to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. This mission’s aim is to operationalize these goals, as Mission Head Nik Sekhran explained, “We have really ambitious targets, we know where we want to be – now we have to figure out how to get there.”  

The process was extensive, divided into 6 phases: Alignment, Coordination, Prioritizing Accelerators, Financing, Monitoring and Reporting, and Advocacy Action Campaign. This blog will discuss highlights of my experience during the series of consultations.

The first step in the process for the MAPS team was to conduct a Rapid Integration Assessment. The purpose of this phase was to assess how closely the local planning documents align with the SDGs and to outline any gaps between the two. A total of 41 documents were assessed including Jamaica’s National Development Plan – Vision 2030. Overall, Jamaica’s vision aligned fairly well with the Global Goals, with the exception of the goals relating to the environment. Discussions in the room supported this finding as many reiterated the lack of respect for the environment among the general public. Actions such as the burning of garbage and littering of plastic packaging have been common sightings in my time in Jamaica thus far.       

As one of my primary roles with JFPA is to conduct a Monitoring and Evaluation exercise to assess Quality of Care of our clinics, the Monitoring and Reporting phase was especially interesting to me. The consultation referred to it as the ‘data revolution’ whose management is especially important for the success of the SDGs. The collection of reliable data will be necessary to inform policies, monitor progress, and ensure accountability, participation, and empowerment. Jamaica is a member of the Inter-Agency Expert Group on SDG Indicators, which is in the process of finalizing the SDG Indicator Framework. In January 2016, the working group adopted 230 indicators organized into 3 tiers according to agreed upon methodologies and availability of data. This is an area in need of great focus by Jamaica. There are 224 indicators that apply to Jamaica. Of these 26.3% have produced data to measure progress. Data is available but not yet produced for 32.6% of indicators, and 41.1% of the indicators have no available data yet.

A key area of focus in this endeavour is the disaggregation of data in order to ensure ‘no one is left behind’. The mission recommends “indicators should be disaggregated, where relevant, by income, sex, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location, or other characteristics.” The most disadvantaged groups, which within JFPA’s work in sexual, and reproductive health (SRH) include women, adolescents, and the LGBTQ community must be recognized and mainstreamed into all stages of the program life cycle. This is a consideration that cannot follow a ‘one size fits all’ model, and must be individually crafted based on geographic location, culture, and regional realities.  

These consultations were an important first step in the right direction towards a better Jamaica. Continued collaboration across the public, private, and non-profit sectors will be crucial to the success of these goals.  

Manal Rajan is working as a Health Administrator intern with Jamaica Family Planning Association/FAMPLAN in St. Ann’s Parish, Jamaica.

Monday
Jan162017

Improving livelihoods through coffee production and trade

Coffee, a major and leading cash crop in Uganda has not only been seen as a means to raise the growth of the economy but the incomes and livelihoods of farmers and rural households across the country as well. Indeed, coffee production and processing provides employment to over 1.5 million people and constitutes over 60% of annual export revenues. Its value and export potential is currently expected to rise over the next several years.[1]

The growing of coffee has been able to help many afford to feed their families, pay for their children’s schooling, buy homes and own small businesses. With such a prominent role in the economy, this has led me to question what problems currently exist in the coffee industry and what are means we can work towards addressing them? The drought that the country currently faces demonstrates that farmers everywhere are being affected by the realities of climate change. Yet I have learned that despite this, Ugandan farmers are incredibly innovative and resilient and have implemented ways to combat the effects of dry spells. Through various training initiatives by different organizations, climate smart practices are being implemented in order to save crops and yields. The planting of banana trees between the coffee plants for example, helps provide the crops shade from the heat as well as food for consumption. In addition, the recycling of plastic water bottles, filled with water and then inserted into the ground are just one of the methods to help to keep the soil moist.

Improving coffee production is not only tied to improving yields but also how coffee is being grown. In many small-holder farms, I have learnt that it is women who are often faced with a large burden of the work in both the field and household. As women in the villages are often denied opportunities to own land, they are subsequently denied opportunities for empowerment as loans and the benefits of their work (e.g. income) are often not available or shared unequally. As such, establishing women’s empowerment and gender equity are vital in the development of coffee trade and driving the growth of East African economy.

As my current placement has allowed me to do much work in helping to achieve agricultural standards and compliancy (for maize and sesame), I have also been applying this knowledge outside work and thinking lately about ways coffee production can be improved not only through better social practices but through value addition as well. Value can be enhanced through training, awareness raising and the export of processed rather than unprocessed product but these initiatives have yet to be as widespread as they could be. Improving quality and production of coffee is vital as it will help to drive exports and growth for the country. My plans to visit coffee plantations and processing plants in January will be sure to provide further perspective on these issues.


[1]  “The Ugandan Coffee Industry”. Uganda Coffee Confederation. <http://www.ugandacoffeefederation.org/ resource-center/uganda-coffee-industry/>

 Jessica Chen is working as an Intern in Rural Livelihoods with South and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) in Kampala, Uganda.

Monday
Jan162017

The story of Nicholas Kee

I recently sat down with Nicholas Kee, a 22 year-old local entrepreneur who has built multiple start-ups, spoken at conferences and travelled the world. He is currently the founder of Next Gen Creators, a non-profit, which aims to teach youth in the Caribbean how to code. I was introduced to Nick through my father in September. They knew each other through an organization called Junior Achievement Canada, which facilitates an environment for business, entrepreneurship and mentorship. The reason I chose to interview Nick is because of his approach to learning and education, which manifests itself in a fearless and earnest need to take action. It’s truly remarkable how he transforms obstacles into learning opportunities by being resourceful and utilizing his practical skills. He is an individual who embodies failure and adds value to his career by building his own education.

We often see an individual’s start and end point, creating an assumption that life is a steady uphill slope to greatness. I hope Nick’s story magnifies the ups and downs and exemplifies a unique persistence and gumption that will hopefully inspire you.

Kindly introduce yourself.

I’m Nicholas Kee, 21 years old. I grew up in Jamaica and I guess I’m known for being involved in tech.

When did the interest in Tech begin for you?

I started coding at the age of 12 and then I started freelancing soon afterwards. Over the years I’ve gotten better and better at coding and then I got bored, so I decided to do something else. That something else was business. I was 16 when I started Junior Achievement and I was part of this company called CAN (Creating Accessories Naturally), where we made different accessories and jewelry from soda cans. What we did was process them and wrap them with certain materials. Sometimes we’d bend the cans and make earrings. The year after, I did Junior Achievement for a second year, acting as the president of a company called Plastato. We made appliances and accessories, but this time, from potatoes that we turned into plastic! We went on to compete in a regional competition in Latin America and Canada for “Company of the Year”. We did well, went on to Mexico and copped the FedEX Access award, which represented social goodwill, good environmental practices and potential for international growth.

At that time, during the year of the competition, I wanted to try something else – research. I was really into science, even though I didn’t pay attention to the rudimentary things in school – the information felt too antiquated, like something we all know. I needed that extra edge, which is why I got into research. I wanted to research organic electronics. That came from me walking around and noticing all of the pollution and I wanted to be involved in some kind of way to save the environment. After school I would go up to UWI (University of the West Indies) and would do some research with a professor who took me under her wing. She supervised me to research artificial photosynthesis – just using plants as a medium to harness light and heat energy from the sun and converting it to electrical energy.

Wow you did a lot. You were still in school at the time though, so how did that go?

The two years I spent in 6th form weren’t challenging for me. I got worried, which is why I spent so much time doing outside activities, school didn’t satisfy my curiosity. I ventured off, my grades suffered – I was pretty excited about going to college either in the U.S. or Canada. I did the SATs, and applied to 14 or 15 schools. The day after I submitted my applications, it was December 29th, I just said, “Screw this” and decided I didn’t want to do college anymore. Afterwards, I started looking into different opportunities that would allow me to live this life without college. I had my research, my prior experience, so I just used that to bolster myself. I would e-mail almost everyone that had some relation to what I was doing/interested in, to ask for guidance and point me in a direction. Instead of studying for mock exams, I basically spent that time sending close to 1000 e-mails and doing cold-calls. I got a few breakthroughs. January was the time that I told my friends that I wasn’t going to do college anymore. When I made that decision, I started to get responses, even though 90% of the e-mails were rejections, but I got a lot of positive responses as well.

What happened after you sent all those e-mails and decided not to go to college?

Two responses came from a start up company that were hiring interns and they asked if I wanted to come, which I surely did. They made games for iOS. I got the chance to make some great games and meet some amazing people and stay in Silicon Valley for the entire summer. Apart from that good-news e-mail, I got another email from a NASA scientist. I didn’t actually reach out to him, but somebody forwarded my e-mail to him. He said, “While you’re in Silicon Valley, you should stop by NASA AMES Research Centre, in Mountain View.” I had the opportunity to visit both places. I sat in a room with 6 or 7 scientists during happy hour and we had a discussion about my research and its possibilities and they told me what they were working on. That’s when they asked me to join their Planetary Sustainability Team which was a team dedicated to creating different technologies to enable habitation on Mars. I joined the team and after that summer, I met up with another friend who I met through somebody else and he created his own 3D Printers, and we were having this long discussion about manufacturing and that’s when we decided to go into business together. That was officially my first start up.

Nice! What did you guys do?

I created the organic resin for the printers themselves, made from the same plastic from Plastato, and it turned out well. We rose funding, we had to lock down shop early because we didn’t have the same vision. By that time, we raised all this money, which was going to R&D, and we were under pressure to show something to investors.

That was short-lived. What happened after?

Shortly after I created another start up with a friend from the previous summer called Stork – we were the middlemen for tech companies and start ups to sponsor things that were eccentric and seemed important to them like a hackathon. At the same time I started going to Hackathons at colleges (Waterloo, Yale, Stanford) and I started to crash classes. I’d meet tons of friends and try to experience the college lifestyle that everyone raved about and assumed I was missing out on. I went to classes, didn’t like them, and then started to look at Psychology. It rang some kind of bell internally so I wanted to do some more investigations into the human mind and what makes us tick. For Stork, we decided to do everything remotely to save money. It was then that I decided to travel to Central and South America and the Dominican Republic.

Okay so you were running a start-up and then travelled, why?

I wanted to find more about cultures, what made them interesting and to do a lot of social experiments. I started late January in the Dominican Republic. I met this group of girls and we decided that we were going to travel together for the rest of the trip, so we left and headed straight to Costa Rica and fully immersed ourselves in the culture – we even spent a few weeks with a farmer and learned what it was like to live there. It was eye opening. I was on a beach on Costa Rica where my former boss called me to say that a guy from Israel was interested in Hackathons. He knew I was in the Hackathon space and wanted to branch out to Jamaica, as he ran his own Hackathon. He wanted to know if he could bring the Hackathon to the island. That guy turned out to be one of my co-founder for Next-Gen Creators (my current non-profit).

Hold up, so what happened in South America then?

In South America, I went to Peru, ran out of money, got stuck in Lake Titicaca, met the last weaver alive (His name is Alejandro Flores). I got friendly with the villagers and there was this lady that was pregnant. One of the midwives asked if I wanted to help deliver the baby. I became the God Father of that child – Estrella, which translates to Star. There was another girl there named Milagro (it means miracle) who was six and she was the first one to meet me in the village. She stayed with me the entire time and I would teach her all these weird math formulas. Language wasn’t really a barrier because math is well…math. I ended up becoming her God Father too! There was this ceremony and everything…..very cool. When I left Peru I ventured off to the rest of South America, volunteering and doing eccentric things like sand gliding! At the same time, I was still running the start up. I ran out of money at one point so I had to spend some time doing web development for the locals and their businesses. I used the money to buy a plane ticket home. I came home for two weeks and then left for Silicon Valley again. At that time I exited the startup company Stork. At the time I had the non-profit on the back burner and provided support remotely.

South America, back to Jamaica and then Silicon Valley, gotcha.

Back in Silicon Valley, I created another start-up. Did I give it a name? I had a name… Clanytics? I met another co-founder from India who was doing his Master’s in CS at Stanford. We started going to different conferences and began building a platform for B2B and liability companies, which would analyze eccentric data to give an accurate premium for their customers. Say for instance you had a hotel and the hotel was somewhere in a rural area in an abandoned town with a low population. We would take these data points and analyze it to help insurance companies to give the best premiums to hotel owners. My co-founder decided he was going to go back to India and get married and we set aside out losses and closed the company. 

I’m sure it wasn’t long before you started another one.

I got an e-mail from CERN, a big European nuclear organization, inviting me to join their think tank. I worked alongside the most amazing scientists from all over Europe. We got divided into teams and we got to create renewable energy technology. We made a solar collector – a device that’s 500x more effective than a solar panel. Instead of being refracted off panels, light would be refracted off a really shiny surface inside a heated vacuum. It was created for people in developing countries and those in refugee camps. It was pitched to the UN in Switzerland, and they’re using it in Nepal for the people living in the mountains who can’t necessarily get utilities where they live.

After, I decided to focus solely on Next Gen Creators, which started with a phone call I got on the beach in Costa Rica. We host events such as hackathons and workshops. We plan to release a platform that’s currently in the Beta stages of testing and hope to release it Summer 2017.

Next Gen Creators is your current start-up and non-profit. Why did you start this one?

The reason why I started Next Gen Creators was because I didn’t exactly believe in the currently education system, or the one society deemed successful and valuable. This non-profit allowed me to be apart of the commonwealth. Now I’m the Co-chair of the Queen’s Young Leaders Program, where leaders from all over the commonwealth are groomed to become exceptional leaders. What we’re trying to do is give the common wealth a positive light outside of the violence, segregation and slavery. We want to push leaders to become the forefront leaders of the commonwealth. Next Gen is the tech-arm of the commonwealth.

Zoe Chung is working as a  Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Specialist with Eve for Life in Kingston, Jamaica.

Monday
Jan092017

Laying Foundations

This month the Nova Scotia Gambia Association (NSGA) has been coordinating a round of Peer Health Education (PHE) training sessions. One of their longest-running programs, these trainings lay the foundations of skills needed for youth to become strong leaders in their schools and communities. This round of trainings are taking place in schools all over the country, run by regional coordinators, with some help from drama troupers. I recently had the opportunity to visit, document, and learn from trainers and students at three different schools in the Kombo and Brikama areas.

Training Structure

A group of approx. 20-30 students and 1-2 teacher coordinators are chosen by each school to participate in a three day immersion program which will equip them with the basic tools they need to start a PHE club - or if one already exists, to maintain it by training younger students to take over as older ones age out of it. This helps to ensure the sustainability of the program.

The first half of the training is a marathon session about a specific health topic - in the case of the schools I visited, they were either learning about a) Malaria OR b) HIV/AIDS + Positive Life Skills. Students learn the facts and science behind diseases, as well as the most effective way of preventing them, especially in a Gambian context. Next they discuss common myths, misconceptions, and cultural barriers to prevention, and the best ways to counter them in order to promote positive behavioural change.

The second half of the program goes deeper into aspects of behavioural change, but focuses mainly on a whirlwind tour of the foundations of theatre and drama - providing students with concepts to “educate and entertain.” Topics range from voice projection to body language to knowing your audience and how to best tailor your performances to it. It is during this part of the training that new participants get their first trial by fire - through short classroom presentations or by seeking out their peers during break in the schoolyard, PHEs go out in small groups to put their new outreach skills to the test. Afterwards, they come back together to discuss how it went and workshop the aspects they want to strengthen in a collaborative way.

With their heads crammed full of new information, the PHEs now have a base of knowledge and the teacher support they need to go forth and continue their work. After a training is complete, NSGA monitors the progress of the schools to make sure they are staying active and have what they need.

Approach of training

The PHE trainers use a variety of teaching methods with their students - there were regular class lectures, facilitated discussions, breakout sessions with presentations, role-playing exercises, ice breaker games and other team building activities. These methods not only ensure that students are understanding the information; they are also giving the group a chance to work and build confidence together.

Another effective approach that all the trainers used was using their own personal stories as examples when teaching, or first asking the students for their own. By way of example, in one session a trainer asked who in the class used a bed net to prevent Malaria at night - he then asked the students why they or their family members did or didn’t use them, which led to a long list of answers and a fruitful discussion about proper use of bed nets. This approach enables the trainers to better relate to the students, and to workshop common solutions and potential talking points that they know will be relevant.

In another school, this same question about which family members use bed nets was used to highlight the wider societal and economic impacts of Malaria - ranging from the cost to the healthcare system to how a parent being sick can impact family income, or affect their own education. This approach exemplifies how NSGA’s programming is focused on empowering youth and communities to have the information they need to achieve individual and collective goals.

Impact of program

For students new to the program, most were visibly engaged and soaking up all the information they received. Many that I talked with told me that they now had a much better idea of how diseases work, or in the case of life skills how their body systems work, and were keen to dispel myths and share info with their friends. Many were able to confidently connect individual health with community health and wellbeing, often repeating NSGA’s motto that they wanted to “learn and teach others.” They recognized the importance of the work they were signing up to do, understanding and ready to take on the responsibility of being strong role models. This cohort will join the many others that have been trained by NSGA over the years, including all of the trainers themselves. Together, they are building a network and legacy of strong and confident young leaders.

Krystal Lewis is working as a Media Intern with Nova Scotia Gambia Association in Gambia.

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