Friday, 28 June 2013

Hunger has no color

By Badriyya Yusuf, 1st Year MDP student
I am midway through my field placement and I wish there was more time to soak it all in! I am undertaking my practicum with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) at its head office, based here in Winnipeg. IISD is a public policy research institute with a renowned history of conducting cutting edge research into sustainable development. It was established in 1990 as a Canadian response to the UN World Commission on Environment and Development’s Our Common Future/Brundtland Report and has since contributed significantly to shaping public policy recommendations around the world. 

A highlight of my practicum thus far is my attendance of a Food Hunger conference organized by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, hosted by the University of Winnipeg. The conference was well attended by a spectrum of students, academicians, development practitioners, farmers, policy makers – including CIDA and IISD. It was an enriching participatory experience where we not only got to hear from the authorities in the field, such as David Nabarro, the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative for Food Security and Nutrition, John Hoddinott of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Carla Hogan Rufelds, Director of Food Security and Environmental Sustainability, CIDA, but we also had the opportunity to present our ideas on how to sustainably address the UN’s zero hunger challenge.

Mueni Udeozor, Program Officer, Canadian Feed the Children, Rael Marona, Entreprenuer, Kenya & Badriyya Yusuf

I take away with me a lot of lessons learnt from the conference, such as the challenges of conservation agriculture and the imperative to include women in project and policy design and implementation, as emphasized by Carla Hogan Rufelds. However, a few of us also reflected on the absence of attempts to address the food security challenges faced by Canadians, especially the Aboriginal community, at the conference. The conference was largely focused on food hunger in Africa, further perpetuating the stereotype of a continent in perpetual hunger without really addressing some of the root causes. A little insight was given into the situation in Brazil and in India, but the only reference to the situation at home in Canada was made in passing, and only because we brought it up. This was unsettling to me, especially given the fact that the conference was held here in Manitoba where more than 64,000 people use the Winnipeg Harvest as a food bank every month, 47% of whom are children. 

This clearly reflects the relevance of programs like our MDP in Indigenous Development studies in creating awareness and producing graduates who will contribute to addressing sustainable development among Indigenous Peoples all over the world.

Communication Project in Mexico

By Susan Maxson, 2nd year MDP student

The office of La Red Indígena de Turismo de México (RITA)

So how does an umbrella organization work when communication is very poor?  The answer is - with great difficulty.  RITA is a tourist umbrella organization here in Mexico with 120  members.  Rita endeavors to support these indigenous member organizations in starting and running tourism operations that reflect and value their indigenous identities.  

Our assignment as development practitioners for the MDP program  was to work out a communication strategy that would help RITA to respond to the needs of its members and build communication channels that would facilitate growth.  

This has turned out to be a very challenging assignment.  Our first surprise was that the phone contact list only had 60 member organizations on it. Where were the other 60 members?  It turned out that they did not have phones and were getting their information from other member organizations because even cell phone coverage is lacking in many of the areas where the indigenous communities are. We then planned on focusing on the 60, but have since found out that even though these groups have phones,  they are an unreliable and many of the contact numbers are actually the village phones. A message must be left, and the person RITA is trying to contact will phone back – maybe!  

What about alternate forms of communication? The postal system in Mexico is not used much as it is not considered reliable.  A few of the members have internet, but the understanding of technology is low, and emails often do not get answered.  Education of many of the members is low, and some are operating in a second language – Spanish. There is a huge need for technical information (such as how to set up an email account) to be rewritten in simple language. 

There are a few members who have totally joined the internet age and even have their own web pages, but these are the exception.   RITA, as an umbrella organization, wants to reach all of its members.  It wants them to receive needed information, and be able to give their input into the services that they would like RITA to offer.  Our big question is “How might this be done?”  

It is an interesting assignment, and Alejandro, Ian and I have spent a lot of time, first trying to understand all of the dimensions of the problem and then looking for a solution or solutions as will probably be the case.  We have not come up with an answer – how could we?  People more closely involved with the situation have been grappling with it for years.  But we have learned a lot about the importance of communication and the many problems involved in it.  

Susan Maxson

CES' New Intern: Evelyn Poitras

By Evelyn Poitras, 1st year MDP student

Well, this is my first blog and my second day at CES. CES was initially the acronym for Canadian Eco-tourism Services but has evolved to simply being the name for this organization which offers community development services particularly targeting Indigenous communities. My first introduction to CES was as an elected Councillor for my band Peepeekisis, Saskatchewan in 2010. I came across an opportunity to apply for free services related to potential tourism opportunities and this was the beginning of a friendship with Amanda Huculak of CES who eventually came to visit us on Peepeekisis. Who knew that I would come to be a field placement intern with CES in 2013 as a Master’s student at the University of Winnipeg?

I am sitting in an architect office building on McDermot this beautiful (finally summer) morning where CES also has their offices. My mother has texted me just now to say “nitanis, miwasin wayawitimihk, ayikisak nikamowak, kisahikitin”. My daughter, it is beautiful outside, the frogs are singing, I love you. April was the frog moon month and she had trusted that they would be thawed out and singing by the end of the month…and then we had this snowstorm! On my recent visit home, I truly appreciated the song of the frogs.

Evelyn Poitras and her mom

I am Cree and Saulteaux (Ojibway, Cree, French mix) from the Treaty 4 Territory. My mother is from Onion Lake on the Alberta/Saskatchewan border in the Treaty 6 Territory and her first language is Cree. Despite the Indian Residential School experience, my mother retained her language and is still a Cree teacher today. In Winnipeg, I am visiting Treaty 1 Territory which is home to the Anishinaabe (Ojibway) mainly. My ancestors are also French and Metis with their own proud history very much part of this historic city and the Red River. It is a special place for me to visit. I plan to be here for two years for my Master’s studies.

I was mindful of my mother in the marketing exercise I just did with Amanda and Jessica DeGrave, my supervisor. . . oh wait, its time for lunch and a nice walk to Market Square with Amanda. What beautiful old buildings in this city. Back from lunch! . . . The marketing exercise was an opportunity for me to be self-conscious as a nehiyaw iskwew, an Indian woman. To share is validating and empowering- it is responsibility and celebration. Our circles are virtual today. Our youth will take their rightful places in these circles. Like the frogs in spring, they will sing and it will be a beautiful sound…and like my mother, we have waited patiently and faithfully to hear this song.

Tourism is basically about visiting and sharing. First Nations, Aboriginal, Indian…people love visiting. Socializing and our social fabric is a very important part of who we are. And it is also a very important protocol to share. Gift-giving can be sacred particularly when it is related to reciprocity- we never simply take something, we must always give back in the circle of life. Storytelling is part of survival. Language is ‘a gift of the Creator given to us to communicate with the Creator and all of creation, everything given to us to survive as Indian people’…I recall those words from late Harold Cardinal, a wonderful leader for all of us. Language is our kinship and place in the world- all our relations- which tells us who we are and who we have always been- extremely critical and powerful knowledge especially today.

In our fast paced lives and growing technology, visiting is almost a lost art. I am guilty of this also. Cocooning at home in a blanket of technology/entertainment is a great comfort at times. But I also think of elders from my community who I wished to visit. It is not always easy to do, sometimes this can be challenging. The hard lessons are that we can lose these elders very suddenly. I learned that lesson once and it lit a fire under me to make sure that I followed through to talk to others no matter how hard or challenging this could be. I still remember kokum, grandmother, and know that her gift to me was inspiration to make sure that I went on to do my work. Today I treasure those memories, those visits with many elders. As a filmmaker, this is now my legacy.

My mother and father’s generation loved to visit. What is more, they expected this. If you did not visit, this could hurt someone’s feelings. I recall campaigning at home and this opportunity to visit. One elder kept me for a four hour visit- one hour for every year of my term, he said with a big smile. I lost my political race at that time but certainly could not regret any time I spent with members from my community visiting at that time- hours of tea and coffee drinking, much laughter, stories, history sharing, a little gossiping and teasing. Today I feel much privilege to remember how I was welcomed into so many homes and treated so kindly with great hospitality. We shared concern, hope, love for our families, and pride for our community, our home.

I am reminded of the movie “Julia and Julie”. It’s a great foodie movie but also a true story about a blogger who wrote about her odyssey through the Julia Child’s revolutionary cookbook on French cooking. The blogger challenged herself to cook her way through these recipes in one year. She started off rather obscure but ended with great acclaim and many blog followers. So, dear blog readers, what may come of this obscure blog beginning? One thing is that you will learn about CES through my experience. And one thing is also sure…like Julia Child, you can never have enough butter…but like my blog, if you don’t have butter, and even if you do, try lard or bacon grease on your bannock.

* originally posted on May 7th on the CES website

Behind the Scenes: What a Development Practitioner needs to start working

By Alejandro Dominguez-Suburbie, 2nd year MDP Student

Something that I always find amazing, and I have mixed feelings for, are logistics. I love arriving in a new place and start getting things done, but sometimes those little things can go really smoothly and be easy or become very complicated. In the end I always laugh about it, but in the moment you just want to hit the wall with your head.

I could write a whole story for each of our adventures, however, I will just mention things that were smooth and easy to start and those that were just a little bit painful. To gain a better understanding I will list things from easy to complicated. Each of these might change from case to case, however in our case this is the way we felt it was.

  1. Getting cellphone lines (in less than an hour). 
  2. Transportation: The public transportation infrastructure is good, although it takes a lot of time to cross the city (2 or more hrs approx.). In Xochimilco we can get out of our house and hop into a Bicycle Cab that takes you to the Light Train Station, that takes you to the subway, and finally you can use, if you needed, the Rapid Bus Transit system. Something we haven’t found are good maps, not touristic ones.
  3. Food: At every corner, fresh and good quality food is found, although getting access to a decent Walmart is hard.
  4. Banking: Having access to ATM’s and banks is something easy. However it has been difficult to do transfers between Canadian and Mexican accounts. Although, both of my accounts are Scotiabank there is no easy and cost-free way to do transfers.
  5. Accommodation: (it took two weeks). This one is hard to say, because it is difficult, almost impossible to find a place without a one-year contract. Once we found the place, that was good but needed some work and cleaning. We spent one more week cleaning and bringing our things to the house.
  6. Internet: First, in the area we are we couldn't find any rocket sticks, there is no demand for these. This area in Mexico City is not a priority area for Telcel, Movistar, or Iusacell, the main mobile companies in Mexico. This is why the service we get here is really bad.
  7.  Water: The water supply system in Mexico City has lots of problems; one of the main ones is the leakage. In our house, we have to be very resourceful with the water and how do we use it. The water tank in the roof usually gets full during the night, but you never know when you will be short. Besides this we need to buy bottles with drinkable water from various companies (Coca-Cola, Pepsico, and others), because the tap water is “not safe.”

Getting around, cleaning, negotiating, patience, camping, are some skills that we as MDP students didn't learn in the classroom, however we are learning in the practicum. All these are skills that we definitely will use and develop as we work in the development area.

Lowering the fridge from a 3 story roof.