Thursday, 12 June 2014

Working Towards Food Security and Biodiversity in Nepal

By Naomi Happychuk, 2nd year MDP student


I have spent the past six weeks in Nepal, working with LI-BIRD (Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development), a local NGO which aims to empower rural poor and marginalized smallholder famers through agriculture, biodiversity, and natural resource projects. 

My first three weeks were spent in two of the major cities here, (Pokhara and Kathmandu), where I became acquainted with the organization and their many initiatives. I also attended a project inception meeting for “Integrating Crop Genetic Diversity for Mountain Food Security”, with members of Biodiversity and the UNEP.

Project inception meeting

Jumla, Nepal


In mid-May I flew to a remote, mountainous district called Jumla where I will spend the remainder of my practicum. The small plane was definitely a shaky ride, and porters greeted us at the airport to help carry our stuff. (There are no taxis in Jumla!) 

Here I have assisted LI-BIRD staff in their field trials of amaranth, rice, and potatoes, and attended a number of community meetings. It has definitely taken some time to adjust here! There is poor sanitation, water and power shortages (which means no internet and infrequent bucket showers), and very few people speak English. However the scenery is incredible and everyone is very friendly!   

 Spare time is spent practicing Nepali with the young children that live in our building, going for jogs on the dusty roads (dodging cattle and throwing my hands in prayer to reply “Namaste!” to the many on-lookers), and reading multiple novels at a time (at last!). I have now begun a project with LI-BIRD to assess the changes in food habits in Jumla, which are affected by unique social, environmental, and economic factors, and to explore the primary drivers behind these changes in an effort to better understand how to increase biodiversity and food security. Looking forward to putting my hard years of study with the MDP program to good use!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

In Kalinago Territory

By Nathan McCorrister

View of coast line from Kalinago Barana Aute
I will be the first to admit I’m by no means a frequent traveller and nor an international traveller for that matter.  So preparing and coming on my first extended trip to the Kalinago Territory of Dominica has certainly lived up to its experience and learning for me.  Growing up in my home Indigenous community of Peguis First Nation, our family was not rich but we did have the opportunity to travel outside the country at least once and as well as some family trips to the United States.  Up until now, the most my extended vacation family trip was approximately 10 days, and again was with family for vacation purposes.  Knowing my international MDP practicum was at least two months, by myself, in a developing country and working with fellow Indigenous people was certainly going to be a once in a life time experience.

 Dominica is a small Caribbean island of approximately 751 square kilometres and with a population of 73,449 people.  The population is made up of approximately 86.8% of black people and with Indigenous people making up 2.9%.  The official languages are English and French patois.  The Kalinago people of the Carib Reserve or also known as the Kalinago Territory, are only one of a few Indigenous peoples whom remain in the Caribbean islands, their traditional territory.  The Kalinago have a population of approximately 4,500 and the reserve or territory make up approximately 3,782 acres of land located on the northeastern part of Dominica.  

Pagua River located in the Kalinago Territory

The history of the Kalinago people, after the arrival of Europeans, is like so many other Indigenous peoples around the world; a history of colonization.  After the arrival of Christopher Columbus, the national country of Dominica was first French controlled and was “ceded” possession to the English in 1763.  Dominica became an independent country in 1978 and remains a member of the British Commonwealth.   The same year of independence the Dominica Carib Reserve Act was first passed to formally recognise the Kalinago people within the Dominica laws and to recognize the land that was originally set aside by the Crown.  Similar to the Indian Act in Canada, the Carib Reserve Act sets out governance, land management and bylaw making ability for the Kalinago people.  

The history of colonization and conflict in Dominica and with the Kalinago people reminds me much our history in Canada.  With the Kalinago people’s forceful confinement to one side of island, colonization efforts of past colonial governments and existing national governments, the history is very similar to my home community and indeed with so many other Indigenous peoples.

 My trip so far has allowed me to experience and learn of the similarities as Indigenous peoples of Canada and the Caribbean.  Being here in just few short weeks has shown me the beautiful natural lush landscapes to this island and the kindness and honorable people of the Kalinago territory.  In my next blog I will share a bit more about the Kalinago people and current efforts to decolonize and or “Indigenize” there identity and culture through development.

Nathan at Kalinago Barana Aute  - Traditional Kalinago Village

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

From Botswana, With Love

By Ali Everitt, 2nd year MDP student

Dumelang from Gaborone, Botswana! This summer I will be working as a Resource Mobilization Intern for three months with the Centre for Youth of Hope [CEYOHO]. CEYOHO is a small organization that was founded by, and for, young people living with HIV. This organization strives to reduce the number of new infections, and to improve the lives of young people living with HIV through the use of prevention strategies and support services. If you have the chance, I urge you to check out their website at to see all of the great work that they are doing!

On my first game drive - Ali (L), our house mom, Thato (C) and Sunny (R) my roommate

While in Gaborone I am living with another student, Sunny, and our house mom, Thato. We live in the eastern part of Gaborone and since the city is just over 200,000 people it is quite easy to get around. My main mode of transportation has been combi’s (15 person vans) that have routes all over the city. At the start they were a little scary as the driving down here is quite fast-paced and the routes can be difficult to learn. Now after almost four weeks of practice I feel a little more comfortable and (almost) never get lost. Now having said that though I’m sure I’ll end up on the outskirts of town next time I take one.

What I didn’t realize before arriving here was that I would be in Botswana during their winter season. As a Canadian prairie girl, when I was told this upon arrival I was not too worried. Now after being here for a few weeks I have found that a southern Africa winter is not as warm as I had originally expected. During the days Gaborone is beautiful – usually around 25 degrees Celsius and perfectly sunny without a cloud in the sky. At night and in the mornings, however, it can drop to around 0 degrees and as the homes do not have insulation or central heating (to stay cooler in the summer and to keep costs lower) it gets very cold. As my roommate and I are always freezing we have had a lot of jokes thrown our way and trust me, the irony of being a Canadian who is cold in southern Africa is not lost on me. 

My first giraffe sighting at the Mokolodi Game Reserve!

So far we have gone on a game drive through Mokolodi Game Reserve and there we saw giraffes, baboons, warthogs, and ostrich. My roommate and I are looking in to doing several more of these around the country in the hopes of seeing the Big 5 – lions, elephants, rhinos, buffalo, and leopards – as well as Victoria Falls and the 4 Points (the only place in the world where four countries meet at one point). I can’t wait to see as much of this beautiful continent as possible!

Thanks for reading my first blog post! I’ll update you all again soon.