Friday, 25 July 2014

Photovoice - using photography to advocate for gainful educational attainment for girls in northern Nigeria

By Badriyya Yusuf, 2nd Year MDP student

I am undergoing my practicum with the Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative (IWEI), a local NGO in Kano State, northern Nigeria. We are collaborating on the organization's Safe Space Clubs program which is an intervention designed to retain the girl-child in school - at least, up to grade SS3 (equivalent to grade 12). The program entails providing 98 secondary school girls in different rural areas with a forum in which to meet  and discuss their challenges and opportunities. Training is provided on human rights advocacy and issues such as water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), maternal and child health and nutrition are also introduced.

For my practicum, we decided to focus specifically on using Photovoice as a research method. Photovoice is a form of participatory action research which involves community building and dialogue through photography (Wang, 2006). Fifteen schoolgirls aged between 13-16 from three different rural areas were selected as participants in a 10 week project. The objective is to enable them to take pictures using digital cameras, of their perceptions of challenges and opportunities to gainful education and to advocate for their rights. Interestingly, none of them have ever held a camera before - really! There has been much enthusiasm, particularly on the workshop session when they were introduced to cameras. Who'd have known that a zoom lens could be such a fascination!! 
Badriyya (2nd from R) explaining Photovoice to participants

Our first few sessions of the project were centered around orienting the students to its specifics, and the rules of Photovoice - informed consent of the person to be photographed, how to use and care for a camera, time frames and expectations etc.

We've received overwhelming support from the community as all duty bearers and stakeholders were involved in the process - all but 2 of the girls have been attending workshop sessions. We found out that the absentees were denied participation by their brother. In a patriarchal society such as mine, this is unfortunately, not unusual. The unquestioned ability of a male figure to dictate the livelihood of a female child, sibling or spouse was among the main obstacles to education identified by the girls during our focus group discussions. This is evidenced by the high rates of early marriages in the region where 48% of girls are married by the age of 15 ( For many of the girls, the pursuit of education dies when they get married.

As it stands at the moment, the girls have been given full possession of the cameras for the next few days. I eagerly await the pictures our rookies will produce.

Africa in Northern Canada

By Douglas Baba, 2nd year MDP student

Douglas (L) & fellow MDP student Naomi Gichungu (R)

My Canadian field placement took me to a town in Northern Canada which is a popular international tourist destination called Churchill. Generally, the ways of living in western societies is far different from Africa where I hail from - the communal versus the individualistic way of life. 

Fort Churchill Cairn
Churchill started as a  trading post in the 1700s and the fort in the town will remind every Ghanaian who visits of the numerous forts and castles dotted along the coast of Ghana from as far back as the 15th Century when the various European powers started arriving in Africa. The historical nature of Churchill and as a polar bear and beluga whale centre of the world makes it a very attractive place to visit. However, not many Canadians can afford to visit there due to the expensive nature of airfare which is pretty much the same fare as going to Ghana or any other African country from Canada. 

My five day stay there gave me the sense of feeling that I was in a typical African community or town where  everyone knows each other, the friendly and smiling nature of the people, and exchanging greetings. Shockingly, I also saws children selling fruit drinks on the street which I was compelled to buy some not for the taste of it necessarily but for the feeling of showing that I was in Ghana buying roasted corn or plantain from children in the street.  At the health centre, I unimaginably saw some children giving way for an adult man to pass before they entered the door. This is a typical way of how African children show respect for the aged and the elderly in the society.

At the hotel where I slept, the owner, John was so nice that we would sit together in his dining room to have breakfast together and in one morning I accidentally spilled corn flakes on the floor, he jokingly said "Douglas you will have to pay $3 dollars." The memories of this trip to Churchill and the opportunities the MDP field placement has created for me will continue to linger forever.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Farewell, Botswana

By Alison Everitt, 2nd year MDP student

CEYOHO's Basha Youth Center in Tlokweng
I am now finishing my ninth week with CEYOHO in Gaborone, Botswana and getting ready to head home to Canada. During my time with CEYOHO my work has mainly focused on ensuring the sustainability of the organization. Like many small NGOs, CEYOHO is largely dependent on outside funding for specific projects and initiatives. As a result, there is limited funding available for the day-to-day work of the organization. In an effort to become more sustainable in the area of resource mobilization, my work has been mainly focused on finding long term, ongoing, donors and funders. 

One project that I have been working on in particular is the “Friends of CEYOHO” initiative in which we are looking for donors in the community and internationally who would be willing to donate time, resources, and funds on a regular basis. While it is always challenging to work in the area of resource mobilization, my time at CEYOHO has given me the opportunity to learn a lot from the people I work with and to better understand the issues of funding that small organizations face every day.

At CEYOHO I have been very fortunate to work with some truly wonderful people. They are always happy to take the time to answer my questions and to invite me to participate at different events and workshops that give me a better understanding of the HIV/AIDS sector in Botswana. I’ve had the opportunity to attend national workshops and to participate in community-level trainings and events – all of which have given me an invaluable experience that will greatly benefit me in my future.

Madikwe Nature Reserve in South Africa
While being in Botswana I’ve also had the opportunity to travel and see many of the amazing sights that southern Africa has to offer. From driving to Johannesburg (terrifying) to traveling around Cape Town (breathtaking) I have been able to see so many beautiful sights that I would not have been able to, were it not for this placement. In my last few weeks I will be traveling up north to Kasane – which I am told is the best place in the world to safari – and to Victoria Falls. I can’t wait!

Thank you to CEYOHO and WUSC for bringing me on this incredible journey – it is one that I know I’ll never forget!

From Mountains to Lakes: Learning Development in Nepal

By Naomi Happychuk, 2nd year MDP student

After an eventful and enriching three months, I am now in my final week of my MDP practicum placement in Nepal. In Jumla I conducted a study on changes in food habits and the value of dietary diversity, with the help of my LIBIRD companions, Epsha and Laxmi. It was an incredible and enlightening experience, conducting eight FGDs (Focus Groups Discussions) in four communities of the district, and learning about the lives, and particularly the food habits, of people in this mountainous region of Nepal.
Naomi in FGD with farmers in Depalgaun, Jumla

We often walked for hours to meet with community members and once we were up at 5am, making roti out of local millet flour to bring for a kaaja. I learned much about the complexity of the food system and the challenges of access and availability of both local and imported foods in Jumla, as well as the persistent habits which influence people’s diets.

I also got the opportunity to take a six day hike to Rara Lake, the largest lake in Nepal, and get a greater understanding of how people live far from the main bazaar area. I came back limping in agony from the steep climbs, but with a new appreciation for the people of Jumla.
Hiking to Rara Lake with another student and her research assistant

Just last week, after a 30 minute walk in the heat with my ginormous bag, a confusing and hectic departure from the Jumla airport, a 15 hour local night bus, and an early morning taxi ride, I was back at the hotel in Pokhara. It was heavenly to have cold drinks, hot showers, and so many tasty foods! I was also shocked by the number of people who could speak English, and by the intense heat and humidity that developed since I had left. 

Not long after arriving I left to conduct another study around Rupa Lake, just 45 minutes outside of the city. This time I was conducting FGDs with locals involved in community-based management of the watershed, particularly looking at how it was including and impacting women. It was very interesting learning about the support and benefits that women have acquired from being in cooperatives and women’s groups involved in management of the watershed, but also the challenges and barriers they continue to face regarding gender equality. The area is very beautiful and I was lucky to enjoy a good share of fresh fish from the lake!

Rupa Lake
This week I will be presenting my findings from both studies to the staff and executive directors of LIBIRD and then saying my goodbyes to Nepal. Despite the many mental and physical struggles I had with adjusting to living in a remote area, in very basic living conditions where few people spoke English, I am grateful to have had that experience. I already miss cooking and chatting over dinner with the LIBIRD girls, staring out the balcony and watching the peaceful town in the evenings or gazing at the stars at night, and of course all of the kind and generous people I came to know. I have learned so much this summer, about the challenges and complexity of development, about learning from and connecting with people, and about myself. It was truly the perfect way to apply and reflect on all the knowledge gained from my years in the MDP program.

Final Reflections from Inari

By Lisa Dixon, 2nd year MDP student

I am in the final week of my international field placement and it’s hard to believe that in a few short days I will be leaving Inari.  Reflecting on my time here, I can say that while the placement was not without its challenges, overall it has been a great experience and I’m grateful I was able to come here and meet many people who allowed me to learn from them and ask unlimited questions!

L-R: Anna Morottaja, Lisa Dixon, Heli Huovinen, Suvi Kivela at the CASLE gathering

As I mentioned in my previous blog, my main project in Inari has been developing the English website for the CASLE program.  The project will continue in the fall with development of several documentaries and other video-based content. My partner and I wish we could of have been involved with some of the video content but we were able to accomplish quite a bit during the ten weeks.  My last night in Inari, we hosted a gathering that reunited students and Language Masters from the CASLE program to give updates on what they were doing since the program ended, in particular how they were using the Inari Sami language in their everyday lives. It also gave Heli and I an opportunity to showcase some of the work we had done on the website.  Although the content was in English and many of the Language Masters don’t speak any English, they seemed quite pleased to have some of the documentaries made during the cultural courses on the website.  We also greatly expanded the section on the Language Masters to include a biography, photograph, and an edited audio clip of them speaking Inari Sami. 

Mortensnes, Norway
Lisa presenting at Sacred Sites conference

Since my last blog post, things have been very busy.  At the end of May, I was able to go to Norway for a two-day trip with the Inari Sami Language Program. Inari is not very far from the Norwegian border but it has an incredibly different landscape, with mountains and water everywhere.  We went to museums and visited some beautiful sites on our whirlwind trip!

Inari was the host of a three-day conference on Sacred Sites and Culturally Important Landscapes in the middle of June.  There were Indigenous peoples from Canada, the U.S., Finland, and Russia involved in the conference as well as researchers from all over Europe.  The conference was an amazing learning experience and I was able to meet some great people doing some really important work.  I was also able to give a short presentation on the topic of Indigenous language in Canada and our program and the response was quite positive!