Donor Centricity – RANT I

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Since touchdown in Lebanon, I’ve been sharing photos of the beautiful scenery, rich history, delicious food and heartwarming encounters on my social media accounts. I haven’t spoken much about what I’m actually doing here. Though it may seem that I flew all the way to Lebanon to eat all the tabouleh, this is not the case. In a recent post, I mentioned that I’m working as a Project Manager and Communications Advisor for an INGO. This has meant I’ve been working quite a bit with the donor for my project, as well as wining and dining donors for our other projects and I’ve learned one lesson along the way that I would like to share.

 Because I can be quite critical, and even unreasonable sometimes, I will once again leave out the name of my organization and the donors involved in our projects.

Now that formalities are out of the way, I wish to paint a picture for you. You’re a 25-year-old Syrian woman with 3 children. Your family fled to Lebanon from Homs 4 years ago because of the war, and has been living in an informal tented settlement in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley ever since. You have many needs… cash assistance, education for your children, basic hygiene, medication… but your greatest necessity is clean water. NGO’s regularly visit your settlement, assessing your situation and writing profusely onto their clipboards. You’ve even had to entertain Europeans/Westerners entering into your wretched home, so that they can ascertain whether or not you’re worthy of their funding. And for all of this nonsense, you end up getting a baby kit as assistance. Not something you’ve asked for, but something someone else decided you were in need of. A blanket in the middle of summer, pajamas that are too small for your 9 month old, diapers which are also too small, and two bibs. What the hell, right?

When I was in South Africa, something similar happened with a ridiculous Canadian donor who visited the Township school we worked with, saw the children playing on muddy ground (just being kids for heavens sake), and decided that her hard earned dollars should go toward purchasing artificial grass turf for the school. Meanwhile the school had a long list of immediate needs directly related to increased access to education… but instead they got some fake grass. But how do these royal fuck ups keep happening? How do millions of dollars in humanitarian aid go to waste every year when they can be used toward life-changing interventions? In this case, and the case of the baby kits, the answer is donor centricity.

The donor centric model is pervasive in humanitarian aid, especially if there isn’t a focus on human rights. From my little experience working in development and emergency management, donor centricity helps perpetuate the very inequity the sector is attempting to address. The examples I gave of the baby kits and fake grass are both instances of donor centricity, though they are very different. For the baby kits, it was the decision of the NGO to purchase them because it was something the donor “would be interested in” especially when it came to visibility. And yes, visibility is literally being able to slap a huge logo on something to shout that this item was donated or funded by so and so. Though the beneficiaries prefer cash assistance (especially the case for refugees in Lebanon), cash isn’t sexy enough for the donor since they can’t stick their logo on it… hence the baby kits. For the turf, it was the donor’s direct decision to intervene so specifically… without conducting a needs assessment, asking the school’s board of directors or the NGO’s board of directors what her thousands should be spent on. The NGO knew this was a waste of money, but rolled with it because at the end of the day, the donor must always be happy (according to the donor centric model). When we do this… we are literally reinforcing the donor’s sense that they are experts when they are not. It not only damages the work the NGOs are doing, but diminishes the voices of those most affected by injustice or crisis.

“This model works… the money always comes.” This is the argument I’ve heard over and over, and it’s true in a sense. If the donor is happy, funding appears. I witnessed this in Bolivia back in 2012… when a truly horrible volunteer plastic surgeon wanted to “better his life” or whatever, and made his way to an impoverished indigenous community in Santa Cruz. He came without any preparation, except for his camera and a vomit inducing speech on his good works. Seriously… no cultural sensitivity whatsoever. He was offensive and self important, yet when I asked the leader heading the center for the community why he was tolerating all of this without a word of protest his answer was simple and clear, “he brings with him lots of money.”

Whether the donor is a voluntourist, a clueless self-made connoisseur, or the visibility police, they should not be in the center of nonprofit work. Donor-centrism gives donors the belief that they hold the solutions… when in truth, the people on the ground and the beneficiaries hold the solutions.

I will leave this here for now, as this is part one of a three-part rant. I just wanted to share that this issue of donor centricity has really affected my future involvement in humanitarian work. I thought Emergency Management would be different from International Development, but my frustrations are the same… from a grassroots NPO to an International NGO… not much has changed. My next move will therefore be to look for a human rights based organization in either sector. But before even looking at future projects, my priority will be checking up on the donors.

Until next time.

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Today is World Refugee Day

Dear friends,

In a world where one in every 113 people have been forced to flee their homes because of war or persecution, it’s vital we the global community dedicate a day to commemorate the strength, courage, and perseverance of millions of refugees. Today is World Refugee Day, and since so many of us in the west are far removed from the devastation facing so many refugees, I decided to share a story from Lebanon. My intention is not to play to your sympathies. In the same way that you’ve read stories about people climbing everest, you will read this woman’s story of life in Beirut, because her life is no less significant than that of a world class climber.

Statistics and numbers are desensitizing, and bad-news fatigue breeds apathy. I literally started this paragraph with numbers and figures, and when I caught my mistake I decided to leave the opening sentence the way it was to acknowledge my mistake. Let us take a moment, and do an exercise together. I want you to say “Mariam” out loud. That’s it, “Maariiiaam,” make sure you enunciate! She is a person, like you and I. We are of the same make, though her story may suggest otherwise. Mariam is in the situation she is in not because she was born into poverty, lazy, uneducated or unintelligent. She’s in this situation because 5 years ago, the Syrian war made its way into her hometown, Daraa, forcing her to flee to neighbouring Lebanon. She’s in this situation because of a series of unfortunate events… events that could have happened to you or me.

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Living conditions are as tough for urban refugees as they are for rural. Syrian refugees living in Beirut are harder to locate, and therefore harder to reach with aid and support services. Urban refugees are also expected to pay astronomical rent prices for substandard living conditions, and are often times confronted with a hostile host community (especially in Lebanon because of a complex history between the two countries). This is especially true for 30 year old Mariam, who lives in a concrete factory just outside of Beirut with a 9 month old baby boy, 4 daughters, and her husband. 

This factory is also home to 4 other Syrian families. Mariam’s husband worked in the concrete factory before the war in Syria began. Once the war was underway, he continued sending money home, while his family moved around Daraa for safety. At one point, Mariam and her children were living in a 1- bedroom apartment with 5 other families, which she described as “literally being piled on top of one another.” She didn’t want to come to Lebanon, because she had hope that the war would soon end, but as we know, things worsened. Her husband decided that bringing his family to Lebanon was the only option for his family’s safety, so he and a few colleagues made an agreement with the owner of the factory to live on the premises rent-free with their families so long as they built the homes themselves.

Having a conversation without raising voices is nearly impossible in Mariam’s makeshift home. The noise from the factory, coupled with the copious amount of dust hardly makes this an ideal place for a family to live in, especially for her baby boy. The factory doesn’t pay her husband well, and what little pay he does receive goes toward food, which she says “disappears as quickly as it comes.”

There are much more details that Mariam shared with me, which are really horrible and will make you hate the human condition. Instead, I will stop here, and paint you a contrasting picture. Five years ago, she had a house in Syria, and the little money her husband made went a long way for her family. She lived well, and woke up worry free everyday. Fast forward 5 years, and she literally lives in the middle of a factory with a growing family, an unending war on her mind and an exceedingly desperate situation. She described her situation as being unbelievable to her younger self. Even so, Mariam counts herself as lucky since her family doesn’t have to pay rent. Lucky to live in a concrete factory. To think… this could have been me had my parents stayed in Sudan… had there been a war, this truly could have been my life. Would I ever count myself “lucky” to live in such conditions? 

Say this woman’s name again. Mariam. Acknowledge her, honour her, and remember her every time you walk on concrete. She is out here, living, breathing, the same way you and I are. When discussing refugees, never forget that they too are humans who love, fear, laugh, cry, and feel in the same way that you do.

Absence

Greetings from Lebanon!

I owe you all an explanation for my extended absence from this space. I haven’t written on here since I was in South Africa, which is due to several factors. First, my final 6 weeks in SA was a very strange time. It was important for me to wrap things up properly at work, with my friends, with the student I was tutoring and with my adopted family. I spent every last moment with people I cared about, and had little time to write about it. Second, I didn’t want to write about it. Those last moments with the country and people I’d fallen for seemed way too intimate to share online. Third, I wanted to be selfish. I relished living fully in those moments, knowing that I didn’t have to share them with anyone… that they were for me, and me alone. I dreaded my return home by the time December came around. After months of stumbling, I had finally found a rhythm to my work, my social life, and was tuned in to the local culture at the right frequency.

My contract technically ended after arriving in Canada, because of a week-long reintegration debrief in Victoria, BC. I knew I wasn’t ready to face an onslaught of family and friends in Toronto, especially since Christmas was quickly approaching. The thought of everyone asking, “SO, HOW WAS IT?” made me apprehensive… mostly to how I’d react, so I came up with a ploy. Under the ruse of travel, I convinced my people in Toronto that since I was already going to be in BC, it would be ridiculous not to stay and explore since I had the time off. So yes, I spent Christmas with a lovely Russian family, I rode the sky train to all the corners of Vancouver, and I spent a weekend in a cabin on the gulf island of Galiano with my dear friend Alex, her dog, and her gracious family. It was the perfect descent back into reality, and looking back, I would do it exactly the same.

There wasn’t much to write about after that, since I was home for 4 days before taking off to Australia for all of January. My flight was booked 9 months in advance, so the excitement wore off, and I was still on a BC high until landing in the Melbourne heat of January. I didn’t blog about my month down under because once again, I was treading on personal territory. All I will say is that my month was absolutely perfect… I caught up with my dear family and friends in Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland. It was honestly the most wonderful trip I’ve ever taken. My parents were with me for half of the duration, which facilitated a necessary catch up after 7 months of my absence. As for my friends in Gold Coast… what can I say? I truly believe that I won’t ever find such precious camaraderie anywhere else. No shade to my friends worldwide, but there’s something about my GC lot that makes me all warm and fuzzy every time I reminisce.

I made it back to Toronto, which according to my timeline, places us in the beginning of February. The first two weeks I was busy working on the two photography exhibitions I was co-hosting for international development week. I also created promotional material for 18 exhibitions across Canada, which I probably should have blogged about because it was an incredible Canadian youth effort! I’ll include a photo below, should you have a case of FOMO. The rest of February I was applying for jobs [mostly abroad], and interviewing. I kept a relatively low profile and only caught up with my inner circles (no cults!) after 8 months of being removed from Toronto life.

This went on for several weeks until I found myself in Beirut, Lebanon on March 23rd. I’m still not quite sure how I got here, but I can say with certainty that my internship in South Africa almost single handedly helped me land this awesome gig. I’m currently working for an International NGO that I cannot name (thank you, HR policy!) as a Project Manager and a Communications Advisor. It’s a 4-month contract, following the project duration. More on my job and life in Lebanon in the following posts, stay tuned!

Below I’ve shared one photo from each month of my why-I-was-absent timeline.


My last week in SA… I wanted to say goodbye to everyone so I hosted a farewell, which was meant to be an afternoon picnic, but went on till midnight. The three pictured are AJ, Percy and Troy, 3 strangers who hit it off like brothers. A few of the girls and I met AJ at a local concert, Linda and I met Percy at our friend’s birthday party, and I met Troy at a bar in Durban while I was on a tinder date with his buddy. #OnlyInSouthAfrica


One with the wind, after a beautiful hike to the cliff on Christmas Eve. #GalianoIsland


Surprise ambush by my Gold Coast family, after Rachael tricked me into thinking we were having an Aussie “Bush Tucker.”


One of the two photo exhibits for “CLICK!” an IYIP photo exhibition for International Development Week.


Greater Beirut as seen from my apartment. That’s the mediterranean in the back, and the yellow haze? That’s the smog. #noemissionstests

 

Equitable and Inclusive Quality Education Opportunities

Recently, I found myself doing quite a few double takes on my Facebook newsfeed. Here I was, scrolling through the clutter of status updates, what’s-her-name’s wedding photos, the practical joke that is the American elections, and other news stories from the many pages I follow, until I realized something was off! I didn’t click on news stories concerning South Africa because I either read it in the paper, or heard it on the radio. It was only when I realized that these stories were published by the Canadian and American news outlets on my feed, that I frantically scrolled back up. So it appears, the civil unrest in South Africa has not gone unnoticed by the rest of the world. The first major story I saw circulating (and heard on my favourite podcast, recorded in Oklahoma) concerned the black female students in Pretoria not being allowed to wear their natural hair out in high school. It made for interesting critiques and dialogues on race, and how apartheid-era tactics were still operating throughout the country. Another story that flooded my twitter feed was South Africa’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, to which many nations responded with censure. But the story that has carried the most weight on the international stage is neither of these; instead, it’s a story concerning SDG 4 (ensuring equitable and inclusive quality education, promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all).

I am of course talking about fees must fall, the ongoing struggle between students, public universities and the government of South Africa. Fees must fall started over a year ago as a rallying against proposed national tuition increases in public universities. Recently, the focus has shifted from stopping fee hikes to gaining free, decolonized higher education. There has been much controversy surrounding the fees must fall protests, resulting in the underlying goal of the cause going unnoticed. Since September, the South African media has bombarded the public with images of protesters throwing rocks and bottles, burning down university buildings and vehicles, while police guiltlessly march in impressive formation. The imagery portrayed by the media has given the campaign a bad rep; many receiving the message with much disapproval and contempt. The more the demonstrations intensify, the more the idea of fees must fall championing equitable and inclusive education is disregarded altogether.

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At face value, fees must fall sounds like an unreasonable plea, but looking at the legacy apartheid has left behind for black education in South Africa, reparations in the form of education really don’t seem so bizarre. The more I read about fees must fall; the more I was reminded that SDG 4 concerns both developing and developed countries. Story time: when I attended the University of Toronto some years ago, there were [also] protests underway concerning university fees in Ontario. The opposing campaign was called stop flat fees, combatting an initiative put forth by the University of Toronto (the largest university in Canada), that later influenced 16 of the province’s 20 universities to follow suit. The new proposal applied a fixed tuition fee for enrolment in a minimum number of courses in a particular program or faculty, rather than charging tuition fees for each individual course a student took. For the students who didn’t (or couldn’t) take a full course load, the flat fee introduction was an enormous financial burden. Flat fees also forced students to rush through their studies, even though most learn more effectively at a self-determined pace. By 2010, Ontario students were paying the highest tuition in the country, and for this the stop flat fees campaign gained much momentum.

Student protests culminated and a lawsuit was launched in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, challenging the integrity of the decision making process behind introducing flat fees. The protesting was peaceful, and asked that the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities prohibit the institutional practice of charging flat fees at colleges and universities for any threshold below 100 percent of a full course load and that they input regulations against universities implementing fee structures that side-step provincial tuition (UTSU, 2009). Flat fees were introduced in 2009, and although it took the Ontario government 4 years to respond, they did come up with a solution in 2013. The long anticipated policy requiring universities to charge students on a per-credit basis (for a threshold of an 80% course load or less) rather than charging a flat fee rate (for full time studies) finally came. It took protesting, lobbying, lawsuits, positive media coverage and the combined efforts of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and the UofT Students Union to make this happen (Dehaas, 2013).

The situation in Canada involved disputing a new regulation that would stifle many students from having an inclusive, equitable opportunity at education. Stop flat fees was therefore a reactive campaign. In South Africa, the situation has been precarious because it has gone from being reactive (reacting to fee hikes) to being proactive, demanding free public university tuition for all. Some say the protests are random and chaotic, while others say they are highly organized. Some say they are peaceful demonstrations, while others say they are violent and destructive. When comparing both campaigns, it would be easy for me to say that it all worked out in Canada because we went about it the “proper” way… we protested peacefully, we got organized and filed a suit, we had prominent alliances and bla bla bla bla bla. I won’t go on because the “who wore it better” line of thinking does a great injustice to the students who are affected by fees must fall, and the students who are risking their safety to ultimately fight for equitable and inclusive quality education, with lifelong learning opportunities for all South Africans wishing to pursue higher education.

Though many prefer the Canadian model to the South African one, I will say this: One cannot simply compare the way a nation in the Global North goes about resolving an issue to a Nation in the Global South. Present day Canada does not suffer from extreme violence, is not recovering from the legal segregation laws that stripped millions of their basic human rights, and does not have a corrupt, obscure government in office that was recently tried with over 783 charges of corruption (Blair, 2016). Though the University students of South Africa are ultimately fighting for SDG 4 like we have in Ontario, our challenges and solutions are by no means the same. I’ve heard many well-to-do South Africans share their strong opinions on fees must fall, and how they think these students are barbaric and contradicting in their campaigning for free public university. The majority of these opinions came from people who weren’t affected by the Bantu Education Act of 1953, and who were born into the privilege allotted to them by the apartheid regime, therefore being able to afford required school fees of primary and high school education. Coming from a place that would generally agree with their line of thinking… yet living in South Africa and working in a Bantu School, I respectfully disagree with anyone who is of that opinion, or anyone who shames this powerful movement.

Sources

UTSU (2009). “A Case Against Flat Fees”. <www.utsu.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/stop_flat_fees_booklet_final_web.pdf

Blair, David (2016). “Jacob Zume ‘should’ face 783 charges, declares South African Court”. The Telegraph. <www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/29/south-african-court-declairs-way-for-jacob-zuma-to-face-783-crimin/

Dehaas, Josh (2013). “’Flat fees’ change and ‘deferral fees’ are done”. Macleans. <www.macleans.ca/education/uniandcollege/ontario-introduces-new-tuition-rules>.

 

Month 4: Update

Hello wonderful people, 

It’s been a while since I last checked in with you! As I write this post, I’m thinking of a good excuse for my recent absence in this space. I liked the idea of telling you, “I’ve been traveling…” since it makes me sound so worldly…ha! But that won’t suffice, given my travels only lasted 10 days. I also went back and forth with “I’ve been so busy,” “I’m drowning in work,” and the timeless “I’ve had writer’s block.” But as I wrote each excuse down, the period was followed by a long backspace. I really haven’t been too busy to write a blog entry, I certainly haven’t been drowning in my work, and writers block is something I’ve yet to experience… which probably has something to do with the fact that I’m no writer. So what’s my deal then? Why have I neglected you?

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In truth, I’m focusing all my energy on enjoying the ride…and what a ride it has been. But all good things come to an end, and as wonderful as living in my head is, I’ve grown tired of being pestered by family and friends for updates, photos and detailed narrations of my life in South Africa. So here I am, back by popular demand *wink*, ready to share. Unlike my other posts, I will be covering the highlights of September and October as they unfolded through photographs. More posts to come in the next few weeks, enjoy!

September

C A M P 
Back in September, Alex and Omara organized two fun packed weekend camp days with the grade 5’s. Pictured are the learners playing red rover for the first time. Eventually we had to switch games because tears were being shed and knees were getting scraped. This was the before image.

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A L E X A N D R A    H I G H
The other interns and myself visited Alexandra High School to do some ground research on the differences between township and suburban education. We were hosted by the deputy principal, who gave us a tour and shared many insights on the workings of the department of education in SA. This day was integral for us, as it shaped our understanding of the system, and influenced current projects and proposals.

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W E E K E N D    W I T H    R O Y A L T Y
Linda and I had the absolute privilege of being invited to spend the weekend with our supervisor, Ms. Sithole, and her beautiful family. It was a full house in every sense of the word. Full of mischief, love, laughter, food, and people. Her children (4 of her own, 2 adopted) regarded me like a long lost sister who has finally returned home. The weekend was wonderful, thanks to a detailed schedule which ran like clockwork. During our stay, I noticed that whenever Mama Sithole walked into a room, she commanded our attention, and was revered by her children… which leads me to believe that her house is indeed a castle, the children her kingdom, Linda and I the peasants, and Ms. Sithole, the reigning Queen.

Seriously, look at this Queen.
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H E R I T A G E    D A Y
Luckily for Linda and I, Heritage Day fell on the weekend we stayed at Ms. Sithole’s house. On Sunday we attended her place of worship, a Zulu church on the edge of the Township, which was without a doubt the highlight of my September. Everyone came clothed in traditional garb, and it was the most colourful service I’ve ever attended. The congregation worshiped in Zulu, Xhosa, Shona, Swati, Venda, Sotho… I even caught myself praying in Arabic.

A snapshot of this beautiful Sunday service. Imagine… the whole congregation looked this incredible!
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Xhosa Garb
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Zulu Garb
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S L A N G S P R U I T
A blurb on what I’ve been working on at school simply won’t do, so watch out for this post in the next few weeks. Just know that my post on the river code is to be continued. In the meanwhile, enjoy this photo of Dineo’s red stained tongue and hands after snacking on the oh-so-popular ‘sweet aid’.

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October

C A P E    T O W N
This is NOT my official Cape Town piece… that is on its way. Not because I have so-much-to-say about the iconic coastal city, but because I people watched like it was my job out there, and I’ve much to report on. Until that post, here are some highlights from the Cape.

Our Sunset Picnic on Signal Hill, complete with wine, cheese, fruits, and Frank Ocean.img_9343img_9358

The beautiful Table Mountain, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world.

Vukollective, an incredible fine arts collective of individuals, happened to be staying at a hostel I regularly frequented while in Cape Town. Luckily for me, they were in town to perform at the Cape Town Fringe Festival, and I was given a free ticket to attend. The 45 minute piece was easily the highlight of my week in Cape Town. The physical performance was a very strange, raw, and visually enticing story on life, death, and limbo. By the end I was deep in my feelings.
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Though everyone went their own way in Cape Town, myself, Omara, Alex and Linda met up on October 5th to celebrate Alex’s birthday. This is us looking fab before inhaling copious amounts of seafood.

Japanese, Kiwi, Australian, and now South African ink. Peonies to accompany the family, courtesy of Cape Town.

P R E T O R I A / T S H W A N E
I wasn’t interested in visiting Pretoria because I figured it would have the boring capital city syndrome that I’m all too familiar with. I changed my tune when information surfaced about an old chap of mine residing in Pretoria. I met Ikanye back in 2009 in England, and we were able to get in touch and coordinate a meet up. Surprisingly, the city didn’t disappoint, but the high point was definitely reuniting with my old friend.

The Union Buildings of Pretoria (also known as Tshwane) are still controversial until this day. Though the buildings were the scene of much jubilation (as they played host to the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela in ’94), not much has changed for the millions we were repressed by the apartheid system, and to many South Africans the buildings remain a symbol of oppression.
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Almost every street in Pretoria is lined with Jacaranda trees. Fun fact: Pretoria is also known as “the Jacaranda city.” From late September to mid November, Jacarandas bloom all over Pretoria and turn the face of the city purple. It’s estimated that there are almost 70k Jacarandas growing around the many streets, parks, and gardens of the capital city.
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Situated on a high hill overlooking the city of Pretoria is Freedom Park, a South African heritage destination representing humanity and freedom. The park was build as an agent of reconciliation in South Africa, reflecting on a dark past, improving the present in building the future as a free nation. The park also contributes continentally and internationally to the formation of better human understanding among nations and people. At the peak of the park, a quote from Samora Machel (former President of Mozambique) reads, “International solidarity is not an act of charity. It is an act of unity between allies fighting on different terrains toward the same objective. The foremost of these objectives is to aid the development of humanity to the highest level possible.” Words to live by as a development practitioner, but more importantly, as a global citizen of our shared planet.
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Ika and I having a good laugh after being reunited 7 years later.
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J O H A N N E S B U R G
The moment I realized we had time off work, all I could think about was making my way back to Jozi. It’s true, I cut my time short in Cape Town to many disapproving head shakes, but I don’t at all regret my decision. From visiting the birthplace of humankind, to partying in a warehouse with old friends, Johannesburg never disappoints.

We spent our Thursday evening at the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein. Our heads were spinning from all the delicious food, tasteful music and Joburg swagger that surrounded us.
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Africa is the birthplace of humankind. This is where our collective umbilical cord lies buried.
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The Crade of Humankind was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999. It is about 50 km northwest of Joburg. Sterkfontein alone has produced more than a third of early hominid fossils ever found. The Sterkfontein Caves is where scientists have discovered hominid fossils dating back more than 4-million years. The most important and most famous of these fossils are “Mrs Ples,” a 2.1 million-year-old Australopithecus skull that has told us much about the precursors of modern humans, Homo Sapiens.
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We were invited by our good friend Khanya (who we met last time we were in Jozi) to an impressive warehouse party on Saturday night. The live Nigerian music had everyone jamming hard. Forgive the terrible photo quality. 
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Let the critics talk their talk… Hillsong Church will always have a special place in my heart. I reserved my Sunday morning for another visit, and Lord am I happy I followed through. We were met with a beautiful service, and our acquaintances from our last visit remembered us, and took it upon themselves to take care of us that afternoon. I spoke about this in my post about lessons from Jozi, and I stand by my convictions. 
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Mouth watering Shisa Nyama (braai) in a Township pub called 033 Lifestyle with good company and some seriously awesome South African house tunes.
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That was a long one… but now you’re officially up to date on my whereabouts/happenings. Until next time!

Southern Africa Mashup

Hello friends!

I hope everyone is keeping well, I certainly am! Today, I won’t be sharing the usual opinion piece you’ve grown accustomed to. Instead, I’ll be sharing a silly video I made with my fellow IYIP amigas for the 2016 FILM4CLIMATE Global Video Competition. Not to be a downer, but we totally entered this competition knowing we weren’t in the running. There were over 800 entries submitted by film students, amateurs (like us), and film professionals. So why bother entering, you ask? Well, why not?

The girls and I met in Victoria, BC, for our two week pre-departure briefing. Ally is based at Women for Change, an organization in Jinja that works with rural communities, while Nicole is based in Bushara Island, where she and 17 others live and work together under the context of environmental sustainability. When Ally whatsapp’d myself and Nicole a week before the deadline pitching the idea, we were all too keen. I mean how hard would it be to come up with a concept, video tape it in three distant locations in Southern Africa, piece it together with terrible internet access, then submit on time?

We got to work promptly, and thanks to Facebook’s three-way-call option and Google Docs, our mashup was well on its way. Ally would record her part from Jinja, Uganda, Nicole would record hers from Bushara Island, Uganda, and I would record from Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Our concept was simple: encouraging others to become global advocates rather than naysayers of climate change. The video tells the stories of three ‘naysayers’ whose lives are impacted by climate change, but choose to stay in denial. We came up with this idea when discussing how so many global citizens have had to make lifestyle changes to accommodate changes in climate, yet they refuse to acknowledge it as a global problem. Through role-play, we expose the denial discourse, and promote climate action. The “non-believers” end up educating the viewer, touching upon other SDG’s (goals 2, 6, 11, 12, 15 & 17) and showing climate change as a crosscutting issue that must be addressed if we wish to protect our shared planet and enjoy global prosperity.

Okay no more rambling, enjoy the video!

For more on the SDG’s click here. Also, make sure to check out Ally’s blog and Nicole’s blog for a totally different approach to IYIP. 

Halfway

Hey Friends!

I am officially at the halfway mark of my 6 month passage through South Africa. It’s been 3 months of new cultures, languages, friendships, food, and adventures! Although December is creeping up way too fast for my liking, I am excited to see what the next 3 months will look like. Working in South Africa has opened my eyes to the complicated world of development. As many of you know, my educational background is primarily in professional communications; the majority of my work experience being with for-profit organizations. Apart from volunteering, signing petitions, and engaging in dialogues, I’ve never actually worked in the sector until now. Working with VIDEA and Ukulapha has introduced me to the complexities of fundraising, sustainability, inequality, governance and public policy. Above all, I’ve seen first hand how all of these components directly affect people’s lives, a confronting realization that has altered my career path moving forward.

lieFor those wondering why I’ve replaced my cheery ‘Music Monday’ posts with heavier subject matter (gender equality, education, race, colonialism, etc.) as of late, I owe you an explanation; Rewind to this time last year… I returned to Canada (from the best 3 years of my life) unemployed, unhappy, and regretting every penny I spent on both a diploma and degree that seemed totally worthless. I was literally “running through the six with my woes,” and if you knew me well enough you could attest to this. I wanted to work in the communications sector in Toronto, but they didn’t seem to want me. Having undergone two internships, it was the last thing I wanted to do… but my savings account was running low and my 3 months of unemployment suddenly became 9 months. My spirits were at an all-time low and I was in desperate need of a big change, so I swallowed my pride and applied for a position with VIDEA as an *cringe*  i n t e r n *cringe some more*.

Looking back, I really made a fuss over nothing. Applying to be an IYIP intern has definitely earned a place in the top 3 for best decisions I’ve ever made. I applied to IYIP with one underlying goal: to bring me one step closer to a career in communications that I so desperately wanted. Now that I’m halfway through the program, I realize that I had it wrong all along. A career in communications is not what I’ve been after all these years! Gone are the dreams of working with multi-million dollar clients and trendy corporate brands. Plain and simple, I want a career in social change. Now that I’ve seen firsthand the necessity of organizations like VIDEA and Ukulapha, I want to use my skill set to further the development narrative.

In the past 3 months, I’ve learned that I can use my background in advertising to change perceptions and start new dialogues pertaining to human rights development. I’ve learned that I can use my formal training in public relations for creating programs, fundraising and perfecting messaging. I’ve learned that public policy is shaped by the collective efforts of organizations like VIDEA and Ukulapha, meaning my work is impactful and important. I’ve also learned that winter in South Africa means chilly evenings with lots of bonfires and wine sipping. That there are several ways to express shock in Zulu, my favourite being ‘haibo!’. That South Africa has a difficult, complex history which I will never fully comprehend.. even if I moved here permanently.

In closing: I’ve learned a lot… about South Africa, and about myself. I am humbled to be here, and I so look forward to the next 3 months as an intern, a word that I now wear proudly, in this wonderful place.