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

 

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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.

[the lack of] development education in Canada

Hey friends,

So today’s post is a bit of a rant session. Based on what I’ve observed for the past two months, as well as some throwback memories to high school, I’ve come up with a bit of a theory on why educated Canadians have asked me questions like “do you speak African?” when finding out that I’m Sudanese. I ended up with this theory quite accidentally…  I was exploring the relationship between governance and culture in South Africa for a separate blog post, and subconsciously delved into my own ignorance surrounding the repercussions of colonialism. I was able to trace this lack of knowledge back to what I wasn’t taught in high school… a frustrating realization for a globally conscious Canadian gal. Before I share, you too can navigate my thoughts before reaching a verdict.

Here’s a snapshot of the intricacies of governance in a state that was previously colonized:

South Africa walks a thin line between multiculturalism and pluralism. Because it is such a diverse nation (having 11 official languages), it has many individuals and groups with different backgrounds, religions, cultures, preferences and customs. The word multiculturalism suggests mutual respect and toleration for different cultures. This also suggests that governance should reflect the nation’s diversity, and that assimilation would be abandoned as a dominant discourse. The reason I say the country walks a fine line between multiculturalism and pluralism is because the many groups are no longer masters of their cultural practices, and there is a lack of equal representation in the government. From what I’ve seen in the small town of Pietermaritzburg and the even bigger city of Johannesburg, there is a mix of cultures that have been preserved and managed, but not mastered. The coexisting of the Zulu and Afrikaans people for example is a tolerant understanding that the two cultures must live in peace, without a monolithic state control that both cultures once had (e.g. the Zulu kingdom, and the apartheid regime). This is problematic because the country is constantly on the verge of moving from tolerant to insolent, hence its [past and present] history of violence.

Until living here, I have been ignorant to the complex paradigm of poor governance in states that were once colonized. Although I was born in a colonized state (Sudan), I didn’t quite understand the affect that pluralism and diversity can have on human rights. South Africa is one example of many states in the Global South that are experiencing the struggle between new regimes and old traditions with ever-growing immigrant populations. As a Canadian working in a developing country under a focused government program, it is important for me to ask how Canada can promote inclusion, advance respect for diversity and uphold human rights in the Global South.  As I have mentioned earlier, my ignorance to this close-to-home issue (given my birthplace) meant that as a Canadian, I wasn’t well equipped to understand the true devastation of colonialism. True, Canada itself was once a colony, but given our standing as a state in the Global North, with quality education at our fingertips, my arrival here did come as a disappointment to me.

As a development practitioner, and a Canadian citizen, I can’t quite let this go. Canada needs to do a better job at educating its public on colonialism and its legacy in the Global South. It should be a priority to reinstate stand-alone Global Classroom funding to improve the quality and reach of development education in Canada. International development practitioners should be involved in analyzing school-based curriculum that is accessible within schools across our country. Colonialism should be taught rather than mentioned in the classroom. The high school history curriculum is so focused on the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe and North America, with little taught on Asia, South America and Africa, where the majority of states categorized as being in the “Global South” now reside.

If the public (especially youth) is properly informed on these issues, more petitions will be signed, more organizations will be created, and more Canadians will get involved in advancing human rights through promoting accountable governance rather than the prevalent charity approach to citizen involvement in the developing world. If Canadians can become outraged on social media over the killing of Cece the Lion, how much more passionate would they be to know what injustices go on between countries we as a nation have trade agreements with? It is a known fact that advances in democracy, governance and human rights have contributed to a better quality of life, greater security, important reductions in poverty and more equitable societies around the world. Therefore, it is our government’s duty to properly inform Canadian citizens on these issues. A single citizen has the power to influence hundreds (in person or on social media), contributing to the advancement of human rights through the promotion of inclusion and respect for diversity. Especially now, since our government has only recently begun to reflect the diversity of the nation (the PM’s new cabinet).

We must use our citizens, and our successes in diversity and inclusion to influence other governments, especially ones we do business with (who need to be held accountable). The Canadian effort in this area must be intensified if we wish to be partners in developing sustainable, equitable societies worldwide. To my fellow Canadians, ask yourself this: how many of your [educated] friends speak of Africa as if it’s a country? I rest my case. RANT  OVER.

Do girls & women stand a chance?

Hello Friends!

Today, I want to briefly talk to you about my sisters here in South Africa, their vulnerabilities, and what strategies can be used to address their inequity.

-Socio-economic status and Education-

It is no secret that the relationship between education and socio-economic status is circular. Though apartheid has now been abolished for 20+ years, it is plain to see that South Africa is struggling to correct the severe inequalities in education created by decades of socio-economic divide between race groups. Though there is “equal opportunity for all” under the nation’s new constitution, the geographic location of a child’s birthplace largely determines their educational advantage or disadvantage.

This is especially apparent in our drive into Slangspruit Primary School everyday. We pass suburban private schools with olympic sized swimming pools, then we make our way through litter free neighbourhoods with children walking in every direction in their smart uniforms carefully ironed and tucked in, headed to their urban schools with paved playgrounds and projectors in every classroom, until finally… we weave our way through the townships and end up in the muddy earthed, broken windowed, outdated structure that is Slangspruit Primary. Under apartheid, the school a learner attended was determined by race. Today, it is determined by what a family can afford, meaning not much has changed 20+ years after apartheid for the poor of South Africa.

-Who does this affect most?-

This disadvantage is more apparent among girls and women, who are vulnerable members of the Slangspruit community. The women and girls are considered vulnerable because of the high rates of HIV infection, sexual abuse, and domestic violence in the area. In South Africa, one’s socio-economic status [to a large extent] also determines educational outcomes. What Ukulapha (my host organization) does is implement programs and projects that aim to end the intergenerational transmission of “poor” status when it comes to education, beginning with restoring the school’s basic resources and infrastructure. The organization uses Slangspruit Primary School as an instrument of transformation in the community.

-Let’s talk about girls-

When addressing issues like the standard of education in townships and rural communities in SA, it is important to focus on gender equality as a cross cutting issue. Because I work in a school setting, I see education as a sure gateway to achieving gender equality among women and girls in this country, especially since Ukulapha has run workshops and implemented women-specific programs with great success in the past. But Slangspruit is one Township in a country with hundreds of Townships. Slang also has a non-profit (Ukulapha) on site that supports progress efforts through education and community development. Therefore the question arises… How can South Africa address the issues around gender inequality when the most obvious entry point (education) is underfunded to the point where outside organizations need to intervene to accomplish anything?

One of the greatest achievements since democracy in South Africa has been the school enrolment of girls, and since, the South African Government has committed itself to transforming gender relations, achieving gender equality, and promoting women’s empowerment. But it is important to ask what measures will be taken in achieving this goal. Is it enough to have a progressive constitution that guarantees the equality for both males and females? I say it isn’t. Addressing gender equality as a crosscutting goal requires that women’s views, interests and needs shape the education agenda as much as men’s, and that the education agenda supports progress toward more equal relations between women and men. This means that the department of education must recognize that every policy, program and project affects girls and boys differently.

I see education as the greatest entry point to addressing gender equality in South Africa. It is also important to understand that the socio-economic landscape left behind by apartheid has made this entry point quite difficult for poorer schools. From mud structures to the private schools in the suburbs, the promise of equal opportunities in education is insufficient as a huge spectrum of inequalities still exists from the apartheid era. Until the South African government can address the gross inequity in the quality of education between the rich, middle class and the poor, it is up to outside organizations like Ukulapha to facilitate programs that address gender equality and the empowerment of girls and women. So to answer the question proposed in the title of this post, women do stand a chance in having equal opportunities to their male counterparts, but unfortunately, [right now] this depends on the accessibility of projects and programs implemented by outside organizations, not the South African government.

IMG_7903

A prime example of what was discussed above… this photo was taken at the 2016 Generation of Leaders Summit hosted by Ukulapha for the women in the Slangspruit community. The summit focused on the realization of the human rights of girls and women, self love, and developing self-reliance.