Patrick Bwire – AFE Blog – Kenya National Land Commission , Nairobi, Kenya

WHERE I DRAW MY INSPIRATION FOR PEACE BUILDING                                                             

Rotary, through the Peace Fellowship Programme, has granted me a great opportunity to contribute to peace in the world. It has enabled me to plant seeds of peace today. I am confident that tomorrow, the plants will bear fruit. And that the fruits of peace will multiply, be harvested and enjoyed in the world. – Patrick Bwire

Born in a conflict prone environment, witnessing societies torn apart by conflict, and having worked in war-torn areas for over 12 years now, peace is the most precious wish I keep dreaming for.

With a passion for peace, I have dedicated my life to pursue this dream.

I have devoted my energy and skills towards my mission; To Aspire, Inspire and Conspire for Peace and Development.

I have chosen to keep dreaming. And dream big.

I look forward with hope, to that day when I will wake up to see my vision realized – a world where peace prevails and sustainable development is guaranteed.

 

ROTARY – A TRUE COMPANION IN MY DREAM FOR PEACE

Surely, from childhood, I have had an inner-passion for building peace.

But, I didn’t have adequate building tools and skills.

Rotary bridged the gap.

With kind support from Rotary, I was granted the opportunity to pursue my dream – as a Peace Fellow.

Today, I am confident and able to build more and better pieces of peace.

The chance to engage with various Rotary Family members, has been a great honor to me, towards my dream. Lessons and inspirations from them, have kept renewing my energy for peace.

People like Mary and Art Kamm (my Rotary Host Family) have always cheered me on.

Others like Susan Grossman and Maxim Schrogin (from my sponsor District 5160) have kept motivating me toward my dream.

Some like Susan Carroll and Amy Cole (Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center) have always guided us in the chase for our dreams.

Those like Bart Cleary (Oxford Rotary Club) have inspired us to believe that surely, we have what it takes to realize our dreams one day.

And always, I am happy to add my contribution to that of Rotary and other Peace Fellows with whom I share a common dream.

 

WHY I AM CONCENTRATING ON ADDRESSING LAND CONFLICTS

Point to any area in Africa, and indeed many other areas in the world – soon, you will realize there is a land conflict.

The land question in Africa is one of the most complex and difficult questions to answer.

Land, especially in Africa, is increasingly becoming the biggest driver of conflict.

Yet, it seems this trend is not about to reverse.

 

BECAUSE:

Land constitutes the most critical resource for livelihood and survival.

The population is rapidly growing – the land is static.

In Africa, more than 60 percent of people and more than 80 percent in some countries derive their livelihood directly from land – yet landlessness in increasing.

In Africa, land is more than just an economic resource. It carries critical social, spiritual and cultural attachments – thereby attracting heightened land fights and revenges.

To an ordinary person, land literally means life.

The historical injustices, colonial legacy, weak land governance systems, just add layers of complexity.

The effects of climate change and its associated stress on land, make a bad situation worse.

Land is a determinant for virtually every sector of development.

But land conflicts remain a fundamental obstacle to the peace and development we are seeking.

Future peace is therefore highly dependent on our ability to manage, resolve and prevent land conflicts.

True, the land question remains a difficult question to answer, but we cannot afford to sit and do nothing.

 

MY APPLIED FIELD EXPERIENCE (AFE) AT KENYA NATIONAL LAND COMMISSION

In search for answers for peace and to the land question, I sought to have my Applied Field Experience at the National Land Commission of Kenya.

For a period of 3 months, my main aim was to learn the practical experiences of addressing land conflicts and promoting peace.

With a mandate of researching and providing land policy recommendations to the government, the Commission was a perfect placement for me.

And with a responsibility of promoting alternative dispute resolution in addressing land disputes, the Commission fed directly into my area of passion.

The opportunity at the Commission has enabled me to learn, share and build a great network. I have learnt a lot from the Commission’s interventions, policy initiatives and research work. Personal engagements with people like my supervisor Dr. Fibian Lukalo (Head of Research and Advocacy Directorate) have offered great insight in addressing land conflicts.

During my AFE, I have drafted a journal article on “Land, Conflict and Its Impact”-  a case of Kenya, written a policy brief on “Changes in Land Use and its implication on Conflict”, reviewed/edited papers on Land and Conflict, drafted a paper on Land Conflicts in Kajiado County, and another one on “Why Alternative Dispute Resolution is Vital in Settling Land Disputes” – a case of Kenya. These assignments have enhanced my insight and understanding of the context of land conflicts, as well as policy and practical responses. I am also compiling best practices in land management and conflict prevention from Kenya, that I intend to share.

This AFE has provided me with the chance to share and apply experiences in peace building, public policy, research, and the means of addressing land conflict, among others – both drawn from my field experiences as well as skills obtained at Duke University. I also cherish the times we just made jokes and had fun, networked, shared stories about my work and that of Rotary, and even taken off time to take selfies.

 

Patrick Bwire with a few members of the commission staff

 

The AFE has also provided me with opportunities to reach out and learn from other organizations working on land issues – such as UN-HABITAT/Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) in Nairobi. I have learned more about the management of land and land conflicts, frameworks like Social Tenure Domain Model (STDM), land transparency and administration. This experience has also enhanced my mediation skills in addressing land conflicts.

 

UN-HABITAT/GLTN, Nairobi, Kenya

 

While on my AFE, I was invited by the Land and Policy Initiative – a continental initiative of the Africa Union Commission, UN-Economic Commission for Africa and the Africa Development Bank as one of the experts to validate a report on Land, Ethnicity and Conflict. This involved vital learning and sharing on addressing land issues in Africa.

 

Experts Group Meeting – A validation study on Land, Ethnicity and Conflict in Africa. Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia (June 13-14, 2017)

 

I have also had great times joining and serving with those “Serving Humanity” and sharing my experiences as a Rotary Peace Fellow.

 

At the Rotary Club of Hurlingham – Nairobi, Kenya

 

Thank You

______________________________________________________________________________

I am a Ugandan Rotary Peace Fellow pursuing my 2nd Master’s Degree of International Development Policy – with a concentration in peace building at Duke University – USA.

My sponsor is Rotary District 5160

Daniela Schermerhorn – AFE Blog – UNDP, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: A delightful journey through diversity!

FIRST IMPRESSION

14 of May 2017 was the day I arrived in Colombo, the vibrant commercial capital of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. I was about to start my internship adventure working with the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office, the United Nations Development Programme and the Peacebuilding Fund.

Upon arriving at the airport, I found a big Buddha statue providing welcome, and outside, the city was set to celebrate the Vesak day[1].  My heart was pounding as I was stepping into a dream, to experience life in Asia. This mystic world had always inhabited my imagination, but it is so distant from Brazil…

Observing each detail, I continued to my hotel destination, forcing my jetlagged mind to assimilate every new shape and cultural trade. After a long winter in the United States, it was delightful to feel the embracing ocean breeze.

I realized that I am on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean that has a great strategic importance to the economic development and trade history of South Asia.

Joining the gentle pace of Sri Lanka and its hospitable people is a lifetime opportunity, one I am determined to explore at the max.

DISCOVERING

As a legacy of ancient kingdoms that ruled the country for centuries, followed by diverse colonial empires, Sri Lanka offers a surprisingly colorful and culturally rich journey.

Surrounded by warm golden sandy beaches, the heart of the country is a surprise with its completely different landscape. Cool mountains and natural parks host a great diversity of plants and animals, such as the majestic elephant – a national symbol.  Large paddy fields and tea plantations still provide subsistence to those inhabiting rural areas, and indescribable UNESCO world heritage sites enchant any curious soul, such as: Siguiriya, Anuradhapura, Dambulla, Pollonaruwa, Kandy, Galle and many others[2].

To face the crazy traffic of Colombo, a traditional “Tuk Tuk” ride is mandatory. What an experience! No rules seem to apply and those tiny vehicles are quite a challenge to the laws of physic. The traffic defies the leisurely pace of Sri Lanka, with noisy horns always advertising brave risky maneuvers. Nevertheless, the preserved green scenery around the city soothes the environment with beautiful parks, large cricket fields, and deep-rooted trees spreading their pleasant shade along tiny sidewalks. The city seems to have been built around its natural beauty.

People walking with flowers to decorate temples, and the sway of sarongs, saris and skirts remind me of a slower traditional and refined lifestyle striving to survive in modern times. You can also stumble upon some cows crossing the road, transporting the rural scene to the middle of the city, a clear representation of Sri Lanka’s diversity.

Another worthwhile experience is to practice yoga and meditation, which are great ways to build bridges with spirituality and peace of mind. It is helping me to raise awareness to a simple vital activity that we usually forget, which is breathing.

Complementing the magic, spices and curry give a special taste to a rich healthy menu, and wonderful teas had offered me a new meaning to this brew.

However, an attentive observer can easily identify the mixed turbulent marriage of coexistent faiths and ethnicities, and the divergent level of development and social welfare that resulted in twenty-six years of civil war (from 1993 to 2009). Yet, Sri Lanka has a high human development index (UNDP, 2016), and is managing to sustain peace for the last nine years.

According to the Global Peace Index 2017, Sri Lanka had the largest jump in rankings this year (17 positions), placed within countries on the mid peace group, showing a huge improvement in regards to the Societal Safety and Security Domains (Vision of Humanity, 2017). Thus, some questions come to my mind, such as: What makes Sri Lanka successful? The progress achieved in past years, is it sustainable? What are the threats to peace and stability on the status quo? Development is for all? How to achieve reconciliation and social reintegration of affected communities? …

 THE UNITED NATIONS: PEACEBUILDING AND RECONCILIATION

The work done by the United Nations and many other international and national social actors is supporting the country to answer some of those questions, taking crucial steps towards long term progress and peace. The UN concentrates in supporting the Government to develop war affected areas and implement its reconciliation and accountability commitments to its people, a fundamental phase to allow sustainable peacebuilding.

I have had the honor to learn in practice how the UN system works to support peacebuilding. I can’t help but to thank the amazing team that received me and patiently shared their knowledge, allowing an easy adaptation to such an amazing work environment. I have been working in many different fronts, which gives me an overview of real coordination within the UN system. Specifically, with the UNDP, I am assisting the work being done to enhance capacity of the National Police Commission, as well as other relevant projects involving Gender Based Violence. With the Peacebuilding Fund, I am looking forward to join a field visit to Jaffna in mid-July, to better understand the projects and programs funded by the UN, engaging war affected communities at the local level.

Also, I had the opportunity to join a debriefing promoted by the UN MAPS Mission about Sri Lanka (Mainstreaming, Acceleration and Policy Support)[3]. And most recently I attended the Workshop “Comparative Peacebuilding in Asia”, which received the former President of Sri Lanka Madam Chandrika Kumaratunga as guest speaker, a reference in Peacebuilding and Reconciliation in South Asia. The workshop promoted productive discussions featuring “Liberal and Illiberal Transitions from Ethnic Conflict and Authoritarianism” in the context of Peacebuilding in Asia[4].

What an amazing and intense experience!

MY ENGAGEMENT WITH ROTARY CLUBS IN COLOMBO

Another remarkable opportunity relates to engaging with the Rotary Club in Sri Lanka. As soon as I arrived, I was warmly welcomed by a generous and attentive community, which helped me in finding accommodation and getting settled right away. I joined events promoted by Rotary District 3220 (Sri Lanka and Maldives), where I had the opportunity to meet many Rotarians. I was also invited as a guest speaker to the Rotary Club – Colombo[5], which gave me the opportunity to talk about the Rotary Peace Fellowship, while they were in the process of choosing their candidates, and the partnership between Rotary and The Global Peace Index.

Similarly, I was invited to speak to students from the Elizabeth Moir International School[6] about being a female international Police Officer promoting peaceful ways to conflict resolution. It was such an amazing chance to break paradigms, showing the potential of women empowerment and a different perception of Community Policing to young minds growing in a socially divided society.

The Rotary community in Sri Lanka is a reference towards action in development and significant support to war affected communities. There are many ongoing programs and projects, and more partnerships with international Rotary Clubs could enhance their scope.

Once more, I am amazed with the impact Rotary has around the world, and how this powerful network is always striving to do good and promote peace.

I feel very privileged to be part of the Rotary family. Thank you all for this amazing opportunity!

 

REFERENCES

Cummings, Joe et. al. (2006). Lonely Planet: Sri Lanka. Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd: USA, 10th Edition.

UNDP Sri Lanka. (n.d). About Sri Lanka. Retrieved from: http://www.lk.undp.org/content
/srilanka/en/home/countryinfo.html

UNDP. (2016). Sri Lanka Human Development Report 2015. Retrieved from: file:///C:/Users
/User/Downloads/Sri%20Lanka%20Explanatory%20Note.pdf

Vision of Humanity. (2017). Global Peace Index. Retrieved from: http://visionofhumanity.org
/indexes/global-peace-index/

 

[1] Vesak is the name used for the 2nd month in Sri Lankan traditional Moon calendar (Lunar calendar) which corresponds with the month of May in the Gregorian calendar (Solar calendar). The Buddhist community celebrate the Vesak to honor three important occasions of the life of the Buddha. It was on the full moon day in the month of Vesak that Prince Siddhartha was born, became enlightened and attained Mahaparinibbāna or nirvana-after-death. More information’s can be found at: http://www.unvesak2017.org/?page_id=795

[2] More information about the UNESCO world heritage sites in Sri Lanka can be found at: http://whc.unesco.org
/en/statesparties/lk
and http://www.walkerstours.com/explore-sri-lanka/attractions/unesco-world-heritage-sites.html

[3] More information about the UN MAPS can be found at: https://www.un.org/ecosoc/sites/www.un.org.ecosoc
/files/files/en/qcpr/doco-summary-brief-on-maps-march2016.pdf

[4] More information about the Workshop “Comparative Peacebuilding in Asia” can be found at: http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk
/projects?ref=ES%2FP006280%2F1

[5] More information about the Rotary Club Colombo can be found at: http://www.rotarycolombo.org/

[6] More information about Elizabeth Moir International School can be found at: http://elizabethmoirschool.com/

 

Hayley Welgus – AFE Blog – Save the Children, Washington DC, USA & Camp-Perrin, Haiti

The right to life

Having dedicated my entire career to issues related to gender and rights, choosing to embark on a Master of Public Health was a plan that came slightly out of left field in some ways. While I had never given much specific thought to vaccines or cancer screening, I have always cared immensely about people and the inequities that persist between different kinds of people – particularly those inequities that are based on gender. UNC’s department of Health Behavior has been providing me with an exceptional opportunity to interrogate, through the lens of systemic oppression and injustice, the questions of why some groups of people live while others die.

It is by no coincidence that the divisions that persist along the lines of class, race, ethnicity, immigration status, (dis)ability, sexuality, and gender result in those with the lowest privileges shouldering the majority of society’s burden of illness, disease, and physical and mental harm.

When certain groups of people systematically get sick because of who they are and where they are born it is not only a public health concern, it is an issue of human rights. Environmental, social, and policy conditions have real and serious implications on who enjoys the most basic of human rights: the right to life.

 

Photo by Maria Tsolka

Reproductive health

When women are denied the opportunity and resources to maintain control over their own bodies, the health consequences can be significant. Access to modern family planning methods and an understanding of how to properly use them enable women to control the number of children they have, when they have them, and how long to wait between pregnancies. Research shows that mothers whose pregnancies are spaced fewer than three years apart are at higher risk of miscarriage, seeking an unsafe abortion, and even dying during childbirth[1]. In fact, one in three maternal deaths globally could be prevented by ensuring access to family planning[2]. For the children born of inadequately spaced pregnancies, they are more likely to be born premature, have low birth weight, or to be stillborn.

Reproductive health is, therefore, a life-saving intervention for both women and children. Perhaps nowhere is this more pronounced than in situations of conflict and natural disaster.

 

 

Photo by Maria Tsolka

The impact of crisis

When disaster strikes – be it through the forces of people, politics, or nature – people’s lives are often disrupted. Displacement, insecure living conditions, separation of families, and increased violence are common, and often result in lack of access to public infrastructure including health services. Couples can find themselves unable to obtain contraception, and women experience pregnancies they didn’t necessarily intend. Even intended pregnancies become more dangerous when adequate healthcare is absent.

It is also well-documented that sexual violence increases during situations of conflict and crisis[3]. There are many reasons for this, primarily related to abuse of power, impunity that comes when legal safeguards are disrupted, and environmental factors such as unsafe routes for necessary daily tasks such as water collection, and overcrowded camps. These increases in sexual and gender-based violence result in the need for acute responses to assist with unwanted pregnancy, unsafe abortion, contraction of STIs or HIV, and physical injuries.

Whether they come about through consensual means or through rape, the bottom line is that pregnancies do not disappear during emergencies. Failure to recognize this means that women die unnecessarily due to complications associated with miscarriage, unsafe abortion, and childbirth. While ensuring access to food and shelter might, understandably, be deemed a priority in situations of crisis, ignoring the specific health needs of women under these circumstances costs lives.

 

Photo by Maria Tsolka

My AFE: Reproductive Health in Emergencies at Save the Children

This summer I have been working with Save the Children USA’s Reproductive Health in Emergencies program, based in their headquarters in Washington, DC. This program operates in both protracted and acute emergency contexts to integrate reproductive health into humanitarian health responses, ensuring that women are respected and supported to make reproductive choices. Focusing on family planning and post-abortion care services, Save the Children provides direct medical services, supports clinical training to local service providers, supplies health facilities with medical commodities, and invests in strengthening the systems necessary to deliver effective reproductive health responses.

 

 

Unmet reproductive health needs in Haiti after Hurricane Matthew

In October last year, Hurricane Matthew caused devastation to numerous parts of the Western Atlantic. Haiti, still recovering from the catastrophic earthquake of 2010, has been severely impacted. Many of the worst-affected locations are remote and hard to reach, and more than half the population does not have access to health services. According to UNFPA, more than a quarter of those affected by the hurricane are women of childbearing age, who require quality health services. Haiti’s maternal mortality ratio is also the worst of any country in the Caribbean or Latin America.

My role: What can the numbers tell us?

For my AFE, I am supporting Save the Children’s reproductive health response in Haiti, which is enabling 5 health facilities in Sud and Grand’Anse departments to provide family planning and post-abortion care services. Fundamental to evidence-based program implementation is the collection and analysis of quality program data, as well as an understanding of what these numbers can tell us. The ability to spot trends and make sense of the reasons that are driving them can help service providers to do their jobs better, and can help program managers to figure out if the right women are getting the right services, and whether or not the services are helping them.

As such, the main focus of my AFE has been on preparing a training program on monitoring and evaluation for the program team in Haiti. The aim is that this package will give them better tools to track their program and make greater use of the data they obtain for meaningful decision-making in their daily work. I will be heading to the field soon to deliver this training, but also to spend time on the ground to observe how the partner health facilities are currently keeping track of their clients, and how Save the Children’s data collection can be most conveniently integrated. I will also help get staff set up with more efficient data systems such as using tablets, and familiarize the team with the program database. I am building in time to learn from the Haitian staff about what makes the most sense in their specific context, and to do some creative thinking around establishing systems of best practice for data utilization. I will be working closely with the Haitian program coordinator to incorporate her team’s perspectives into the approaches developed by headquarters.

Based on key learnings from Haiti and other program locations, I will make recommendations to Save the Children on guidelines for optimal monitoring, evaluation, and data use.

Finally, in addition to supporting the Haiti program, I am looking at evidence-based approaches to integrating sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) responses with reproductive health programs. From this research, I am developing guidelines and making recommendations to Save the Children USA that will help various country teams to take practical steps to respond to SGBV in their work.

This AFE has, in many ways, provided the perfect opportunity to apply my learning from both my public health program and the Rotary Peace Fellowship curriculum, while also enabling me to gain experience within a new topic area (reproductive health) that is still firmly rooted in my wheel house of gender and human rights. I am very appreciative of the wonderful professional development and learning opportunity that Save the Children is currently giving me, and I extend heartfelt thanks to the generous Rotarians whose support has made it possible.

 

 

[1] World Health Organization. (2005). Report of a WHO Technical Consultation on Birth Spacing Geneva, Switzerland, 13–15 June 2005. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/maternal_child_adolescent/documents/birth_spacing05/en/

[2] Ahmed, S, Li Q, Liu L, Tsui AO. (2012). Maternal deaths averted by contraceptive use: an analysis of 172 countries. Lancet.

[3] Inter-Agency Standing Committee. (2015). Guidelines for Integrating Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action, 1–366. Retrieved from http://gbvguidelines.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/2015-IASC-Gender-based-Violence-Guidelines_lo-res.pdf

Odette Rouvet – AFE Blog – World Bank, Washington DC

I started my internship at the World Bank in May and it has been so far, an incredible experience to learn from peers and to understand the complexities of the development work that the Bank does.

I’m a member of the topic team of Seeds at the Global Indicators Group of the Bank’s Development Economics unit, which is responsible for the elaboration of the Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) report.

The EBA issued its first report in 2015, and since then, yearly reports have been produced. Each report reflects a full year of work that includes data collection, validation, and stakeholder’s meetings. The coming year is the first time since the beginning that an EBA report will not be produced. Timing for being at the Bank at this moment is precious. The rationale of the EBA and its more widely known Ease of Doing Business Report, also part of the Global Indicators Group, is to measure regulatory framework of countries and encourage a healthy “race” to improve themselves and measure themselves against their regional peers, and/or similar economies. Nonetheless, this year, the EBA unit is pausing, in order to stop and reflect on the impacts of this encouraged “competition” among countries and assess who is following the good practices highlighted by the Bank. The current efforts are focused on refining the methodology and increasing the potential to improve agricultural practices, as well as seeds quality and security in the countries that are measured by this report, 162 in 2016.

For me it has been a real learning experience, and humbling to be having essential discussions on how the competition of EBA can lead to good, but also poor policy practices. From my experience, I have been on both sides, at the government trying to address the good practices encouraged by international organizations such as the Bank, and trying to get everything done right so we can get a better score; but also, as part of international organizations trying to engage the country counterparts to assume a self-critical role to evaluate what has been done so far and what can be improved. It is never an easy or painless job.

The hard-to-achieve balance between having real policy addressed to improve regulatory framework, while also considering the specific context and limitations of each country, must be considered in marginal steps to enable the business of agriculture. The very end of our work here at the EBA, will not be only reflected by a reform or a published law, but will, and it is what we hope, increase the chances of millions of women having a better access to training for water irrigation systems, which will impact positively livelihoods of communities, many in conflict affected countries. We think about this every day, and we are aware of how, through the EBA report, we are shaping countries’ regulations and reforms. Therefore, the EBA has decided to pause and rethink.

We are addressing the concerns and questions raised by country counterparts and by academia regarding the role of the informal agriculture sector and the informal markets for seeds that are hard to measure.

The focus on the law and regulatory framework of the EBA is its biggest strength, but it is also a limitation itself when dealing, for example, with the particularities of developing countries and traditional agricultural practices. I am humbled to have a peer to peer relationship in the team to be able to ask questions, and also suggest, ways to improve the understanding of this hard to grasp reality of small-sized farmers. My experience working in many developing countries, in particular in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and in South Asian countries has brought some real life understanding of the day to day difficulties that farmers have to access formal markets for seeds, or the gender gaps in rural settings. My preparation so far as Rotary Peace Fellow, and in the Master of International Development Policy Program (MIDP) has helped to position me at the Bank with a useful and different lens to approach the work we are doing here. In this sense, I’m bringing my Peace and Conflict Management knowledge, and the Conflict Sensitivity analysis tools that I have learned and mastered during my first year at the Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center. I can say that I feel confident that I’m bringing to the Bank, and in particular to my area, a multi-dimensional understanding of the problem, which I hope will bring more comprehensive and fine-tuned regulatory understanding of when and how are countries comparable, and where are the limitations of such comparison.

Although the EBA does not itself produce policy recommendations, the countries that are measured year after year (now every two years), will be introducing reforms and policies to better address how they are doing in comparative perspective. With the acknowledgements of the limitations, and the context and characteristics of the agricultural sector of each country, I think that policies will be better introduced by the countries, and will be addressing the contextualized problem, instead of trying to apply a regulation that is working well in one country but that can have disastrous results for another one.

I look forward to my last weeks at the Bank where I’ll continue to keep working to leave a positive mark on the team. My work here as Rotary Peace Fellow has been a constant reminder to the EBA team the relevance and impact on people’s livelihoods of what we are doing, that is what is behind a country’s scoring number, or behind the measurement of the frontier distance of good practice. We are trying to reduce poverty, and in many cases, contribute to peacebuilding through enabling the business of agriculture.

Techa Beaumont – AFE Blog – Alianza Arkana, Yarinacocha, Peru

A calling to return to Peru

Five years ago I travelled to Peru for the wedding of one of my dearest childhood friends. While visiting the Amazon I began a conversation with a group of Indigenous women artisans from the Shipibo- Conibo tribe.  A woman from Sweden arrived to buy 20 pieces of their traditional weavings and embroidery to send to Europe for a friend.  She bargained hard, forcing the women down from the asking prices for their handicrafts, a unique and beautiful textile embroidered with traditional designs called ‘kene’. Each of the pieces can take from two weeks to one month to make. She later boasted to me in English that she would make 1000 Euro from her effort of purchasing the items from the women and putting them in the post.

The strained looks on the women’s faces when they accepted these reduced prices told a tale that has become an entrenched part of their reality. With a lack of access to international markets and a reliance on the unpredictable flow of tourists into their township, they would take what they could now for their work rather than wait for a fair price and have their children go hungry next week.

This anecdote reflects the systemic discrimination and unequal power relations that characterise so much of the relations between Amazon tribes and the outside world. It is this reality that motivated me to return to the Amazon supported by my Rotary Peace Fellowship to undertake my Applied Field Experience (AFE).

Photo: Leeroy Mills, 2012 Shipibo designs were traditionally painted onto the body and face for beauty, protection and good luck

Photos: Alianza Arkana 2016, Hand embroidered textiles based on traditional Shipibo designs called Kene are now a principal source of livelihood for many families

Photo: Alianza Arkana, 2016 Shipibo girls dancing at a celebration in traditional skirts, each with their own unique embroidered design

About the Shipibo-Conibo people

The Shipibo-Conibo people[1] are an Indigenous people whose territories are along the Ucayali River, a major tributary of the Amazon River in the Amazon of Peru. Some  urban communities live around Pucallpa in the Yarinacocha suburbs, an extensive indigenous zone set around an oxbow lagoon and the primary location of my field work. The vast majority live in scattered villages over a large area of jungle forest extending to the Brazilian border. The Shipibo-Conibo have a rich and complex cosmology that ties directly to the art and artifacts they produce and a deep knowledge of and relations with the jungle’s medicinal plants. Like many other Indigenous people around the world they are on the frontlines of growing global consumption of forest hardwoods, minerals and other products that threaten their livelihoods, cultures and territories. Significant tracts of Peru’s Amazon rainforest, the earth’s most expansive buffer against extreme climate change, fall within Shipibo-Conibo territories, while ironically and sadly, many of the villages are now heavily impacted by climate change as longer lasting and increasingly more intensive annual floods inundate villages for two or more months each year. During this time villages suffer extreme food and fresh water shortages as well as health and hygiene problems. (Peace Fellow Linda Low’s recent AFE blog explored this subject, and specifically links between climate change and deforestation in Brazil and growing global demand for soy products.

Photo: Techa Beaumont. Many Shipibo villages have been flooding more severely each year due to the impacts of climate change. Food shortages are more severe and health problems increase as many villagers are forced to live on the rooftops of their houses for months. Fruit and trees have been destroyed by these prolonged inundations in many communities, taking away a staple part of the villagers’ diet.

Photos: Leeroy Mills, 2012: The territories of the Shipibo are located along the Ucayali River in the Peruvian Amazon that extends to the Brazilian border.

Photo: Leeroy Mill 2017 Textile art is a daily task and a principal source of livelihood for a majority of Shipibo women.

Photo: Leeroy Mills 2017 Many Shipibo communities are only accessible by boat, and the dug out canoe remains a principal mode of transport for many.

While rich in resources, the dynamics of their relations with the outside world are often exploitative and do not recognise or fairly value the technology, skill and energy inherent in the traditional knowledge of the Shipibo that range from their incredible natural medicine, environmental and botanical knowledge to their unique textiles and designs. Language barriers (many Shipibo are not fluent in Spanish), poor educational opportunities in the villages, racism, government corruption and the proliferation of illegal logging, narco-trafficking, oil and mining speculation all play their part to entrench many Shipibo people in extreme poverty and decrease the natural resources they have traditionally relied upon for their needs.

 While relatively peaceful on the surface, the threat of violence is an ongoing reality for the Shipibo as it is for other Indigenous Amazonian tribes, in particular those seeking to enforce their rights against outside developers. The leaders of the community of Santa Clara de Uchana, who successfully took the regional government and an oil palm company to court in 2016 for illegally cutting down 5,000 hectares of their forests, continue to face death threats. Protests over other extractive projects that are damaging Indigenous livelihoods and lands across Peru have ended in the death or  extrajudicial killings of protesters.

Photo: Alianza Arkana 2016, Government officials at the oil palm project at Shipibo community Santa Clara de Uchana. As of the writing of this blog, the company has refused to obey court orders or government officials on site who have ordered them to stop work. Community leaders face death threats and fear violence from the company.

It is informed by this context that I chose to work for two small grassroots organisations for my Applied Field Experience. Rather than position myself with a large international organisation, I wanted to donate my labour and skills, and apply the generosity of the Rotarians who funded my fellowship where I felt it was most needed. I also wanted to experience firsthand the work and realities of those on the ground in the Amazon, both the Indigenous women seeking to survive and support their families from their traditional crafts, as well as the organisations that work with them. It is my view that international development practitioners are often far removed and out of touch with the realities of intended beneficiaries and I feel strongly that the deeper our relations and more direct our contact is to those we seek to work with, the better placed we are to be able to be friends and equal partners in assisting them meet their needs and aspirations.

With this in mind, the aim of my applied field research is to contribute in a small way to improving the opportunities of the Shipibo people to live peaceful and prosperous lives while protecting their forests, livelihoods and culture, and to improve the capacity of the organisations that are here in the long term to do their work.

For the last three weeks I have been working with two organisations in Pucallpa, Peru. Pucallpa is a frontier town that is the main link between the territories where an estimated 32,000 Shipibo-Conibo (making up around 8% of Peru’s Indigenous population) live in the vast stretches of  the Ucayali River and its tributaries and the regional and national government. The city of Pucallpa was developed as a camp for rubber gatherers at the beginning of the twentieth century and in 1930 it was connected to Lima by road (850km of it), and since then its expansion has been intense and unstoppable. Sawmills surround the city and spread up the main highway towards both Lima and the mountains.

 My main roles during my AFE and my work so far…

After three weeks I have acclimatised to the jungle heat (thankfully with a very relaxed dress code here in Pucallpa that takes account for the general absence of air conditioning).  My basic Spanish is rapidly improving, and I have a busy schedule that includes work for two organisations; Alianza Arkana, a non-governmental organisation, and the Maroti Shobo cooperative (translated from the Shipibo language  as ‘the house of mothers’ ), an artisanal cooperative of Indigenous women artisans from the Shipibo-Conibo tribe.

My principal host organisation, Alianza Arkana, is an intercultural organisation that has arisen out of unique collaborations between Shipibo people and a team of international volunteers and researchers to address the issues facing Amazonian communities. Its programs are diverse and responsive to specific requests, mostly from the surrounding Shipibo-Conibo, such as the community of Santa Clara de Uchunya whose lands were illegally sold to an oil palm company by the regional government, leading to destruction of over 5,000 hectares of their forest, and the community of Pouyan who are increasingly inundated with floodwaters for months of the year as an impact of climate change.  Taking a holistic approach based on reciprocity and relationships rather than hand outs and paternalism, their work supports diverse needs articulated by those in the communities, that includes mentoring youth leadership, enhancing the role of women and engaging young girls in health and sexual education to reduce high instances of teen pregnancies, providing researchers to investigate issue or problems, supporting effective bilingual and intercultural education through the production of educational resources in the Shipibo language, and forest regeneration. One of their major successes is the development of eco-latrines that can continue to operate during flood periods, a project adopted by UNICEF and the Peruvian government that addresses one of the major hygiene and health issues facing the Shipibo and other Amazonian communities, and that they are now seeking to roll out across Shipibo territory. By leveraging researchers such as myself who come for between three months to one year they create intercultural solutions that both respect and engage Indigenous knowledge and technologies and can effectively interface with the modern world.

The people I have the opportunity to work with at Alianza Arkana epitomise the Rotarian values of service over self. One of its founders and the Director of Organisational Development, Dr. Paul Roberts ‘retired’ to full time work here,  voluntarily taking on various tasks including building the capacity of the organisation and its Shipibo staff to meet its mission. International volunteers often spend a year or more here donating their skills to the organisation. Shipibo-Conibo people themselves make up the core paid staff in this dynamic tri-lingual work environment. Any given conversation can alternate between Shipibo, Spanish and English.

My role with Alianza Arkana is to conduct an organisational assessment and help design and implement a strategic planning process within the organisation.  Organisational development has been one of my favourite professional tasks since I was tasked with building capacity of a not-for-profit environmental organisation in Papua New Guinea more than ten years ago.  I enjoy being able to support individuals and organisations to evaluate and strengthen their work and love the opening it provides into the workings of inspired and passionate people. This particular assignment allows me to apply learnings of my last semester in monitoring and evaluation while drawing on my existing experience and gaining insight into the unique context of NGOs working with indigenous people in the Amazon. The conversations not only assist me in helping the organisation do the work it does even better, but opens my eyes to the unique challenges and complexities of life in this part of the Peruvian Amazon and the work of a deeply multicultural organisation.

Photo: A meeting with Alianza Arkana workers Dr. Paul Roberts and Jane Shirely Mori Cairuna, and a representative of the Shipibo Council, Coshikox Consejo Shipbo Konibo Xetebo, Vice President, Demer Gonzales Vasquez

Photo: Alianza Arkana Some of the Alianza Arkana staff and volunteers

Photo: Alianza Arkana, 2016: A workshop organised by Alianza Arkana with young people exploring challenges they face within their communities as young people

Photos: Alianza Arkana, 2016: A project regenerating the rainforest and eradicating weeds in the community of Santa Clara

Photo: Alianza Arkana, 2015, The organisation pioneered eco-latrines that are flood proof, solving long standing health and hygiene issues that plague increasing flood prone communities.

The other organisation I am working with is “Maroti Shobo” (house of mothers in the Shipibo language), a cooperative of Indigenous women artisans. They are the same group of women I had the conversation with five years ago, at which time they had asked for help to set up a website to sell their goods. I promised in my heart to find a way to support them to shift the exploitative practices that confronted me at our first meeting.

Determined to have a meaningful impact and make the most of the opportunity this AFE presents, I came to Peru during semester break last December to set the groundwork for my summer’s work. From the direction and ideas I received during this visit I was able to conduct research that would better enable me to have impact while here over the summer. This included investigating some of the artistic knowledge and practices that are dying out and exploring opportunities for distribution of their products within fair trade and other international markets. I was also able to integrate the issues into my actual coursework in the semester in the lead up to my field experience. This research has enabled me to hit the ground running and come best prepared for a productive summer. In July I will be presenting outcomes of an independent research project I conducted over my last semester at Duke University that explores options to protect the tribe’s traditional designs and symbols, as well as their extensive medicinal plant knowledge using intellectual property and other legal regimes. Presented as an options paper for the Shipibo-Conibo Representative Council, COSHICOX, women artisans association representatives and other indigenous rights bodies who had identified this priority for research during my visit here in December, it will help the leaders decide upon the best way of protecting their culture from outside appropriation. This will be my first formal presentation (ever!) in the Spanish language and a great opportunity to gain confidence in engaging professionally with Spanish speakers.

Reviving old traditions while creating opportunities for the future:

On my way to the jungle I had arranged a meeting in Peru’s capital, Lima, with Dr. James Vreeland, an anthropologist turned social entrepreneur who, after discovering that ancient Peruvian coloured textiles were not dyed, but rather were natural cotton colours, started a company to create markets that would enable the revival of a 4,500 lineage of almost extinct native cottons species whose natural colours range from greens and browns to purples. After twenty years of dedication, he has successfully created sustainable fair trade and organic markets for these products, ensuring the motivation of local people to continue to cultivate them. He has created a vibrant industry that supports the maintenance of previously declining cultural traditions. I came out of this meeting with both inspiration for the work ahead and the perfect materials for the women to work with.

As I write, the women of Maroti Shobo have begun to design products from these better quality and fair trade fabrics that can be sold for higher amounts than their current products and can now meet stringent requirements of international fair trade markets (using the 100% Peruvian grown organic and fair trade cotton mentioned above rather than the cheap Chinese fabrics and threads they otherwise find in local stores). Using the fabrics inspired discussions on the native cottons that Shipibo grow and traditional techniques for weaving and dying fabrics that are being lost as cheaper manufactured and synthetic goods flood the market. Many women have also stopped making traditional loom work that involves weaving cloth out of native cotton and then painting and embroidering on this handmade fabric because most tourists don’t value the product, and with some initial inquiries we have already found three galleries keen to buy these more traditional items at a fair price. Seeing firsthand the effort involved reinforces how important it is to find fair trade markets for their work both to provide decent livelihioods and to help keep traditional knowledge alive.

Photo: Leeroy Mills, 2017. Celedonia is an 85 year old great grandmother who has ten children. She is one of only two women in the village that still practice making traditional cloth. Much more intensive than embroidering on purchased cloth, finding markets that value the artistry and time is essential if the next generation is to maintain this practice.

Photo: Leeroy Mills, 2017 Discussing with Se Le, one of the children of the artisans, who speaks close to fluent English, plans for their online shop at the “Etsy” marketplace.

Photo: Leeroy Mills, 2017 Some of the artisans of Maroti Shobo during a workshop to learn about the potential of fair trade production.

Photo: Leeroy Mills, 2017 Maroti Shobo member Claudia Mori Valera, hands on with new organic fair trade materials

Photo: Techa Beaumont, Luzmilla, the cooperative president, and Claudia sewing the first products with organic fair trade native Peruvian cotton materials.

Photo: Techa Beaumont, 2017, A beautiful cotton scarf, One of the first organic fair trade products to be produced by the women of Maroti Shobo, finished last Friday!

Another task with the women for the summer is to explore different ways to cut out the middle wo/men who often take the majority of the profits from the women’s labour. This requires accessing international markets directly. Some of the steps towards this are small, but still significant in breaking barriers and setting a precedent amongst the women themselves.  Over the coming two months we are working with the support of the NGO Allianza Arkana to help the Maroti Shobo cooperative to establish their own online shop on ‘Etsy’ a global online marketplace for handmade and artisanal goods. While there are existing Etsy shops selling Shipibo crafts, none of these are owned by Shipbo people, so the main profits are going outside the community that makes them.  An ongoing program of training and mentoring for both the artisans and a number of their adult children who have computers, Spanish and English skills are essential to help the ‘mothers’ manage the online shop. This includes classes in quality control, marketing and social media, smart phone photography, online sales and marketing, posting and shipping that will enable them to manage the Etsy shop on their own in the future.

At the same time we are linking this and other Shipibo artisanal associations to potential wholesale clients in the fair trade industry, and exploring raising funds so that one Association of artisans can attend the Santa Fe Fair Trade Market where they have the opportunity to raise significant funds for their group and gain ongoing international customers.

There is so much more I could say about this work, and I wake each morning with passion and excitement for the tasks ahead of me.  I am so deeply grateful to the Rotary community for making it possible for me to take these significant advances towards realising a vision dreamed up with the Maroti Shobo women five years ago.  I invite anyone interested in staying abreast of its development or with ideas or contacts that may assist going forward to contact me directly at techa.beaumont@duke.edu.

And a little of my life in the Amazon:

Pucallpa as a town is a sprawling urban environment with an abundance of three wheeled motorcars, which reminds me of the toktoks that define my experience of urban India, where my mother was born. The distinct sounds of their horns and engines is the backdrop to much of my day.

While these projects make for a busy summer, I have found time to begin my exploration of life in the jungle. Being surrounded by one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet is an opportunity for constant learning and wonder.

The joys are diverse and including sampling exotic fruits, making friends with monkeys, cooling off in waterfalls, adopting a street kitten (and, bittersweetly, finding it a good home due to my inevitable departure). I am still hoping for an encounter with a pink river dolphin, a species of toothed whale found in the rivers around Pucallpa, but I have included a picture for animal lovers reading this post.

Photo: Pink River Dolphin from the Amazon (shared pinterest photo, Nic Bou, 2013)

Photo: Techa Beaumont, 2017.La velo de la novia (the bride’s veil), a beautiful waterfall 3 hours from Pucallpa

Photo: Techa Beaumont, 2017. Majestic trees dot the urban landscape of Pucallpa

Sunset over Laguna Yarinacocha, the oxbow lake on the edge of Pucallpa

I will be visiting and sharing my work with the local Rotary Club here in Pucallpa (Yarinacocha) whom I first made contact with last December, and will catch up with the wonderful Elohim Monard, Pucallpa’s own Rotary Peace Fellow (Class 13 at Duke University) who lives in Lima but visits his family here from time to time. It’s inspiring to see how the Rotary and peace fellow network both extend here and have provided me opportunities for connection and local knowledge.

I am also deeply grateful to my partner Leeroy Mills who has previously volunteered and travelled in the Amazon and shares my passion for this place and its people. He has taken time off work in Australia to be here with me and is self-funding in order to work on these projects with me. The use of ‘we’ in the blog above reflects his presence in enhancing the work I am undertaking here.

You can find out more about the Shipibo people and the work of NGOs in this area at the website of one of my host organisations, Alianza Arkana, at http://alianzaarkana.org/.

 

[1]  The Shipibo-Conibo, sometimes simply referred to as the Shipbo people  are part of the Pan ethno-linguistic group. Formerly two groups, the Shipibo (apemen) and the Conibo (fishmen), they eventually became one distinct tribe through intermarriage and communal ritual and are currently known as the Shipibo-Conibo people. Eakin, Lucile; Erwin Laurialy; Harry Boonstra (1986). “People of the Ucayali: The Shipibo and Conibo of Peru”. International Museum of Cultures Publication: 62

 

Linda Low – AFE Blog – Environmental Defense Fund, Raleigh, NC

My growing fascination with climate change

The first time I understood that the world did not have infinite resources was in the year 2000 when someone told me it would take seven planets to sustain the current level of world consumption into the future. I absorbed the comment but didn’t process it until much later. In 2006, Al Gore released the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, a call to action to the world that global warming was a man-made disaster in the making that, if left unchecked, could melt ice caps, create floods, force millions of people to flee coastal communities, and increase temperatures to the point where biodiversity on our planet would change forever. I remember seeing the movie and being intrigued. It was the second time I recall thinking about the sustainability of our world. I started a new job and the words “climate change” and “global warming” fell off my radar.

Climate change gets real

From 2010 to 2016, I served with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). On a daily basis, we were coordinating assets and expertise from Red Cross societies around the world to support disasters on all continents. I witnessed the real-life implications of our changing climate every time we issued an emergency appeal, for example, in response to a drought, food insecurity, unprecedented flooding, or increased dengue epidemics because longer periods of rain and still water serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Within a six-year window, from 2010 to 2016, the IFRC doubled its international emergency appeals for natural mega-disasters because local communities could not cope with the shocks of climate change. I found myself being more aware of the issues that caused many of these crises. I found myself increasingly concerned with the concepts of inequity, scarcity, and climate change. When I moved to North Carolina to attend Duke University as a Rotary Peace Fellow, a key question that weighed on my mind was: how can I contribute to making our world more sustainable, and how can I learn more about climate change?

Tackling climate change, one soybean at a time

This summer, with support from Rotary International, I am interning at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a leading NGO that marries science with market incentives, policy levers and practical partnerships, to make our world more sustainable. I am part of the EDF + Biz team which works with corporations to drive responsible sourcing through local and global supply chains: from how raw materials are derived in fields and forests and processed in factories, to how they are manufactured, packaged and placed on store shelves, and everything in between.

Linda Low, Rotary Peace Fellow, Class IV, is interning with Environmental Defense Fund in Raleigh, North Carolina, with the aim of reducing deforestation in Brazil and combatting climate change.

My specific task this summer is to research the supply chain impact of soy farming on deforestation in Brazil – where some forests are being cleared to make way for more soy farms, to accommodate the world’s growing demand for soy. I am talking to experts, reviewing reports, and researching the economics of the soy industry, the stakeholders, and agricultural and environmental policies. At the close of my internship I will make recommendations for my team to consider, ideally, potential levers of positive change – be it at the community, policy or business level; only time – and research – will tell.

How does this connect to climate change? Forests play a key role in cleaning the air we breathe by capturing the global emissions of carbon dioxide from things like cars, planes and power stations. According to EDF, deforestation causes climate change on a global scale, and is responsible for about 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Brazil’s beautiful forests have been called the “lungs of the world” for their role in cleaning the air we breathe by capturing global emissions of carbon dioxide from things like cars, planes and power stations.

The US Department of Agriculture projects that global soybean production will surpass 345 million tonnes this year, and that Brazil will be the largest exporter of soy; research agency BMI predicts that 100 million tonnes will be produced in Brazil alone. So what does the world do with all this soy?

Surprisingly, soy is in many things that we consume, not just soy sauce. For example: beverages, oil, flour, bran, desserts, and protein supplements. Soy also goes into pet food! Derivatives of soy are even used in pharmaceuticals, paint and plastics. But the majority of soy that gets produced globally goes into animal feed for beef and poultry which we eventually consume. Clearing more forests for soy is a bad option for our climate, but intensifying soy production on existing farm lands could be a good one.

Speaking of the climate, in the wake of the US Administration’s recent decision to leave the Paris Agreement, I have seen concerned citizens, communities and corporations double-down on their commitment to addressing climate change. Over the weekend, some business leaders matched public donations to EDF to demonstrate their continued dedication to the cause. It makes me proud to be part of an organization that is recognized for their hard and good work. It makes me proud to be part of EDF.

By mapping the supply chain of soy in Brazil in my internship, I hope we can get a sense of the soy footprint in the country and perhaps try to collaborate with stakeholders in the supply chain to drive more sustainable sourcing practices to reduce deforestation. Perhaps it’s possible to tackle climate change one soybean at a time.


Linda Low, Canadian, is a Rotary Peace Fellow pursuing her Masters of International Development Policy at Duke University. She is based in EDF’s office in Raleigh, North Carolina, for her summer internship.

2017 Professional Development Trip – Washington DC

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Call for Applications – Peace Fellowship Program

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Fall 2016 – Rotary Center Review

Our Fall 2016 Newsletter is available here. Read about Class 15 Fellows, and updates on the graduating class of 2016. See where all the Class 14 fellows interned over the summer. Also, read about the latest news and events from the center.

 

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Silviya Nitsova – AFE Blog – Council of Europe, Kiev, Ukraine

I arrived in Ukraine on May 6. For the next three months, part of my afternoon coffee break routine included checking the Ukrainskaya Pravda website. Every day I would read what seemed to be the same headline, with only the numbers changing: За сутки в зоне АТО 2 бойца погибли, еще 3 ранены. 2 soldiers killed and 3 more injured for the last 24 hours in the ATO (anti-terrorist operation) zone. These headlines, the numerous military recruitment advertisements along the escalators of Kyiv’s deep metro stations and the groups of young men in military uniforms waiting for their train on the platforms would be my reminders, that in an otherwise vibrant and colorful Kyiv, armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine is still ongoing. Since its beginning in April 2014, the conflict has resulted in 9,470 killed, of which 2,000 were civilians, 21,880 were wounded [1], nearly 1.8 million are internally displaced persons (IDPs) [2], hundreds of thousands are asylum-seekers, and material losses are estimated at USD 15 billion [3].

I chose to complete my Applied Field Experience (AFE) in Ukraine for two reasons. First, to gain practical experience and learn first-hand about international efforts to support Ukraine in its democratic agenda. My two-month internship with the Council of Europe Office in Kyiv allowed me to do that. Second, to try to better understand the conditions that facilitated the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine – a conflict which only two and a half years ago seemed unthinkable – by doing fieldwork in the regions. In this blog post, I will sketch out the background of the conflict and share some impressions from my experience in two cities – Kyiv and Slovyansk.

1 Graffiti Grushevskogo Kyiv

Graffiti art, Grushevskogo street, central Kyiv

November 2013 saw the rise of a wave of protests and civil unrest in Ukraine. People took to the streets to show their discontent with the decision of President Yanukovych’s government to suspend preparations for signing an association agreement, essentially a trade deal, with the European Union to seek closer economic relations with Russia. Starting as peaceful demonstrations, the protests, which would become known as Euromaidan, grew in numbers and broadened their demands to include the President’s resignation after the government ordered the use of force against a peaceful assembly of student protesters. Maidan activists also called for an end to corruption, deoligarchization, deep and comprehensive reforms across the board. The demonstrations climaxed in a revolution in February 2014. Between February 18 and 20, more than 100 people were killed in clashes in Kyiv’s main square, Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Due to international pressure, an agreement to put an end to the bloodshed and several months of political crisis was reached between President Yanukovych and the opposition on February 21. On February 22, President Yanukovych surprised the world when he and his closest associates fled, first, to Eastern Ukraine and soon after, to Russia. An interim government led by the opposition was established.

In the aftermath of the Maidan Revolution, a wave of anti-Maidan or pro-Russian demonstrations spread across the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine.

2 Map Pro-Russian_unrest_in_Ukraine

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Part of the population in these regions did not approve of the Maidan in Kyiv and took to the streets in protest. The demonstrations in Crimea were followed by Russia’s annexation of the peninsula. In April 2014, pro-Russian demonstrations in the two easternmost regions of Ukraine – Donetsk and Luhansk (together known as Donbas) – escalated into an armed conflict between the separatist forces of self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics and the armed forces of the Ukrainian government. Pro-Russian demonstrations elsewhere, despite involving occupation of regional state administration buildings and violent clashes with pro-Maidan protesters, did not escalate into an armed conflict. In the second half of May-June 2014, it became evident that Russia got more actively involved in the conflict by supporting separatists with equipment, arms and manpower. International efforts to manage the conflict have been only partially successful – the fighting between Ukrainian armed forces and Russia-backed separatists continues to this day, though with lower levels of intensity in comparison to 2014.

This chain of events has led to crises at multiple levels and triggered processes, such as nation-building, state-building, democratization, reinvigorated geopolitical struggle between Russia and the West, which seems to reinforce and run counter to each other at the same time.

3 Founders of Kyiv

Founders of Kyiv monument at Maidan Nezalezhnosti. The female figure is dressed in vyshyvanka, a traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt. Many people can be seen wearing vyshyvankas in Kyiv today as an expression of their Ukrainian national identity. In the background: Alley of the Heavenly Hundred Heroes, named after the people who were killed during the Euromaidan

The Council of Europe, a leading regional organization in the field of human rights, democracy and rule of law, has been part of the increased international efforts to help Ukraine cope with the challenging situation. As an intern at the Council of Europe field office in Kyiv, I worked on two projects: Strengthening Freedom of Media and Establishing a Public Broadcasting System in Ukraine and Reform of the Electoral Practice in Ukraine. Apart from enhancing the role of media and improving the integrity, transparency and quality of the electoral process in Ukraine, the Council of Europe Office in Kyiv provides assistance to the Ukrainian government in other important areas, such as decentralization, judicial reform, penitentiary reform, human rights protection of IDPs and others. During my internship, I had the opportunity to attend trainings and conferences organized by the Council of Europe Office and partnering governmental institutions and non-governmental organizations. My internship allowed me to immerse in the local context and actively engage with current debates.

My AFE also gave me the opportunity to live in a city full of life, colors and energy. Kyiv has a fascinating urban landscape, beautiful parks and scenic river sites. It offers many entertainment opportunities and some of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. Kyiv is a city with a long history and a big cultural center, something its citizens are rightfully proud of. The city has left me with the impression of “a driver of change” with all the engaged and creative people I had the chance to interact with during my stay here.

4.1. Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra Kyiv 2

Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra

 

4 Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra Kyiv

Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra

 

5 Urban landscape sunset Kyiv

Sunset in Kyiv

 

6 Mural Kyiv

Mural on a wall of a Soviet-style block of flats. The mural is part of an urban art project called “Art United Us.” The project aims to raise public awareness and attention to the problem of war, aggression and violence.

As I traveled east, the atmosphere changed and war became a lot more tangible. The easternmost point of my journey to the regions was Slovyansk, a small industrial town in northern Donetsk region situated about 640 km south-east from Kyiv. This place that no one had ever heard of, or cared about, became world famous on April 12, 2014, when a group of locals and Russian citizens took control of the town and it became a separatist stronghold for the next three months. Slovyansk was where the first military actions marking the beginning of the war in Donbas took place. The town remained under separatist control until July 5, 2014. It has been in the ATO zone, the territory where the war in Donbas is taking place, under Ukrainian control ever since.

Life 70 km away from the line of contact is hard. Slovyansk did not experience the destructive shelling of other Ukrainian towns, such as Debaltseve and Ilovaisk. Most of the damaged buildings in town have been restored. Yet, destructions remain in the outskirts and areas just outside of town. The local economy has been severely affected and unable to reach its pre-war levels for the last two years. With a bad business climate and about 30,000 internally displaced people from the war-affected areas, about 40% of the population in Slovyansk is currently unemployed.

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Destruction in the region of Slovyansk and neighboring village of Semenovka

 

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Destruction in the region of Slovyansk and neighboring village of Semenovka

 

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A ceramic granite factory in the outskirts of Slovyansk. One of the few factories to invest in restoration and to resume work after the end of the war in Slovyansk. Currently, it provides 250 jobs to people from the region, including IDPs.

Apart from the material side of the tragedy, there is a psychological one. Many Slovyansk citizens held and still hold pro-Russian views. A sizeable part of the town’s population supported the separatists and the so called Русская весна or Russian Spring. After Slovyansk’s returning under Ukrainian control, these people could no longer freely express their true preferences because of the threat of being charged of supporting separatism. The situation was similar with Slovyansk citizens who held pro-Ukrainian views and who had to hide their preferences during the months under separatist control and, arguably, even before that. Because of the war, people have been forced to pick sides, to identify themselves with either one or the other (Ukraine or Russia). My impression is that this has been a painful process not only for people in Donbas, but for many in other parts of Ukraine.

In Slovyansk, I had the pleasure to meet with a small but very active group of local Rotarians. Rotary Club Slovyansk had been among the first non-governmental organizations to get actively engaged with humanitarian work immediately after the war in Slavyansk ended. Rotarians started off by removing the garbage and road blocks from the streets to make the town functional again. They cooperated with other Rotary Clubs across Ukraine to collect 500,000 Ukrainian hryvnas (about USD 20,800 in current exchange rate) for humanitarian purposes and helped deliver about 200 tons of in-kind aid to people in need. Focusing on everyday problems, whose solution is in the interest of all, has been Slovyansk Rotarians’ strategy to foster peace in their community. I have been humbled by the dedication of these men and their readiness to literally roll up their sleeves and do the work. The town is lucky to have them.

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Slovyansk city library. Rotary Club Slavyansk recently donated books there.

 

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Slovyansk at dusk

The three months in Ukraine have given me a lot of food for thought, unforgettable experiences, new friendships and, last but not least, an opportunity to connect with local Rotarians. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Rostyslav Lukach from Rotary Club Kyiv-Center, Sergey Pustovit and Artur Nasibian from Rotary Club Slovyansk for their receiving me so warmly and for making my experience in Ukraine so much richer. I wish them all the best of luck and already look forward to our next meeting.

12 New District 2232 Belarus _ Ukraine

Marking the start of a new Rotary District 2232 Belarus & Ukraine in Kyiv

 

References

  1. Humanitarian Bulletin: Ukraine Issue 11, 1-30 June 2016, available at http://reliefweb.int/report/ukraine/humanitarian-bulletin-ukraine-issue-11-1-30-june-2016
  2. OCHA, UNHCR. UKRAINE: Humanitarian Snapshot (as of 21 July 2016), available at http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/humanitarian_snapshot_20160721.pdf
  3. Zubko assesses cost of Donbas restoration at $15 billion, 25 June 2016, Kyiv Post, available at http://www.kyivpost.com/article/content/ukraine-politics/deputy-pm-assesses-cost-of-donbas-restoration-at-15-bln-417200.html
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