Gada Roba – AFE Blog – Wilder Foundation, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Gada Roba, AFE Blog- Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood (SPPN) Wilder Foundation

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My AFE, with the educational initiative Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood, or SPPN, shed light on the many challenges faced by urban citizens in America. It also gave me hope—with communities in the neighborhood collaboratively working with anchoring institutions, it is possible to fight generational poverty through education. This summer, it was an honor to be a part of the committed team of SPPN researchers, program coordinators, staff members, parents, and the partner agencies I had the privilege of working with.

SPPN Initiative is based at the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, a non-profit social services and research organization. SPPN partners with four schools in the Frogtown, Rondo, and Summit-University neighborhoods to bring much needed programs and services in order to ensure positive educational outcomes for generations of elementary school children throughout the year. During the summer, SPPN runs educational, recreational, and social activities. This summer, I have had the good fortune of working closely with the director and researcher Muneer Karcher-Ramos by assisting him with literature reviews of different perspectives on the roles of schools in driving neighborhood change.

Working with the director on the literature review gave me a deeper knowledge of poverty in America, and the complicated challenges to address it. I was exposed to critical race theory looking at the relationship between schools and property; economic development and the role of schools as anchor institutions; conventional school financing “per pupil” funding formula; community schools as neighborhood resource hubs; neoliberalism view of school as a tool to produce workers; and finally, the importance of schools as the cultural hubs, serving as a site for cultural knowledge production and transmission. I now look at schools through a different perspective as the means of addressing poverty.

In addition to weekly meetings with the director, I also had the opportunity to help with The Freedom Friday School at Maxfield Elementary School. The Freedom School is an all-day program designed to prevent learning loss during the summer with activities such as reading, academics, cultural activities, and nutrition. I coordinated my role with MK, the program manager, and Ebony, the program assistant as needed. I had the wonderful opportunity to interact with the students: I accompanied them to sporting events, academic and social activities, and field trips once or twice a week. Some of my favorite trips include visits to the Minnesota Science Museum, Como Regional Park Pool, and Jimmy Lee Recreation Center. I also helped at the Rondo Day Parade, the Rice Street Festival, and the Wilder Foundation Block Party.

 

Top: Me, Ebony, Muneer & Jr.              Bottom: Me & Mr. Melvin Carter, who helped create SPPN

 

What I got out of my AFE with SPPN

During my time in the Humphrey Policy Fellow Program from 2012-2013, I worked on a project entitled Collaboration, Community Engagement, and the Achievement Gap. I was introduced to the “Collective Impact” model, by John Kania and Mark Kramer, that can be used to address social problems. This model states that large-scale social change comes from collaboration rather than silo intervention. That is to say, more progress can be made on many social problems if “nonprofits, governments, businesses, and the public were brought together around a common agenda to create collective impact.”

This summer, I experienced first-hand how SPPN fulfills the collective impact model. SPPN mobilizes all stakeholders—the neighborhood, family, schools, service-providing agencies, and philanthropic community—around the same goal. Through my interaction with SPPN staff, partner agencies, students, and parents, I learned that high-level, collaborative, and collective efforts truly do provide a strong sense of community to change the status quo. High levels of community member participation in the process of change will undoubtedly lead to sustainable community development.

 

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Rotary Club of Minneapolis University

About a month ago, I attended a talk by my former human rights professor at the University of Minnesota, Barbara A. Frey. She gave a speech entitled “Protecting Human Rights in a Turbulent Time.” She talked about basic legal instruments and institutional framework designed to protect international human rights. She elaborated on how the institutional capacities are sustaining the current threat to human rights’ principal and a shift in global alliances. It was a timely presentation and her inspirational talk gave hope to many aspiring human rights defenders. As one of her former students, it was an honor to be there and share a table with her.

 

Me with Professor Barbara Frey

 

Last week, I gave a talk on “Understanding Social Conflict and Fragility in Ethiopia.” In the last two years Ethiopia, an important strategic US ally in the region, has been in the global spotlight. The government that has been in power since 1991 has been accused by human rights organizations of committing serious human rights violations against their own citizens. To bring about stability and security, the government imposed a state of emergency beginning in October of 2016, just ending last week.

 

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I used Protracted Social Conflict (PSC), a multidisciplinary theory, to explain the root cause of the ongoing social conflict in the country, how we might better understand the complex historical legacy that led to the current situations, and the possible paths to be taken toward achieving peace in the country.

 

Me with Bob Margolis

 

Bob (Robert Margolis) the club president, Jerry Yanz (Program Co-Chair) and Emily Grobelny have been great hosts and very accommodating.

Special Acknowledgements
I would like to give special thanks to Rotary Club of Minneapolis University. It is where my journey to become a Rotary Peace Fellow began, 4 years ago. I read an article about Rotary Peace Fellowship that was written by Dr. Ellen Kennedy (co-president). She invited me to the club for an informational session. Not only I was given the opportunity to become a Peace Fellow in Uppsala Sweden, but this “small and mighty group of local professionals…with a big heart” has been with me throughout the setbacks in my life.


I want to give a big shout out to the leaders and members alike, specifically Ellen Kennedy, Bob Margolis, Bob Narotzky, Carol Cline-Hedblom, Carole Peterson, and Erica Fields. You all have a special place in my heart. 

 

 

 

Chenai Kadungure – AFE Blog – Social Designs, Greensboro, NC

Building Future Leaders for SustainABLE Peace

“Help young people. Help small guys. Because small guys will be big. Young people will have the seeds you bury in their minds, and when they grow up, they will change the world”. –Jack Ma

What I wanted out of an Applied Field Experience (AFE):

Upon the completion of my Masters in Global Studies, with a Certificate in International Development, I plan to work in the international development sector. My topics of interest in International development are civic engagement, democratisation, and economic and sustainable development. My capstone thesis will focus on leadership, so finding an internship that included it, would be ideal for giving me the best of both my career and academic life. I wanted an AFE that would address one or all of these. As I did my search, I found a few that addressed these, but Change Institute touched on all, excluding democratisation. Because I have only worked in Africa, I was specifically attracted to the opportunity of working in both Greensboro and Barbados, which added two very different countries and another continent to my growing global experience. That shift of context alone was enough to address gaps in my career, but through my AFE, I achieved so much more.

The Change Institute (CI) is a Global Leadership Training & Travel Exchange Program for Youth aged Grades 9-12. Founded by Social Designs, this is a two-week long study abroad program, where youth from Greensboro, North Carolina travel to Barbados to learn about; culture, conflict resolution, sustainability, food justice and equity. The world is in a sustainability crisis. Projects like Change Institute slow the growing problems by upskilling youth to remedy them. Fostering an entrepreneurial and leadership perspective in young people will ultimately lead to international communities that are fully engaged in ensuring the world can meet the United Nations 2020 Sustainable Development Goals. These goals, while ambitious, are embodying everything the world aims to do in achieving that shiny unicorn of “world peace”. I very much appreciated the links between Rotary’s own work and focus areas and what my AFE offered.

 

Students from a previous CI cohort. (image sourced from Social Designs)

 

Why I chose Change:

“Leadership requires the courage to make decisions that will benefit the next generation. –Alan Autry

If there is anything my career has proven to me, it is that I have a penchant for adding new or transforming initiatives. There is something energising and exciting in helping organisations forge a path for their future work. In working both with CI and its Barbados based partner, The Sojourner Foundation (TSF), I had the amazing opportunity to work directly on the growth direction of the organisations, as well as influence which future projects they would consider doing in Africa. In working with both organisations, it was highly appealing for me to have the opportunity to help shape our future leaders. As a change agent whose vision is “creating an impact by inspiring, encouraging and developing the world”, the alignment of both organisations, with this plan for the future, made the choice easy of all the opportunities that were presented to me.

My role at CI and TSF

Below is a brief description of my role as an International Program Development Fellow. In two months, I stretched myself by sharpening existing skills while at the same time, challenged myself in a very new terrain.I worked in Greensboro, North Carolina for one month, supporting the development of Change Institute. I spent the second month in Barbados, where I continued to work for CI and TSF, implementing similar procedures, with the welcome addition of going to multiple sites and partner visits, which helped me to see the operational components of this work, including:

  • Fundraising
  • Strategic Development –recruitment, expansion and funding
  • Supporting organisational capacity development
  • Research (Academic and Market related)
  • Investor and potential investor relations/partnership work
  • Developing Programmatic Measurement Tools

 

African-American knowledge exchange

“Conversation is a meeting of minds with different memories and habits. When minds meet, they don’t just exchange facts: they transform them, reshape them, draw different implications from them, engage in new trains of thought. Conversation doesn’t just reshuffle the cards: it creates new cards”. –Theodore Zeldin

The above quote, best describes what it was like for me working with the CI team in Greensboro, NC. Amazingly, it felt like even though I stood as an African woman talking to African-American women, it was clear we could have been neighbours raised in the same community, because of the alignment and connection we made with each other. It was magical when we would arrive at similar conclusions, request similar information from one another and question certain facts, as if we were of one mind in many or many minds in one. The interactions gave me hope, if there can be so much harmony between us as strangers, the same can be done for many other people who feel isolated in the development journey.

 

My Greensboro office at Collab. (image sourced at greensborodailyphoto)

 

My favourite structure in Greensboro CBD near the Guildford county court house.

 

Afro-Carribean fusions:

The Sojourner Foundation (TSF) is a charity and a non-governmental organization (NGO) which exists to become a catalyst for community cohesion. The foundation has been facilitating this by running sustainable farming projects, especially geared at youth and women development at Kamp Deed; a 30-acre farm in St Andrew’s Church Parish in Barbados. It is currently busy with the UNDP funded Operation Eradication Project and soon to begin Operation Kultivation – thanks to the support of the Marie Holden Memorial trust.

While I was there, it was harvest and hurricane season. The dynamic team of farmers and project managers were happy to benefit from the rain of Tropical Storm Don. Growing everything from cucumbers, pumpkins, beans, tomatoes and various trees, the farm boasts some of the freshest, fully organic vegetables, and will also create organic fungicides and pesticides this year.

 

An impressive expert presentation on composting at Kamp Deed.

 

Kamp Deed: the 30-acre farm where TSF operates.

 

With some of my colleagues at The Sojourner Foundation.

 

My favourite place: The cool and shady bamboo corner, at an often hot and humid Kamp Deed.

 

One of the most interesting discoveries I made over my trip in Barbados, was that of how Bajans view Africa. People took a keen interest in me, as someone from the continent. There seemed to be a hope that if Africa can make it out of “dark continent” status, there is, even more hope, for those in the Caribbean. Many local people reiterated this in various ways, and the music was one of the ways they did this. This is why my colleagues at TSF felt it would be great to collaborate on songs and I featured on two. Due to their appeal to youth, in particular, the use of music was a profound way of relaying messages of the world they dream of. I enjoyed the experience and especially enjoyed acting as a bridge between Barbados and Zimbabwe.

 

I enjoyed discussing sustainability with Shari Inniss from UNDP Barbados as we planned for the next cohort of CI students.

 

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Putting the inability in sustainability

“The nature and structure of belief systems are important from the perspective of an informational theorist because beliefs are thought to provide the cognitive foundation of an attitude. In order to change an attitude, then, it is presumably necessary to modify the information on which that attitude rests. It is generally necessary, therefore, to change a person’s beliefs, eliminate old beliefs or introduce new beliefs.”— Richard Petty and John Cacioppo

If there is something I have learnt about sustainability, it is that the ability to perform it, is steeped in opposition. Most people are unwilling to unlearn habits that affect the environment and this is further compounded by the contexts and circumstances of individuals. Someone who doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from, is hard pressed to care about the effect of their accumulated plastic being dumped in the ocean. The Future Centre Trust works tirelessly to convey educational messages as well as legislation around the effects, but the largest opponent to remedying the problem seems to be a change of mindset.

 

This sign was present in almost all public places in Barbados.

 

There is a level of privilege associated with sustainability, as green living itself is expensive. As an example, the ease and efficiency of plastics or dryers versus the inconvenience of recycling bags, drying laundry on a washing line are key challenges to this endeavour. There is a need to get smarter about how we can encourage ‘responsible convenience’. I will discuss this more in my concluding thoughts.

Rotary

While in Barbados, I met with Rotarians who invited me to the installation dinners of the 2017-2018 Rotary Club of Barbados (RCOB) and the Rotary Club of Barbados South. At the RCOB installation, I was fortunate to meet amazing people like Barbados’ President of the Senate Kerryann Ifill. She became the first woman to hold that position, and the first person with a disability, as well as the youngest ever holder of the position, at the age of 38. I also had great conversations with PDG and Assistant Regional Rotary Foundation Coordinator, David Edwards who seemed to know every Rotarian on the planet. It was delightful getting to know PDG Milton Inniss and his wife, as we attended a few events together. These connections were  valuable, as I facilitated the future involvement of Rotary affiliated Bajan youth, in Change Institute’s future cohorts, as well as discussed project ideas. I hope to see TSF connect with Rotarians in Barbados, as they are a growing organisation, but share synergies in opportunities for community development. RCOB president, Paul Ashby was busy with a Global Grant on Sustainable Lives, which TSF and CI will definitely benefit from.

In my last week, I was a speaker at the RCOB meeting and I enjoyed networking with Rotarians there. When I spoke at the Rotary Club of Barbados, the message of Afro-Caribbean connections continued, and we ended up planning an exchange trip where their members can visit Zimbabwean Rotarians so that they could see for themselves the amazing work Rotary is doing in Zimbabwe.

 

The Afro-Caribbean handshake of friendship with Rotary Club of Barbados Paul Ashby.

 

An amazing limited edition gift was given to the RCOB Installation dinner attendees, with an inspiring message attached.

 

Lessons learnt and final thoughts

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”— Niccolo Machiavelli

A recurring theme in my conversations with fellow “soldiers for peace” in Barbados was that around lip service. Many people felt like sustainability and environmental preservation were hot topics to discuss and deliberate about, but they never dared to act on them. There was very little action to follow the popular talk. This is what drove groups like TSF to literally get their hands dirty and walk the talk of sustainability. My uncle volunteers weekly with Future Centre Trust and has taken sustainability as a type of religion. One can’t merely like or promote it. It is a lifestyle and very few people are capable of practising it.

As much as I love new adventures, challenges and endeavours, I have learnt the mammoth task involved in working in sustainable development. Beyond the daily concern of climate change, I found that the minds of people; myself included are a bigger challenge. Without the buy-in of ordinary people in changing their daily behaviours, convenience and self-serving actions continue to overshadow the hope in remedying the situation. How do we get beyond plastic, beyond electricity abuse, beyond water wastage, beyond pollution, when they are reliant on the daily actions of individuals? We need to get smarter about making impactful laws that make it difficult to remain compliant, redesign how we access these via technology and innovation, but no doubt, the road to solutions will not be a smooth one. Thank goodness people like us are up for the ride!

 

 

Francesca Sorbara – AFE blog – University of Valle, Cali, Colombia

COLOMBIAN PEACE, BETWEEN STORYTELLING AND REALITY

Colombia is a land of natural born storytellers, and a treasure trove of never-ending, amazing, incredible stories, many of which – unfortunately – do not have a happy ending.

But all of the stories that I have heard so far– even when deadly or gruesome – are also full of life, emotion, struggle and hope. Some, are very sensitive real-life cases, which cannot be told without placing at risk, the people who have told them, and the people who are their protagonists.

For an anthropologist eager to have meaningful encounters with people, and to listen to the narratives of their lives and struggles, “Colombia is a paradise”, even more in this crucial and very delicate socio-political conjuncture.

I am loving every second in this amazing land: often a smile and a very innocent question can trigger an entire afternoon of detailed incredible narratives on past and present politics and adventures, most times enriched with other spicy comments. Ironically, I am starting to think that Gabriel Garcia Marquez – the famous Nobel laureate writer – did not have much to discover himself, when writing his amazing books about the land of Macondo and its inhabitants (of course, this is just a joke!).

Graffiti featuring Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in Cartagena

I wonder if this trust and ease to share very personal and delicate details, may be a kind of social mechanism enabling people to bear the burden and the worries that continue in their hearts, after the war. These people are often still struggling and fighting for a peace, one not so real and not so close, as the media and the Colombian government would like the world to believe.

 

Official event “Inclusion and education, pillars for Peace”, in Bogota, with the presence of Jean Arnault, chief of the UN Mission in Colombia; Sergio Jaramillo, Colombian High Commissioner for Peace; Fatima Muriel, feminist social activist from Putumayo region; Ivan Marquez, member of the FARC secretariat.

In the past weeks, I have spoken with people receiving death threats from unnamed armed groups, I have seen the fresh initials of old and new guerrillas painted on signboards in the streets, and I have listened to the trustworthy accounts of people, who have seen small or large battalions of armed people, climbing up towards the mountains or crossing the town in the middle of the day, all under the incredulous eyes of locals. Targeted executions of former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla members, drug dealers, corrupted policemen and even of social leaders and human rights activists are still a reality, especially in rural towns and villages, traditionally ruled by the FARC. In spite of this reality, not all of these crimes end up being reported in the news. District attorneys (Fiscalías) in some parts of the country lack the capacity, the political will, or simply the courage to investigate and prosecute all of these alarming crimes.

Sharing my account is not meant to scare, however I do believe these dramatic facts should be known and reported along with the important achievements of the official Peace agreements and the good news in Colombia that have recently echoed around the world. Behind the official Peace agreements,[1] another reality exists, and it is not as idyllic as we all would hope. The word ‘peace’, may become just an empty term, if we do not understand that the recent official agreements, between the Colombian state and the FARC guerrilla, are just the starting point for a long joint process and effort. We should be aware that the State and the FARC were not the only armed stakeholders involved in the Colombian conflict: other guerrillas and paramilitary groups have not been dismantled, and are still active and ruling over illegal businesses in regions, such as Cauca and others. Violence and conflicts are not completely over, they are just shifting, changing shapes, procedures and the names of their main armed actors.

“Quien critica la paz, ama la paz”

 “Who criticizes peace, loves peace”. I heard this sentence for the first time, in the International Congress at the University of Nariño,[2] in the city of Pasto, around one month ago. It is a common stance among most social and indigenous leaders and it comes back to my mind every time I listen to a controversial political analysis willing to point out different views on the Peace process.

The world-renowned Portuguese sociologist, Boaventura de Souza Santos, whom I had the chance to meet and listen to, at the University of Cauca – at the beginning of my AFE – specifically talks of Neoliberal Peace versus Democratic Peace, and he warns against the risks that are inherent to the first one.

 

International Conference in the University of Nariño, Pasto. Celebrating with friends from the University of Cauca and Nariño

Many rural and indigenous communities – some of which I had the chance to meet and visit in my AFE – are currently targeted by foreign and national mining extractive industries – often illegal – other times well-known mining multinationals with their headquarters in Canada, Australia or elsewhere.[3] These rural communities accuse the Colombian government of being absent and willing to do business at the expense of their ancestral land, water and health, taking advantage of the new opportunities created by the recent Peace accords and the FARC’s dismantlement.[4] These people, indigenous, peasants or afro-Colombian, claim their right to access a properly regulated consultation, according to 169 OIT Convention.[5]

In this both promising and problematic conjuncture, the EU announced in May, a new fund for Colombia of around 600 million euros, including grants for a total amount of 95 million euros. Other international donors recently announced or formed other special funds for Colombia: the World Bank, the multi-donor fund of the UN system, the sustainable fund of the IDB[6], and the special fund created by the Colombian government, “Colombia en Paz” (Colombia in peace).[7]

At the edge of optimistic and consistent international investments, it is possible to hear a few critical and well-informed voices coming from some of the same UN bodies present and working in Colombia. The UN OHCHR[8]  has been accompanying communities and social and indigenous movements in Colombia since its presence in the country.  This office often works as an impartial negotiator and advocate of Human Rights in disputes between the State, armed actors and rural communities and Indigenous movements. Every year, this UN office publishes an annual report on the situation of Human Rights in Colombia. According to their last report,[9] in 2016, 59 human rights defenders have been killed in targeted assassinations, but other institutions such as the Colombian Ombudsman gives higher estimates and maintains that 156 social leaders were killed from January, 1st, 2016 to March 1st, 2017, in just 14 months.[10] According to CRIC,[11] many of these executions specifically targeted and killed indigenous leaders who “said no to the mining engine”. According to UN OHCHR’s representative in Colombia, Todd Howland, “the economic, social and political inclusion of communities who live in areas traditionally influenced by the FARC guerrilla” is the best way to prevent the assassinations of social leaders and human rights defenders.[12] This UN office also advocates for an increased involvement of Colombian civil society in the peace process. These are reasonable and heart-felt recommendations by a UN representative who is known for his commitment and care for Colombian people and social movements, but it has still to be seen: How? According to which model are these suggestions to be put in place, in order to be really beneficial to local people and different cultures?

 

Meeting in Popayan with UN OHCHR, CRIC and the Secretary of the Special Justice of Peace (Justicia Especial de Paz)

 

Popayan, capital of the Cauca department, also known as the White City.

During my AFE, and as a part of my research, I was lucky enough to witness and accompany some important joint processes and negotiations between UN OHCHR and the indigenous movement in the Cauca region. I continued asking myself: In which way, can Human Rights – and the articulation with Human Rights International Organizations – be really useful for the emancipation of Indigenous and Social movements? What does ‘Peace’ really mean to different stakeholders, social actors and people with different stances, cultures and ethnicities? Where stands the constitutionally guaranteed Autonomy of indigenous people, in this process?

In the search for some preliminary answers to these questions, I was mostly in Nasa[13] indigenous communities, congresses and assemblies, where I interviewed different political and traditional authorities, who are or were part of, the strongest indigenous organizations of Colombia: CRIC and ACIN.[14]

 

Peaceful view from my little room in San Francisco, Toribio

A typical meal: sancocho de gallina (chicken&veggies soup) and Coca Sek

IN THE LAND OF THE MILLENARY WARRIORS

While I write this piece, I am in a small and tidy municipal library in Toribio,[15] looking outside of the window, I catch sight of condors flying in circles over the mountain and two brown horses walking by, in search of a better place to eat some fresh juicy grass. Some years ago, I would not have been able to be here, easily visiting, interviewing and writing, as I am doing now.

 

Left: musical parade towards the House of Culture in Toribio. Right: house of the Cabildo of Toribio, office of the Indigenous traditional authorities in town.

 

The little town of Toribio,[16] mostly inhabited by Nasa people, received more than 700 attacks during the war between the Colombian state and the FARC guerrilla, the last ones only just reported in 2015. In spite of this dramatic recent history, few people were displaced in this area: they instead strengthened their organization in order to resist the difficulties of the war in their own territory, and in some cases managed to throw guerrillas out of their territories, rescue kidnapped authorities and negotiate ceasefires. Proyecto Nasa[17] – an autonomous and locally-led initiative of governance and local development funded in Toribio – won the National Peace Prize in 2000. Nowadays, Toribio is a small and quiet town, possible to visit without major inconvenience. But underneath the present situation of relative peace, there is a hidden, illegal and still dramatic world that is easier to get a glimpse of after dusk: the beautiful patterns of lights dressing up the mountains all over the town are not part of a bucolic nativity scene, but are meant to ‘energize’ the illegal crops during the night, so that the plants of marijuana can grow faster and stronger. Some families make their living by selling the products of these plantations to ‘new’ guerrillas or to paramilitary groups who are nowadays taking the territory left ‘free and empty’ by the demobilized FARC. In the life of these families, there is no more night for a peaceful rest, nor for admiring the beautiful starry sky over the mountains. Only lights, and a dazing aroma, all day long. Is this Peace?

 

Top: Andean corn, a typical local product (left). Coffee drying under the sun, in Toribio (right). Bottom: Annual Barter’s fair in Toribio (left), with different local businesses taking part (right).

 

Weaving is both a spiritual and an economic activity in many indigenous cultures in Latin America.

The Cauca region has been, for a long time, one of the main territories of social and political turmoil in Colombia. In most of this region, the peace process has been problematic and challenging, due to the presence of armed actors, illegal economies and extractive industries, fighting for the control over the territory and threatening or dividing communities.

This land is also the ancestral territory of one of the most resisting and fierce indigenous people of Latin America: the Nasa people. According to their own historical perspective, their resistance started in the XVI century, with the arrival of the first Spanish conquerors. The main Nasa mandate has been for centuries and still is “to set free the Mother Earth”, from exploitation, extractive industries, guerrillas and other armed groups, and – to use their own expressions – “from whatever or whoever des-harmonizes the sacred balance among nature and humankind, that must be preserved and protected”.

The Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca – CRIC was founded in 1971 by different indigenous people living in the Cauca region, and is one of the leading indigenous organizations in Latin America. The CRIC’s motto is “Unity in defense of territory, life and autonomy of indigenous people”.[18]

This organization, and ACIN later, supported and coordinated important initiatives for autonomy, resistance and self-defense during the war, in a territory that was mostly abandoned by the State and occupied by FARC guerrilla. The Nasa resistance was recently analyzed for drawing connections with Ghandian non-violent movement and practices: Nasa people created during the war, La Guardia Indígena, the Indigenous Guard, an unarmed and volunteer corps that was institutionalized in 2001, and that won the National Peace Prize in 2004. Nowadays, La Guardia Indígena is part of the daily life and governance in all the indigenous resguardos in Cauca.

 

Different images of the Guardia Indigena, at the ACIN congress, and in Toribio. The Guardia is part of the Nasa and indigenous governance in Cauca region and it is a fundamental body of territorial and social control. La Guardia is voluntary, open to both men and women, and constitutes a fundamental element of Indigenous identity for Nasa and other indigenous people in Cauca region.

Needless to say, the indigenous organizations, CRIC and ACIN, were among the strongest supporters of the Peace process, and jointly advocated for the inclusion of an ‘Ethnic Chapter’ into the Peace Agreements between the government and the FARC-EP.

In the past few months, these movements have been re-organizing in order to respond to the new challenges arising in the Post-Agreement phase, as well as withof the current conjuncture.

I have been particularly lucky during my stay in Cauca, as I had the chance to witness the two major congresses – each one happening only once in several years – in which the Nasa and other indigenous people living in the Cauca region discuss their major problems and proposals for the next period, and they also elect their new authorities.

 

The trip to the XV CRIC Congress in Rio Blanco Sotará has been an incredible experience and adventure!

Images from the XV CRIC Congress in Rio Blanco, Cauca (June, 25th-30th, 2017).

 

A banner at the XV CRIC congress, translated: “As millenary people we want peace with social justice”.

 

Peace is a process that implies a truthful respect of differences. If development is pursued in the name of peace, it cannot be attained at the expenses of others’ wellbeing, health and balance with the environment. If contemporary Colombia really wants to “walk the word”[19] of Peace – as Nasa people would say – Colombians should also try to understand and live with other cultures that have been marginalized in the last five hundred years, and particularly during the recent civil war. The challenge is pursuing ‘unity’ inside and in spite of differences, and in the full respect of the territory, as the CRIC’s motto states.

At the end, we all are sons and daughters of the Mother Earth.

La palabra sin acción es vacía. La acción sin la palabra es ciega.
La palabra y la acción fuera del espíritu de la comunidad es la muerte”

-Pensamiento Nasa

“Word without action is empty. Action without word is blind.
Word and action out of the spirit of the community is death.”

-Nasa Traditional Wisdom

 

The future of Toribio: children in traditional dresses, in a public fair in town

 

Minga means ‘community work’ all over the Andes, but this word is used by Nasa people also to refer to social, civic and political events organized by their community, as the historical one in this postcard.

 

Acknowledgements

I am sincerely and profoundly thankful to the Rotary Foundation and the Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center, who fully trusted me and endowed me the funds and the support to undertake the independent exploratory research project in Colombia and in the Cauca region. In this project, I am exploring the interconnections, collaborations and tensions between the local indigenous movements and the Human Rights institutions working in the Cauca region in the present conjuncture. I also would like to thank the Department of Anthropology of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I found an encouraging and supportive environment for implementing this ethnographic fieldwork, as well as other academic projects and endeavors. A special thank you goes to the Colombian people and institutions that are making this AFE/research possible and also an incredibly rewarding experience: in particular, I would like to thank the Universidad del Valle, that opened the doors to my project proposal, and the friends from the Universidad del Cauca with whom I had the chance to exchange important moments and information. Last, but not least, I would like to thank the indigenous and Nasa people and traditional authorities from CRIC, ACIN and different resguardos, who shared with me important stories and details about their lives, their dreams and their never-ending struggle for autonomy and peace in their ancestral territory.

Photo Credits: Francesca Sorbara

La Chiva, traditional bus, at the ACIN Cogress in Toez.

                               

[1] The complete text of the Peace agreements can be found here: http://www.acuerdodepaz.gov.co/

[2] 1a Minga Internacional para la Paz, el Buen Vivir y la no Violencia: https://encuentrobuenvivir.wordpress.com/

[3] On this issue, see this interesting report, in English: http://www.forestpeoples.org/sites/fpp/files/publication/2016/03/pushing-peace-colombia.pdf

[4] Interesting article in Spanish: http://lasillavacia.com/historia/el-impacto-ambiental-de-la-salida-de-las-farc-61592

[5] A very recent article on this issue, in Spanish, can be found at:  http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/medio-ambiente/pijao-y-arbelaez-dijeron-no-la-explotacion-minera-y-de-hidrocarburos-articulo-702257

[6] Inter-American Development Bank.

[7] http://www.eltiempo.com/politica/proceso-de-paz/se-inicia-fondo-colombia-en-paz-82520

[8] The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. For the work of UN OHCHR in Colombia, see the following links, in Spanish: http://www.hchr.org.co/nuestrotrabajo/2013.php3;

http://www.hchr.org.co/publico/oacnudhenlosmedios/2013/Derechos_humanos_un_proyecto_comun.pdf

[9] http://www.hchr.org.co/documentoseinformes/informes/altocomisionado/informes.php3?cat=11. Please, see also this link in English: https://pbicolombia.org/2017/05/09/6519/

[10] http://www.elpais.com.co/colombia/registran-156-asesinatos-de-lideres-sociales-en-colombia-en-los-ultimos-14-meses.html

[11] Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca. In English: Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca. http://www.cric-colombia.org/

[12] http://www.semana.com/opinion/articulo/prevenir-el-asesinato-de-defensores-de-derechos-humanos/530592

[13] There are between 140.000 and 160.000 Nasa indigenous people in Colombia, mostly living in Cauca region. They are organized in two main organizations: CRIC and ACIN.

[14] Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca. In English: Association of Indigenous councils of Northern Cauca. https://nasaacin.org/

[15] Toribio is a small town of around 30.000 inhabitants – 95% of which indigenous Nasa people – in the mountains of the Macizo Colombiano, in the South West of Colombia, in a department called Cauca.

[16] https://www.radionacional.co/especial-paz/resistencia-pacifica-del-pueblo-nasa

[17] http://www.proyectonasa.org/, website in Spanish.

[18]La Unidad en Defensa del Territorio, la Vida y la Autonomía de los pueblos indígenas”, in Spanish.

[19] “Caminar la palabra”, is the expression in Spanish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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/

 

2017 Professional Development Trip – Washington DC

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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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Natsuko Sawaya – AFE Blog – MaiKhanda, Lilongwe, Malawi

Applied Field Experience (AFE) became Amazing Field Experience (still AFE)!

Searching for an AFE opportunity:

Spending two to three months in the field, between my first and the second-year of graduate school as a Rotary Peace Fellow, sounded like a great opportunity and I was eager to work in one of the fields below:

  •  Neonatal health, in a country which has a high neonatal mortality rate
  •  Neonatal and infant health, in conflicted areas
  •  Any project focused on Ebola orphans from the most recent Ebola epidemic in western Africa.

For me, a sense of peace that one has, always comes from childhood; family, community, education, friends, environment… The very first years of life are crucial for one’s future development.

 

Kangaroo Mother Care:

When I started to look for an opportunity, I came across a BBC documentary with a very shocking title, “Dead Mums Don’t Cry”. It was filmed about ten years ago and was about maternal mortality in Chad. I wanted to see what had changed since the filming of the documentary, as well as the current neonatal health situation. It took me a couple of months to get in touch with the doctor who was in the film. Unfortunately, she was not working in the same position anymore and could not take an intern. I kept searching and contacting various people and organizations, eventually I came up with an idea to go to the site where the Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) method is implemented. From my previous field experiences, I had seen babies carried this way, but I had never researched the scientific evidence of the its effects.

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KMC drawings on the wall of a hospital in Lilongwe

Series of my AFE:

Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) is a method of infant care where the baby is held skin-to-skin with the mother (or caregiver). Forty years have passed since this method was presented in Bogota by Colombian pediatrician Edgar Rey. Since then, the effectiveness of thermal control, improved breastfeeding, and bonding in all newborn infants has been firmly established as benefits of the KMC method. The implementation of KMC is also recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). I believe KMC is an important tool for addressing neonatal mortality in places where adequate health services are limited, such as developing countries, conflicted areas and refugee camps.

 

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Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC)

IHI is a not-for-profit organization, leading innovative partnerships in pursuit of health care improvement worldwide. IHI gives technical guidance and program support to MaiKhanda Trust. IHI offers a variety of open school courses, related to quality improvement, which I took prior to my IHI internship. At IHI, I had briefings about the ongoing preterm projects that MaiKhanda conducts at health facilities in Malawi. I was also analyzing the monthly data they received from MaiKhanda. It was great that I could see the parent organization side prior to my field work, learning how they supported and communicated with MaiKhanda and what they expected in the field.At the end of my AFE opportunity hunting, I had established a very unique path, starting at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) in Cambridge, Massachusetts (4 days). After IHI, I would participate in an intensive Kangaroo Care certification course in Ohio held by the United States Institute for Kangaroo Care (2 days). Then, off to Malawi, interning with MaiKhanda Trust, a Malawian non-governmental and nonprofit organization, working on the reduction of Maternal and Neonatal Mortality and Morbidity, both at the health facility and the community level in the country (2.5 months).

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Between 2000 and 2010, Malawi has reduced under-five mortality after the first month by 7.1% per year and neonatal mortality by 3.5%.[i] Although the neonatal mortality reduction is slower than the reduction of under-five, it is faster than the regional average, which is 1.5% per year. A comprehensive national health sector approach integrates newborn survival programs, which was initially focused at a facility level, but was lately extended to the community level. Implementing the KMC method was one of the initiatives for newborn care at the facility. In the Malawian national protocol for postnatal care of newborns, KMC is specifically for babies whose birth weight is less than 2000g. Hospitals where MaiKhanda works for quality improvement, have KMC rooms for mothers or caregivers. They can place babies in the kangaroo care position until the baby meets the criteria to be discharged. However, not all babies that weigh less than 2000g are admitted into the KMC rooms. The main task that I was given by IHI was to find out why those KMC eligible babies (with birth weights less than 2000g) were not admitted into KMC rooms. They also wanted to gather information about neonatal deaths. We also agreed to find out the reasons why the birth weights of all babies were not reported.

Upon my arrival to Malawi, I had meetings with MaiKhanda staff to plan my internship. Unfortunately, my time was too short to work at all the hospitals; therefore, I chose one facility, which was facing a huge challenge on KMC admissions. Every week from Tuesday to Friday, I was based in Kasungu, about 130 km to the north of the capital city Lilongwe. I have been observing at the maternity ward, following the babies, especially the ones below 2000g at birth, from their delivery till their discharge. I have been making a process map from my observation, which will enable both IHI and MaiKhanda to see the gaps and obstacles regarding the points that we focused on. Hopefully, those findings will be useful for them to think of ideas and quality improvement projects. When the MaiKhanda staff comes to the facility, I join the team for data collection as well as quality improvement meetings. My daily activity includes trying to encourage the mothers and caregivers of the KMC babies to understand the benefits of KMC and to continuously hold their babies in the kangaroo care position. I also visited villages with the MaiKhanda staff in Kasungu, to see some of their activities related to maternal and neonatal health. One of the aims is to mobilize communities for health and social change. They work closely with community health workers, local government, the Ministry of the Health and other partners, engaging the committee members from each community to inform the population on antenatal care, health facility delivery, hygiene, sanitation and HIV among others. It has been a wonderful opportunity to understand more about the mothers and the families that I see in the hospital.

In Malawi, and with Rotary:

I have about two weeks left and the process map is almost complete. Although I have been enjoying this rewarding internship here in Malawi, I also have to go through sad and tough realities; that newborns are losing their lives each week. Those deaths are mostly preventable, but not only by improving the quality of health care, but also by improving many other factors that I would need another opportunity to blog about. Each day, when I leave the hospital, I hope to see those most vulnerable ones the following day. Each day, when I arrive at the hospital, I hope not to hear or see any neonatal deaths… it’s too soon to go…

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In the KMC room (left) KMC demonstration by midwives/nurses (right)

 

When I go to a place for a short time, I always prefer staying with a host family. By being exposed deeply into their daily life, I can learn about their culture and their country. I contacted the Rotary Clubs in Malawi and Rotarian, Rachel Silungwe, kindly offered me to stay with her during my time in Lilongwe. Rachel is also a Rotary alumnus who had traveled to Indiana, USA, through the Rotary Group Study Exchange Program. We had a lot of rotary experiences to share. At work, both the MaiKhanda and the hospital staff are all Malawian and they embrace me with the essence of their culture every day. Malawians say that Malawi is the warm heart of Africa. People affectionately greet you and welcome you. Once they find out that I am Japanese, quite a few greet me in Japanese. Many of them had a Japanese teacher when they were at school and some have been to Japan on the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) training programs. In fact, the JICA has been sending volunteers to Malawi since 1971. Malawi is a peaceful and stable country despite the poverty, lifeline shortage, drought and other problems that the country faces. On the street, you see a lot of Japanese used cars with the former company logos. It reminds me of some Asian countries that I have I visited. But here, interestingly, I was asked by some Malawians to listen to their car when they turned the engine on. Initially, I was not sure what they meant, but later I figured out that the car navigation system was activated each time the car started and was giving them instructions in Japanese. Amusingly, I translated a couple of times what those car navigation ladies were saying to them.

 

Rotary connected me to other fellows; one Malawian Peace Fellow, Ian Saini, who studied in Thailand for 3 months in 2014, and an ex Rotary Youth Exchange Student, Laura Turrini, from Brazil who stayed in Japan for a year and a half when she was in high school. Surprisingly, she was in District 2760, the same in which I applied for both the Ambassadorial and Peace Fellow scholarships. She was introduced to me by the Past District Governor Ryusetsu Esaki, who was also one of her host families. Recently, Ian gave a speech at the Rotary Club of Lilongwe and Rachel kindly invited Laura and I to attend the meeting. Ian works for the Ministry of Agriculture and is also a Global Peace Index Ambassador at the Institute for Economics & Peace. Laura works for the Brazilian Embassy here but at the same time, she is writing her thesis for her master’s study about Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi. Rachel works for the National Aids Commission. I am grateful to have met these active and inspiring Rotary alumni here in Malawi. I am also very happy to have had the chance to participate in the meetings of this very active Rotary Club of Lilongwe.

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Top right: (from the left) Rachel Silungwe (Rotarian/alumni) Ian Sinai (Rotary Peace Fellow) Hutch Mthinda (District Governor Nominee) Natsuko Laura Turrini (Alumni) Sophie Kalinde (Past President) Bottom left: Lake Malawi Bottom right: sunset in Kasungu

UNC Project:

You may or may not know that UNC has a great presence in Malawi, mostly in the medical and epidemiological field. In the capital city, Lilongwe, you can see “UNC Project” signs and you hear “UNC” quite often. At the hospital where I work in Kasungu, a Maternity Waiting Home was constructed under a UNC project. I heard about the project of waiting homes at one of the lectures at UNC but I did not know that the Kasungu District Hospital had one. It officially opened in April of this year. As a UNC student, I was curious to visit the site. Expectant mothers in their 8th and 9th month of pregnancy, who live far from health facilities or who are referred at antenatal care, stay there until they give birth. The chief midwife/nurse at the maternity waiting home told me that before mothers started to live here, there was just an open space. Expectant mothers were staying under the sun and the moon, without being visited for checkups and many had lost their lives, just outside the door to the maternity ward. Now, they receive antenatal care, treatment if needed, nutrition-cooking and sewing classes, daily physical exercises and can attend many healthy talk sessions. The midwives/nurses warmly accepted the idea of including the Kangaroo Mother Care topic in their health talks. They have toilets, showers and places to sleep under a roof; however, with more than 200 expectant mothers, there are just not enough rooms. There are huge tents and some extra rooms without beds, but usually, the ones who have no complications stay in these spaces. It is such an impressive scene that these expectant mothers dance and run with their very pregnant bellies. It is really, impressively beautiful and I believe, quite unique.

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Top left: morning run of the expectant mothers from the maternity waiting home Top right: learning how to sew Bottom center: cooking session

Thanks to many ongoing UNC projects, many Malawians know “UNC”. When I introduce myself, saying, “I am a UNC student”, many respond with a confused look. Many think it is a project’s name, some think it is part of the United Nations!

Starting from Cambridge in Massachusetts at IHI, my Applied Field Experience has been an Amazing Field Experience, full of laughter. I admire the hospital staff and Team MaiKhanda who dedicate themselves towards making their tomorrow better. As I have seen in different countries, music and dance are an important part of their life here. Seeing the smiling faces in those moments, feeling the united atmosphere surrounded by rhythms, I strongly believe that music can be a contributing factor to bring a peace among those, for any generation, who are sharing the rhythm with singing, dancing and smiling. I hope that babies coming into this world will be able to participate in these fun moments of life as they grow…

I did not mention much about Malawi itself, if you are interested in learning more, check out Malawi on the internet, please!

[i] E. Zimba, M. Kinne, F. Kachale et al. Newborn survival in Malawi : a decade of change and future implications, Health Policy and Planning 2012, 27:iii88-iii103; doi: 10.1093/heapol/czs043

Nkole Zulu Thompson – AFE Blog – InStepp, Durham, NC & ISHR-Columbia University, New York

On the first day of my internship at InStepp Inc., I attended an orientation session which explained the importance of understanding the numbers associated with human trafficking. ‘There were 110[1] cases of human trafficking that were reported by phone service in North Carolina NC in 2015” as reported by Polaris-the leader in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery. These cases are an aggregate of both women and men. In 2014, 118[2] cases were reported. Each of these individual calls serves as a means for identifying victims of human trafficking.  The referral mechanism for human trafficking is the same for both women and men: each victim is identified, referred for assistance,[3] offered the opportunity for reintegration and also repatriation.

Who are the Service Providers?

Service Provisions for victims/survivors of human trafficking have been well laid out through coordinated efforts spearheaded by the Salvation Army in Durham, NC. Hence, within North Carolina, a new project called Nueva Vida has been created by InStepp Inc., to provide services to survivors of human trafficking and victims of assault. InStepp Inc. is a dedicated, community-based non-profit company that is passionate about helping regional communities thrive by empowering adult women and adolescent girls to overcome the challenges in their lives and succeed personally and professionally through innovative, gender-responsive training, education and prevention services.

Services for Women

Noting that there are needs specific to women, InStepp Inc., created the Nueva Vida project, whose core mission is the empowerment of Hispanic/Latino women survivors of human trafficking. Instepp Inc. has defined empowerment as self-sufficiency. The program has targeted Hispanic/Latino women survivors of human trafficking that have undergone initial post-trauma counselling as recipients of services. My work at InStepp Inc. focused only on human trafficking.

Strengthening Service Provision for Survivors of Human Trafficking

In 2013, the President’s interagency task force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, released the Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States, 2013-2017. This plan highlighted the importance of “comprehensive and specialized services that address their specific needs and aid in their full recovery.[4]” To meet this highlighted goal, Instepp Inc. focused on creating partnerships for empowerment of Hispanic and Latino survivors of human trafficking, offering outreach through non-English media and offering training and mentorship.

Partnerships to Empower victims/survivors for a New Life

The Mexican Consulate in Durham is a strategic partner identified for the empowerment of Hispanic/Latino victims of human trafficking who wish to repatriate. InStepp Inc. formalized this partnership by signing a memorandum of understanding with the Mexican Consulate in 2014. However the Mexican Consulate has also been a key partner in offering training services as well, and the New Mexican Consul General in Durham, Remedios Gomez Arnau, will be a key speaker at InStepp’s 2017 International Women’s Day conference.

Outreach through Non‐English Media

InStepp Inc. has produced materials for survivors of human trafficking, which offer opportunities to access services for empowerment. Effective communication for the purpose of outreach is important, especially for women survivors of human trafficking, as it is a means to foster knowledge sharing, and empower survivors to help prevent the possibility of being re-trafficked.  Effective communication has also been delivered through translating important messages into Spanish, which focus on immigration requirements and services available to victims of human trafficking.

Working at InStepp Inc. gave me the opportunity to work in a diverse cultural setting and gave me appreciation for their programs: first as a measure to bring empowerment to women, and second as a measure to bring recovery to victims of a well noted crime, while also helping these women to start a new life.

As my summer internship at InStepp Inc. came to an end, I sat to read the U.S. State Department’s newly released Trafficking in Persons Report for the year 2016[5]. The content of the report impacted me-it not only provided a benchmark to better understand the numbers and the activities implemented, but also explained the need for efforts to end human trafficking-such as the tireless efforts of the staff at InStepp Inc., working to empower women victims of human trafficking.

 

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Photo above From Left Gilda Wimble (InStepp Inc.), Mr. Javier Diaz de Leon (centre) immediate Past Consul General at the Mexican Consulate in Durham, and Martha Morales (InStepp Inc.) Mr Javier Diaz de Leon was the keynote speaker for 2014 international women’s day. conference

The end of my time at InStepp Inc. marked the beginning of another internship in New York with the Institute for the Study of Human Rights (ISHR) at Columbia University. The Institute is housed on the 7th floor of the Riverside Church. The church is itself a place of historical importance renowned for being a  venue for speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan and former President Bill Clinton.

As an intern at ISHR, I have helped to explore the human aspects of examining and addressing the historical legacy of conflict through the Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability (AHDA). The program centers on an essential question, how to look forward, while carrying the burden of the past, in order to foster conciliation and democracy promotion. In practice, my first week in the ISHR office exposed me to two of AHDA’s activities: the Mapping Historical Dialogue program and the AHDA fellowship program

Mapping Historical Dialogue

The goal of the Mapping Historical Dialogue project is to address violent pasts and conflicting narratives about the past. The Mapping Historical Dialogue project was launched with a focus on measuring field work and capturing best practices. It was created to foster better understanding of the impact that historical dialogues have on conflict transformation.

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Steps towards the Mapping of Historical Dialogue

The Mapping Historical Dialogue tool uses a crowd sourcing model and digital visualization to enable end-users to provide information that answers three important questions: (i) Do you know of a project that has been targeted towards fostering dialogue about a conflict or civil strife? (ii) Is information about this project accessible online? (iii) What is the duration of the project? With this information at hand, the process of contributing to the website[6] is all but completed. The project sends a message that best practices in the field of historical dialogue do exist and are possible to determine. Furthermore, the additional message is that facilitating dialogue on historical conflicts and strife does have a proven track record of contributing to social change worldwide.

 

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Ariella Lang (Front Left), Elazar Barkan (Back Center) and the 2015 AHDA Fellows.

Projects developed by AHDA fellows in 2015

The story of AHDA is further presented through the work of the AHDA fellows. The AHDA fellows create projects that embody the goal of facilitating dialogue in post-conflict countries. In 2015, three AHDA projects echoed my experience of searching for methods to foster peaceful societies.

The first was a project by Friederike Bubenzer[7], senior Project Leader at the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation in South Africa, who developed a project to enhance understanding of how trauma is transmitted across generations. The project was dubbed ‘Trauma, Memory and Representations of the Past’. My own experience of working with survivors of conflict suffering from trauma has indeed provided evidence to show that trauma can be transmitted across generations. Healing trauma through the approach put forward therefore seemed to me to be a means to give hope to future generations to manage the recurring memories from the traumatic pasts of conflict ridden societies.

The second was a project by Pawel Nowacki[8], Project Manager at the European Network Remembrance and Solidarity Poland (ENRS) who explored how European countries used 20th century history as a policy making tool during identity and financial crises, targeting High School aged children. My fascination is with the use of education policy for the purpose of post-financial crisis recovery. I believe this work presented the opportunity to further explore the many opportunities for implementing conflict sensitive programs in the education sector.

The third project, by Okot Komakech Deo[9], Research and Documentation Officer at the Refugee Law Project in Uganda, centered on documenting the voices of victims and survivors of massacres that were not reported by the media, providing Ugandans in war-affected communities with a digital documentation platform for the collection and dissemination of information that will help to share their memories and experiences and receive balanced information about their history. It was anticipated that this would provide a means for reconciliation and accountability, and could be used in the long run to develop a warning system with which to predict and prevent future conflict. I think the use of technology to share memories of war for the purpose of creating an early warning system is indeed a powerful nexus not only for the past and the present but also for preserving peace in the future.

As I continue on my day-to-day assignments in the ISHR, I can see the role that technology plays in post-conflict peacebuilding. Technology will help to tell the story of conflict, post-conflict peace building and also forewarn future generations. I will conclude my internship in New York by making a presentation with the help of Michelle Breslauer (Institute for the Study of Peace and Economics) on the 2016 Global Peace Index[10].  I am thankful to both Instepp Inc. and the ISHR for accommodating me in their offices over the summer.  I will return to Duke enlightened by experiences that span beyond Durham and New York and have global impact on policy and programing to make the world more peaceful for men, women and children.

 

Nkole4 Nkole5

 

[1] https://traffickingresourcecenter.org/state/north-carolina

[2] https://traffickingresourcecenter.org/state/north-carolina

[3] support  available to survivors emotional and practical support, including health care, legal aid, psychological assistance and referrals

[4] http://www.ovc.gov/pubs/FederalHumanTraffickingStrategicPlan.pdf

[5] http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/258876.pdf

[6] http://historicaldialogues.org/mhdp/

[7] http://humanrightscolumbia.org/sites/default/files/documents/ahda/Program_Report_AHDA_2015.pdf

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] http://www.visionofhumanity.org/#/page/our-gpi-findings

 

 

Ignacio Asis – AFE Blog – UNDP, Colombo, Sri Lanka

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The spicy taste of life in Sri Lanka


On Reconciliation, Head Waggles and Local Hospitality

Intro

A little over a month ago, I arrived in Sri Lanka with the sole objective of working for a couple of months at the United Nations. The goal: Contribute to the peacebuilding strategy in the country. It’s not my idea here, to write about the socio-political situation of the country, nor an economic analysis. On the contrary, in these following lines I’d like to share a bit about Sri Lanka, based on the eight weeks I’ve been living here. I will first talk about my professional experience, and then, move onto a more personal approach, as a “long-term” tourist.

On Conflict and Resilience

I came to Sri Lanka with a contract letter from the United Nations Development Programme, in order to work for the Peace Fund Pre-Secretariat, which is housed in the Office of the Resident Coordinator of the UN. This is the office in charge of coordinating the work of the 22 different agencies of the United Nations in the country, seeking to channel their individual actions in attention to a broader and strategic framework, previously agreed with the national government, and oriented towards the development of the country.

Working in Trincomalee with displaced families and resettled communities

Working in Trincomalee with displaced families and resettled communities

Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, became a UN Member State in 1955.  Since then, over the last 60 years, the specialized agencies have provided technical expertise and financial assistance to the Government of Sri Lanka to assist the people during times of war, strife, natural disasters[i], and now on post-conflict reconciliation and peacebuilding.

Sri Lanka was embroiled in a civil war for 26 years. For 26 years the country was deeply affected by an ethnic-territorial conflict between Sinhalese and Tamils, which left an estimated balance of 70.000 to 90.000 deaths[ii]. Sadly, as a by-product of any war, there were scores of exiled people, displaced communities, and refugees – most of whom are nowadays resettled. As of today, the country still appears to be recovering from the ruins of devastated cities, crushed families and the remembrance of fear; not forgetting the fact that this has also led to a wounded social fabric and generalized distrust in public services and institutions.

Lessons on the relation between conflict and development - Written in Tamil, Sinhalese and English on a wall in Colombo

Lessons on the relation between conflict and development – Written in Tamil, Sinhalese and English on a wall in Colombo

It has been 7 years since the end of the war.  It was not a victory for “alternative dispute resolution” or for negotiated agreements. What prevailed, instead, were the strength of the weapons and the partial elimination of the adversary. The milestone was not a peace agreement but the mass killing of those from the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam; not to mention the death toll of the Government led forces and of the civilian casualties. On Tuesday 19th of May, 2009, the former President delivered a victory address to parliament, formally declaring the end of the war.

The following day, it seemed that a lot had changed in the country. Since then, Sri Lanka is picking up the pieces, rebuilding and restoring all what was lost. I will not dare to say it is the beginning of a peaceful era, but maybe an era of a significantly lower impact of armed violence. For those of us who study and work on the dynamics of social conflict, this was the kick-off of a new stage for “intervention”: a Peace-Building phase. What does this mean? I will say it is an organized, multidimensional, and slow movement towards the reconstruction of the social fabric – the strengthening of institutions, and the recovery of the economy in a wide sense, with the hope and endeavor that this will unfold an improvement on the living conditions of the citizens, their opportunities, security, and development factors

This is what I am working on. My previous work experience was mainly focused on Peace Making, i.e., the prevention and mitigation of conflicts through multiple tracks, where Peace Education, Negotiation, the Facilitation of Dialogues, and Mediation are some of the technical tools. Here, I am contributing and learning from the other side of the conflict curve, in the Peace and State-Building processes aimed at the development the country. This is materialized in projects on reconciliation, transitional justice, and governance with a conflict transformation approach. It is a model that attempts to set in motion processes to mend relations through the combination of national ground-based reconstruction programs and citizen mobilization in discussions and participatory planning. The idea is to shorten the distance between the different communities, and between people and the state, in order to eliminate mutual distrust and leverage a better response from the institutions.

It has so far been an incredible experience for me, challenging and enriching in equal parts. I’m surrounded by marvelous people, who are also very bright professionals. I am happy and grateful.

Living in Colombo

In a very different tone, I would like to tell a bit about my post-office and weekend life. Although I would like to talk about Sri Lanka in general, the shorts trips that I’ve done so far are not enough to have a holistic view, hence I cannot  speak with legitimacy about the country as a whole. I have been able to explore many of the most important cities, but I understand that my thoughts are mainly based on what I have seen so far, which is not much. Also my travels have so far been limited to the South and West of the country. Here are some of the things I would like to share:

Colombo, to me, is a faithful reflection of the diversity of the country. For example, talking about religion; even though 80% of the people are Buddhist, while you walk around the city it is very easy to come on Christian Churches, Hindu Temples and Mosques of different shapes and colors. This is explained by the history of the country, as the reign of Ceylon was a Portuguese, Dutch and British colony. I was lucky to arrive on a Poya Sunday[iii], on a weekend in which people were celebrating Vesak, which is the annual celebration of the main events of Buddha’s life[iv]. Streets were covered in colors, with hanging flags and paper lanterns. On the side of some of the main avenues, worship stations where families would show mock-ups made from different materials, and remembering the life of Siddhartha Gautama. As if embellishing the city were not enough, they would also cook food and tea in great proportions, which they would later share with the random walker, regardless of the religion (this is called “Dhansal”). It was an impressive welcome which, for what I have been told, was much smaller compared to previous years because many people were still mourning or putting their energy in flood relief efforts in the aftermath of the  floods that stroked a large part of the country during April, affecting more than 200.000 families.

Sri Lanka is a multi ethnic, multi religious, multi lingual, and multi cultural nation

Sri Lanka is a multi ethnic, multi religious, multi lingual, and multi cultural nation

There is plenty of life in public places, the reason why the streets of Colombo -and every other city I’ve visited- are packed with Tuk Tuk (also known as Rickshaws). These three-wheeled, covered vehicles are the cheapest transport after the public buses. Their big plus? Their capacity to maneuver between other cars and narrow streets during the traffic hours…. which are many and long.

Since I arrived, it was a self-imposed challenge to get used to spicy food. Rice is everywhere and it is generally served with different curries, being a very traditional dish of local cuisine. Generally mixed with eggs, fish or chicken; it is prepared in a way in which all people can easily eat with their fingers, without wasting anything, and mixing the different flavors in a display of nimbleness that I lack, but that I’m trying to achieve. Other very tasty specialties are the spicy scraped coconut (Pol Sambol), lentil curry (Dhal), rice noodles (String Hoppers), eggs served in a pancake (Egg Hoppers) and, one of my favorites, Kothu Roti, which is chopped flatbread mixed with whatever the person who is cooking wants to add.

landscape

landscape

Sri Lanka’s tropical climate, with mean temperatures of 30°C and a heavy rainy season, provides the country with crazy flora and fauna. Sri Lanka has the highest density of biodiversity of Asia, including a great amount of Asian Elephants, Leopards, Monkeys, and Whales. Nevertheless, what I personally like the most are the trees. I know, that is super boring. But let me tell you that these impressive, very old, specimens are spread not only in remote areas or national parks but also in downtown Colombo, painting in bright green and curvy shapes a landscape which otherwise, will be dominated by whitish houses.

Finally, a special mention of the Sri Lankan people. During the first few days in the island I wandered around the city with classic –but moderated- tourist distrust. Like an Argentinean from Buenos Aires, always aware of the surroundings and security. As weeks went by, and with more and more interaction with people, this “precaution mode” started to disappear up to the point in which I currently walk in very random places during late hours, looking for hidden places of the city. When I do this, 9 out of 10 times the result is the same: I meet WELCOMING and HAPPY people. This is one of my favorite “features” of the country. People I’ve met where I am living, as well as my colleagues at work, are a constant reminder of this. Generosity, hospitality and smiles everywhere. I must mentioned that, in a country where people live and breathe Cricket, Messi and football seem to be the first triggering topics to initiate a conversation with an Argentinian. For this reason, I have taken it upon myself to learn about Sangakkara and Mahela, the biggest stars in local cricket. Loved by everyone, they helped Sri Lanka win, in 2014, their first world cup in the T20 modality. Now you know too.

Some other colorful info

Last but not least, here is some curious data about Sri Lanka. There is a still a lot to be written:

  • In Sri Lanka, when someone shakes their head from side to side with a slight wiggle, it generally means YES. I have to say this is very catchy. Watch this short and fun video so you can better understand the Head Waggle”: https://youtu.be/zjsDSQURekc.
  • Before Sri Lanka became famous for tea, it was famous for coffee – but the coffee fields of Sri Lanka were wiped out by leaf blight in the 1870s. Lipton Tea was originated here.
  • There are more than 7,000 wild elephants in the country. The great elephant migration, which takes place during the dry season, is usually known as “the big gathering”, and it is considered one of the greatest natural events worldwide.
  • If you go for drinks in Sri Lanka, you have to try Arrack. This is one of the typical drinks, which can be drunk with ice, or mixed with coke, gin or different fruits juice.
  • Sri Lanka has had many names, one of which was Serendip, given by the Persians. The term Serendipity, which means a fortunate and unexpected discovery, was coined after a traditional Persian fairy tale called “The Three Princes of Serendip”, in which the protagonists were always solving their problems by accidental discoveries.

[i] The most recent being the Tsunami in 2004, and huge floods in 2010 and 2016.

[ii] It is important to clarify that, as it usually happens, this is still a disputed number, not accepted by everybody.

[iii] Term that derives from Sanskrit and means “fasting day”. In Sri Lanka, it implies a rite in which devotes celebrate and visit temples as a sign of worship. More information here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/kariyawasam/wheel402.html#ch3

[iv] More details of the celebration here: https://www.lanka.com/events/vesak-festival/

Ignacio Asis – AFE Blog – UNDP, Colombo, Sri Lanka – español

De-Gustando Sri Lanka


Sobre la Reconciliación, el “Head Waggle” y la Hospitalidad Local

Intro

Hace poco más de un mes que llegue a Sri Lanka con el objetivo de trabajar unos meses en Naciones Unidas. La meta: Contribuir a la estrategia de construcción de paz en el país. No es mi idea escribir aquí sobre la situación socio-política del país, tampoco hacer un análisis económico. Por el contrario, en las líneas que siguen quisiera compartir algunas de mis impresiones sobre Sri Lanka en base a las ocho semanas que llevo viviendo aquí. Voy a hablar primero de mi experiencia profesional y después, desde un tono más personal, como un turista “largo plazo”.

Del conflicto y la resiliencia

Llegue a Sri Lanka con una carta de contratación del Programa de Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo, con el fin de trabajar en el pre-secretariado del Fondo de Paz, que está alojado en la oficina del Coordinador Residente de Naciones Unidas en el país. En otras palabras, para trabajar en la oficina que se encarga de la coordinación de las 22 distintas agencias de Naciones Unidas en el país, procurando encausar  el accionar individual de cada una de acuerdo a un marco de trabajo más global y estratégico, pactado previamente con el gobierno nacional, y orientado al desarrollo del país.

Working in Trincomalee with displaced families and resettled communities

Sri Lanka, anteriormente conocida como Ceylán, es miembro de la ONU desde 1955. Desde entonces, por más de 60 años, las agencias especializadas han brindado su conocimiento técnico y asistencia financiera al Gobierno de Sri Lanka para asistir a las comunidades durante la época de violencia armada, desastres naturales[i] y, más recientemente, en la post-guerra, con foco en la reconciliación.

Fueron 26 los años en que Sri Lanka estuvo en guerra civil. Por 26 años el país estuvo marcado por un conflicto étnico-territorial entre Cingaleses y Tamiles que dejó un saldo de civiles muertos estimado entre 70.000 y 90.000[ii]. Tristemente, y como sub-producto de la guerra, hubo exiliados, desplazados y refugiados. Al día de hoy, el país parece estarse recuperando de las cenizas de ciudades aniquiladas, familias destruidas y el recuerdo del miedo; ni hablar del hecho de que esto también dejó hubo un tejido social herido y una desconfianza generalizada por las instituciones y servicios públicos.

Pasaron 7 años desde el final de la guerra. No triunfó aquí la resolución pacífica de conflictos, tampoco los acuerdos negociados.  Primó, en cambio, la fuerza de las armas y la eliminación parcial del adversario. El hito no fue un acuerdo de paz entre las partes, sino la matanza masiva de los miembros de los Tigres de Liberación del Eelam Tamil, sin olvidar los miles de muertes civiles y de las fuerzas armadas lideradas por el gobierno.

El martes 19 de Mayo del 2009, el Ex-Presidente dio un discurso ante el parlamento declarando la victoria y el fin de la guerra. Al día siguiente parecía que mucho había cambiado. Sin embargo, desde entonces, Sri Lanka está reconstruyéndose y recobrando todo lo perdido. No me atrevería a decir que empezó una época de paz, pero sí una época de bajo impacto de la violencia armada. Para los que estudiamos y trabajamos sobre las dinámicas del conflicto social, esto significa el punta pie inicial de un nuevo periodo para la intervención… la Construcción de Paz… ¿Qué significa esto? Se trata de un movimiento organizado, multidimensional y paulatino hacia la reconstrucción del tejido social, el fortalecimiento de las instituciones, y la recomposición de la economía en sentido amplio, con la esperanza y el esfuerzo de que esto refleje una mejora en las condiciones de vida de los ciudadanos, sus oportunidades, su seguridad y sus factores de desarrollo.

Lessons on the relation between conflict and development - Written in Tamil, Sinhalese and English on a wall in Colombo

Este es el tema sobre el que estoy trabajando. Mi experiencia laboral previa me ha enfocado principalmente en la gestión de paz (Peace Making). Es decir, la prevención y mitigación del conflicto a través de distintas iniciativas, siendo la Educación para la Paz, la Negociación, la Facilitación de procesos de diálogo, y la Mediación, algunos de las herramientas técnicas. Aquí, estoy aportando y aprendiendo desde el otro lado de la curva del conflicto, es decir, sobre la construcción de paz (Peace Building) y el fortalecimiento del Estado (State Building) orientado al desarrollo. Esto se materializa en proyectos de reconciliación, justicia transicional y gobernabilidad, bajo un enfoque de transformación de conflictos. Es un modelo que intenta poner en marcha procesos que ayuden a recomponer las relaciones a través de la combinación de programas nacionales de reconstrucción en los territorios, con la movilización ciudadana en espacios de discusión y en procesos de planeación participativa. La idea es acortar la distancia entre las comunidades, y entre las personas y el Estado, a fin de eliminar las desconfianzas mutuas y forzar a que las instituciones respondan mejor y acorde a esta nueva realidad.

Hasta el momento ha sido una increíble experiencia, desafiante y enriquecedora por igual. Rodeado de personas maravillosas que son, a la vez, brillantes profesionales. Estoy muy contento y agradecido.

De la vida en Colombo

Con un tono muy diferente, les quisiera contar un poco de mi vida post-oficina y de fines de semana. Si bien quisiera poder hablares sobre Sri Lanka en general, mis breves viajes no alcanzan para tener una mirada global que me dé la legitimidad de hablar sobre el país en su totalidad. He podido conocer las principales ciudades, pero entiendo que mis reflexiones se basan principalmente en lo que visto hasta ahora, que no es mucho y mayoritariamente del Sur y Oeste del país. Van aquí alguno de los puntos que les quiero compartir:

Colombo, para mí, es un fiel reflejo de la diversidad del país. Por ejemplo, y con respecto a la religión; si bien el 80% de la población es Budista, uno al caminar puede encontrarse fácilmente con Iglesias Cristianas, Templos Hindúes y Mezquitas de diversa forma y color. Esto se explica por la historia del país, ya que el reino de Ceylán fue colonia Portuguesa, Holandesa y Británica. Tuve la suerte de llegar un día domingo de Poya[iii] , en un fin de semana en que se festejaba el Vesak, celebración anual de los grandes eventos de la vida de Buda[iv]. Las calles estaban cubiertas de colores, banderines colgantes y linternas de papel. A orillas del algunas avenidas principales, puestos de adoración y celebración, donde muchas familias exponen maquetas de distintos materiales recordando la vida de  Siddhartha Gautama. Y como si embellecer la ciudad fuera poco, preparan también comida y té en abundancia, a fin de compartir y agasajar al caminante desprevenido, más allá de su religión (esto se llama “Dhansal”). Fue una recibida impresionante que, por lo que me cuentan, fue mucho menor comparado a otros años porque muchas personas todavía estaban de duelo, o usando sus energías para ayudar en varias inundaciones que golpearon a gran parte del país durante Abril, afectando a más de 200.000 familias.

Sri Lanka is a multi ethnic, multi religious, multi lingual, and multi cultural nation

Aquí hay mucha vida en los espacios públicos, razón por la cual las calles de Colombo, así como en todas las otras ciudades que he visitado, abundan los Tuk Tuk (también conocidos como Rickshaws), vehículos de tres ruedas y cubiertos, que son el medio más económico de transporte después del colectivo público. Su gran ventaja es la capacidad de maniobrar entre los recovecos y estrechas vías de tránsito durante las horas de alto tráfico… que son muchas y largas.

Desde que llegue, fue un desafío auto-impuesto el acostumbrarme a las comidas picantes. El arroz está presente en todo momento y es acompañado principalmente por curries varios, siendo esta la comida por excelencia. Generalmente mezclado con huevo, pescado o pollo; este plato es preparado de forma tal que la gran mayoría de la población lo puede comer con los dedos sin desperdiciar nada y mezclando los distintos ingredientes, en una muestra de gran destreza que yo aún no poseo, pero que estoy intentando alcanzar. Otras especialidades son el coco rallado y picante (Pol Sambol), lentejas al curry (Dhal), fideos de arroz (String Hoppers), huevos servidos en un panqueque (Egg Hoppers) y, uno de mis favoritos, el Kothu Roti, pan trozado y mezclado con cualquier cosa que el cocinero de turno quiera añadir.

landscape

El clima tropical de Sri Lanka, con temperaturas medias de 30 grados y una estación de abundantes lluvias, provee al país de una flora y una fauna muy ricas. Sri Lanka tiene la densidad de biodiversidad más alta de Asia, incluyendo una gran cantidad de elefantes asiáticos, así como leopardos, monos y ballenas. Pero lo que personalmente me llama más la atención son los árboles. Ya sé, muy aburrido. Pero déjenme decirles que estos impresionantes, y muy viejos, especímenes están esparcidos no solo en zonas remotas o parques nacionales, sino también en el centro de Colombo, pintando de verdes brillantes y de formas curvas un paisaje que, por lo general, está formado por edificios bajos y de tonos claros.

Por último, un párrafo aparte merece la gente. Durante mis primeros días en la isla caminé por todos lados con una clásica -pero también moderada – desconfianza de turista. Como Argentino de Buenos Aires, siempre atento a los alrededores y la seguridad. Con el pasar de las semanas y a mayor interacción con la gente, este “modo de precaución” constante ha ido desapareciendo hasta el punto en que me meto en cualquier lugar y a cualquier hora a explorar pequeños recovecos de las ciudades que visito. Cuando hago esto, 9 de cada 10 veces se repite un patrón: me encuentro en las esquinas con gente BUENA y ALEGRE. Esta particularidad es uno de mis rasgos favoritos del país. La gente que conocí en el lugar donde estoy viviendo, así como mis compañeros de trabajo, son un recuerdo constante de esto. Generosidad, hospitalidad, y sonrisas por todos lados. Cabe mencionar que, en un país donde la gente respira Criquet, Messi y el futbol son la punta de flecha para iniciar una conversación con los Argentinos. Por este motivo, me obligue recientemente a aprender sobre Sangakkara y Mahela, las grandes estrellas del criquet local, amados por todos, y que en el 2014 le dieron a Sri Lanka su primer título mundial en la modalidad T20. Ahora ya saben.

Algunos datos de color

Para terminar, les comparto algunos datos curiosos de Sri Lanka. Habría mucho más para escribir:

  • En Sri Lanka, cuando alguien sacude la cabeza de lado a lado con un pequeño bamboleo, generalmente está diciendo que SÍ. Me encanta esto y ya empecé a hacerlo naturalmente. Los invito a ver este video cortito y entretenido para que puedan entender el Head Waggle”: https://youtu.be/zjsDSQURekc.
  • Antes de que Sri Lanka se hiciera famosos por el té (Té de Ceylán), era famoso por el café. Sin embargo, los campos de café fueron destruidos por manchas foliares en la década de 1870. El Té Lipton tiene su origen aquí.
  • Hay más de 7,000 elefantes salvajes en el país. La gran migración de Elefantes que tiene lugar durante la época de sequía, llamado coloquialmente “el gran encuentro”, es considerado una de los grandes acontecimientos de la naturaleza a nivel mundial.
  • Uno de los tragos típicos del país es el Arrack, que puede ser tomado con hielo o mezclado más típicamente con coca, gin o jugos de fruta.

Sri Lanka tuvo muchos nombres, uno de los cuales fue Serendip, antiguo nombre otorgado por los Persas. La palabra Serendipia, un descubrimiento o hallazgo inesperado que se produce cuando se está buscando otra cosa distinta, tiene su origen a partir de un cuento tradicional persa llamado “Los tres príncipes de Serendip”, en el que los protagonistas, unos príncipes de la isla

[i] Siendo los más recientes el Tsunami del 2004 e inmensas inundaciones en 2010 y 2016.

[ii] Es importante aclarar que, como sucede muchas veces en este tipo de situaciones, este es un número disputado y sin consenso entre entre las partes.

[iii] Término que deriva del Sánscrito y significa “día de ayuno”, que en Sri Lanka es acompañado de un rito en que los devotos celebran y visitan tempos en símbolo de adoración. Más información aquí – http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/kariyawasam/wheel402.html#ch3

[iv] Más detalles de la celebración, en Inglés, aquí: https://www.lanka.com/events/vesak-festival/

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