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

My growing fascination with climate change

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

Climate change gets real

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

Tackling climate change, one soybean at a time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring 2017 Rotary Center Review

Our Spring 2017 Newsletter is available here. Read about our 14th Annual Spring Conference. See where all the Class 15 fellows are interning over the summer. Also, read about the latest news and events from the center.

2017 Professional Development Trip – Washington DC














Call for Applications – Peace Fellowship Program





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.





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.


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.



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).


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…


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.


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.


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

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

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

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

1 Graffiti Grushevskogo Kyiv

Graffiti art, Grushevskogo street, central Kyiv

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

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

2 Map Pro-Russian_unrest_in_Ukraine


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

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

3 Founders of Kyiv

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

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

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

4.1. Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra Kyiv 2

Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra


4 Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra Kyiv

Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra


5 Urban landscape sunset Kyiv

Sunset in Kyiv


6 Mural Kyiv

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

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

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

7 Destructions Slovyansk Semenovka 2

Destruction in the region of Slovyansk and neighboring village of Semenovka


8 Destructions Slovyansk Semenovka 1

Destruction in the region of Slovyansk and neighboring village of Semenovka


9 CeramicFactory_Slovyansk

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

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

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

10 Slovyansk city library

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


11 Slovyansk at dusk

Slovyansk at dusk

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

12 New District 2232 Belarus _ Ukraine

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



  1. Humanitarian Bulletin: Ukraine Issue 11, 1-30 June 2016, available at
  2. OCHA, UNHCR. UKRAINE: Humanitarian Snapshot (as of 21 July 2016), available at
  3. Zubko assesses cost of Donbas restoration at $15 billion, 25 June 2016, Kyiv Post, available at

Gonzalo Pertile – AFE Blog – UNDP, New York, NY

Living a Dream – Summer Internship at UNDP

This summer I am doing my applied field experience at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) headquarters in New York. By now I’m halfway through the internship, just starting my sixth week and so far it has been a unique and amazing journey. I’ve met inspiring people, attended high-level conferences and witnessed the first-ever internationally televised live debate between UN secretary general candidates – to be honest, I feel like a kid in Disney World. I remember when I was in high school back in Uruguay and one of my classes was covering the UN System. We studied the UN creation and its history, its internal organization, its bodies and main agencies. The fact that today I am working for this organization, walking through the hallways of its headquarters and attending sessions at the General Assembly feels surreal for a moment. Then I come back to reality and I reflect about my path and how I’ve always wanted this to happen, I realize that I worked so hard to be where I am now, and that, with some help from the universe (and Rotary!), dreams do come true. I can’t help but feel thankful with life.

Working for UNDP

While looking for an internship, I knew I wanted to have the perspective provided from working in a headquarters office. My previous experience with the Inter-American Development Bank was in the Guatemala country office, so I knew well what working in the field involved. I have always admired the UN, so I applied to a few positions within the UN System. I was offered a summer internship at UNDP, in the Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy (BERA), under the Partnerships Group and the Financial Institutions Team.

UNDP is one of the most important agencies of the UN, it has offices in about 170 countries and territories and offers global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations. UNDP also helps countries to develop policies, leadership skills, partnerships, and institutional capabilities in order to effect lasting change. I am working in a young area of the Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy, which was created in May 2015, with the objective of establishing and strengthening partnerships with International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs).


Sustainable Development Goals board at UN Headquarters

I come into the Financial Institutions Team of UNDP under a global context where the financing mechanisms for development are changing. The world has agreed on a new development path; the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which is a ground-breaking framework for people, our planet and prosperity. This agenda sets clear priorities aimed to end poverty in all its forms, significantly reduce inequalities, and build peaceful, inclusive, and resilient societies. All in all, it is a global consensual agreement that will bring forward our world with a shared vision for the future of humanity, ensuring that no one is left behind. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set demanding targets that represent a considerable task for the UN Development System. This challenge draws special attention to UNDP, which will play a central role in helping countries to achieve the SDGs.

Implementing the SDGs will require leverage of all sources of finance – domestic and international – complementing and reinforcing each other. The development arena needs innovative approaches to complement the traditional development methods, and under the new era of global development, partnerships arise as a powerful resource to catalyze impact. In the area where I am interning, we are focused on strengthening and growing partnerships with IFIs and MDBs, working together, sharing resources, knowledge and innovation to achieve inclusive and sustainable life on earth.


At the General Assembly Hall during the Townhall Debate with Secretary General Candidates

In 2014, about $23.9 billion of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to all developing countries was channeled through IFIs, which represents 14.5% of total ODA from all donors. The International Development Association (IDA) accounted for 58% of the ODA flows, followed by Asian Development Bank (AsDB) with 12%, African Development Bank (AfDB) 9% and Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) with 8%. Moreover, taking into consideration Other Official Flows (OOF), the IFIs have mobilized $42.6 billion to developing countries, representing 71.4% of the total OOF contributed by all donors, with the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) accounting for 37% of total OOF, IADB 21%, AsDB 18% and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) 11%[1].

Under this scenario, UNDP is a partner of choice for both governments and IFIs in order to support grants and loans implementation in a variety of sectors where UNDP is able to offer extensive expertise and knowledge together with administrative and operational acumen for effective project execution. Recently, IFIs have announced a new strategy[2] on scaling up financial support, technical assistance and policy advice to help achieve the SDGs. The plan sets out their intent to pursue not only traditional modes of financing, but also a more catalytic role, through partnerships, to mobilize new funding sources. This new setting opens up new opportunities for UNDP to engage much closer with IFIs and MDBs.


UN Secretariat Building

My tasks here at the Partnerships Group and the Financial Institutions Team in UNDP involves closely monitoring the current partnerships with the major IFIs[3], develop and update cooperation profiles with IFIs, develop knowledge products for country offices to better understand the partnerships models and closely liaise on the field with IFIs and governments. I am also helping to develop a UNDP publication, which will document UNDP’s experience supporting loan and large-scale grant implementation through tripartite partnerships with governments and development banks.  This is intended as a marketing product for external partners, to showcase UNDP’s added value to help overcome implementation bottlenecks while building capacity and implementing national development priorities. It is also envisioned as a knowledge product for country offices to learn from UNDP’s experience across all regions in helping to improve project delivery through tripartite partnerships.

I am working in a multicultural environment, my colleagues are from Mexico, Guyana, Indonesia, Denmark, Japan, United States, Belgium and I could go on with the list…but the point is that I am exposed to a diverse setting with a plurality of traditions and it is exciting to learn from each one of them. I am taking turns going out for lunch one-on-one with most of my colleagues, so that I can hear their unique points of views and get to know them better. So far, I feel that I have learned a lot and I am excited to continue my journey through this organization until I head back to Durham for my second year of studies.

Inside the UN Headquarters in NY


Security Council Chamber

In addition to my tasks within the internship I get the chance to take advantage of several events, forums and conferences that happen in the headquarters of the UN. This is a great way to network and learn about the work the UN is doing worldwide. It is also very impressive to walk through the Secretariat building, the different chambers (Security Council, General Assembly Hall, Economic and Social Council Chamber, etc.) and just appreciate the architecture and the pieces of art from all around the world.


I was able to attend some events, of which the following are worthwhile remarking:

  • Session at the General Assembly Hall where the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy was discussed and examples of its implementation in different countries.

United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy discussion


  • Global Townhall with UN Secretary-General Candidates[4], this was a major event, where the candidates for the post of Secretary General had a debate and it was the first-ever televised live debate in the UN General Assembly Hall, which was broadcasted by Al Jazeera. In this event I was able to meet Helen Clark, Administrator of UNDP and Chair of the United Nations Development Group, who was also the former prime minister of New Zealand. I was also able to meet Irina Bokova, who is currently the UNESCO director and Bulgaria’s former acting minister of foreign affairs.

In the GA Hall


With Irina Bokova, UNSG Candidate, currently the UNESCO Director, also Bulgaria’s former acting Minister of Foreign Affairs


With Helen Clark, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, currently head of the UNDP













GA Hall during the UN debate with secretary general candidates


SG Candidates at UN Debate, Irina Bokova, Igor Lukšić, Christiana Figueres, Danilo Türk, Helen Clark














  • High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which is the first comprehensive and inclusive forum that takes place after the SDGs were launched. Its aim is to promote and review the implementation of sustainable development and to provide political leadership, guidance and recommendations.
New York, 13 July 2016 - High Level Political Forum - Mainstreaming Gender and Aging in the SDGs: Leaving No One Behind.

Conference Room 8 in the UN Conference Building, during a Side Event of the HLPF. Source: UNDP Flicker

Conference Room 6 in the UN Conference Building, during a Side Event of the HLPF. Source: UNDP Flicker









Living in New York

Living in NY during the summer has been quite an experience. Coming from Durham, which is a quiet city, NY seems to be a bit overwhelming from moment to moment. During the first month, I lived in the financial district, just half a block away from the NYSE. During the mornings I walked my dog through Battery Park and it was amazing to see the Statue of Liberty every day. Although the area was nice and conveniently located to many subway lines I felt like I was living in the middle of a touristic spot and by night the area would be empty and everything was closed. I felt overwhelmed by the hordes of people walking in the street at the same time in the mornings, so I decided to move to Brooklyn, and since the beginning of July, I have been living in Williamsburg.

Living in Brooklyn completely changed my after office hours. Williamsburg is a small neighborhood with artistic and hipster people all over. There are parks with live music, open air movies and lots of restaurants and bars. It’s not uncommon that you are walking through the streets and a neighbor invites you to their backyard garden full of patio string lights, where an unknown band is playing live music on a Saturday afternoon. And, of course, this is the place where you will find in the street a Duke t-shirt guy and shout “Go duke!” and laugh with a stranger for a few seconds. You will also find the UNC t-shirt guy strolling around Williamsburg, although in this case, I restrained myself from boo-ing the guy!

[1] Data obtained from OECD Query Wizard for International Development Statistics

[2] From Billions to Trillions: Multilateral Development Bank Contributions to Financing for Development,

[3] Asian Development Bank (ADB) , European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), European Investment Bank (EIB), Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), Islamic Development Bank Group (IDBG), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), KfW, World Bank (WB), African Development Bank Group (AfDB), Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), New Development Bank (NDB), etc.

[4] This debate can be seen online in the following link:

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.



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.


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.



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




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





[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid




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

Para leer este blog en español, haga clic aqui

The spicy taste of life in Sri Lanka

On Reconciliation, Head Waggles and Local Hospitality


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.



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”:
  • 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:

[iv] More details of the celebration here:


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