Tag: running

Yesterday, Nestle Milo hosted their annual five-kilometer race through the city — the Milothon. Out of the near 10,000 youth that participated in the event, the winner, in my eyes, was a 17-year-old in crutches who finished the race strong.

Christian en la Milotón de Huancayo
Christian shared his message with all the youth at the 5K race that they too can overcome any obstacle.
I had the chance to meet Christian because he wanted to take a picture with one of the dance groups that performed for the event, but he didn’t have a camera. Needless to say, I was happy to take some pictures for him and send them to his email address.

What instantly captivated me about Christian was his cheerfulness and warmth, even as he told me about the naysayers along the route. He kept on keeping on despite those who pitied and ridiculed him along the path. They told him that this race wasn’t for people like him. Little did they know that the Milothon hasn’t been his only event. He also finished the Andes Marathon — yes, the full 26.2 miles — even though it took him double the time that it takes a typical runner.

Christian con Ignition Crew
Christian wanted to take a picture with Ignition Crew, a Huancayo dance group, and I happily obliged.
Physical disability is common and open here in Huancayo because most people with disabilities resort to begging in the streets. I have a feeling that Christian’s not going to be one of them. It was his social worker who told me that his parents can’t afford the physical therapy sessions he needs; his father drives a taxi and his mother washes others’ laundry. The social worker also mentioned that he has had this problem with his legs since birth; I didn’t ask, but I suspect it’s polio.

Nevertheless, you don’t see Christian asking for pity. He says that he wants to study medicine and I think Huancayo needs more doctors who have his strength, compassion and humility.

Feel Christian’s warmth yourself in this short message he wanted to share with all of you:

How have you shown enthusiasm and perseverance against a recent obstacle in your life?

Classes Begin

We’ve officially had three full days of courses with the Coady Diploma Participants and two weeks more to come. I have to admit that I was ready to write-off the whole course after the first day of classes – some of the participants didn’t vibe with the participatory teaching style (i.e. a lot of small group discussions and energizers) – there was a lot of interrupting, and there also seemed to be a language barrier. That all started to change, though, as we all became more comfortable with each other and began discussing issues more relevant to the participants’ backgrounds and interests in community development.

Las Clases Comienzan
Getting in the mode to learn.
Olga (one of the facilitators) gave a really good example demonstrating the consequences of paternalistic donor-driven projects and the difference between felt and ascribed needs. In this case, the donor was providing funding for a goat project in Nepal. They intended to distribute pairs of goats to families in rural communities in Nepal to breed as a source of income. But these families didn’t want goats! In fact, they saw these goats as an extra burden, especially when they already had to travel long distances to get water for the family members, let alone the goats. Not surprisingly, they later found that all the goats had been eaten. =P

It’s like how Berin was telling us about the forest communities in Nepal. NGOs thought they were “helping” these communities, by transferring them to the city, until they found the people back in the forest some time later. Fred made the argument that sometimes people don’t know what they need, at which time the donor may be justified in intervening. He had worked in Somalia during a large famine and the people felt that they needed food, of course. But just giving away food wasn’t sustainable, so the Food for Work program was implemented – food was given in exchange for human capital so that canals were built to harness water and roads were built for better access to rural areas. Imagine me nodding my head at this time, vibing with Fred’s wisdom, until Olga brought us back to the idea of giving these people a sense of ownership. The way the Food for Work program was employed perpetuated paternalism and dependency. A better approach would be to increase the people’s awareness of other possibilities and educate them so that they discover for themselves what they really need and what can be done.

Before I left for Antigonish, Dana and Mary (coordinators of BC’s infant development program) talked a lot about empowering the mothers that I’ll be working with in Peru. I’ve learned from Crystal that a better term might be “capacity building” or “capacity strengthening” which acknowledges that these moms already have the capacity to be excellent mothers, whereas “empowering” implies that these moms are empty and need to be instilled with the power or capacity to be. I like to also remind myself that I am exactly where I need to be right now, doing exactly what I need to do, and that I have just what I need to do these things…to absorb all this knowledge, to learn Spanish (almost from scratch), to get up every day and go for a run, to manage my time well (despite a string of 8am-8pm days with extra Tara sessions), to just be really human.

I finally have a key to my room (as of yesterday) and I’m starting to feel like I’m really here, in a new province, away from home. I’ve been exploring the town and meeting the locals on my runs, walks with friends, at the gym, and around campus. The 50 Coady Diploma participants from all over the world are trickling in and I’ve already met:

  • the pastor from India, Father Paulson
  • the Argentinian with the Russian accent who has worked in Macau for the last 10 years
  • the Sudanese who swims naked in rivers (because that’s what they do in South Sudan), and
  • the dude from Malawi who was all decked out in a tourist-y shirt and baseball cap with “Malawi” splashed across the front (“Hi, I’m Alex from Malawi,” he says as I shake his hand)

When else would I ever get the chance to chat with, eat lunch with, and take three weeks of workshops and classes with fifty international/community development specialists from all over the world? They’re here for six months for Coady’s development leadership diploma program, but we as interns still get to sponge up as much as we can from them before we head out to our NGOs. When else would I ever get to do this? I am continually challenged to engage in serious, intellectual, political, philosophical conversations on topics that I’ve never even thought about most of the time – other interns are always recommending books to read (notably, Race Against Time by Stephen Lewis) or watching and discussing movies on developing countries in the common room just across from my bedroom. I feel like I can’t keep up! =P

Today is my first day off and I have a lot of catching up to do in terms of both internship-related errands and in this blog. I have so many things I want to post about that I could write a novel on the past week, but I should probably be time-efficient and just get them out in a list of random rambling notes. I figure it’s most important to just get them down so I don’t forget. Then I can come back to reflect upon these ramblings later and talk about them more in depth when I get back home next year and get the chance to meet with you guys in person! =)

Ramblings…

  • I had no idea that when people travel, they have a higher risk of engaging in risky sexual behaviour.
  • We met the president of StFX who shared some insights and advice on his travels during a lunch with Coady staff. Later, we hear through the gossip mill about what he can be like outside of his presidential role. Only in a small town…! And speaking of small towns – my fantasy of living in a place like Antigonish has been tainted a little as I inadvertently hear more gossip and begin to see how complicated relationships can be here. Imagine having a limited crop of potential suitors, knowing who everyone has slept with, and having everyone know about your nasty break-ups!
  • I am so lucky that I have the ability to run. Two of the interns are beautiful and lean ladies, but can’t run anymore because of physical injuries. One was injured just before the triathlon she had signed up for after having been training for many months!
  • Advice from a former intern: as a female, if you feel unsafe (e.g. at night in a dangerous part of Africa), approach a sex worker. What a powerful bond there is that connects women from all walks of life.
  • Kim’s (the internship program coordinator) philosophy is to squeeze learning opportunities out of every situation. For example, the fact that we don’t have our visas yet? Patience and trust in the system.
  • Turn judgment into curiosity. For example, if my NGO has a very roundabout system that seems inefficient, turn the frustrated “Why the heck would they do it this way?” attitude into a pondering “I wonder why they do it this way?” outlook. Look into their iceberg and see the “invisible”/below the surface reasons for their thoughts, actions, and behaviours. Now that I think about it, I guess this goes for any interaction, not just cross-culturally.
  • From the sounds of it, development work seems to consist of a lot of planning and reporting, especially when it comes to funding. On a completely separate note, there are also a million acronyms used in this field. Do you know what NGO, CBO, ASRHR, OVC, and PLWA stand for?
  • We received our work plans, which were developed last year (because that’s when the funding applications were due). It will be a true test of flexibility and my confidence/trust in my own abilities when we get to our host countries because things will most likely not follow these plans, if at all. I guess that’s what life is like.
  • Coady’s philosophy is centred around Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), capacity building (thanks for explaining this to me, Crystal!), with the view that these communities already work. Our role is to assist these communities in identifying their assets instead of their needs or “what’s missing” (a very paternalistic attitude).
  • It will be difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the experience we will have and/or the difference we’re going to make. Change is ongoing, can be internal, and will hopefully continue beyond the time period of out internships, particularly because sustainability is a fundamental theme of all of these projects.
  • The more I learn, the more questions I have instead of answers. Development work seems to be an ongoing discussion, as is research, as is morals and ethics, as is determining what it means to live a good life.
  • I feel that I’m really good at making eye contact with people, but I start looking away when I’m speaking to people as I try to formulate my words.
  • If you find yourself riding in the back of the truck, choose the spot closest to the driver.
  • I love how in many parts of the world, fat is beautiful.
  • Has anyone ever heard of “sex bracelets”? I think a certain number or colour of bracelets signifies how much sex you’ve had!
  • I’ve been writing down all the things I want to blog about so that I don’t forget, but there are already three to four notes that I’ve made that seem completely foreign to me now. Bah!

People that I want to remember

  • Cassie’s boyfriend came to visit and we met his friends Mory from the Ivory Coast (in West Africa) and Thesfaye from Ethiopia. It’s weird to think that French is the national language of the Ivory Coast.
  • Joseph from Tanzania.

Joseph’s living at our dorm right now and was in Halifax to present at a conference on the radio station that he and his colleagues have started up in the rural Kagawe region. People in Kagawe are in so much poverty that many still don’t have toilets, need to carry water from so far away, and need to grow their own crops despite not being educated as farmers. It is through radio that he’s been able to reach out to the rural communities, broadcasting on issues such as agro-forestry, health, and sanitation. I had a chat with him this morning about how this first trip to Canada has been an eye-opening experience for him. He thought he was making a difference when he planted 500,000 trees in his home country, until he saw all the trees that we have here in Canada. It just goes to show that we often think we know, we understand, we’ve tried our hardest, we’ve made a difference, until we open our eyes a little wider and take in the rest of the world.

I asked Joseph if he ever felt like giving up. Wouldn’t he? After seeing how much more he needs to do, how many more trees he has to plant, how much more work he has to do to educate the people of his country – wouldn’t it be so easy to get lost in the sheer magnitude of the task? He told me three things:

  1. Use only what you need. He had visited CBC in Ottawa, was given a tour, saw the rows and rows of cubicles and equipment, but instead of feeling overwhelmed with all that he still needed to do with his tiny radio station in Tanzania, he thought about how he had everything he needed. There were some pieces of equipment that he would like to have, but he was striving for one cubicle’s worth of equipment, not to become like the entire CBC station.
  2. Patience. It took him 15 years to get his radio station up and running and it started with a little collection of resources that turned into a library that turned into a newsletter that turned into information boards that turned into a radio station.
  3. Be a catalyst. We could drown in thinking about all the little things that could still be done/changed, but if we take the broader perspective and view ourselves instead as a catalyst for change, it almost feels as if we can make a substantial difference in the world.

Insights

Ohmigoodness! Thank you so very much for posting comments, guys! It totally makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside (i.e. I really feel the support).

Today we began a two-day workshop with a facilitator from the Canadian government’s Centre for Intercultural Learning (CIL). All internships funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) have this two-day preparatory workshop, but most only have these two days before being sent off to their host countries so I’m glad we have an entire month to get in the groove. I’m so happy to have these opportunities to discuss cross-cultural issues, especially because I feel a little bit like the underdog without a background in international development. It’s especially exciting to engage in discussions with the other interns because they’re so well-traveled, well-read, and have well-developed opinions but are still very open-minded.

We played a card game in the beginning that really initiated a lot of discussion. First, we sat in three groups and each group got a set of instructions to the card game – unbeknownst to us, each of three groups received a different set of instructions. During the game, we weren’t allowed to talk to each other and the trouble started when we had to rotate players. Without communication, the “new” member of each group had to figure out that there were different rules at their new table. It was supposed to be a microcosm of dealing with intercultural issues and it was interesting to see the different approaches people had. Some were laid back and just went with the flow even though they were confused that the rules were suddenly different and some tried to implement the rules of their original table even though everyone else at the new table were playing by a different set of rules.

I remember that at my table, one of the girls was trying to show us her way of playing the game even though the rest of the members of the table were playing by a different set of rules. I had the urge to take over and explicitly show her the rules of the table, but another guy at the table took a different approach before I could act. He has a really laid back personality and compromised by splitting up his “winning” cards between himself and the other girl to appease her. It was such a simple act that I hadn’t even thought of. I guess, sometimes, the best thing to do is to take it easy. There isn’t only one right way to do things and we certainly can’t be going to Peru with even the slightest attitude of superiority, assuming that our methods are somehow better than their existing way of living. No matter how many times I am reminded of this, I seem to continually catch myself in moments when I am subconsciously trying to enforce my beliefs, opinions, or ways of behaving. It helps that I am continually humbled by the other interns in this group.

I was talking to my sister yesterday night and realized that the tension and anxiety I’ve been feeling (and probably the reason that I’ve been having a hard time sleeping) is because this whole experience is really outside my comfort zone. Engaging in discussion on issues I’m really not familiar with, trying to delve deep into my limited life experience to produce relevant and insightful comments (this rarely happens). Being a “group member” almost 24/7 as we are always in a group during class, meals, and all the activities the interns organize afterwards whether they’re playing soccer, going for walks, chatting in the common room, or having Spanish conversation sessions.

But she also helped me realize that “the only person being hard on me is me.” All of the interns are inclusive, supportive, encouraging, understanding, and just downright nice. I guess I will only grow and change by stepping outside of my comfort zone in these ways.

It is a challenge every day, but that doesn’t mean I can’t and won’t be able to wake up every day and face that challenge. I always find running to be a good microcosm of life for me. Whenever I head out for a run in the morning, there are so many excuses running through my head, so many reasons I could conjure up to justify going back inside (it’s raining, there’s a stone in my shoe, a blister’s developing, I already ran yesterday). And while I’m running, I’m fighting the whole way to not stop before the length of time that I’ve set for myself. And the majority of the time, I get through it, and sometimes I’m even able to push myself further and run faster for a couple intervals. It seems that I have to have more faith in myself when it comes to daily life as well.

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