Welcome back to another school year from all of us at the Undercurrent! We hope you had a wonderful summer filled with sunshine, exploring, pleasure reading, farmer’s markets and of course, relaxing. While you may not be overly excited about getting back into the school grind already, here at the Undercurrent we’re very excited for this school year. Over the summer, two of our Associate Editors stepped into new roles as the Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor for the upcoming year. We created an Advisory Committee and hired new Associate Editors, a Blogger and an Outreach Coordinator. However, we still have room on our team for associate editors, a communications associate, a graphic designer and translators! Learn more about these positions HERE. We’ve also been working on revamping the Underblog. Although it looks the same right now, we promise you, changes are coming! We have a host of new blog categories that we plan to debut in the upcoming weeks. Here’s a sneak peek at them:
Moira is a forth year student at the University of Waterloo majoring in International Development with special focus on Sustainable Local Economic Development. Her research interests include urban planning, sustainable food systems, and public health. In 2012, Moira became the first Faculty of Environment student at the University of Waterloo to be awarded the prestigious William and Nona Heaslip Scholarship.
- Growth does not equal progress;
The Words of a Twelve Year Old Girl That Forced Me To Question My Role in Development By: Chelsey AciernoIn January of 2013, I participated in an exchange through SFU to the University of Cape Town in South Africa in which I was fortunate enough to secure an internship with a grassroots HIV/AIDs organization. Having previous experience in the field, the organization welcomed me onto their projects. Among other things, I was tasked to liaise between the women working diligently in the townships and a group of high risk HIV+ youth from a black township ten minutes outside Cape Town. As a young person myself, the woman saw me as a tool to connect with the younger generation of “born frees”, the generation of South Africans who have lived their lives absent of the racist and segregated Apartheid regime, but who are living amongst the families suffering from generations of anger, loss, and the scars of an oppressive regime. As my time progressed in the townships, I began to (slowly!) gain the trust of these young girls, a cohort of 12-18 years old of which the organization identified as the most at risk in their group. An at risk youth in South Africa falls among the usual: substance abuse, gang activity, criminal behavior, and family degradation. Additionally, though, these young girls are suffering immensely as victims of sexual violence and rape. South Africa has long been in the headlines for the atrocious violent rapes that have cast the country as the ‘rape capital of the world’ and of this cohort, 6 of the 12 girls acquired HIV from rape, the other half from mother-to-child-transmission. The sad reality of this small group of girls is that of those 6, the majority were raped by members of their own family. So when a 12 year old approaches you in full trust, asking how to stop her father from raping her, what does one say? As many people who enter development, it is not rare to be thrown into situations where one is not qualified to assess the situation. We are often asked to do things or find ourselves amongst situations that we do not have the answers for. So what do we do? When that little girl spoke those words out loud, my heart shattered into a million pieces. I asked myself “what are you doing here!? You cannot answer this! You will never understand their life.” I began to panic internally, realizing that until that moment, I was able to deal with what had been thrown my way, though not easily. I knew that whatever I could tell her to do, or do to attempt to help her (with the aid of the organization and police intervention), this, or things like this, would continue to haunt her life just by nature of the prevailing systemic issues within South Africa’s townships decades past Apartheid. But in these moments of absolute helplessness and complete incapacity to alleviate ones suffering, we still need to do something. [quote align="right" color="#999999"]We are often asked to do things or find ourselves amongst situations that we do not have the answers for. So what do we do?[/quote]As all these emotions and thoughts circled through my brain, I still had a wide eyed, beautiful little girl sitting in front of me, asking for help. I learned that I was the first person she had ever admitted this to and slowly we walked our way through her horrid late night encounters with the man who was supposed to protect her from all harm. Situations and questions like these flooded my ears as the youth began to see that someone would listen. Do not get me wrong, the women who work within the organization are doing incredible things in the Townships, but identifying with young people have always been a struggle for organizations. My experience in South Africa demonstrated that my qualifications have limits and within professionalism, need to be passed off to those who have the skills to deal with situations like these. However, I learned that I may not be qualified (yet) on paper, but I will always be qualified with my heart. Often our hearts are our strongest weapon if we are prepared to sit and listen, wipe tears, and be an ally. I know I cannot tackle rape and masculinity in South Africa; cracks and scars are heavy in the hearts of those who lived through decades of racial subjugation and unfortunately, these young girls are just one small group living through the country’s quest to heal itself. I learned things in South Africa that no human should ever experience, yet these young girls face them every day and still have the courage to keep on living. I was shown the power of the human heart for those who have the courage to open it up. Chelsey Acierno is a fourth year student at Simon Fraser University. The story is of an experience in an internship in Cape Town, South Africa, while doing an overseas study exchange through SFU at the University of Cape Town. Chelsey is expected to graduate in June of 2014 with a major in International Studies within the stream of International Security and Conflict. Throughout her degree she has focused on HIV/AIDs and Youth Development.
Non-Governmental Actors in Ibarra, Ecuador: “Lessons Learned” By: Melissa L. BallWhen I initially arrived to the city of my assigned research placement with a small migration office, named “the Pastoral Migratoria”, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. Standing in the middle of a crowded bus station in downtown Ibarra – with its boisterous atmosphere and bright colors from the small street vendors outside selling homemade sweets and “plantanos” (dried banana chips) – I held my handwritten directions to the migration office in one hand, and my heavy luggage in the other. I had only lived in Ecuador for 3 months at the time, and felt fatigued from my worries of starting my research project in a city I barely knew. But I stayed positive and fuelled my desire to “keep going forward”, perhaps weary from the stresses collected from my total immersion into a new culture and language. When I arrived to the Pastoral office in the mornings before 8:30 am, there was often a long line of people waiting to receive legal aid consultations and social assistance. An appointment with the Pastoral’s lawyer and social aid worker was based on a first-come, first-serve system. In the corner of my eyes I would catch glimpses of these people staring at my long red hair and fair skin as I helped the staff assign their numbers for these meetings, calculated to stop at 2 pm. Often, some people were turned away and encouraged to return the following day – the office couldn’t provide enough of these services for the high volumes of people that arrived each morning. I felt guilty when we turned these people away as many had experienced difficulties getting to the office from outside the city. There were even regular recipients in the legal aid department that came regularly every other week during the duration of my research placement. I knew that the refugee populations in Ibarra were large, but it was a surreal experience to meet them and learn of their challenges on a personal level.[quote align="right" color="#999999"]I was fortunate to have a professor there who urged me to write detailed field notes everyday, which has shown me how my perspective towards international development had progressed throughout my research placement.[/quote] The Pastoral Migratoria worked in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (henceforth ACNUR – its Spanish acronym) and the Hebrew International Aid Society (HIAS) as a way to account the heavy demands for its services placed on all three entities. When I attended one of my first objective meetings from ACNUR, a colleague from the Pastoral explained to me that most migrants and refugees from Colombia don’t know where to go once they cross into the Ecuadorian border. They try to settle in bigger cities because they know there is a higher concentration of services available to help them. I thought this would benefit them, thinking that their immersion into a large city would give them access to services, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities without being confined to the boundaries of a designated refugee camp. However, the vast majority of these migrants experienced strong forms of discrimination and xenophobia in the bigger cities like Quito, and were most likely to experience unemployment and exclusion from affordable housing given the negative perceptions of their identities linked to crime and economic competition. I was impressed with the level of collaboration between the Pastoral office, HIAS and ACNUR. I initially underestimated the complexity of discrimination towards Colombian refugees in Ecuador, and I learned the types of collaboration between these three non-governmental entities, in terms of financing, networking and information transfer, was essential for the Pastoral’s ability to deliver emergency and non-emergency aid. Coordination mechanisms and collaboration methods were themes from my fourth year international development seminar, yet I never really thought about how important or difficult it is to implement until I spent my time in the field with the Pastoral Migratoria. I strongly feel that my time in Ecuador matured me. When I initially boarded the bus to Ibarra, I knew little Spanish and felt uncertain about my research topic on refugee issues in Ecuador. I was weary of all the challenges that came with the research. I made it through; I flourished, rather, under my new pressures to immerse myself within my research topic. I learned that anything is possible so long as you are creative and determined to succeed. I would recommend that anyone interested in becoming involved in non-governmental work or research abroad, seek similar opportunities during or after their undergraduate degree. I was fortunate to have a professor there who urged me to write detailed field notes everyday, which has shown me how my perspective towards international development had progressed throughout my research placement. Someone once told me, “If you want a stronger body, you can’t hire someone else to do the push-ups for you”. I would argue that the same holds true for your intellectual and personal development. Melissa Ball has recently completed her Honours International Development degree from the University of Guelph. In 2012-13, she spent nine months on letter of permission in Ecuador, as part of Trent University’s experimental learning program known as “Trent-in-Ecuador”. For three and a half months she worked and collected qualitative research in a migration office, called “el Pastoral Migratoria” in Ibarra, that focused on delivering humanitarian assistance for internally displaced persons and Colombian migrants and refugees. The Pastoral Migratoria works in close collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (ACNUR in Spanish), and the Hebrew International Aid Society (HIAS) in the city of Ibarra, providing subsidized housing and social, legal, and psychological services for its aid recipients.