Where the Sun Shines

Since 2003 I have worked with Canada World Youth and Change for Children in many places throughout Africa and Latin America. This website has served as a medium to share my experiences, to tell my stories from "the field". This year (2010) I will be returning to Mozambique to work as a project supervisor again with Canada World Youth.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Graduation Speech

I thought to post this speech I gave at our graduation in Sept, because I feel it really sums up my experience over the past year.

A big thank you to everyone who has gathered here to today join us as we celebrate our graduation. I also wish to thank all my colleagues who have entrusted me to represent them and their many thoughts here before you today on our graduation. As I look around the room I cannot help but smile at the friendly faces that surround me. It’s hard to imagine a little over a year ago we all just arrived in Kassel, confused, scared, anxious, nervous; not really knowing what we had signed up for and what this masters programme in Labour Policies and Globalization was really about. But I think we all just embraced this unknown and got to know the many friendly faces in the room. I recall my first week in Kassel, when I was more than excited about the program, and wrote some of my friends back home:

I thought to write you and tell you how things are going here in Germany with my Masters Programme. I think this is a great fit for my interests and background. On many levels I feel I am in my element. Overall, I am very much impressed by the programme. My class is the most inter-culturally diverse group I have ever been a part of; we are a group of 16 from 14 different countries representing 5 different continents. Moreover, what’s really amazing about the program is that we are all what I could consider true activists, definitely not your typical scholar group, most of my classmates have 5-10years experience working in either a trade union, or as part of a social movement.

Since I wrote this email back in September I think this feeling of being in one’s element has not died but has continued to grow stronger over the course of this year.

As a proud supporter and believer in non-formal education, I must say that this program has been much more than a formal run of the mill academic masters programme. As apart from the learning in our various classes, and seminars, I have found we have all learned a profound amount of from each other. The learning that has taken place “outside the classroom” has been phenomenal. Whether it was a discussion about how to overcome capitalism, and build the alternative ( a regular topic of our group) or about gender roles in Ghana and Tanzania, or the full participation of women in the Danish labour market or to the organizing domestic workers, I think you get the point. The list could go on and on...

For all the rich learning we have gained from each other, I would like to take this moment and thank each and every one of you for being you, for opening yourself up to the group and to this overall experience. Many of us have had the opportunity to work very closely together on various group projects, presentations, papers and even three pairs of us decided to take on the challenging task of writing a thesis together. Without qualities like patience, open mindedness, support, encouragement and good communication none of such activities would be possible. I believe I can speak on the behalf of most of us in the room, when I say that the special and dear friends we have made in this program have surpassed all expectations. In many ways, I believe we really are the dream team.

Now as much as occasions like a graduation tend to connote a sense of termination, and conclusion, I would like to say that this is not goodbye, but see you soon, see you later; as I am certain we will meet again, perhaps that might be as we have discussed before in Accra, Ghana for Bernard’s wedding, or for some other international conference in any corner of the world or this time next year at the next Summer School.

What gets me even more excited is when I think of the future and what we will all be doing. I am certain that we will take our new skills and knowledge and use it to continue to fight for the rights of the working class in our home communities. I see many of us continuing to be the movers and shakers that brought us here in the first place, I see future ministers of labour, chairpersons of trade union confederations, major political leaders, policy analysts, progressive economic advisers, gender experts, etc. Whatever it is that we do, I hope none of us will lose the passion and enthusiasm I have witnessed over this past year. Thinking back on all the heated debates and discussions, I know we are all ready to wholeheartedly take on big projects and plans. Knowledge is power and I strongly believe that through the learning and increased awareness we have gained we are now better equipped as the dedicated trade unionists and activists we represent. I think the program should be very proud of this achievement. The world is ours to embrace and it’s now up to us to do something with our new refined understanding of how the world works and to demand a more just and fair world.

Finally, I would like to thank all the professors, instructors, coordinators and support staff that have made this experience all possible. We all appreciate all the hard work, dedication and commitment to the program you have all given it. In particular, we would like to thank the program coordinators, specifically Christof Dieterle and Mirjam Klassen, as well as Lars and Sabine. They were all highly supportive over the past year. As well we should also send a special thanks to Christoph Scherrer, who I think we have taken the most classes with, we have seen firsthand how much time and support he has given to making the program such a success. Finally of course, a big thank you to all the other many professors and instructors we have had the privilege from learning from this past year. I am certain many of us will be returning home with a new set of glasses so to speak, as we now see things differently, having gained in-depth understanding in a variety of new topics.

The coordinators, academic staff, funders, past alumni and other interested bodies will be happy to hear that from the student’s perspective this year was a huge success. Although like any piece of writing, we feel the program too can use some revising and improvements. We hope the program will learn and build upon the experiences of LPG5 this past year, taking into consideration both the positive and negative aspects. I challenge the program to take our comments, suggestions and feedback seriously. There is always room for improvement and with any improvement we think this program can only become better. And just I could like to say to my colleagues here at graduation, I send these thoughts to the program- the sky’s the limit!

In closing, I would like to end this speech with an inspiring quote by Arundhati Roy. I have chosen this short quote because I feel it reflects my experience with all of you here and where we are all going...

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Overdue Update

A real update on this blog is LONG overdue. Since I last wrote I was in South Africa on my internship, working with StreetNet International. Overall my time in Durban was a great professional learning experience. I learned very clearly through my time and work there that I flourish in an environment of political action, whereby I can contribute in some way to improving the lives of others. It was empowering to see all the highly conscious and empowered people I was working with. I miss that kind of environment as back home here in Alberta I feel many of us are not empowered to become active in the political process nor are many of us aware of the issues and how we can make a difference!

After that experience I emerged back into my studies, ploughed away at another semester in Berlin at the Berlin School of Economics. I thoroughly enjoyed my classes, the majority of which were in the area of economics and economic policy! it was challenging but really exciting at the same time, learning about inflation, wages, GDP, etc. I lived in student housing,Goerzalle, in an suburb of the city called Stiglitz. We were a little far from the "happening" part of the city, but we made due with what we had and enjoyed our little area. We did lots of group dinners, bbqs, parties, enjoyed the local cafes, restaurants and regularly dined on inexpensive Turkish food. We also had a nearby swimming pool and a beautiful canal with bikes paths along each side, we would often go there for walks, runs, bike rides. Also nearby was a our infamous weekend fleamarket where you could browse and almost always find some small treasure to bring home.

After 5 months of classes we are all working on finishing up our master's thesis and by mid Sept we handed them in and defended them a week later! On that same day, as our defense, we also graduated and had one big graduation party at student bar in Goerzalle.

Right after that big party I went to another big party, as my younger sister Ali got married in small German village near Kassel. Her wedding was absolutely lovely; she looked absolutely gorgeous and her husband looked quite handsome as well. It was really was a fairytale wedding, from start to finish it was magical and exciting.If I ever get married I would want something just as beautiful.

After her wedding I traveled around a bit. First I went to Mallorca (an island off the coast of Spain) with Janina, a good friend from Canada who came for the wedding. We got our share of sun, sangria and relaxation on the beach where the weather was fantastic, around 25 degrees. We spam in the sea every day and really enjoyed life!

After that I met up with my mom, her partner and the newlywed couple in France for a little family holiday. We stayed in a 15th 4 story house, which to me felt like staying in a little French castle. I absolutely loved it! After 5 days together everyone left and then I had the place all to myself for a couple days, which was really nice, as I think it was the first time I could really relax and be at peace in a long time as prior to graduation things were rather hectic with finishing up my thesis.

After that I came back to Germany and did a bit of circuit visiting and staying with friends from my program. I even made a trip over to Holland to visit a classmate and some Dutch friends. Finally I decided it was time to go home and I booked my return ticket home for mid November. When I first arrived I was lucky as the temperature was almost tropical according to our standards, as it was hovering around plus 5 degrees. Now however its barely safe to set food outside, unless of course you are very well bundled up, with all the necessary scarves, gloves, hats,mits, winter parka, etc, or else you are liable to freeze since it is now minus 25.

Apart from the freezing temperatures I have been managing just fine here at home with mom. I have been helping her with some odd jobs around the house such as reorganizing, renovating and painting the bathroom! For fun I have been back at my regular salsa routine, practicing my new moves and re-connecting with old friends. I also just joined a gym,and plan to get back into shape! I have already been to a hip hop dance class and gone swimming; this weekend I plan to try yoga and a bellydance class! So to sum up: life is good I am one happy camper!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Falling into Place

I am absolutely loving Durban and all the diversity the city has to offer! This week everything seemed to fall into place, I made some friends, went to an interesting lecture at the university and met a fellow Canadian there. I also went dancing twice, as I found a place to dance salsa here in Durban. There is a local couple here who are trying to build a salsa scene in Durban, they offer dance classes twice a week which are followed by a little dance social afterwards. Then as if that wouldnt be enough to make my life complete I also got out a little and went to a very cool cultural centre, The Bat Centre, and danced to live african drumming and music. And then also that weekend a classmate of mine (who is doing his internship in Johannesberg) came to visit me. All in all, having loads of fun, just wishing it wouldn't have to end! Unfortunately now that everything seems to have fallen into place I will be preparing to head back to Berlin in April!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Street Vendors in Durban Forced to Relocate

An article I wrote Feb 26th as a press release and for the StreetNet Newsletter. Basically sums up a lot of the work I have been doing here in Durban.

Street Vendors in Durban Forced to Relocate:Thousands of Informal Workers Possibly Affected

A long-awaited meeting organised by the local municipality of Durban on 18th February, 2009 called by City Manager presented the re-development plans that are being fast-tracked to coincide with FIFA World Cup in 2010. The City Manager, Mike Sutcliffe, informed street vendors’ associations about the relocation of vendors and planned changes to re-direct traffic. The development will dramatically change the market where currently an estimated 4 500 traders work in what is a thriving hub of informal economy activity. Approximately one million people pass through the area every day en route from from the station, taxi and bus ranks.

Street vendor organisations, members of the Durban-based SISONKE Alliance who are partners of the World Class City for ALL Campaign wrote a protest letter to the municipality on January 9th asking why the city had not yet conducted meaningful consultations with the local informal traders’ associations on the upcoming FIFA development plans and projects. WCCA Campaign’s request for a negotiations meeting so as to ensure the working poor are not excluded in the development process of the city in its preparations to host the 2010 World Cup has not been formally responded to.

The city manager announced the following developments:
A large retail shopping mall, Warwick Mall, will be constructed where the current thriving Warwick Market is currently situated;
Relocation of 30 registered street food vendors (Bovine Head Cookers) from their current location to the English Market.
237 informal street traders (permit holders) who currently work in the Warwick Market area will be relocated to the square in front of the new Warwick Mall.
Re-routing of the major throughways surrounding the Warwick Junction in order to lessen traffic congestion. This development will include the establishment of a new taxi rank to be located on the top floor of the new Warwick Mall.

Street vendors raised a number of concerns on the redevelopment and its impact on the local informal street traders’ livelihoods at the meeting.

Gaby Bikombo, a member of Siyagunda, a street barbers’ organisation which has members trading on the pavements in Warwick said:

“I am very concerned about the impact on the community of street traders at the market because of the closure of the Warwick Avenue. It is not clear how this will indirectly affect their families, who they are supporting as breadwinners. The city’s plan to introduce formal traders in the midst of the informal traders’ market is likely to pose a problem taking trade away from informal traders who have traditionally earned a living here, as they have now to compete. The planners are insensitive to the informal traders’ livelihoods”.

He continued to explain how “in other countries, informal traders have lodged formal protests with government to stop such retail development as the urban poor livelihoods are jeopardised. Many have no alternative mean of earning a living and public land usage becomes an issue of contestation.”

On March 12th the City has proposed a second meeting with street vendor organisations to discuss the details of the project and to consult further regarding the development. The reality however is that for many of the street traders it is difficult to take the time off to attend such meetings as they are not compensated for their time and risk losing potential earnings.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Durban Politics

Today we went to an interesting meeting with the city manager, where I was thoroughly appalled by the manner in which he suggested the street traders will go from orange sellers to big business owners all through the help of the private sector and the development of a mall. And not just any mall, but one which will go directly over an area were thousands of south africans are presently trading and making a living! I was brave and challenged the city manager on several of his points. In his general response, to all the questions the crowd had, he made reference to my several of my points and then by way of a comeback , as I think he thought I was American, he blamed the American economic crisis for massive unemployment in Durban. Little does he know I am a Canadian and have a little less to do with the economic crisis than he thinks....

When we returned to the office, my coworker thanked me for my intervention and I was happy to have been so productive. It was a moment where I truly felt my politicial science background was being put to good use! I think I will learn lots through working at Streetnet and that it will be a steep learning curve but a very rewarding and exciting opportunity!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Durban ~ South Africa

Only a couple days into my time here, in Durban South Africa, and I already feel I have seen and learned so much. In general things here are going very well. I am really enjoying the warm, balmy weather of Durban. It really is perfect, not too hot nor it is cool, however, it is a bit humid and you need to shower at least twice a day. I am loving the food, lots of tasty n spicy Indian food. Yesterday I had something known as a bunny chow, which is bascially a Durban staple consisting of a quarter loaf of bread cut open with a pile of yummy veggie curry inside of it. Today I had a healthy portion of dahl and veggie byrani for a $1.50. Tomorrow I think I will try some Roti. There is a very large Indian community here, hence all the inexpensive authentic Indian food. I am truly in heaven!
Since I boared the plan in Frankfurt and travelled 12hr south to Joberg I feel like I have been learning a ton. On the plane I watched 3 South African films, gaining more insight into the history and present day realities of life in South Africa, which if I could sum it up: very interesting, dynamic, inspiring, and complicated.

I am confident I will learn a lot through my internship placement. I am interning with an organization called StreetNet. You can check them out online: www.streetnet.org.za On my frist day I arrived a bit late and dived right into things, as I joined the weekly stafff meeting, after which one of my co-worker's Rudy took me with him to a Street Vendors' Associaion meeting. It was really quite interesting as the association was preparing for a meeting with the municipality. It is important that they are taken seriously at this meeting as the city has plans to build a large private shopping mall where the current market exists, the exact same place were many of these street vendors make their living. The city doesnt have any plans for where they will all go, but does know how and where the new big shopping mall will go!After the meeting, Rudy took me on a bit of a tour of the large downtown market. We visited the traditional medicial herb section of the market, which was fascinating, and there I met the Chairperson for the SEWU (self employed women's union).

My first day was very hands on and included a lunch out and help setting up my cellphone and finding the public bus schedule and a bus pass. My second day was more informational, and I learned more as to what my role will be working with them as an intern for the next 6 weeks. I will be assisting with the organization of their most recent campaign, entitled: World Class Cities for All. As South Africa prepares to host the World Cup next year, StreetNet is working to ensure the working urban poor dont get left out of the process as the city prepares itself to become a World Class City for the international tourists who are expected to arrive next year for the popular international sporting event. Their main focus in the campaign are protecting the street vendors, as there are all sort of plans in the making to develop the downtown and turn the markets into fancy shopping districts where presently hundreds of people make their livelihoods. Tomorrow I will attend a meeting with the City Developer who will unveil the already approved development plan of a large private shopping mall which will replace the downtown city centre market. I expect this to be a very interesting meeting.

Apart from the campaign I will be working to update their membership database and conact all their affiliates and member organizations as to get updates on their activities and various campaigns. My coworkers have given me a lot of very interesting literature to read through as to better my understanding of the informal ecomony and how they work to negoitate with the municipalities for better conditions for the urban working poor.

We have also already discussed other ideas and projects I could potentially work on such as putting together a powerpoint presentation and enewsletter for the campaign and possibly some short videos highlighting some of their members, personalizing the struggles and realities of the people they are fighting for. All in all, it looks like they will be fully utlizing my skills, and experience and in exchange I will be gaining a lot of insight and increased understanding of South Africa's informal economy and the work that grassroots groups like Streetnet are doing to improve such conditions.
I should also point out that I am staying in a beautiful bed and breakfast in an area known as Durban North, an upper class neighbourhood, near the sea. Yesterday I took a walk to the beach and it was soooooo nice... imagine tourquoise waters and a white sandy beach! SO BEAUTIFUL! My only complaint is that I live very far from my work, so I either have to take a taxi or the public bus, on the the bus that means a 30 to 45 minute ride, including quite possibly a half an hour wait for the bus to arrive, if actually does arrive! Today I waited an hour for the bus on my way there and nearly an hour on the way home, and both times no bus was had! I think it was a total test of my patience. Which I know is fairly good, but one hour both ways is a bit much!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Kassel Update

The last few weeks have been flying by and I can hardly believe that it is already February and the semester is nearly finished. My sincerest apologies for the lack of updates on the blog. I hope that I will get better at keeping it up while I am away next month in South Africa.

Nonetheless what can I say regarding my studies and time here in Germany? In general I still am thoroughly impressed by the programme and my overall learnning environment. I dont think I realized how much I would enjoy being a student again, really having the time to fully engage in reading and researching about topics that really fascinate me! The main topics I have focused on during my first semester have included: the role of pension funds in financial crisis, the politics of export processing zones, trade policies and the global food crisis, and finally my most recent, and defintely most intensive, research topic of the semester was in my qualitative research methods class where we traced the process that led to the involvement of trade unions in the protection of migrant domestic workers. This project was A LOT of work, though in the end very rewarding. The research included several formal and informal interviews with trade unionists, activits, domestic workers, aupairs, etc. All and all very interesting, as I re-learned the important role of social movements in political process! The work for Social Movements DOES make a difference!

Truthfully speaking I am really enjoying the active engagement with my inner spirit that seeks to understand why all the injustice and greed in this world!Through my studies I have been learning more about the political and economic realities that allow such conditions to take palce. Having said that I actually feel pretty privileged to have the time and money to really take time off and actually reflect on these questions.

By this time next week I will have completed the semester and will find myself in Durban, South Africa ready to start my 6 week internship with an organiation called StreetNet! I will be voluntarily working there as an intern through till the end of March and then I shall come back to Berlin. But before Berlin, I plan to make a a short trip to Mozambique! I cant wait to vist that wonderful, magical place again!

Finally, I should mention as exciting as it sounds to go to South Africa I am actually a bit sad to be leaving Kassel. I have recently developed a good group of friends with many clasmates from the programme and from my German class. We have had been having all sorts of outings, dinners, get togethers,etc.Again reinforcing its not always about the location but the people you meet and connect with. I have also really enjoy my apartment here, despite its expensive price tag and less to be desired location, I am feeling very much at home at Mombachst 38. Especially living with my two Chinese room-mates, Elaine and Miao, they have been so great! Truly speaking an intercultural experience! I will also miss being able to speak almost all the languages I have ever studied on a regular daily basis here in Kassel! Its been such a rare opportuity whereby I can utlize all my language skills nearly everyday--- speaking Portuguese, Spanish, Russian and some French! Also I will miss the bourgouise student mensa(German for cafeteria) with its great subsidized lunches.... and of course I will also miss my fun Friday night salsa rueda classes!

All in all, it has been great. I have recently made some new friends and dont want to leave them and Kassel behind but unfortuately I must move on and off to South Africa I must go...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Photos from Germany

Here I am with two of my classmates: YungChan from South Korea and Elaine from Hong Kong.

Into the Groove

I can now say that the pace has definitely picked up and I am starting to feel the pressure of what it means to be a student again and what it really means to be in grad school. I have a ton of reading, a full load of classes, a paper due next week, have already finished one presentation and am preparing for another one in a couple weeks time. As well as trying to juggle a social life in amidst all the stimulus of being a student. Life has suddenly become busy again.

Apart from all that I have decided to keep up my addiction to dance. I have found two university dance classes I will take throughout the semester: International Folk Dance and Salsa Rueada de Casino. Apart from all that I have also found a local place in town that has a weekly salsa night - Maya Coba!

And if that wasnt enough I am taking intensive German classes, 7 hour a week at the Language Centre on campus. I figured it will be worth it, as I have decided to do my second semester also in Germany at the Berlin School of Economics. I had pondered about the idea of going elsewhere to South Africa or to Brazil, however, in the end I feel that I made the best decision and I am certain I will thoroughly enjoy Berlin.