I am in a constant state of agitation. I am fatigued. I started the year enthused about its possibilities but reality has a way of undermining expectations at every turn. I am not without hope or agency or drive, but helplessness is a feeling that finds its way inside those moments, muting my perception of the outcomes. But, I continue to push forward, to try to make change where I can, all the while recognizing my limitations. I try to remind myself that limitations aren’t automatic failures, but tests that require you prove your mettle. I am just asking that the universe test me a little less for the next few weeks.
One of my most frustrating experiences has been working with immigrants who are trying to remain in Canada. Most of these people are graduates from Canadian colleges and universities, who want to take advantage of the express entry system so that they can obtain permanent residency. I had initially thought that it would be a simple matter of helping applicants complete their paperwork, but I soon realized reducing individuals to a score resulted in solid candidates not receiving an invitation to apply. One of these applicants, has been living and working in Canada for over decade and got her associates degree from Camosun. In helping her with her express entry application, we soon realized she was a mere 40 points short to qualify for the invitation to apply. The number of years she’d lived and worked in Canada was only marginally valuable. The fact that she is bilingual (English and Spanish) didn’t count because only French and English are assigned scores. The fact that she is over 30 and unmarried worked against her. She described her experience as that of a frog in lukewarm water, where the heat was slowly being increased. The frog, unaware of the change in temperature because of its gradual increase, eventually boils to death. She said she felt like the frog. Slowly and calmly being lulled by her life here without feeling the urgency of its upcoming end.
As I consider the “human capital factors” that the Canadian government considers valuable I worry about the process of reducing people to numbers. I recognize the value of an objective system but subjectivity has to have a place here as well. It makes me sad to see the frustration, fatigue and helplessness so many people experience because a number is not high enough. I feel helpless as well. But more than that I feel useless because I can’t do much of anything. I have called all the offices I can and sent all the letters I can but I am stuck (if anyone has any suggestions please reach out).
It feels as though all of us immigrants are mere numbers and it seems like there is no way around that right now. So I continue to show up and I continue to try to find better ways to apologize but the fatigue keeps building and I am not sure how to rid myself of it.
My mind feels like a clogged drain lately. Information and ideas are trickling through slowly, yet the process is slow and arduous. Even though the ideas eventually make their way through, the length of time it takes causes frustration, worsening the blockage and compounding the effect. I am hoping the process of writing this Blog acts as ‘draino’, clearing the blockage, releasing the flow of information in a steady and reliable manner once gain. Approaching it this way makes this exercise useful to me, as well as (I hope) enhancing my reflections which I hope will have a positive effective on the work. Most of all however, it makes this exercise extremely meaningful.
I have been in Williams Lake for almost three months now. My work is with the Yunesit’in First Nation, located an hour drive from Williams Lake on the Chilcotin Plateau in central interior BC. This distance has made it difficult to engage fully and in a sustained manner with the Yunesit’in First Nation community. But the work has been valuable and has progressed steadily.
I have been making regular (at least once a week) trips to Yunesit’in. The people have been some of the most welcoming, wonderful people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. They continue to be curious about how an Aboriginal Man from Australia lands in their community, working on their Tribal Park. A great conversation for another time. I have had some opportunities also to get onto the land (the real reason I do this work). Travelling through such a unique and beautiful landscape are cherished memories I will take with me from this place. I have gained valuable insight into the working and lived realities of many community members, especially with regards to accessing and utilising their lands, waters and resources. This has shed light on the opportunities and threats to any Guardianship program that may be implemented by the community.
But being in and learning about the community evokes familiar feelings of home. Growing up much of my life in a small community about the same size of Yunesit’in (Goodooga) has had an unexpected effect on me personally. It has produced a sense of longing and homesickness that I have and continue to struggle with. Watching families interact and kids play make me realise that which awaits me at home. But knowing it awaits me does not placate its absence right now.
I have been away from my home now for 1 year and 4 months. In this time my nieces and nephews have learnt to walk, to talk, they have graduated primary school, attended high school, family have bought new houses and lived in them for more than a year now, I have missed many cultural events, not to mention countless coffees and meals with family. Whilst this time of my life (being an International student) has been one of immense personal growth, it has also been and continues to be, one of immense personal hardship.
Without the presence of my wife, Madeleine, I fear this hardship would have become too difficult already. She has been a pillar of strength and I am indebted for her support over this time. But the struggle remains and lately, it has become difficult to control.
I am not someone whom believes that feelings such as homesickness should be ‘overcome’. The only true way to overcome them is to return home! I believe that these are powerful feelings and if utilised in an effective manner, can be a powerful fuel to power my work. I constantly remind myself of why I am here, how I came to be here, what we (Madeleine and I) have sacrificed to be here, and the rare opportunity we now have. But knowing and feeling are two vastly different things. This feeling is what has, and continues, to block my mind.
As stated previously, this Blog (I am hopping) acts as a catalyst to re-focus my mind and bring forth information that over the previous few weeks, has not been forthcoming. My attempt here is to understand complexity of the project and if/how my feelings of homesickness are hampering or promoting the quality of the work. By reflecting in this way, I hope to utilise that which has been hampering me and move it from being a debilitative feeling to an enabling force.
The project itself requires me to design a cultural and environmental Guardianship model for the Yunesit’in and Xeni Gwet’in communities. My strategies for approaching this work have been equally influenced by my time in the Indigenous Governance program (IGOV) at UVic, and working with Aboriginal Ranger groups back home in Australia. There are many similarities in the historical experiences of colonisation between these First Nations communities (Yunesit’in and Xeni Gwet’in) and Aboriginal communities in Australia. There are also however, key differences in our current circumstances. As such, my approach has been to adopt the guiding philosophies of Aboriginal Ranger groups in Australia whilst building innovative governance models based on my education in IGOV. This governance model is tailored specifically for the circumstances and ambitions of Yunesit’in and Xeni Gwet’in.
This process has required me to engage deeply with material from Aboriginal Ranger groups at home (triggering a negative emotional response). The real complexity in this process for me is in the communication. Whilst I see clear linkages in the work, weaving these together has and continues to prove difficult.
One of these difficulties include navigating the different vocabulary of Aboriginal groups from Australia and Canada. One example is the use of the term ‘Guardianship’ versus ‘Caring for Country’. Whilst this is clear to me, uncovering ways to communicate nuanceddifferences is an ongoing struggle.
Another difficulty is accounting for the varying political circumstances in our communities. One of the most notable is the influence of ‘Treaty’ in British Columbia. This complicates the utilisation of ideas from Australia, as there is no such process at home.
There is much more to these difficulties that is beyond the scope or purpose of this Blog. Suffice to say, that there are key differences in the lived realities of our communities that require me to constantly reflect and question my own assumptions.
This ongoing reflection is a critical part of the success of my project. Lately though, this reflection has become inseparable from the longing and homesickness that has paralysed my work. I am not sure if this process of writing and recording these feelings will help me to overcome my current dilemma. I am sure however, that framing and writing a reflection this way will prove invaluable as an historical record of my time here and the hardships I encountered.
**Disclaimer: The following is personal blog based on my individual experience in Dhaka, Bangladesh.**
Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.
― Paulo Freire
When we aren’t directly confronted with an issue, it’s easy to ignore it. When we don’t know an issue, when we don’t see it, or we aren’t informed of the stakes at play, it’s really really easy to ignore it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the spaces and places in my worlds. My current surroundings in Bangladesh, but also a bit about home in Canada where these issues are also relevant.
I would argue that inequality is one of the biggest problems facing many our societies around the world. Some have tackled the problem better than others, but it’s a reoccurring trend in too many capitalist economies.
Inequality can exist along a number of different axises: income inequality, racial inequality, gender inequality etc.
What I’ve been thinking about lately is how easy it is for those in privileged positions to ignore the realities of those who are less privileged. My existence is extremely privileged, especially in a Bangladeshi context. Despite a desire to understand my own privilege, I still think a full understanding often eludes me.
I’ve said it before in one of my previous blogs, “we are not Bangladeshis living in Bangladesh, we are Canadians living in Bangladesh.”
In my little world of Victoria, I don’t have to confront the same issues that I do in Bangladesh. I live in an area where there are few homeless people, where everyone has adequate nutrition, where there is peace… Where on the whole, things are going okay for people. I don’t mean to say there are no problems, but on the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (food,water, shelter, air etc.), people are mostly covered.
In Dhaka, we often talk about “the bubble.” It encompasses four neighbourhoods (roughly) in Dhaka where the wealthy live (Gulshan I and II, Baridhara, and Banani). While these neighbourhoods are far from the Hollywood hills, there are nonetheless an area where the wealthy are able to group together and live in relative isolation from the problems plaguing Dhaka. They can afford cars and drivers who will take them where they need to go, and they can shelter themselves from the realities of the Dhaka.
Even though we don’t live in the bubble, we do live in a bubble. Not just in Dhaka, but in many parts of the world, including Canada.
We continuously allow ourselves to be bubbled in. In essence, our money allows us to buy comforts. Sometimes the comforts are nice clothes or fancy soap – things with relatively few consequences. Other times though, our position allows us to find comfort, to find refuge and escape from things that we really ought to confront more directly.
This purchased reclusion allows us to go on with our daily lives and ignore the plight of those around us.
The same could not be more true of First Nations Communities in Canada. Because reserves are, by nature, segregated areas, it is so easy for non-indigenous Canadians to ignore their plight. We lack interaction with each other and that drives ignorance and apathy. It’s one thing to hear that communities around Canada don’t have access to clean drinking water, but along with all the other news and statistics, it gets lost in the noise and it is easy to ignore. I have to privilege to ignore it because it does not directly affect my life.
There are many other ways we ignore people and segregate ourselves: gated communities, business lounges, first-class sections, private vehicles, tall office towers, fancy restaurants…
All of theses spaces allow us to ignore the realities around us… To isolate ourselves in our privilege.
It is becoming more common to talk about digital segregation too. Facebook and Twitter feeds share the things we like, the things that are familiar to us. We see news articles that support our view. If we are into shopping, we see new products. If we are into fancy cars, we see the new models on our feeds. But what about the things we don’t like ? The things that are awkward or the things that make us uncomfortable ? We don’t see them and in so doing, we ignore an entire dimension.
In Dhaka, I see the same thing is happening to me. Sure, I am exposed to things that are different from my life in Canada. And I think that I probably don’t fully understand how my time here will affect my life going forward. But what I do know is that this city makes me uncomfortable. I don’t mean because of the heat, but because of the suffering and injustice that actively takes place in front of my eyes.
Each day, we pretty much walk the same route to and from work. As a result, we often encounter some of the same people en route. There is the man who sleeps on the bamboo scaffolding along the sidewalk, his bones as visible as his discomfort. By the walled-in school, an elderly woman sits on a piece of plastic against the concrete wall, her eyes faded, her hand raised to me. The poverty can be devastating.
The garbage. The smell. The dogs. The floods. The air.
Yet, my good fortune allows me to escape it all. Not permanently, but largely. Not always, but a lot of the time. We have a nice apartment. We eat at nice restaurants. We don’t have to faire face à la realité. We can ignore it and we ignore it a lot. In fact, I’d say it’s probably our number one passtime in Dhaka.
We often eat-out in restaurants along Bailey Road. Here, a number of women, children and disabled people congregate in above-average numbers. It’s often overwhelming and we generally try to get off that street as fast as possible. Sometimes, I think to myself “My god! What the (insert curse word) is wrong with us? Shouldn’t we all stop what we are doing right now and help them right now!? Where is the urgency?!
But we don’t act, we run back to our bubbles.
“To be white, or straight, or male, or middle class is to be simultaneously ubiquitious and invisible. You’re everywhere you look, you’re the standard against which everyone else is measured. You’re like water, like air. People will tell you they went to see a “woman doctor” or they will say they went to see “the doctor.” People will tell you they have a “gay colleague” or they’ll tell you about a colleague. A white person will be happy to tell you about a “Black friend,” but when that same person simply mentions a “friend,” everyone will assume the person is white. Any college course that doesn’t have the word “woman” or “gay” or “minority” in its title is a course about men, heterosexuals, and white people. But we call those courses “literature,” “history” or “political science.” This invisibility is political.”
― Michael Kimmer
People often say, “I don’t like politics” or “We shouldn’t talk about politics.” But who are the people that can afford to say such things? I know I could probably pass my entire life without considering politics, but it is privilege that enables such statements. As a CAPI group, we’ve talked a lot about what solidarity means. I think it means saying, YES, I see you. I see what you’re going through, I will listen to your story and I will not accept it. It’s a commitment to seek justice and to stand up and fight for what is right. We have to do more. I have to do more. Nobody needs to prompt us. When people say or do things that are wrong, we have to call them out. Bad jokes, comments and actions are really easy to make and often even easier to ignore, but for the communities that they affect, they can be devastating.
“Responsibility I believe accrues through privilege. People like you and me have an unbelievable amount of privilege and therefore we have a huge amount of responsibility. We live in free societies where we are not afraid of the police; we have extraordinary wealth available to us by global standards. If you have those things, then you have the kind of responsibility that a person does not have if he or she is slaving seventy hours a week to put food on the table; a responsibility at the very least to inform yourself about power. Beyond that, it is a question of whether you believe in moral certainties or not.”
― Noam Chomsky
In this blog post I briefly discuss the work of Foucault and Agamben, two of my favourite theorists, on biopolitics. They explore the relation between human life and political power, and discuss how a sovereign’s power enables the killing of those perceived to be a threat to the overall population. This power often leads to discrimination and to the justification of brutal acts. Then, I briefly discuss one of my roles at MSRI and some of my views on qualitative and quantitative studies. Lastly, I end this post by sharing a few findings on topics I have had personal discussions on, such as the relation between migration and the spread of communicable diseases.
A recent opportunity at MSRI I have been able to collaborate on is MSRI’s vocational training program-turned social enterprise, CINTA. CINTA targets the female refugee and asylum-seeker population of MSRI and hopes to provide them with the technical skills to make handicrafts such as jewelry, handbags, napkins, aprons, etc. that are sold in fairs, bazaars, and private functions. The money collected from these events becomes a source of revenue for the women (and their families) who participate in the program.
This blog explores the opportunities of social entrepreneurship in Malaysia through my personal experience.
Mingalaba (hello) everyone,
I am currently interning at the Network Activities Group (NAG), a local NGO located in Yangon, Myanmar. I have been with NAG for about a month and I am enjoying the project I am involved in. I am working on the Community-led Coastal Management in the Gulf of Mottama (CLCMGoM) project, specifically on co-management. Co-management is flexibility and cooperative management of resources by the community civil society and the government. Thus, the responsibilities of the resources, decision-making, implementations and policies should be shared between the government, civil society and most importantly the community.
This project has diverse partnerships from various sectors, such as the government, universities, private business sectors, NGOs, conservation organizations, and the communities. By working together will help strengthen the goals for this project.
The main purpose of the project is to address current disparities in coastal fishing communities and to increase their livelihoods through sustainable fishing practices in the Gulf of Mottama. There are three main goals for the CLCMGoM project:
1. Improve sustainable fisheries management in the Gulf of Mottama through value chain approach and equitable market access
2. Improve access to non-fisheries resources, such as agriculture to increase livelihoods of coastal communities.
3. Improve protection of special habitats of the Gulf of Mottama through scientific knowledge and public awareness.
I thought I use this platform to discuss one of the important workshops I attended for the CLCMGoM project on October 22, 2016. It was a consultation workshop on land erosion issues on Sittuang River in the Bago region, and participants included, government officials, CLCMGoMP team members, Land Core Group, and the local communities from the Kawa and Thannatpin townships. The land erosion is one of the biggest threats (along with illegal fishing) to most coastal communities, which is affecting the livelihoods of the people in the Bago region.
Google map of Gulf of Mottama.
The Minister of the Natural and Environmental Conservation and Forestry in the Bago region, U Kyaw Min Zan, addressed the importance of preventing land erosion through collaborative work between the community, the government and civil society. He strongly believes in community-based approach to prevent land erosions that are affecting the livelihoods of the people.
U Daw Nyi Nyi Aung is the Director of the Department of Environmental Conservation in the Bago region and she addressed how global warming is a major threat to our world, especially melting of the ice caps that cause flooding and land erosions. She also mentioned that it is not only natural disasters causing land erosions, but land mining and sand digging are also major contributors to land erosions.
The Director of the Department of Forestry, U Zaw Win Myint, emphasized the importance of mangrove forests in the riverbanks because they will help prevent land erosion and also provide good habitats for fish species.
U Shwe Thein is the Land Core Group leader and he stressed the importance of finding the root causes of riverbank erosions because it is affecting the livelihoods of the people and the economy. In order to better understand these root causes, more knowledge is required on natural habitats and land infrastructures.
This workshop provided a platform for the communities to work together to create a list of land erosion prone villages and to formulate priority list for villages that are currently affected (please see picture below). This empowers the communities to work together and to find effective solutions that work for their community. I was very moved by this whole processes because it provided communities to have a voice and strengthed their own relationship with other villages.
Workshop in Waw Township: The community members from various villages discussing land erosion and creating a priority list for villages that are affected by land erosion.
Everyone agreed that community involvement and participation is very important factor when it comes to protecting their livelihoods and the environment. I also believe that it is very important to empower the community and to provide better information on their rights to resources. For the most part, I’ve found that there is always a lack of communication between the government and the community (no matter where you are), but this is slowly changing. The CLCMGoM project through co-management is trying to bridge this gap by collaboration of the government, civil society and the community.
Prior to this workshop, I was invited with Kenneth MacKay to travel to some of the coastal fishing villages in the Bago region and in Mon State to talk to the villagers about their fishing history, fishing practices, gender equality and major issues the village is facing. I assisted Kenneth with data collections for the co-management part of the CLCMGoM project.
Project village: Aung Kan Thar in Mon State with local villagers, John Kurien (consultant), Nalini Nayak (consultant), Tint Wai (IUCN) and me.
At first I was unsure of what my role was with this project, but as weeks go by my role is becoming clearer. My role is to collect indigenous fishing knowledge and customary practices. What is most important to me is to build rapport with the people in the project villages because it is important to gain respect and build trust with each other. This approach will provide better interaction and understanding of their cultural practices; therefore collect detailed qualitative data.
I am very grateful for meeting people from various villages. Even though we may not speak the same language, laughter and smiles do go a long way. I feel very privileged to be part of a project that allows me to learn from the locals and experience various cultures.
“Abandon the urge to simplify everything, to look for formulas and easy answers, and to begin to think multidimensionally, to glory in the mystery and paradoxes of life, not to be dismayed by the multitude of causes and consequences that are inherent in each experience — to appreciate the fact that life is complex.” – Scott Peck
As I navigate through this twisted web that we call life, I have learned that complex problems require comprehensive solutions, to address the network of relationships that connect people to each other, and to their surrounding environments. Social ecology, which is a framework for understanding the dynamic interrelations among various personal and environmental factors, informs this understanding, that all aspects of the social system (society, community, interpersonal and individual), are tied up in each other, each one affecting all others to an extraordinary degree, like a tangled ball of string.
When I consider the impacts of language (or lack of language) on MSRI’s beneficiary population, I consider them to be caught up in this web, nearly impossible to unravel, especially when you combine the concept of social ecology with the fact that language is tied to abstract notions like belonging, space, access and identity; defined by a multiplicity of expressions (ie. accents, dialects, jargon, terminology, articulations and idioms), the infiniteness of meaning, and the complex interactions that take place among people and words in the forum of language.
“Try to visualize all the streams of human interaction, of communication. All those linking streams flowing in and between people, through text, pictures, spoken words and TV commentaries, streams through shared memories, casual relations, witnessed events, touching pasts and futures, cause and effect. Try to see this immense latticework of lakes and flowing streams, see the size and awesome complexity of it. This huge rich environment. This waterway paradise of all information and identities and societies and selves.” ― Steven Hall
This labyrinth, this tangled ball of string that I have been trying to unravel growing larger every day is looming over me, an indomitable figure that I can’t even begin to undo. But I have come to appreciate this notion of never-endingness, that even though I might not be able to separate the strings, and make the system linear, simple and straight, I can discover the enormous complexity beneath its quiet surface. I can put a microscope to the rage of atoms in each individual strand, wonder at the method in which each fiber was twisted and wrought, whose gnarled fingers plucked the fiber, in plant form, from the ground.
And through this internship, I have been afforded an opportunity to engage in this deep mystery of unraveling with many different ideas, learning through my experience that there is a complexity to life, to language, to freedom, to movement, that I will never be able to fully understand. But I am curious, forever curious.
In my final podcast, attached to this blog, I am interviewed by Kim Copeland, fellow CAPI intern, friend, co-worker and roommate extraordinaire, to delve into some of what I have learned about the entangledness of language, as it applies to refugees and asylum seekers in the Malaysian context, in my short time here at MSRI.
I am eternally grateful to the Centre for Asia Pacific Initiatives, in partnership with the Canadian Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarships program, for allowing me an opportunity to explore my curiosity surrounding language, among many other things, to learn and to grow and to hopefully do my part in making the world a more tolerable and tolerant place.
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.” – Albert Einstein
The difference between ‘notified’ and ‘non-notified’ informal settlements is not always obvious; nonetheless, it is important to understand the significance and meaning of each title. This is a topic that has confused me as much as it has interested me, so bear with me as I attempt to unpack some of the complexities within this topic.
This month I share some SDC students’ thoughts on music. Music is such a key part of life at SDC–I have been looking forward to writing about it. My hope in this post is that the reader gathers a bit of a sense of student perspectives, and perhaps experiences some of the jovial musical atmosphere that permeates this place.