As I am closing in on my final few weeks in India my heart is filled with bittersweet sadness. On one hand I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends (and cats) back home, but on the other… Continue Reading →
My name is Marlin Beswetherick and this is my first Podcast! Rasheedah White is interviewing me abbout my upcoming internship with MSRI in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, what I’ll be doing there and what I am looking forward to most!
With help from the Asia Pacific Foundation and the University of Victoria’s Centre for Asia Pacific Initiatives, I spent 8 months working for an organization called CITYNET in their project office located in Yokohama, Japan.
It is difficult describing a typical workday because my day to day varied greatly. CITYNET is the largest network of urban stakeholders in the Asia Pacific Region and the Yokohama Project Office works with CITYNET members to implement sustainable development projects. Through the office, urban best practices and resources are shared. The main focus for the office is sharing best practices from Japan, in particular those from Yokohama. Some of the ongoing projects that I helped with included a 5-year disaster resiliency project funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency project in the Philippines, an engineer and architect training program in Nepal, and two sustainable resource management projects in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. My biggest task was putting together a 52-page final report that was distributed to the office’s funding agencies and various members. To create the final report I had to go through 5 years worth of project documents and coordinate with project stakeholders in the Philippines in order to organize all the information needed for the publication. Another role that I had was conducting both qualitative and quantitative research and analyzing data. This data was used to create proposals and in applications for project funding. Day to day I was an extra set of hands and eyes for the office, a typical day didn’t really exist and occasionally I would expect a day to go one way and it would change completely by noon.
I am passionate about creating sustainable urban spaces, in particular facilitating community participation in urban planning processes. My work with CITYNET has shown me the strength of community-based planning and the diverse possibilities of projects. Interning with CITYNET has encouraged me to consider a career in urban planning.
Before I started working in the office I did not have any experience in city-to-city cooperation. I had little understanding of how city-to-city cooperation could work on a local and international level but now I see that it plays an integral role in sustainable development. There is a lot that Japanese cities can share with other cities across the world and I was provided with incredible hands-on experiences with this at CITYNET. I got to visit disaster risk reduction projects and activities in Yokohama and Tokyo including their annual disaster drills, disaster prevention centers, and a volunteer fire station. I also got to see how a large city like Yokohama manages waste. Though many of these activities require large monetary investments, through my internship I learned how they could be adapted inexpensively to different cities across the Asia Pacific Region. My experience as an intern has broadened my worldview and allowed me to see that there are always different approaches that can be taken to tackle similar issues and that we need to go into projects with open minds. Cities across the world are facing similar challenges as they continue to grow. True cooperation is a two-way relationship, and moving forward cities need to work together.
The most challenging thing that I found while working and living in Japan was dealing with the language difference on a daily basis. Tasks that would be rather simple back home ended up being a lot more difficult because of communication difficulties. Though the majority of office work was conducted in English, I was the only native English speaker so in the office everyone communicated in Japanese. I had studied a little Japanese before going on the internship however it was two years prior and I am nowhere near fluent. Though this was challenging at times it pushed me to continue studying Japanese. Instead of returning home after my internship I will be staying in Japan to study Japanese intensively for 12 months. I hope that I can incorporate my experiences in Japan in my future career. The best advice that I can give to someone considering an internship abroad in a non-English speaking country is to learn as much of the language before your internship starts as timely possible. Even if it is just standard greetings, you will adapt to life in that country much quicker.
Two realisations from my internship that will stick with me for the rest of my life are the power of communication and the importance of learning different languages. Knowing languages open doors even if all you know are the basics. The world is not full of English speakers and taking the time to learn a language will not only provide you with more opportunities but also give you a better understanding of life in that country. I look forward to continuing my Japanese language studies this year and hopefully I can continue using it in years to come.
Patience and adaptability are two very important qualities to have going into new experiences. Moving to a foreign country will always be challenging and things will always be different. What I’ve learned during my internship is that resisting change will not help you and in the end you will be unhappy. One of the biggest things that I’ve found while living and working outside of Canada is the importance of how you approach differences. Our gut can be to think that things that are different from what we are used toare “weird” but I’ve learned to avoid that word all together.
Participating in this internship has been an integral part of my undergraduate degree. Whether it is a co-op or an internship, I think that every student should strive to participate in some sort of work experience program before they graduate. Internships provide students with invaluable professional and life experiences. They can allow students to consider new career paths and also allow students to realize that certain dream career paths are not for them. Before I interned at CITYNET I was passionate about urban studies but I had very little experience in the field. Through my internship I was exposed to a wide range of urban issues that cities across the Asia Pacific Region are tackling and I was touched by CITYNET member cities’ dedication to creating sustainable urban spaces. To enhance my internship experience I organized a directed studies course on disaster management with a professor at the University of Victoria. This independent research project allowed me to take knowledge from my work at CITYNET and apply it to an academic context. This provided me with a unique perspective of disaster issues and exposed me to the gap between theory and practice.
Funding for internship programs is extremely important because they help foster students’ personal, academic, and professional development. Through internships, students are able to gain skills that help smoothen their transition into the workforce and they gain more confidence as well as a sense of purpose. It’s important for students to be provided with opportunities that push them outside of their comfort zone within a university campus. I am extremely thankful for the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, the University of Victoria, and CITYNET for giving me the chance to gain work experience in a field that I am passionate about. Thank you very much, it was an honour receiving the Asia Connect Award and I hope that in the future many more students can benefit from similar experiences.
One of the focuses on my research project was to look at ways that artists are using their work to respond to and to challenge violence. With a specific focus on my home country of Jamaica, along with South Africa and Brazil, I have been interested in exploring the ways that musicians, painters, writers, photographers and videographers try to capture, represent and dismantle violent oppression. For my IdeaFest presentation I introduced the work of three visual artists from Jamaica who have completed projects on the Tivoli Incursion, an event that saw to the police killing over 70 people in the small community of Tivoli. For my CapStone project I turned my focus to videographers and musicians and the ways that they have used their art as a space for political contestation.
To do so, I put together a film series featuring 4 films that have had some impact on my research, and that I believed opened up a conversation about institutional violence and how we all aid in its in cessation. The following films were featured: (i) Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony, on South Africa; (ii) Favela Rising on Brazil; (iii) Trench Town: The Forgotten Land on Jamaica; (iv) The Battle of Algiers on The French-Algerian War. The films were presented over a one-week span, with each showing being followed by a discussion. The attendees were generally UVIC students who had been accompanied by friends or colleagues but there were a few attendees who had come from the Victoria community to see a film based in their home country.
These documentaries were selected because they were not only geographically appropriate but the struggles being represented were stories that needed to be told. Much of the responses to violent repression captured throughout the film show how music and art can be spaces of escape and empowerment. The imagery and the stories in all these films were jarring, like watching high school students in Trench Town talk about not being able to leave home for fear of being murdered on their way to school or listening to stories about the Meadowlands in South Africa. As much as these images and stories are upsetting, the most troubling part is that much of what is discussed continues to this day.
Art can be such an important medium for resistance and these film show that. None of the films in this series shows that more than Battle of Algiers. It shows the toll of war and the destructiveness of imperial oppression and this film is visual reminder of what unchecked power is truly capable of. This art form is an expression of lived experiences of those most affected by violence and who are using this medium to tell their own stories and I was so grateful to be able to share that with everyone through my CapStone Project.
Finding spaces of optimism in my research can be difficult. My research focuses on violence, unchecked power and targeted violations, which can mean my spending months combing through cases that are emotionally exhausting. I keep at it though, hoping that one day my work will help those most affected, but the process is draining. I had never noticed the toll it had been taking until this year. Focusing entirely on completing my research project has meant, committing fully to studying cases of institutional violence. The stories are heartbreaking and staying present and grateful for the opportunity to hear those stories is far from easy. But my ultimate goal is to do justice to the people who have shared their experiences; it is my job to stayed plugged in so that I respect the access I have been given.
Gratitude and optimism are not the same thing though. Being grateful for the chance to do research and for the chance to do some good, does not necessarily translate into my feeling any kind of real hope for change. I think it is nonetheless important that I make it a priority to find those spaces of optimism wherever and whenever I do work. One such space is finding real joy and hope for the people affected by institutional violence. As much as systems may be broken, not irretrievably though, people prove to be far more resilient than we give them credit.
I have found spaces of optimism in my research and I will continue to find others. Seeing protests in support of social justice and the protection of others gives me hope. Watching young minds critically engage with questions of privilege and accountability gives me hope. And watching the great work community members and colleagues and friends do, makes me feel such profound optimism for the work that I am engaged in. The stories I hear are ugly because the world can be an ugly place. Being able to see beauty and potential, though, is how I honor those who have to face these ugly spaces. Giving up is not an option and believing that all is lost is even less so, so I keep trying to find the possibilities in each case that I come across.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to do research. I never want to take the chances I have been given for granted. I recognize my privilege in being able to choose to study at the University of Victoria and being able to choose the project I am now working on. I hope that I have done good so far and that going forward I can keep helping where I can.
The following is a podcast for my community engagement project post-internship in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It has been over a month since I have returned to Canada from Bangladesh. In my podcast, I talk about me experience as a woman in Canada versus what I noticed the experience for women was like in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Please keep in mind that these are all my opinions only and come from my experiences only.
Well, I have made it home to Australia in one piece! After almost two years of living in Canada, I returned to the warmth and sunshine of my great southern land. It is a strange feeling of being home again, and as much as this saying is insufficient, my life is not the same since I first embarked on my international studies. This (my final) blog will detail some of the significant learning’s that have impacted me most. By reflecting in this way I will attempt to explain how I feel my outlook to life, work and politics has changed.
Before arriving in Canada, I had almost no experience or education with the resurgence paradigm, as it is generally understood and applied by the Indigenous Governance program at UVic. In Australia, the language used to describe cultural reclamation and improved cultural livelihoods of our peoples is far more passive and obscure. I can confidently say that studying in the Indigenous Governance program has not so much changed, but narrowed and crystallised how I see the world and understand my place within it. Resurgence as a concept remains the significant learning from the course work over my first year. My challenge was then to not only apply this concept, but extend it when I embarked on the second half of the journey with my wife Madeleine, to Williams Lake.
Before leaving Victoria, I was often asked where I would be after my commitments on campus were finished. When I replied that Madeleine and I would be moving to Williams Lake common responses were ‘Really? Why?’ and ‘Where’s that?’ Even now, in Australia when people ask where I have been, I receive much the same reaction. Looking back, I could not have ended up in a more appropriate or opportune place or space. During the field work, I was astounded by the amount of work being done in the community, as well as some of the ambitions the community had for its short and long-term futures. Some of these initiatives included the building of a new school and community gymnasium, the adoption of a cumulative effects natural resource management monitoring program, the scoping and business planning of a tourism venture on Tsilhqot’in lands, as well as the day to day running of the community. These planning and administrative activities were even more significant considering the funding (or lack thereof) that is available to Yunesit’in. So what were the significant learning’s I have taken away from my time in Yunesit’in?
Firstly, I don’t know if I would call it a lesson but living and working with a First Nation Community has been itself, a unique and rich educational experience. Just observing and eventually being apart of the daily coming and going in the community has opened my eyes and provided me with rare insight.
Secondly, the pressures felt by the community are much the same that are felt by Indigenous communities at home. Whilst this is alluded to and generally acknowledged (that Indigenous people share common experiences throughout the colonized world), seeing it in a real life context is a strange yet affirming thing. Some of these include the many social harms and hazards that are all too common in Indigenous communities. However, the major commonalities that I observed were the everyday acts of living in the world as an Indigenous person. In Yunesit’in, smudging was a daily sight, whether in the home or someone smudging at their front door to ward off harmful spirits. At home, smoking occurs at every major community event. These are two closely related activities that are undertaken for the same reasons. Another observation is the centrality of fish in peoples lives. In Yunesit’in it is salmon while at home, it is yellow-belly. Fish continues to define in a large and meaningful way, peoples cultural identities. This is not a far-off obscure link to culture, it is a daily practice whether fishing, preparing or eating salmon or yellow-belly. From daily acts such as these emanates a strength and satisfaction that is seldom found in the many cities and towns in Australia and Canada. As I observed these daily acts in Yunesit’in and linking these with my own experiences in Australia I continue to ask myself: how do people see this (being Indigenous) as disadvantage?
Finally, First Nations communities occupy a complex and unique socio-political space, much the same as Indigenous communities in Australia. Central to this complexity is the centrality of land. To understand this complexity you need only ask one question: ‘Who owns the land?’ Whilst this isn’t a question often asked by many non-Indigenous Canadian’s and Australian’s, it is often asked and firmly answered by Indigenous peoples – ‘We own the land’. Every social, cultural and political interaction comes from this certainty.
Suffice to say that my life has irreversibly changed. It has been enriched in a way seldom experienced. Whilst this road has been long, arduous and at times, tough, it has been one worth travelling.
So, where to from here? Well at the moment it is nice being home around family and friends and working again. 2017 has been designated for both Madeleine and I as a time to re-group, re-asses and re-energise. Formulating a plan for the next chapter following this year is our priority however, we have time and space to think about our options. Importantly, we are factoring in how we can make Canada part of our plans once again. As we sit back and reflect on our time in the true north, we both have a distinct feeling of having unfinished business there. We have made some wonderful life-long friends and are actively seeking to make sure that the fire that was lit within us in Canada does not burn out. Watch out Canada, we may be back before you know it!
I’m sitting here in the jungles of West Java, Indonesia, reflecting. The past six months seem to have lasted a lifetime. My mind is flooded with glimpses of joy, of meaning, of angst and anxiety, my body reacting viscerally to each memory. With many questions riddling the pages of my notebook regarding best practice, ethics, impact, sustainability, brokenness, and hope whirling around my mind.
Each time I speak about my experience I find there is a new flavor, a new facet of my experience that surfaces; or one that was known that seems to resonate more deeply than before. As a verbal processor having a week to reflect, to talk, exploring these experiences have exhausted me in the best of ways. Reforming the narrative that I recited for the past few months, molding my angst with the change and the improvement that I’ve seen. I feel at peace.
I wish I could synthesize and articulate my experience in a cohesive way, one that wraps a nice bow around the whole experience; that provides answers to questions, and conclusions to beginnings. However the more I try, the harder it becomes.
Instead, you can join me in the series of questions I’ve encountered here, and perhaps those might give you a better glimpse into my experience.
Do the dogs ever sleep?
Is the mop long enough to kill the spider on the ceiling?
Whose cow is this?
Is it dangerous to try to pet a yak?
Why is everyone alwaystalking about ‘china’?
What are people doing? How are they doing it?
How am I viewed? How will my behavior either challenge or reinforce these perceptions?
Where am I placed within the hierarchies of this culture?
What is the organizational history that underpins the current structures, methods, and tools used?
What does it mean if I were to challenge, or introduce new practices?
What does it look like for me to work alongside this organization?
Where is the line between paternalism and empowerment?
How does staff communicate disapproval to each other, and how do they communicate when they do not agree with something, or someone?
What is the workplace culture around conflict resolution?
What does support and accountability look like in this organization?
How can I communicate critical feedback in a way that honors, loves, and cares for the individual and/or organization?
How can I support staff resiliency, capacity and hope for change?
Is it worth investing large amounts of funds in imperfect change?
When systems seem corrupted, how do you ethically engage and participate?
When developing a program, and when writing a proposal, how do you protect your heart from feeling the weight of the issues your program is tackling?
How do writers or researchers care for themselves when they experience compassion fatigue?
When various social issues are deeply interwoven and widespread, what can we really do to create change?
What small changes can create larger change?
What can I leave behind to serve as a resource to my co-workers?
Am I leaving this organization in a better/stronger place than when I entered it?
Some answers to these questions have come quicker than others, while others lead to more questions or a complicated web of answers. And even though the answers have not come easy, I’ve somehow stumbled upon the bow that wraps up my experience.
Gratitude now permeates each and every challenge and success. I am a different woman, a different practitioner, a different global citizen because of the people and circumstances I’ve been able to learn from. I’m thankful for the patience extended to me by my co-workers as I struggled to communicate, broke typical social norms, and probably asked more questions than they were comfortable with. I am grateful for how Nepal has taught me about the power and perversion of systems and culture, of the good that can work at times in the midst of corruption, and of the functional and/or dysfunctional relationships between donors and grassroots organizations.
Gratitude is my bow.