Stories from the field

year 2016

Danae Zachari – Blog 6: Unaccompanied and Separated Refugee Children

In this last blog of an incredible experience at MSRI, I look at one of the sub-population of MSRI beneficiaries – Unaccompanied and separated children (UASC). I discuss some of the challenges these children face and I look at the UNHCR guidelines for determining the best interest of the child.



Joel Toorenburgh – Blog 7: The Great Fun Magical Day (GFMD)

For my last blog post, I want to talk about one of my favourite experiences I had while in Dhaka.  

Quite a way back now, in July, we were lucky enough to meet Anas, a young man who had previously worked with RMMRU, but who was pursuing his Master’s degree in Germany. Anas had come back to Bangladesh to visit family and during his visit, he also did a bit of work for RMMRU. It was at this time that we met Anas. We quickly formed a bond and were eager to spend more time together and learn about his life. Unfortunately, Anas had to return back to Germany to continue with his studies. However, the discussions we had in Dhaka lead us to stay in touch.

Through Anas, we learned about an opportunity to attend and participate in the Global Forum on Migration and Development (the GFMD). We had heard all about this conference through CAPI and RMMRU, but hadn’t been provided with any concrete information on how to get involved and registered. Luckily for us, Anas provided that much-needed connection. 

The GFMD is a conference which had been held annually since 2007. The forum aims to explore the interconnections that relate to migration and development. The 2009 Forum in Dhaka feature two civil society days, two days government days and one day in the middle as a cross-over. 

And so for the last five months, Anas, myself and a number of others have been involved in creating a “youth group” for the GFMD. Back in Europe, Anas had begun working for an organization called Terre des Hommes (TDH) which is also involved in a number of projects. One of them, called “Destination Unknown,” seeks to promote the rights of migrants who are on the move with a special emphasis on children and youths. So through Anas and TDH, we began compiling a bit of a team. 

The goal was two-fold: to highlight the presence of youth in migration processes and secondly, to highlight the lack of youth in forums which deal with youth and migration. We prepared a number of materials in preparation to the GFMD: brochures, op-eds and a number of other branded items. All these things were done before the GFMD and all of the communication were done online. 

It is sometimes difficult to decipher people through online interactions alone. We often praise the modern-internet day, but nothing beats face-to-face communication.  However, I soon learned that behind each email address was a wonderful, inspired and dynamic individual. 

My experience with the GFMD was awesome for a number of reasons. First, I had such a pleasure working with the “youth team” that we created. Sometimes in life, we loose faith in humanity and the goodness of humans and so it always a pleasant surprise to meet kind, energetic and thoughtful individuals. The human experience really is defined by the relationships we are able to form. 

Secondly, I found the whole conference experience really interesting and enlightening. In my first two years at UVic, I participated in the Model United Nations (MUN) club and I was actually a little bit shocked at how similar MUN and the GFMD were! Ihope that I have the chance to participate in a conference like this again in the future. The first time round, I always feel too shy, and uninformed to jump in and give my two-cents. It is hard to get over the stage fright, but I’ve learnt that often times, people in the room only seem to know what they are talking about. People love to use lingo and technical terms to (perhaps unintentionally) dissuade discussion or participation; I guess people like to sound smart. It’s funny that this was both what I learnt at the conference and also what our youth group was all about  – including the voices of youth! 

Lastly, the conference was truly international with representation from all over the world. There were people from Togo, Congo, Cameroon, Chile, India, Morocco and many, many more. In many cases, it was the first time I’d met someone from this or that country. We attended different sessions and took turns working at our youth table. Our table attracted a lot of attention and we were able to fully exhaust the stock of everything we brought. During the conference, we took short interviews with representatives from different civil society organizations (CSOs). Each of them shared a little bit about the work their organization is involved in and also explaining why the thought youth were an important group. 

It was also a great chance to practice my French and Spanish. There were many participants from francophone West Africa and many from Latin AM.

I feel super lucky to have been able to participate and I hope that other CAPI interns are as lucky as I to participate in something interesting. There are many criticisms one could level at the GFMD: it is not productive, it is not inclusive etc. Many of these are valid and I wish I had another blog to address some of its problems, but for me in my life right now, it sure was a cool way to spend a few days – one might say great, fun and magical days! 


PS once I find the link for the youth video I’ll post it here 

Kimberly Copeland – Blog 7: De-Bunking Social Responsibility

The last month of 2016 brings my last blog as a Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives intern at the Malaysian Social Research Institute. I wanted to write this last written episode of this UVic CAPI experience about something we interns are taught to examine and explore throughout this unique opportunity: social responsibility. This blog is a personal attempt to de-bunk the stigmas and approaches to social responsibility as an intern working for a NGO providing support to the Middle Eastern refugee population in Malaysia.


Zachary Brabazon – Blog 7: Interview with Mahbubur Rahman Pt 2

Please listen to part one, also on this site!

Thank you.


Zahura Ahmed – Blog 3: Climate Change Induced Migration (ES)

BOMSA is mainly focused on external migration for economic purposes- women leaving Bangladesh for work in order to supplement their income. As such, all of the work that I have been exposed to concerns this form of migration. However, it is impossible to ignore the rampant internal migration within the country, specifically that which is heavily influenced by climate change, and the subsequent problems that it accompanies. A few weeks ago, I met a woman who had written her PhD thesis on this topic, which sparked my interest in further researching it.

Climate-change induced migration describes those who are forced to leave their homes temporarily or permanently due to environmental circumstances that jeopardize their existence or seriously affect their quality of life negatively. Climate-change induced migration disproportionately affects the poor, which adds significant burden to a demographic already struggling, as climate shocks often increase existing problems. Further, this contributes to the rapid urbanization taking place in certain areas of Bangladesh, which cannot meet the demand in capacity to adequately provide access to sanitation, health, education, and employment. There are about 35 million people that live on the coastlines of Bangladesh, which make them the frontline victims of climate change. If the sea level were to rise by one metre, this would affect roughly 15 million people within this cohort. Many of these individuals will have no choice but to migrate while their homes are destroyed.

Moreover, roughly 63% of Bangladesh’s population is employed in either agriculture, forestry, or fisheries, which are heavily affected by environmental conditions and access to natural resources. With the increase of climate disasters, survival in certain parts of Bangladesh has become increasingly difficult and expensive. These areas of Bangladesh are densely populated and experience coastal flooding, river erosion, and saltwater intrusion. Extreme climate damages shelter, affects livelihoods, decreases access to safe water, and weakens embankments for coastal defense. This is a problem very large in nature, and as such, it is difficult for the government and civil society to address it without appropriate resources and support.

As with any migration, the question of choice always comes into play. When is migration a choice, and when is it forced upon individuals? For climate change induced migration, do people choose to leave their homes? While there are many cases in which people do choose to stay in adverse conditions, despite the increasingly challenging circumstances presented to them, it is difficult to ascertain the extent to which a choice is available. When choosing between a familiar place with near impossible living conditions and an unfamiliar new life plagued with uncertainty, where is the choice, really?



Ahsan, SM Reazul ‘Climate Induced Migration: Lessons from Bangladesh’ 2014

Kartiki, Katha ‘Climate change and migration: a case study from rural Bangladesh’ 2011

Tasneem Bhaidu – Blog 3: The Hijra Community in Bangladesh (GE)

The following is an informational and reflective blog on the transgender community in Bangladesh called Hijras.

A few weeks ago, I attended a workshop on sexual health and rights which was hosted by an NGO in Dhaka. This was the first time since I arrived in Bangladesh, that I came across people openly discussing sexuality and LGBTQ issues. LGBTQ activism in Bangladesh has proven to be very difficult to do due to potential threats and attack from ‘extremist’ and homophobic individuals. In addition, homosexuality is still illegal and a criminal offense outlined in Bangladesh’s penal code under section 377 (unnatural offences), which states, “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

During the workshop, we discussed the Hijra community that exists in Bangladesh and South Asia. I found it very interesting that although Bangladesh has laws against homosexuality and that LGBTQ are marginalized and stigmatized, the Hijra community exists and is legally recognized here as a “third gender.”

Transgender is not a term widely used in Bangladesh. On the other hand, Hijra, is a term commonly used in Bangladesh and most of South Asia to identify transgender women. Society acknowledges this group of transgender women as Hijras, a third gender. Hijras are not considered fully men or women, but a third sex or gender. Hijras often live in all-Hijra communities and live specific lifestyles. Due to being ostracized and marginalized by society, Hijras are often involved in sex work and/or “begging.” Other work to earn money for Hijras includes putting on song and dance performances, blessing new born babies by singing and dancing (Baccha Nachano), and collecting money from shops in markets (Bazar Tola). Hijras are discriminated against and have many barriers to healthcare, housing, employment, and law. Furthermore, in many bureaucratic processes, they are excluded or are put in difficult positions when the can be only put into two categories, male or female.

I have learned about the Hijra community from childhood, growing up in an Indian family. I would see some representations of the community on Indian TV and film, usually as the object of jokes. When I visited India several times throughout my childhood, I did witness Hijras asking for money in local trains, on the streets during high traffic and/or going door to door through neighbourhoods. My family members told me their versions of who Hijras are and what they do. For the most part, I was given very discriminatory and negative explanations of Hijras. I was told to not look them in the eye, to ignore them at all costs. I was told that they would hit me or do magic on me if I got them angry. As I grew older, I learned that giving them a few rupees was the best way to avoid being harassed or cursed by them. I was told very intimidating stories and explanations of Hijras. I saw them as aggressive and scary. Even at the beginning of my internship in Dhaka, I reacted quite nervously to Hijras. I was at a clothing market when I saw some Hijras in the shopping complex. I told my friend we should turn around rather than walk past them as they will harass us. It turned out that they were simply shopping, just like the rest of the people in the market. I was still uncomfortable walking past them. Unfortunately, my prejudices got the best of me.

Just like I did, many people in South Asia have a prejudice against Hijras. The community is largely marginalized on a micro-level by people on a day-to-day basis. But, along with dealing with the daily discrimination by everyday people, the community also faces greater barriers. Not until a few years ago, they had no recognition as being a third gender. They had to choose between identifying as male or female on identification and documentation. In 2013, the Bangladeshi government approved for the Hijra community to be able to identify as a third gender in government documentation, passports, and national identification in order to have access to their rights. Although this was a huge step in advancing the rights and inclusion of Hijras in Bangladeshi society, it has not played out so well.

It has been over 3 years that Hijras have been legally recognized by the Bangladeshi government, yet they are still waiting to be identified as such on National ID cards and in voting documentation. Bangladeshi passport forms have implemented the third gender identity, but Hijras have a hard time checking it off, as the National ID, birth certificate and other important IDs do not have the option and so it would not match. Because of the lack of implementation of recognizing Hijras as a third gender, they have still not been able to secure their rights like the new government decision promised.

The fact that Bangladesh has recognized Hijras as a third gender shows that the country is progressing in terms of giving this community the rights and recognition they deserve. If the third gender recognition is improved and Hijras are able to tick this box on their identification and documentation, I think many barriers will break down and the community will be able to access a lot more services. Bangladesh still has a long way to go for LGBTQ rights, but starting with the Hijra community is a good step.


David Fox – Blog 3: The Complexities of Workplace Culture (GE)

I’ve been reflecting a lot recently about what it means to be a worker, specifically in the context of the not-for-profit / non-government / civil society work sector. It’s no surprise to most that working in the sector long term is not for the faint of heart. From my perspective, those that are passionate about a certain cause (usually related to development in one area or another) put up with incredibly large obstacles in order to work towards a cause they believe in. Often with low pay, long hours, and sometimes no apparent career ladder, pursuing a long-term job in the not-for-profit / non-government sector is no simple task. But what is it that makes these careers so hard on employees? Doesn’t someone with an interest in advocating for better conditions deserve a job that doesn’t lead to burn out? Where does this problem stem from?

In my experience, there are two main factors that contribute to this phenomenon. These being: a lack of funds to cover overhead costs, and the informal workplace/management structure that is present in so many organizations. No doubt there are more issues involved, but these two factors have stood out to me the most as of late. First off, insufficient funding for overhead expenses in a non-profit organization is probably not a surprise, but I believe it has incredibly far reaching effects. This can often be traced back to unrealistic expectations that force organizations to invest solely in its activities and mandate. A lack of overhead funding means fewer staff working longer hours (often on a volunteer basis), a lack of vacation days, and limited health benefits. As employees are influenced to “volunteer” more hours to make sure projects are finished on time, stress levels rise, and interpersonal relationships between employees often deteriorate. In a workplace with minimal investment in its employees, the work culture suffers dramatically.

During past work experiences, I have been privy to the effects that an informal organizational structure can create. For instance, if the staff is expected to work longer hours to complete their work, how much flexibility does one have to turn down more work? Smaller organizations often do not have any type of human resources department in place, making it difficult or unclear on how an employee should go about filing a grievance. With an informal working structure, many employees are expected to do a little bit of everything, or to pick up the slack when it’s needed, even if the ask is (as I perceive it) unreasonable. At times, this structure makes it difficult for overworked employees to say “no”, and those that do complain can cause resentment among fellow workers. The work/life balance can become obsolete, as employees begin to devote all of their time to working for “the cause”. 

To add to this, according to the HR council of Canada for the non-profit sector’s report on Gender Mix in non-profits, “75% of those working in the sector are women”, and that “men occupy a disproportionate number of senior management positions, while women are overrepresented in administrative and support staff positions.” (HR Council, 1). With a majority of women in low level, non-management positions in the non-profit sector, perhaps the effects of a toxic workplace culture can take their toll on women more so than men.   

These issues make me question how we came to this conclusion that putting ourselves through stress, anxiety, and over exhaustion directly benefits those that the organization’s mandate aims to support. Development work and non-profit organizations are a necessity in our world, which goes without saying, but maybe there is a brighter future in store if we can invest in solving these work culture problems. A healthy work culture can be engaging and rewarding for employees, especially one that doesn’t leave those that are the most empathetic towards others without anything to show for their efforts.


HR Council for the Non-Profit Sector, Trends & Issues, Gender Mix in the Non-Profit Sector. Government of Canada. 

Retrieved from: 

Aracy Selvakumar – Blog 3: Mighty But Fragile: Sustainable Tourism and the Impact of Climate Change on Mountain Environments (GOV)

My work in Nepal has largely been focussed on migration, however, recently I have become involved in projects related to mountain tourism and environmental sustainability in Nepal.

I recently attended and assisted with the International Conference on Mountain Tourism, Climate Change, and Earthquake in Nepal. The event and prior research I conducted, prompted me to think critically about what tourism looks like in Nepal and the issues related to protecting mountain climates- particularly how these two areas intersect.

I didn’t realize how complex the issues were until I started to write about them, so the following post can be considered a brief snapshot into some of the issues related to mountain tourism and conservation in Nepal.


Nicola Craig Hora – Blog 4: Reuse, Reduce and Recycle

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Tsuzuki Incineration Plant and the Midori Recycling Center in Yokohama. This was my first time visiting a solid waste management center and I really learned a lot. 

Unlike in Canada, waste is locally collected 6 days a week. Different wastes have been assigned different days and in Yokohama waste must be separated into 10 categories: burnables, non-burnables, spray cans, plastic containers, PET, small metal items, batteries, paper, used cloth and oversized garbage. In communities there are designated waste collection areas, the garbage collectors will only collect your trash if it is in the designated area. If waste has not been segregated properly then it is left and marked with a warning sticker that provides an explanation of why the garbage has not been collected. If you receive multiple warnings you get a 2,000 yen fine.

What surprised me about the garbage trucks in Japan is that they sing songs, are often brightly coloured, and they are tiny. I actually got to drive one and empty it out! If I’m being completely honest I didn’t get far and didn’t leave the parking lot… the parking break remained on the entire time so I guess it was less drive and more sit in a garbage truck. Nonetheless it was one of the greatest things I have ever done.  The trucks we got to see during our visit had cute little anime characters that are used to help promote sustainable consumption to schoolchildren. During the summer holidays, the Tsuzuki ward also hosts visits from children so that they understand what happens to their garbage.

The next stop during my visit was the Midori Recycling Center. I loved this place almost too much. There is something incredibly satisfying about seeing thousands of cans and bottles getting squeezed together into perfect cubes of resources. At the recycling center, recycled goods that have been collected are sorted and then recycled or sold raw to private companies. When recycling arrives at the center it is sorted by machine. A large set of choppers cut open plastic bags of recycled goods and separate them into cans, plastics, and glass. After the machines there are people who assist in the sorting process, glass for example needs to be sorted according to its color. The workers stand along the conveyor belt and have each been assigned a specific material. When their material arrives they toss it into its designated hole. Machines can only get you so far and that’s why human workers are needed to ensure materials are properly sorted.

The Midori Recycling Center is Yokohama’s oldest recycling facility. Fun fact, the center is 23, which is the same age as me.  The employees are all very proud of the work that they do and they are happy to share their knowledge on sustainability with communities in Yokohama. The passion for recycling extends to the uniforms that the employees wear, and worker uniforms are made using recycled PET.

Throughout the visit my perception on waste completely changed and it was a very rewarding experience. I grew up in Toronto and we do not incinerate our garbage, instead we ship tons of garbage to landfills every single day. We have so much garbage that our landfills are filling up. It really is not a sustainable way to deal with trash. This is why I was so fascinated by seeing an incineration plant in action. Incineration plants in Yokohama run 24/7 and the energy created through the incineration process is enough to power the entire site and parts of the recreation center next to the plant. Garbage is store within a huge 130m tall chamber and is aerated and lifted into the incinerator by a massive crane. Moisture found within the garbage needs to be aerated in order to optimize the incineration process. Outside of the garbage chamber you cannot smell anything. Incineration plants were introduced in Yokohama during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Over recent years new initiatives in the City of Yokohama have encouraged citizens to produce less waste, which has resulted in the closing of two incineration plants. The city hopes to continue reducing it’s waste and truly become a waste free city. Unfortunately though Yokohama is a waste conscious city, 10% of incinerated waste is untouched food that has not been opened or eaten and 15% of waste should have been recycled. Visiting the incineration plant was a good reminder to always take the time to sort through everything and not buy more food than I can eat.

Yokohama is one Japan’s leading cities in waste management and this site visit helped show why that is the case. We hear it often but I think it is worth repeating, everyone should do their part in order to reuse, reduce and recycle. Before buying something new and throwing something away, we need to think about whether it truly is garbage or if parts can be used, recycled or fixed. This week I actually went out and bought needle and thread and I fixed a hole in a sweater with a patch. The sweater still did sweater like things and there was absolutely no reason to throw it out. 

This entire site-visit brought out the child in me. The whole time I had a foolish grin on my face, I loved the whole thing. I love getting a behind the scenes look into something you take for granted. When we are finished with items and toss them in the trash it is only that objects beginning. We need to think about the whole journey and become more connected to the garbage that we create. I really wish more people could participate in site visits like this. 

Kenda Chang-Swanson – Blog 7: Conversations about the intern experience!

Hello! Wow, time has flown by and it seems like just yesterday myself and fellow CAPI intern with PRIA, Sidney, were arriving in Delhi to begin our internships in India. Feel free to listen to this podcast to hear Sidney ask me about my experiences, some challenges, and lessons I’ve learned working in India. It’s been a huge learning experience and am feeling grateful for all the fantastic people, experiences, and learnings from this time working with PRIA. 

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