Stories from the field

month May 2016

Janice Dowson – Blog 2: District Six – No home like place

District Six – No Home LIke Place

This blog explores the forced removals and demolition of the District Six neighbourhood in Cape Town by the aparheid government, as well as the ongoing attempts at redevelopment in the area as means for providing restitution for former residents who were forcibly removed.  I provide my reflections on the importance of place for one’s identity and provide my ideas about the changing nature of the neighbourhood where I am staying in Cape Town; a neighbourhood bordering the fields of District Six. 

Benjamin Lawrence – Blog 3 – Subversive Supernaturalism?

In this blog, I reflect on a key question that has been posed to me on numerous occassions recently about the relationship between what I call “constitutional spirits” (aka constitutional/legal interpretation) and the “supernatural” in Cambodia.

Emma De Vynck – Blog 2: Settling in at the Karenni Social Development Centre

Deafening insect chirps.

Chickens babbling.

Kelly Clarkson.

Sudden, heavy rain.

Playful chit-chat.

Vegetables sizzling in hot oil.

Soulful guitar crooning.

These are but a few notes in the lush chorus of sounds at the Karenni Social Development Centre (KSDC). I arrived at KSDC about a week ago, accompanied by Robyn and a previous CAPI intern. I am joining several others in facilitating a training course for young adults at the KSDC school.

Our journey to KSDC began in Chiang Mai. After a majestic 30-minute plane ride over Northern Thailand’s rippled, jungled hills, we landed in Mae Hong Son, a small Thai city. The next day we were en-route to Nai Soi, a village tucked a few kilometers from the Thai-Myanmar border. KSDC’s principal, several alumni, and several foreign volunteers, all on motorbike, met us. Our belongings were strapped on the bikes, and we all hopped on with a kind driver for the final trek to KSDC. As we crossed Nai Soi’s village bounds, the paved road ended and the red-dirt road began. We were nearing Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp and its surrounding “hamlet”, Dokhita. Thai jurisdiction overlooks this pocket, and as such, the roads remain furrowed and muddy.  After this brief skillful motorbike ride, we approached KSDC—my home for the next 6 months—a home I now share with 20 students, several staff, 2 foreign volunteers, several dogs, (notably Bam and Liam Neeson), numerous geckos and lizards, an irritating but endearing troupe of chickens, and a diversity of unknown insects that buzz and whir at all hours.

KSDC is a community-based organization offering education in human rights, law, non-violence, women’s rights, environment, and English, among other subjects of import to the Karenni people, an ethnic group indigenous to eastern Myanmar. Decades of conflict in their home state spurred many Karenni and other ethnic groups in the area to flee to refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border. Camp Ban Mai Nai Soi is but one of numerous refugee settlements on the border, most of which are home to tens of thousands of people. Those living in the camps cannot work legally in Thailand, and as such must remain within the camp, or return to Myanmar. Most students and staff at KSDC live in the camp with their families when they aren’t at KSDC dorms. Some have come from within Karenni State to pursue education in the camp, or at schools like KSDC, as education within camps surpasses much education in rural Myanmar. I have encountered the commitment and compassion of many Karenni peoples of all ages engaged in profound community development activities. It is clear that I have entered a rich web of community engagement, activism, and support. This limited but burgeoning learning is continually informed by a patchwork of both brief exchanges and sprawling conversations with students, staff, and others I’ve met in my first week here. 

KSDC’s commitment to supporting and empowering Karenni people through human rights education is a profound response to their complex and ever-unfolding story. Students share life with one another, cooking, cleaning, singing, “playing Facebook”, and pursuing community development studies. There’s also plenty of Burmese pop music and incredible Karenni food. I’m not quite sure what I’ve stepped into—but friendship and fun are of no shortage in this place. Many lives are being lived, within limitation, and beyond seeming boundaries. 

Sophia Mayen – Blog 2: Earthquake preparedness // Am I prepared?

This is my second blog post on the CAPI blog website. I discuss my experiences with earthquakes and things I’ve learned about disaster preparedness since my arrival. I reflect on and assess my own sense of preparedness in the case of an emergency. 


The couple of weeks I’ve been in Japan have gone by in a flash. Everything is new and exciting, and the culture is vibrant. Japan has amazing technologies and standards that have surpassed my norm – and yes, I mean the toilets with the 50 buttons for your extra comfort. Although I am experiencing some kind of culture shock this place seems very familiar. I believe it’s because of how structured and organized everything is. Even the train platforms have arrows and neat little standing lanes drawn on the ground for where people should stand and what angle to board from. It didn’t take me long to make sense of the organized chaos and become part of the hive.

Yokohama from the port

       Image: Yokohama – From the port


         Image: Asakusa 

Along with what’s on the surface they have certain regulations and policies to optimize the population’s quality of life. One of the most important (in my opinion) is the disaster preparedness I’ve witnessed. Coming from another country with similar views on disaster preparedness I was very impressed with the earthquake resistant buildings and organized emergency response.  

During the short time I’ve been here I have experienced two earthquakes that sprung me out of bed, and a few moments where I couldn’t be entirely sure – maybe it was just my neighbour shuffling things around.

Before coming, everyone had been preparing me for the likely event earthquakes would happen. Even with this prior knowledge and the assurance the buildings I would be in or around were safe, the relatively “small to normal” (by Japanese standards) sized earthquakes made me feel scared, unsafe, and unprepared. Scared mainly because I was shocked and confused, unsafe because the idea of the building collapsing crossed my mind, and unprepared because I definitely didn’t have enough food or water to last me more than a day and a half if it was a serious situation. AND if that wasn’t enough to freak me out when the emergency announcement came on, it was all in Japanese – for those of you who don’t know I basically know 5 phrases in Japanese. For all I knew we were being attacked by aliens.  

Not knowing what was going on or what the standard earthquake protocol in my dorm was (super unprepared, I know) I walked out into the hall and looked around to see if any of my neighbours were following some sort of procedure – shockingly, or not so shockingly, the hallway was completely empty. I poked my head into the library on my floor and noticed a student still working away on a paper, completely unfazed about what had happened. Now feeling a little silly and paranoid I knocked on my neighbour’s door who I had met before. I asked him if he feltthe earthquake and what the normal procedure is for earthquakes. He (and his friend) said they felt it, and then he thought for a little while before agreeing it was on the “slightly larger than normal” side and that it would be a good idea to go down to the office to inquire. We made our way down in the worst possible manner after an earthquake– we took the elevator. I was the only one that seemed uncomfortable with this decision, but we managed to come out alive.

The man working at the office also seemed very unfazed and told us it wasn’t too big and not to worry. He explained that living on the 13th floor would make the earthquakes seem larger because the building is designed to sway, and when you’re at the top you experience a wider range of motion. All of the assurance and reassurance still didn’t help me sleep easy that night.

The next day I had sparked up a conversation about the earthquake with a co-worker. She again told me about how safe the buildings were and the frequency in which the citizens experience earthquakes. Working in disaster management she reflected on the fact that people seem to be so unfazed by these earthquakes, particularly in countries with more durable infrastructures. Everyone is so used to them and their infrastructure is so resistant that they forget these earthquakes have the potential to be very dangerous. Even with common knowledge about the frequency of earthquakes in Japan, many people don’t have what’s needed in a real emergency or have stopped reacting to the potential of an emergency. While some countries might lack the infrastructure, disaster preparedness and risk reduction management, their experiences through natural disasters create invaluable lessons and are more likely to react or get involved in grassroots risk reduction initiatives. Knowing about disasters and experiencing one produces two very different viewpoints.

So why was I so terrified of this relatively small earthquake? Which I might add, was a magnitude of 5.6, that’s not THAT small.  

 To give you a glimpse of my dreadful experience with earthquakes prior to Japan, I will transport you over to El Salvador in 2001. My mother and I went to visit our extended family over a period of 3 months, and on our last day we decided to have a goodbye dinner at my grandmother’s house. Everyone was eating and mingling outside when a relative told me to go inside to grab an extra chair. Moments later, holding a chair over my head walking through a hallway, I was knocked over onto my side. I thought my vision was going because everything seemed to be blurry and vibrating, but as soon as I realized that it wasn’t my vision I got up and ran out the door to where everyone had congregated outside of the front gate. The earthquake was around a magnitude of 7.8 and caused devastating damage, thousands of injuries, and hundreds of deaths. Luckily the town we were in was one of the safest places to be because of the bed rock material. Even still, we witnessed walls collapsing, glass breaking, and the ground splitting. Our flight was delayed two weeks because of the damage, while aftershocks happened every day –too many to count (and continued to happen months later). Our sleeping arrangements became sleeping on a mattress on the floor of the living room with the door open to ensure a quick getaway. Even with being relatively safe and getting to leave 2 weeks later I still experienced and witnessed the realities of a devastating natural disaster in a country without the earthquake-resistant infrastructure set up. That is something you can’t forget.

Moral of the story: stock up on the life saving essentials and prepare an emergency evacuation plan for you and your family. Being safe (and seeming like a danger police dork) is INFINITLEY better than being sorry.

While we (Canada, Japan, and many countries with strong, durable infrastructure) can endure much less damage from the same sized earthquake (or even larger) due to our disaster risk reduction management, we lack the motivation or sense of urgency in emergencies that may occur. Being born and raised in Canada, I also fall into the same category where my knowledge doesn’t match my actual preparedness for the potential of a real emergency. Experiencing these sizable earthquakes in Japan gave me flashbacks of something I wish I will never have to experience again; but most of all an awareness of those that have or will, and what can be done about it. Interning for CITYNET and learning about their capacity building for disaster preparedness and risk reduction in other Asian-Pacific countries makes me hopeful that we’re helping one another as a global community. Prevention is the key, but community is the foundation and the building blocks. 



         Image: Asakusa

Dugal Monk – Blog 6: Sample Statement

This month, I am posting another example of MFA’s work- a statement on a workshop being held on May 3-4 in Kathmandu on SAARC cooperation on migration.

Chih Chen – Blog 6: Reintegration

May 24th, 2016 — It is exactly ten days since I left Manila on a flight bound for Vancouver, where I spent some time with fellow intern and dear friend, Nadya in her home in East Vancouver. From there, I slowly made my way home to Toronto. And by slowly, I mean slowly—by train, over four days, with limited Internet, asingle electrical outlet to serve all sleeper class passengers, and an overwhelminginability to “sum up” this experience for the blog that was already late.

Taiwo Afolabi – Blog 4: Notes from Socially-Engaged Art Projects

Socially-engaged art focuses on the society with the aim to maximing the power of arts for social change. In this reflection, I connect certain features inherent in community-based theatre initiatives with the purpose of situating these features in my community engagement projects.

Valérie Paradiso – Podcast 6: Reflection on my CAPI experience

As my internship has come to an end, I reflect on my CAPI experience in this podcast.

Benjamin Lawrence – Blog 3 – Subversive Supernaturalism?

In this blog, I reflect on a key question that has been posed to me on numerous occassions recently about the relationship between what I call “constitutional spirits” (aka constitutional/legal interpretation) and the “supernatural” in Cambodia.

Jesse Baltutis – Blog 3: The last stand for Africa’s Elephant and Rhino populations?

This blog explores the issue of illegal elephant and rhino poaching across Africa. Though the topic diverges from the issue I’ve come to South Africa to research, it is one that touches on the very nerve of wildlife conservation, not only in South Africa, but across the continent. It is a story fueled by demands from distant markets, far removed from the devastation wrought at the local level. Poverty, corruption, greed, and ignorance grease the wheels of the illegal international trade in elephant and rhino ivory. South Africa is uniquely situated as one of the last strongholds for rhino populations in Africa, and a major export destination for much of the illegal ivory from both elephants and rhinos leaving the African continent.

The decision to focus the second of my in-country podcasts on this issue was due to a chance encounter with Nick, an individual who works for TRAFFIC’s South Africa office. Having been immersed in researching water issues since my arrival in Pretoria, I was deeply moved by the conversation I had with Nick and the chance to focus my search (albiet briefly) on another issue of critical importance to the African continent. Though water and ivory are two vastly different subjects, they both are facing unprecedented pressure from forces often outside the control of where impacts are felt the most- at the local level. Focusing my podcast on the illegal trade in ivory allowed me the opportunity to gain some knowledge and insight into an issue that is critical to not only South Africa but the entire African continent, and deepen my understanding of ongoing efforts to address this critical issue.

 Much of the information used in this podcast is derived from the TRAFFIC reports, “Illegal Trade in Ivory and Rhino Horn” (2014), and  “Setting Suns: The Historical Decline of Ivory and Rhino Horn Markets in Japan” (2016), as well as information from the TRAFFIC website. The documents can be accessed at: I urge anyone interested in this issue to explore the website of TRAFFIC and some of its partner organizations.

« Older posts

© 2023 CAPI Intern Blogs — Powered by WordPress

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑