Stories from the field

month July 2016

Emma De Vynck – Blog 4: Introducing SomChai, a KSDC student

Life at the Karenni Social Development Centre (KSDC) rolls on. Rainy season has hit with full force, bringing with it rice planting season, innumerable shades of green, and beautiful foggy mornings. Now that I’ve found a daily rhythm, the days gather momentum and evolve into weeks with quick ease. I’ve had to catch myself as I settle into that rhythmic “normalcy”–I’m only here about 7 months–I don’t want to fall into a complacent lull. At the same time, finding rhythm is a great comfort, although in all honesty I’m shaken out of rhythm often enough to stay meaningfully uncomfortable. It is the “settling” and “unsettling” process, day in, day out. That may be the only constant to this “rhythm”.

 As I’ve considered what to explore in this third blog, my wandering mind has found all sorts of half-baked ideas–something on the joys of linguistic diversity at KSDC? A consideration of teaching when you’re not trained as a teacher and yet you’ve been imbued with sudden respect and responsibility? An ode to the motorbike? Or even a look at religious beliefs, religious diversity, and the expressions of religious tolerance and grace among the students? Maybe these thoughts will have their day of analysis.

For this month, I’m moving away from analysis and offering instead an interview with a KSDC Advanced Course student, SomChai. Listening to our chat might provide a bit of a glimpse into life in this corner of the world! I hope the audio is manageable–you can hear chickens, dogs, and other students in the background. I recommend you listen with headphones because the voices are a bit quiet!

In one of my first conversations with SomChai, he told me that we only receive knowledge so that we can share it. Sharing knowledgeis very important to him.

SomChai was raised in Karenni Refugee Camp 1, and as he notes in our chat, his family originally comes from Shan State in Myanmar. 

In our discussion he talks about the importance of KSDC for his community and the value of English for his future political goals. He also shares about his Shan culture, among other conversational tidbits.

I hope you enjoy hearing a bit about who he is.



Danae Zachari – Blog 3: Interview with Gloria Martinez – Senior program manager at MSRI

In this podcast I am interviewing Gloria Martinez, the senior program manager at the Malaysian Social Research Institute, on child protection policies and children’s rights. Gloria introduced a child protection policy at MSRI and has organized workshops and training for staff that I have been fortunate to attend. Over the past couple of months, I have been learning and growing in so many ways. How to safeguard children’s wellbeing and how to be mindful of the long-term impact our actions have on young individuals, are a big part of my learning experience. 

Kim Copeland – Blog 3: Restructuring an Education System and my Own Work Habits at MSRI

The Malaysian Social Research Institute provides case management, medical consultation and counselling and education (kindergarten, primary and secondary as well as adult English education) to refugees that currently reside in Malaysia.

The Sahabat Support Centre (SSC) began in January 2011 to provide services to refugees from small minority communities predominately from the Middle East and Africa including: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan and Nigeria. In the last five years, there has been a large increase of refugee children and unaccompanied minors that are seeking the services of MSRI. Approximately 30% of the refugee population that MSRI provides services to are under the age of eighteen. Some families face poverty and hardship under these circumstances. Yet, out of this situation, a warm and wonderful MSRI community as flourished out of solidarity and passion.


In my third UVic CAPI blog post I get personal about my transformative experience at the Malaysian Social Research Institute working with Andrea Fernandez, MSRI’s School Manager and the importance of asking for help (and asking to help).




Sidney Moss – Blog 3: Shut Up and Listen

As mentioned in my previous post, my first month in India was spent at the PRIA office in Delhi where I learned the details and background of the project that I was assigned to. I researched the topic of ‘urban sanitation’ as much as I could; trying to develop a base understanding of sanitation issues in Indian cities before I was sent to the field. This time was well spent, as it eased me into the complexity of the project, and of India itself. However, I still found myself struggling with letting go of the need to “grasp” a topic. In my haste to “grasp” the topic I began to generalize – drawing myself an incomplete picture of what urban sanitation within India means, and filling the gaps with assumptions that were initiated by the relatively little research that I had completed. I’m still unsure about whether my mentality of needing to understand quickly is a product of my personality, or perhaps a product of a school system that conditions students to adopt a learning strategy of continuous cramming and regurgitating information.

Regardless of where the mentality originated, I was unsurprisingly unable to formulate a sufficient understanding of the project and all of the various contributing aspects. However, this process did enlighten me to the fact that I am uncomfortable with surrendering to and accepting the vulnerability that comes with feeling incompetent. Since working in India, I have struggled to find the words to explain my experiences and perspectives, this is largely out of fear of minimizing or misrepresenting anything that I am speaking on. To quote the words of our fellow intern: “How can I write about this city, or its people, without doing it immense injustices?” (Zachary Brabazon).

It wasn’t until I made the transition from head office to the field office in Muzaffarpur did I realize that the answers I had been desperately seeking were not going to be found in a database. I have now been working in Muzaffarpur for almost one month, during which time I have assisted and observed the field team in conducting participatory research with local community members. I have had the opportunity to meet various individuals who are directly affected by the lack of sanitation facilities within their communities.

Although the discussions I have had with these individuals (with the translation help of the PRIA staff) have been centered on the topic of sanitation, each story told was different, and each experience offered significant insight into the daily struggles of living in an area that has received minimal investment from the municipality in the form of clean water, functioning toilettes, and proper sewage and drainage systems. It is the livedexperiences of people that display the successes and failures of a society in its entirety – something that cannot be replaced or accurately represented by a mere number or statistic. For example, numbers and statistics did not prepare me for hearing the apprehension in a girl’s voice when describing her experience of travelling from home in order to defecate in private. My prior research also did not do justice to the mistrust that many individuals feel towards their municipality and other outside forces such as NGOs, due to a history of neglect, and failed attempts to bridge a nexus between civil society and higher representatives.

In trying to make sense of my visits to the field in a way that is mutually beneficial, I have come to appreciate the value in using participatory research as a means of understanding. Engaging in participatory methodology despite a pervasive language barrier has limited my tendency to rely on my own voice, thoughts, and research methods to make sense of a situation or topic that I feel incompetent in. I am stepping into a new web of social, political, and economic dynamics in which I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert in, nor will I become one over the next few months. However, it is through appreciating and respecting this fact that has made it possible for me to fully embrace the indispensable learning approach of what Ernesto Sirolli calls “shutting up and listening”. 

Claire Horwood – Blog 4: Interview with Naghme (Interpreter at MSRI)

As discussed in my first blog post, one of my goals during my internship is to examine the many ways that language, with all of its nuances and all of its layers, impacts the people who work at MSRI and the refugees who access essential services. My hope is that this information will help to shine some light on one of the most prominent invisible barriers that refugees and service providers face, both in facilitating integration into host countries, and during the re-settlement process.

At MSRI, interpreters are a necessary part of almost all aspects of service provision. From legal services, to case management, to emergency assistance, and mental health services, interpreters act as the bridge between refugees/asylum seekers and MSRI staff. In this podcast, I sit down with Naghme, an interpreter from the Malaysian Social Research Institute, to discuss how language impacts refugees when it comes to counselling, doctor’s visits, and appointments with the United Nations Refugee Agency. 



Elena Lopez – Blog 3: Migrant Labour

In this podcast, I discuss the role migrant workers play in constructing public infrastructure, namely the transit system. Public transportation is often advocated as a good that benefits broader society. However, it’s important to remember that migrant workers are part of society too, and their contributions should be recognized. One way of doing this is through the inclusion of migrant workers in union membership.

Charli Mohammed – Blog 2: The wonderful world of fieldwork

Hello friends of the blog-reading world,

I thank you for taking the time to read about my journey in Singapore thus far. As you may recall from my first blog post, I am researching the food and eating experiences of Indonesian domestic workers in Singapore for my master’s fieldwork in anthropology. During my time here, I have had the opportunity to interview many domestic workers, employers of domestic workers and representatives from organizations who work with foreign domestic workers in various capacities. The findings have been quite thought provoking and insightful. Though I am not able to reveal the details of my research findings just yet, I will provide with a short preview of what is to come as well as some personal reflections which have arisen from my fieldwork.

In my four weeks here, I have had the honour of being invited to various community gatherings with my new domestic helper friends. Indeed, these invitations have been a wonderful surprise. The women have been very welcoming and consistently generous in every encounter, always offering me tasty delights and invitations to participate in activities. These gatherings are very special because foreign domestic workers in Singapore only have one day off a week (Sunday), at most, and many have only 1 day off a month or no days off at all. So when the women finally have the opportunity to meet, they certainly make the most of their time out! The spaces where these women hang out are always vibrant on Sundays; energetic music and dancing, aromas of wonderful food, and laughter filling the air, as these women connect with fellow migrant workers who have now become their family. Thus, when I had the privilege to attend these various outings, I developed a deep understanding of how important these social bonds are for the health and well-being of migrants in a new country. Some of the events I have attended have included a sports tournament, Hari Raya (known as Eid Mubarak in Canada) gatherings, and a beach party. Regardless of who I am with or which event I am at, I am always welcomed with open arms. I am deeply grateful for these experiences.

Though there have been many wonderful experiences, I have experienced some natural challenges as well. One of my personal hurdles is the guilt I have for the privileges I have been afforded with, of no doing of my own. My participants are not able to access the resources that I am able to, yet they are constantly showing me acts of generosity. Indeed, this has been a personal struggle. However, a positive outcome of this guilt is my realization of the importance of making my work impactful. In return for all their generosity that these women have given me, I can share their stories of bravery and perseverance. Through giving them voice, I can also present their queries and concerns with their current living conditions in hopes of creating a positive change.

My interviews are all conducted in English because I am not fluent in any of the Indonesian languages. As the great Branislaw Malinowski demonstrated, I am certainly not the first anthropologist to experience the struggle of not knowing the local language. I realize how limiting and unfair this is for the women. Not only are they expected to voice their experiences in a language that is not native to them, but also they may not be able to voice all of their experiences in the ways in which they would like because they may not know the English words to communicate such experiences or such experience may not be communicable in English. I have been slowly trying to learn Bahasa, but there is really only so much I can learn while out in the field for such a short time. Nevertheless, through this experience I have learned the necessity of being fluent in the language of my participants when I conduct my PhD.

Before I end this blog post, I must note one more important finding; many domestic workers have expressed gratitude for being able to migrate to Singapore. Some women have voiced that they have been able to afford and attainuniversity degrees while working as domestic helpers, as well as learn multiple languages, which they would not have been able to do back home. However, many of these same women also experienced hardships along the way and have vocalized the importance of assisting other domestic helpers achieve the same success which they have. They have voiced the importance of my work in allowing them to share their experiences, in hopes that it will help future domestic workers.

Okay friends, that is all for now. Thank you  again for reading my blog. Please leave me any comments, questions or feedback, lah (Singaporean phrase)!




Kim Copeland – Blog 2: The United Nations Global Forum on Migration and Development: History, Objectives, and What is to Come

The Global Forum on Migration and Development is a voluntary, informal, non-binding and government-led process that began after a September 2006 report from the UN General Assembly High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development. The event (usually spanning over a four-day period: two government-led days and two civil society-driven days) is open to United Nations States Members and observers; and civil society.

In my first blog, I look at the history, Operating Modalities, and meeting topics over the nine year course of the United Nations Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) and the upcoming GFMD in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Global Forum on Migration and Development – particularly this year hosted in Dhaka and with proposed themes surrounding regional issues – will be incredibly educational to CAPI students working with NGOs on migration issues.

Attached is my second UVic CAPI blog post.


Janice Dowson – Blog 3: Soweto Uprising – “This is our day”

This blog explores the 1976 Soweto Uprising, in which approximately 20000 black students protesting for fair education policies were met with violent police resistance. It explores the historical and present student activism in South Africa and reflects on how my time in South Africa has made me re-think my own relationship with education. 

Claire Horwood – Blog 3: Interview with Andrea Fernandez (School Manager at MSRI)

As discussed in my previous blog post, one of my goals during my internship is to examine the many ways that language, with all of its nuances and all of its layers, impacts the people who work at MSRI and the refugees who access essential services. My hope is that this information will help to shine some light on one of the most prominent invisible barriers that refugees and service providers face, both in facilitating integration into host countries, and during the re-settlement process.

In this podcast, I sit down with Andrea Fernandez, MSRI’s school manager, to discuss the impact of language on the provision of primary and secondary education for refugees registered with MSRI. 

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