Stories from the field

month January 2017

Nicola Craig Hora – Blog 5: Practice Makes Perfect

For the past 6 months I have been working in the CITYNET Yokohama Project Office as a Project Assistant. Time has gone by incredibly fast and I have had a numerous tasks of different sizes. This week I had the opportunity to help the office put together an emergency procedures manual for future staff and interns. Our building was having their annual disaster drill and the office thought that I was a perfect time to update the office manuals.   

            The drill was not a small-scale affair and it involved everyone who worked in the International Organizations Center. The emergency scenario that we were given was of a 7.0 earthquake off the coast of Chiba Prefecture, just north of Tokyo- the earthquake was accompanied by a risk of Tsunami and a fire in the hotel attached to our office building. Being aware of the risk for Tsunami is extremely important because the CITYNET office is right on the harbour. Many of the emergency exits, including the ones closest to our office, exit right on the water. Therefor doing drills is important because employees need to know how to evacuate the building safely in a wide array of emergency scenarios.

            Participating in drills is extremely important and muscle memory really is a thing. If you are well-versed in ways to protect yourself from various emergencies then you are less likely to freeze and panic in a real emergency. For example, in the office building the emergency doors need to be turned a specific way in order to open them. If there was a huge earthquake you would be scared, and rightly so, the door might seem very intimidating and frustrating if you had not opened it before. But if you have previous experience in a non-stressful situation, once you get to the door you will be more relaxed and be able to focus on the next step of your evacuation instead of getting stuck on this one step.

            I am really glad that I did participate in this drill because I made a mistake during our evacuation from the office. Ever since I was little I have been taught that if you are evacuating because of a fire you need to close the doors behind you but keep them unlocked. This is to slow down the spread of the fire but also make it easier for firefighters to make their way around the building. The emergency scenario that we were re-enacting was an earthquake that triggered a fire so I thought that we needed to close our office door. In my defence, I grew up in Toronto and it highly unlikely that a large earthquake would affect us. We do lots and lots of fire drills but not fire and earthquake drills. I had been over confidence of my knowledge on emergency procedures and that bubble popped during this drill, whic exposed the constant need to practice through different scenarios. Because I was right, if there is a fire you close doors behind you but if there is a fire that is connected to an earthquake you have to keep the doors open.

            From the beginning of my internship in July through to the late fall we became accustomed to regular earthquakes. Most weeks there were at least three decent-sized earthquakes in the Yokohama and Tokyo region, enough to freak you out and keep you aware. Before this internship started last summer I had lived in Japan before, in Kobe for 9 months and then another 4 months in Yokohama, and I had never experienced this many earthquakes on a regular basis. I prepared my emergency kit at home, started carrying a small emergency bag with me everywhere including granola bars, a whistle, hand-sanitizer, a face mask, flashlight, swiss-army knife, and first-aid kit. To be honest I probably should have already had a first-aid kit on me because I am extremely clumsy and I am glad that living here has gotten me into the habit of always carrying one.

In the New Year the plates have settled down a bit but ignoring the fact that Tokyo is overdue for a large earthquake and Mount Fuji is likely to erupt in the next few decades is silly and quite dangerous. To everyone moving to or visiting Japan, I think that it is part of your responsibility as a foreigner to participate in drills and prepare emergency supplies. This is hard to do as a tourist but brushing up on earthquake procedures before you visit is a small but lifesaving activity that can be used in across the world. There is a 1/3 chance that Victoria will be hit by a damaging earthquake in the next 50 years so emergency preparedness is something that we should all be practicing on a regular basis. Even if you think you are prepared and know all there is to know you should still participate, you never fully know what you don’t know until you go.

So where am I going with all this? The past week I have been finishing up the touches on the office manual with the help of one of my colleagues. I am proud that I will be able to leave something useful and important for future interns and I hope that reading this blog will spark a desire in you to get yourself and your office prepared. Think about how long ago your last emergency drill was. What was the scenario? Do you know the vulnerabilities you are exposed to? Do you know where all the emergency supplies are in the office? Ignoring the inevitable doesn’t help anyone and puts ourselves and our loved ones at risk. Practice makes perfect and perfect keeps you safe.

For more information on how you can prepare for disaster please explore the following resources:


City of Yokohama:

Hannah Shin – Blog 3: Understanding indigenous fishing knowledge and customary practices in the Gulf of Mottama, Myanmar

Mingalaba fellow readers,

I have been with the Network Activities Group (NAG) for about three months now, and so much as happened, and I am finding that my sense of time feels very warped. As I am writing this and thinking about my placement here, it feels like three months has flown by, but there have been times where time just stood still. My last blog, I talked about the project I am part of and the workshop I attended. Now, it has been about three months since I have joined NAG, and I finally have a project that I am “leading”*. I will be working on this project until the end of my placement with NAG.

*Side note: What I mean by “leading” is that I have been in charge of designing the project (it feels a bit foreign to me because this was my first time designing a project where I get to apply it out in the field – I wished I have taken research methods prior to coming out here).

I am studying the indigenous fishing knowledge (IFK) and customary practices in the Gulf of Mottama. So, how does my project fit into their community-led coastal management in the Gulf of Mottama (CLCMGOM), especially in co-management? I think it is important to understand the IFK and customary practices of the fishers when implementing fishery policies and regulations that affect fishers’ livelihoods. I believe in providing platform for the local fishers’ to share their fishing knowledge, which will help civil society (ie. NGOs and universities) and government to better understand current state of small scale fishing industry. It is also important to empower the local fishers’ and their community because it is their livelihood at stake; therefore they should be involved in the process.

I met with Yin Nyein (supervisor), Thant Zin Phyo (Thant Zin Phyo) and Soe Min Oo (fisheries officer) to discuss the objectivity of the project, preliminary outline, survey questions, and logistics for the field visits. There are 30 project villages for the CLCMGOM project and we will visit 10 project villages to collect their indigenous fishing knowledge and customary practices. We planned out our visits to four villages in Mon State areas, and decided that Soe Min Oo would be my cultural and language broker for this project.

Soe Min Oo (fisheries officer and cultural/language broker) in motorbike taxi in Mon State.

From our field visits, both Soe Min Oo and I have learned tremendous amount from our challenges. He realized the difficulties of being the only language broker and I realized that I needed to improve on my research skills, especially in methodology, and need more supervision. There were other difficulties and challenges, but the two I highlighted above were our main weaknesses. 

Sometimes, we travel by boat to visit our field sites.

I presented our preliminary findings from our field visits, but mostly I wanted to discuss the challenges we encountered and to find solutions. Soe Min Oo and I agreed that it was too difficult for him to facilitate all the translation so we need another language broker to help us. Also, I mentioned that it was very difficult to collect everything in one day and I needed more feedback and supervision. During our meeting we all agreed that one visit per village to collect data (history of the village, IFK and customary practices, conflict resolution, and gender) was not sufficient enough, so I had suggested three days per village that way I am able to build rapport and relationship with the villagers. However, due to time constraints we compromised to two days per village. We also discussed methodologies and what would be best suited for this project. Currently, I am working on my project plan for January and waiting to meet with my new supervisor, Thant Zin Phyo and Soe Min Oo to discuss new logistics and plans for our next field visits.

Here are some things I have learned from my field visits to remotes fishing villages in the Mon State:

–       One of the major problems that the fishers’ encounter is illegal fishing, such as using illegal mesh size, use of poison, and fishing in closed areas.

–       The word “taught” does not have the same meaning in Burmese language. I have learned from my own experience that the fishers’ were never taught to fish, but learned through observation and experience out at sea.

–       All fishing villages retain and hold very similar indigenous fishing knowledge and customary practices.

–       Most of these remote villages have poor infrastructure, such as roads; therefore have more difficulties accessing resources (ie. clinics, hospitals, and schools).

–       Indigenous fishing knowledge and customary practice information are orally passed down and there are not written documentations.


She is making a gillnet for her husband, but she also makes nets for other fishers for profit.

Here are some of my non-work highlights of 2016:

–       I never know when I am going to be out in the field so it has been difficult for me to take language lessons, so I am learning Burmese language from my co-workers, especially from finance ladies. They teach me new vocabulary and in exchange I teach them English and Korean.

–       I spent my Christmas holiday at the Ngapali Beach, which is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in South East Asia. I ate my way through this beautiful coast and enjoyed the luxury life of a tourist.

–       I have finally adjusted to Yangon lifestyle and have made friends from various organizations (eg. CUSO, VSO, British Council, and many more). It has taken me awhile to adjust to my new lifestyle, but I am enjoying every bit of it.


Hanging out with the local school kids. They all knew how to say hello in Korean!

Thus far, I am learning invaluable research skills, interpersonal skills, and self-discovery/personal growth. I am fortunate enough to have an internship where I am gaining experience out in the field. This experience is a great exposure to potential masters program. 


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