Bangladesh: A New Learning Experience

by: Chista Keramati

Chista Keramati is working with the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) in Dhaka. Chista and her teammate, Jamie, will be studying the gendered aspect of climate change by looking at policies and programs in Bangladesh that address the vulnerabilities of women to climate-induced hazards. The team is conducting fieldwork in three different rural areas of Bangladesh, each prone to a different mix of climate disasters.

The pilot announced that our plane would be landing in 40 minutes at Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka. Looking out the window, I tried to see with my own eyes the Bangladesh landscape. I spotted settlements here and there, green areas of what I assumed were cultivated land, and what I initially perceived as “dirt roads.” I asked myself, “But, wait! Where is all the water that I read so much about?,” only to realize that the “dirt roads” were not really roads but rivers whose brown color comes from the huge amount of sediment they carry with them along the way. I gazed in awe at the magnificent web of rivers and wetlands that were running across the landscape below our feet.

Typical busy street in Dhaka
Typical busy street in Dhaka

That feeling of awe has not only remained but grown with me at every scenic or human encounter here. Life in Dhaka involves learning not necessarily new things, but everything in a new and different way. This new learning experience encompasses everything from the very basic activity of crossing the street (a double challenge when you are not used to people driving on the left-hand side of the road, and overcrowded streets that rarely have street signs) to working with our partner organization BCAS.

FIRST MEETING WITH OUR PROJECT PARTNER

Our first week in Dhaka involved extensive meetings with BCAS members, together with our professor Tracy Kijewski-Correa. We heard about the BCAS team’s hopes and aspirations not just for a better life for the people of Bangladesh, but for the whole world.

On our first meeting with Dr. Atiq Rahman, the founder of BCAS, he explained how the neat and well-organized knowledge in written reports and proposals do not necessarily match the messy realities on the ground.

I can see what he means. The realities we read about on paper before coming here have felt different when faced and experienced first-hand. I am seeing with my own eyes the amount of water running across the Bangladesh landscape, and how this might relate to climate change. And instead of seeing images of busy streets, I am now crossing even the narrowest streets of Dhaka with special caution. I am relieved, too, to find that there are some female experts working at BCAS and that it is not an all-male organization. This is important to our research.

RESEARCHING GENDER AND CLIMATE CHANGE

As a team of two women interested in researching the gendered aspect of climate change in Bangladesh, we are trying to observe and learn as much as we can about the attitude towards women in this country. Of course, our own personal experience has been mixed with our identity as not just women, but non-Bangladeshi women. We are slowly getting used to attracting attention at every turn in the local market, and being asked to take selfies wherever we go site-seeing.

Another lesson I have learned is that Google Maps doesn’t help much with local transportation. When you are stuck in a street and don’t know how to get home, and you also don’t know the local language, you can still rely on the kindness of strangers to help you take a CNG taxi (a small motor vehicle that runs with compressed natural gas). I have learned that once you ask someone for help, they feel responsible for you until their job of helping you is completed successfully.

AnAn attraction in our own right
An attraction in our own right

As I am writing the final words of this blog post, I come across another cause for celebration, not necessarily related to our personal experience here, but surely related to Bangladeshi women: the Bangladesh women’s cricket team has just won the Asia Cup, making it the first Bangladeshi team ever to win this championship. It is both funny and endearing to read the comment of Soumya Sarkar, a Bangladeshi male cricket player on this great achievement, saying, “the moment is a proud one for us. This is the first time the girls won something, and that has come at the Asia Cup. They have won a big title, whereas the boys have won none till date, despite all the facilities.”[1]

Kudos to the women of Bangladesh! Our team is here to learn from you all.

[1] https://www.dhakatribune.com/sport/cricket/2018/06/10/bangladesh-women-elect-to-field-in-asia-cup-final

Becoming Uncomfortable: Peace Studies in the Field

by: Susan St. Ville

Students in the International Peace Studies Concentration of the Keough School Master of Global Affairs program will soon embark on the extended field internship experience that is an integral part of their peace studies training. Students will spend six months on the ground working with a peace-related organization and conducting independent field research that will form the basis of their MA Capstone project. This year members of the peace studies cohort will be located in Nairobi, Bogota, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Seattle, and South Bend. They will join a range of organizations including the World Bank, Catholic Relief Services, Voice of America, the Life and Peace Institute, and Act, Change, Transform (ACT!).

Peace studies in actionThe Kroc Institute established its first field internships in 2004. Six months is a long time to be away from campus and the extended internship experience is unique among master’s level peace studies programs. We are encouraged that alumni of the master’s program and employers alike consistently report that the extended time spent in the field is essential to building the professional identity and self-understanding that is the hallmark of peacebuilders trained at the Kroc Institute over the last 32 years.

In the high stakes and unpredictable world of conflict and peace work, acting professionally requires much more than simply applying skills learned in the classroom to vexing problems in the real world.

As part of the Keough School Master of Global Affairs, the peace studies concentration draws deeply on the pragmatic insights of reflective practice: the understanding that the most effective knowledge in any situation comes through practice. Put simply, we learn best by doing.

Reflective practice requires that we shift the center of gravity on the theory-practice continuum. In his classic book, Experience and Education, John Dewey asserts that learning rooted in experience is key for intellectual and personal growth, helping students to “improve their power of judgment and capacity to act intelligently in new situations.” The peace studies students in the field learn above all to listen to the nuances of the local context and to act in a manner fitting to the particular situation. To be sure, students draw on the theories and skills that they have learned during the first year of coursework. But they understand the importance of holding these theories gently and being ready to adapt, rework or even reject them as the situation demands.

Peace Studies students often remark that the field experience helps them to be “comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Indeed, the experience is intentionally designed to unsettle students. Students are generally placed in a culture that is unfamiliar to them: this year our interns in Nairobi, for example, will hail from the Philippines, China, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Interns become full members of the organizations where they are placed, learning how to navigate an institutional setting very different from the university community that has been their home for the past year.

 

Peace studies in action

Students spend the majority of their time (four days per week) working with their organization, leaving one day each week for their own academic research. In these practical ways, the Peace Studies field experience seeks to embody the key principles of solidarity and subsidiarity that are central to the understanding of integral human development that undergirds the Keough School Master of Global Affairs. Asking students to step outside of their comfort zone and follow the lead of the local partners for six months is difficult, but through this process students learn in very practical ways how to genuinely support their partners and nurture local initiatives that support the common good.

Over the course of six months, students will write monthly journal entries and longer papers that recount the challenges they face in these unfamiliar settings, but also the creative ways they have found to meet these challenges. Later entries from Peace Studies students on this blog will give readers a glimpse of these journeys. Like past interns, this year’s Peace Studies students will produce important products for their organizations, including conflict assessments; policy analyses and recommendations; workshop designs; and program evaluations. But more importantly, they will develop personal qualities that will allow them to succeed as professional peacebuilders, no matter the context in which they find themselves.

Education theorist Randall Bass writes that the most valuable and transformational educational experiences are those that improve students’ ability to “make discerning judgments based on practical reasoning, acting reflectively, taking risks, engaging in civil, if difficult, discourse, and proceeding with confidence in the face of uncertainty.” Over the extended six-month period, Peace Studies students grow in all of these areas, learning to think outside the box and to act confidently (with both generosity and humility).

If the stories and career trajectories of past master’s students are any indication, we know that the field experience will be radically transformative for our students. We are excited for our Peace Studies students to undertake this formation process and even more excited to see who they become over the next six months.

Susan St. Ville

Director, International Peace Studies Concentration

Exploring Otherness in Delhi: Tracing sugar and self

by: Caroline Andridge

“A girl here to see you, ma’am, from Outside India.”

This Hindi whisper introduced me to my supervisor at Oxfam India, and ultimately, to my first week here in New Delhi. This sense of otherness—expressed both by the “outside” designation that my fair skin and reddish hair make obvious, and my inability to understand the local language—is constant.

Though I’ve lived and traveled abroad alone before, Delhi presents an entirely new and overwhelming landscape for me. The sights and sounds and smells are constant and pervasive. Rickshaws, motorbikes, and compact cars zoom past me without seatbelts or more than the occasional nod to traffic rules. I weave between dogs and hurried strangers on my way to and from the metro for work every day, feigning a confidence and sense of direction I do not actually feel. As an American with only the cultural knowledge I researched in preparation for this position, I am out of place.

Though scary, this otherness also presents a chance to continue an exploration of self, privilege, and positionality that I’ve been struggling with for the past several years. Development work has historically involved using outside money and staff to “help” a community in another country. Of course, this paternal arrangement raises complex and valid questions. Why should outsiders take jobs in place of local citizens? How can a foreign organization know the needs of the community more than the community themselves? What is our right, basically, to enter these communities, assert our Otherness, and take positions and decisions that the community members themselves are capable of fulfilling?

UNDERSTANDING DEVELOPMENT THROUGH A NEW LENS

The Keough School of Global Affairs’ concentration in Sustainable Development, and this i-Lab project in particular, recognizes these questions and attempts to find a new path for development. Rather than the prescriptive and vertical relationships traditionally found in development, the field is moving toward a more inclusive and horizontal approach. Local organizations hire local staff to fulfill the project mandate, and use insight from various organizations to uncover the pressing problems and culturally appropriate responses to them. While there’s still much work to be done in this transition, the early progress is promising.

TRANSLATING LOCAL INSIGHT TO GLOBAL IMPACT

My experiences in the Master of Global Affairs program and the Keough School i-Lab has helped me find my own role within this shifting development paradigm.

Table Workspace

I am working with Oxfam, together with fellow Master of Global Affairs students Sofía del Valle and Moaz Uddin, to support their Behind the Brands (BtB) campaign—a global effort to hold the top 10 food and beverage companies responsible for their supply chains, environmental impact, and worker treatment. Eight of the 10 largest companies are American, and all profoundly impact the countries where they source their ingredients. The BtB campaign works with these companies to improve their business practices in areas like improved farmer treatment, water stewardship, and respect for land rights. Our team is working with Oxfam America, Oxfam India, Oxfam Ghana, and Oxfam Malawi to support the implementation phase of this campaign.

I am working with Oxfam India. India is the world’s second largest producer of sugarcane in the world and a major source country for The Coca Cola Company and PepsiCo. I will be traveling to sugarcane plantations with Oxfam India staff to speak with sugar farmers about their treatment by and experience with these companies. This information will help us understand the actions the companies have already taken, and where they need to do more.

To me, this project is a great example of the shifting development scheme. Oxfam America works in tandem with local staff at Oxfam India, Oxfam Malawi, and Oxfam Ghana to work directly with the farmers that produce the sugar, cocoa, and other commodities upon which these companies so heavily rely. By engaging U.S. companies and holding them accountable to higher standards, I feel encouraged to connect my U.S. nationality and related privilege with sustainable development work. Taking responsibility for the impact that American consumerism and lifestyle has on other countries is humbling and necessary.

In just a few months, I will regroup in Washington, DC, with my Keough School teammates. I’m excited to share our experiences—both good and bad—and hear about the impressions of Ghana, Malawi, and India from diversely Chilean, Pakistani, and American perspectives. This project has offered a new way to think of my responsibility and positionality as an American. I’m grateful for and challenged by the opportunity.

Images and Memories from the U.S./Mexico Border

by: Kathleen Kollman

Pretty much everything about our first two weeks on the Southwest Border has been intense: the blistering heat and sun; the jagged mountain and sweeping desert landscape, the long hours we’ve been in meetings and interviews; and most of all, the devastating stories of suffering and injustice we’ve heard and the passionate men and women we have met who are working with and for migrants down here.

The four of us on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services team knew we were walking into a tough context in starting on the U.S./Mexico border, but I don’t think we could have prepared ourselves to receive all that we’ve seen and heard. It is hard for me to sum up the experiences of these past few weeks, so instead I will try to give a sense of what we have been witnessing, and the memories we are now intentionally trying to hold with us and process.

WITNESSING THE REALITY OF MIGRATION

The following are some of the images and memories that most remain with us from Tucson and El Paso:

Driving and walking through the arid and vast Sonoran desert in 105-degree heat, helping humanitarian aid workers fill up water tanks for migrant travelers. We encountered “artifacts” left behind by migrants—a child’s shoe, black water jugs, a rosary that now adorns a wooden cross marking the place where the body of a migrant was recently found. We paused at the wooden cross, and let the sun beat down on us, as we took a moment of silence for that loss of life.

A middle-aged man sitting with us at an aid center for deported migrants in Mexico, openly crying into his hands, covering his face as he told us his story of having been deported from the home he’s known for 20 years, away from his U.S.-citizen family members.

The journey into an administrative detention center in what seemed like the middle of the desert, surrounded by two layers of electrified barbed wire, housing a majority of people who have committed no official crime: seeking asylum in the United States.

The sight of a woman holding the hand of a tottering toddler, wearing a t-shirt that read “Life is Beautiful” in English – true words that struck me, painfully, as unreflective of her circumstances. She was walking along the open-air waiting area at the border into the U.S. in Nogales, Mexico, and was one of about fifty people sleeping on the sidewalk as they waited to be processed as asylum seekers. Most likely they will be turned away, though they have walked hundreds of miles to escape violence. If they are accepted for processing, the families with children will likely be separated.

Twenty men, shackled and chained, walking into a courtroom where they were tried en-masse in the course of about thirty minutes—in a language and legal system foreign to them. They were given a criminal sentence for crossing illegally, which bars them from ever getting citizenship in the U.S.

A five-year-old boy lying on the concrete floor of a children’s detention facility as the staff tried to coax him to participate in the children’s group activity. They told us he was separated from his parents at the border and has been fairly despondent since then.

BRIGHT SPOTS GIVE US HOPE

USCCB Migrants-Team

These are some of the hard moments we have witnessed. It has all weighed heavily on us, to be honest. But we are also filled with hope daily by the incredible people we have gotten to meet who are giving their lives to addressing injustice on the border. We have definitely seen the “bright spots” we’ve been charged to look for by our partner organization: instances in which the rough reality of migration is ameliorated by the relentless efforts of people who refuse to allow for long-term family separation at the border, who decry the militarization of their hometowns and the construction of a wall which denies the reality of seamless Mexican-American border communities, and who work round-the-clock responding to the legal and humanitarian needs of migrants. How all of these “bright spots” will translate into policy recommendations, we still do not know (goodness knows people down here are trying to figure that out, too). But local communities are responding out of love, hope, and stubborn faith that these current policies cannot last forever. And so we four Keough students feel very privileged to bear witness to all of this, despite the intensity.

Karibu to Kenya! Reflections on Nairobi

by: Asmaa el Messnaoui

Today, it has been two weeks already for me here in Nairobi, Kenya. Time flies so fast but my feeling is one of familiarity as if I have seen or lived in this place before. Actually, this is my first extended visit to East Africa, two years after a short visit to neighboring Tanzania.

Nairobi is also called “the green city in the sun,” as I was told by a Kenyan Somali lady I met. She tells diverse stories, some are glorious and some are worrisome.

I DISCOVER A CITY OF RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY

Here, respect for diversity and religious freedom are not slogans for an election campaign. Indians and Somalis specifically found a home here. They became Kenyans and built flourishing communities thriving through business and culture. My Somali friend, whom I met when I visited the local mosque, told me that Kenyan Somalis are proud of their country and feel free to practice their religion and wear religious garments according to their beliefs.

Asmaa in Nairobi

 

I am an eyewitness to this fact as well. While strolling through the busy areas of the city, I saw splendid mosques, beautiful churches, and magnificent Hindu temples scattered all around for all the believers to worship and connect with their faith.

We even found a small China town for the Chinese community that has grown throughout the years with the rise in Chinese investments in the country.

WE SEE OUR i-LAB CHALLENGE UP CLOSE

Those were some facts from the bright side of Nairobi. The gloomy side to the city is instantly noticeable through the deteriorated road network and the crazy traffic. A researcher from our partner organization, the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), told us that the number of cars circulating Nairobi alone is equivalent to all the cars circulating the entire country of Ethiopia. The bad road conditions are an issue rooted in poor urban planning on the surface, but they are also symptomatic of the widespread corruption that is draining the country’s resources.

Traffic in Nairobi

Our project with the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) is to assess devolution—transferring power to local levels—in Kenya. It is a chance to have an inside look into Kenya’s ambitious devolution system, established with the constitutional reform of 2010. In addition to our general observations of Nairobi, we will conduct intensive interviews with the city officials, 9 independent commissioners particularly. We will use this information and insight to dig deeper into the political economy of devolution.

BONUS: OUR CHANCE TO VISIT RURAL AREAS

We are also traveling to 2 rural areas, Baringo and Elgeyo Marakwet counties, next week for more interviews with stakeholders from different sectors to complement the picture. This was a deviation from the initial plan, which was centered on the 6 urban areas of Kenya. But I see this addition as necessary to get a holistic view on the focal question of the project.

All in all, everything seems more promising and enlightening to me with time as I get to immerse myself in the local culture and think more about the various challenges Kenya is facing on the way towards a better future.

Hakuna Matata, Keough School of Global Affairs, the Kenya team will carry out our mission!

First Days in the Philippines

 

by: Steven Wagner

Steven Wagner is working with the Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter at Habitat for Humanity International. Steven and his teammates, Jenna and Juanita, will conduct pre-crisis market analyses for commodities and services in the housing sector, with the ultimate goal of drafting a toolkit for guiding humanitarian actors in replicating this analysis. The team is conducting fieldwork in the Philippines, one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate disasters.

If you are reading this blog entry hoping to learn about my first impressions of an exotic locale, or a description of the quaint local market that I walk through each morning, or my difficulties in acclimating to a foreign language and cuisine, then you are probably going to be disappointed.

Habitat for Humanity
Jenna using any surface available to take notes.

I have only been in the Philippines for a few days as of writing this entry. To be more specific I have been staying in Makati City, the country’s financial hub located within the greater Metro Manila region. To be even more specific I have been living in a skyscraper, surrounded by more skyscrapers. Across the street from my hotel tower is an enormous complex of about nine different interconnected malls, likely occupying a few square kilometers of real estate.

MAKATAI CITY, THE FINANCIAL HUB

Habitat for Humanity
Team Habitat creates a new i-Lab in Makati

I wish I could share something that surprised me or that I found new and exciting about Makati, but to be completely honest, it’s quite similar to most financial centers around the world, what with its plethora of designer brands, wide variety of international cuisines, and looming office buildings. While the 100-degree heat and 90 percent humidity might feel unbearable, I have only had to bear it for a few minutes at a time, transitioning from the air-conditioned hotel to the air-conditioned office, both kept at a refreshing 20 degrees Celsius. In the “market” that I walk through each morning, I pass by Rolex on one side and Calvin Klein on the other. I can’t say I have been struggling without knowing the local language, because everyone I have interacted with so far speaks English. And I don’t even have to worry about getting accustomed to the local food; yesterday the Habitat staff took us out for Italian!

All in all, I feel like I’m living in luxury here, with similar access to what I could have in, say, Manhattan (though maybe the Italian food isn’t as great).

JUXTAPOSITION BEYOND MAKATAI

But while I relax in my air-conditioned skyscraper, about 350 miles away in Tacloban, Filipinos are still living without adequate housing after super-typhoon Haiyan destroyed their homes nearly five years ago.

And only about 20 miles from Makati, there are Filipinos living in abject poverty, residing in houses that would not withstand a major disaster.

Witnessing this disparity is flooring. Today, our Keough School advisor Tracy Kijewski-Correa (we were blessed to have her join us in the field for a few days) drove us out to Bulacan, a barangay (village) on the outskirts of Metro Manila, to study housing typologies typically built by and for people in the income level Habitat is targeting for its programs. We saw many examples of people clearly attempting to build structurally sound homes, but lacking the money, skills, or quality of materials to complete a shelter resilient to the types of disasters the country experiences regularly. In some cases we could actually see at what point the builder either ran out of money or simply stopped caring about structural durability: leftover and broken cinderblocks to fill gaps at the top of an otherwise well-laid wall, a high quality iron roof clumsily attached to the structure below.

When the funding runs out, builders have no choice but to take shortcuts. Unfortunately, the homeowners will pay dearly for those shortcuts, as these are the exact places where the structure will fail if a typhoon or earthquake strikes. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link; a house is no different.

The disparity really shouldn’t shock me—back home in the states one similarly would not even have to leave Manhattan to find a sizeable population of (note: greatly stigmatized) people lacking adequate shelter—but it remains jarring nonetheless. I accept that no individual effort on my part can possibly narrow this enormous gap in the Philippines. But if Habitat’s work can improve access to safe and affordable housing, addressing people’s most basic needs? Well, that would be a good place to start.