Have fun when you can. Think all the time.

Music, Trees, Environment, BBC, Hardwood floors, Storytelling, Adventures, International development, Learning new things, Getting new perspectives, Writing essays, Water, Road trips, Photography, Spaghetti squash, Art, Books, Getting involved, Gingerbread lattes,(Not)Sleeping, Reading, Poetry, Falling leaves, Aging, Monologues, Prickly pear tea, Making lists, Politics, New ideas, Exploring, Traveling, Dinosaurs, Killer whales, Sushi, Pop Culture, Meeting new people, Barbequing with friends, Tubing down the river, Waking up early, Discovering new things, Trees, Empathy, Believing in the Power of Love

May 22, 2011

Lets talk about sex baybee

We spent 2 days at the Drop in Center for Sex Trade workers in Saidpur last week and learned about RDRS's programs related to HIV/Aids prevention and reproductive health. The social stigma against sex trade workers makes it difficult for the women (and their children) to be a part of society. Their children are often teased (even by their teachers) and forced to drop out of school, and many of the women suffer similar problems when trying to get out of the sex trade making for a very difficult (if not impossible) transition.

Although in 2010 the rates of HIV/Aids in Bangladesh is only 0.01% (although I speculate that number is significantly higher and kept low due to the number of unreported cases due to lack of access to testing centers and the social stigma surrounding HIV/Aids), RDRS takes a very preventative role and provides education and training sessions both for the Sex Trade Workers (on the importance of using protection, how HIV/Aids is transmitted, how to be assertive and request a condom, signs and symptoms of STIs ect.) as well as for high risk groups (rickshaw pullers, transient business men ect.) teaching all that good stuff as well as teaching them to respect the sex trade workers line of work.

Using workshops, films, education, and training sessions RDRS has taken a very proactive and preventative (opposed to reactive) stance towards the issue of HIV/Aids in Bangladesh and is one of the aspects about many of RDRS's programs that really like. I am a huge fan of dealing with issues before they become problems, providing education before we need to apply treatment, and talking about issues before they become taboo.

Sex. Its happening everywhere, and there are no signs of it going out of style...so why are we so afraid to talk about it talk about it? Canada is not to be let off the hook by any means, and our sexual education in schools is weak at best. Sex is going to happen whether we talk about it or not, but education can try to ensure that its aa safe, protected, and informed decision. Scare tactics might work when we are heading to the polls to elect politicians, but its never stopped anyone from hooking up.

Very fittingly after our visits at the Drop in Center we visited the Maternity Health Clinic in Lamonirat...because after sex comes babies. The clinic is open 24 hrs a day and education is provided to women as they wait for their antenatal checkups. Its difficult to convince women to come to the clinic for childbirth as a safer alternative to home deliveries due to traditional practices and superstitions and 48/1000 babies die during childbirth. I'm a long way away from having any children (don't get too worried Mom) but I can't imagine that something so natural can have such a fatal end result that can be prevented by access to health care. We have a long way to go if we are going to achieve Child Health/Maternal Health by 2015.

While I don't disagree with any of the Millennium Development Goals ( End poverty and Hunger, Universal Education, Gender Equity, Child Health, Maternal Health, Combat HIV/Aids, Environmental Sustainability, and Global Partnership) I have always been unsettled by the way in which they were proposed. Alone each of the goals is daunting although admirable but without putting plans in place and instead leaving it to the discretion of individual countries to do as they see fit and remaining very vague does not seem feasible. I was able to talk to Basudeb (the district program coordinator in Lamonirat and ask his opinions of the MDG's and he seemed to be as skeptical as I that some sort of miracle will descend from the heavens prior to 2015 solving the worlds problems, bringing equality to all, and making the world a generally wonderful place to be. I wonder if Unicorns will make a reappearance? My fingers are crossed.

Just something for you to think about that I stumbled upon while reading an article in the paper today. In the month of May:

-29 women lost their lives for dowry.
-6 became subject of repression.
-21 female children were raped while 11 women were raped.
->of the 21 disgraced children 4 girls were gang raped and 3 were killed about molestation.
-10 women suffered acid injury.

Never stop learning,
Delaney C.

May 21, 2011

My Bedeshi Birthday

One of the perks of an international birthday….It goes on FOREVER. Every year my Birthday seems to exceed my expectations and this year was no exception. I’m not sure how many Canadians from rural Manitoba can say that they turned twenty-three in Bangladesh but if there is a club out there I totally want to be one of the members.

I woke up (after having a ‘midnight’ Kit-Kat pre-birthday party celebration with the girls) to the manager of the guest house in Kurigram (where we were staying) bringing me a huge bouquet of roses sent from Aslam (the manager at the guest house in Rangpur). We enjoyed our breakfast of tea, toast with homemade nutella, eggs, and fresh fruit and then Jaqel (our amazing driver for the last two weeks) present me with a bouquet of fresh hand picked flowers and a birthday wish.

We headed to a group meeting which is a program facilitated by RDRS for the most vulnerable members of the community. The program is 24 month period in which group members decide the topics of the week (ex. Dowry, early marriage, and divorce ect.) participate in IGAs (goat rearing, micro-enterprise ect.) and create a network of support for each other. This group was a group of twenty-six women who are categorized as the ultra-poor and were all divorced or widows and of only one had completed primary education.

We headed back to Rangpur where I was greeted by MORE flowers and a cute little vase courtesy of Aslam. After lunch Aslam took us to the market to by fabric for our sari blouses and petticoats after fifteen minutes of hinting that it would be better if he came with us because he could get us a better deal…gotta love indirect communication. I love going to the market. I love the chaos and the confusion. The constant honking and the dusty heat. I love almost getting hit while you weave in and out of people, tuk-tuks, rickshaws, and animals. I love the bright colours and flowing scarves trailing from women’s necks. I love the street vendors selling food of names I can’t even imagine pronouncing, the bazaars selling golden bangles, plastic purses, and yards of fabric. I love how if you stop moving, and stand still for even a second you will be washed away by activity and excitement and become only an obstacle for other people who remain a part of the machine.

We returned to the guest house to MORE flowers and a special dinner of duck prepared with apples (which might be the best duck I have ever had, and one of the most amazing meals I have had here) and Aslam had baked me an upside down pineapple cake….delicious.

The generosity and hospitality of the Bangladeshi people is overwhelming and I’m not sure that I deserve this sort of treatment from my new friends—even if it is my birthday and I am once again shocked by how much love I receive from every part of the world…I am a very very lucky girl.

With lots of light,
Delaney C.

Can I ask you a question? How many lives do you live….because I think you only live once.

Kurigram is one of the most vulnerable and economically disadvantaged districts in Bangladesh due to lack of job opportunities and being an area prone to natural disaster. After arriving in Kurigram, meeting the staff, and receiving background information on some of the programs we would be visiting we had tea, and an impromptu philosophy session with one of the staff we have affectingly nicknamed ‘Dr. Love’. He began our session by saying that “there are many important things in life, but love is the most important.” What a smart man.

A couple of days later during a discussion about the meaning of feeling we were offered Betle Nut (which I heard as Battle Nut, and was pretty excited about), and I (foolishly I might add) agreed to try for not other reason then, why not…I am in Bangladesh after all. You take the Betle nut, put Lyme on a special leaf, wrap the nut around the leaf, put it in your moth and chomp chomp chomp. A couple of chews in Dr. Love informs me that “The first time I tried this I vomited.” To which I thought, “Boy am I in for a ride.” It was about this time that my tongue and lips started to go numb and my brain began to get fuzzy coupled by a nice head rush. Aslam explained that Betel nut is a stimulant and a form of tobacco....so like chew essentially...if chew and something much much stronger had a love child. I'll always try something once...why not.

Since my first year of University (when I first applied to participate in this program) I have been fascinated by the Chars (sand bars in the middle of the river that thousands of people live on because plots of land on the mainland are expensive and scarce). Chars people face isolation as they are only accessible by boat and many NGOs refuse to work on the Chars (out of the 20 NGOs working on the mainland in Kurigram, only 4 work on the chars), lack of running water and electricity, access to education, flash flooding, and widespread erosion that forces then to re-located their homes every 1.5-2 years.

Contrary to my love for the city, the markets, the buzz and the dust I discuss in my Birthday post, I love the chars for completely opposite reasons. I love the haunting quietness, the isolation, the boat ride over as the main land gets smaller and smaller. The lack of lights and the sun slips out of sight, and the singing that can be heard from across the sandbar after we’ve tucked into our mosquito nets. I love the simplicity, and the smiles that seem more genuine and I love the quite. I love how it’s slower, how there are just as many people but everything is calm and serene. I love looking out into the river and watching the fisherman’s boats pad slowly up and down the channel in search of fish, and the stares of curiosity. I love riding on motobikes sideways with my colorful scarves billowing behind me and I love how there is more time to interact informally and just spend time in the presence of other human beings.

We visited many programs as part of the Chars Livlihood Program (CLP), several schools, micro-credit groups, and community groups. We had cultural nights where we broke out “Survive” and tried our best to represent Canada well, and we met Mrs. Delaura at a micro-credit meeting, who will remain one of my inspirations and a powerful female role-model (along with Silvia, and my very own mother to name a few of truly inspiring, powerful, and amazing women in my life). She was beautifully dressed in her green sari and stood tall and strong and something about her exuded strength and confidence and to say she was inspiring (and maybe a little intimidating) would not do justice.

Mrs. Delaura grew up on the mainland and moved to the chars to be with her husband because that was where he was raised however he now works in Dhaka in the garment factory and returns to the chars only once or twice and month to visit. She was trained as a health-care professional by Friendship (an NGO that works on the chars) and offers planned parent hood, hygiene education, and education about contraceptives for ~600 tk/month (less than $10 Cdn). She has three children (one of whom lives with her on the chars) who she puts through school and explained to us that during her 26 years living on the chars she has had to move her home 15 times due to river erosion. She invited us to her home that evening where we were able to sit, chat, and ask questions while neighbours and community members pressed closely around us.

Although I wish I had the ability to speak any language simply by wishing it to be so, I don’t find the lack of verbal communication to be as frustrating as one might expect and even if it’s just in my head the moments when you hold a gaze just a second too long and something clicks, as though its transferred between two people, or a hand squeeze, or a brush of your loose hair...those can mean more than the simple physical interaction, and I like to think they do.

One day while the girls tried to rest I attempted to draw the children away from our glassless window and distract them with jump rope, Frisbee and the beach toys that Bilan had brought. We played in puddles with the water toys each child passing the toy around the circle so everyone could get a turn, we jumped rope (even though it was much to short for someone my height to jump with—which ended up with hilarious results) and played Frisbee in huge circles. That’s not what this program is about…playing with kids, skipping rope, laughing and infections smiles. But for me that’s what makes it great, that I have the opportunity to create moments that are special to me, that include what I love to do (interact with people, and just have fun) and share something special.

With Love love love,
Delaney C.

Little Green Hands, Ancient Mango Trees, Culture and Community, Song and Dance.

In Bangladesh there is a huge importance placed on culture, and many of RDRS’s programs have a cultural element teaching the Adebasi (indigenous people) about their culture and at almost every school we attend there is singing and dancing. In Honduras and El Salvador it is also common for students to share their culture with songs, dance, and traditional dance while we timidly respond with an off-key rendition of O’Canada—our national anthem—while discussing whether the ‘Boot Scoot and Boogie’ is Canadian enough to put on display.

What is Canadian food, or music, or dance? What is Canadian culture? When abroad I always have the hardest time explaining what it is that makes me Canadian other than simply being born (and continuing to live) in Canada. Canada is a multicultural country. A mosaic of people and customs from all over the world living within the same geographical location, and that’s part of what makes Canada a wonderful place to live but also very hard to explain when visiting more homogeneous populations. I’ve started to wonder whether Canada (and many Canadians) has an abundance or an absence of culture...

My father was born and raised in Portugal, immigrating to Canada with my Uncle and my Grandparents when he was ~16. My mother is French-Canadian and grew up in Quebec before leaving for College and later University. Regardless of the opportunities to speak both French and Portuguese and have a ‘culture’ so to speak I guess I don’t. I do not have Portuguese dancing to display at cultural events, or the ability to whip up French-Canadian cuisine to bring to pot-lucks and although I know can speak Spanish (from my time in Honduras and hours of practice) and make a mean perogy (does that mean I’m Ukraine now?) I feel like I’m missing out on something, although I’m not sure what that something is. How important is it to be ‘in tune’ with where you came from? My cousins can speak Portuguese, do Portuguese dancing, represent Portugal in Folkerama, and are part of a Portuguese community in Winnipeg and I can’t help but feel a little jealous and as if they have a couple more puzzle pieces kicking around as to who they are and where they have come from.

In Canada our government provides social services and safety nets, but what happens in countries where the government is unable (or chooses not to) provide these programs for its people? In the case of Bangladesh (Honduras, El Salvador, and many other ‘developing’ countries) this support comes from Non-governmental organizations, other countries government assistance, or the communities themselves. In every community we have visited it seems that everyone we meet is involved in at least one (often more) community program—whether it be community policing, federations, micro-enterprise initiatives, community health programs, women’s collectives ect. engagement comes from all over the place in a variety of different forums.

In Canada government programs will support me if I get sick, loose my job, or need extra assistance, but rarely (at least in urban settings) will the community rally around you to provide support in a time of need…disintegration of community? If I want less crime I bring in outside support to enforce stricter rules, if I want a new community center I look outside for funding and for someone to pay to do the labour. There is less of a community and if I get sick, my neigbour may never know….but just because we don’t necessarily need each other to get by doesn’t mean we should hide away in our individual ivory towers, which makes me think….development, but at what cost?

I like the idea of working with the community, within the community on community issues…because who better to understand the issues at hand, the dynamic of the community, and viable solutions than the community members themselves. With the community policing program a huge focus was on mediation rather than on punishment. Rehabilitation and working with people to provide support, new coping mechanisms, information and education, rather than sending people outside of the community, away from their support networks and into an institution of punishment…seems much more healthy to me (for individuals and entire communities). Also, if you know who you are accountable, and everyone within the community knows each other its less likely that you are going to be deviant (are you more likely to steal from a stranger or a friend?).

Another creative initiative (which I’m extra pumped about because I used a similar technique for my big program in Honduras and I like seeing used other places because it makes me feel as though I am on the right track) is the use of song, dance, and theater to engage the community in advocacy issues and provide information to groups that otherwise would not be engaged (women, children, youth, illiterate ect.) This technique has been used in many of the community groups and federations that we have visited…staring with love songs to draw a large crowd and then shifting to folk songs, and skits that deliver messages of important issues facing the communities they are directed to (anything from disaster prevention, eve teasing, dowry, early marriage, and environmental issues to domestic violence and civic engagement). Maybe it’s about time political leaders in Canada came out with rap songs or music videos? Just kidding…kind of.

Have fun when you can, think all the time.
Delaney C.

May 6, 2011

A Little Bit of This and a Little Bit of That

I'm having a hard time writing this blog, maybe just because I know I have to, and there is a possibility of more people reading it...just a little bit intimidating. But I will try to remain as frank, open, and sincere as possible.

Arriving in Bangladesh has proved to be a very confusing experience. It feels oddly familiar (at least so far) even though I have never been here before. So many things about Bangladesh remind me of Honduras and its hard not to instantly want to compare the two, but it is something I need to make a conscious effort not to do.

We met with a man from the CIDA section of the Canadian High Commission (an Embassy but in a common wealth country) and we had the opportunity to talk to him about his experience working for CIDA, working in development and whatever else our hearts desired. He talked a little bit about the trend to switch from facilitating/funding numerous localized projects to fewer decentralized projects (which I also saw during my experience working with LWF). This ‘focus focus’ approach seems counter intuitive to me…by putting all your resources, funding, time and effort into one or two projects you are also putting a whole lot of faith in the fact that they will be successful and effective, and also putting a lot of faith in the counterparts you enter these projects into with. Would you put all your eggs in one basket???

I knew that finding clothes here would be a challenge, seeing that I am at least a foot if not more taller than the general population so when in Dhaka I didn’t get too frustrated in not finding much that fit. It also helped being warned in advance…and I’m coming to terms with the fact that I stick out EVERYWHERE. Last night after arriving in Rangpur and having a meeting with the RDRS staff, we headed to the market to try and get me hooked up.

The word overwhelming comes to mind. Bilan and I shared a rickshaw and we took off down the street…like literally bolted, passing everyone in our path. I clung to Bilan for dear life and may or may not have let out a small shriek or two when rounding corners. We got to the marked and first when to a shop to get a chawar camise (a specific long top that they wear in Bangladesh with a scarf and “Aladdin” pants) to get my size. They have no change rooms so I was taken to a beauty parlor (where men are not allowed) to try on my top. I went in and after a quick game of charades I explained I was not there to get my nails done or eye brows threaded, but simply try on my shirt and was directed to the corner where I proceeded to take of my shirt and replace it with the chawar camise well everyone stared at me.

Then we went to a shop with fabric to tailor. The men at the shop started pulling out spool (?) after spool, and then pre-made but not finished chawars….what felt like thousands of them. I finally settled on a few and we ran around the corner to the tailor, who spun me around, pushed my arms up and then down taking my measurements with a stern face and then getting angry when one of the half made chawars wouldn’t work because the neck was too small. Everything sounded angry because I could not pick up anything (apparently I don’t speak Bengali…who knew), and I was pretty much confused and overwhelmed the entire time, but now I am excited because when I return from Thakurgaon (our first site visit) I will have three awesome, beautiful, handmade outfits waiting for me 

I am excited (even though that hardly seems like the right word) to begin our field visits and start interacting instead of just being a spectacle when we parade around together. I think once we get to Thakurgaon everything will begin to come together for me…Here’s hoping!

12 hrs into the future,
Delaney C.