Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Indigenous and Newcomer Relations: a good start!

Bi Aliraza Alidina, 1st year MDP student

Globalization, immigration, war, displacement, economic struggles … these are words that define the world we live in. There is a chain of interconnected factors – from history to contemporary politics – that have shaped what is today Canada. Interestingly, one could ask: what is it to be a Canadian? What is the essence of Canadian-ness? Just like a big chunk of the modern globe, Canada is a new country. The country is new, but the land is not. Land and its native inhabitants have always remained. The rest is a result of colonialism, settlement, and immigration. History cannot be changed. There is room to make future better, so that there is a positive trend in the history seen from the near future. For that, we will have to focus on the ‘now’! 

Winnipeg is a city with different dynamics amongst which are a large urban Aboriginal population and an ever growing newcomer population. The two communities share a lot in common: history, culture, traditions, socioeconomic challenges, etc. There lies however many barriers and misconceptions between the two. Without going into details on the reasons behind it – something I am working on in my placement project – the primary reason behind it is the lack of dialogue, positive interaction and communication. Community organizations, settlement service providers and grassroots groups can play a leading role in this regards. Through these platforms, a safe space for dialogue can be created. In this safe space, exchange can happen on diverse areas: history, culture, identity, experiences, views, beliefs and so on. These exchanges – if done in a framework of respect and understanding – can produce good results. Do such initiatives exist in Winnipeg? For sure, they do!

Event poster

I attended one such initiative titled Indigenous and Newcomer Relations which took place on June 20th, the World Refugee Day. Interestingly, the following day represented Aboriginal National Day. The event was organized by 13 Fires Winnipeg in partnership with Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, Manitoba Moon Voices, World University Service of Canada, and the Spence Neighbourhood Association.

The main component of the event – besides from the talks given by different speakers – was the relations-building activity. The attendants were made into different groups with a good mixture of newcomer, mainstream population and Indigenous. The activity consisted in engaging in serious discussions on several questions such as racism, similarities, inclusion, etc.

Group members shared their personal experiences and observations on different aspects such as stereotypes that they have been hearing about Indigenous peoples. It was interesting to hear people share about commonalities in terms of spirituality, culture, language and history.  

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Akuaba from Accra, Ghana

By Adesuwa Ero, 2nd year MDP student

For the last three months, I worked as an intern for Peoples Dialogue on Human Settlements popularly referred to as PD in Accra, Ghana. It is a community-based Non-Governmental Organization working in alliance with Cities Alliance and the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor (GHAFUP) in providing and supporting improved livelihood initiatives for the urban slum dwellers. Through this internship, my goal was to synthesize urban development and communications. The opportunity to demonstrate through writing and visuals, the development efforts being achieved here, not just through the lens of development practitioners but also through the eyes of the beneficiaries and how these projects influence policy decisions. 

Although I am originally from West Africa, this was my first time visiting Ghana. Accra, the country’s capital and also where PD’s office is situated is a vibrant metropolitan city known as a commercial, manufacturing, and communications hub. 
My role as an intern at PD was to assist the programs’ officers with ongoing projects implementation and assist in coordinating community engagements. But, more importantly, to translate a lot of the office documentation ranging from community mapping and profiling, field visit reports, status reports into stories for the website, blogs, newsletters, project catalogs, press releases, validation reports, and other publications. 

Adesuwa at Kokrobite Beach
Through my time here, I have gained a deeper understanding of the complexities associated with development work especially in this part of the world. Taking into account the issues of accountability, professional work ethics, proper documentation, meaningful involvement of stakeholders/ beneficiaries, developing comprehensive project plans, monitoring, and evaluation. In addition, assessing the success trajectory of past projects.

Another interesting observation was getting to understand the cultural dynamics within which the society operate knowing that it tends to have a significant effect on the outcome of development efforts. 

The only thing I found challenging in my time here was the language barrier in communicating with community members and government officials. However, this challenge was not peculiar to foreigners alone but also common within the city enclave which constitutes a wide array of cultural groups with distinct languages. This meant that for every community engagement we had, a minimum of three languages translator’s asides from English had to be present in order to ensure effective and more meaningful engagements.

In a nutshell, the internship provided me the opportunity to work closely on a wide spectrum of development projects to include waste management, water, and sanitation, improved housing and eviction issues, city-wide profiling and mapping, alternative energy, and the Know Your City (KYC) Campaign. Also, I have gained increased capacity in stakeholder mobilization, community engagement, tension management, identifying meaningful communication techniques best suited for grassroots participation. 

The last but not the least, I had the opportunity to learn and work with a group of community youth along side delegates from Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) in first building capacity and producing a video documentary on the activities of GHAFUP to be shown at the upcoming UN-Habitat 3 Conference in October.

Friday, 19 August 2016

The Complexities of Building Cities without Slums

By Esther Awotwe, 1st year MDP student

“Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”- Sustainable Development Goal 11

Who speaks for the urban poor? Who advocates their needs? How do policy makers incorporate their ideas and experiences in policy formulation to create an enabling environment? What are the practicalities of the SDGs in the everyday life of the slum dweller? These and many questions were the ones that went through my mind when I engaged with the urban poor.

My field placement was at People’s Dialogue and Human Settlement Ghana. Through the partnership of People’s Dialogue, Cities Alliance and Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor, creative and innovative platforms have been built to strengthen the capacity of the slum dweller and echo their concerns to policy makers. I realized that their worries were not really to drive the fancy cars, or live in exotic sky rise buildings or mansions but to make a decent living, have access to affordable housing and all the social amenities that is required to make life worthwhile in the city. They want to be recognized as belonging to the populace of urban dwellers who also have the right to enjoy the social infrastructure in the cities.

My engagement with the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor gave me further insight into the gender specificity of building an inclusive city as women form various networks of savings groups all over the capital. The Savings groups form a core sustainable component of the Federation of the Urban Poor.  It creates a unified front and enable members enjoy services that hitherto could not be available to them by conventional banks.  These women have risen to the challenge of empowering themselves through their groups by learning from each other, and taking up roles and positions that traditionally belong to men. It is quite humbling when they express the challenges of living in the slum and yet how they are still encouraged to belong to savings groups in order to access loans to improve their livelihood and standard of living.

Esther (R) with Madam Janet Adu, President of the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor (centre) and Barbara, Secretary at People's Dialogue (L)

The spirit and letter behind Goal 11 formed a great piece of my learning experience. The intricacies of urban planning and slum management involves rigorous, complex and sometimes not too pleasant processes that requires commitment on the part of policy makers and citizens to achieve sustainable cities. The urban poor is often burdened with the need for affordable housing units, improved social infrastructure, sustainable livelihoods and land tenure security. Equitable distribution of resources can be best effected when there is adequate data of formal and informal settlements. Effective collaboration is needed between all stakeholders of urban planning including creating that space where the voice of the urban poor is heard. Failure by policy makers to effectively engage will continually create that deficit in resource allocation and rob them of their rights to a decent living.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Learning about Indigenous Health Research in Norway House

By Sarah Wood, 1st year MDP student

Sarah and summer solstice skies
My field placement began with an 8 hour car ride so far outside the city I didn’t even have CBC Radio to keep me company for much of the drive. Instead I kept myself entertained with intermittent black bear and bald eagle sightings. 

My placement is with Norway House Cree Nation and a research team from the University of Winnipeg who are jointly working on a project surrounding birthing and maternity services in this northern First Nations community. Currently, pregnant women living in Norway House travel to cities like Winnipeg to have their babies, but there is growing interest in understanding the challenges this poses to women and their families and exploring the option of births in Norway House.

Norway House Indian Hospital where every once and a while babies are delivered

I have been fortunate enough during my time here to speak briefly with hundreds of women and men at numerous events in the community. It has been interesting to navigate the practicalities of Indigenous research that we explored during our course work this past year. 

Specifically, I have met with a Community Advisory Committee who offered crucial feedback on our survey design. I have learned how O.C.A.P (Ownership, Control, Access, Possession) principles for research in First Nations communities are applied to this specific research project such as how the information collected for this research, that belongs to Norway House, will be stored.  I even had to make a radio advertisement to alert the community of my presence here. (Those of you who know me know that is this my nightmare). I am hopeful that this work will prove useful for the community in their efforts to steer their healthcare programs in whichever direction they decide is best.  

Aside from meeting survey quotas, I’ve been keeping myself busy by fighting with the internet connection, swimming, visiting waterfalls, and enjoying sunsets that last well past eleven in the evening.

The midway set up for the weekend at the waterfront, bursting with eager survey participants