Documentaries, Society

Masculinity Unmasked

Masculinity is defined as the possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men. But, what type of men?

In the documentary The Mask You Live In, director Jennifer Siebel Newsom explores the masculine qualities found in the United States today, asking the viewer to question the harm they are causing to boys. (The film is available online; click here to watch.)  This is Newsom’s second film as part of The Representation Project, following the documentary Miss Representation, looking at depictions of women in the media. Although the discussion and research for The Mask You Live In is focused on the U.S., the film’s message is important to millions of boys and men around the world. Continue reading

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Society

Let’s Talk About Menstruation

…putting menstrual hygiene management (MHM) on the development radar.

Menstruation is something I know very little about. As such, I decided to explore this taboo subject for a term paper in my MA Poverty and Development program at the Institute of Development Studies. I was tasked with thinking about:

Why and how is gender important in development?

For many issues, development workers may have a gender-insensitive view (i.e. treating men and women as if their experiences were the same; ignoring power dynamics) and they may get some positive results, but they will usually only go so far and miss out on making real transformation.

Take the topic of water and sanitation in schools in developing countries, which was the topic of my paper. After weeks of research, I was stunned by what I discovered. Continue reading

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Uganda

What Can a Rabbit Do?

The World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO)  have both identified malnutrition as a major factor in preventing the Ugandan people from moving out of poverty and into more substantial development. According to the WFP:

One in three Ugandan children suffer from stunting, a lifelong condition that results when children miss out on critical nutrients such as proteins, vitamins and minerals while in the womb or in the first five years of life. People affected by stunting are more likely to suffer from illnesses, drop out of school, be less productive at work and live shorter lives.

When one visits Uganda’s rural areas, you see hills rolling in lush greens – cassava, maize, sweet potatoes, and other grains and vegetables growing – but this oasis of vegetation does not prevent malnutrition by itself. It is the right combination of foods and healthy activities, including intensive breast feeding, which can prevent malnutrition from occurring in a child’s early years.

Uganda “spends [millions] per year treating cases of diarrhoea, anaemia and respiratory infections linked to malnutrition” (WFP), while also losing revenue as the citizens underperform in school and at work due to stunted childhoods. Western Uganda is suffering from malnutrition even more so. There, 44% of children are affected by malnutrition. Proper prevention of the causes of malnutrition would have immense positive impact on Ugandan families and the country as a whole. So, KIHEFO is tackling the problem.

So, what can a rabbit do (to solve malnutrition)?

Actually, quite a lot!

Rabbits feed families. Farmers gather inedible material like weeds, grass, and vegetable scraps to use as food for rabbits, which are a great source of protein and nutrients.

Rabbits breed quickly. If properly cared for, a female can produce a litter of half a dozen rabbits each month.

Rabbits produce fertilizer.  Rabbit droppings can be collected easily and used as an organic fertilizer to improve soil quality and overall yields.

Rabbits generate revenue. In the market, a rabbit can be sold for 15,000 Ugandan Shillings (equivalent of $6 US Dollars) which helps generate small income for poor households.

For these reasons, rabbits can be the vehicle to solving the problem of malnutrition in Uganda (and other countries). Rabbits can improve people’s diets and current farmland, but also provide the income to source other necessary components of a proper diet.

KIHEFO has researched using rabbits as a solution to malnutrition over the past few years, which led to the constructed of the Kigezi Rabbit Breeding, Training, and Processing Center outside of Kabale.

Inside you will find an assortment of cages. They are filled with five breeds of rabbits, to ensure diversity in future generations. Males and females are further separated, to allow for proper growth.

Cages are simply designed, made of wood and wire mesh. A door is needed to feed the rabbits and then remove the bunnies once they have matured.

Managed by Alphonse, a staff member of KIHEFO, the Center acts as not only the distribution hub for future clients. It also provides education through example. Outside is a small plot of kale that provides the food for the rabbits of the Center. Having everything locally available means that the Center is self-sustaining and requires low resources to operate.

In addition to setting up the infrastructure and initial supply of rabbits, KIHEFO is also conducting nutrition surveys in the outlying rural communities, identifying the most vulnerable populations – those dealing with disease and large numbers of children, many orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The villages of Rubira and Kicumbi have already seen the advantages of this program, with both families and communities starting their own rabbit breeding facilities. These are smaller in scale, but have the ability to grow.

If you want to support KIHEFO’s Rabbit Breeding Center and those families most in need, please let me know.

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Uganda

Conversations in Rubira

Last Tuesday brought me to the sister towns of Rubira and Rwakashande. These farming towns are located less than an hour’s drive from Kabale and are home to 3,000 people–mostly subsistence farmers.

My mission for the morning and afternoon was to survey the area’s water and sanitation facilities to add more content to KIHEFO’s growing research on the area. But I was in store for much more in my conversations.

I was fortunate to be assisted by the primary school’s P7 teacher, Simon Peter. Together we spent the morning visiting some different parts of the hillside and speaking with people.

WATER

From the school’s central location along the main access road, we headed east toIMG_1126 the closest water source. As we walked, I started to unleash the prepared questions I had arranged the days before; they were hit-or-miss.

How many functional and non-functional water pumps are in the town?

“The town has no water pumps.”

Does the town have a water committee to do monitoring and maintenance?

“No. The town has village health teams (VHT), though.” (They said that these VHT’s do hygiene awareness, but this I did not receive with confidence.)

Are there any community latrines? Maybe provided by an NGO or the local government?

“No. There are no community latrines. There are latrines at the church, but those are only for churchgoers and only during church hours.”

After this initial round of questioning, I realized that my plan was off base and that I should just slow down. I would wait to see what Simon would show me and build discussion from there.

On the west side of town, about a five minute walk from the school, Simon showed me a “spring” – as he called it. It consists of a underground pipe of constantly flowing, clear water, which is filtered somewhere upstream. This infrastructure was funded by the district and sub-county authorities in Kigezi. If the water is not collected at the point of exit, it either sits in the concrete basin around the outflow or finds its way through irrigation channels to farmer’s fields and then ultimately to the nearby river.

At the time of our visit, no one was there collecting the water that was falling to the ground. This puzzled me, but Simon remarked that families typically collect water twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening. They may collect a third time, at midday, if needed.

We then took a long walk from here to the complete opposite side of town to see the second spring. This one had a high flow of water and was being attended to a woman with two jerry cans. Just opposite, there was a man cleaning his motorcycle in some standing water. A cow joined him to have a drink, showing the maximizing use of water here.

SANITATION

I further researched the sanitation facilities in the area. The typically household – parents, their children, and possibly elders – would have their own ‘latrine’. These latrines are made from local earth and wood materials. They have a wooden floor and a hole where waste is excreted.

I was very fortunate to actually view one in mid-construction. A group of men were digging a rectangular hole with vertical walls. The man in the hole was already 6 feet deep and was moving towards a final depth of 15 feet. The reason for this new construction is that the old latrine had collapsed. Most of these styles of latrine only last for two years before they collapse. The rainy season intensifies the deterioration by eroded the earth walls.

As I am learning more about public health through my outreaches with KIHEFO, I was happy to see that most latrines are a safe distance away from cooking and living areas. The one worry I have in the openness of these latrines and the potential for flies to transmit disease.

EDUCATION

We returned back to Simon’s primary school, where the 320 childrenIMG_1149 were slowly heading back home for lunch. In the small window of time before they departed, I was able to interact with many of the young ones. Or at least try, as their English was building and my Rukiga was non-existent. Through the help of another teacher, Innocent, I was able to introduce myself, ask them about their favorite sports, and see what futures they saw for themselves.

After the morning schedule, all children have to walk back home – up to 30 minutes uphill – to eat before returning for the afternoon activities. I was lucky, as the teachers invited me to eat with them in their Teacher’s Room.

Rubira Primary School hosts three levels of nursery classes – baby, middle, and high – although I suspect they are grouped together less rigidly due to available room. Then there are the seven classes, from P1 to P7, which children pass through before they can move into secondary school; there is no secondary school in town.

According to Simon, of the 100 students you might find starting P1, half would disappear by P4. The reduction continues into the next levels, but at a slower pace, as only 20 students would be found in a P7 class.

As Simon was the P7 teacher and I have an interest in understanding gender inequality, I asked him if what the male to female ratio was in his class. He said that there are 13 girls and 7 boys. I was surprised by these results. From what I’ve read and seen, girls are always devalued compared to boys. They are seen as having less future potential and bear the brunt of household duties – cleaning, cooking, collecting water, childcare – preventing them from attending school and reaching their full potential. It seems that either Rubira is a special case or that I need to investigate further to find the truth.

If someone makes it all the way through these classes and fairs well on Uganda’s Primary Learning Exam (PLE), they can move into a secondary school, if they can afford the expenses. Secondary school consists for 6 ‘forms’.  There are two paths on offer. If a student intends to go to university, then they would finish Form 6 and start their degree. But if they intend to study a trade – nursing, for example – then the can enter a vocational school after Form 4.

During our lunch break, I was able to talk with a larger group of teachers – both male and female – and learned about the community I now inhabited.

CULTURE

I was most surprised to hear their views of polygamy and bride price. These old, religious traditions, held by both Christians and Muslims in Uganda, but rarely found in the West, were deeply engrained in the minds of even the highly educated.

Would a woman be able to take two husbands?” I asked. TheyIMG_1117 all laughed – as expected by a question that would not normally be asked in normal conversation – but one woman noted that there was in fact a case where a woman took a second husband, as she was the primary breadwinner in the family and therefore, could make such a non-traditional move. But, on the whole, men are the ones who can take a second wife, a third wife, or really any number of wives. They also noted that many people – both men and women – might have additional partners that are not classified as either ‘wife’ or ‘husband’.

Another part of marriage that is widespread is the traditional of dowry, or bride price, where the husband’s family pays the wife’s family for their loss of a daughter. The price is not set in stone. Instead the two families meet and negotiate on the price. This acts as remuneration for the parent’s, who are losing a valuable member of their family and allows them to better prepare for their older years. A dowry might be paid in cows or goats, which hold value; in practical items, like pots and pans; or can be paid in money.

The teachers were eager to question me on if Canada had the same type of marital systems. I responded that we are a mixture of many peoples from many different lands. This creates a mosaic where traditional overlap. Rather than a Ugandan marrying another Uganda, you could find Brazil-English partnerships or Aboriginal-French unions. With this mixing of cultures, Canada and other Western nations have chosen very strict legal explanations of marriage that have eliminated dowries and polygamy. They seemed to be receptive to this counter approach of life and I think they enjoyed exchanging information as much as I did.

I have much to learn.

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Nicaragua

Project HOPE 2014

A month has passed since my time in Nicaragua pushing to complete Project HOPE, so it’s seems fitting to recap the experience more broadly here. Our project involved repairs to six high school classrooms and the construction of a multipurpose room at Reina de Suecia – a secondary school in Barrio de 14 of Esteli, Nicaragua. These infrastructure projects will directly benefit 1,600 students and indirectly benefit their families and the wider community of people living in the Rosario community of Esteli.


This initiative could not be possible without support from MacEwan University and the management of Ceiba Association, who provided educational retreats in Canada and the logistical planning for our time in-country. Since 2002, Project HOPE has raised roughly $450,000 (including the money raised for the team experience), had impacts on the lives of over 6500 people, and engaged over 165 MacEwan students. To be involved for a portion of this ongoing legacy is truly rewarding.

From September 2013 – where me and my co-team leader Joelle narrowed down our candidate pool from 24 applicants to our team of 12 students – until April 2014, we were busy with several community fundraisers. We put on bottle drives, a cash raffle, a benefit concert, bar nights, and one large dinner with over 120 people in attendance. The Edmonton and surrounding community was also critical in helping us reach our fundraising goal of $71,000, which we surpassed! I would personally like to thank the Rotary and Lions Clubs which donated directly to the project.

We also learned a lot, through weekly meetings and retreats, focusing on Nicaraguan history, development projects, and how to be conscious global citizens.


As I described in past articles, we left Edmonton at the end of April and spent the month of May living and working in Nicaragua. After traveling from the capital city of Managua to Esteli and getting settled in our accommodations at Hostal Tomabu, we began to start the project.

We alternated out time between going to the school and doing cultural learning during out reaming fee time. The days were long. Mornings and afternoons were filled with manual labour. Tasks included demolition, painting, excavation, reinforcing metal, masonry, concrete, and moving dirt. We spent a total of 17 days on the build site, with the last 7 weekdays incorporating our mural project in collaboration with our partner organization FUNARTE. (You can find more about FUNARTE and their website on my IDW page.)

Our evenings were equally busy. We made the most of our time in Esteli with a number of cultural experiences. There was salsa dancing and Spanish classes. We tried our best but ultimately lost in a soccer match at the city’s university. We were able to visit a women’s cooperative where paper is made from recycled materials and also a cigar factory – Drew Estate Tobacco Company – where 1600 people are employed and they receive thousands of bales of tobacco from around the globe. We even had time to celebrate a team member’s birthday and to have a going away party during our last night in town.

Weekends were set aside for experiences requiring travel. We visited a FUNARTE youth workshop, where our team mixed with the group of children and worked together on painting, while also getting some information on their other projects. We swam under a waterfall one week and jumped off cliffs in Somoto Canyon the next. On a trip to El Jalacate, the team met Alberto and saw his rock carving art. He is a man who enjoys sharing stories of his past and bringing people inside his home. Our last weekend journey took us to Matagalpa to visit two enterprises: a chocolate factory and a coffee plantation.

We used Sundays as a time to re-energize and get ready for the upcoming week.

One of our biggest accomplishments was working together as a team to create and paint a mural at the school. Even with a very short window of time, we were able to come together with the idea of showing the transformative power of education and the partnership we’ve experienced between Canada and Nicaragua.

During the month of June, while our team either returned home or toured the countryside for a bit longer, our construction team, which included a group of three brothers, continued the process of construction. They finished the walls and added a roof to our multipurpose room. They started laying floor tiles, as well. They finished the two classrooms we started and worked on the other four that were being occupied during our time there.

I am excited to see the final result.

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