education

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.

mask_poster_wlaurel-021915_500x745Newsom’s inspiration for making the film came from falling pregnant with her son. In an interview she said,

“It was really important to me that I could nurture a son who could be true to his authentic self, who wouldn’t always feel like he had to prove his masculinity. There’s so much loneliness, pain, and suffering when one is pretending to be someone that they’re not.”

The Mask You Live In resonated with me and my childhood. Each area discussed – sport, relationships, work, etc. – provides opportunities for growth…but also provides opportunities for perpetuating harm. The harm in question is that of patriarchy.

There are three lies about masculinity that every boy learns in America:

  1. We associate masculinity with athletic ability
  2. We associate masculinity with economic success
  3. We associate sexual conquest with masculinity

These three lies pave the foundation for a life of men feeling inadequate.Boys who don’t achieve a fictional level of manliness and are unsupported in alternative achievements live without the self-esteem needed to be happy. As one interviewee notes, “Comparison is the thief of all happiness.” As the film shows, boys and ultimately men struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity.

This all starts at a very young age, when boys enter school.

  • 1 in 4 boys report being bullied at school
  • Only 30% of those who are bullied notify adults

(All stats come from the film.)

One of the main reasons for bullying is societies binary view of gender: Men are masculine; Women are feminine. This outdated view of a person’s range of self-identification is framed around femininity being about emotion, relationships, and empathy. Men and masculinity are everything that isn’t these attributes, and any boy who exerts emotion or empathy will be bullied for not adhering to it.

The conservative view of masculinity – one that doesn’t leave room for emotion and relationships between boys – also breeds homophobia. Boys learn very early that if they do anything remotely seen as feminine or loving towards fellow boys that they will be labeled a “sissy” or other sexist language than harms all genders. Society has taught boys that girls are the only one who are free to care about boys.

This inevitably leads to loneliness among boys and men. One way to combat these feelings is to self-medicate, which young men do by taking drugs and alcohol.

  • By age 12, 34% of boys have started drinking
  • The average boy tries drugs at age 13
  • 1 in 4 boys binge drink (consume 5 or more drinks in a row)

These social problems are made worse by society’s inability to let boys talk about their feelings, whether good or bad. In the film, a male teach gets a group of young male students to do an exercise. Each takes a mask. On the front they write what image of masculinity they present to society. On the back they write what they are hiding. This simple exercise gets to the root of so many problems, yet is still difficult to build into a reformed education system.

Until everyone understands the root problems of masculinity, boys and men will continue to experience inadequacy, loneliness and the mental health problems these feelings produce. Ultimately, many will turn to suicide if these problems go untreated.

  • Every day 3 or more boys commit suicide
  • For boys, suicide is the third leading cause of death
  • Fewer than 50% of boys and men with mental health challenges seek help

Even in the small village I grew up, we had a fellow student commit suicide. Many students and adults could not understand why it happened. It’s a shame that the teachers and staff in that school were not better trained to understand the root problems discussed in The Mask I Live In. It may have prevented this needless death and other, unseen pain.

suicide-rates

Rates of suicide in the United States, The Mask You Live In

In the last century, thanks to the fight of the women’s rights movement, girls and women now have greater equality in attaining educational success. Unfortunately, during that same period of time, men in power did little to change the way boys learn. Schools were punishing boys through humiliation, such as by making them write on the board. Rarely did they ask why is this kid acting out. This has meant that boys are under-performing in school, as compared to their female counterparts.

  • Compared to girls, boys are more likely to flunk or drop out of school
  • Compared to girls, boys are: 2 times more likely to be in special education, 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, 2 times more likely to be suspended, and 4 times more likely to be expelled

In a world that limits boys’ ability to talk about themselves, most turn inwards and spend their time in solitary activities – many of which spur harmful notions of masculinity.

  • In a week, the average boy spends: 40 hours watching TV, sports, movies; 15 hours playing video games; 2 hours watching porn
  • 31% of males feel addicted to video games
  • 99% of boys play video games
  • 90% of games rated appropriate for children over 10 contain violence
  • 50% of parents don’t monitor ratings
  • The average 18 year old has seen 200,000 acts of violence on screen including 40,000 murders

Even when boys are outside, playing sports and interacting with other boys, they can be prone to the same negative examples of masculinity. Sports encourage play that is violent and competitive. Coaches often act as father figures, which can do an awful lot of good and an awful lot of bad. A coach can instill the same type of homophobic, anti-girl language that recycles through generations of unchanged language.

In the film, when asked “how would you feel if your coach called you a ‘sissy’?” a boy responded that it would “devastate” him. What does this mean for how we teach boys about being a girl.

Sports has the wrong mix of power, dominance, control, moral clarity. A ‘Win at all cost’ culture in sports means winning at the expense of character development. The myth that sports builds character can only become true if coaches teach and model it.

The Mask You Live In documents four male archetypes in media:

  1. Strong silent guy, who is always in control
  2. Superhero character engaging in violence to maintain that control or in order to achieve whatever goal is in front of him
  3. Thug, man of colour, who are pigeon holed into violent roles
  4. Man-child, who is in perpetual adolescence, whose body doesn’t have lots of muscle. He purports masculinity in another way – through degradation of women, engaging in high-risk activities

Media has a definite effect on people’s behavior. If it didn’t, advertising would collapse.

Violence on TV, movies and video games adds to the culture of boys being made to think that ‘real’ men must fight to be respected. There’s a reason the US army trains people using video games. It’s because it gets them used to some of the experiences.

A report on youth violence by the US Surgeon General found that violence in media has the following three effects:

  1. Children may become less sensitive to pain and suffering of others.
  2. Children may be more fearful of the world around them.
  3. Children may be more likely to behave in aggressive or harmful ways toward others.

These same forms of entertainment, combined with pornography, push an agenda of dominate men and submissive women – a fundamental lie of masculinity.

  • 34% of youth online receive unwanted pornographic exposure
  • 93% of boys are exposed to internet porn
  • 68% young men use pornography weekly and 21% of young men use pornography daily
social-isolation

Image from The Mask You Live In

These harmful portrayals of both men and women can be overcome through reasoned sex education. Unfortunately, many parent in the United States are opposed to this, due largely to conservative views about talking openly about one’s sexuality and alternatives of sexual identity.

  • Only 22 states require public schools teach sex education

Because of shame around sexuality, porn is sex education for most people. Without sex education in the school and with silent parents at home, many boys turn to their computers for guidance, with terrible consequences. The internet provides “excess in social isolation”.

  • 83% of boys have seen group sex online
  • 39% of boys have seen bondage online
  • 18% of boys have seen rape online
  • Exposure to pornography increases sexual aggression by 22% and increases the acceptance of rape myths (that women desire sexual violence) by 31%

Boys are being conditioned towards violence.

By the time boys reach puberty, society has implanted the worst forms of masculinity, through school systems that allow bullying and punish expression; through media and sports that promote violence. Porn then teaches boys “what women want and how men are supposed to perform”. Both of those are wrong. It’s difficult to think, but “rapists are being produced by our culture”.

Researcher in the film call this the Great Set-Up: “We raise boys to become men whose very identity is based on rejecting the feminine and then we are surprised when they don’t see women as being fully human”. So we set boys up to grow into men who disrespect women at a fundamental level and then we wonder why we have the culture that we have.

Boys enter their teenage years being told that “A man is always supposed to be on the prowl” or “I’d like to hit that” or “I’d like a piece of that” or “I’d like to tear that shit up”. In all of these cases the woman (or sometimes man) is an object, an “it” or “that”. And violence – “hit”, “tear” – is the means to the sexual end. This teaches boys not to see the humanity in girls and leads to a culture of sexual violence against women. Young men are then sent to universities with toxic ideas of sex and sexual expression.

  • Every 9 seconds a woman is beaten or assaulted
  • 35% of male college students indicated some likelihood of raping if they knew they could get away with it
  • 1 in 5 female college students is the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault

Young men on university campuses represent a recipe for failure: 18 year-olds desperate to prove their masculinity to 19 year-olds. Campus environments provide two things for young men: horizontal solidarity by bonding with your ‘bros’ (hooking up, initiations, hazing); and the feeling that girls can’t do these things (hierarchy – men are superior to women).

The Mask You Live In notes a unique ‘code of silence’ found in American society. This is the conflict between the heart that wants to the right things, and the head that has been conditioned to do the opposite. This is the fear that many men have that prevent them from acting ethically and continues the ‘male peer culture’.

“Choice is rooted in our privilege.”

Not only is sexual violence perpetuated by men, mostly, it attacks both women and men, girls and boys. The culture of silence that our society has instilled into boys prevents them from seeking the medical and mental health services to overcome these violent crimes.

  • Over half of all boys are physically abused
  • 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused
  • Abused and neglected children are 9 times more likely to be involved in crime

America is unique for its culture of guns. These guns are the weapons of choice for many boys and men who seek suicide as an end to their pain – an end with immediate resolve. The films summarizes this as: “Whether its homicidal violence or suicidal violence, people resort to such desperate behavior only when feeling overwhelmed by shame and humiliation.”

“While we as good men don’t perpetrate the violence, we are part of the collective socialization.” Men and the culture that works against progress are the fertile ground that’s required for the violence to exist.

  • Every hour more than 3 people are killed by a gun. That’s over 30,000 lives annually
  • 90% of homicide perpetrators are male. Almost 50% are under 25

The male role belief system is a recipe for violence: Men are defined as superior, women are defined as inferior. And to be a real man, you also dominate other men. Respect is linked to violence. These notions and all that was explored above collectively explain the level of violence that remains in society, as well as the phenomenon of ‘mass killings’ in America.

  • Mass homicides (where 4 or more people are killed) occur on average every 2 weeks
  • 94% of mass homicides are committed by males
  • The youngest mass shooter was 11
  • The rate of mass shooting has tripled since 2011
  • And there has been almost 1 school shooting per week since Sandy Hook
mass-killings-in-the-us

Mass killings across the United States, The Mask You Live In

 

At its core, The Mask You Live In creates a dialogue between healthy and unhealthy ways to define manhood. These dialogues have for far too long been absent from education institutions and the wider society but are slowly being openly discussed. Debates among men are addressing many long-standing problems, such as ‘aggrieved entitlement,’ where men in positions of power feeling entitled to power and that they’re not getting that power anymore.

The Men’s Rights Movements sees the end result of patriarchy – suicide violence, depression, rape against men – and feels that its the result of women’s liberation without understanding where the struggle really lies. Until men understand that the system that produces inequality between genders (as well as racism, homophobia and other discrimination) is harmful to others as much as it is to themselves, men will never be free.

The liberation of men and boys is inextricably linked to the fight by women and girls against patriarchy. The language and actions of men towards boys must start with peace and respect. Violence can not be condoned in any form; language that assists violence must be countered in every instance. Homophobia must be challenges alongside recognition that all males have the right to be feminine, irrespective of their sexual orientation.

The coming revolution in mental health will help boys open up and discuss their needs with other boys, who were also sitting silent with the same concerns. Parents should take the opportunity to encourage their children to challenge the harmful masculine and feminine stereotypes in society through their words and actions. Individual action is not enough; a new society needs to be created.

Everyone deserves to feel whole. Starting the process of talking about these issues, as early as possible, for both boys and girls, is essential for future improvements to solving society’s problems. Talking across gender line is needed at all ages.

Each of us can do our part in expanding what it means to be a man for ourselves and the boys in our lives.

Watching The Mask You Live In is a good place to start and should be required viewing in all classrooms.

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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.

???????????????????????????????Of the Millennium Development Goals, which have acted as the development agenda for the past 15 years, the components related to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) have seen the slowest improvement. Even with the combined efforts to install latrine infrastructure at schools in developing countries, plus programs for gender inclusion and education promotion, access to education (especially for girls) remains hard to come by. Things are changing, luckily.

In recent years, menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is broadening the WASH debate beyond simply building a room with a hole in the ground. Research done by Marni Sommer of Columbia University and others at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) have shown the inadequacy of how latrines were designed and implemented over the past 50 years. In fact, a whole list of problems exist for girls with current WASH systems in many developing countries, including but not limited to:

  • Lack of privacy for changing materials or washing the body.
  • Inconsistent supplies of water and lack of soap.
  • Water not located in a suitable place for washing stains from clothes and reusable menstrual materials.
  • Inadequate collection and unsafe disposal options for used menstrual material.
  • Limited access to and affordability of hygienic products.
  • Locked latrines or dorms during the day.
  • No tools for cleaning in toilets.

il_fullxfull_177629346…So What?

MHM matters because boys and girls are not seeing the same results. To get a real world case for my research, I focused on the countries in East Africa, such as Tanzania and Uganda, where girls finish with one to two years less schooling than boys.

This may seem like not a huge problem, but consider that boys across these countries average only five years of education; girls average only three-and-a-half school years. We can’t ignore this clear inequality in results.

Luckily, change is coming. Since 2012, conferences on MHM are being held globally and in countries, like Uganda. Handbooks have been created for development workers. Institutions like the Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) and Sanitation and Hygiene Applied Research for Equity (SHARE) at the LSHTM are adding great research of MHM to the literature.

(Listen to this podcast by two SHARE researchers for more insight: Menstrual hygiene: Breaking the silence)

The market is also catching up. Products like reusable sanitary products and Moon Cups are starting to make a difference in the lives of women and girls in resource-poor environments.

Schools in developing countries are also starting to add more sexual and reproductive health lessons. Starting in Tanzania and now in Ethiopia, Ghana and Cambodia, the Grow and Know book series, originating from Sommer’s PhD work, allows girls (and boys) to receive proper information on their changing bodies, rather than relying on guesses and misinformation.

The Menstruation Taboo

Unfortunately, even will all these amazing improvements, menstruation is still a taboo around the world. Long-standing religious and cultural views on menstruation have added stigma to an entirely natural bodily process, shared by billions of people.

In many cultures, when girls are on their periods, they must resort to staying home for upwards of a week. This causes serious losses in terms of their education, resulting in girls falling behind boys in achievement. Politicians and decision makers need to open the debate to include the needs of all genders, not just the male ones.

One of the major hurdles is involving men and boys in the discussion. By having accurate, appropriate education is schools, boys can grow up to become men and fathers who can support girls during their menarche and make sure they stay in school. Men need awareness to remove the stigma of menstruation and become active in solution-building. They are the community leaders that plans projects, the masons who build latrines and the teachers who mentor children. Although it would be great to have more women in these leadership roles, the reality is that men still are over-represented and must be involved in fostering change.

And, let us not think that this is an issue for only those nations facing high rates of poverty and underdevelopment. We, in the Global North, have our own taboos and prejudices.

…What About the “Developed” World?

The recent HuffPo article ‘For Homeless Women, Getting Their Period Is One Of The Most Difficult Challenges’ clearly outlines how MHM is not being made available, even within the countries that can afford it, like the United States.

In Canada, we have our own vulnerable groups. People outside mainstream politics. We ignore the needs of the homeless. We separate and look down about Aboriginal peoples and their heritage. I am ashamed of these current realities.

In the UK, women are fighting the “vagina tax” to keep tampons and other necessary sanitary products tax-free. A few years ago, they were categorized as “non-essential”, luxury products bringing with it a 17.5% tax rate. After much protest, that rate has been lowered to 5%, but should go down to zero.

By ignoring the wellbeing of its citizens, countries are missing the opportunity to harness the true potential of every member within it. Women within vulnerable groups are unable to access equality. Girls will miss school.

This topic highlights many of the existing problems in both developing and so-called developed countries: gender equality, sexual and reproductive rights, access to education, proper sanitation, and more. Unless we go outside of our intellectual comfort zones, we will never be able to tackle the most important challenges in our society.

If I ever work in WASH, regardless of the location, I will seriously question whether planners and donors have considered the needs of all genders. Not just some.

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.

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.

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.