Get to know people who really make a difference! Project Impacts is a series of articles explaining the background and settings for some of the many projects we partner with around the world. In this series, you will learn about the goals of the projects and what impact they have had on their local community, and how you can fit into this picture. Today’s writer is Philippa who describes how she got involved with an NGO and helped bring them to where they are today. Philippa is Secretary of the Trust at Phunzira, a charity that has set up and supports a community education centre in rural northern Malawi, and that supports two government health clinics. She has worked for the charity since 2013.
My first steps out of the comfort of my family home were taken 14 years ago in May 2003, when I joined 20 other volunteers heading out to Kenya for just over 4 months on a GAP year project. I chose a teaching program and was subsequently placed as a teacher in a secondary school in the village of Matunda, on the Western Rift Valley. As a naive 18-year-old, I had lapped up the endless adverts from large charitable organisations portraying continents of lower-income countries filled with citizens unable to pull themselves out of poverty, poor education and ill-health without the guiding and instructional hand of the wealthier nations. I was looking forward to ‘Making a Difference’.
It soon became clear to me, however, that I wasn’t needed. The school was in part funded by the Catholic Church and much better equipped and staffed than British newspapers and television had suggested schools in developing countries would be. In fact, I became concerned that I was causing more harm than good on this volunteer placement, jeopardising these students’ one-and-only chance at a secondary school education, which their family were paying for.
If I’m honest with myself, this was the first time I really thought about the realities of volunteering – not for us as volunteers but for the receiving community. My fellow volunteers at the neighbouring school came to the same realisation as their teaching responsibilities were stripped back from core subjects to extra-curricular sessions and more ‘ancillary’ subject like sport. The qualified teachers were, rightfully, concerned about the gap year students’ abilities to properly teach mainstream subjects, particularly as past volunteers had struggled.
So instead, to make good use of my time, I approached the government-funded primary school in the village. This school was chronically underfunded, had only two teachers for four classes, and class sizes of close to 100 children enrolled with many children sharing single desks – and this although only 40-60 of the enrolled pupils would turn up to class each day. Pupil numbers were so high for a village school as primary education had just been made free and many people were attending school for the first time in their teens and twenties to make use of this new opportunity. At this school, I could supervise classes where work was assigned by qualified teachers, oversee break time so that the teachers could plan future lessons over a quick cup of chai and generally lend a hand to allow the teachers a bit of breathing space. And although my being there for one term did not provide a long-term, sustainable solution to the issues the school faced, it was a better use of my time for the benefit of the community than my being at the secondary school.
Having said that, although I began to recognise that the project I was volunteering with could have done more to better assess the community’s real needs, there were many things they did well. Firstly, they provided sound guidance and support for young volunteers travelling alone, some of whom were away from home for the first time. Secondly, some of our registration fees went towards funding a foundation that sponsored the education of a selection of pupils who would otherwise not have been able to afford secondary education. Thirdly, the project gave us the opportunity to explore new places and experience new things. And, while I recognise that I got more out of my time than the community I was placed in, I have made lifelong friends, which is really wonderful!
Above all else, this placement whetted my appetite for community development work and sparked a dream to spend my life on the African continent. Over the next seven years, during my studies, between various jobs or on holiday, I was lucky enough to continue my travels and volunteering in various countries in Africa (Sudan, Namibia, South Africa), Asia (Sri Lanka, Vietnam), North America and Europe. I used these times and experiences to further form my personal ideals around the ethics of volunteering and development work.
My next career move is what brought me to where I am today. In 2010, I stopped jumping from desk job to desk job and went back to university to fulfil a long-term dream of mine and retrain as a paediatric nurse. During my nursing training, I had the opportunity to undertake an international elective placement. Together with two course-mates and a teacher friend, we found a placement with Phunzira, which had begun operating in Ruarwe Village, northern Malawi, just over a year earlier. While on placement, I had numerous conversations with my now colleague Rosa, who had set the project up. It became clear that our ethics around volunteering and community development were very much aligned in terms of assessing a community’s needs, bringing volunteers to work alongside and ‘below’ existing local staff rather than in managerial roles, and empowering the community to be in control of their own development and supporting that rather than telling the community what they need to do and providing hand-outs. After a brilliant elective, I returned to the UK to complete my training and then revisited Malawi with Phunzira for two months to undertake a clinical audit in the health centre, before starting a permanent job in London within the NHS. During my second trip to Malawi, Rosa and I often spoke about the charity, it’s ethics, work and requirements. Soon after that, in 2013, I joined Phunzira as Health Coordinator. Later, I progressed to Trustee and then Secretary of the Trust in 2014. I now split my year between Malawi and the UK, working as an NHS nurse in the UK and overseeing the charity’s projects in Malawi.
My volunteer placements have allowed me to follow a career path I have dreamed of for a long time. They have allowed me to live a life I truly love. They have furthered my clinical skills and made me a better nurse for my patients.
Most importantly, they have opened my eyes to an industry that offers as much to the volunteers as it does to the communities those volunteers are placed in. You should acknowledge these opportunities, but also be aware of any associated pitfalls. Challenge your volunteer organisations around sustainability and community involvement. Ask yourself: Am I, or the community I am placed in, getting more out of this? There is no wrong answer. Both approaches are valid, but you should ask the question and be honest with yourself about what you hope to gain from your volunteering experience.
And, if you’re lucky, your volunteering experience might bring you new opportunities that you had never before considered. I will be forever grateful for all the experiences that I’ve had that were kick-started by my first trip to Kenya in 2003.
Are you too dreaming of a life on the African continent and finding your true career path? Visit the Phunzira NGO Management Internship to learn more and chat with Philippa.
Get to know people who really make a difference! Project Impacts is a series of articles explaining the background and settings for some of the many projects we partner with around the world. In this series, you will learn about the goals of the projects and what impact they have had on their local community, and how you can fit into this picture. Today we are super-excited to present Andrea from Oana who explains how you can help change the face of wildlife conservation in Namibia.
Why visit Oana and join an expedition?
Oana conservancy is a rare and out-of-this-world opportunity, it is one of the last true wildernesses of Southern Africa in which you are completely able to roam free and explore. An expedition with Oana is the closest you’ll get to going back in time and setting out on a Livingstone style adventure. Oana is untouched by science, unexplored by mankind and waiting to unravel what secrets may lie within. You will live 100% off the grid, be one of the first to map the area, pinpoint which species survive in the harsh semi-arid mountainous desert, which mammals are hiding in the banks of the lush, green 50km of Orange River and what birds are hatching on cliff-edge nests.
With global populations quickly depleting, rhino and elephants on the brink of extinction; renowned Conservationist Ian Craig, whom is Prince William and Sir David Attenborough’s right hand man when it comes to wildlife conservation, made the heroic decision to intervene and secured the 45,000 hectares which is now Oana conservancy with the single aim of ensuring the survival of Africa’s remaining mega-fauna. The aim of the volunteering program is to carry out baseline research on the conservancy and re-wild the land from livestock/hunting reserve back into its natural ecosystem. The volunteer program is fundamental in transitioning the land from a reserve into a National Park within 15 years – this is the ultimate aim. All the conservation projects are carried out by volunteers and funded by volunteers. Without you there would be no funding for land management, (fixing water points for wildlife, taking down inner boundary fences, removing alien species, the reintroduction of wildlife etc.) your role is crucial and you will see how your time makes a huge difference. Each expedition focuses on key projects, therefore there are no gimmicky activities; you will work on what actually needs to get done.
Conservation is not always glamorous but you will come away feeling a huge sense of accomplishment. We are at the early phase of re-wilding, you will be involved in baseline surveys of fauna and flora: setting up traps & identification, plant pressing and logging, camera trap leopard survey through habitat types, fixed-point camera study of habitat desertification, soil study. Once all the data is collected and we understand our ecosystem a lot better, then we can start considering reintroductions so that we do not upset the ecosystem. You will be a part of real conservation and every person joining an expedition will make his/her mark and leave knowing they made a difference to the future of the critically endangered wildlife of Namibia. If you have specific skills or interests please do voice this beforehand so we can tailor and set up projects specific to you.
With conservation comes community, we like to give back where we can. We have teamed up with the Ministry of Forestry and from March 2017 volunteers will be involved in setting up Warmbad’s (our local village) first ever community vegetable garden. Food security is a big problem in our area. The land is harsh and crops fail, it has not rained properly in 3 years and the community is struggling. We are going to teach drip irrigation and other efficient permaculture techniques so the locals can start producing their own food.
Now comes the fun part…
Expeditions are led by scientists (the fun kind) Andrea and Ed, who met at Durrell Institute of Conservation Ecology in Kent during their MSc. Once they graduated they got straight into the action and moved to Northern Tanzania to work in community conservation. Andrea worked in education and outreach making wildlife education films for children living in rural areas and Ed set up a bee-keeping business for the Maasai women as a women empowerment project. After a year in Tanzania – Ian Craig, having worked with Ed before in Kenya, offered them the opportunity and now here they are leading what could be your next trip abroad! Ed and Andrea are not just your project leaders, they do their utmost to create a family during each expedition, they will guide you, be your mentor and most importantly be your friends. It’s tough being out in the bush, away from home and living off the grid. Conservation is hard work, but Ed and Andrea’s love for the natural world and passion for protecting it will get you pumped and you will not want to leave when the time comes.
‘A wee glimpse’
Highlights are 3-day fly camp missions to the Orange River. Ed and Andrea will get you up early at base camp, tuck into a hearty breakfast prepared by the camp chef, and lead you on an epic 2-hour walk through canyons, river beds, dry waterfalls and finally arriving at the oasis of a river in the middle of the surrounding rocky peaks. You will be hot and sweaty and so glad to arrive, strip straight into your swimwear and splash about all day in the river. There are no crocs, no hippos and no scary things so you can spend all day wallowing like hippos, reading a book, fishing or simply cracking open a nice, cold beer. You will camp out in mosquito dome tents on the sandy beaches on the river bank, start a barbie and taste all sorts of exotic wild game meat, roast marshmallows and share memories you’ll cherish forever. Once in your tent, switch off your torch and watch the carpet of stars in the sky and shooting stars fall towards you – a sight which will blow you away.
We are proud to have held our first presentation & competition evening at University College London (UCL) last night. I think all present will agree that it was an interesting evening with lots of different opinions and views expressed, which were rewarded with some amazing prizes.
We asked select UCL students to answer one of three questions;
– Is international travel compatible with a sustainable lifestyle? – Is it better to volunteer abroad, or at home? – What does diversity mean for you in the 21st Century?
9 entries were shortlisted and asked to give a 5-minute TED-style talk on their chosen question. Their answers were diverse and thought-provoking and we very much enjoyed listening to them all. The prizes have been awarded to;
The evening was held in conjunction with the Global Brigades and the Arts & Sciences Societies at UCL – we would like to thank them warmly for helping organise the event. Below you can view the winners and some runners-up presentation videos and essays;
Burning the planet to get a sunburn – is international travel compatible with a sustainable lifestyle?
We are at an interesting junction in history; humans have never been more connected, and never more polluting. The annual CO2 emission for the average world citizen is 5 metric tons. Now consider that a round-trip from London to New York emits 2-3 tons per person. If you get on a few international flights annually, that alone makes you emit more than the average human. There are also millions just like you, working hard on pulling that world average up. Is international travel in any way compatible with a sustainable lifestyle? The short answer is no. The complete answer is slightly more complex.
Air travel only accounts for about two percent of global CO2 emissions. There are other, much more potent causes at play. Electricity consumption accounts for 30 percent of the emissions, and travel in general for 26 percent. We tend to think that technology improvements will at some point solve this. In fact, however, even a huge emitter such the US could be entirely dependent on clean sources by 2030 depending on technology available today. This shift will not happen. It would require enormous investments, and large stakeholders such as the oil industry would need to willingly step back.
As conscious citizens, we can apply economic and political pressure to push for that change. Opting for green choices such as electric cars, shows policy makers and producers what consumers want. Private initiatives such as Elon Musk’s solar panel roof tiles also put the fossil energy industries at risk. Even something small like asking airlines about their sustainability programs show companies that they need to consider the environment if they are to survive. The impact of such pressures can greatly exceed the impact of cancelling your holiday plans. Therefore, a sustainable lifestyle can indeed include air travel if it also includes pushing for change where it matters.
Nevertheless, travel emissions are only going to increase. Since 1990, air travel emission has increased by 83 percent. As globalization and economic development continues, this trend will only accelerate. Not only does that mean more CO2, it also means more noise pollution and possibly reduced water and air quality around airports. And to make matters worse, there is very little incentive for the industry to improve. Who is going to be held responsible for the emissions for an Air Qatar flight from the UK to Dar es Salaam carrying passengers from 20 different countries? That’s right, no one. International law and agreements generally don’t apply to flight emissions. Even the Kyoto protocol has no clause determining responsibility for these emissions. There is some economic motivation for increasing fuel efficiency. Otherwise, the demand for international flights is so large and fast growing that an airline will gain very little from improving their fuel or green technology.
Should we therefore strive to reduce all our travels? Not necessarily – we need to be aware that reducing travelling would have enormous impacts. Being deeply connected is what makes businesses thrive, our cultural understanding grow, and our holidays sparkle. If we look to the young, we can get a picture of what our travelling future holds. A large study showed that young travelers are now traveling more often, staying longer, spending more, and in need of an immersive experience. The modern aspiring student wishes to explore overseas universities, workplaces, and cultures. These are positive trends, and not something we want to discourage.
We seem to be at an impasse. Air traveling pollutes massively, but the cost of giving it up is immense. There seems no magic technology to fix pollution levels, and little incentive to try to develop this. Therefore, to make international travel compatible with a sustainable lifestyle, we can firstly look to alternatives when possible. In Europe, for instance, train travel can be a viable option. Most importantly – each avid traveller should compensate by being the incentive for industries and policy makers to make changes where the technology is available, and where we figured out the magic fixes a long time ago.
Is it better to volunteer abroad, or at home?
In recent years, accusations of “voluntourism” have been, often justifiably, used against young British people who volunteer abroad. Critics argue that well-meaning infrastructure-building, short-term teaching support and material donations provide more of a hindrance to the developing world than a help. In contrast, as government cuts continue to decimate services for the most vulnerable, it begs the question as to why so few are willing to donate their time to supporting vulnerable people within the UK. The fact is; it should not be an “either/or” scenario. Volunteering abroad should be embraced as an opportunity to build connections with people different from oneself, learn lessons about other cultures, and find genuine empathy and drive to help the vulnerable. If individuals learned these lessons from volunteering abroad, viewing their opportunity as a chance to learn and receive as much as to give, many current issues at home would be addressed. Overseas volunteers could be forerunners in providing resolutions to inter-cultural and inter-class animosity; and could champion the rights of vulnerable people – homeless, elderly, disabled, immigrant – whose plight they have witnessed abroad.
This debate is extremely polemic: whereas 0.7% of the UK’s budget (£12.2bn) continues to be donated to developing countries, recent cuts to the annual domestic social security budget have reached nearly £30bn in the last 4 years. I will not spend time arguing the obvious, albeit over-simple, answer – that support at home and abroad should not be mutually exclusive, and should and could be priorities of the budget. Rather, I aim to counter questions such as ‘isn’t it all a waste of time and money?’,‘why is it our responsibility?’, and ‘how can you help people whose culture you don’t understand?’.
First and foremost, so many of the greatest issues with Aid could be overcome by individuals volunteering and helping overseas. The media often viciously exposes the failure of direct Financial Aid between governments. Countless cases have emerged where enormous sums of money have simply gone straight into the pockets of corrupt leaders, rather than destitute populations. An arbitrarily chosen Daily Mail article from June 2011 epitomises this: ‘UK aid cash helped African dictator buy himself a £30m jet’. Unsurprisingly, scandals such as this have wholly undermined Aid programmes. Alternatively, volunteering with NGOs allows development to happen from the bottom, upwards, as individuals from the UK can transfer their skills, understanding and, where appropriate, allocate material fundraising, to specific areas.
It must be made clear here that the very real element of patronising, self-indulgent volunteering must be avoided here. Many have sardonically invoked Rudyard Kipling’s imperialist poem “The White Man’s Burden”, in suggesting that Western individuals go to developing countries with a ‘save the world’ attitude. Paradoxically, when sensibly and sensitively done, it is volunteering that can cure this harmful attitude and its effects, on both sides. On the one hand, by travelling abroad and experiencing a tangible, accessible, vibrant community of people, the volunteer will inevitably lose some of his or her pre-conceptions that are residue from the colonial era. Alongside this, the sharing of values and ideas for progress can be conveyed along friendship terms, rather than imposed (as in the colonial era) or viewed as simply going one way.
To relate this issue of British colonial history directly to the question of ‘responsibility’, it is evident that Britain owes much to countries whose wealth and cultures were plundered for the sake of European powers. Comedian and social commentator Frankie Boyle addresses this in his derisive response to the mantra ‘Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day. Give him a fishing rod and he can feed himself’. ‘Alternatively,’ Boyle states, ‘don’t poison the fishing waters, abduct his great-grandparents into slavery, then turn up 400 years later on your gap year talking a lot of shite about fish’! In less colloquial terms, the argument that nations should be left to develop themselves and not to depend on more powerful “Global North” nations ignores the fact that the “Global North” was built at the expense of many nations now in need. As has been discussed, it is not a solution to simply pour money into the countries – and this includes well-meaning direct donations. Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid uses the example of the “mosquito nets” as its ‘”fish”. She envisages a volunteering or charity programme that donates thousands of nets to a community at risk of malaria. This well-meaning act, however, leaves the community both bereft of nets when they need replacing, and also does not contribute to a financially stable society. If the programme chose instead to invest in a mosquito-net-making individual, who could expand his business, hire workers who could then financially support their families, send their children to school and afford to buy future nets, the “rod” would be made sustainable. Not only is this a duty we owe to the developing world, but also the investment – in multiple forms – would be made.
With this, we can see how issues at home, within the UK could be aided by volunteers going abroad. Financially, this is clear. Whilst a globalised world should be one where people have the freedom to live where they wish, it is not a world where everyone simply departs their dire nations to find solace elsewhere. Instead, investment in people, fulfilled by overseas volunteers and NGOs teaching, engaging and supporting communities to thrive, will contribute to a world in which fewer nations depend on Financial Aid from others. Moreover, volunteering proves an investment in relationship, and an investment in mutual cultural understanding. As refugee crises, rising extremism, and media-fuelled intolerance enhance an “us and them” stance, this is of integral contemporary importance. In travelling to other parts of the world, and working alongside people of varying origins, cultures and customs, individuals learn empathy, communication and appreciation of others. In vibrant, multicultural, and relatively wealthy Britain, it is this attitude of common goal that needs adopting. Volunteering overseas can teach that.
What does Diversity mean for you in the 21st Century?
Last year, the BBC were accused of being ‘too diverse’. Why? Because 13.4% of their staff were black or minority ethnic when only 12.8% of the UK population was non-white. The Sun was, naturally, outraged at the BBC’s ‘racist’ agenda, as were a surprisingly large amount of the British public. ‘Will you now be hiring white individuals only for some positions?’- a rhetorical question from a disgruntled (white, male?) reader in the comments section.
Diversity is one of those buzz words that has long since lost it’s original meaning, becoming a part of a corporation’s list of public image tick-boxes more than an initiative to include people of all races, genders and sexual orientations in society. What does ‘too diverse’ even mean? If diversity could be measured by simple quotas, then the issues in society that demand we do measure it wouldn’t even exist. The truth is, the numbers are superficial. They’re a guideline to let us know if we’re moving in the right directions but they don’t even begin to give an idea as to how diverse our society really is. The debate over these two percentages is purposely arbitrary, twisting a practical problem into a rant at political correctness.
Diversity in the 21st century is too easy to dismiss as one of those positive ideals we’re all happy to say that we are striving for without doing anything about it.
An example of this is the wide-spread frustration in the LGBT+ community about the representation of gay and lesbian people in films and television programmes. But there’s a whole category devoted to them on Netflix! They’re filling the necessary quota; our film industry is diverse! Is it? Aside from painfully stereotyped characters, the most common complaint is that gay and lesbian films are so often tragic, directors exploiting the stories of a minority group for the catharsis of a wider audience who are taught only to feel pity towards them, glad that they, as ‘normal’ people, don’t have to go through the same struggles. ‘Blue is Warmest Colour’ is a film directed by the male Abdellatif Kechiche, a tragedy about the coming of age of two young lesbians, and a film that I, as a young woman attracted to girls, felt uncomfortable watching. It was impossible not to be conscious of the way the story had been twisted to entice a male audience. How can we call this diversity? It’s fitting minorities into pre-defined boxes and only telling their stories in the way that doesn’t challenge the public’s views of them.
Where are the romcoms? Where are the thrillers and horrors and sci-fi’s with casual black or gay or female protagonists whose story doesn’t revolve around the fact that they are not white men? And, even more necessary than that, where are the stories that do revolve around the fact that they are not white men? The films that are written and directed and produced by people who have first-hand lived through the experiences that they are trying to portray?
Diversity is about having a voice. It is not about numbers, it is about representation and balances of power. Without having the opportunity to decide how we are portrayed and our stories are told, our presence in society is not equal to diversity. It is just a presence. The benefits of a diverse society are not corporate public image or a sense of righteousness but the collaborations of people who think and live differently and who can bring new perspectives to old ideas. In a workplace, it is not enough to have the necessary quota of jobs given to women. It has to be a certain percentage of jobs at each wage level, with the aim of women having just as much control over the progression of the company as men.
We are getting there. And whilst I can mock and belittle the idea of filling quotas all I like, the truth is that at least it’s something. If a university is forced to take women and people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds because of an implemented quota, then who am I to complain? It’s easy to regulate and it gives them a step up the ladder. I just hope that the glass ceiling a few rungs up isn’t too thick.
I am a young, mixed-race, bisexual woman. Diversity to me in the 21st century is the key to my future. On a large scale, it’s about representation and equal opportunities. But on a small scale it’s about our own little neighbourhoods and who we invite to our children’s birthday parties and whether we make an effort to learn each other’s languages or recipes. I want to be considered for a job the same way that that a white, male peer would be. I want to see people like me on the news and in tv shows. But I also want to be part of a community where I don’t feel like I have to hide any part of my identity in order to fit in. Diversity for me is about feeling comfortable. It’s chatting about my past relationships with girls without anyone looking squeamish and having people make the effort to spell my Indian and Polish names without deciding that it’s just too much effort. It’s about my knowledge of an Asian country being considered just as interesting as a European one and it’s about the feminist issues that affect my wellbeing being contemplated rather than overlooked.
It is difficult to explain the necessity of diversity to anyone who has never been at a disadvantage because of a lack of it. But the likelihood is that we all have some aspects of our identity which aren’t the norm and which we wish didn’t set us aside. We just need to learn to admire those aspects of identity in other people. Maybe it’s a cliché but it’s true: that our society will benefit when we celebrate what divides us.
What does Diversity mean for you in the 21st Century?
The simple answer would be: Diversity means as much as what we have to gain. The stakes are really high and so are the gains.
Diversity is the core value of justice and democracy and it has to be insured and protected as part of our very understanding of life in the future
To talk about diversity you need to talk about understanding, inclusivity and public participation. All people -of any and every background- need to be represented and actively participate in a healthy democratic process. Democracy has failings, but it is still the best system for organizing societies that we have been able to invent. Maybe its is because of such failings that in Greece, the birthplace of modern democracy, that the third biggest parliamentary party is a far right one. Because that is how democracy works. It may be flawed, there might be better political or philosophical alternatives, which our minds are yet to conceive, but it leaves no one behind or forgotten. Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work.
To talk about diversity you need to talk about both majorities and minorities. A black, atheist, transexual woman from Zimbabwe should not be more or less equal to a white, Christian, straight man from the United States of America.
To talk about diversity is to talk about religious freedom, voting rights, sexual rights, individual rights, human rights, animal rights, the “parliament of things”, (as Bruno Latour envisioned it) the cosmos (as philosopher of science Michel Serres has reminded us) or the “oddkin” (as feminist activist Donna Haraway imagines it). Is there anything more beautiful than getting in the tube in a busy stop in London or New York and observing the wealth of differences mingling around you? People of different colours, with different clothes, different looks, different directions, different accents, a different consciousness, but the same human face. The face of humanity. Hopefully also the mind of a humanity that sees itself as one part of a larger biosphere.
In the history of literature there are multiple bleak references of dystopian futures where humans work as parts of a machine. All heading the same way, in the same grey clothes, with the same expressionless face. But I do not need to delve into that literature. Visions of such homogenous populations are winning political ground all across the world as fear is dictating decisions. On the grounds of hypothesized white supremacy, national security or plain intolerance, nations are closing their borders in the hope of reliving that abstract, fleeting moment in pre-Tower-of-Babel- human history, [or even pre- Twin Towers-9/11-bliss] when everyone spoke the same language and came from the same cultural background.
Political instability is compounded by (and arguably owed to) wealth inequality. And that two hundred-year process of creating that extreme wealth inequality in modern capitalist societies is also leading to increasing environmental instability. Each subsequent year is declared as the hottest year on record, with 2017 faithfully following the same trajectory. These three phenomena -political instability, wealth inequality and environmental destruction- are inextricably linked. We need to rethink our current social and political systems and closely examine to what extent they are responsible for the state of the world today. Oxfam reports that 8 people own more wealth than 3.5 billion people combined. This degree of disenfranchisement may not justify the ‘refuge’ of people to far-right ideas, but it does partly explain it.
We have “to stay with the trouble” as Haraway well phrased it; and this means engage with the present in all its fluidity, “as mortal critters entwined in myriad unfinished configurations of places, times, maters, meanings”
We need to step up as citizens of the cosmos and reclaim democracy as the collective-participatory process we envisioned and envision it to be, not its present fetishized form of exclusive lobbyist representation. The voice of the people living in the islands of the Pacific Ocean should not be less important than the voice of powerful oil companies’ CEOs. The voice of the people from rich suburbs should not be stronger than the voice of the people living next to waste-processing factories, where the air is deemed too toxic for inhalation.
Two course-mates and me have “stayed with the trouble “: we created a platform called ‘The Climate Collective’. We ask people from all around the world, no matter their political or religious beliefs, their economic status or the colour of their skin, to share with us their views and experiences on climate change and the environment. We aim to personalise climate change, an issue hitherto often coined as being ‘too distant’, ‘vague’ or ‘overly scientific’, while making up for the lack of coverage on mainstream media. By giving climate change, – an issue that transcends us as individuals-, an everyday human face, we can directly convey the message of the importance of collective action. We can use diversity as a toolbox for inventive connection and effective response.
Our stories collected so far range from a nun in Myanmar, who links climate change to her religious beliefs, to an English teenager who believes that climate change is used mainly to distract us from other issues like the war in Syria. Some of the participants offer concrete solutions in battling climate change, like a girl from Colorado US or a guy from Cork Ireland, who argue that eating less meat is the way to go.
The picture attached above was uploaded by a user on Twitter with the mocking caption ‘The future that liberals want’. As a liberal I would agree that this is the future I want. A future where such different people can coexist, interact and not only ride the same train, but also work together towards not a future, but the present they all want. Diversity for me is when all bodies have a voice. And this voice is used as a building block for change.
Our existence in this planet is fragile and transient. History has taught me one thing: We are slowly but steadily moving in the right direction. Whether you look at worker’s rights, women’s rights, the emancipation of slavery, legalization of gay marriage, or the niche area of animal rights, equality is winning the struggle. Acknowledging this has made me the optimist that I am today and it is the source of all my passionate curiosity, joy and persistence. The war is still on. Let’s make kin. Let’s speak up. Let’s take and give, let’s share responsibility.
Is international travel compatible with a sustainable lifestyle?
To answer this question, I must first define what I believe constitutes a sustainable lifestyle. When thinking about sustainability, environmental impact is often the first thing to come to mind, and while it is important I would like to highlight the other aspects of a sustainable lifestyle: economic impact and cultural impact. A sustainable lifestyle should be one that hypothetically could be continued indefinitely so the aim should be to minimise harm and damage. To call travelling sustainable, I believe the impact on these areas; environment, economy and culture, should be minimised and taken into consideration when making decisions of how to travel, where to shop, where to stay and numerous other decisions taken when travelling internationally. For this to be true however, a broad and comprehensive definition of each term must be taken. Economy is the mechanism for the movements of goods and payments, in whatever form they take. Environment encompasses everything that makes up the fabric of someone’s life; climate change, the weather, the flora, fauna and structures that make up their world. And culture accounts for the parts that are not immediately visible, the shared values, norms and customs, languages, the shared soundscapes of daily life, specific meaning taken from actions, art and the world around. I think all these elements must be considered when considering sustainable travel. I will look at each factor in turn and discuss the compatibility of a sustainable life with international travel in that area.
Living a sustainable life involves taking actions to minimise the impact you have on the environment, this includes thinking about the food miles of your dinner, the carbon footprint of your car and where your landfill goes. So, sustainable international travel poses one big problem; how do you get where you are going? For many people the answer is a plane. With increasing airport capacity and development all over the world flights are getting cheaper and more connected; you can now go where you want less money and less time. It’s the easy option and for some, the only one considered but is it possible to take a plane and still claim to have a sustainable lifestyle?
2% of all CO2 emissions come from air travel and even though this figure seems low the demand for air travel is set to double in the next 20 years so this figure seems set to rise. However, looking at total emissions from transport, air transport only makes up 12% of the total emissions compared to 74% from road transport. So, as a part of a sustainable lifestyle you might find that your car creates a larger carbon footprint than a return flight once a year to holiday. Flying seems to be a non-negotiable part of the transport system and are around 80% more efficient than when they were first commercialised so if this efficiency continues to improve a sustainable lifestyle could involve none or very few domestic road journeys and one (return) international flight a year. So, the point here is that travelling anywhere, in any means aside from walking, will have some carbon and environmental footprint so the dilemma is less between which transport you take and more between whether you travel at all. One solution to this would be to travel domestically by bike and foot which would be the most carbon neutral option.
A sustainable lifestyle should promote stability in the local economy. Looking after the local and global economy is a concern that weighs heavily on the collective conscious following numerous recessions and financial crashes all over the world and so it should too on any traveller looking to be sustainable. I think a traveller can help maintain and promote the local economy by bringing investment however the risk with this is making sure money doesn’t destabilise or inflate certain trades. I believe it is possible to have a neutral or positive effect on the economy with international travel. The additional cash flow brought by tourists can enable people save or invest in the future allowing longer term sustainable development. However, care should be taken so that incoming money isn’t siphoned straight out of the community. This could be talking to locals and finding out where money goes or just avoiding chain stores where the profits may not be reinvested into community. The same goes for selecting accommodation. Injections of money in the right places in the local economy can bring benefits enabling investments in local projects, improved revenues enabling families and business to spend in ways that will benefit them and so the community. So, I believe that travelling can have, with a little care and research, a positive, or at least neutral effect, on the economy.
Living in a sustainable way should also involve not imposing your ideas and customs on others. In a similar vein to the economy, I think sustainable travelling should minimise the impact felt by the culture you might be parachuting into. This could involve taking a language class to help communications in a country where little or none of your native language is spoken, or finding a local translator before you go who you can work with. It could also be researching the culture and finding out whether your culture clashes with local beliefs and finding a way to compromise or follow the local customs.
In conclusion, I think that in terms of environmental impact any type of travelling will have an impact but I also believe that in our globalised world of today visiting and understanding other cultures is key, now more than ever. So, staying in your home country is an option to minimise carbon footprint but I also think travelling is an enriching and important part of being a global citizen and I believe it can be part of a sustainable lifestyle but must be a careful and considered action that fits in with your personal standard of sustainability.
Get to know people who really make a difference! Project Impacts is a series of articles explaining the background and settings for some of the many projects we partner with around the world. In this series, you will learn about the goals of the projects and what impact they have had on their local community, and how you can fit into this picture. First up is Holly from Kanahau, writing about wildlife research on the Honduran island of Utila.
Utila is one of the Bay Islands, and lies 29km from the coast of Honduras, in the Caribbean sea. It measures just 11km by 4km, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in wildlife. Utila boasts a number of important habitats including mangrove forests, hardwood forests, limestone caves, and coastal ecosystems. It is home to 4 endemic lizards, including the Critically Endangered iguana Ctenosaura bakeri, locally known as the Swamper. So little is known about the other 3 species (2 anoles and 1 gecko) that they are not yet classified by the IUCN. The island is also home to various mammals (including at least 11 bat species), a diverse population of invertebrates (including an endemic blue land crab), many other reptiles and amphibians (42 have been reported to date), and plenty of bird species.
Although its terrestrial environment is extremely diverse, Utila is best known for its marine life. The island forms part of the second largest reef system in the world and is a hotspot for whale sharks and dolphins. It is also a mecca for scuba divers, with excellent diving at more affordable prices than other parts of the Caribbean (Utila has just been voted the best Caribbean dive site by USA Today). This dive tourism is rapidly growing, bringing with it increased development and increased pressures on the island’s terrestrial environment. Development is underway to provide housing and facilities for tourists, as well as housing for mainland Honduran migrants who come to the island looking for jobs within the tourist industry. On top of that, there is a growing trend of people moving permanently to Utila from other parts of the world, looking for that Caribbean dream lifestyle at an affordable price.
There are laws in place to protect the environment in Honduras, but they are tragically under-enforced, particularly on Utila. The people on the island are not rich, and many families do not have a single member working full time. For these reasons, tourism and the economy are a priority over conservation, and the population on the island (both tourists and permanent residents) is growing and demanding land unsustainably. Mangrove and hardwood forest is being cleared for development, as well as agriculture, and limestone caves are being quarried for building material. On top of this development, the increasing population is creating more and more waste, and the limited infrastructure cannot cope. Waste disposal facilities on Utila are extremely basic, and recycling is only just taking off, so lots of waste ends up dumped and polluting the mangrove or the ocean. Several of the beaches on Utila have a serious litter problem, impacting on nesting wildlife such as turtles and the endemic Swamper.
Kanahau is using a multi-disciplinary approach to supporting the people of Utila in protecting their wildlife. We carry out important research to provide evidence that protection is needed, and we supply our results to the relevant local and national government bodies. This research covers many topics (such as population dynamics, home ranges, and species abundance) across many species groups, for example, bats, insects, and reptiles, including the Critically Endangered Swamper. We also contribute to the IUCN Red List assessments for the endemic lizard species. One of our long-term goals is to purchase land and create a private nature reserve on the island.
We take part in an environmental education program, in conjunction with 2 other NGOs on the island, to teach local children about the environment and the importance of conserving it, to benefit both the wildlife and the people on the island. We visit 5 different schools once a week to give lessons and run fun activities on different topics, covering both local issues (e.g. mangroves and plastic) and broader conservation and biology topics (e.g. food webs and global warming). This year we intend to extend this program to include adult residents as well as tourists.
A new project for 2017 addresses sustainable incomes on the island. Unemployment and poverty is a problem, so people care more about quick cheap development than about doing things sustainably. Low income also drives a part of the island’s community to hunt, both for food and to make money. We will facilitate a regular market, for people from the island to sell sustainable environmentally friendly products. Some of our staff have been trained in making cosmetic products, such as soap, from eco-friendly ingredients and local produce, as well as jewellery from recycled materials. These crafts will be taught to local people and we will assist in marketing the event to maximise sales. We will also encourage and facilitate any other products made by local people that do not have a negative impact on the environment. Through this market, we aim to show people that money can be made whilst protecting the environment, and also to instil a sense of pride in the island in those that live there.
“Working on Utila poses challenges as the community have been doing things in certain ways for many generations.”
This multi-angle approach is particularly important for such a small island, and a small community. The people need to be included in any conservation effort for it to be successful in the longer term, and we aim to work with them to improve and conserve the environment on Utila. For a community to want to protect their environment, they must be shown that it has a value, and we achieve this through our education and sustainable income programs. We then back this up with solid scientific evidence that conservation is necessary, in order to tackle the issues through more official channels and raise awareness within the international conservation community. Working on Utila poses challenges as the community have been doing things in certain ways for many generations. There is also little infrastructure or financial support from outside of the island, so people are very aware of costs or any loss of potential earnings. Change is slow, but it is happening. The benefits of seeing directly the positive effects of everything that we do, along with the overall friendly and welcoming atmosphere on the island, far outweigh the occasional frustrations from the slow pace. Life is slow on Utila, but the overwhelming impression from the people is that they do care about their island and they are open to change. We hope that with our support we can realise these crucial changes and protect the environment before it is too late.