My Last Week Begins

Daniel Gillis's blog - August 2nd, 2016 7:29 AM

It’s hard to believe that my time in Malawi is coming to an end and that I’ll begin my long journey home on Friday. This week will be my last in Lilongwe, which means my time working with the Agricultural Research and Extension Trust is also coming to an end – at least in the sense that I will no longer be working in their offices, and seeing the ARET staff on a daily basis.

However, I don’t think this is the end of the story. That is, I have a strong feeling that I will be back, and even more that I’ll continue working with ARET. To say that the country has captured my attention and imagination is an understatement. More than that, the work that I’ve been doing with ARET so closely aligns with my various research programs and interests, that it would be foolish to ignore the many opportunities and collaborations that are available here.

Last week I spent several days at the Malawi Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services conference (MaFAAS). The intent was to get a better sense of the status of agriculture in Malawi, most specifically the various extension services offered, the technologies used, challenges faced, and potential opportunities. While I managed to capture all of the information I needed, the MaFAAS offered so much more. It was a chance to meet the people who are actively working to develop and improve the resiliency and capacity of the country. The discussions and presentations were all quite inspiring, and I found myself mentally preparing a research program that could tie together several elements of what I learned.

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to sit and think about what I’d learned and how this might fit in to the broader vision that I presented to the folks at ARET today. This included recommendations focused on the development of what I think are several key partnerships, outreach activities within the local community, necessary technologies (both old and new) to strengthen and improve extension services, and a directed social media campaign, to name a few.

While sitting and pondering how I could and should integrate what I’d learned at MaFAAS, I was struck by just how perfect this partnership has been. It pulls together my interests in computer science and community engaged scholarship, transdisciplinary studies, alternative data collection methods, public health risk assessment, food security, and statistics. I can honestly say that I wasn’t expecting that when I applied to the Leave For Change program, and I definitely didn’t expect it when I received my mandate with ARET.

Leaving here on Friday is going to be tough, but I know that I won’t be gone forever. The Warm Heart of Africa is too incredible to only visit once.


Originally Posted Here

Warning - Goats Ahead

Daniel Gillis's blog - July 29th, 2016 6:15 AM

After an incredible Saturday in paradise, I awoke Sunday morning to experience another beautiful day in the paradise that was Mayoka Village. As was the day before, I opted to enjoy the morning light from the security of my bed while Dylan, Jon, and Justeen continued to sleep. Eventually the need to indulge my coffee-loving-self became too strong and I was forced to get out of bed. This may or may not have been encouraged by the movement of my bunk mates who were also hearing the siren call of breakfast. We each showered, made ourselves as presentable as necessary, and sauntered over to another delicious breakfast overlooking Lake Malawi. This morning, however, we wouldn’t be entertained by the local group of monkeys who’d played around our cabin or who’d casually approached us as we ate the previous morning. I guess Sunday was their day off.

We spent the rest of the morning and early part of the afternoon enjoying the views. Dylan and Justeen kayaked to a nearby beach, Jon caught up on some work for his Leave For Change partner organization, and I sat on a rock watching the water while lost in thoughts and people watching. Two guys swam out to lounge in the sun with two girls who’d already made their way to a floating pier. Two other twenty-something women battled with balance as they paddle-boarded around the water. A slight twenty-something guy snorkled by several times, seemingly searching for something but having very little success at finding it, while his buddy sun bathed on a nearby rock. A couple of yanks sat near the water’s edge enjoying a cigarette. A family – mom, dad, and four young kids – canoed by, and every now and then one of the kids would fearlessly and expertly dive into the water before climbing back on board in a way that suggested they’d lived their life in and on the water. It was a moment meant for sitting around doing nothing but watching as each of these scenes played out around me. It was perfect.

By late afternoon, however, we packed our gear up and began the long trek back to Lilongwe. We made a short stop when we reached Mzuzu – for cash, for fuel, and for coffee – but were otherwise on our way south by 5pm. Dylan navigated the pot-holed and dilapidated road while we watched the countryside fly by. The sun was already low on the horizon, so I sat and marvelled as the sky changed from blue to pink and orange and brilliant red. African sunsets are like no other I’ve ever seen. The sun somehow seems much larger here, the shadows it casts much longer and more stately. The sky burns with colours that seem to reflect the burnt red earth that is the lifeblood of the animals and people who call this place home. We  stopped along the road so we could get a better view as the sun descended beyond the horizon. It was beautiful and peaceful and perfect. Again, I was struck with an intense sense of gratitude that I could be in this place, at this time, with the band of incredible misfits I was with.

The rest of the journey home was marked with baboons grazing along the roadside, several police stops, and village after village still alive with vendors and people casually sauntering to or from home or church. As daylight surrendered to darkness, I settled back in my seat and closed my eyes.

We approached Lilongwe around 8:30pm or so. The roads were pitch black, and oncoming traffic – although few in numbers – blinded me consistently enough that I pretty much had no idea where we were. We barreled along, chatting, laughing and singing along to whatever tunes were playing, a great distraction from the anxiety that the combination of lack of vision and night driving tends to cause me. Dylan managed to somehow keep us on the road despite potholes and questionable shoulders, and a significant lack of light. I really have no idea how he saw anything. Cresting a hill just as we were about to enter Lilongwe, a herd of goats were suddenly directly in front of us, lit up by the car’s headlights. Dylan slammed on the brakes as the herd instinctively started running. Swerving as best he could, two goats seemed destined for an untimely and very painful death. In an instant they darted forward as Dylan continued pressing the brakes. They looked as if they were going to be swallowed by the hood of the car. How they managed to survive unscathed, I’ll never know. What I did know is that they were extremely lucky, and so were we. We drove on, laughing at what had just transpired, but also very thankful that we were able to laugh at it at all.

After dropping us off and saying our goodbyes, Dylan and Justeen were off. Jon and I chatted briefly, but it was very clear we were both looking forward to stretching out for the rest of the eve. The trip home had been long, but it was very full. I crawled into bed that night, tired, happy, grateful, and extremely content.

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My Time In Paradise

Daniel Gillis's blog - July 27th, 2016 7:50 AM

I awoke Saturday morning feeling incredibly refreshed. I didn't immediately bound out of bed, however. Instead, I stretched and yawned and enjoyed the comfort of the lower bunk as Dylan lay sleeping a few feet above me. Given the lack of movement in the cottage, I assumed that both Justeen and Jon were sound asleep in their respective beds. From my vantage point, I could see the canopy of leaves just outside my window. The sun was just beginning to rise over Lake Malawi, and its rays were filtering through the trees, filling the room with a soft morning light. I sunk a little deeper into my bed, enjoying the fact that I had no reason to move save for filling my belly with what Dylan had promised would be a most delicious breakfast and coffee.

He wasn't wrong. Breakfast indeed was fantastic, but the coffee was outstanding. I drank a pot meant for two all by myself, and probably would have had more if not for the fact that we had plans to hike to a local secluded beach. Fortunately I knew I'd be back the next morning for more of the tasty bean. 

After filling our bellies, filling our water bottles, packing appropriate beach attire, and ordering food to go (so that we had something to eat once we arrived at our destination), we started a hike to a secluded beach that Dylan had been to previously. The trek may have taken an hour or two - I honestly don't recall as I was too busy taking in the scenery or laughing with the crew. 

The hike took us by a local school and through a tiny village where kids both played and helped with chores. As we passed by, many of them came by to smile and wave, some asking What's my name? Others asked for our empty water bottles so that they could return them for a few Malawian kwacha. After handing my bottle to one particular little girl, she then asked if she could have my glasses. I politely said no because I needed them to see, before noticing a rather mischevious smile on her face.

Before long we'd made our way to the beach. In front of us were a white sand beach and plenty of open water. To the left was a collection of small fishing boats. Several fishers worked nearby, tending to nets and other chores while also watching a collection of kids that seemed to range in age from 7 up to 12. Initially, the kids continued to play with each other, but soon our presence was noted. One by one they began approaching.

The first little boy who decided to sneak up did so as we sat enjoying lunch on the beach. He made a few faces at me, mimicking the things I'd do. If I raised an eyebrow, he did the same. If I looked surprised, he'd giggle a bit and repeat the expression. He then crept along the sand - innocently stopping in place, huge smile on his face, whenever I happened to look his way - until he was next to me. Finding a twig, he stuck it in the ground and built up a wall of supporting sand around it. I watched, not really sure what he was doing. When he knew he had my attention, he decided to sweep some of the supporting sand out of the way. He looked at me, somehow intuiting that 1) we were playing a make-shift Jenga game, 2) it was my turn, and 3) clearly I needed to sweep away some of the sand on my side without causing the twig to fall over. Slowly, turn by turn, we each swept away a little more sand until a winner was decided, and then we played again. 

After the second game I lifted my head to notice that most of the other kids had gathered around. One boy sat next to me and smoothed out a patch of sand. On this he drew a square that was then bisected vertically, horizontally, and in both directions diagonally; the resulting intersections creating 9 playing spaces. He handed me three stones, and broke a small twig in three. Each taking turns, we dropped our pieces onto one of the playing spaces. Once the pieces were placed, we began to move them one at a time to playing spaces that were both open and connected to the space that was occupied by the piece we wanted to move. The goal was to create a solid line of pieces while simultaneously preventing my opponent from doing the same. More of the kids gathered round as I battled it out with one after the other. Somehow I managed to hold my own, but I think that's because many of the kids would offer advice whenever it was my turn. 

At some point after playing what seemed like 1000 rounds of their game, I learned that the favourite class of some of the boys was mathematics. Obviously the giant nerd in me couldn't let this go. I began by asking them some simple multiplication questions - 3 x 5, and 2 x 4 - which they easily and very promptly answered. When I pressed with more challenging questions - 9 x 8, or 9 x 11 - they began to slow their responses and struggle with accuracy. To help them out, I decided to show them some tricks. This included a simple way to remember the 9 times table (whereby the digits of 9 times any integer add up to nine or a multiple of 9 - e.g. 7 x 9 = 63, and 6+3 = 9, 14 x 9 = 126, and 1 + 2 + 6 = 9), which seemed to blow their collective minds. I also demonstrated a way to multiply two digit numbers together using sticks - which posed a bit of a challenge because I had to draw the sticks in the sand, and the sand was not the best surface to work with. Regardless, they seemed super excited about these tricks. Who am I kidding, I was geeking out as well. 

Feeling rather content and just a little sun-kissed, we made our way back to our cottage. Along the way I couldn't help but giggle a little at what I'd just experienced. Who'd have thought that I'd have such a captive audience on a beach in Malawi while teaching math? Who'd have thought I'd be teaching math in Malawi at all? Beyond the beauty of Mayoka Village, beyond the incredible views of Lake Malawi, and beyond the breathtaking sunsets, this place was my own little paradise because it let me get my math on. What more could I ask for?


Originally Posted Here

Road Tripping Across Malawi

Daniel Gillis's blog - July 26th, 2016 2:28 PM

As part of my mandate with the Agricultural Research & Extension Trust (ARET), I’m in Malawi to help build capacity in the domain of data management for knowledge mobilization purposes. This means I’ve spent the week trying to understand the short, medium, and long-term goals of the organization, and chatting with my office mate, Maurice to make sure I’m on track.

But working with ARET is only one part of the story. As a Leave For Change volunteer we are expected to contribute positively as much as we can to build capacity and resiliency inside and outside our partner organizations in any way that we can. Sometimes that means working on things that step a little beyond our mandates1. But it also means getting out into the community and experiencing Malawi.

Two weekends ago that meant I jumped in a car with Dylan, Jon, Sarina, and Justeen so we could make our way to Liwonde Safari Camp, south of Lilongwe, to pay a friendly visit to the human and non-human locals who lived there. To quote Dylan, I was a “Happy Chappie”. And since we got on so well, we decided the adventure couldn’t end with just one weekend. So Friday morning we decided to load up the car again2 and head to Mayoka Village on Lake Malawi.

The road to Mayoka village was simple; head north on M1 until hitting Mzuzu. After that, we basically just followed the signs as we made our way east towards the lake. Along the way, we stopped when necessary to stretch our legs and to take a few moments to take in the scenery. The landscape was not like that which I experienced on the way south to Liwonde; while both were incredibly beautiful, the northern landscapes were significantly different.

As we wound our way around and over the hills of the African countryside, the vegetation transitioned from a much drier climate to one that was lusher. The trees were fuller and taller, and although the soil was still dusty and the beautiful rich red colour I’ve come to expect, there were fewer open patches because the bulk of the ground seemed to be covered by plants. The hills were blanketed by a canopy of trees that eventually transitioned into conifers. This came as a huge surprise to me, as I wasn’t expecting to see coniferous trees in Africa.

As we drove on, I often found my mind drifting off as I kept questioning whether or not this was actually something I was experiencing, or whether I was simply dreaming. I stared out the window and couldn't stop myself from smiling. The breeze blowing in the car, the smells in the air, the music on the radio - all created a surreal experience that had me feeling like I was in my own music video. The only thing that would snap me back to reality were the people in the car with me; and typically because something was said that had us all laughing.

After about 5 hours of driving, we arrived in Mayoka Village. Our home for the weekend was more than I could have expected. For $15 US per night (per person) we found ourselves in a tiny blue cottage with two queen sized beds and one bunk bed spread over two rooms that were separated by a full bathroom. As if that weren't enough, we had a second shower outside, just around the corner from our patio. Through the trees (which provided ample shade for the cottage, and a playground for monkeys in the morning), we could see the lake down below. Several other cottages lined the path.

The water was clear and cool and perfectly refreshing. The skies were free of all but the distant hint of clouds and the heat from the sun was at a perfect not-too-hot level. As I soaked in the rays of the sun and looked out over the lake, I couldn't help but think we'd found a small slice of paradise in Mayoka Village. More than that, I couldn't help but smile at the fact that I had the entire weekend to soak in this place, and some rather excellent company with whom I could enjoy it.


Originally Posted Here

1 For example, while I’m developing an overall framework for the data management needs of ARET, I’m also going to help work with the communications team to develop a social media campaign. This isn’t exactly part of the data management mandate, but it does fit nicely with their efforts to strengthen and improve their extension efforts.

2 This time sadly without Sarina who had to stay behind because of work.

Safari III

Daniel Gillis's blog - July 21st, 2016 4:27 PM

If I had planned better, I would have given each of my Safari posts a clever name beyond the very creative Safari I, Safari II, and Safari III. I say this now only because as I sit down to describe my final day of Safari (which was several days ago now), I am hit with this incredible desire to title this post In Search Of House Hippos. However, that wouldn't be consistent with the theme (as boring as it is) so I've opted to just stick with it.

Our last day of Safari began a little later than the last, although earlier than it needed to as I misunderstood when we were to start, and as such set the alarm 30 minutes early. Sorry Safari gang, I apparently don't do time very well.

Anyway, after a quick drive close to the water's edge we boarded our craft and set out on adventure along the Shire river. The sky was somewhat grey, but this didn't change the fact that it was a beautiful morning with very little wind, and just the right temperature. Several women dotted the shore in brightly coloured garments. A few fished while the others seemed responsible for cleaning whatever was caught. Several fishers sat comfortably in one person boats that I assume were carved from the branches or trunk of some local tree. I peered over the edge of our boat in an attempt to spot some fish or perhaps a lumbering underwater hippo, or maybe even a sneaky crocodile looking for a quick bite. Sadly I couldn't see deeper than the surface. Although the water was very calm, it was quite turbid. If a crocodile was looking to jump up and snatch me in its jaws, I wouldn't know until it was too late. For the record, this thought did nothing to stop me peering over the edge.

It wasn't long before we found ourselves face to face with a group of hippos. I was struck by their size. They snorted and yawned big hippo yawns, seemingly unimpressed with us. As we drew closer a few seemed to move slightly away, but to be honest we were outnumbered and out-powered and I think the hippos knew it. While the bulk ignored us, a few kept watch likely because there were a few baby hippos in the group.

We carried on, spotting numerous birds - herons and kingfishers and cranes. We passed more hippos, and eventually saw our first crocodile sunning lazily on the shore. Our first crocodile was soon upstaged by our second and third and fourth. They weren't each bigger than the last, but they were huge - far bigger than I was expecting, although I'm not quite sure what I was expecting. Their bodies seemed to be all muscle, and from what I could tell almost as wide as they were long. They seemed unimpressed by our interrupting their leisure time in the sun, promptly making for the water as soon as they noted our intrusion. Once in the water we were able to fully appreciate their size - at least for the few seconds before they inevitably submerged. Again I tried unsuccessfully to peer through the murky water in a sad attempt to watch them swim by (although from their point of view I was probably doing nothing more than offering myself up as a tasty snack).

The morning carried on much like this. More hippos and birds and crocodiles came and went from our view. We were greeted on the shore by several strutting warthogs, and some very statuesque waterbucks, and at some point were told that a herd of elephants could be seen in the distance. While they were too far away for me to see them, the rest of my Safari team - Jon, Justeen, Sarina, and Dylan - were able to. In the distance various mountaintops came into view while others went into hiding. It was an incredibly peaceful and relaxing way to spend the morning.

As I stepped off the boat at the end of our Safari, I had one of those is this real life moments. Over the span of a few days I was able to witness the beauty and majesty (and oftentimes pooping) of some of the most incredible animals on the planet in their natural environment. No cages, no electric fences or glass barriers to separate me from them. Just me, and them, and nature. I can't begin to explain how grateful I am that I got to experience this.


Originally Posted Here 

The Importance Of Extension

Daniel Gillis's blog - July 21st, 2016 4:18 PM

As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm in Malawi as part of the Leave For Change program working with a not-for-profit agency called the Agricultural Reasearch and Extension Trust (ARET). Their mission, in a nutshell, is to help farmers in Malawi to produce the best yields possible given economic and environmental challenges. As part of my mandate, I joined one of the communication staff from ARET at today's Strengthening Agriculture and Nutrition Extension event in Nathenje, just south of Lilongwe. It was a fantastic event that effectively relaunched extension efforts in the country, followed by a display of traditional dances and costumes from the local village. It was an incredible experience that I'm incredibly grateful to have witnessed. 

I'll be honest, when I first read the word Extension in my partner agency's name, I really wasn't sure what it meant. Fortunately after my read of their strategic mandate, and my meeting with their director, its definition became clear. Extension was another way of saying knowledge mobilization (KM) or knowledge translation and transfer (KTT). That is, extension is the act of making scientific knowledge actionable by anyone who may benefit from it. This may mean converting scientific findings to policy, or translating the findings in a way that someone outside a particular discipline would be able to understand, or converting the findings into a set of actionable items that can be used in the real world. 

Amazingly, it's not as easy as it sounds. In reality we are faced with extension (good and bad) almost daily. We hear, for example, that eating chocolate will help us lose weight (I wish), only to learn that the science isn't quite so robust or clear cut despite the catchy headline. Our doctors tell us that our overly processed sugar-filled diets are leading to increasing obesity numbers, but we still reach for the ice cream or the second helping of pie (mmmm pie). In many cases we aren't given sufficient ownership of the findings to act on them because they aren't presented in a way that speaks to our experience. Or we are overwhelmed with too many conflicting and poorly constructed (albeit eye catching) headlines. The science may be there, but the messaging is either wrong, or not actionable.

In class, specifically the ICON classroom that Dr. Shoshanah Jacobs and I co-created a few years back, we attempt to teach students not only about extension (although we call it KTT and KM), but how to achieve it. The reasons we do this range from the obvious; universities don't typically teach this despite a need for it in industry, to the perhaps less obvious; if we are to solve some of our bigger social issues (e.g. food security, energy conservation, sustainable living, climate change) we have to recognize that we'll require our best brains from all of our varied disciplines, both academic and non-academic, working together in a transdisciplinary space. This can only happen if the best brains can share their knowledge and experiences in a way that makes the information actionable by at least a subset of the group. This doesn't mean that one expert trains the others to be experts in the same domain; it means that one expert relays knowledge from their domain to another expert in a manner that they can put it to use. The effect is much like a think-tank that allows experts of all sorts to develop solutions that transcend their own discipline. 

When I began developing the ICON classroom with Dr. Jacobs, I firmly believed in the need to develop KTT and KM skills in the students that pass through my classrooms. I felt an urgency based on a desire to develop solutions to protect and improve our collective futures. I felt an urgency because of big problems that I know we can fix if we just get off our collective butts and do something about them. But it was an urgency based on developing new technologies or new solutions to the really big problems we know about, and those just around the corner that we haven't the imagination to predict.

Interestingly, my time so far in Malawi has changed my tune slightly. That's not to say I think KTT and KM are no longer skills worthy of pursuing. Quite the contrary. My experiences in Malawi, the things I've learned and seen here, have increased my sense of urgency. These skills are needed now, to address very serious issues we already know how to solve. 

Last year almost 3 million Malawians required food assistance. That is, almost 20% of the population was food insecure. This year that number is expected to double. Why? Climate change and the unpredictable weather patterns it brings is a huge factor. So is the poor financial situation of a population that makes on average about $1.25 US per day. But mixed in with this (and other factors I haven't described) is a disconnect between the agricultural science and best practices, and what's actually happening in the field. Where farmers would be best served by planting and watering their seeds a week before the rains come, they instead revert to tradition resulting in lower yield. Fertilizers aren't applied in the doses or at times that best serve the crops, and pests destroy harvests because various controls haven't been put into place. All this because the science hasn't been passed on in a way that meaningfully speaks to the farmers. 

But it's not a one way street. Innovations and adaptations borne of hands-in-the-dirt ingenuity that happen in the field every day aren't making their way to the scientists and extension officers to share with other farmers. Relevant and meaningful questions that are grown from long term observations on the farm are seemingly lost in the wind. An incredible knowledge base is left on small plots of land to whither and die in the sun. All because the pathways of sharing these bits of innovation and knowledge (or relevant research questions) aren't strong enough to support the farmers' needs, or fail to respect the farmers' experience. 

And sadly this means that the problem is only going to get worse unless we figure out new ways of making the science actionable by the communities of farmers who work the fields every day.  As I said, extension isn't easy. It requires understanding the audience, a shared respect for each other's unique expertise (whether academic or not), an openness to dialogue, a sense of self reflection and self critique to honestly identify and deal with our discipline specific biases, and the drive to work through periods of intense discomfort and frustration and awkwardness that often come just before a eureka moment. 

Fortunately ARET recognizes this, and they are working hard to make a difference so that the farmers of Malawi have the best tools and techniques to produce the best crops they can. My work here will hopefully help them build on the incredible extension work they already do. 

Extension, KTT, KM - whatever you want to call it - are a set of skills I believe are absolutely essential for any university graduate. In fact I'd suggest we should be building these skills long before a student steps onto campus. Now more than ever, I'm convinced the world we live in demands it. 


Originally Posted Here 

The Agricultural Pulse Of Malawi

Daniel Gillis's blog - July 18th, 2016 12:23 PM

I've been in Lilongwe, Malawi for just over a week as part of the Leave For Change program. So far the experience has been remarkable. Last week I spent much of my time familiarizing myself with Lilongwe1, sitting through orientation training with the folks who run the Malawian chapter of World University Service of Canada (WUSC)2, and reviewing documents I’d received from the Agricultural Research and Extension Trust (ARET), my partner agency.

In a nutshell, ARET is a not-for-profit organization that is mandated to support Malawian farmers through agricultural research and knowledge translation and transfer programs3,4. For example, their researchers might conduct studies to evaluate different crop types, or to explore different planting times so that a farmer might produce the largest, healthiest yields possible. The results of their work are then distributed to the farmers through a chain of people known as Extension Directors and Extension Officers. In this way, farmers in each corner of the country have access to the state-of-the-science agricultural tools and methods. And since Malawi’s economy is highly dependent on agriculture, this means that ARET is an absolutely essential component to the economic health of the country.

Normally a Leave For Change volunteer would have started working directly with their partner agency immediately after the day and a half of WUSC orientation and training, however, in my case, my first meeting was delayed until Thursday morning5. Regardless, after reviewing the documents I’d received from ARET and after sitting down with the Director of Extension and Specialist Services on Thursday, I was extremely excited to get to work. I had a million ideas and even more questions floating around in my head.

Today I spent my first full day at ARET, beginning with a meeting with the Director and Chief Executive, the Director of Extension and Specialist Services, and the Finance & Administration Manager to discuss my mandate. While I already had a general sense of what I was going to be doing while working with ARET, the meeting provided a much clearer vision for which to start.

Briefly, I’m going to be working with the Director of Extension and Specialist Services (and the other branches of ARET) to help develop a framework on which to build several different services internally and externally. This requires working closely with the staff of ARET to develop a thorough understanding of the system's users, their needs, the data they need to collect, the outputs they would like generated, and the various different ways in which they will communicate this information to the various stakeholders.

In many ways, this parallels some of the work I’m doing in the community of Rigolet, Labrador. In both cases, there are some environmental and technical issues that need to be addressed. In both cases, I need to work with a community to develop tools that are useful and user-friendly. And in both cases, I need to design the systems so that they are as robust as possible to allow for expansion in the coming years as the technology and infrastructure adapt and grow.

Where these projects differ is in their scope. My work in Rigolet is a pilot focussed on the immediate community. While there are future plans to expand the work across Nunatsiavut and beyond, we are very much developing community-led solutions at a very local level. In Malawi, we are working together to develop a system that will provide extension services to all farmers across the country.

The process I’m about to work on is also a perfect example of the development processes that I teach in my CIS3750 classroom. From understanding the users/client, to developing requirements, use cases, timelines, and (if time permits) prototypes, the project I’ve just begun is going to draw on almost all of the skills I try to pass on to my students.

I’m really excited that I get to work with ARET to help develop the groundwork for what I think will be some truly innovative programs in the future. More than that, I’m really thankful that I get to work with a group that is trying to help develop capacity and resiliency in the people who are the economic hub of this country.

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1 Although truth be told, I’m only somewhat familiar with my local neighbourhood and the neighbourhood that surrounds the WUSC main office.

2 While some of this included a recap from training I’d received in Toronto several months ago, it was a welcome way to start my Leave For Change appointment. It also gave me a much better sense of the Malawi, the city of Lilongwe, and the people who call this amazing country home.

3 Historically ARET has focused their research on improving yields and resiliency in tobacco harvests, as tobacco has been the primary export and major source of income for the country. However, given anti-smoking campaigns around the world, they are working with local farmers to transition to other income generating crops (e.g. legumes, and oil-producing seeds).

4 From what I've been able to determine, I believe that ARET is using the term extension in the same way that I would use Knowledge Translation and Transfer. That is, extension seems to be the process by which scientific results are turned into meaningful tools and methods that are accessible by (in this case) farmers.

5 And Friday I was off to Liwonde National Park for a safari adventure.

Safari II

Daniel Gillis's blog - July 17th, 2016 5:37 PM

After paying our entry fee, we entered Liwonde National Park roughly around 6:30am. Passing through the gates I couldn’t help but feel I was entering Jurassic park. The gates weren’t nearly as fancy, but there was a sense of wonder about the entire experience that had the kid in me completely nerding out. With so much anticipation and excitement, I attempted to rein myself in. There was no guarantee that the animals would be on our trail, nor that they’d stick around long enough for a viewing even if they were. Still, despite my best efforts, this nerdy kid was absolutely stoked.

Having passed the threshold we crossed a small dilapidated bridge. I peered left and right willing myself to see something other than foliage. Sadly that’s all I could see. Still, since we’d been officially on Safari for only 3 minutes this did nothing to hamper my spirits. I continued scanning the trees undeterred. It couldn’t have been more than a minute later that someone said they’d spotted an elephant straight ahead. I quickly changed the focus of my view, but still saw nothing. I tried peering more intently, darting my eyes back and forth around the general area I was told the elephant could be found. Nothing. I tried looking deeper into the trees, into layers of the environment I had been neglecting in my first scan. Nothing. 

Not being able to see the elephant, having no idea how close our driver might get to it, having no clue as to how long the elephant might stick around, nor if this sighting was a typical or atypical event, I began to worry that my eyes were going to get in the way of my very first safari. 

I’m thankful to say that wasn’t the case. As we drove deeper into the park several elephants came into view, including some wee baby elephants. In terms of how I was feeling, I’m sure the stupid grin on my face was enough to say it all. And I’m sure that same stupid grin kept getting wider and wider as more and more elephants came into view. It was absolutely surreal. I watched as a small herd marched by us. Some of them looked in our general direction but for the most part they ignored us, focusing only on their march, munching on the foliage that had once hid them from my view, and protecting their wee ones. I remember thinking that if my Safari ended right then and there, I still would have been a happy man. 

Of course, the Safari continued. As the small herd moved on, our driver followed and repositioned us so that we were closer and better situated to see the elephants head on. The matriarch of the family seemed to take exception to this, signalling her discontent with what seemed to be an inflated chest, some snorting and trunk wagging, flared ears, and a small threat provided through a demonstration of her ability to charge if she wanted to. It was incredible. She was 30 feet away from me, maybe less. I probably should have been frightened, but I was completely loving every minute of it. 

We moved on through the park, coming across more herds of varying sizes and several lone males. With each encounter it felt that our driver would inch us closer and closer. And each time I kept thinking I’m in Africa. I’m on Safari. There are elephants right over there! It really was such a surreal experience being able to live out a dream that I’ve had since I was young. 

But the Safari wasn’t all elephants. As we pushed on into the park we were granted the opportunity to watch warthogs, waterbucks, and impalas in their natural habitat. At one point their territories overlapped in a way that made me think that Disney himself must have organized it. Several waterbuck chased a small group of impalas, as a band of warthogs proudly strutted through the commotion with tail-up-snout-up piggy confidence. It was almost comical. 

Eventually we returned to camp. I ate, showered, and napped before heading out on a walking Safari that would take us to the Shire river. On our way we saw a few more warthogs and impalas, as well as some massive termite mounds, elephant footprints, and a variety of plants and insects.  When we finally reached the water’s edge, we could see the shapes of hippos in the distance. – a preview of things to come during our river Safari the next day. 

Once back at camp for the eve, I grabbed a beer and ventured to the observation deck to watch the sunset and reflect on the day. I stared out across the scene in front of me not really focusing on anything. I was beyond content. I was beyond happy. And just when I thought it couldn’t get better, I heard the now familiar sound of elephants munching their way through the trees. This time, however, there were many more of them. As dusk transitioned to night I could tell that the elephants had moved closer to me. And as had happened the night before, they eventually moved close enough for me to see them. While I couldn’t make out their specific details or numbers, it seemed to me the there were at least 10 of them. 

I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better end to my day. 


Originally Posted Here

Safari I

Daniel Gillis's blog - July 17th, 2016 5:33 PM

Once we left the Lilongwe city limits, the driving was as straight forward as possible; travel south on the same road until reaching Liwonde Safari Camp. The road, potholed and worn, was full of accidental speedbumps, several makeshift police speed checks, and incredible views of mountains, farmlands, and seemingly endless expanses of Africa. We passed small villages and markets stuffed full of people buying and selling fresh produce, lumber, and various other wares. Bicyclists and pedestrians shared the streets with small herds of goats. Slowing down as we passed through particularly populated stretches of the road, we were greeted with big smiles and waving children. 

We arrived at the camp just as the sun was beginning to set. Even with the failing light we could tell we had picked an exceptional camp. Our first stop on our tour was the bar where we needed to check in. The bar, open to the surrounding wilderness and lit by candlelight, was extremely inviting and cozy. A mountain of books were shelved next to the bar, with several oversized cushion covered benches almost begging me to plop down and read for a few hours. 

Sleeping quarters were next on the tour. On the short trek to our room we passed the kitchen and eating area (also lit by candles), the amply sized showers with extremely hot water, the bathrooms, and the observation deck where we would spend most of our evening. Finally, located on the edge of camp was our five person hut. Inside were five very comfortable single beds adorned with mosquito nets, and sufficient blankets to keep me warm and mosquito free all night long. Justeen and Sarina (who are here as student interns with WUSC) took the two beds to the right, while me, Dylan (Justeen’s South African friend, and our driver for the weekend), and Jon took the remaining three; a half wall dividing the room by gender. 

After settling in we made our way to the observation deck where we met five other travellers – Tom, Donovan, Chloe, Kasey, and Steph – whom had been in Malawi for several months as part of the Engineers Without Borders program. With introductions complete, our group of five quickly became a group of ten. As we learned more about each other, we discovered that all but one of us were Canadian (although Dylan had studied at the University of Victoria), Tom and Jon worked in the same office here in Malawi, and Chloe and Sarina shared the same very good friend back home in Ottawa, and yet had to travel around the world to meet in Malawi. 

Later in the eve after our bellies were full, we returned to the observation deck on recommendation of one of the camp staff. We were told to approach the deck quietly and carefully as elephants were close by. At this point the sun was long gone, so my ability to see anything more than grey was quite limited, even despite the light the moon provided. As we stood on the deck straining to see beyond what our eyes would allow, we could hear from several directions the sounds of numerous elephants munching on tree branches and leaves. With every branch being ripped from the trees, I would attempt to refocus my eyes in the direction of the noise. Eventually the rest of the group was pointing in various directions, identifying individual elephants they could see. I still saw nothing, but I could hear them and that was incredibly rewarding on its own. 

As the minutes ticked by it became clearer that the elephants were heading in our direction. I waited, anxiously hoping that they’d get close enough that I could see them. And then, just like that, an elephant came into view maybe 25-30 feet away. It stopped in its track, very clearly sizing us up. Shaking its head and snorting, it decided we were either not a threat or not worth its time. It turned and continued munching away. I stood there in awe watching it, the light of the moon making its tusks shine brightly against the relative darkness of the trees on which it was dining. I stood there in disbelief that I was so close to such a beautiful and majestic beast. I stood there overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and fortune that I was afforded the privilege of this experience. 

I fell into bed last night very happy, reminding myself for the millionth time that I’m actually in Africa. I’m still not convinced that it has really sunk in. 

For more photos, check out my Instagram Account

Original Post Here

A Lesson In The Day To Day

Daniel Gillis's blog - July 17th, 2016 5:25 PM

I awoke to a rather chilly morning, and had assumed by the time I made it to the market that things would have warmed up enough that I could have left my hoody at the lodge. That wasn't the case.

Having quickly found the Airtel kiosk at the market, I stood there hands in pockets trying to chase away the chills. Every now and then I'd cup my hands and try to warm them with my breath. At one point I chuckled to myself as I thought about how ridiculous I probably looked to the Malawians who were busily going about their day around me, especially since I couldn't help doing a little dance to try to warm myself up. They didn't let on that my little dance was ridiculous, but I knew it was.

While I stood there warming up, I watched as the man who worked the Airtel kiosk set up for his day. He began by taking the time to sweep the red dust that had collected over night from the walls of the kiosk. After this he opened up the front of the kiosk and set up a makeshift display case. This he cleaned and dusted. He lined each of the cardboard shelves with either thick toilet paper or paper towel (I couldn't tell which it was) that he carefully unfolded, clearly having been saved from the day before. On this he carefully placed cell phones. He then took the time to hang a sign from the roof of the kiosk advertising his ability to collect payments for utilities. He also hung three strings that displayed the various Airtel products - including the data plans I was looking to purchase - across the front of the kiosk, keeping them in place with some simple packer's tape. Finally, he washed his hands using some powdered soap and bottled water he kept behind the kiosk counter.

When he was finally set up he looked at me, giving me notice that he was ready for business. I approached and within a minute had what I needed and was on my way. The entire process took about 25 minutes, with my purchasing time a small fraction of the total. He was in no rush. Instead, he seemed to enjoy the meticulous process of getting set up for the day, taking obvious pride in a clean and orderly shop.

And while it seems such a simple thing, this type of experience is one of my favourite parts of travel. At home I spend so much of my time running around from one meeting to the next, racing to meet deadline after deadline, constantly working to put out fires, or completely lost in a seemingly endless list of projects I'm trying to juggle, that I rarely get time to slow down and enjoy the process, to slow down and enjoy the sense of pride that comes from a job well done.

It's nice to be reminded that it's not necessary to race through every day, trying to cram in every possible thing, trying to be more efficient and productive than the day before.

A job well done is still a job well done no matter how much work it involves.

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A Childhood Dream

Daniel Gillis's blog - July 14th, 2016 5:37 PM

When I was young I devoured books about dinosaurs. One of my favourite books was a book on geology that my cousin gave me for Christmas. It combined a brief history of earth with a fantastic section on dinosaurs, a family tree of animals (with highlights of some of our modern favourites), an introduction to geology and maps and how they've changed through the eons. The transition from Pangea to our present day arrangement of continents fascinated me. And when given the chance I couldn't not order a series of science cards that provided short stories and statistics on animals from around the world1. They were the nerd equivalent of baseball cards, but so much better.

And I think these things naturally led to an interest in Africa. It was so far away and unknown, but full of so many of the things that my nerdy little self had read about. Mountains, the skeletal remains of Lucy, dinosaur fossils, and of course an assortment of animals like nothing I could ever hope to see at home (save for in a zoo).

So when I learned that my Leave For Change mandate would have me working in Malawi, you have to know that the nerdy kid in me was wide-eyed and dancing around excitedly2. This feeling hasn't changed since the first moment I stepped onto African soil. And every time I think about where I am, I realize how fortunate I am to be here, to get to experience this amazing country, its people, its culture, its everything.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that when Justeen - another volunteer with WUSC3 - asked if I or Jonathan wanted to join her and two others on a weekend safari, I jumped at the opportunity. Even writing about going on safari has me grinning from ear to ear. This is a dream come true for a very nerdy little kid. This is a dream come true for a very nerdy adult.

And so tomorrow at noon a group of us will be making the 4 or so hour drive from Lilongwe to the Liwonde Safari Camp. We'll be staying there overnight both Friday and Saturday, with a safari adventure planned for both days (one on land, and one on the water). There's no guarantee that I will get to see all of the animals I want to see, but that still hasn't reduced my excitement.

All I know is that by tomorrow eve I should be relaxing at the Liwonde Safari Camp with my Leave For Change friends watching as the sun sets over Africa. And you have to know that both the nerdy kid in me, and the nerdy adult he became are going to be smiling from ear to ear.


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1 Add in my love of math and it can't really come as a surprise that I'm as big a nerd as I am ;)

2 I may or may not have been mimicking the nerdy kid in me.

3 World University Service of Canada.

Malawi - The Warm Heart Of Africa

Daniel Gillis's blog - July 12th, 2016 4:42 PM

Having slept away most of the exhaustion that came with the journey from Toronto to Lilongwe, I showered and then headed off for breakfast1. Around 8:15am, I was picked up along with Jonathan - the other Leave For Change volunteer that is staying at the Korea Garden Lodge - and driven to the WUSC2 headquarters for a day of orientation and training.

The day began with introductions to the team, both permanent staff and the short and long-term student interns and volunteers. The team, a collection of very talented and engaged people, was also very obviously a positive and friendly group. Their welcoming faces and attitudes made me feel as if I'd been part of the team forever.

After introductions, we got down to business. Both Jonathan and I - the newbies - spent the day with Tendai and Richmond working through various modules to help us familiarize ourselves with the local community, understand some of the culture and history of Malawi, and better understand our specific mandates with the community partners with whom we’d be working for the next several weeks.

While some of the training was a repetition of things I’d learned in Canada (either at the pre-mandate training session in Toronto or in documents I’d previously received), it was still nice to review them and reflect on their meaning now that I was on the ground. Of course, not all of it was review. Regardless, several things jumped out at me. In particular:

  • Malawi is predominantly an agriculturally based society, with primary exports and much of the economy based on tobacco, tea, coffee, and legumes. However, with non-smoking campaigns growing around the world, there’s a need to transition from tobacco to other products.
  • In 2014, Malawi - one of the poorest countries in the world - ranked 174 of 187 countries on the Human Development Index. The majority of Malawians (88%) live on less than $2 US per day. This often means that education is out of reach of many, even though primary education is free.
  • While HIV/AIDS rates have decreased significantly thanks to education campaigns and efforts to outlaw traditional practices considered risky3, 10% of the population are infected, and there is significant stigma connected to a diagnosis. It remains the leading cause of death in the country.
  • While 70% of farmers are female, and 51% of the population are female, women do not have the same voice as men. Moreover, they face a triple-threat of pressure: they work to support their families, they raise the children and take care of the home, and they are expected to help the sick and elderly in the community.
  • Youth (10-35 years of age) make up 40% of the population, but they struggle to find jobs even if they have an education.

Despite these challenges, the Malawian people are extremely friendly, extremely positive, and extremely welcoming.

In a few days, I’ll be meeting with my community partner to discuss the goals of my Leave For Change mandate. In a very general sense, I know that my mission is to work with them to develop capacity in the domains of mathematics, statistics, and computer science so that they can work to address these challenges.

To say that I'm humbled to be able to take part in this program is an understatement. And while I hope that I'll be able to help out in some small way, I feel that I'm going to leave here learning and experiencing far more than a four-week job could ever provide.

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1 Or more specifically, I headed off in search of coffee - all the coffee. Food was really a side-effect of that search.

2 WUSC is the World University Service of Canada. Together with the Centre for International Students and Cooperation (CECI), they manage the Uniterra program which includes the Leave For Change program.

3 For example, tradition in some regions suggested that a widow would become a second wife to a man’s brother. In other regions, a widowed woman would be cleansed of the spirit of her departed through intercourse with a man in the community who’s job it was to provide this service.

The Journey To Africa

Daniel Gillis's blog - July 11th, 2016 6:00 AM

The adventure began when I left my home in Guelph Saturday around 8am. My flight was scheduled to take off at 11:20am, so I assumed leaving at 8am would give me sufficient time to get my tickets, deal with security, and find my gate. I also assumed it would take at least an hour to get to the airport, and up to an hour to get through security. In reality, I was waiting at my gate ready to board by 9:08am.

The first leg of the trip had a bit of a rough start with some minor and short-lived turbulence. From there on out, my biggest challenge was finding just the right position for maximum comfort on a long-haul trans-Atlantic flight1, and deciding which movie to watch first2.

A few hours before we landed in Addis Ababa I got my first taste of Africa. I looked out the window and watched as the sun slowly rose over the horizon. The sky turned from the darkness of night to an intensely crimson red. Clouds stretched across the horizon, blocking the sun's rays as it eventually worked to break free from the edge of the earth. At that point the hues somehow became more intense. The sun was a massive perfect yellow circle, larger than what I'm used to at home. It reminded me of a scene direct from a movie.

We landed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia a few minutes ahead of schedule. As I took my first step off the plane, I was temporarily blinded by the sun. Almost immediately I was hit with a very cool breeze - far cooler than I had expected. It gave me a chill, but one that was refreshing and welcoming given that fact that I'd been confined to the plane for so long. I took a deep breath and smiled, reflecting on the fact that I had officially arrived in Africa.

My next flight was short in comparison - only 4 hours. I don't remember much of this flight as I promptly fell asleep against the window, at one point waking to find that I'd managed to position myself in such a way as to have my entire right leg fall asleep. After working through the pins-and-needles, I spent some time in a rather zombie-ish state watching the changing landscape roll by below. The ground was a patchwork of reds and greens, cut by winding riverbeds and small villages. At one point I was able to see what I think was Lake Malawi. 

After touching down, I made my way through customs, gathered my bags, exchanged some US dollars for the Malawian Kwacha, and set up my phone with a local sim card. With everything seemingly in order, I headed into the city to the Korea Garden Lodge, my home away from home for the next 4 weeks. Given my level of exhaustion, check-in was mercifully pain-free. And so after putting down my bags, touring my room, and taking my daily malaria pill, I promptly collapsed into bed for a much needed, fully reclined, uninterrupted nap. 

1 For the record: next to impossible.

2 I opted for Point Break, Our Story is Crisis, and then Kung Fu Panda III. I may or may not have watched other movies between these three, but I honestly can’t remember them.


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I'm Going To Africa Today

Daniel Gillis's blog - July 9th, 2016 10:01 AM

I woke up this morning around 5am. As I lay there wondering why my body decided to wake me an hour before my alarm was set, I realized that I was full of nervous energy. My stomach was full of butterflies in anticipation of today's flight.

I'm going to Africa today.

The very thought seemed altogether weird and amazing, and yet completely unbelievable. Despite having spent the last few months applying to, interviewing for, and then being offered a position in the Leave For Change program, and despite having spent the last three weeks filling out paperwork, getting vaccinations, applying for insurance, reading documentation, and getting my students ready for my absence, this adventure still seems surreal.

I'm going to Africa today.

I honestly don't think this is going to sink in until I touch down in Addis Ababa. 


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The Excitement Is Building

Daniel Gillis's blog - July 7th, 2016 12:43 AM

A few days ago I received confirmation of my flight itinerary for my trip to Malawi. Suddenly this Leave For Change thing has become very real. Honestly, there's a part of me that is still wondering if this is real life, or whether I'm going to wake up from an awesome dream where I've been able to travel around the world for almost an entire summer, while still calling it work.

The adventure begins in roughly 60 hours when I take off from Toronto heading to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. After a short 2 hour 25 minute layover, I'll once again take to the skies on route to my final destination of Lilongwe, Malawi. Assuming the flights are all on time, I should be setting down in Lilongwe in the early afternoon. This will be my first time visiting Malawi, and my first time setting foot on the continent of Africa1. I can't wait.

Until then, however, I find myself trying to go about my days without getting too excited, and trying to ensure I've done all the things that need doing before I go. Fortunately, I've managed to keep the excitement level mostly under control. This has been helped in part by the fact that I've had a crazy number of meetings over the last few weeks as I've tried to organize my students, finish various analyses, write several reports, draft and submit a couple of papers, draft grant applications, and complete a slew of other academic bric-a-brac. Who knew that academic bric-a-brac would help control my wanderlust?

Despite all that I've managed to do to keep myself distracted and with excitement in check, there are still a lot of things I'll have to do before I finally head off to Toronto on this grand adventure. Collecting travel-ready toiletries, purchasing American cash, re-reading my Leave For Change program documents, and collecting my passport and visa from the Purolator office are only a few of the things that are still on my list. I also need to begin my 40-day regiment of once-a-day malaria pills. There's still a mountain of documents I need to print and organize. There are sunscreen and bug repellant to pick up, laundry to do, and a kitchen to clean. And of course, I need to spend some quality time with the wee fuzzball since I'm not going to see him for a month.

Oh, and I guess I need to pack2.

Are these things enough to keep me distracted? Given that I'm smiling ear to ear thinking about Malawi and the next month, I'm going to wager no. 

Honestly, if this is a dream, I hope I don't wake up until well after the adventure ends.

1 Meaning that I will be able to say that I've visited 5 of the 7 continents. After Sunday, I'll only be missing Australia, and Antarctica.

2 But we all know I'm not going to be packing until late Friday night or early Saturday morning. Given my track record, I'm betting on early Saturday morning.

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Back in Canada - now what?

Katherine Jenkins's blog - June 14th, 2016 6:07 PM

After more than 24 hours of flying, I returned to Guelph on Sunday around 6 p.m. While I'm happy to be back home, sleeping in my own bed and eating familiar food again, I feel like time passed almost too quickly. I've spent some time the last two days reflecting on my experience and thinking about how to talk about my time in Nepal when I do my presentation. L4C alumni: Any tips on creating L4C presentations?

Jet lag has not been nearly as bad as when I arrived in Nepal and I've been making it through my work days pretty well. That being said, I just got home from work and I feel my eyes getting heavy, so I'm going to publish this blog post and have a snooze.

Last day at HICAST

Katherine Jenkins's blog - June 10th, 2016 1:01 PM

I feel like I blinked and now I'm at the end of my Leave for Change mandate. I had a wonderful last day filled with many memorable moments with the HICAST team, including a wonderful farewell lunch. I will continue working with them after returning to Canada, but it's still difficult to leave. I hope they feel my contribution has been worthwhile. I feel so indebted to HICAST and CECI for making this exprerience so wonderful. 

Weekend Adventures in Pokhara

Katherine Jenkins's blog - June 5th, 2016 11:17 AM

*This is a joint blog post by Veronica Ward and Kate Jenkins

Our experience over the past two weeks in Kathmandu has been quite the adventure. After three earthquakes, two demonstrations and other day-to-day challenges, we decided to explore Nepal’s second-largest city, Pokhara (highly recommended).

Our taxi arrived on Saturday at 7 a.m. at CECI House for a domestic flight to the picturesque lakeside city, only to find out that Pokhara’s airport was closed and our flight was delayed. It was only after takeoff that we were told that Nepal’s vice-president was on board with us. This explained the delay.

When we arrived, we travelled to our hotel, wandered around the main street, enjoyed a delicious lunch and walked down to Phewa Lake. In the evening, we stumbled upon a quaint lakeside restaurant where we enjoyed a lively cultural performance while enjoying our dinner.

On Sunday, our taxi arrived at 4:20 a.m. to take us to Sarangkot, which is a hill that offers one of the best views of the Annapurna Himalayan mountain peaks, especially at sunrise and sunset. Although it was a bit overcast, we were still able to get some beautiful photos of Pokhara.

Sadly, my (Kate) plan to take an ultralight flight around the Himalayas was foiled by rain, but we enjoyed a beautiful flight back to Kathmandu that offered a nice view of the mountain peaks.

While this was a well-deserved break, we’re both well aware of the amount of work ahead of us this week as we wrap up our time in Nepal before coming home. Check out photos of Pokhara on Our Nepal Love (Veronica) and Kate-in-Kathmandu.

Week two in review

Katherine Jenkins's blog - June 3rd, 2016 12:59 PM

Kate Jenkins with HICAST colleagues on experimental farmview of HICAST experimental farm fields










My intention to write more blog posts this week failed, so here’s a quick summary of week two. It was extremely busy, but good busy. I’m very lucky to be working with such a great organization and counterpart – Bimal. He’s very knowledgeable in communications and a great person to be collaborating with throughout my mandate.

This week’s highlights include:

Visiting HICAST’s campus in Kalanki: Kalanki is one of the busiest areas in Kathmandu because it’s an exit and entry point from/to Kathmandu valley. While there, Bimal and I administered a student survey and took some photos for the brochure I’m developing on the college. The students are very enthusiastic and it was a wonderful experience to spend a morning there.

Welcome lunch: Today (Friday) I was surprised with a welcome lunch at HICAST’s administrative office. It was the best food I’ve had in Nepal so far. We dined on chicken curry, rice (I love rice!), organic veggies and fried potatoes. Needless to say, I had soup for dinner.

Visiting HICAST’s experimental farm: I’ve never felt more at home in Kathmandu than I did visiting the experimental farm on Friday. I got to see some goats and chicks. They were all incredibly adorable. I even got to hold a kid (aka baby goat) and it was so cuddly. I think I have closer to 30 goat photos from today. I’ve included one (left) of me holding the goat alongside some of my HICAST colleagues, including chairperson Binayak P Rajbhandari.

Another earthquake: This was also a surprise, mainly because I slept through it. My colleagues asked if I felt the earthquake and I was completely stunned to hear that one had occurred. Maybe it’s a sign I’ve adjusted to life in Nepal.

I heard before leaving for Nepal that the people here are incredible generous, and I couldn’t agree more. Next Saturday will be bittersweet.

Remember to check out my Tumblr for more photos and updates on my time in Nepal.

My first week in Nepal

Katherine Jenkins's blog - May 28th, 2016 7:09 AM

Some temples at LalitpurHICAST students celebrate their heritage at 15th anniversary celebrationUNESCO World Heritage Site Bouddhanath Stuppa









I’ve been meaning to write a new blog post all week, but the days got away from me. I arrived safely in Kathmandu last Sunday evening and have spent the past week adjusting to a new time zone, food and culture. The time zone part of it has been the most challenging for me. I’ve been here almost a week and I still can’t seem to get my clock right. Knowing myself, I will probably adjust right before we’re scheduled to head back to Canada. Anyone else taken this long to beat jet lag?

The past week has been filled with great moments, including meeting my partner organization (HICAST), exploring Kathmandu and getting to know some new friends. This week I had the chance to attend HICAST’s 15th anniversary and they invited me to attend a cultural program where their students performed traditional dances. I started working with HICAST a bit late because of a planned protest on Thursday, but my first day with them on Friday was productive and I learned more about what they need me to do while I’m here. I don’t think I’ll have a dull moment until I head to the airport in two weeks.

Today, Veronica and I went on a great city tour of Kathmandu and saw some temples and markets. Kathmandu feels like such a maze to me and the traffic is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. Tonight we took a tuk tuk to Thamel – KTM’s tourist district – to have pizza. Don’t get me wrong, the food here is great, I just needed something familiar for one meal. I am proud that we were able to navigate our way through KTM, and although we missed our original tuk tuk stop, we found our restaurant and spent some time wandering through Thamel afterwards. Now that I've had this experience I feel much more comfortable travelling through some parts of the city using transit.

I hope this provides a good update for anyone reading this and that it makes up for the week of silence. Remember to check out my Tumblr for more photos and updates.

Before I sign off, here’s some more info on the photos I’ve included above.

Left: A view of some of the striking temples in Lalitpur. The photo really doesn’t capture the fine details of these impressive structures.
Centre: HICAST students celebrating their heritage at the college’s 15th anniversary. Sorry the photo is blurry.
Right: UNESCO World Heritage Site Boudhanath Stupa. It is currently under construction to repair damage from the earthquakes last year. It's very impressive to see in real life.