Leave for Change Blogs
Many Leave for Change participants blog - often before, during, and after their volunteer assignment - capturing the diversity and richness of their volunteer experience, their reactions to being in a new country, how they navigate and negotiate their mandates, and the impact the whole experience has on them personally and professionally.
You can search blogs by person, country, or year. Enjoy!
I caught the Celebration of Karva Chauth in Bhaktapur Durbar Square. My young guide informed me that this was a festival where women fast and then celebrate—for the safety of their husbands. My 16-year-old guide was more interested in pointing out the single women who were praying to find a husband. The mood in the square was rowdy yet romantic. Most women were dressed in bright red. It reminded me of Valentine’s Day.
A common symbol for Education
I finally made it to Bhaktapur! Some say Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square isn’t as “exciting” as the Durbar Square (Palace Square) in Kathmandu and Patan. I disagree. Bhaktapur was a focal point of my trip–a real favourite. Some amazing examples of Newari architecture (despite 1934 earthquake) and culture.
Newari culture is not Nepali culture. The Newars are careful to distinguish themselves from other hill peoples. There are over 40 different tribes in Nepal. But in the Kathmandu Valley, Newari culture is most visible and is greatly respected.
Exploring moments of calm in Kathmandu. Not easy. I actually expected Nepal to be tranquil and meditative. I thought this would be a city that would “slow me down.” I was wrong. Instead, I learned to find my stride. I was amused one day to discover another traveler's graffiti which expressed the same sentiment: “Wish list: Peace of Mind.” I found beauty and calm in Nepal’s flowers, flags, windows, & bricks.
Dusk; the view from Passage House Roof in Kathmandu
Ethnographic Images from my work at the Center for Micro Finance, Nepal
Sadhus: the Holy men of Hinduism…demonstrating in front of Xotica!
The inner life of nature in Kathmandu
Canadian Centre for International Studies and Co-operation (CECI) held a lunch honouring its staff. Here are some of my CECI friends. Thank you CECI Nepal!
A day in the life at the Center for Micro Finance in Nepal. Meet my amazing team! Shiva Hari Devkota, Senior Microfinance Trainer, Mimu Raghubanshi, Program Officer, and Samita Maharjan, Program Assistant… Awesome group of Micro Finance Trainers.
This educational video provides one lesson about the Management of Micro Finance Institutions. We introduce you to some of the basic terms and concepts of Financial Management. In this first lesson we begin by providing some definitions and outline five sources of funds; second, we explain four uses of funds; third, we describe four methods for managing risk; and fourth, we offer suggestions for greater profitability.
So I ventured out on the weekend to see Hanoi, in scorching hot weather. On Saturday, it was 37 degrees + 94% humidity = 50 degrees Celsius!! Sunday felt even hotter!
I managed to survive the hot and humid weather, but regrettably, my “el cheapo” Nikkor kit lens did not! Yes, I know, you’re all going “oh no,” knowing my “relationship” (yes, I use that term deliberately), with my camera. This could not have happened at a worse time! I’m on a once-in-a-life-time trip, in a beautiful country, and my lens bites the dust. The 18-70mm lens, for those of you who care to know, is jammed and stuck on 24mm. I do have my pro lens with me, you know, the one I can use for self-defense if I ever had to, and Nikon’s pro equipment have not let me down thus far. So, perhaps, if my lovely wife is reading this blog post, she is thinking that perhaps Kian should buy that really nice lens he’s been drooling over for so long… after all, she is so understanding! (nudge, nudge, wink, wink!) Yes, surprisingly, I am taking it better than I thought I would. Thank you for asking!
Venturing out on Saturday, I came across blocked roads, and the Vietnamese riot police out in full gear. Yes, never a dull moment here… As it turns out, there has been a dispute between Vietnam and China over Chinese naval operations in the South China Sea. A protest was expected and the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi was sealed off, causing traffic chaos. For those of you curious about this development, between the two countries, you can read about it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13661779
Saturday and Sunday I finally jumped in with two feet and rode on a scooter like 90% of the Vietnamese do. It was a great way to see the city, and keep cool in 50-degree weather. As I write this, I have a mosquito in my room that has bitten me at least 3 times, and for the life of me I can’t find it to give it a taste of his own medicine! I have one light turned on in my room to attract it to a corner of the room, but it seems too smart for that and is not falling for my trap.
Thanks to my translator, I got to see some of the most interesting sites in Hanoi over the weekend, such as, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. This is the site of the large memorial for Ho Chi Minh (Uncle Ho), where he read the Declaration of Independence. He is revered in Vietnam. So we got here to line up to go in, and, there were over a thousand people lined up to go in! And I thought having 10 people in front of me at Tim Horton’s was bad enough! We could not even get to the grounds around the building. But my wise translator from the College, who is now also a good friend, managed to convince the guards to let us through the gate, and we managed to make our way to the perimeter area.
We also went to Hoan Kiem Lake, a beautiful and popular place to visit in the center of the city, to the One Pillar Pagoda, one of the two most revered and iconic Buddhist temples. We walked outside the Presidential Palace, visited the Temple of Literature, the first University to be built in Vietnam, and last but not least, the Ethnology Museum, where you learn about various ethnic tribes of Vietnam. Of course, there was some shopping, a chat about work over ice cream and the most amazing tasting iced-coffee, while overlooking the lake. I should also mention that two very sweet girls joined us for our tour, the daughter of one of the Department heads at the College and her friend, and they took us to the best and cheapest places to eat, and we had plenty of opportunities to practice our English! I was impressed by how well these two young ladies spoke English and both of them will soon be off to England to attend University.
Enough words…here are some scenes from the weekend:Click to view slideshow.
…as a Trainer
I have been meeting with a number of people such as deans and faculty over the last few days. Discussion and training vary from topics on marketing strategy, the 7P’s of marketing, service quality management, curriculum for marketing and hospitality programs, and best practices in education, and the list goes on. It is amazing how much my work at the University and academic training has prepared me for this mandate, and I feel that I am making some valuable contributions here. Having said that, I am convinced I am learning as much, if not more, about the Vietnamese culture and norms, business and marketing, and life in Vietnam in general.
I must also say how impressed I am with the dedication of the people here , especially those whom I meet with at the College, in wanting to make a difference and their desire to help educate the Vietnamese population. I find people whom I have come across incredibly caring and hospitable, honest, hard working, and always happy to provide insights and a helping hand. Of course, I have also had my share of issues, for example, a cab driver who wanted to charge me 14 times the actual fair, a pickpocket (who, regrettably for him, was unsuccessful in getting my wallet), and other much smaller issues like a 3″ cockroach trying to chase me down in my hotel room (unsuccessfully and we’ll leave it at that), and tiny tiny ants in everything from my kettle, to my iron, and even my pill box. How they manage to get in the latter is beyond me as it is closed tightly. Of course, these things are to be expected when travelling to other countries. I had my wallet snatched in Germany a few years ago (and I am not careless with my wallet), but I have learned that it is best to be vigilant about these things no matter where you travel. Having said that, all of the positive experiences and the interactions with the wonderful people in Vietnam far outweigh the few inconveniences. I must also extend a special thanks to the representatives of WUSC (World University Service of Canada) in Hanoi, who have been wonderful hosts and have gone out of their way to make sure I have a smooth transition and a positive experience, and helped me to manage the nuances of the Vietnamese culture when needed. You know who you are…
…as a Photographer
I am absolutely fascinated by the visual stimuli in Vietnam. As a photographer, I am always looking for images that convey something about who people are, what they do, and something about their life to provide context to my images. I am in awe because although I have not had much time to photograph here thus far (that is about to change, I can promise you that!), nevertheless, I continue to see hundreds, if not thousands of images a day in my mind’s eye. I am referring to the thousands of commuters I see every day on my 40-60 minute taxi ride to the College. You can virtually peer into people’s lives as they go about their day. Because most ride on scooters as opposed to cars, you can readily capture a snapshot of people’s lives, and who they are, what they do, etc. For instance, you see kids that just attended a birthday party because there are several huge balloons tied to the scooter, you can see who is expecting a baby in a few short months, who recently had a baby ( I saw a mother driving a scooter with a sleeping 6-month old baby in one arm, and you guessed it, with no helmets!), you can see who works in a professional office environment by the way they are dressed, you can see who is coming back from the market with loads of groceries between their feet or hanging from the scooter, you can see who makes his living selling goldfish or bread on his mobile store, you can see who is renovating his house as he carries 12-foot long metal pipes or 6-foot long drywall while driving a scooter…you get the picture! (pun intended)
Many of you are asking for more photos, and I intend to deliver on that request soon…Our partners have been working me hard (and I have enjoyed every minute of it) but it is weekend now, and time to play a little! Until then, hopefully you’ll enjoy these few images…Click to view slideshow.
Meeting with the College President
After one day of orientation, I travelled to the partner College on Wednesday to meet with the College President and to discuss my mandate, their expectations, and what I could offer in terms of my skills and training. I also took the opportunity to express my expectations, and what expertise I could bring to the table. The President was very eager to have me work with various groups in the College, including the College’s Board of Directors, business and hospitality faculty, the Director of Student Recruitment, Director of the Career Placement unit, and a couple of other groups. (Photos will be coming soon…)
Today, I hit the ground running and had an all-day meeting with the Directors of one of the departments, with the help of my translator, to assess their current recruitment strategies, so that I can provide some insights next week to help them better promote the College and attract more students. It was an exhausting, but productive day nevertheless.
A Close Call
On Tuesday, we were driving to the College, which is located about 20 km North of here. It is about a 40 – 50 minute drive depending on traffic. I was sitting in the front seat, going through the crazy traffic, when the car in front of us rear-ended the car in front of it. Luckily, it was not a scooter that was rear-ended! Our driver had to swerve and brake in order to avoid the accident, and I am happy to say he managed to do so, and I am very appreciative of his driving skills. He got a big tip that day!
Needless to say my ride back to the hotel was not as exhilarating. I am amazed at how expertly the scooters veer through traffic, with 3 people on a scooter, the mother in front, a 7 or 8-year old daughter at the back, and a 2-year old brother sandwiched between the two! To make things more interesting, the 2-year old sibling has fallen asleep, and the sister is very lovingly holding him up from behind so he doesn’t fall over. Oh, did I mention…NO HELMETS!!
Below are a few images I have captured thus far. A few were taken out of my hotel balcony on the 7th floor.
Click to view slideshow.
It was an exciting day as my two suitcases found their way to my hotel today! On my first day here, I received an orientation to Vietnam by the WUSC (World University Service of Canada) staff , and learned a great deal about the country, its people, and the Vietnamese culture. I was also treated to an amazing lunch by two of the wonderful people here at WUSC. It was my first authentic Vietnamese food after enjoying several “fine cuisines” of various airlines.
I must admit I was a bit taken a back when the waiter walked in with a live duck in hand, showed it to the guests a couple of tables over, and left. I asked why the waiter had done so, and I was told it is the sign of a quality restaurant to show the meals were made-to-order with the finest and freshest … Well, I do not believe this requires further elaboration!
I learned about the three pillars of Vietnamese society. Any guesses?
Family, Family, and Family. Yes, the society is built on a strong sense of family, and there is great respect for one’s family members, especially the elder members. Foreign guests are treated as the “extended family,” and if you are visiting Vietnam and make some friends (very easy to do given the kind-hearted people here), you will be invited to attend events such as birthdays, weddings, and even funerals of loved ones.
No photos were taken today, but here is a video of the traffic in Hanoi. I have not dared to ride a Scooter Taxi (xe om) yet, but I intentionally ride shotgun in car taxis to get my heart rate up. It is more thrilling than a roller-coaster ride. We had a very close call today, or two, or three…I lost count but it is amazing how organized the chaos actually is on the streets.
Well, it has been 2-3 weeks since I have been “back home again” – and greeted with spring in Canada. Much of the experience of being in Nepal is still with me. I continue to stay in touch with several of the Nepali people I worked with – as well as some of the international volunteers. And – I am continuing to tie up some loose ends from my work there.
In conclusion – the Leave for Change program seems to be a highly effective program that provides specific expertise in targeted areas of need for short periods of time. All of the organizations involved are focused on the short-term nature of each assignment, and I feel this is critical to accomplishing the stated goals within this short period. All of the organizations were a pleasure to work with.
Who knows – maybe it will be you next time!
Signing off for now …
Well – no discussion of life here would be complete without a brief mention of electricity. Life revolves around electricity here – or perhaps the frequent lack of it. For various reasons – there is a shortage of electrical generation in Nepal – with the result that the biggest user of electricity (e.g. Kathmandu) has a “load-shedding”, “power-shedding” or “power cut” schedule that changes daily.
For example, according to my well-worn printed copy of the “Power Cut Schedule” (which is hard to read in the dark…) – today we did not have electricity from 4 to 11 AM, and then again from 4 to 11 PM. The hours of daylight here currently run from 5:45 AM to 6:30 PM. So – if you compare these two schedules – you can see we spend a lot of our evenings in the dark. And – there is a different schedule every day – so tomorrow we will not have power from 2-9 AM and then again from 3-10 PM. To add to the confusion – there are different power-shedding zones in the city – and I work in one zone – and live in another. It takes a while to get used to – and I will let you know when I do.
So – we all spend a lot of time focused on recharging batteries – for laptop computers, cameras, cell phones, portable lights, etc.
Another intersting part of electricity here – is the power lines that run everywhere. I think I can see why there is shortage of copper elsewhere in the world…
Yes – “the top of the world” is what we often think about when we think of Nepal – or more specifically – “Mount Everest” – the tallest point of land on our planet. Clearly, the limits on my time and work activity here do not allow for the typical 13 day “Everest Base Camp Trek” that is required to get there (assuming of course that I am even able!). But there is a “Plan B” approach – and that is the early morning “Mountain Flight” from the Kathmandu airport that takes a quick one-hour “fly-by” of the mountain range – pointing out several of the tallest mountains in the world that occur here.
So – there we were – up bright and early at 4 AM – to the airport by 5 AM – and after some rather confusing line-ups, ticket sales, tax payments, pat-downs, another pat-down, and then a third pat-down – we were on the “Buddha Air” plane – and eventually rolling down the airstrip into Nepali airspace – by 8.15 AM or so.
A short but wonderful flight; the pictures speak for themselves….
As the CNN website says… “Holi is regarded as one of the greatest festivals, as important as Dashain and Tihar or Dipawali. Since more than 80% of people in Nepal are Hindus, Holi, along with many other Hindu festivals, is celebrated in Nepal as a national festival and almost everyone celebrates it regardless of their religion, e.g., even Muslims celebrate it. Christians may also join in, although since Holi falls during Lent, many would not join in the festivities. The day of Holi is also a national holiday in Nepal.”
“During Holi, people walk down their neighbourhoods to celebrate Holi by exchanging colours and spraying coloured water on one another. A popular activity is the throwing of water balloons at one another, sometimes called lola (meaning water balloon). Also a lot of people mix bhang in their drinks and food, as also done during Shivaratri. It is believed that the combination of different colours played at this festival take all the sorrow away and make life itself more colourful.”
In other words – everyone runs around throwing bags of colored water – or even more popular in the main Thamel district of Kathmandu – is that everyone walks around with handfuls of dry colorful pigments – and come up to you and smear it over your face, etc. Thousands of people are so colored – and this picture is just one group standing around during the middle (muddle?) of the day.
And – for the chronically curious among you – yes – it all washes off easily with a bit of soap and water …
(Remember to click on the photo for the full image)
Farming is a family business in Nepal. These pictures show an individual terrace where cauliflower is being grown. These plants were initially grown as seedlings and then transplanted into the soil that was tilled by hand and hoe – and/or plowed by water buffalo. The bags that are scattered through this field contain fertilizer or compost, and each plant is individually treated by hand with both. Watering is also done by hand – and buckets of water are collected from a nearby stream, carried to the terrace, and then ladled onto individual plants as required.
The mother and father are doing most of the field work, whereas the daughter is hand-harvesting various types of forage from the edges of the terraces, and will carry these back to the familiy home in her basket for feeding to the farm animals. Farm animals may include combinations of chickens, goats, water buffalo, cows or pigs. The specific animals present at each farm varies according to the type of farming they do, their family culture, and their religion.
You can see the drainage ditches that run through the terrace – mostly to drain away excess water during the rainy season. This is one of the more progressive farming families in the valley, and the father had completed a 5 month course in integrated pest management of cole crops.