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My stay in Dakar

2017-Boily Audrey By Audrey Boily

Many things could be said about my brief stay in Dakar this summer. I could elaborate on the sound of the ocean or the beauty of the nearby beach, I could mention the suffocating heat and the need to sleep under a mosquito net with no fan, or I could simply describe the differing living conditions and scenery from the ones I’ve grown accustomed to in my hometown of Montreal. Truth being said, this is not what I will remember from my internship in Senegal and it is not what I would like people to focus on when describing my trip. I would rather want people to remember things hardest to verbalize; the new emotions that I learned to deal with and situations of which the beauty and power is lost when put into words.

One thing that really stood out from my experience was the loss of bearings I experienced upon arrival and during the entire length of my trip. For example, it took me two weeks to be able to identify what stop I had to get off the bus to get to work (something I do quite easily at home). At first, every building looked the same; it seemed impossible to establish clear landmarks.

It also took me time to understand where my place was within my organization, my host family and with my Senegalese friends. Means that I normally use to avoid or deal with conflicts seemed obsolete. I still had a voice and a desire to express my ideas, but didn’t always know how to do so in a constructive and respectful way. Once I understood the reasoning behind certain Senegalese habits, it became easier for me to accept them and move forward.

Another amazing part of my trip was the many different types of relationships I built with the people I met. A true sense of community existed in my neighborhood. Each family knew the others and every parent looked after the others’ children. When preparing a meal, it was always difficult to assess the quantity to prepare as in the event unexpected guests arrived around meal time, they would invariably be invited to stay and eat. With these relationships came very diverse and interesting conversations about life, religion, family, friendship and culture. The hardest part was nothing experienced during my stay, but having to leave and say goodbye to the many people that made my experience meaningful and memorable.

Learning to Sing: A Look Back on my Summer in Peru

Melisa DemirBy Melisa Demir

There are a number of ways that I could describe my fifteen-week journey to Peru –  an amazing adventure which often times all seems like a blur to me now.

“How was your trip?” is the most common question I’ve been faced with since my return – one that I expected, and yet still have trouble answering. “There’s not enough time in the world to tell you all about it,” I say.  Sometimes, I confess that it all went by so quickly – that it feels like I never even left.

Still, I find myself saying that my trip was busy, as I spent most of my days working hard to meet deadlines, or travelling back and forth from airports or bus stations early in the morning to get back to work on time after weekend getaways. When including it on my CV, I will probably write about how this was the summer in which I developed my research skills, perfected my Spanish, and learned about national and international human rights protection through my contributions to reports, events and other projects with the IDEHPUCP. My friends know it as the unforgettable trip where I managed to live by myself in a foreign country, made friends from all over the world, and climbed a countless amount of mountains – both physical and figurative.  

To me, this was the summer where I learned how to sing.

**

In Lima, life is always bustling – cars and busses honk through stop signs instead of actually stopping, bus drivers scream the route out of the window instead of having a formal system like we have here in Montreal, and nearly everyone listening to music fearlessly belts their hearts out as they sing along, no matter where they are.

I was shocked the first time I heard my colleague – who later became one of my best friends – singing her favourite reggaeton music in the middle of the office on my first day. I rolled my eyes and chuckled as the person behind me during the walk to the grocery store sometime early on in my trip sang and danced to his music. In Montreal, this would be seen as obnoxious and disruptive – but in Lima, it was a form of expression that had not yet become taboo or subjected to the social expectation that, in public or at work, one must be discrete. Where I was used to being expected to fit into a set of social standards, to mold into the rest of society and stay in the shadows, they would charge forward in individuality and expression, full of life and heart-warming spirit.

Walking through the streets of Magdalena del Mar on Peruvian independence day

It wasn’t long before I stopped jumping in surprise when someone in the Institute’s academica department broke the concentrated silence of the area with a few words of one of the summer’s top hits, and instead, started smiling and dancing along to their melody. Their voices and music ended up being the soundtrack to my summer, characterizing my walks home, my evening dinners with my Peruvian family as they sang “El gato nero” to their one-year-old son, and, of course, my time at work. As this aspect of Peruvian culture lost its foreignness, my initial role as the young, shy Canadian intern terrified of speaking Spanish at the risk of sounding stupid slowly morphed into one of sociability and confidence. The country that once seemed so distant from everything I knew began to transform into a home – or as my colleagues and I liked to call it, mi patria. On Peru’s independence day, I attempted to belt out their national anthem. I joined in many birthday celebrations at the office in which the entire Institute gathered around to sing “Happy Birthday” in choir around a large strawberry shortcake from the bakery down the street. Eventually, I even found myself humming along to my music as I typed.

What at first glance appeared to be an example of the care-free stereotype we often associate to Latin American culture eventually revealed itself to be a beautiful expression of happiness, confidence, and hope. A life in human rights research, I quickly realized, can be a daunting one. The nine-to-five work days, which often dragged out to nine-to-eight days during busy periods, are a constant realization of the terrible things that occur around the world, sometimes as close as within the city you work or live in. Every hour is filled with reminders that the world can be a terrible place for some, and that having the opportunity to advocate against human rights violations is a product of your privilege to not be on the other side of them. When one project ends, it’s on to the next one, dealing with similar hard realities, only with regards to a different violated right, and rarely with any assurance that the work you submitted will ever make it into the hands of a policy-maker, or even make a dent in the international hardships you are trying to alleviate. Most of the time, all you can do is hope that what you invested your heart and soul into makes a difference, even if by just raising awareness about the issues around you, and keeping pushing forward until the change you work for finally comes. And so, they sing.

**

I had never worked in human rights before my experience in Peru. I now have the utmost admiration for those who do – who dedicate their lives to making the world we live in a better place, if only for some.

On my last day of work, I submitted my final project, took pictures with my friends in the department – who I would see later for a final goodbye party – and emotionally emptied my desk. As I left, I closed the mahogany doors of the Institute behind me for the last time. I hugged Señor Ochoa, the security guard that greeted me every morning, goodbye.

During the walk home, I sang along to Ed Sheeran’s Perfect.

Perceptions, Misconceptions, and Reverse Culture Shock

Ohayon Jillianby Jillian Ohayon

Perceptions & Misconceptions

Here are some of the things that were said to me in Canada when I told people I would be spending the summer in Uganda:

“What’d you do to piss your dad off?” – My father’s (very loud and rather obnoxious) acquaintance, whom I met in the Montreal airport on my way to Uganda

“Is it for a punishment?” – My Cameroonian Uber driver in downtown Montreal

“If you can’t afford to fund the difference on your own, maybe you should get a real job in the summer instead of doing an internship in Africa.” – McGill financial advisor

***

The first thing that I’ll say is that the general Canadian public’s perception of East Africa, and Uganda in particular, seems to me a little twisted. It’s true that Uganda is one of the least developed countries in the world. There is poverty. It is hot outside most of the time. Police officers regularly walk around carrying machine guns. Most living compounds are surrounded by high walls and barbed wire. That being said, there is not crime, violence, and savagery to be found around every corner like some of my friends and family were concerned there would be. Uganda is not a dry and deathly desert land; Uganda is vibrant, lush, and beautiful.

I have also noticed some western misconceptions with regards to East Africans themselves, in that I get the sense that some people assume laziness on their part. To be clear, very few Ugandans sit around pouting, complaining about living in poverty, and waiting for some wealthy person from some wealthy country to come and dump money into their laps. Everybody is doing something pretty much all the time. I always tell people that there exists a strong sense of vitality in Uganda that I have never quite felt before in any other place that I’ve visited. In fact, Uganda was recently named the most entrepreneurial country in the world. From what I have felt and observed, it is a sense of gratitude, pride, and resilience that fuels this spirit.

I worry that the negative stereotypes about danger and disease in East Africa keep people from visiting, even just for purposes of tourism. Uganda has a lot to see. Among others, I visited Jinja (the town on the source of the Nile), Sipi Falls, Murchison Falls waterfall, and went on a safari in Murchison Falls National Park.

Roasting coffee beans, Sipi Falls

Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls

Murchison Falls National Park

Sipi Falls

Cave by the shore of the Nile, Jinja

Sunset over the Nile, Jinja

Reverse Culture Shock

Everybody expected me to find myself in serious culture shock upon arriving in Uganda. That didn’t happen. This might have been because I had had a few long, in-depth conversations with two expats living in Kampala before leaving Canada. It may have been because I had prepared myself to expect the unexpected. For whatever reason, I arrived in East Africa, took in the warm, sweet air that filled my senses the moment I stepped off the plane, and hit the ground running. Kampala felt like home after only a few days.

My Canadian-Ugandan friends and I at the top of the Gadaffi Uganda National Mosque overlooking Kampala

This is not to say that there does not exist a multitude of significant dissimilarities between Canada and Uganda. There are certainly many cultural and ideological differences between Canada and Uganda that make being a young, white female more difficult in the latter country. I grew used to being incessantly catcalled on a daily basis on my ten-minute walk home from work. I grew used to having locals shout “Muzungu!” at me in their attempts to get my attention to buy their products (actually, sometimes, they didn’t even want to sell me anything – they just wanted the satisfaction of gaining my attention). I also quickly became used to walking around the city hyperaware of the fact that almost everybody assumed I was in possession of deep pockets filled with American dollars. I even learned the hard way not to travel alone after dark. However, just like Uganda’s shoddy internet and temperamental electricity, all of this just became a part of the experience – and because I loved the experience so deeply, I learned to love the bad with the good.

It was the reverse culture shock that hit me the hardest.

Coming home was not easy. My departure from the full and exciting new life that had so quickly materialized before my eyes throughout my three months in Kampala was cushioned slightly by travels to Kigali, Rwanda with my close friend and IHRIP intern, Julia, as well as a four-day stopover in London, England. Nonetheless, I arrived at home in Montreal, spent a few hours with my family, and proceeded to sleep for seventeen hours straight. I think that, combined with the intense jetlag through which I had put my body, this was my subconscious way of avoiding the feelings that I knew were creeping in ever too quickly as I tried to reintegrate into a society and a life that I now felt so far away from.

It wasn’t just that I missed the beautiful friends I had made over there, or the restaurants I had been to so many times that the waiters knew me by name and even brought me a cake with the words “We are going to miss you” written in chocolate on my last night in Kampala. That was undoubtedly a part of it; but there was something more.

I had never anticipated feeling so free. This feels like a somewhat ironic sentence to write. I can imagine that someone reading this may be thinking, “Free? Really? In a country where you were shouted at every time you walked outside in public and felt afraid to walk alone at night?” Yes. Kind of. I will try to explain it as best as I can, but please bear with me, as I’m still trying to figure it all out for myself.

Kampala, with all of the shouting, traffic, pollution, and poverty that it has to offer, is imbued with a vibrant soul that is only felt by those who understand it. I know this to be true both because I have felt it firsthand and because I have spoken to many people who have enthusiastically agreed with this assertion. It probably isn’t the most beautiful city in the world. It’s not on the ocean, nor is it exactly wealthy. It is, however, a city of sunshine, red earth, many hills, and an abundance of palm trees. All of Uganda has a certain vitality to it. Whether it’s a woman braiding her daughter’s hair, a man selling fruit on the side of the road, or a child carrying water to their home in jerry cans, everybody always seems to be doing something. Rarely do they seem exhausted or miserable. In fact, to my mind, they generally seem to be much happier than the average person one might encounter in North America.

There is also a very different mentality in Uganda by contrast to Canada with regards to time. Scheduling and planning – which are essentially second nature in the western world – do not hold the same influence over Ugandans. One might often hear jokes about “Africa time.” Africa time is, for example, when you tell someone you will meet them at 10:00 AM and then only show up at noon, and nobody thinks anything of it. Rarely did a work meeting begin sooner than 45 minutes later than its set time. Again, nobody ever seemed to be particularly stressed over this. If I told a boda boda driver to pick me up in ten minutes, it was because I knew I was only going to be ready to leave in twenty. This was a significant aspect of Ugandan life that helped to feel liberated during my time there. It might have also been a part of why coming back to the western world felt like something akin to suffocation for a while.

There is also a feeling of liberation involved in being a white person in East Africa. As young females especially, whether or not we are always conscious of it, we live under the constant impression that we are being scrutinized. We aim to look a certain way, we dress in a certain way, and we even walk, sit, and stand in a certain way. Being in Uganda, I knew that I was going to be noticed and stared at no matter what I did. There was no way around that. It took me a while to get to this point, but eventually, I came to find this realization very liberating. It didn’t matter what I was wearing, how I looked, or how I walked, because people were going to stare at me either way. Since nobody there knew me previously, I was free to do and act as I pleased, and to let go of some of the unconscious stress and awareness of judgment that governs so much of my behaviour on a daily basis back home.

To be painfully honest, all of this, combined with the facts that I was on a different timezone from everybody who had ever known me and that I had limited internet connection, allowed me the space and freedom to discover parts of myself that I’m not sure I had known existed. It’s a very liberating feeling, to say the least.

***

Well, that’s about what I have to say on Uganda and its gift of reverse culture shock. Thanks for reading my blog! If you’re reading this because you’re considering visiting East Africa, I hope that my experience functions as a helpful push in that direction. Challenges will certainly present themselves from time to time, but I can guarantee that the positive aspects will far outweigh the negatives. You cannot put a price on the self growth from which you benefit when you succeed in making a home out of an unlikely and unfamiliar place. It wasn’t always easy, but it most definitely was worth it.

Blog Post 1: First Lessons and Impressions

By: Sara E.B. Pierre

A few months preceding my internship, I saw a news story on my Facebook page about how the President of a small country in West Africa accepted defeat after 22 years of dictatorship, but quickly changed his mind. The President’s name was Yahya Jammeh, and the country was The Gambia – where my internship was taking place in the summer. For a long time after this news, I was not sure whether the internship would happen. In the end, Jammeh was pressured enough to accept defeat and left the country. I did some more research on him before I left for The Gambia. It was only later that I found out how the Gambians I saw on my screen, cheering him in the streets, were forced to do so every time he made a public appearance. Through my work, I started to realize how he ruined the reputation and endangered the health of those he claimed to have personally healed of AIDS, and how terrifying it must have been to live in a place where any member of your family could go missing and be tortured without ever getting any answers.

   

The first week of May I was greeted into the New Gambia. Billboards, T-Shirts and graffiti all proclaimed, “Gambia Has Decided”. I saw people selling smartphone data plans, shoes and fruit on the side of the street, I saw monkeys waiting for a safe time to cross those same streets, and I saw vultures resting on top of the street lights. I ate mangoes every day and soaked in the sun at the beach.

On my first day of work I took multiple taxis which have designated stops, kind like the public transportation system I was used to back in Montreal. After getting lost and telling the taxi driver I was working in human rights, I was dropped off at the African Human Rights Commission. This was not actually my workplace. It was, however, as I would soon come to realize, the place our complaints (“Communications”) would sometimes be sent, seeking redress for those across the continent whose rights have been violated by their government.

Some cases and presentations I have done research for include those advancing the complainant’s right to health, right to work, right to not be tortured, right to education and to freedom of expression. These, and many more, are enshrined in a Charter I have gotten more and more familiar with over the months – the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The part that I find most impressive about this Charter (which was set up in The Gambia itself), is that it not only protects civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, but it also protects group rights (such as the right to a “generally satisfactory environment”), and lays out duties incumbent upon these same individuals and peoples.

After a very friendly Gambian woman helped me find my actual workplace, I realized it was only a short walk away from the Commission. We walked past the roundabout (adorably named “Turn Table”) and found The Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHDRA).

I was impressed with the pan-African non-governmental organization even before I arrived in The Gambia. Besides reading about their mission to defend, educate, and inform, what struck me most was how they included professional pictures of staff members, such as the gardener and cook, on their staff page. The idea that justice and the fight for human rights involves so much more than what superstar lawyers do is a big lesson that I am learning. At our staff meeting, we all had the chance to say what we had been working on, whether this had to do with the organization’s website, a conference someone would be presenting at, or making sure we have clean and running water. When everyone’s voice was heard, I felt there was transparency, accountability and fellowship. The value of these things cannot be dismissed because it reinforces the underlying truth that we, those who work to uplift the dignity of human beings, are not there to “save” or “fix” anyone; we are there to build safer and more just communities, and to empower people. And what a better way to project that vision than by reflecting it in the way we uplift our own neighbours?

¡Buenos días desde Argentina!

Gillespie TaylorBy Taylor Gillespie

Since I’m the first McGill student to intern in Mar Del Plata, I think it’s appropriate to use my first blog post to describe what life is like here in Argentina.

Mar Del Plata is a city of about 1 million some 400km south of Buenos Aires. The city is known within Argentina as a summer resort spot owing to its beautiful coastline, which stretches for 47km along the Atlantic Ocean (and makes for a spectacular view on morning runs).

One interesting thing about Mardel is that unlike Buenos Aires, which is an international tourist hub, very few tourists come from outside of Argentina. In fact, I’m the first Canadian that most people I know here have ever met. Similarly, English is not widely spoken here, and the only way to learn it is by attending costly private institutes.

The food here is nothing short of incredible—milanesas, empanadas, locros, alfajores, and of course a steak with chimichurri sauce and a bottle of red wine from the Mendoza region of Argentina are must-haves for anybody visiting the country. One thing to know, however, is that supper in Argentina is not normally served until around 9 or 10pm, and trust me, you will be laughed at if you go to a restaurant at 6pm and ask for the dinner menu. Another thing to get used to is that most stores, offices, and buildings close between 1 and 4pm for siesta. Personally, I think a 3-hour naptime is something we should bring to McGill.

MDP offers some of the best nightlife in the country, but a Saturday night out in Argentina is very different from a night out in Canada. An average night on the town consists of meeting up with friends around 1am to catch-up and enjoy a few drinks together. Then, around 3 or 4am, head to the bar, which will only be beginning to get busy. Stay and dance to the hottest Latin-American music until the bar closes at 630am—by the time you get home the sun will be rising, and you’ll probably hungry enough to eat breakfast before going to bed.

Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego

Climbing Monte Olivia in Ushuaia

 

Argentina is incredibly geographically diverse. Two weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Ushuaia, the capital of the Tierra Del Fuego Province of Argentina, and the southernmost city on the planet. It is the middle of winter there and the temperature hovered around -5 to -10 degrees.

On the other hand, last week I went on a two-day trip to Las Cataratas del Iguazú, breathtaking waterfalls in the north-eastern part of the country along the border of Paraguay and Brazil. The climate in Iguazú was tropical and the temperature reached nearly 35 degrees with the humidity. The distance between Ushuaia and Iguazú is roughly 4,500km. In perspective, this is double the distance from Winnipeg (my beloved hometown) to Montreal.

Iguazú Falls

 

A view from the Brazilian side of the falls

Between Mardel and Iguazú lies Buenos Aires, the largest city in Argentina and one of the largest on the continent. During my 2 day layover between Iguazú and Mar Del Plata, I had the chance to tour some key landmarks of the city: Boca Stadium, the old sea port, and the Recoleta cemetery. Likewise, I made a day trip to Uruguay in order to see Colonia Del Sacramento, which is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

When I returned to Buenos Aires that same evening (July 1st), I went to a Canada Day party organized by the Canadian Embassy where there were over 100 Canadian travellers and expats. At the bar, I got the chance to sit down and have a beer with Robert Fry, the Canadian Ambassador to Argentina and Paraguay. We had some very interesting conversations about my internship, his daily life as an ambassador, and of course argued about which NHL team was the best (go Jets).

Hanging out with some lobos marinos on the beach

Argentine lifestyle, in most respects, is not all that different from life in Canada, but there are a few quirks. One thing that I have noticed is that people here are much more affectionate. For instance, every time you meet someone or see someone you know, instead of shaking their hand, you give them one kiss on the left cheek…Needless to say the first time I met a group of 5 male coworkers, the greeting caught me off guard.

All in all, my experience here in Argentina has been absolutely amazing so far and I’m looking forward to the last few weeks of my internship.

Stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll be providing an update on some of the human rights work I’ve been up to.

¡Nos vemos!

Be Patient; Stay Fearless

Melisa DemirBy Melisa Demir

Nearly eight weeks ago, I stepped off a plane and into the chaos of the Jorje Chavez airport parking lot in Lima, Peru. My first experience on South American soil began with a wave of taxi drivers calling out “Taxi! Taxi” and waving their permits at me as I searched for my Uber somewhere near Gate 11. Towering ahead of me was an enormous billboard, advertising LATAM Airlines, which read: “Welcome to Lima.”

It took about half an hour and many WhatsApp phone calls – all of which served as a stark reminder of just how different the language in in a Spanish-speaking country was from the Spanish I had learned in high school – before I finally met up with Rodrigo, my driver. I threw my suitcases and my backpack into the trunk of his grey Hyundai, almost exactly like the one my parents drive at home, and hopped into the backseat, ready for what I knew would be the adventure of a lifetime.

A lot has happened since that first day. The sun that I was met with when I first stepped through the airport’s sliding doors has started to disappear, making only its signature rare appearances as “the Grey city” falls into its winter months. I’ve seen penguins and sea lions off the coast of Paracas, sand-boarded down the dunes of Huacachina, rafted through valleys in Arequipa and spent five days hiking through glaciers and the high Peruvian jungle to the beautiful Machu Picchu. I’ve finally figured out how to properly unlock the front door of my apartment after too many hours spent on the verge of tears, locked out with my groceries lying on the front steps. The family that I once knew as simply Kat and Gus from AirBnB have become like my second parents, including me in their family celebrations and mornings to the market, sitting with me at dinner, and teaching their one-year old son to walk towards me and, occasionally, roll me his ball.

On top of the sand dunes in Huacachina

Standing in front of Humantay Lake at the beginning of my Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

On top of Machu Picchu after 5 days of trekking!

Of course, I have also become quite familiar with the corner desk I was given at the Institute of Democracy and Human Rights (IDEHPUCP) – once empty, its drawers are now filled with notes bearing my handwriting, the airplane headphones I use to drown out the sound of my coworkers’ singing when I need to concentrate, the books on human rights I have read since my first day, and the box of vanilla cookies I bought from the grocery store down the street to snack on with my afternoon coffee.

I first stepped through the gates of the big yellow building on calle Tomas Ramsey and into the doors of the Institute at the end of May, one month ago. I had been slightly anxious to start my internship – at twenty years old, I have never had a desk job, and as a first year student, I’ve never worked in the legal field before. I nervously gave the security guard my name on that first morning, and he greeted me with a large, warm smile – one that I’ve gotten used to these past weeks, and that I still see every morning as I walk into work with my morning coffee in hand. That first morning, his smile acted as a sense of comfort in the new adventure I was about to embark on. “Good morning, Melisa,” he had said as I signed my name in the registry. “Welcome.”

Since the beginning of my time here at the IDEHPUCP, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot about many different aspects of international human rights law – particularly, I’ve studied the notion of corporate responsibility in international law, participated in discussions on corruption in Peru, and helped the Institute run two parallel events on rethinking gender roles in Latin America and on the continued reality of human trafficking in the area. Yet, in these past three weeks filled with great learning opportunities, two lessons have stuck out to me so far: be patient, and stay fearless.

On Being Patient: Learning to Leave My Fast-Paced Lifestyle Behind

My internship at the Institute began with a warm welcome from the entire IDEHPUCP family – I was given a tour of the different departments, greeted with a signature one kiss on the cheek or a dynamic wave by everyone I met and even invited to the Institute’s events during my first week, as if I had already become one of the team.

However, my work also began at a time where the organization of two of the Institute’s biggest projects (hosting two conferences within the same week) was just nearing its end – a time where there was just enough work for those who had already been involved in the preparation of these events to keep busy, yet not enough for me to join in too extensively. As a result, for my first two weeks of work, I was only given two books to read – one on the effects of international law on corporate activity, and another on the functions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights – and some translation work from Spanish to English. I began to worry if my Spanish skills were seen as not strong enough to handle more heavy workloads, or if my lack of experience in human rights law deterred my supervisors from including me in big research projects.

Then came the week of the events, and I quickly found myself busier than ever, running around the University campus making sure everything was running smoothly, being tasked with small jobs here and there. I even had my first of what I expect to be many late nights within my legal career, when I was asked to help a colleague find information on the biographies of the events’ panelists due the following morning. Since then, my days at the Institute have been filled with a variety of different tasks, making every moment spent at work unique – in addition to my translation work, I have been assigned to do research on the international and national protection of elder rights, have co-written an article on labor rights violations within Peru which was published on the Institute’s website, and, most recently, have been asked to help with a jurisprudential study on recent constitutional decisions in the country.

Not only has my work life gotten busier, but my Spanish has already improved tremendously, giving me the confidence to start coming out of my shell more, going to more social events and becoming good friends with my colleagues. Lima really is starting to feel like home – so much so that the barista at the Starbucks on my way to work has started to greet me with “Hola Melisa, que tal?” and knows my order almost by heart.

Life in Lima is not nearly as different than life in Montreal as I thought it would be – its streets are bustling with busy buses and cars and large boulevards lined with shopping malls and gourmet restaurants, and its nightlife in Miraflores and Barranco rivals that on Blvd St-Laurent. One of the biggest culture shocks for me was definitely learning to take a breath, and coming to terms with with not having heavy workloads all the time. I grew up in a culture where I was taught that being hardworking and being productive often meant being busy every second of every day. Here, things are different: being a good employee is more about being available to lend a hand to your teammates when they need it, and doing everything you do, no matter how little work you’re given, as best as you can.

All in all, I have definitely come a long way in my month by myself here in Lima, and most of my adaptation happened simply with time. I have come to realize that the IDEHPUCP is largely a place for learning – my supervisor ensures that every project I am given can somehow tie back to Canada, even in the smallest way. One of the biggest lessons I have learned so far is how to be patient, to wait for my opportunities to arise (or even to create my own), and, in the meantime, to take advantage of the little things this internship has to offer, such as the experience of simply being in one of the most important research centres in the country, learning from some of the most dedicated human rights workers in the area, and being able to help out with their work, even in the simplest ways.

On Staying Fearless: Nothing Worth Doing Ever Came Easily

Like many people I know in McGill’s Law Faculty, I came to law school mainly driven by a love and passion for international law and human rights. Also like many in my Faculty, I have become well aware of how difficult pursuing a career in this field will be.

My experience so far at the IDEHPUCP has opened my eyes to the merits of pushing through obstacles and overcoming seemingly impossibly high mountains – of always staying fearless, whether it be when crossing the street in Lima’s busy traffic, swallowing my pride and joining in on conversations and social events with my colleagues even when I still sometimes have trouble keeping up with the local jarga (Peruvian slang), and most importantly, when making decisions about my future career choices.

The controversial panel on the respect of gender and LGBTQ rights in religion

Here at the Institute, I spend most of my time immersed in a culture of devotion and passion for human rights work. I watch my colleagues, some of which are still students, juggle their work with their studies, running back and forth from the Institute and the PUCP campus, putting their theses that they need to complete in order to graduate on the back-burner in order to complete what they see as more urgent tasks, like writing up on pressing human rights issues or conducting studies on international law. During the panel on Gender Rights, I watched the head of the Institute, Doctora Elizabeth Salmón – one of the most respected and successful people in the field of international law and human rights law in the country – defy social norms by setting up a panel on the continued struggle to find balance between the protection of women’s rights and LGBTQ rights and religion in Lima.

More recently, one of my best friends at the Institute told me that her dream job is to spend time working with the International Red Cross in Iraq or Iran protecting human rights, fully aware of the dangers attached to this career, because she wants to spend every day of her career being able to tackle human rights violations in these countries face-on: “I have a friend who worked with the ICRC in Iraq, and she had the power to see these violations every day, and to say ‘Enough,’” she had said. “My dream is to be able to do that, too.”

Everyone at the Institute, I have come to realize, spends the better part of their careers making sacrifices for the bigger cause of defending human rights, both within their country and beyond. They are all fearless in their work, not only because of their passion for their jobs, but because they know that what they do needs to be done in order to make a change – no matter how difficult, or scary, it may be.

As the halfway point of my time here at the IDEHPUCP approaches, I am already so grateful for all of the experiences this internship has brought me, and for all of the important lessons that I’ve learned, and will continue to use in the future – wherever my career, and life in general, take me.

 

Research, Policy, Advocacy and the Messy World of International Affairs: My Adventures in Colorado

Greenberg AnastasiaBy Anastasia Greenberg

Having just finished first-year law school exams at the end of April, I had about seven days to visit family and friends in Toronto that I hadn’t seen in ages, take care of a massive pile of errands that are naturally set aside to cultivate and grow during exam periods, pay attention to my husband who has been neglected during the past months; leaving me with just about a few hours to pack my bags and move to Colorado for the summer. I barely had any chance to process what had taken place in the last eight months of law school, and I really started to feel disengaged and confused about why I was studying law to begin with.

I arrived in Colorado on a Friday and had two days to settle into my apartment before starting work on Monday. I showed up that morning at the One Earth Future Foundation (OEF), not really knowing what to expect. I was warmly greeted upon my arrival and immediately rushed into a room where I was shown an emotional video about what OEF does, what its mission is, how it operates and so forth. All this was followed by a heavy stack of mundane paperwork to fill out: important steps before embarking on solving world peace. In the video (and in the mundane paperwork) phrases such as: “peace through governance” and “stakeholder engagement” were frequently used, but did not really make much sense until I started communicating with my co-workers and putting the pieces together of how this very interesting and unusual organization was functioning.

OEF is essentially an international “Think” and “Do” Tank. The organization is a non-profit and views its role as providing high quality research and intelligence on issues of inter- and intra-state violent conflict, while engaging various “stakeholders” such as government and non-government actors to implement policy action. There are several departments within OEF that each focus on different issues such as departments working on the role of women in peace and security, issues related to ocean piracy, micro-financing in so-called “fragile” states, as well as the largest department: the research department, which is my home for the summer. OEF is a bit unusual in comparison with many other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in its choice to use rigorous empirical methodology within its research mandate and in its choice of adopting a “neutral” approach to advocacy. In a sense, they would like the research to speak for itself and prefer to stay away from “cherry-picking” information that fits advocacy goals.

On the other hand, OEF has very broad mission statement objectives such as “a world without war in 100 years”. This is clearly a value laden statement (yes, it’s idealistic) but an overarching one, lacking specificity. In this way, I feel that their approach does have a clear advocacy angle, while also being broad enough to allow for issue-specific adaptability, within this broader framework, that is ultimately informed by their research. The whole idea that a world without war is possible is supported by famous psychologist Steven Pinker who is, interestingly enough, an adviser to the organization.

OEF produces all kinds of different work including academic publications, policy reports, documentary films, op-ed articles, as well as on-the-ground work through their partners and staff members that are located in various countries of interest where programs are directly implemented. Many staff members are themselves either from, or have lived for years in, the countries that they focus on. From what I have seen so far, while their approach is rigorous, it is also rich in quality and multifaceted.

So what have I been working on?

Having come into the organization with a research background behind me prior to starting law school, my supervisor (who is the director of the Research Department) decided to allow me to define my own project that touches on my interests in human psychology. I have been working with a large dataset collected from thousands of people across 60 different countries that asked people questions related to all sorts of beliefs and personal values. Broadly speaking, I am interested in which types of reported beliefs are associated with people’s tendency to justify violence against others, including support for war, as well as how country-level socio-economic and political factors may interact with personal-level beliefs. For example, how do country-level factors such as GDP, income inequality, homicide rates, and years of civil war modulate the relationship between various beliefs and violence justification at the individual level?

Another project that I am assisting with is the creation of a Maritime Security Index. The idea is to take in massive amounts of data from many different sources and try to build an intuitive index that will help identify which countries are doing a poor job and which countries are doing a good job at ensuring security on their coasts and in their waters. This includes measures related to human trafficking by water, illegal fishing, environmental violations, piracy, drug trafficking, and so on. I have been having a lot of fun “geeking out” over index methodology with some PhD scientists on the team. While this highly mathematical approach may seem (and most definitely is) far removed from the qualitative reality of people who are suffering as a result of violence at sea, it is really important that we get the numbers right. In delving into some of the index methodology of various indices created by other NGOs, there are instances where the creation of these indices is questionable at best. For example, one such organization (which shall remain unnamed) decided on the “weighting” of various sub-indices based on how many hits came up on a Google search of the topic. OEF’s index will be used to single out countries that are under-performing in relation to some of their international agreements, and therefore, the nerds do have an important role to play here.

What other cool things have been going on at OEF?

I have also been learning about other really interesting initiatives at OEF. The research team has an ongoing project whereby they try to predict the onsets of coups d’état in different countries. OEF also recently co-hosted an event on “Peace Through Technology” which discussed ways in which technological innovations could be leveraged to promote peace-building. The Oceans Beyond Piracy team is also heavily involved in hostage rescue operations in Somalia. One of my favourite ongoing projects that I learned about from my next-door office cubicle mate Roberta Spivak is an event-series that she has been working on as the Editor-in-Chief of the Global Governance Journal. Every year, the editorial team of the journal select an article and host an event at one of the United Nations headquarters during which the author of the article gets to presents their research to a group of UN Ambassadors. These Global Governance Discussion Series are meant to stimulate conversations between researchers and policy makers.

Do I have a life?

Outside of work, I have been trying to take full advantage of the gorgeous Colorado landscapes. Just two weeks after my arrival in early May, we saw an unexpected massive snowstorm. While I was not at all prepared, I decided to make the most of it and went snowboarding at a resort west of Denver called Arapahoe Basin. Since then, the weather has been very warm and lovely which gave me lots of opportunities to explore hiking trails not far from Boulder. I’ve also enjoyed a lively Art Walk event in Denver with art galleries opening their doors to passersby until late into the night. On top of it all, OEF also held a cultural experience event for us non-American interns at a Rockies baseball game. I am not a huge fan of baseball, but it was pretty great having a day off and a chance to get to know my colleagues in their “natural” American habitat.

What’s next?

While I am still not exactly sure where my career is going to take me next, so far, this summer internship experience has been a really refreshing and eye-opening adventure. I can now appreciate the true value of an interdisciplinary team working on complex interdisciplinary issues. OEF has staff members with backgrounds all the way from PhDs in Psychology and Political Science, to lawyers, to former NATO guys, to artists such as an in-house filmmaker. Tackling complex issues requires expertise and skills across a range of disciplines, and ultimately, I see myself working in such a dynamic environment in the future.

 

Look-back on the last day

By Laetitia Yantren

The last day of my internship, I presented my work to my colleagues and external members of CRG. CRG normally hosts Friday Lectures, during which academics present their research to a crown of their peers. Because CRG is a research group focused on migration that attracts academics knowledgeable about various aspects of migration—migration and development, social movements in Bengal, international migration, migration and gender—presenting to this crowd is both rewarding and nerve-wracking.

Nevertheless, I unclenched my sweaty palms and went ahead with the presentation. As my stutter grew into more confident affirmations, I realized my luck at having the privilege to present in front of this knowledgeable crowd.

My presentation focused on the international and national legal frameworks for labour in the Gulf, with a focus on Indian migration to the United Arab Emirates. I concentrate on trade agreements as well as the kafala system, the sponsorship program for foreign workers in the Gulf and other Arab countries. Deeply imbricated in the hierarchal tribal structures of Gulf society, the doctrine originates from Islamic doctrines of adoption. The kafala system separates labour law and immigration law for migrant workers, enabling the state to delegate its immigration authority to employers, who by definition must be Gulf nationals. Employers (kafeel) apply for and obtain work permits for their employees, who delegate to the employer their juridical personality as workers. The conflict of interest is glaring: employers are at once agents of the state in immigration matters, and agents of their employees in labour matters.

Under this system, the worker is caught in a tangled web of authority that resembles the family. My presentation argued that the kafala system makes all labour domestic, establishing an unescapable system of dependency between employer and employee that stands firmly outside the free market in order to promote and protect capital from the demands of labour. It is telling, in this vein, that the reforms to the kafala system have purposefully excluded domestic workers, who remain caught within the webs of responsibility, representation and restraint that are characteristic of the domestic relationship.

First, I described the kafala system in the UAE, its international and national legal components, as well as changes that have been made in response to claims by NGOs and other bodies. My discussion of this system included a substantive legal analysis of the kafala system from the point of view of the migrant worker. Finally, I developed the metaphor of domestic work by leaning on theorization of domestic labour. Drawing on the metaphor of family and nation, I argued that the exception is indeed the rule. Building parallels between foreign domestic and non-domestic workers, I argued that both are caught within the webs of responsibility, representation and restraint that are characteristic of the domestic relationship.

When I finished my presentation, I received important feedback from attendees, feedback which will inform my changes to the paper before publication.

My Ultimate Summer Experience in Budapest

By Jacinthe Dion

In retrospect…

View of Budapest from Gellért Hill

View of Budapest from Gellért Hill

This summer I flew to the unknown. All my family was telling me I would come back a different person. They were right, but I had not realized to what extent travelling and interning abroad would have on me.

I got to discover different ways people live life. I no longer had control over my environment and I was outside my comfort zone 24/7.  It was a challenge at first, but a really nice one. Whether it was struggling at the market to buy some fruits or learning how to use new databases at work, I was constantly learning and growing. During the entire summer, I ended up accidentally acting like a fool multiple times a week. This one time, I was at the grocery store and a lady spoke to me in Hungarian. I replied “nem te,” thinking I was saying “I don’t know.” It was only when I used nem te with a Hungarian friend from work that I realised I was totally off. I should have been saying nem tudom; nem te meant “not you”.

The people

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The last day the four of us were together in the office

I had the opportunity this summer to make friends from all corners of the world. I had the opportunity to work with an incredible and brilliant team at the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre (MDAC). I am also extremely grateful to have developed close relationships with the other interns. From practicing my linguistic skills in Finnish, to comparing weird expressions France has but Quebec doesn’t or vice versa, and climbing Gellért Hill while learning Hungarian History, I cherished every moment I got to share with these extraordinary individuals.

My supervisor, Barbara, and I during my last week

My supervisor, Barbara, and I during my last week

Every day, our lives intersect with people and we do not always know the influence or impact they will have on our life. We will never truly know how these moments will affect us, that is, until they do. Included in these individuals is Zóra, a student completing her Master in Public Administration. Zóra has been in a wheel chair since she was a child and this woman is pretty amazing. My encounter with her changed a lot of preconceived ideas I had without even really knowing I had them. “I don’t like it when people come up to me and tell me that I am an inspiration,” she told me one morning while heading to the office.

 

 

“I don’t go up to them telling them I find it inspiring that they woke up this morning, got dressed, made a coffee and were heading to work. I’m not an inspiration just for doing normal things.”

In some ways I always knew this, but it was after this exchange that it became apparent to me: if people fixate on how inhibited they think people with disabilities are, the emphasis shifts to their obstacles rather than their achievements. Now, I personally know Zóra and as a friend, I do find her inspiring. However, it is not because she does the same things as you and I that I find her inspiring; rather, it is because of who she is.

Zóra and I

Zóra and I

I have the highest esteem and respect for her. She is driven, inspired and passionate. She lives in one of the only accessible apartments in the city and is trying to change how rare they are. She is extremely generous, so patient and remarkably motivated. For two weeks this summer, while interning full time at MDAC during the week, she was also partaking in a training to become an Ambassador for Amnesty International Hungary. After 5 days of working 9:00 to 5:00, she committed to week ends spent in a school from 10:00 to 5:00, studying and receiving training. She is the humblest person I have ever met. She taught me so much without even intending to.

A final reflection

Freedom from torture, right to legal capacity, inclusive education and access to justice are issues I dealt with daily. Litigation meetings, jurisprudence research for ongoing MDAC cases and international standards research are a few ways I contributed to MDAC’s activities this summer.

News review, jurisprudence review, writing summaries and writing newsletters were part of my routine. Last but not least, learning how to express myself in less than 140 characters this summer was a struggle.

Now I am back home and I treasure the familiar so much more than I used to

Now I am back home and I treasure the familiar so much more than I used to

Here’s to not enough sleep and too much walking on the streets.

To late suppers at night and to running on Margaret Island when it’s still bright.

Here’s to the sun, the heat, the fun I had on my summer beat.

An experience I’ll always remember, memories that will stay with me forever.

Wanderlust will always be a part of my life.

Full Circle Moment

By Anna Goldfinch

I started out my internship knowing virtually nothing about maritime piracy, let alone the laws that surround this issue. I had a million questions. After a summer at Oceans Beyond Piracy, I know a lot more, but I have a million and one questions. This is because the issue of maritime piracy is complex, with intersecting issues, lots of gray areas, little precedent, and no concrete answers. As I worked my way through a variety of topics this summer, it all felt a little disjointed.

That was until I started working on the issue of Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs). PMSCs provide armed guards to ships to protect them from piracy. Generally speaking, having armed guards on ships has been found to reduce the number of pirate attacks. This issue is good indicator of what is actually happening in the maritime domain to respond to piracy and also brought all the work that I had been doing full circle.

Initially, the response to a surge in violent pirate attacks was governance. This was the first thing I learned about during my internship. International treaties mandate signatories to pass national anti-piracy legislation. Nations create anti-piracy strategies, plans, and legislative frameworks. However, this is foiled by the fact that the reporting of piracy is actually very low. There is no way to enforce anti-piracy laws if piracy is going completely unseen. Reporting is low because there are major financial disincentives for ships to report that they have been attacked. Costly inspections that would follow a report of piracy hurt the shipping companies’ bottom line and the seafarers’ wallets.

With a lack of reporting comes a lack of prosecution. There are very few cases of countries using universal jurisdiction to prosecute for piracy. While there has been some success in Somalia through a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) project that involves special courts, prisons and transfer agreements for accused and convicted pirates, this has not been seen elsewhere in the world.

Because of this, the shipping industry has looked for alternative ways to protect their workers and their goods. Their solution is hiring privately contracted, armed security guards (PMSCs), which was previously prohibited. As previously mentioned, this has seemingly led to a reduced amount of violence against seafarers. However, anecdotally these armed guards are often poorly trained in the escalation and use of force and will commonly open fire on boats that may try to approach their ship. After having researched PMSCs further, they aren’t necessarily a solution, but rather a simple reversal of those doing the attacking and those being attacked at sea.

From a human rights perspective, this bothered me. Pirates, while engaging in criminal activity, should still have all of their human rights guaranteed to them, including due process and a fair trial. Currently, it seems that a pirate may walk free if it is deemed they would be too costly to prosecute, or killed if an embarked guard feels threatened. This complete unpredictability of punishment is, in my view, unjust.

And this is where my work was brought full circle. My last task at Oceans Beyond Piracy was to research ways of holding PMSCs more accountable for their actions, providing better standards, training, and recourse for wronged parties. Essentially, I was looking into how to use governance to solve the problem of violence at sea.

In this exercise, I realized that so many of the problems that we try to address through human rights work are so intertwined, so complex, that sometimes we end up governing ourselves full circle. My millionth and one question is how do we make human rights focused interventions that break these full circle moments to provide solutions that are just and lasting?

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