Category Archives: Personal

Why I’m so very sad about Syria.

Syria. The word almost synonymous with war, conflict, refugees and death. The worst crisis in our era.

BBC has created a short story of the conflict here, for those who need a refresher on the timelines and how the events unfolded over years.

6 years ago what has started as an uprising against Mr Bashar’s’ oppressions has turned into a bloody proxy war between various political and religious fractions. 6 years since the start of the war has plunged 80% of Syrian’s into poverty, reduced life expectancy by 20 years and led to colossal economic losses (UN-backed report, source: Guardian).

Syria’s conflict continues to be the deadliest in the worldThe numbers are horrendous and I’m sick to my stomach seeing them – as the violence intensified, the number of deaths in the conflicts rose dramatically nearly 500,000 (source: I am Syria)Some 50,000 Syrians are estimated to have died so far this year only—including civilians, soldiers and rebel fighters. The Islamic State is growing alarmingly in both Syria and Iraq, where its brutal fighters are likely to push up the death toll even further. The country now has the second-largest refugee population in the world after the Palestinians. And 3/4 of the refugees are women and children. 

Syrians are dying and their country is being literally wiped from the world’s map. Try looking at the infamous photos of Syrian kids to even attempt to comprehend what’s going on there. It makes me feel guilt for all the ‘luxuries’ I enjoy – food, warmth, work. The need to help, not just the refugees but anyone who isn’t privileged enough to enjoy them. So if I keep talking about it for a while, forgive me. I’m having a hard time finding importance in anything else.

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Source: Al Jazeera

 

Book review: Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen

Sen has written this book in 1999, a year after receiving a Nobel Price in economics for his contributions to welfare economics and social theories. At times dry and repetitive, his work however, provides a broader understanding of development. The academics have many postulates that shaped various aspects of development and tackling poverty but not throughout any of journals and books can one feel the compassion and humanity to such extent as it is in Sen’s book.

The author argues that relationship between poverty, income, inequality, unemployment, mortality, quality of life should be looked through a broad definition of development rather than narrow definitions of utility, efficiency or growth rates. 

Importantly, Sen doesn’t tend to advocate specific approaches to solving problems, but instead seems to have a broader goal of changing the way people discuss and think about developmental issues. Lesson? Development is not simple! There’s no one single problem that we can solve to fix the world and no magic solution for any problem, but rather a variety of factors to consider and several kinds of individual’s freedoms and capabilities to be worked towards.

I highly recommend it to anyone looking to learn something new and willing to tackle difficult subjects.

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End of my placement on the horizon, however…

I’ll be staying in Uganda till end of August! More on this in the next post..

Six months ago, I stepped onto Ugandan soil and started my first development work experience in Africa. In the blink of an eye, I finished my placement. Although six months’ social work seems to be short, I did learn a lot of things and got many inspirations. This experience has already played a huge part in my future career path. What did I learn and were my expectations pre-departure met?

1. Development work, in particular community work is very rewarding but has its challenges. 

Working with communities feels a little bit like sailing on a windy day. Hard work, overwhelming at times, and thrilling. I wasn’t sure what to expect before leaving London, all I knew is that I have certain goals and objectives to meet ‘working together with the community’. But how does one define a community? What are its boundaries? Who do you talk to when you “work with” a community? Who are its leaders? A few personal remarks:

  • Anticipate low turn out – at least initially. And bad time management throughout the work. Community takes time to gain trust and patience to teach the importance of respecting time.
  • You cannot solve all their problems, actually you cannot solve most of their problems. In rural Uganda almost everything needs attention: hygiene, infrastructure, access to clean water, education, literacy… the list is endless. Tight focus work on particular task works best. Slowly but surely together with the people you can move forward.
  • Give people voice and make them feel appreciated and valued. Even if this means taking a snap of them, listening to them. Appreciation of another human being isn’t that common so giving people a small gesture of love is something they treasure.

2. The rewards of community work exceeds its difficulties. 

At least for me. This was probably the most challenging work I have ever done but it has brought me the biggest satisfaction. Offering people your time, advise and giving them skills which will improve their lives on unthinkable scale is just something that cannot be described.

3. Africa is big, bold and beautiful.

Before coming to Uganda I haven’t even have Africa on my ‘bucket list’. Oh that has definitely changed now! Ugandan landscapes, its culture and people have won a place in my heart and I’m very eager to explore more of the continent.

4. The work done over the past 6 months has confirmed I’m heading in the right direction. 

This placement was very much a trial step for me in order to have an absolute certainty that international development is something I want to a) do a master in and b) pursue a career going forward. I’ve always dreamed of doing something on a voluntary basis abroad, however life has taken a different course for me until recently. The work I have done in Uganda has given me the peace of mind I needed that this is indeed something I want to be doing for a living, in a long-term future. And I am very happy to announce that I have been accepted into the London School of Economics for the Development Management MSc degree starting September!

 

 

3-month milestone!

Hard to believe but I’ve been now in Uganda for 3 months! Not even half a year ago I was sitting in my London office desperately wanting to go out there to help people and get out of the rainy city I’ve spent my last 8 years. Time flew by when you doing what you love. Those 3 months were wonderful yet challenging. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is the type of work is what I want to do – marrying up travel with doing good to people and communities. It’s incredibly fascinating to live in an African village and watch the community grow and benefit from your work. How did I overcome some of the difficulties?

  • Chill out! Uganda and in fact the whole Africa doesn’t perceive time in the same way we, Westerners do. Time for us is more of a linear concept, a road with clear marks of past, present and future. Africans don’t regard future as time. It’s a ‘no-time’ hence the concept of time itself is more liquid and fluid. In Africa people tend to value other things like interpersonal relations more than time. Unless there is a strong drive for time management, everything in Africa will always be behind schedule. Being quite a punctual person this one definitely has taken me the longest to get used to! Typically, am the muzungu arguing with the matatu driver who told me ‘sister the vehicle is leaving now’ (and it’s obviously not).
  • Food. Glorious food. I have written a post on it here. I love it but had to break up with cheese! Sigh.
  • Muzungu… how are you? I heard that probably 100 times every day and I won’t lie – in the beginning it could annoy me especially when you are trying to talk with your companion! I got used to it now 🙂
  • Things just take time… this is truth for doing a simple bank transaction to something basic like a greeting. You stop, you smile, you exchange a series of questions: how are you? How’s your wife? And kids? And neighbours? How’s your mother and father? How are things in your end? And it goes on and on…
  • It was incredibly hard to see poverty both in the village and in town for the first time.

I am excited for the next 3 months ahead and loving my Ugandan life!

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The ugly world we live in

Since childhood I have been fascinated with the idea of travelling and exploring the deepest corners of our world. I remember seeing one of the first ‘Incredible India‘ advert on a foreign TV channel and thinking how indeed incredible it would be to see an elephant or that colourfully dressed lady with brown skin. I also decided I’d visit places off the beaten track – I saw somewhere a documentary on Azerbaijan and decided that’s the place I will visit one day.  I haven’t done that yet but I was lucky enough to start travelling outside Poland at a very early age. I’ve been travelling abroad with my parents and their friends and friends’ kids abroad, be it Croatia, Germany or France. At the age of 6 I joined the Polish Folkloristic Group ‘Wielkopolanie’ and soon after I joined them in promoting Polish culture and dance in various festivals around the world: Russia in 1997, Taiwan in 1999, Shanghai in 2006, most of Europe throughout my 12 years of dancing career. I left to study in the UK and pursued travels in and out of London: Malaysia, Australia, India, Europe again (you re-discover many places when you older!). Majority of my trips, like the majority of people, from let’s call it 1st world countries, were for pleasure and relax – you visit the prettiest and most interesting places according to your preferences and the Lonely Plant guide. Some of us like a luxury setting, some backpack and scale mountains, others prefer the big city thrill.

We often think we’re the hub of the universe. However, we’re only a smart part of the Big Rock. The privileged part of the world may I add. Huge percentage of population of the planet Earth lives in the ugly, lives in the dirt and poverty beyond our imagination. A cow dung hut, few pots, firewood and often behind a smile a pair of sad eyes – that’s what you see there and you find it hard to understand it, to comprehend this world that’s so different to yours. You begin to feel something shifting in you – you ask yourself questions: how did I not realise this earlier? I watch news, hear about the poverty, I know Africa..

Thanks to this experience you get to understand the emotions inside the people, the way the world is shaped  for them, their unique beliefs and in what conditions they live and function in. If you travel and stay for a bit longer in places not advertised in a guide, not as a tourist with a fancy camera but as a human being you start to feel solidarity and an overwhelming need of help. You discover that to help is to simply be there and that’s often enough. I wondered before coming to Uganda whether I get the feeling that helping one person is only a drop in the ocean and that would put me off it. On the contrary – you feel like you in that moment you’re giving hope and a smile and the day before there was no hope and no smile.

I want to tell people about what I saw in Uganda – about the world which isn’t glamorous and glossy. I want to dedicate my time to search for ideas and solutions that would actually help them, even one person. I want to leave small footprints around this world. I’ll teach my children that giving is so much better than receiving, that to experience the world, travelling comfortably isn’t going to be enough. While working in the 3rd world countries might not suit everyone, I’d encourage people to find time to travel and experience the real dirty and ugly side of Big Rock even just once. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Let’s do more good on One Big Rock in 2016!

Looking at the world in 2015 through a humanitarian lens (Click here) has inspired me to write this short plead to all of you – let’s do more good on big rock this year.

“As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person.” ~Paul Shane Spear

I am not asking you to quit what you doing and take up development work professionally. This time every year we set ambitious goals and make resolutions to improve ourselves so what if we also throw a more selfless intention to make our world a better place?  Our world is in conflict, with terrorism, human trafficking, the plight of refugees, daily oppressions and poverty. Instead of spending time watching the grim news, we can make a positive difference right now.  By lending a hand and showing empathy for others, we can make a huge difference in someone else’s life. Being a good person is about the small things. It’s about how you treat other people, not how many people you have power over.

Whether you decide to volunteer at a local library, donate blood, foster an animal or even the smallest selfless act – it will make a difference. Don’t ever let anyone—yourself included—discourage from trying to be a better person. You never know what a difference we might make. Happy New Year.

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The shadow of the sun – a must read

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I am not sure why have I discovered Kapuscinski’s memoir from Africa only now! Worth a read even if you hold no interest in the continent (wait till you read it).

In 1957, Ryszard Kapuscinski arrived in Africa to witness the beginning of the end of colonial rule as the first African correspondent of Poland’s state newspaper. From Ghana to Rwanda, he hitchhikes with caravans, wanders the Sahara with nomads, and lives in the poverty-stricken slums of Nigeria. What emerges from pages of the book is an extraordinary view of Africa–not as a group of nations or geographic locations–but as a vibrant and frequently joyous montage of peoples, cultures, and encounters.