In Loving Memory of Jazz Virdee You will always be with us

Jazz’s Work

Jazz’s work in Uganda

December 31, 2006

Things have been crazzzy intense up here (Gulu), the work is non stop since the group ends in less than two weeks now. I’ve decided to stay in Gulu though, I’m still going traveling in April to Tanzania and Kenya but instead of volunteering in Kampala at the Foundation for Human Rights I’ve decided to come back to Gulu and act as team leader for the 2nd and 3rd groups coming from Montreal and have the chance to follow up on all these long term proposals and research that I’ve initiated, more about that in some future entry…

One of the projects that we’ve been working on while here is holding a soccer tournament as a way to bring the community together, for the entertainment of the locals the CVAP volunteers (the group of 10 that i’m with right now) will be playing a match tomorrow against our local partners in the city stadium…should be really embarrassing and amusing of course!

I’m still loving it here though, the day to day is frustrating because there’s so much to get done and everything works in slow motion here, people think we’re crazy with our agendas, writing down of appointments and actually expecting someone not to be an hour and half late! But spending time with some of the families we’re helping and then coming home to a clear sky and seeing 5 shooting stars within an hour makes up for that! (i know, i’m so cheese!) Miss you all!

March 25, 2007

So i’m in kampala and have a bus ticket for 7am tomorrow to nairobi. the last couple of weeks in gulu were SO busy! here’s some of the things i’ve been working on in the past 2 months:

-i started a youth forum with my friend jess that brings together youth from 6 groups to discuss issues like the challenges they face, how they operate, etc to help each other

– we researched schools and interview youths and their families to finally send ten to local vocational schools

– i’ve helped to start a daycare in a youth group which has gotten a bit out of control (they went from 26 to 300 and now 115 kids so we’ve suspended help until they get it back to a managable size)

– i’ve been proposal writing like mad – a goal that i’m working on is to get cvap to open a community workshop where all these people who get trained by ngos and can’t work since they can’t afford tools can go

– played soccer horribly in front of hundreds of people at a women’s gala that we threw (props out to genie and liz!)

– and of course jess and i threw a party on our last day for all the people we’re worked with!

it’s sounds like i’m bragging but everyone here’s been working really hard, and the projects you start working on suck you in and you just keep wanted to do more! that’s why i decided that instead of doing the human rights internship in kampala i’m staying in gulu to be a pseudo group leader for the next two groups and keep working on my projects.

anyways, i’m meeting anouk in nairobi tomorrow with my friends emily and nikki who are going to tag along for abou 10 days, we’re heading almost straight to arusha in tanzania to go on safari and mt.kilimanjaro adventures.

Jazz’s work in Mongolia

March 9, 2008

I have never in my life considered myself a morning person. Nonetheless it’s 5:23am and I’ve already had breakfast, helped an ex-housemate move tons of luggage down 5 flights, and watched an episode of Family Guy. I manage to stay up as late as possible but haven’t been able to get more than 3-4 hours of broken sleep in the past 3 nights, today I go on the hunt for sleeping pills.

Today is also my first day of Mongolian language school, I should probably school be practicing the Cyrillic alphabet right now… I’m going to have a few weeks of language training here in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city where I presume to learn the basics and then move on to my placement in Hutul where I’ll have no choice but to pickup the vocabulary or be left stranded. Despite the pressure, I’m really excited to learn Mongolian.

In the next week I’m hoping that what I’m doing here will be revealed, I started getting more clues yesterday when I met staff and the VSO Program office here in UB.

March 21, 2008

I’ve been living in Ulaanbaatar (UB) for one week now. It feels like a small lifetime that’s gone by in the wink of an eye. It’s an interesting place, only 18 years ago Mongolia was still a communist country under Soviet influence (if not rule) so it’s still very much under a transitional system working towards democracy and free markets.

Russian was the second language for decades so most people are bilingual, but English has recently emerged as the sought after language to learn. Yesterday at Bridge School International where I’ve been studying Mongolian a small graduation ceremony took place for a group of Mongolian students who’d invested their last four years in studying English, something you would have never found 20 years ago.

On the surface UB looks like any other developing world capital city I’ve been to. It’s polluted, there’s a rich core with museums, expensive boutiques, and government buildings surrounded by slums (in this case made up of gers – round traditionally nomadic felt houses); traffic clogs the streets, MTV plays on televisions in bars, stray dogs roam around, and street children (who live in the sewers here) know how to ask for money in English.

It’s a strange feeling, it’s apparent that I’m in a developing country but I have all the amenities available to me at home, I definitely know that I have yet to see “Mongolia”.

On April 3rd I’m off to the countryside to start work. I’m going to be staying in Hutul, a town of about 10,000 about 3.5 hours North from UB. I’m going to be working with an organization which focuses on empowering local women in the realms of education, secured livelihood and health awareness. The organization works with the help of several local volunteers and my job is going to be to build the capacities of these volunteers and the projects themselves. I’m being cautiously vague since my job description is not much more detailed and I doubt I’ll really understand and negotiate my role before spending at least a few weeks with the NGO.

One thing that I can say for sure is whatever it’s like it will be decisively Mongolian!

April 18, 2008

Darkhan one of the bigger towns in Mongolia and only a 40 minute drive from Hutul so I’ve been spending my week-ends here hanging out with the hub of VSO volunteers living in the city. It was interesting coming to Darkhan after my first week living in Hutul and talking to a colleague who was remarking on how quickly he ended up in a 9-5 routine in Darkhan. Not the case for me.

In Hutul I work for two organizations, my original mandate was to work for one headed by two women but upon arrival in Mongolia I found out that only weeks before my arrival the women had parted to create two NGOs so they could each head their own. My job description was already divided into two parts – building the capacity of the NGO it self as well as building the capacity of the national volunteers working for the NGO, the split meant that I would now be balancing those two initiatives between two organizations.

Both of my employers, N and D, are fulltime teachers and work in the mornings, so I don’t start work until 2pm the earliest. However, even then in the past couple of weeks I’ve only had a few days which could be considered an orientation to the work I’ll be doing. It’s difficult not to get wrapped up in that fact considering that I’m only here for another four and a half months with a lot of work to do but then I reflect on some of my best “meetings” these weeks such as getting invited to D’s home for dinner and discussing project ideas, or the discussion I had with N at lunch. They’re busy working mothers with great ideas but not a lot of time to invest in them but I’m hoping that we can get a momentum going soon.

Of course there’s still the question of what that momentum will look like. I was brought onto this project in the role of an advisor/capacity builder but it seems like other than a bit of fine tuning both the NGO’s are in need of fundraising more than anything, they have great ideas and know the community’s needs better than I ever could so there’s no point in me bringing in new project ideas, despite them asking for them, I think the best thing I can do is support what they already want to do, however without other NGOs, foreigner investors or organizations, or internet access to organizations to network with it will be interesting to see how I’ll manage that!

May 9, 2008

I think that Mongolia is in desperate need for restructuring its heating systems. The country runs on coal and apparently in the winter time the pollution in Ulaanbaatar is horrible turning the Eternal Blue Sky that Chinngis Khan once prayed to into eternal gray smog. When I got to the city in February it was cold but comparable to Montreal winters, what was ridiculous though was how I constantly had the windows open in my guess house because the heating system was set so high.

In Mongolia you either have heat or you don’t, and if you have it then it’s at the exact same temperature from October 1st until May 1st. In February I had the windows open, today a week into May, I’m sleeping in my thermals and under 4 blankets while it’s snowing outside!

Thermostats people.

I asked around about this and it seems like using the current system – despite the complete waste of coal, is cheaper than installing a controlled system. I think this situation epitomizes the problem of environmental protection in developing (or transitional) countries.

June 22, 2008

Keeping up-to-date with my blog has been a particular challenge for me lately. Things haven’t been going that well for the past little while and in trying to maintain a positive blog I’ve ended up simply avoiding the internet!

I’ve been reluctant to write negative things up to now but for some reason with recent changes in events I more willing to share now. Working in Hutul for the past 3 months has been somewhere between difficult and non-existent. Because both of my counterparts were fulltime teachers it was almost impossible to get them to dedicate more than a couple of hours every week to working on their NGO’s. Over last couple of weeks since school tapered off I’ve had the opportunity to work with them a little more but finally confirmed that their objectives were not going to coincide with those of my placement organization’s – thus I was pulled out.

After laborious negotiations I’m finally employed again and will starting working at the program office in Ulaanbaatar this week to conduct an impact assessment for VSO. I’m excited about the job, I’ll get to meet with many different organizations and get new skills under my belt but I’m sad that it didn’t work out in Hutul for many reasons.

Although the reasons I was asked to work in Hutul and the ones that I was actually brought there for had nothing to do with each other I worked hard to develop relationships with my counterparts and learn to live in simple circumstances. In UB although there is a large network of volunteers and ex-pats in general it’s a smoggy, noisy, expensive (relatively) city – not where I was hoping to work when I signed up! Nonetheless, I’m excited about the prospect of learning a bit more than the value of patience and the luxury of the occasional kettle water bath in my time in Mongolia.

Jazz in Haiti, via email

May 5, 2010

Hello everyone!

Sorry it’s taken me a while to send you this eagerly awaited email. Words to describe this last week+ in Haiti would be intense and busy. I’ve been working over 12 hours a day and there’s still always a lot of work to do. Currently I’m working with one a community development advisor who’s arrived only a day before me and is leaving in 2 weeks. At that point I’ll be the only one in Community Development.

So far this work has the objective of linking community development into the transitional shelter initiative here. Basically, CordAID is building thousands of shelters in both rural and urban areas but like most of the organisations here are only now starting to look at the impacts and needs of communities to develop a more holistic response.

I’m also acting as a Host Family Coordinator for the Shelter Cluster – this involves looking at what host families need in regards to support, how we had prevent the pull of the urban areas: the urban areas were worst affected and everyone fled to rural areas where 600,000 are being hosted, but with depleting resources there and cash-for-work and other opportunities available here due to the flood of aid they’re being driven back into IDP camps with terrible conditions.

So, that’s the work!

The security here’s intense (10pm curfew, can’t walk alone anywhere, etc) so I haven’t had the opportunity to explore to the extent that I would have by now in other places. But, I have visited some urban and rural areas, as well as slums in PauP (pics on fb) and it’s like nothing I’ve ever seek before. Ad hoc camps are set up everywhere, on my 2nd day we were driving to another city and ppl had pitched up tents on the median in the middle of the road – i’ve seen women my age bathing outside their tents with cars passing on either side. Haiti was the poorest country in the western hemisphere before the earthquake, low education rates, high infant mortality and malnutrition… and unfortunately the aid – despite being a lot – just isn’t enough.

Nonetheless, Haiti’s a beautiful country. It’s mountainous and green and the beaches, which I luckily had the opportunity to see last w/e are pristine. It’s difficult because I can see so much need and have already been told that I can stay here longer but I’ve decided to take the Aga Khan Dev’t Network job in London which has now been formally offered to me and starts in July and already told CordAID that they’ll need to look into hiring with a handover period before I leave…

I felt my first earthquake a couple of days ago. It was 4.4 on the Richter scale and 25km into the sea. I got a bit freaked out and had a hard time stopping my imagination from going crazy and imagining my building (which survived the first earthquake for good reason) from collapsing into the heaps of concrete rubble that you find all over this country. But, despite imagination, we’ll thankfully and hopefully never have to face what this country did in the hours preceding the quake which left 220,000 people dead.

Yikes, that’s a depressing note to end on! Let me make it clear – it’s not depressing to be here, the work’s really exciting and foreign to me but obviously intense, and when someone does tell you about the close family they lost less than 4 months ago it’s very sad. I don’t know if I would want to make a career in emergency relief after this – I never thought I would but now I wonder about it more. It’s so strange being at all these UN meetings on there compound, sitting under a tent with veterans of every disaster you can think of who have to pause to let helicopters and trucks pass by so they can be heard.

Point is, don’t know if it’s all for me yet, but glad I’m here right now.

Lots of love!

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