I Came, I Saw, I Learned: My Journey into the South Pacific


For this article we are privileged to hear from MIDP’s Rowena (Weng) Veloso, who provides a wonderfully informative and reflective piece about the experience of her recent Monash internship in Fiji.

‘Bula, na yacaqu o Weng’ (Hello, my name is Weng). This was my usual introduction in the communities I visited during my month-long internship in Fiji. Perhaps it was my funny accent in the Fijian tongue, but I found it amusing that most of the women in the different villages called me ‘Wendy’.
Before ending up at Monash to study a Master in International Development Practice by some twist of faith, I was an accountant and a Master of Business Administration graduate in the Philippines. I also worked at a multinational company for 7 years doing finance and sales. I suppose due to my background, I have always found the subject of financial education interesting and how the knowledge, or the lack thereof, could spell boon or bane for people.

I was one of the 5 students who volunteered for this year’s Fiji Impact Trip. The program is a collaboration between the Monash SEED, a student-run organisation, and the South Pacific Business Development (SPBD), the largest microfinance institution in Fiji, with branches spread throughout the country. Centre Managers, who are part of SPBD’s staff, are the institution’s front liners and managed the accounts of the members who organised themselves into groups and centres. One of my main tasks was to work with these different managers to visit four to five villages a day, where women held Centre Meetings to make weekly loan repayments and savings. During these gatherings, where the women also socialise and discuss any issues, I conducted member satisfaction surveys using a semi open-ended interview format aimed at gathering data and feedback on the participants’ experiences with SPBD.

My short stint in Fiji provided me with a greater insight into microfinance and financial literacy. Microfinance has become a bridge to financial inclusion for these women, most of whom are housewives, and some of whom are illiterate. It has enabled them to become financially included despite their lack of formal documents, collateral, and their villages’ lack of proximity to traditional financial institutions. I heard multitudes of amazing stories on how these women were able to start their own businesses, turn their skills into income-generating endeavours, improve their household, contribute to their children’s education, and build up their savings. Sadly, these narratives are not reflective of everyone as there were those who have not been able to pay their obligations, leading to a worse financial standing. Some of the women have been alienated from their communities as other members had to shoulder the debts because of the group and centre guarantee clause. Even though microfinance is often hailed as the panacea for poverty alleviation, it can also be a double-edged sword. Does it truly empower women or does it make others more vulnerable? There are no easy answers. Hopefully, I will get an opportunity to understand more of how microfinance plays out in gender and development.

Conducting the field work helped me gain a much greater appreciation for the theories I learned at university since I have no prior background in development, notwithstanding the fact that I am from a developing country myself. The field work reinforced the importance of cultural sensitivity, which was not only limited to the physical observance of wearing the sulu (traditional Fijian skirt), leaving my footwear at the door, or sitting on the mats with the women in the villages. Being culturally sensitive is essentially about respect. In this context it was also a celebration of the uniqueness of the Fijians I engaged with and of my own multicultural team. The acknowledgment of differences is also fundamental in practicing reflexivity, which is the awareness of how my own background could inform my biases. I also discovered that in dealing with people, no theory can ever substitute sincerity, empathy, and deep listening. It was indeed humbling to recognise that I came to Fiji not because I could teach something to the women, but because I needed to learn from them. Being open-minded enabled me to immerse myself in the stories of resilience from the ladies who warmly welcomed me into their homes and into their lives, even if it was for just a brief period.

This same kind of openness was what perhaps drove me to feel at home. Midway through the field work, in the villages and in the SPBD branches, I decided to embrace my Pacific Islander name ‘Wendy’, which I could never help telling people without a chuckle. Maybe this sense of having a newfound identity is quite telling of what’s in store for me in the future. A shift in career may not be far behind, who knows. For now, vinaka vakalevu (thank you) Fiji!

Rowena Veloso

Why MIDP? – The Journey

Joining us on the blog today is the newest member of the MIDPA committee, Presley Kajirwa. Presley shares with us the fascinating story of why he decided to study MIDP at Monash, and what he has gained from the experience so far.

Introduction:

Habari nyote! (Greetings to all!)
I am Presley Kajirwa, a young soul embracing his 20-something years miles away from my home country. I was born in Western Kenya. To reach my home you would have to embark on a nine-hour drive from the capital Nairobi.

When it comes to Africa, many people are only familiar with South Africa, but there are fifty-three other beautiful countries on the continent. I hate to be biased, but when it comes to my country, I cannot help but be overly patriotic and proud of the home that I did not choose. I come from a resource-rich country governed by ‘poor’ leaders (at least that Is what they pretend to be). My home is Kenya, aka Kenia, and we are the power house of East Africa, although of late we have been struggling to maintain that reputation.

Background:

It was mid-2015 when I graduated from Daystar University, located in Athi River, Kenya. Through my undergraduate course I learned about numerous topics, such as conflict resolution and transformation, peace studies, international relations, & security and refugee studies (just to name a few). I figured therefore that my future would lie in the military or development worlds. After two or three unsuccessful attempts at joining the men in uniform, I decided to focus more on my passion for development. This is how I ended up seeking more knowledge and skills at Monash. Prior to this period, I had temporary employment with international rescue committees, as well as an NGO tasked with protecting refugees and providing essential services once they were safe and settled.

What did I do there?

Apart from receiving and loading trucks with aid materials, we had chats with truck drivers who shared their fascinating stories. The most common narrative concerned how insecurity and poor infrastructure was a constant challenge to their ability to carry out their job of aid delivery.

Why Monash? Why MIDP?

While pondering the next move in my life, my family members recommended that I look into furthering my studies. Following my online research, I decided to settle for an Australian university. Monash University (and I am not saying this just because I am a student here), really stood out for me. I was intrigued by the fact that, from the campus website, I was able to visualise my life as a student both inside and outside of the lecture halls. The clarity, openness, and detailed information made me extremely eager to experience learning the Monash way.

Armed with my passion and experience, I enrolled in the Master of International Development Practice. To be honest, this course is so interesting that if I had the power to wind back time, I would study International Development Practice for my Bachelor’s degree. Aside from how fascinating and enlightening it is, I find this development course to be incredibly diversified, integrative, and realistic.

The goal!

Having completed my first semester, I look forward to building on what I have learnt throughout the remainder of the degree. I am also looking forward to the events put on by the MIDPA, particularly the tremendously-informative Brown Bag seminars. I think that every aspect of the experience of undertaking MIDP here in Melbourne is benefiting me and helping me to achieve my goals. I believe that development agents have a key role in social justice, streamlining public governance, and promoting progressive development. I cannot wait to contribute to these fields. After several windy winters and hot summers full of new experiences and memorable times, I know that the time will come that I will pack my bags for the trip back home. While I will certainly miss a lot, like the many insightful debates with interesting friends, at the same time I am eager for this period, for I know that I will return to my home as a wiser, more knowledgeable individual than the one that left. One that is far better-equipped to meaningfully contribute to making my country, and my planet, a better place to live for all.

Presley Kajirwa

On the Record: Indigenous Rights

For our fourth segment of On the Record, our Managing Editor, Kathy Hofilena, talks about Indigenous knowledge and their relationship to the environment. She also invites us to reflect on Indigenous Rights based on her experience in the Philippines, as well as considering the danger of appropriation and exploiting local knowledge.

Kathy

Q. Can you describe what is happening in this picture?
A. 2 years ago, a couple of friends and I were invited to visit one of the indigenous communities in the north of the Phillippines, in Buscalan. At that time, batok- a traditional tattooing technique- was becoming popular, so tourism to the region was increasing as a result. In this picture, you can see me getting a traditional Kalinga tattoo by Apo Whang-Od. She is the last mambabatok; the last traditional tattoo artist.

Q. Why did you choose this picture?
A. I chose this photo because thinking about Indigenous rights brings me back to that experience, to that tattoo. When I was there I also struggled with a lot of issues when it comes to Indigenous rights. Because I was acquiring something from their traditions, was I commodifying indigenous knowledge? Or was I helping them empower themselves by encouraging cultural economy? I was lucky enough to get a chance to talk to the elders and other community members, and they were actually very welcoming to tourists. They saw the influx of tourists as something that would benefit their community, as it would increase their income. In that way, they could become more independent and develop themselves in the way that they really wanted to. It definitely eased some of my concerns, but not all of them.

Q. What issues were you still concerned about?
A. Commodification, mostly. The tattoos were traditionally for headhunters, as a sign of bravery. For women, it was used as a sign of beauty. Some people, therefore, believe that these tattoos should only be had by headhunters and the elders, but others believe that it is something that should be shared with the wider community. This technique is something that they want to spread, and make known. It is important to note that this opinion was not imposed, but rather the community came up with this decision by themselves.

Q. What tattoo did you end up getting?
A. I got the traditional symbol for the scorpion, which represents strength and protection. A lot of their symbols derive from nature, like insects, eagles, centipedes, mountains… This relates to how, traditionally, their sense of spirituality and identity was drawn from nature. This is something that I really identify with and that I admire about them. It was actually when I was in this community that I truly witnessed how there are different kinds of ‘development’. Before that, I would only think of development as high-rise buildings and better public infrastructure. But indigenous people have their own self-determination and their own ideas of development, and it is only by respecting their ideas that you can have diversity in thinking about development instead of being stuck in one mind frame; that was what truly inspired me to pursue a career in international development

 

 

If you would be interested in participating on our next On the Record segment, please do not hesitate to contact our Content Editor at editor.midpassociation@gmail.com

On the Record: On Gender

On the Record is MIDPA’s freshest segment, combining the art of photography with the practice of development. Following the methodology of photovoice, we ask participants to capture an image on a topic they are passionate about, and then add their voice to these images. The consequent interview adds context to the images, encouraging debate and reflection.

In honour of International Women’s Day, our Content Editor, Feli Bran, kicks off this segment with her reflections on gender, beauty, and representation.

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Q. Why did you choose this picture in particular?

A. I stumbled upon this advertisement by accident in a busy downtown street in Sydney. I was still a bit unsure of what my contribution would be for the blog on International Women’s Day and then I saw this picture and felt such rage that the words just flowed from me.

Q. What is it about this picture that had your blood boiling?

A. I don’t really know where to start. I think when people state that we live in a post-feminist society, that gender is no longer an issue, that we all have equal rights, I struggle to see what they see. I was actually with my brother and my dad when I came across this image, and they did not seem to make much out of it but for me? It was like someone had dropped a cold bucket of water on me.

Q. Could you pinpoint why that was exactly?

A. I think as a girl you always have a tight balancing act of beauty versus intelligence. I remember being a teenager and ‘uglifying’ myself on purpose because I wanted people to take me seriously. Society had taught me that a pretty woman was just that: a trophy to be paraded to the world. And that was the only thing I had to aspire to. I struggled a lot because I knew I wanted more out of life than being someone’s property. I felt like I was being placed into a box that I had not subscribed to and had no way whatsoever of getting out.

This is just one example of how women’s bodies are constantly commodified and objectified. It makes me feel powerless feeling like my main goal in life as a woman is to achieve a certain paragon of beauty that is completely unrelated to who I am as a human being. This is society telling us: you have no ownership over your body but rather your body is a vessel for others to appreciate. Men are not subjected to this kind of pressure to this extent; these double standards never fail to get me riled up.

Q. So is it more of a personal issue?

A. Yes, and no. That was my experience, but I am also a white latina. Imagine being a woman of colour and stumbling upon this advert. Apparently, perfect beauty means a skinny white woman with long blonde hair –but hairless everywhere else! – that has a noticeable cleavage. How would you feel? You can clearly see that colonialism and oppression still feature heavily in our society; they have just become subtle in their rhetoric. We only need to open our eyes to actually see it.

 

 

If you would be interested in participating in On The Record, please do not hesitate to contact our Content Editor at editor.midpassociation@gmail.com
 
 

WYLT… Attend this IPCS Seminar?

Visualising Solidarity: Forging everyday humanitarianism through public representations of development

Prof. Uma Kothari

Since the 1980s there has been a vast proliferation of campaigns, charity adverts, musical movements, fair trade marketing, celebrity endorsements and media promotions to support humanitarian causes. More recently, we have witnessed a growth in the role of visual media in guiding diverse publics on how they might perceive and act upon calls for a shared responsibility. Foundational to the success of these visual representations is their capacity to invoke care and compassion for suffering others, to motivate people in some parts of the world to donate money and other forms of assistance to people elsewhere. Despite their increased profile, the visual strategies that such campaigns deploy have provoked critiques that they reproduce racialised stereotypes, reinforce colonial hierarchies and embed inequalities, notably through reproducing iconographies of, for example, conflict, famine and poverty. Nevertheless, might these popular representations of humanitarianism and development have the potential to instil ideas of global interconnectedness and forge new kinds of global solidarity? Alternatively, do visual images and the increasing involvement of public figures, celebrities and the media obscure the structural dimensions of race, racism and inequality thus limiting the possibilities for forging a common humanity? In this presentation, I will explore these issues through an analysis of colonial and contemporary uses of popular, visual campaigns. I subsequently examine forms of resistance and creative subversion that contest problematic depictions of other people and that aim to challenge the meanings that inhere in mediatised representations. The presentation concludes by considering what kinds of visual representations might lead to more critical thinking about prevalent concepts of self and other, and difference and commonality. How can such representations solicit more considered responses to charity campaigns and thereby promote and sustain new forms of transnational solidarity?

Uma Kothari is Professor of Migration and Postcolonial Studies and former Director of the Global Development Institute, at the University of Manchester, UK. Her research interests include international development and humanitarianism and migration, refugees and diasporas. Her research has involved a number of funded projects, most recently an Australian Research Council project on International Volunteering and Cosmopolitanism and a Norwegian Research Council project on Perceptions of Climate Change and Migration. Her current research is on Visual Solidarity and Everyday Humanitarianism. She has published numerous articles and her books include Participation: the new tyranny?, Development Theory and Practice: critical perspectives, and A Radical History of Development Studies. She was recently made a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and conferred the Royal Geographical Society’s Busk Medal for her contributions to research in support of global development.

https://www.facebook.com/events/615493131983164/

Get Inspired by Amnesty International

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Amnesty International Monash – Caulfield

In lieu of the United Nations International Day for Zero Discrimination, our editorial team attended a talk about Marriage Equality arranged by Amnesty International Monash Caulfield (AIMC).

For all those of you who might have missed it, Amnesty International is currently campaigning for equal rights to marriage in Australia. As stated on their website “All of us have a right to be free from discrimination. That includes discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation”. This is a fundamental part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is important to highlight that, on a global scale, 23 countries have already made same-sex marriage possible. [Fun fact: The Netherlands were the first country to introduce the necessary legislative measures in 2001 with Finland being the latest nation to join the ranks.]

It is curious to note that according to Amnesty International’s report, two-thirds of Australians think that everyone should have equal access to marriage. However, this is still a contentious issue wich continues to be pushed back by Australian politicians. With this campaign Amnesty International is trying to reform the Marriage Act, so it allows everyone to get married and have the same rights.As part of the campaign Amnesty International have created this video:

By the end of the talk we had the opportunity to interview the president of AIMC, Marco La Rocca, about the campaign:

“Marriage equality is a campaign conducted by Amnesty international Victoria that tries to pressure Parliament to push for the right for everyone to get married. Act Now with us, Amnesty International Monash Caulfield, by signing the petition at our stall, or directly trough Amnesty International’s website. Marriage is about love and commitment and, in a country based on equal citizenship, it should be possible for everyone to marry the person they love.

If this sounds like something you could get on board with, do not hesitate to visit Amnesty International’s website to learn more about how you can make Marriage Equality in Australia a reality.

 

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