Standing Up For What You Believe in: A True Story

For today’s article we have recent MIDPA alumni Javier discussing the process of finding one’s place upon graduating from university. Tossing up between staying in Australia and returning home, as well as being faced with an enormously difficult ethical dilemma, this is an enormously engrossing piece to read. We hope you enjoy it.

As I promised to former MIDPA president Clemency Sherwood-Roberts and current president Aakansha Kedia, I am going to write about ethics and staying true to yourself.

To me, the number one factor in this regard is bravery. This buzz-word is what is required to keep your ethics intact, not just for the sake of avoiding punishment, but for the sake of not doing what is wrong. I read somewhere that we are not who we are for what we do, but for what we resist doing. Working in development is not easy, the way of the world today is so complex that it is hard to know what direction to take. I finished my Master’s degree in International Development Practice at Monash University in November 2017 (Yay! Go me!) and when I finished I was faced with one of the biggest decisions of my life. I had to choose between staying in Australia and going back to Mexico. I had two perspectives, in Australia I was going to be able to earn a good income at a low effort, and the impact in the community that I could provide was going to be faster but less significant. If I went back to my home country, the impact of my studies would be enough to benefit a wider population, but also in the longer-term, I think I am needed more in Mexico. Unfortunately, the structure for social development is lacking.

With my Bachelor’s degree I am recognised by the community in my country as a Marketing guy. Often, even after I inform someone of what I just studied, their first question for me is about my specialization in marketing. It drives me nuts! Anyhow, I come back home to Mexico, and soon after receive a job offer as Marketing Chief in a world-famous motorcycle brand. The moment the offer came to me I was so happy and excited at beginning at a new company (even if my life-long dream of being a hippie sociologist who assists communities was temporarily on hold, the income was going to be good enough to buy my dreams back). But something inside me told me be careful, but that voice was silenced once I saw the3-digit salary (something really hard to get here). However, here begins the real adventure. I was brought in by the marketing team to review the successful campaigns and generate strategies on how to replicate these promotions. When I was reviewing the promotions, I came across this image:

A woman dressed in a very small bikini, handwashing the motorcycle with a lot of foam and soap. I remember my internal voice saying what irony! From Gender and Development to this. I leapt to the front of the room and explained to the whole team about why this image was objectifying the female body,and how I was not able to work in an environment with values like that. I said I was sorry, but nothing could change my mind, it was the kind of rant that you end with a mic drop. Obama out!

I didn’t say we have to be professional in every area of our lives, however, I did lecture on how this kind of promotion was against my principles. I asked my boss to speak with me in private so we could discuss how I could terminate my contract as quickly as possible without affecting the company. I finished my contract with the motorcycle company and immediately jumped back into the company that I had. Four years ago I created a tea distribution company and I am now using its structure to increase female empowerment in my area.

The lesson that I want you to take with you from this piece, that took me up to two weeks to write, and that I am still struggling with is: keep tight to your virtues and morals, they are who you are and what defines you. Don’t choose a job that pays well just because it pays well, do what makes you happy. Find a way to do it. Use your past to your own benefit. Right now, I am seen as the Marketing guy in my community. I cannot change this, what I now understand is that I can change the way we do business in my community, applying concepts that I learned in the Gender and Development unit and throughout MIDP. Finally, decide what is most important to you. For me it was my family and having a positive impact in the community. What are your priorities? What can you do and what do you want to have an impact on? By following these simple rules, you can always follow your morals!

Javier
Marketing & Partnerships (2016)

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

Renewable Energy: a mess or a hope?

Joining us on the blog today is our colleague Eva Medianti, who writes informatively on the current state of renewable energy, the importance of switching from fossil fuels, and what is required in order for this change to occur.

Facts of energy usage

The world’s energy consumption has increased significantly, aligning with the growth in human population and development. 5 billion people on our planet enjoy energy to support their activities, but more than 1 billion people still lack this access. The biggest contributors to energy consumption are heating, cooling, transportation, and power. Energy use for heating and cooling accounted for more than 50% of world energy consumption in 2016. This heating includes water heating, space heating, and cooking. Oil use accounted for 32.9% of global energy consumption, which mostly related to transportation sectors. High dependency on private transportation significantly boosts demand for oil. Power demand, though not as significant as the other two, is also a large source of demand for energy.

Unfortunately, in 2015 the source of the world’s energy generation was dominated by fossil fuels energy (80.7 %), while renewable energy only provided 19.3 % of supply. The majority of this fossil fuel use concerned coal and oil. High dependency on non-renewable energy has numerous disadvantages. It produces carbon emissions, which increase global warming and trigger climate change. Climate change causes detrimental effects such as increased variability of climate, which increases the intensity and frequency of extreme -weather events; rising sea levels, leading to island erosion, which can result in climate refugees; and coral bleaching that threatens the marine life ecosystem and the fisheries industry. In addition to its severe impacts on the environment, fossil fuels such as oil are declining significantly. Therefore, the natural resources created over billions of years has been extracted and will soon vanish, all because of human activities in the past few centuries since the industrial revolution begun. Like it or not, the world must transform its energy supply to renewable energy. Otherwise, we will be unable to continue to enjoy modern development as we understand it.

The current progress of energy generation in the world

Renewable energy offers safe, environmentally-friendly energy, and is self-sustaining. Global renewable energy in 2016 was 19.3%, and within the last decade, it only increased by 2.8 percent on average, mostly by hydropower, solar power, and wind energy. However, its growth is only slightly above demand growth in energy demand due to the high increase in global population. The question is how to supply the energy demands of 6 billion people with renewable energy. Technology, funds, and politics will underpin the change required, not to mention the switch of mindset in energy preferences. It is a battle between the rising new industries and the enormous fossil fuel industry.

Where is Australia?

Australia is one of the highest per capita users of carbon emissions in the world (McCarthy, Eagle, & Lesbirel, 2017). It also depends highly on coal, both as its main electricity generator, contributing 63% of its electricity, and as a national income generator, with 90% of black coal production being exported. In addition, in 2016 38% of energy consumption came from oil. These numbers show the significant role of fossil fuels in the Australian energy portfolio. This highlights the importance of funds, stakeholders, and policy in the industry.

On the other hand, Australia has the natural resources for renewable energy supplies. Its abundance of sunshine and wind are two of its most valuable potential resources. However, it has not optimised these resources to its full capacity. Australia’s renewable energy generation only contributes to 17.3 percent of total energy generation. Its main resources for renewable generation come from hydropower, wind, and solar, which contribute 42.3%, 30.8%, and 18.3 % respectively. In relation to the rest of the world, Australia is ranked fifth together with Greece for solar PV capacity per capita category. Renewable energy sectors in Australia in 2016 provided employment for 11,150 people, with the biggest contribution coming from solar and hydro energy. However, country-level reports do not identify the progress of renewable energy by state. South Australia, ACT, and Tasmania lead the rest of the country in their energy policies and implementation, while Western Australia and Northern Territory’s programs are still in their infancy. Speeding up the renewable energy growth in all states is a major challenge. Increasing the rate of change is necessary to boost renewable energy performance in competing with the fossil fuels business.

In conclusion, shifting from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy requires considerable effort and well-planned strategies. It also demands that all levels of society make an energy preference decision, not just major actors with access to power, large funds, and technology. In other words, this change should happen on both a global and household level. Australia is an example of the struggle for change in energy preference decisions in the world. There is a long way to go, but it is not impossible. Energy generation strategy development should include social, economic, and environmental dimensions to create sustainability in human development. This is necessary in order for the luxury of energy to be able to be enjoyed by future generations.

Eva
Sustainability Officer (2017)

From Army Green to Blue Jeans

Joining us on the blog today is the MIDPA’s very own Wonder Woman, Francel Taborlupa. Francel has over twenty years of experience in the Philippines’ Armed Forces and is a passionate advocate of peacebuilding and gender equality. Today she shares her inspiring story and what made her switch from active service to academia.

Back in my training days at the Philippine Military Academy, I used to chant: “Momma, momma can’t you see, what the corps has done to me. I used to wear my blue jeans, now I’m wearing Army green…” 21 years in the service and having reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel later, I would chant those same words, but vice-versa. In my regimented life, where everything is measured (including swinging of arms when you walk), discipline was inculcated through rigid training, fixed schedules, and a hierarchical way of doing things.

My perspective on life has since radically changed in multifarious means. Let me count the ways:

– I used to critically measure my actions, be rigid on schedules and strive to prove myself at par with my male counterparts, being one of the few pioneer females in “the land of kings”. Now, I have embraced the idea of feminism in all contexts.
– I used to actively compete in shooting competitions to better prepare for war. Now, I am a strong advocate for human rights and I am keen on mitigating the long-lasting effects of conflict to those afflicted.
– I used to be a VIP protector to Presidents, Heads of States and other dignitaries having worked in the Presidential Security Group perceiving them to be figureheads of their sovereignty. Now, I see them as “objects of change”.
– I used to be an “ethical hacker” being a signal/communications officer by specialization, which is ironic since there really is nothing “ethical” about hacking. Now, my eyes are open to the daunting concept of ethics in research.

But how did this happen? I had my Eureka moment when I joined my kids in an activity for a cause. We strutted the runway in a fashion show for the benefit of cancer-stricken children. It was then that I realised I had another calling… to be a model! Just kidding! To make a significant difference for the silenced and the forgotten. It was then that I realised that I wished to become a development practitioner.

I tried my luck by applying for the Australian Defence Cooperation Scholarship Program. It was both a shift in perspective and a breath of fresh air from the grief my kids and I are facing: the tragic loss of my husband, a Coastguard Rescue Pilot who recently passed away as a hero in a chopper crash. He saved the lives of his passengers but gave up his own in doing so. Life goes on, and so the saga continues…

Fast Forward to Wominjeka Australia! I was both in shock and awe at Uni life. I have found an awesome squad I belong to and was welcomed to the world of apt Referencing! (don’t even get me started!) I used to believe that “development” is all about good and positive for those seeking to “develop”. Now, I have seen otherwise. That development is not all rainbows and butterflies, so to speak. I used to perform field mission security duties. Now, field missions are done “development practitioner style”. I used to don my Army greens now I’m wearing Uni jeans.

I am about to open doors of wider responsibility and leadership and my Australian education sends me off equipped with newfound knowledge and good rules of thumb, ready to face the herculean task of making development right. To be able to make a significant difference in the world -not for personal gain, but for the benefit of the community- by applying what I have learned towards winning peace, rather than winning the war.

You asked me: “Why development?” Well mate, I dare say, why not!?

Francel Taborlupa
Partnerships Officer 2017

Mumbai to Melbourne: A Story in Three Acts

Joining us today on the blog is MIDPA’s very own Vice-President, Aakansha Kedia. Aakansha takes a very unique and creative approach to explain her journey and the steps that led her to pursue a Master in International Development Practice at Monash University. Join her while she delights us with a voice over of her story in three acts.

ACT 1
FADE IN
EXT. MUMBAI, INDIA

*AAKANSHA (Voice Over)*

Emilie Wapnick once used a term that immediately resonated with me: multipotentialite. While there exists a group of people who are born to specialize, I believe that I belong to a tribe where members do not have just the one interest. It was art and theatre at school, communication and design soon after. Among all of this ran a common thread: the belief in creating a positive impact in society by adding value to every form of dialogue.

After I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Media, I was ecstatic at being able to work for one of India’s largest media houses. I was involved in several departments and got the chance to work with some of the biggest brands. However, I found myself wanting more. I wanted to be involved in something that was bigger than the organization and bigger than myself.

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This was when I was assigned to work on Operation Black Dot. Almost half of India’s population is under the age of 35, making our youth a formidable force to enable good governance. Sadly, two-thirds of educated Young Indians living in urban cities do not engage with politics due to its general perception as being ‘boring’, ‘complicated’ and ‘dirty’. The objective of the campaign was to bring about a positive mindset shift and encourage the target audience to vote in the General Elections. What began as just another advertising gimmick evolved into a movement that enabled students to cast their votes for the first time.

FADE OUT

ACT 2

CUT TO
EXT. MUMBAI, INDIA
FADE IN

Jumping onto the other side of the cliff, I was entrusted to spearhead the company’s first flagship initiative, The Green Batti Project. ‘The company’ being a for-profit social enterprise called Social Quotient, where I acted as Executive Director. Symbolic with the green colour of a traffic light, the programme’s name signifies to ‘move forward’. It was a mentoring program that paired young professionals with children from under-resourced communities. Through an exchange of life skills and soft skills, we wanted to empower the children to break through prevalent socio-economic barriers. From recruiting quality young professionals as mentors to establishing a strong foundation of partnership with Teach For India, to branding and event management, I had embarked on an exhilarating ride.

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Although I had reached the stage where I was designing the mentoring curriculum and delivering training sessions for new mentors, it was accompanied with a turmoil of emotions. I was proud to have achieved so much in so little time and happy to notice the general success of the project. But who was I to run this project? Was I worthy of this position? Did I have the necessary skills? Was I being true to the needs of the mentees? Is there scope for trial-and-error? This was the moment when I took a breather, stepped back, and decided to pursue a Master’s course. For the first time in 24 years, I understood what people meant when they said: ‘I think this is my calling’. If this was mine, I wanted to do it right. I wanted to start afresh, away from India, out of my comfort zone.

FADE OUT

ACT 3

CUT TO
EXT. MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA
FADE IN

For me, the MIDP course at Monash is a perfect blend for the specialists and the multipotentialites. As a student with no prior academic background in development studies, this has been one of my best experiences. Soon into this new world of mine, a hashtag emerged, #MagicalMelbourne. I am filled with gratitude each time I am in a conversation with students pursuing this course, the sheer diversity – of ethnicities, gender, age, experiences, ideas & beliefs- of the cohort is a wonder on its own. In this past one and a half year, I have had so many reel-to-real moments. From the teaching pedagogy, to student life on campus and beyond, it felt like I was finally experiencing things I would watch in movies and TV shows or conversations with cousins and friends around the world.

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What this course has absolutely managed to achieve for me is instill a love for learning and a drive to collect new experiences. I started to admire the depth of knowledge that was expected from the students. Writing this blogpost in my third Semester, I have now started to observe a pattern in my assignments. Most of them have an underpinning of psychological wellbeing & mental health. How did this happen? Does this mean anything? I still don’t know. I went from struggling to write a 250 word reading diary, to being enrolled in a year long Research Thesis unit. Have I made the right decision? Does this mean I want to be a researcher and not a development practitioner? I don’t know. Will I go back to India and work for a social enterprise or an NGO? Will my career be in public health and development? Will I be able to ‘make a difference’? The truth is, I don’t know.

*AAKANSHA (thinking to herself)*

So why study a Master of International Development Practice? Simple. Because this rollercoaster of emotions will push me to be the best version of myself.

FADE OUT

THE END.

Aakansha
Vice President (2017)

Development and Climate Change: The Case of Papua New Guinea

Joining us on the blog today is fellow MIDP student, Omega Nelson. Omega reflects on the complex relationship between development and climate change, and what inspired him to pursue a Master’s in International Development Practice at Monash.

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A bit about myself…

My name is Omega Nelson, I am an international student from Papua New Guinea. I am from East Sepik province in the northern part of PNG, but I live and work in the capital Port Moresby. Before undertaking the Master of International Development Practice at Monash University, I worked for the Climate Change & Development Authority (CCDA) of the PNG government.

The CCDA is the government agency responsible for all issues pertaining to climate change mitigation and adaptation and is also concerned with strategies, policies, and implementation in relation to the PNG governments’ development aspirations. In my employment with the government of PNG, I served in several different roles, ranging from program officer to policy analyst, and eventually to management.

In my different capacities I have been involved in advocacy and awareness on climate change, policy consultation and formulation, data collection and vulnerability assessment, as well as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) international negotiation process. I have been humbled by the different experiences I have encountered so far.

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Why International Development Practice?

My decision to take up a master’s degree in international development practice was strongly influenced by my line of work. Having worked in climate change mitigation and adaptation for almost a decade now, I have been involved in numerous programs and projects, many of which were extremely complex and multi-sectoral issues.

What became a deciding factor for me in choosing MIDP was that while working for the government, I was heavily involved in the formulation of climate change policies, strategies, and legislation. This was all well and good, but I really wanted to see how these instruments we previously developed would be translated into tangible positive outcomes for the people of Papua New Guinea. I felt that this was a real challenge for me as an individual moving forward.

The climate change legislation, policies, measures, and strategies are now in place. How does PNG take the step forward towards reaching its development priority of transforming from a situation of ‘business as usual’ to a more green and sustainable economy?

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What I hope to gain out of my time at Monash

After completing my Master’s in International Development Practice, I hope to return back to Papua New Guinea with a clearer understanding of the relationship between development and the complex cross-cutting issues of climate change. I feel that with this understanding and the development tools acquired, I will be able to contribute meaningfully in my own way towards the advancement of PNG’s development in light of the current adverse impacts of climate change that the country is facing.

Omega Nelson
Student

A Reflection on the State of Education in Rural Cambodia Today

Joining us on the blog today is our guest contributor, Emily Maiorino. Emily has been volunteering at Oaktree for 12 months as a partnership manager. She has been working on the Girls’ Education Initiative (GEI) which is an education program targeting vulnerable and marginalised youth in rural Cambodia. Her role has been providing program support to their implementing partner organisation in Cambodia. She is also currently studying a Master’s of International Development at RMIT, due to finish in June 2018. Today, she draws from her own personal experience to share some insightful reflections on the state of education in rural Cambodia.

Basic education is a fundamental human right but, although the Cambodian Constitution guarantees education to every Cambodian child, a considerable gap remains between rhetoric and reality. Significant barriers to accessing quality education still exist across the country, particularly for rural youth, girls and ethnic minority groups. As part of my research working on a girls education project over the past year, I have gained insight into the current problems existing within the Cambodian education system.

1. Cambodian classroom

The issues facing rural youth

Despite the fact that 80% of Cambodia’s population live in rural environments, schools in rural districts face inadequate facilities, lack of resources, poor governance and higher dropout rates than their urban counterparts. Indigenous ethnic groups and diverse Austroasiatic dialects also pose challenges and barriers to rural education.

The proportion of the country estimated to be under 30 varies from more conservative estimates of 59% to as high as 65.3%. The rising number of young Cambodians entering the workforce is creating a pattern of national and international employment migration. Studies have named Kampong Cham as the second major sending area for youths searching for employment. 60% are female.

Kampong Cham and Tbong Khmum provinces are the most densely populated region of the country, even surpassing the capital, Phnom Penh. The Mekong River divides the Kampong Cham and Tbong Khmum provinces, creating a rich floodplain for agricultural practices. The region continues to be well known for rubber, cassava and tobacco plantations, which engage a significant amount of child and youth labour. Factories owned by foreign investors are penetrating the region and employing thousands of young women and men. Through my own qualitative data collection, I identified that a direct correlation exists between the emergence of new factories within close proximity to rural communities, and increased secondary school dropout rates.

The imminent need for stable financial security drives youth -particularly women and girls- out of education and into employment. Gender roles are firmly structured and historically, women have seldom been associated with success in education or business. Hierarchical and patronage roles are also embedded deeply within Cambodian culture which limits the female role models available for inspiration. Young women and girls often leave formal education to work in the domestic sphere or seek employment to generate income for their family. The critical period for girls is lower secondary school (grades 7-9) when the majority of dropouts occur. In many cases, the increased employment opportunities and paychecks that stem from further education do not appear to be a payoff that is justified by the associated costs of school.

2. Cambodia Krochmar and Chumnik Student Interaction

Rebuilding education

Cambodia is in the process of rebuilding its education system after its collapse under the Khmer Rouge. Over the 15 years, education campaigns and policy reforms have promoted the value and importance of education as a national priority (see the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) website regarding education for policies, strategies, legislations, and statistics). Through the commitment of MoEYS and interventions from international agencies, an attitudinal shift is occurring at a national scale.

Presently, around 97% of children are enrolled in primary school, with gender parity achieved for boys and girls. This initial step focussed largely on the expansion of access to education and increasing enrollment rates. Lack of quality education, however, remains the crucial issue and has resulted in significant numbers of children repeating grades or failing to complete even primary education. Low literacy and numeracy levels in secondary school are some of the consequences of low-quality education. The current agenda remains strongly focussed on quality education, teacher training, capacity building, gender and overall equality.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and accompanying international pressures drove a sense of urgency in regards to education reform. Cambodia joined UNESCO’s Education For All (EFA) program in 2003, which kickstarted the next decade of strategic planning. Partnerships between MOEYS and international agencies that formed during this time have worked to combat systemic issues and cultural norms. A long list of programs, policies, research initiatives, action plans, monitoring reports, and goals have been the product of the last 15 years of work in education.

3. Cambodian students writing

Where do we go from here?

The disparities that still exist in the Cambodian education system are affecting the most vulnerable and marginalised groups of its society. The barriers and challenges are particularly ubiquitous for rural youth and girls. Nonetheless, Cambodia’s education system is in a racing upwards trajectory. Through international NGOs, foreign aid, partnerships between states and institutions and rising local support, quality education is high on the national agenda.

“To build a quality higher education system that develops human resource with excellent knowledge, skills and moral values in order to work and live within the era of globalization and knowledge-based society” – MOEYS’ 2030 vision for higher education

MOEYS’ vision reflects the national desire for Cambodia to match ASEAN’s economic growth and prosperity. There’s still a long way to go to in terms of achieving equitable access to quality education for all, but I do think strides are being taken in the right direction. The education system will be in the spotlight over the coming decades and my hope is that it remains a national priority. While a future independence from international aid would be ideal, at present, multilateral efforts are displaying encouraging results for young Cambodians aiming to fulfill their right to education.

 

 

References

ASEAN. (2013). State of Education Report.

UNESCO. (2015). Education for All National Review.

UNICEF. (2015). Annual Report Cambodia.

 

 

MIDPA listed as a Top 50 Gender Equality Blog

MIDPA’s past and present Editors, Clemency Amanda Feli and Kathy, have an exciting announcement to share with our community.

A year ago we started the MIDPA Blog with the vision of providing a non-bias space where students and like-minded individuals in the development and humanitarian sectors could grow ideas, express frustrations and share their light-bulb moments outside of the academic environment. During this time we have also heard from you, our audience of peers, contributors and readers alike. It is your ongoing input that continues to inspire us.

As the past and present editors of this blog, we can confirm that volunteering time for something you so passionately believe in is not always a perfect experience. There are times when you can briefly lose sight of the bigger picture as the smaller day-to-day details consume your passion. During these times, we become preoccupied by concerns over our readership and reach, our diversity of voice, our relevance, continuing our momentum. But then there are the moments that make it all worth it. When we can’t quite believe that our hard work, the commitment of our team and our collective dedication and drive has received recognition. It makes everything golden.

And today is golden! It is our absolute honour and pleasure to announce that midpa.org have been listed as one of the Top 50 Gender Equality Blogs on the planet! Considering the giants of gender equality also listed we are beside ourselves: UN Women Watch, Malala Fund, The New York Post, HeForShe, The Fawcett Society, One Woman Project to name a few.

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It’s perfect timing, considering it was Diversity & Inclusion Week and now Women’s Week at Monash University. At MIDPA, we have continually pushed for diverse voices to be heard, invited students to discuss their experiences of gender in/equality from across the world and called our audience to join the debates.

And in our search for diverse voices, MIDPA doesn’t just focus on gender. We cover a broad spectrum of topics from international development, sustainability, environment to academic development, professional development and so much more. We will continue to strive in this direction, making sure that all your voices are heard loud and clear.

Today we are awake to the power of individuals and that social activism is relevant and important. It is because of you, our amazing community of dedicated contributors, readers and sharers, that we have received this honour and recognition. We look forward to continuing this journey with articles that persistently make us think, discuss, question, and debate.

As always, we are excited to hear from you! Continue the discussion with your comments and get in touch with us at editor.midpassociation@gmail.com if you’d like to contribute as a writer!

   

Saving States: Why the Future of Small Island Countries Demands Global Sustainability

Joining us today is the blog’s newest Content Editor, Anthony Huber. A fellow MIDP student, Anthony writes a powerful call to arms for a cause that is very close to his heart: ensuring a safe future for Small Island Countries.

In September 2014 Apia, the capital of Samoa, hosted the Third International Conference of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The four day conference shone a spotlight on countries in which sustainable development is of particular importance in strategies of coping with their unique vulnerabilities. The conference produced the Samoa Pathway, which largely reaffirmed previous commitments and called for increased partnerships and collaboration between people, governments, civil society, and the private sector. A wide and diverse body of actors (including UNICEF, the IMF, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and representatives of ninety countries), released similarly strongly-worded statements that highlighted an awareness of the severity of the environmental challenges SIDS faced, and committed to assisting them in managing these issues. It is noticeable that the same purposeful, wholehearted rhetoric that has been present in official statements and declarations on combating climate change for decades is also being employed here. The world is sympathetic, but sympathy won’t stop the sea from swallowing up people’s villages. It hasn’t so far.

sids

For a number of low-lying island countries, the situation could not be more urgent. Their state, society, and the continuation of their culture as it exists today, are all under exceptionally grave threat. The intergovernmental panel on climate change has identified the following states as being distinctly at risk of ‘permanent inundation’: the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Maldives, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Micronesia, and the islands of Antigua and Nevis, of Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis respectively. The Solomon Islands have already lost five islands to the sea. Some Ni-Vanuatu villagers have been forced to evacuate their homes and flee to higher-ground islands. According to the UN Department of Public Information (1999), an 80-cm-rise in sea levels would leave two-thirds of Kiribati and the Marshall Islands immersed. States in the Global North will not suffer from these kinds of catastrophic ramifications of climate change for many years yet. As a result, the substantial changes required in order to save these states and improve global sustainability are not yet being effectively undertaken. The international community needs to work harder to reduce their contributions to rising sea levels. The people of SIDS are desperate, and their leaders have made headlines with public pleas to the international community to step up and take responsibility for solving problems that they created.

In the absence of sufficient political capital, even united as intergovernmental organisations such as the Coalition of Low-lying Atoll Nations on Climate Change and the Alliance of Small Island States, they have been forced to resort to appealing to people’s notions of justice. This has proven predictably unsuccessful. But it is indeed intolerably- unfair that the people causing the least negative impacts on the planet are the ones who are bearing the brunt of the consequences of the unsustainable habits of others.

So far, the international response has been a disconcerting litmus test of their will to act to prevent such disastrous, foreseeable, and preventable outcomes from taking place. We must face the fact that there are some development issues that, tragically, will not be realistically resolved before their worst impacts materialise. Then-president of Kiribati Anote Tong declared in 2015 before the UN General Assembly that, for the low-lying atoll islands, it was ‘already too late’. He lamented that “there’s a limit to how many times you can tell a story people are not listening to”. In Australia later that year he also issued a demand to Australians to cease their avoidance of the issue: “I challenge people, leaders in Australia to face the reality. Or let them say ‘I don’t care’ and then go to church next Sunday.“. Kiribati’s government have bought a 5,500 acre package of land in Fiji for relocation.

The future is still undetermined and the SIDS that face existential threats from rising sea levels have the ability and the ingenuity to come up with (and carry out) their own solutions to protect their islands. Many would disagree with Anote Tong’s pessimistic view. There are no boundaries to the ingenuity of humankind. Furthermore, there are many actions that can be taken by a number of different stakeholders to significantly affect the outcome; the disappearance of these islands is not inevitable.

States like China, Singapore, and the Netherlands have long engaged in successful land reclamation efforts, but the momentous scale of the task required to protect SIDS from rising sea levels would be extremely cost-intensive, well beyond the financial capabilities of most SIDS. It appears more likely that the international community will share the burden of incorporating the thousands of climate refugees, than the likelihood of every stakeholder banding together to build the infrastructural safeguards and land reclamation practices necessary to conserve the islands. Only time will tell. If the former comes to pass, it will likely signal a substantial blow to the faith that impoverished people affected by climate change have in the probability that the world will come together to prevent climate change-related calamities before they eventuate. The world is excellent at uniting for disaster relief, far less so for preventing disaster in the first place. This needs to change immediately. If the pleas of islanders desperate to prevent their homes and societies from going under are not enough to compel us to adapt our sustainable lifestyles, what will be? Make no mistake: continued procrastination will equal catastrophe.

References:
United Nations Department of Public Information (1999). Press Kit on Small Islands: Issues and Actions. New York, NY: UN.

Anthony Huber
Content Editor (2017)

Life in the Field: A Snapshot

Have you ever wondered what life as a researcher in the field would be like? Are you considering doing some field work but are not sure if it is the right fit for you? MIDPA’s Managing Editor, Feli Bran, shares insights from her first experience in the field and reflects on the reasons why having some field experience is an invaluable asset for your future career.

As a part of my degree, I went on a three-week intensive course in Malaysia called Field Methods in Anthropology and International Development. It was the first opportunity I had to finally put into practice what we had been learning throughout the course. What I liked the most about this unit is that it gave you the freedom to design, implement, and present the findings of your own research project. Granted, there were some limitations, as we were not in charge of the recruitment process and there were also some time constraints. Overall, however, it was a useful snapshot of what life in the field would be like.

Most importantly, it really tested the cross-cultural communication skills of our team. It is vital to remember that solo projects in development are virtually non-existent. Thus, learning how to work as a team despite different backgrounds, opinions, and areas of expertise is critical. I am happy to report that this was the best group work experience I have ever had. It was clear everyone was excited and dedicated to the cause, and we made it through despite some unforeseeable hiccups along the way.

team

It all started with an intensive, week-long block of field methods, for which I was particularly thankful, as it served as a quick reminder of everything I had learned in Research Methods the previous year. We also engaged in some team-building activities to keep the ideas flowing and were introduced to the hearts of our project: our interpreters. Monash has a partnership with the South East Asia Community Observatory (SEACO), which is why the actual field work was carried out in Segamat and surrounding areas.

“Why Segamat?” is a question we all asked at some point or another. It is not as well-known a place as Kuala Lumpur, Penang, or Melaka. However, a particularity of Segamat is that it has an even distribution of ethnicities that mirrors Malaysia itself: about 50% Malay, 23% Chinese, and 7% Indian. Thus, the location was ideal to carry out research, as all ethnic groups would be represented in the findings.

Mind map and free listing

For our particular project, we were based in rural Segamat, as we were working with farmers to try and understand how they perceived their relationship with the environment. I am sure most of you are familiar with the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework. We based our project on its asset pentagon and narrowed it down to natural capital. We wanted to understand how the environment impacted on the livelihoods of these farmers, but also how their livelihoods impacted the environment.

Recently, there have been some controversies surrounding the sustainability of oil palm plantations. As a matter of fact, there have been some disputes between the European Union and Malaysia and Indonesia regarding these issues. That was something that really surprised us. We were not expecting the environment to be a political issue, but the more we investigated, the more we realised it was.

in the field

In Malaysia, rural poverty was addressed by forming FELDA villages. FELDA stands for Federal Land Development Authority, which is a centralised government agency that granted plots of lands to poor Malays in order to incentivise the production of rubber and, later on, palm oil. Because it is essentially state-run, we sometimes encountered certain resistance from FELDA managers, as they were suspicious of our aims and were concerned we intended to criticise their operations. This is why excellent team work was so vitally important. Without the language abilities, relationships, and cultural awareness of the SEACO team, we probably would not have been able to navigate these murky waters as effectively. We always discussed in class how context is crucial to understanding where and how a project should be carried out but it is extremely different once you are in the field. You have to question absolutely everything you know.

I used to think I was a worldly, open-minded individual, but this experience made me realise how many assumptions I made on a daily basis. As a somewhat hot-headed person, it was important for me to keep my emotions in check, not be judgmental or openly condemn people for opinions or actions I considered wrong. Sometimes I did not agree with what was being said or done but, as an impartial researcher, I learnt the importance of simply witnessing and reporting on these things professionally, even if I did not condone them personally. I think that is an important distinction we have to make as researchers and development practitioners, especially when working with marginalised communities that live by societal norms that are different to our own.