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.
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.
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.
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
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!?
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.
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.
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.
EXT. MUMBAI, INDIA
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.
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.
EXT. MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Joining us on the blog today is Nuvodita Singh, alumni of the Masters of Sustainable Development Practice from TERI University in New Delhi. As a member of the Global Master of Development Practice (MDP) Network, Nuvodita shares with us what drove her to pursue a master degree in Development and how it led her to work as a Research Officer at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Nepal.
As a kid who grew up surrounded by mountains and hills, I have always harboured a deep seated love and reverence for the natural environment. My love for animals meant that I dreamt of becoming a vet, or a wildlife photographer, or running a shelter for abandoned animals. I liked arts and crafts, so I would often reuse (or up-cycle as it is now known) many things lying around my house.
However, when the time came to choose a subject for my undergraduate studies, I got coaxed into picking Economics. Fresh out of high school, I barely had a clue of what to expect after graduation. Unsurprisingly, I followed the conventional route and joined a financial services firm. One year into the job and I knew that where I really wanted to be was somewhere else; somewhere that allowed me to follow my values and passions.
I must mention that Economics was not a complete waste. It enabled me to understand the functioning of the current development model, how it has evolved, and how valuable statistics can be calculated to analyze its trajectory and potential future. Most importantly, it enabled me to question. My choice of projects and assignment topics through the course focused on why the environmental impact of ‘development’ needed to be regarded as more than just collateral damage. I wondered why the modern world could not be more cognizant of the very resources on which it depended, and why it could not be more ‘grateful’. I did realize, however, that merely advocating for such values and virtues was not going to change anything. Without actively realizing that they have a stake in the health of the environment, people can easily overlook the damage they may be causing.
The reason I decided to study Sustainable Development as a full-fledged postgraduate course was, precisely, to understand what those values and virtues meant for mainstream development, how the two could be integrated, and, more importantly, to build a case for why such integration should happen in the first place.
I appreciate the way the Sustainable Development Practice program unraveled the different pathways of sustainable development. The interdisciplinary nature of the program ensured that students approached the topic from different perspectives. Before the course, my understanding of the concept merely scratched the surface. But in its pursuit, I came to understand just how intrinsically our built environment and lifestyles are dependent on the natural environment across geographies, societies, culture, and political economies.
I have experienced many different emotions in the journey through the course, and after. At times, the field can be extremely depressing, with no solutions or end in sight. It is easy to feel demotivated and question why you are doing what you are doing. If you are an academic, or a researcher, or perhaps a consultant, it’s also easy to dissociate yourself from the real world, treat it like an assignment, and forget that issues around sustainability and development are very personal to many impoverished people. In addition, not everyone in the ‘environment and development’ sector will share your passion in equivalent terms.
Nevertheless, it is at these low points that I also find inspiration by turning to my younger self; when my passion and ideals were still unalloyed, when my hope for the world was uninfluenced by the innumerous challenges that stood in the way. Therefore, my decision to study Sustainable Development is one amongst many I take to contribute to a better future: one that does not compromise future generation’s ability to meet their needs.
Pursuing a career in international development is an interesting choice because, in an ideal future, it is an industry that would no longer exist. If development is done right, the demand for development workers will decrease.
So why did I chose to enter this (hopefully) dying field?
Firstly, I am not happy with the way the world is. Studying a Bachelor of Arts (International Studies) meant that I had to learn about everything that was wrong with the world. Topics ranged from global conflicts and global systems that benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poor, to human rights violations and environmental degradation. As you can imagine, it was indeed as gloomy as it sounds. Even the development subjects I chose focused solely on where development went wrong. I finished my undergraduate course with significantly more knowledge that I had started with, but I still felt disempowered to change anything.
Fortunately that is where the MIDP comes in
The masters course provided the perfect opportunity for me to gain practical skills. Although we still learn about the ‘dark side’ of the development sector, we also learn about potential solutions and programs that are devoted to getting development right. Furthermore, units like Project Management, Research Methods, and the internship provide real insight and practical skills that will come in handy for the future.
From theory to practice
Recently, I was fortunate enough to complete an internship in India with a Social Enterprise called Pollinate Energy. It was fantastic. It was incredibly rewarding to see a successful development program in action and be a part of the process. The opportunity gave me the chance to put theory into practice and truly challenge myself. Even though I was very excited, a part of me was understandably terrified. I think everyone at some stage doubts their own abilities- and I had over 20 hours on several aeroplanes to do so. Thankfully, putting my knowledge into practice showed me I was more capable than I had initially thought and I left feeling like I had made a valuable contribution to the organisation.
What makes the MIDP stand out
As well as the practical component built into the curriculum, there is a wealth of knowledge in the cohort itself that I do my best to absorb. For someone wanting to work internationally, being part of a group of mostly international students is ideal. The professional and life experience of both the domestic and international students, and their willingness to share, is what makes this course stand out.
Given the skills, knowledge, and passion of my fellow students, I sometimes wonder whether I should worry about the future of the development sector: it is easy to believe that global issues will be solved in no time and that I might find myself out of a job before I even start. Fortunately, many of the skills we learn are transferable, and the pessimist in me knows development projects and programs will be required for a few more years to come.
Some years ago, while I was doing my bachelor’s in Finance, my girlfriend broke up with me. I fell into a deep sadness, I lost my appetite, my academic interest, and my passion. Soon after, came the economic crisis of 2008 and my lack of interest grew into a strong criticism of the financial sector and I no longer wanted to become a banker or a stockbroker. Suddenly all the formulas and processes to calculate profits, incomes, balance sheets, income statements and so on were meaningless to me.
But life has funny ways of showing new perspectives: mine came from a successful interview for an internship in a strange office located in the basement of a public building. It was a public program run by my city council called “The Opportunities Bank”, a microcredit public strategy that had recently been created in the marginalised areas of Medellin.
Soon after, I was working with small entrepreneurs in places I had never visited before in the city in which I had always lived. The motivation and passion was back.
Where Passion Leads You
Since that moment my life changed direction: I became a political activist, getting involved in peace initiatives, grassroots projects, youth collectives, and environmental justice movements. I worked in different development sectors: an early childhood development program, a security and coexistence observatory. During my last job I led the creation and implementation of a participatory education strategy with rural youth.
I volunteered with an NGO in art and coexistence, co-hosted a community radio program, co-organised an artistic performance to raise awareness of forced disappearances, and a march promoting peace and coexistence. I even did urban gardening with a bunch of hip-hop artists and was invited to give a TED talk.
What I learnt throughout these various experiences is that social change is not a profession but a way of living. It cannot be done alone, it needs the participation of the many, to work collectively and collaborate with each other. That, incidentally, is the subject of my TED talk.
Learning By Doing
Learning by doing (with others) is how I became a development practitioner, in the very challenging context of Colombia. It is hard to explain the deep connection I have with my country. We have many problems such as violence and a long armed conflict, corruption, a culture of illegality with roots in drug trafficking, huge inequalities, to name a few.
Despite these problems, Colombians are a diverse and resilient nation living in one of the most bio-diverse habitats on the planet. With my work, I was able to see the deep rural Colombia that was so disconnected from the realities of my urban upbringing. It was precisely this diversity that inspired me to take the next step: I grew up in a mountainous tropical environment but I always felt as though those mountains also restricted my perspective. I wanted to see the world and understood that I needed to complement my experience with an academic degree.
Obstacles To Studying
It took me three more years of working to make this dream come true. I started studying English, I sought the advice of those I considered my role models. I saved money and searched tirelessly for programs, countries, and cities that I would like to live in. I decided upon what I wanted to study through the Global Association of Masters of Development Practice (MDP) programs and a close friend recommended Monash as one of the options.
Being here at Monash today is the result of long hours of dreaming, planning, searching, and studying. After finally receiving my acceptance letter, the final stages of my project were to apply for a scholarship, quit my job and pack my things.
But macroeconomics played a trick on me: the oil prices went down, the currency exchange rate fell and my hard-earned savings were severely reduced. What happened next is an example of when the power of collective action can come into play.
Some of my friends decided to support me and we created a fundraising strategy: we did an eco-touristic trip, an auction and a farewell party. More than one hundred people were involved and I was able to fundraise AUD $6,000. I had money for the first semester, my flight ticket and my bags packed.
I was already on my way to Australia when I learnt that I had not been successful in the scholarship application. The sense of uncertainty I experienced learning this, felt like jumping from a high cliff but nothing would stop me now.
Hard Work Pays Off
It has been a year now since I came to Melbourne. Since then I have had the opportunity of seeing my country from a different perspective, to study its development history, to follow how the peace process is coming to an end and the multiple challenges that this will bring for Colombia’s future.
One of the most valuable aspects of the MIDP has been to share a classroom with students from such diverse backgrounds; all of them so passionate and so talented. Understanding the challenges that we all face as human beings and how we all share common problems in such a diverse world is one of the most rewarding things about studying at Monash.
Being in the MIDP program has been a wonderful experience but also just a part of the whole journey. It has been a great challenge to deal with solitude, to find a place to live, make new friends and get a job to support myself. I have worked as a cleaner, as a dishwasher, as a waiter, as a chef. However, I have also had the pleasure of both enjoying and suffering the full four seasons. I have surfed for the first time, I saw snow and snowboarded too. I went to the Formula1 Grand Prix and the Australian Open Grand Slam. I have enjoyed most of all, living in such a diverse and open-minded city as Melbourne.
To summarise, my life turned around again and I feel that I have grown, learnt and have demonstrated to myself that I can achieve many things. One year later I got the scholarship and I am now tutoring at Monash. And I tell you what, I am sure that many more good experiences are yet to come.
Growing up, I was one of those kids who found joy and enthusiasm with an inflatable globe and atlas. I would go showing them to strangers and quiz them about geography and world capitals. This interest grew bigger, becoming a passion, as I decided to take the field of international relations as my undergraduate study.
August 2009 was one of the most significant milestones in my life. It was the moment when I finally graduated and obtained my degree. I can still recall how I was excited, nervous, awkward and unsure at the same time. At that point, my passion was to work at the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The common conception was that this governmental institution served as the ultimate professional goal for IR graduates.
Reality sunk in quickly as the organisation would only hire a handful of recent graduates, and that most of the enlisted personnel are not from universities in Eastern Indonesia. To sum it up quickly, rejections are very high. Many of my colleagues ended up working as bankers and entrepreneurs as an IR degree is not necessarily seen as providing distinct skills which directly transfer to a particular speciality or occupation. The need to make as much money as possible, given I was not a student anymore, also presented itself as a bit of personal pressure.
An opportunity presented itself from a former classmate who passed me a recommendation to work as a local consultant for Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), for a technical cooperation project with the provincial government of South Sulawesi, on the issue of urban development management.
I jumped at the opportunity in an instant and ended up staying until the finalisation of the project in early 2012. My next employment started later that same year with a more significant undertaking as a program officer for one of World Bank’s projects. Also working in direct collaboration with the provincial government, along with local university researchers on the issue of good governance, public expenditure and financial management.
During both employments, I was so preoccupied with the details of my particular assignments on a daily basis, I neglected to see from the birds-eye view that I was in fact taking part in the sphere of development practice. It was not different than any other regular office work, as I did most of the logistics of the projects, from procurements and budgeting, stakeholders engagement, implementation of events, and monthly reporting to the central WB office in Jakarta, in addition to periodic evaluation of the project. I could barely remember that I did something that could be construed as ‘making a change’ or ‘making a difference’, even though I might have done it without knowing it at that time.
In truth, I received a fair amount of cynicism from colleagues who regarded my decision to work for one of the world’s largest financial institutions as selling out my ‘idealism’ as I would become an ‘agent’ of neoliberalism. They would remind me of our discussions about how destructive such global influences and their capitals are, and the values that these institution brought presented even bigger challenges for the global community to make progress in development.
Meanwhile, government stakeholders were not entirely receptive to the World Bank: officials who were on the project committee would convey their disapproval of the collaboration with the Bank on a regular basis. They would go as far as disreputing me as a neoliberal agent and developed uncooperative attitudes, neglecting to participate in project events. When the time came, they were even reluctant to receive the final analysis report, performed by WB and other stakeholders. This is no doubt due to the fact that this particular project was related to a sensitive issue for the provincial government – about public budgeting effectiveness – thus they tried to find numerous excuses to not participate in the project.
These perceptions and behaviours were daily challenges to getting my work done. However, I always reminded myself that this position was merely professional, and the negative attributes of the institution I worked for had no reflection on me personally.
Getting Some Perspective
It was not until my most recent employment that I finally took profound interest in the discourse of development, a discourse which I might have subconsciously participated in for the past several years.
BaKTI (Eastern Indonesia Knowledge Exchange) is a regional-based NGO, which strives to assist the local and regional stakeholders in their respective efforts to improve development effectiveness in Eastern Indonesia, through knowledge sharing endeavours. Working with many local communities and stakeholders in the vast areas of Eastern Indonesia, I became exposed to the distinct needs of specific regions, as well as learning their local innovations and motivation to address development challenges. I was assigned as the program officer of one of BaKTI’s core programs, JiKTI (Eastern Indonesia Researchers’ Network).
It is not unknown that the Eastern provinces of Indonesia have been structurally disadvantaged. Isolation, lack of access to resources, poor communications, diverse minority groups and central government’s neglect have contributed to a poorly educated population, high levels of unemployment, poor nutrition, high mother and infant mortality rates, as well as low life expectancy.
These long-standing problems of Eastern Indonesia exemplify why the study of development is desperately needed because it provides insights into the deeper challenges the marginalised society faces on a consistent basis. These challenges directly contribute to an imbalanced development, as has been clearly documented with regards to the vast Indonesian archipelago.
The more I delved into this with BaKTI, the more it fueled my fire to learn more about development. I began to search academic journals to find out more about the field and the people who contribute to the discourses of development such as Sachs, Easterly, and Sen, and their approaches and doctrines. As I learnt more, I began to sense the need to pursue a higher level of education in the study of development with a particular emphasis on the practical application, and that is why I chose to study the MIDP at Monash.
There is a substantial social aspect to development which I definitely want to explore further in a formal academic setting. The knowledge and skills I am already gaining will help to contribute to the empowerment of the community, strengthening their capacity for community-centric approaches, not only to tackle challenges, but to sustain the progress of development.
A brother, a mom and a dad, living together in a tight-knit suburban neighbourhood in the south of Norway. That is my youth.
Normal to some extent and in many ways sheltered. We were not much aware of what was going on outside the country borders. When we went on an outing, we might go to the capital or, if we were in a spending mood, we would go on a chartered holiday to Spain or Greece. Sure there were beggars and homeless people in our capital, and sure we saw the kids rummaging around the trash for food scraps in the foreign city back allies, but we did not much care. After all, we were there on a holiday, to have fun. If we entertained the idea of helping, we were told that we could not make a difference: “you cannot help them all”.
War, conflicts and starvation was something we saw on TV and the only time we volunteered to raise money for a humanitarian cause was when we were given time off school to do so. This is my story, but it is not my story in its entirety.
I do believe however it is representative of how many young adults of our generation, from similar backgrounds to mine grow up. Safe, sheltered, having never been exposed to war or real conflict, and never truly without enough food to eat. We never had a “real-world” problem. For one to want to fix a problem, one first has to see the problem. Growing up, it was far too easy not to see the problem.
Caught in the wrong direction
As almost a natural consequence of this sheltered upbringing, I went to study Business and Management at the University of Durham, in the North-East England. I believe this is where it all started. Through modules such as People, Management and Organisation, Integrated Marketing Communication and dissertation writing, I was for the first time taught to really think for myself, to question established truths. It did not matter whether Weber had said it; if you could argue your point, go ahead. It was not until a few months after my graduation that I truly understood the value of this.
Graduating from Durham, I was in essence taught how to make as much money as possible in as short a time as possible. I was therefore quick to say yes once the offer of an internship in Berlin dropped into my email. It did not take long however before the words from my lectures came back to me.
Working in Berlin, I suddenly found myself in a world where I was paid to make people consume as much as possible. It took me 2 months to realise; this is not me. I left Berlin, 3 months before the internship was over.
Arriving back in Oslo, having taken on a large amount of volunteer positions, almost volunteering full time – whilst at the same time starting my own company helping green start-ups become visible online – posts about the refugee challenge on Lesvos started filling my Facebook feed. My good friend, and now colleague Charlotte Vestli and I agreed: “we cannot just sit here and watch this”.
Two weeks after the first Facebook post in the beginning of September 2015, and after having raised roughly $9000 we went to Lesvos. I was supposed to be there for 4 days, returning to Norway for another volunteer obligation. I stayed for nearly 4 months.
Making a difference
On the very first boat I helped on 14th September, I was handed, to carry ten meters on slippery rocks to the shore, a 2-year-old girl by her mother. The boat had come in on a beach called Lighthouse beach, or locally known as Limantziki. The waters were reasonably calm but the boat carried 60 terrified, hungry and dehydrated people. The mother trusted me blindly, giving up her dearest treasure to a complete stranger, simply because I was there to help.
Lesvos changed everything: my values, my priorities, my need to make a difference. I no longer saw the everyday, easily ignored beggars on the streets of Oslo, or the kids at the trash bins, I saw boats. Boats and lifejackets. Loaded up at the forested coastline in Turkey, in dinghies made for 20 people, up to 70 people would cross the 8km stretch of the Aegean Sea between North-West Turkey and Lesvos. I was there on the beaches, over those four months, along with thousands of volunteers, to help them ashore.
Since then I took in hundreds more boats, coordinated hundreds of volunteers and witnessed thousands of people arriving on the shores of Lesvos: each with their story and each with their own faith.
The point of no return
On the 14th of September I realised that I could make a difference. That even if I cannot stop the war, save them all or be there for everyone, I can be there for that one person. Making no difference to the world, but to that one person, making the world of difference.
This is why I now find myself studying for a Master of International Development Practice at Monash University. I want to make a difference. Having co-founded Northern Lights Aid where we currently work in several refugee camps on the Greek mainland near the city of Thessaloniki in the north of Greece, I am lucky enough to already contribute to making a difference every day.
I want more. After being heavily involved in the refugee challenge for months I want to start working at the roots of the problem. Boats came to Lesvos for nine months before global society started to act. And when they did, well – while many of the solutions I am sure looked great on paper – they certainly made the situation increasingly more difficult for the people in the boats and the volunteers on the shorelines.
Call it a hairy goal, but I want to change existing policies and the inhumane structures blind to the realities on the ground, so that we never see a refugee challenge like this ever again.
In order to understand the reason why I decided to study the Masters in International Development Practice at Monash University, I should first provide you with a quick summary of the history of Colombia.
A brief history of Colombian conflict
Colombia was a Spanish colony from the 1500s until its independence in 1810. Its history as an independent country has been strongly marked by violence and war, so much so that just in the Nineteenth Century we had more than four civil wars. The other major impact upon Colombian society nowadays has been the constant ruling of a small elite who have continued the status quo from the colonial era, maintaining the inequality that still characterises the country today.
At the middle of the Twentieth Century, leftist groups emerged wanting to fight the oppression created by this elite. However, the government’s suppression of these groups was so violent, they were forced to flee. And so, guerrilla warfare commenced as they hid deep in the Colombian jungle. This necessity, of the people to fight inequality, brought war again to our country. These groups, in pursuing control of the power themselves, began killing civilians indiscriminately and brought a sense of terror upon the population.
A brief history of this Colombian Felipe
Here is where my story begins, by the year 2005 Colombians were tired of this war of terror and gave big support to our armed forces to fight these illegal groups. Right after finishing school, in my willingness to help end the war that had cost too many lives, I joined the Colombian Navy. I have already been ten years in this institution and only now, by the combined effort of the Colombian Armed Forces, have we brought the main illegal group to sit and hold peace negotiations with the government.
All these years in the military have given me the opportunity to get to know almost all the corners of my country, to see the people’s needs and to witness the devastation that war brings. The only thing I could do at that moment as a member of the Navy, was to provide security and try to alleviate basic needs.
Linking development and post-conflict Colombia
Over this past decade, in my understanding of the major issues and the experiences I have had, I have come to realise that you cannot fight violence just with stronger armies: that is like fighting fire with fire. What the Colombian Armed Forces need are new ways to help the people, to offer more than just cyclic violence and illegal lives.
My goal here is to learn how to create Sustainable Development programs in isolated communities and communities that have been victims of the conflict. With these programs I hope we will be able to provide more than just the choice of becoming another illegal actor because of the lack of opportunities for a better future.
Why a Colombian naval officer at Monash?
In my search to find new tools to help the situation in Colombia, I started to look for other countries or places where I could take a different perspective of my country’s situation from outside the military. Australia and especially Melbourne is a place where I have many friends from back home and also it is considered the most liveable city in the world; what a great place to experience an example of modernity and welfare. I received a scholarship from the private sector in Colombia and the Colombian Navy approved my choice of study to help build new plans for a post-conflict society.
I decided to come to do the Masters in International Development Practice because it provides an opportunity to learn of the different trends in development and how I can better approach my goals and be successful in them. The other aspect that I find very important and interesting about being in this masters, that I had not considered before coming, is that it is full of enthusiastic people from different backgrounds and lived experiences.
MIDP offers a multicultural environment that I enjoy because the students bring their own points of view, different to my own, that are so important to understanding development.
This article expresses the personal opinion of the author and not the opinions of any institution mentioned within.