Eyes in Gaza

Friday, January 29, 2010

Well everyone, it is time for another post to keep you all updated on the life, dreams and ambitions of your favourite correspondent. Life has been (surprise surprise) busy, but busy is good in this case. I’ve started to get some donations and that has made me feel a lot better about my fundraising goals…there’s something just so de-stressing about watching an overwhelming large number ($1700) take a broadside hit and emerge a couple hundred smaller. I enjoy the feeling immensely. So please, those of you who want to donate or contribute to my fundraising, please don’t be shy. Click here for more information on how you can help my fundraising campaign.

Dr. Mads

Today I’d like to talk about an extremely powerful experience I had, which brought to light some issues that we talked about in our Beyond Borders class last term. Spurred on by a ringing endorsement from my sister, I went to the “Eyes in Gaza” lecture on Monday given by Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor who has done work in Palestine for many years. He has gone back and forth between the Middle East his home in Tromso, Norway (interestingly, it is the most northernly university town in the world, 2 hours!!! north of the Arctic Circle) for the last 25 years, working as a doctor in both regions but also building understanding and support between his Norwegian countrymen and the people of the Middle East. Although his work in the Middle East began in Lebanon in 1983, during that country’s war with Israel, “Dr. Mads” has since spent most of his time and energy in Palestine. In the Winter of 2008/2009, Dr. Mads was one of two foreign doctors in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead, an Israeli operation that was devastating to many Palestinians living in Gaza; since he was one of the only foreign nationals who was in the area at the time, Dr. Mads gave many interviews to media from around the globe, describing what was happening and becoming the main source of information for the world. Currently, Dr. Mads is travelling to many different universities throughout Canada and the United States, describing his experiences in the hope of swaying Canadian and American opinions on what is happening in Palestine, especially since the Gaza Strip has been cut off from the world by an Israeli-imposed blockade after the election of Hamas in 2007. For more information on Dr. Mads, click here.

As I mentioned earlier, my sister (who saw him at an earlier stop on his Canadian circuit) strongly recommended that I attend the lecture; to be perfectly honest, I probably would not have gone without her pushing me. I think I am similar to many other people in our society, in that I consider myself an empathetic person who is deeply troubled by conflict in the Middle East, especially between Israel and the Palestinian people; I sincerely wish for peace and a lasting peace instead of seemingly endless wars. As time went on, however, I just didn’t want to think about it anymore, partly because I know people who feel very strongly on both sides of the issue and it was extremely polarizing and deeply emotional. At the end of the day I decided that roughly speaking, both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian issue were correct in some way, both sides were guilty of atrocities, and that the issue is really complicated with an extremely long history. Given the fact that attempt after attempt to negotiate a lasting truce had been made, with no success, and with no reason to think that peace would come soon, I unconsciously decided that it was better not to stress about issues that are important and affect the lives of millions, but are entirely out of my control. I ended up deciding to be neutral on the subject. It saves me a lot of headaches.

In essence, my decision is one that many people make every day. Although people “out there” do care, many of them are like me – they see no way out, no end in sight, and don’t know what they can do about issues that they hope will be resolved. They don’t know what they can do, but they are looking for a way to do something. Joanne, our professor, has talked to us about this before, and it is something I have noticed when I talk to people about Beyond Borders. They see me, they know what I am doing, and they become extremely excited for me. They want to help me out because they see me DOING something. It’s something that I was never really prepared for, but my friends in Beyond Borders have said that they experience the same thing with people. Seeing people “come to life” is amazing. And according to Joanne, it’s one of the central goals of the program: activating us, as well as the people we interact with and affect, so that we stop being completely neutral and DO and make our world more just and peaceable.

Dr. Mads’ 2-hour presentation has ended my neutrality on the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and that was his goal. He is openly a supporter of the Palestinian people, and strives to create solidarity with them among people in Norway and throughout the world. Seeing his lecture was an extremely powerful experience; he combined an impersonal presentation of information – such as the number of Palestinian dead and the text of Israeli politicians speaking about their stance toward the Palestinian people – with intensely human and personal aspects, such as smiling pictures of the Palestinians who are his friends, and pictures and videos of life in the hospital during Operation Cast Lead. Looking at pictures of the Palestinian civilians who died in Dr. Mads’ care from the injuries they sustained, or the pictures of the many amputations he performed, and hearing the sounds of artillery shelling while watching young children run for their lives, affected me in a very profound way. It convinced me that the current Israeli policy towards Palestine must stop, because it is a complete disgrace. Yes, in many ways the situation is complicated, but it isn’t THAT complicated: things must change. Dr. Mads suggested several ways to pressure the Israeli government to change, such as by writing to our governmental leaders and asking them to withdraw support for Israel, to stop buying Israeli products and convince others to do, and to divest stocks in Israeli weapons manufacturers. These pressures, he said, have a precedent in the world’s isolation of South Africa for its apartheid policies. I will definitely start investigating them.

Feeling the pressure

Friday, January 22, 2010

So I’m at the end of my third week of the term and starting to fully realize how much I have bitten off for myself to do this term...and wondering if I really will be able to chew it all. Engineering has always been pretty demanding but 4th year has been the most work by far – it’s been fun and interesting, since we have a lot more control over the direction we want to take with our studies, but the increased freedom has meant a lot more to worry about and manage as well. On top of all of this I decided to take the Beyond Borders course as extra electives since there was no space left in my schedule, and while I am really glad I decided to go for it, it has and will continue to test the bounds of my (somewhat limited) time management and organizational abilities.

Specifically, here’s what I’ve got on my plate this term:

-Five engineering courses
-The Beyond Borders course for this term – the biggest requirement being keeping up with this blog
-20 hours of volunteering
-$1700 of fundraising left for Beyond Borders
-Continuing to improve my Spanish
-Completing some outstanding degree requirements for engineering, including retaking an exam (in a course that, let’s say, didn’t go so well last year!)

As is pretty clear to see, it’s going to be a lot of work these next couple of months, but that’s pretty much par for the course with everyone else I know in Engineering and Beyond Borders. We all have “to do” lists that stretch for miles.

Even with all the stresses academic life at the moment, I’ve found the time to do some more research into my placement in Chincha Alta, and I’m getting more excited all the time. Last week at a fundraiser I spoke to David Perrin, the president of St. Jerome’s University, and found out that he had been to the quarry in Chincha Alta, met Brother Blaise, and taken some pictures, which I was able to take a look at. The pictures were mostly of the quarry and the buildings in and around the Oblate Mission, and while they were interesting to see I would have to say it was a huge relief to see a picture of some people from the local community. Most importantly, they had big smiles on their faces, and that definitely helped to put me at ease about my placement. From what I’ve heard from Joanne (director of the Beyond Borders program), there are many places in the developing world (and in the developed world as well, for that matter) where there is a sense of despair, and smiles are hard to come by. However, Joanne has told me that this is not at all the case where I am going, despite poverty of the area and the devastation caused by the 2007 earthquake that hit Chincha Alta. Apparently, the people in the community have a palpable sense of hope - in Joanne’s opinion, due in part to the work of Brother Blaise and the Oblates. And unsurprisingly, it has been a huge relief to learn that I am going to a vibrant community with plenty of spirit – while I know that things are probably going to be hard, it should make everything easier.

Some background info

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The goal of this post is to provide a bit more of a background about myself, the Beyond Borders program, the work I will be doing this summer in Peru and everything in between.

About Me
My name is David Hewson and I am in my fourth and final year of Environmental Engineering at the University of Waterloo. I heard about Beyond Borders from a few different friends of mine, who all said good things, so when I realized that I had the opportunity to do the program I applied and luckily got in. While my engineering education at Waterloo and my co-op terms have been a great learning experience, and I have definitely learned a lot, I'm looking forward to the chance to do something completely different. This program includes many different opportunities to do things that I haven't done before - the most obvious being the chance to live and work in a developing country for three months. But the other aspects of the program - considering the concepts of development, progress and civilization through readings, raising funds for our trip, and volunteering in my community - will also be entirely new experiences as well. I am hoping that this program will give me the chance to see and consider many important issues that we as a society must address in the coming years, and make me a better global citizen at a time when the world seems to be changing more and more quickly.

Beyond Borders
The Beyond Borders program at St. Jerome's University is a one-year, service-based, experiential learning program. Students in Beyond Borders take two courses during the Fall and Winter school terms before doing a three-month international work placement, usually in a developing country. Current and past students have done development work in countries such as Botswana, Uganda, Kenya, Ukraine, Bosnia-Herzegovina, India, Peru, Argentina, Nicaragua, Honduras, Ecuador and other countries. In preparation for their work placement, students read and analyze readings related to the ideas and issues of development, volunteer in the local community, and raise funds to cover the cost of their trip. Through this combination of in-class, out-of-class and international work, students will hopefully become more aware of important issues that affect people around the world as well as in their own communities. For more information on Beyond Borders, click here.

Academic Readings
Becoming Human by Jean Vanier
Pathologies of Power by Paul Farmer
I, Rigoberta Menchu by Rigoberta Menchu and Elizabeth Burgos
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula Le Guin

Beyond Borders students must complete 20 hours of volunteering with a local non-governmental organization (NGO). I have not yet arranged where I will do my fundraising, so stay posted for more details.

In addition to a personal contribution to their program, Beyond Borders students must raise $2000 to cover the cost of their flight and other expenses. Here is my current funraising total:
January 16 - $289.55

Group Initiatives
Last term our group conducted several joint fundraisers, including a bake sale and a band night at the Huether Hotel in Uptown Waterloo. Due to the enthusiasm generated by last term's band night event, we are in the early stages of planning another event that will likely take place in late February. Please stay posted for more details.

Individual Initiatives
For my own personal fundraising, I have decided to make and sell frozen soups and stews. My fundraiser will be called Soup and Stew for Peru. Please stay posted for more details about this.

For those of you who wish to donate to my fundraising campaign, there are several ways that you can do this:
- by cash donation
- by cheque, made out to "St. Jerome's University" and clearly indicated as for David Hewson's Beyond Borders fundraising
- by credit card, over the phone. Call 1-519-884-8111, ext 28254 and ask for Rhonda. Make sure to mention that it is for David Hewson who is in Beyond Borders.

All donations above $10 will be eligible for a tax receipt.

Where I am going

My placement will be in Chincha Alta, Peru, a city in a dry area of Peru located south of the capital city, Lima. I will be working in a poor area which was hard hit by an earthquake in 2007. As a port city in the Andean cocaine-producing region, it has also been greatly affected by drug trafficking in the area. For more information on Chincha Alta, click on the Wikipedia link here.

The brunt of my work will take place in a quarry run by a Catholic priest from Cape Breton Island named Blaise MacQuarrie. An oblate priest, Brother Blaise established the quarry in Chincha Alta several decades ago, making adobe bricks that local residents can use to build their own homes - so I will be doing a LOT of manual labor. The need for bricks and homebuilding has increased since the 2007 earthquake, which was described by Br. Blaise in this link (scroll down to the section entitled "Peru". For additional information about the quarry, click here. In addition to the quarry, I will also have the opportunity to do other development work - such as working with youth and other community-related activities.

First post

Friday, January 8, 2010

Hi everyone! This is my first post on my first blog so that's new and different...but then again, going to Peru this summer will be new and different in many ways I probably can't even wrap my head around yet. New and different is good.

Before I set into writing, I'd just like to give a little background about myself and why I am writing this blog. I am a fourth-year Environmental Engineering student at the University of Waterloo, and last year I applied to Beyond Borders at St. Jerome's University, a service-based development program. Beyond Borders involves a year-long commitment, including academic courses in the Fall (Sept-Dec) and Winter (Jan-April) school terms, and a three-month placement in a developing country in the Summer (May-August) school term. In the Fall and Winter terms, Beyond Borders students also do work outside of the classroom, such as volunteering in their local communities and fundraising to cover the cost of their three-month work term. Starting now and continuing throughout the summer work experiences, the students will also blog about their experiences...hence the blog I am writing now!

After a long wait, I finally found out in December where my international placement will be. I will be going to Chincha Alta, Peru - for the geographically inclined among you, it is a city is located along the Pacific coast, south of the capital city, Lima - where I will be working in a brickbuilding quarry in an impoverished area of the city. The quarry was established several decades ago by a Canadian Catholic priest from Cape Breton Island named Brother Blaise, drawing funds from international donors, as well as important contributions from the local community. The quarry became even more important following a severe earthquake in 2007, which destroyed many homes in the area. In addition to this work, there will also be opportunities to be involved in other development work in the area, including working with youth – an opportunity that I am definitely looking forward to, since I have worked with kids in the past as a camp counselor and ski instructor and thoroughly enjoyed it.

As it stands, I still have a long way to go before I reach Chincha Alta. Although I have studied off-and-on for the last couple of years, I would still like to improve my language abilities a bit more before I am fully immersed and required to speak Spanish 24-7. I also have to step up my fundraising efforts - while I was able to raise several hundred dollars within our group events last term (including a bake sale and a band night), I still must raise another $1700 before the end of this school term. At the moment I am starting up a scheme to sell frozen soups, stews and chilies (I'm calling it “Soup and Stew for Peru”, more details to come) – at this very moment, in fact, I have a crock pot cooking a large batch of chili as well as a pot of split pea soup on the stove!

Apart from my individual efforts, I have other group fundraising activities on the horizon as well. After the overwhelmingly positive response that our band night at the Huether Hotel had last term, we have decided to do another one this term, making a few changes to hopefully earn a bit more money from the event. Additionally, there are ways for individuals to donate to my fundraising efforts – by cheque (made out to St. Jerome's University and indicated as “for David Hewson's Beyond Borders fundraising”) and cash. It is also possible to donate over the phone using a credit card - I will make sure to provide more information about this option when it is available. All donations above $10 are tax-deductible.

Despite the language and financial preparations that I have to make before I leave for Peru, I think the greatest changes to be made will likely be in readying myself as much as possible for the incredible experience ahead of me. Through some of the readings we did last fall, this program has already opened my mind the entirely different world that awaits me, and I know I have never done anything quite like this. The volunteering that I will be doing this term will also be a new challenge in many ways, as I will be working with people who in the past I may not have given a second glance. With this blog, I'm hoping that you can follow along with me as I take a major step beyond my comfort zone and into many important issues that affect us all. ¡Vamos!