Wednesday, July 30, 2008

S2A2 Week 7

Anne, "Sabs", and Aire at the V&A Waterfront collecting Fair Trade surveys

I cannot believe that it is my second to last week at EMG and in Cape Town. It has really started to feel like home after being here for nearly 8 months. There have been so many ups and downs, but overall it has just been incredible.

I know that I have to come back here in the near future. There's so much going on, and I want to be part of it. This week, I've mainly been working on putting together a report that summarizes the data collected from the SAMWU questionnaires about water management devices that I mentioned in an earlier post. Hopefully, I'll be able to meet with Lance or Jeff from SAMWU, sometime next week (before I leave).

It's August 1st today! Just a random exclamation. Some of my best lessons from this internship have really come from the informal conversations I've had with my supervisor and co-workers at EMG. Yesterday, Lazarus (who works in the same office as me) discussed his idea to start an NGO that focuses on education, which is run mostly by former teachers/principals. It's really inspirational to work each day with people who are so dedicated to serving others. It's a contrast to much of what I see elsewhere, but I know that there's a lot of of hope and enthusiasm from young activists. I really want to believe that some of our work will come to fruition and show results in the near future.

Last week, I helped collect surveys with my fellow EMG interns and another intern for Fair Trade South Africa. The surveys were trying to assess what South Africans know/think about Fair Trade to determine how it needs to be marketed here, if it is going to be expanded. Currently the main fair trade products are all agricultural, but there are also a lot of handicrafts that could potentially be Fair Trade certified. I wonder if it's really necessary or prudent to use Fair Trade as a means to accomplish the goals of improved worker rights/environmental sustainability, since there are local initiatives in place. Is the umbrella of Fair Trade always necessary?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

S2A2 Week 5

Tuesday, 15 July we had the Western Cape Water Caucus meeting. The morning was hectic trying to get everything together, but we got to Obz Community Centre, only a little behind schedule.

Jessica opened the meeting and I feverishly began taking minutes. It was an advantage to have my laptop there in a way, but I felt like I couldn't fully participate since I was trying to record everything around me.

There were a lot of major water issues discussed, but I thought the discussion around the impending failure of water infrastructure was particularly interesting. I don't think it's just a problem in South Africa. I remember hearing about a major water pipe bursting in NYC and a news special about America's "aging cities," which many countries are facing.

Back to the internship though, the rest of the week after the meeting was quieter, but it took quite some time to write up the minutes and follow up with caucus members. I think the most challenging part of helping to organize the meeting was trying to contact everyone and get any sort of feedback about the meeting agenda.

Since not everyone at the meeting belongs to an organization, many people do not have access to a landline or internet so e-mails were not that effective or useful as a means of communication. It's different for me to switch from my usual mode of communication to phone calls. However, there is something to be said for the personal nature of calling, and each place I called had a different background noise. Some places had phones ringing and sounded like offices, while others I called had a baby crying in the background or noisy chatter.

There are a lot of big issues to tackle, and it seems not a lot of support or resources for most civil society organizations here, but there's hope.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

S2A2 Week 3


Last week was filled with quite a few things, including a trip to Home Affairs and Sea Point, a meeting about Water Management Devices (WMDs), and a puppet show. My visit to Home Affairs allows me to stay in the country until my plane leaves ( a relief) but left me with a very unpleasant feeling and frustration. Luckily, that was quickly remedied by a trip to Sea Point with my friend at sunset. The photograph is of the waterfront area in Sea Point, which is absolutely breathtaking.

I was very inspired by my meeting in Cape Town with members of another group belonging to the Western Cape Water Caucus and a legal councillor (albeit informally). It was really intriguing to learn about the details of legal proceedings around the constitutionality of prepaid meters and other devices in the same league. I was then asked to help with work around the WMDs (a poor acronym to be sure). Part of the work may be to compile some of the survey information being conducted by the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) in some of the areas where the devices have been installed. I think one of the major difficulties will be trying to look at the surveys objectively, when in the back of my mind I am convinced that unless the WMDs function and operation changes, they should definitely not be used. On the one hand, as a device to help conserve and manage water demand there is a lot of potential, but on the other, since the devices are only being pushed mainly in low income communities, there definitely seems to be a bias as to who is being targeted for water savings.

The puppet show I attended was a really innovative production produced by Janni Younge The show was specially designed for a conference, which was cohosted by EMG and international environmental NGOs surrounding desertification and drylands. The show highlighted the effects that desertification can have on rural communities in particular. The puppeteers were all youths from Mpumulanga, where people were interviewed to find out what the real issues facing communities affected by desertification. It was really beautifully done, with an opening that exhibited 3 frames covered with plastic sheets, which were covered with clay and then the actors (puppeteers?) drew in the clay and used shadow puppets to set the scene. I wish I had taken pictures becuase it was really amazing to see. Some of the major issues brought up were:

1) The need to cooperate to utilize a scarce resource effectively
2) The effect of desertification on agriculture
3) A need to diversify crops to adapt to changing climate

This week should be just as full if I can recover from this stupid cold!
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