Saturday, July 14, 2007
Video 1: My Farm
Video 2: My National Park
Video 3: The Band
Video 4: My Home
Video 5: My Work
My Farm: a 5 minute video about my first experiment with farming.
My National Park: a 4 minute video to market the park where I work.
The Band: a 3 minute video of a pretty crazy band.
Comments are cool as they motivate me to make more of this kind of stuff! Thanks for watching.
Monday, May 28, 2007
I am the same person wherever I am because at the deepest level of my ‘self’ and my values, there is continuity. I am ‘me’ regardless of my physical location and surroundings. My complete experience, mainly the people in my life, has cumulatively contributed to who I am, and I am me, whether in Zambia or Canada or anywhere else.
My biggest struggle though is not with myself, it is with others. Often I feel far and disconnected from those who are important to me at home regardless of how much we talk, email, or SMS. Since I’ve been gone people have been married, babies have been born, and family members have died. I have not been around for these glorious and grim happenings, and it hurts. I try to stay up-to-date, and I even share and talk about it here, but my friends here have a difficult time truly understanding the world from which I come.
Similarly my experience in Zambia is also rich with changes and events, with ups and with downs that my friends and family back home can never really understand. They are interested in what I’m doing and we do talk about it, but the reality in which I live is somewhat incomprehensible for someone who has never been.
But 21 days ago this suddenly changed. My two worlds collided.
21 days ago, my twin sister Lindsay and my brother in-law Brett stepped off the plane and the dust of their shoes met and mixed with a new dust, slightly redder and a bit drier. All of their questions leading up to departure, “what should we pack, what will we eat, will we get sick, where will we sleep” were dropped somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.
God it was nice to see them! We were soon out of the calm airport and into the swirling capital city of Lusaka. To me Lusaka has become normal. I had long quit starring out windows and moving wide-eyed with curiosity, but seeing Brett and Lindsay, and their reactions to this place, made if seem foreign and exotic all over again. On the dusty busy streets, they exuded a mix of excitement and caution, curiosity and trepidation.
The next three weeks were action packed! “We’re up for anything” was there motto and anything they got. They ate nshima and pigeons, learned how to wear a chitenge and carry a baby, travelled on sketchy buses and boats, met with traditional chiefs and loving mothers.
They lived in a village, saw babies born and named, helped butcher and roast chickens. They got too close to hyenas, elephants and buffalo and got way too close to a lonely lioness. They drank wine at sunset, jogged at dawn, transported blood for the ministry of health, taught English in a school, chlorinated their own water, gazed at the stars, bathed in the river and got attacked by killer ants.
They toured a mission hospital, felt the thunder of Victoria falls, harvested maize, rice and sweet potatoes, killed a snake, learned some losi, enjoyed some mosis and made many friends. They got an in-person glimpse into my work with Engineers Without Borders and got a personal introduction to the life and times of Zambia.
No matter how much you’ve prepared yourself, one’s first face-to-face with extreme poverty is overwhelming and emotional. Some things made Lindsay and Brett laugh and smile, others perplexed and confused them, some frustrated and angered them, some caused fear and others made them deeply sad and others happy. Coming to know the injustices of our world is powerfully sobering and raises a lot of questions. “It’s just not fair and I don’t get it” Lindsay exclaimed emotionally while sitting around the fire.
For three months leading up to their arrival, the people in my village were asking if they were really going to come. They counted airplanes in the night sky figuring which ones were coming from Canada, planned gifts and meals, doubled checked the arrival date and practiced saying their names. When the time came, when they finally arrived, they had an entourage and warm welcome.
I think Brett and Lindsay were blown away by the generosity and reception they received. They were given gifts of chickens and vegetables, invited to eat and sleep in people’s homes. They were never out of place and they were always welcome. Here they needed help and they got it. The people of my village had special guests and they wanted to share their riches and their homes and make them feel as welcome as possible.
For me the best part was my brother and sister from Canada meeting my brothers and sisters in Zambia, my roommate and friend Monde hugging my twin sister Lindsay, and my good pal Bo Richard eating with my brother-in-law and friend Brett. Families’ coming together is always a good thing and this is when I really felt that worlds were colliding.
For Lindsay and Brett it was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was an accelerated jump into rural Zambian life and they got a good look at a different world. I was impressed by their ability to adapt and accept, their adventurous attitudes, their humble demeanours, their quick learning, and their genuine interest in the people they met.
Will their lives be changed? I don't really know, but I’ve got a feeling that some of the things they saw, and some of the people they met, will stick with them for a long time.
I have a particular group of friends, people with whom I've shared times together in distant lands or in trying circumstances. It’s a small group, but with them I have an indescribable bond and a deeper shared understanding of life. I think through this visit, even though short, Lindsay, Brett and I now share such a bond.
In the end, this collision of worlds turned out to be more of coalescence of realities. It felt good to see my friends in Zambia laughing and enjoying with my family from Canada. Worlds have not collided, they have connected, and that puts a huge smile on my face.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Canadian Engineers Tackle Poverty in Developing Nations
The Globe and Mail, Friday, May 25 2007
By Chad Hamre
Engineers are not intimidated by problems. In fact, they love nothing more than to sink their teeth into a juicy one. In our diverse field, this is what unites us.
The problem that consumes my mind is perhaps the most complex, urgent and daunting of them all: extreme poverty. I won’t bombard you with depressing statistics about education, health and famine —you have heard them all before. It suffices to say that life for those living in extreme poverty is characterized by a daily struggle to support oneself and family.
Yet I remain optimistic. Rather than looking at the situation as a tragic burden, I think of it as our generation’s greatest opportunity to drive meaningful change. My degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Saskatchewan has launched me into a career that seizes this opportunity for change:
- In the Philippines, ICT Training Centres are providing disadvantaged youth with the opportunity to develop valuable skills to contribute to their community and improve their lives.
- In Haiti, gravity-fed water systems are effectively quenching the thirst and improving the health of thousands of families.
- In Zambia, business is booming and the private sector is developing to serve the needs of majority rural population profitably.
None of these are individual accomplishments. They are all projects that I had the opportunity to work on with Engineers Without Borders during the past five years. They are the results of thousands of engineering students and professionals across Canada who are dedicated to seeing an end to extreme poverty, and who are working in partnership with developing communities around the world.
Engineers Without Borders believes that technology, when appropriately incorporated into each community’s social, cultural, economic and political context, can drive extraordinary change. To date, over 200 EWB volunteers have worked with developing communities, helping to build technical knowledge and skills among local organizations, spreading innovation and sustainable solutions to the challenge of poverty. In Canada, over 20,000 EWB members raise awareness about the roles of Canadian engineers, the general population and government in poverty alleviation.
In the past, engineers with a zeal for contributing to development were left on their own, working on a short-term project over a two-week holiday or making ad-hoc contributions. But as the new Boeing A380 was not designed and built by moonlighters, taking a bite out of extreme poverty requires committed professionals with career-long timeframes and goals.
My colleagues and I are engaged in challenging and fulfilling careers with Engineers Without Borders. Our work combines the thoughtfulness of advanced-level academics with the focus, rigour and pragmatism of the private sector.
Our work is gaining national and international recognition for our innovative approach. This leads me to believe that one day, in the near future, a Nobel Peace Prize will be presented to an engineer for his or her contribution to poverty alleviation. Not because the problem of poverty has a technical solution, but because solving it will require a pragmatic, structured approach, along with strong problem-solving abilities. This approach, an engineering approach, can lead to effective, sustainable change.
Chad Hamre is currently posted in Zambia with Engineers Without Borders Canada and is the recipient of the 2005 Canadian Engineers’ Awards Student Gold Medal.
Monday, April 30, 2007
Here we sit in the middle of nowhere a few kilometres from the mighty Zambezi River. We were enroute from Kalabo to Mongu, a 2-8 hour boat ride depending on your steed. Our planned trip time was 2 hours, but as usual fate had a plan of its own.
After a few minutes of trying to paddle to dry land, the relentless headwind proved its superiority and we parked ourselves comfortably. Wedged into the gently swaying river grasses we began to wait for our rescue boat. However, long before they were scheduled to arrive we hear the put-put-put of another boat that kindly attaches a rope and pull us to the only dry land around, to "George Maxwell’s Palace," a rather bizarre place.
Well it's certainly not a palace in absolute terms, but in the heart of the Zambezi flood plain, far from power, concrete and iron, it kind of looks like a palace of some type.
Apparently it was built in the 1980's by a man with a vision named George Maxwell. He picked a rare piece of land where the Zambezi and the Luanginga Rivers intersect and set up an impressive fishing camp and home. In its heyday it must have been quite a site, but today it is dilapidated and serves as a pit-stop for boat passengers to take a pee or get a snack.
So anyway, by now we were hoping to be pounding the tarmac towards the capital city, Lusaka, but instead we're stranded at this strange rundown island of a fishing camp in the middle of nowhere... but after 9 months in Kalabo, trust me, no delay, no setback and no breakdown could possibly create stress or anger, instead it's relaxing, time to let my mind chase it's tale as a good friend of mine likes to say.
Today I'm thinking about my time in Zambia so far. What have we accomplished and what have I learned? That's the point of me being here, right?
The first thing is that I cannot talk in terms of ‘I’ as our progress in Kalabo has been a collaborative effort between Juraj, Daniel and myself, with lots input and support from Tom and Mike and many others.
If you’ve forgotten, EWB has placed me with PROFIT, a USAID funded development program that uses a private sector approach to strengthen markets in which small holders participate and are likely to benefit from. We are working in partnership with African Parks as the communities are situation in and around a national park.
When we first arrived in Kalabo, we had no office, no vision and no plan. We had a general private sector development theme passed on by PROFIT, the implementing organisation, but there were major questions whether this approach would work in such a remote and un-commercial corner of Zambia.
We started with a general assessment of the area, looking at rural livelihoods and market value chains to determine if there were any areas likely to lead to positive impact for small holders.
We considered numerous areas of work and finally settled on three main objectives:
- To establish private veterinary services for small-scale cattle farmers.
- To encourage traditional craft production and marketing for women’s clubs.
- To enhance and promote the National Park and the community owned services through which locals are likely to gain.
Here part of our work has been in the community, mobilizing farmers and encouraging them to consider investing into proactive health care as many animals are dying. Cattle are the main income source and asset in this area and there are basically no government services, or alternatives for health care. This leaves farmers without any hope of accessing vital vaccines and treatments to keep their animals healthy. The other part of our work has been helping a private Vet establish a business to offer such services to small holders and to coach him through promotions, pricing and costing and some general business development services. Since the small holder market has never been targeted, we buy down some of the initial risks for the vet by covering transport to initial promotions and other non-distorting subsidies and technical advice.
The positive outcomes of our work have been after six months we finally got the program off the ground. Farmers are in contract and paying for services from the vet. The young Vet running the program understands the concept well and is working hard to expand the business. We are piloting a new low cost and high potential expansion model using local vet assistants. Our failures are that the senior vet running the company doesn’t appear to be fully bought into the business and so far they have yet been unable to sell the package to the smallest of the small-scale farmers.
Here part of our work has been around building up women’s club’s production capacity in traditional crafts and the second part has been exploring and linking them with reliable markets with considerable growth potential.
We have been successful in creating relationships and trust with the clubs and identifying reliable and diversified markets. We successfully ran a low cost training to help improve the quality standards of the products. During our first year, the clubs independently funded and built craft shops in the park and profitably sold baskets and other crafts to tourists. This is new money in people’s pockets, but more importantly it has built their enthusiasm and trust in the market. Our failure to date has been in linking these clubs to year round more formal markets for export. In the face of plenty of effort we found there were just too many barriers in terms of production skills and pace, transportation, and trust, to successfully complete orders.
Here our team aimed to work with African Parks to improve the tourism product that is the National Park, we aimed to mobilize resources and people to properly market it and aimed to position community groups and individuals to benefit financially from the tourism activities
Our successes are seen through several specific improvements in terms of a visitor’s center, campsite improvements, staff skills, and community products and services available. We have helped African Parks put forward an active marketing plan with tools such as info packs, a website, magazine articles, a brochure and most importantly a broader marketing strategy to guide future actions. In terms of the community we have helped the community owned campsites reform their management structure to improve the service and make them more profitable for the communities. There are some specific activities that are moving at a slow pace, but generally this has been a very positive and productive work-stream.
In terms of what I’ve learned, I do feel it’s been substantial. I’ve had a very deep rural emersion helping me understand rural livelihoods, rural people and the challenges and opportunities they face. I’ve had a practical development sector immersion helping me learn more about development philosophy, approaches, workers and the general industry. I’ve learned new things about myself both personally and professionally. I expect all of this learning to pay dividends as I continue with my career in development. If you’re interested in the specifics of these lessons, we’ll have to talk it over, over a cold beer or drink!
Anyway, while my time here has come with a lot of uncertainty, today as I sit at George Maxwell’s dilapidated fishing palace, a few things are very clear:
- ● The injustices of our world are unacceptable. An unnecessary gap exists, and through cooperation it can be closed, I’m certain.
- ● I am comfortable with my plan of committing my career and life to driving these changes. I often question it, but today I’m sure.
- ● If you want to cause positive change, your approach is paramount. Development is complex and good intentions and a vision are not enough.
But with a thoughtful approach, with good field workers, creative organizational structures, genuine intentions with coherent actions reinforced by accountability to beneficiaries I believe amazing things are possible.
I can hear our rescue boat in the distance so I better cut this short. Ah it’s good to let one’s mind chase it’s tail.
Saturday, March 31, 2007
This is not a historical quotation from Britannica, this is what I witnessed today, March 31st 2007 in the Western Province of Zambia. The ceremony is called Kuomboka and it signals the Losi people of the Zambezi floodplain to make their annual retreat to the highlands, safe from the floods, as they have done for over 300 years.
Seeing this firsthand was electrifying and humbling.
Electrifying to stand among thousands of Losi people, feeling the ancient drums beat and watching the huge boat carry their Paramount Chief and humbling to recognize the strength, organization and history of this powerful tribe.
Kuomboka literally means "to move out of water" and that is the essence of the event. The date is set by the Litunga (The Paramount Chief) who considers the level of floods, the availability of food and the phase of the moon. It is only announced a few weeks beforehand.
You may wonder why the Losi chose to settle in a floodplain? The reason is actually quite simple. Most of Western Province is Kalahari dessert and the sand is hot, dry and infertile. However, contrasting this dessert sand, is an enormous floodplain of black soil that is replenished yearly as the Zambezi river bursts and washes in water, nutrients and fish. This is a good place to farm.
The problem is that when the floods come, the floods come with fury. This year I saw water rise 15 feet and a massive flood plain fill-up in just a few days time. For families, these floods bring problems: mosquitoes, disease, drowning, crops flooding and general discomfort.
The response then is to make a break for the sunshine-to high grounds-to wait out the worst of the waters.
The journey itself is called the Kuomboka Ceremony, it all begins at Lialui, the Lintunga's dry season palace which situated in the middle of the Zambezi Floodplain. Around the palace, crowds gather to catch a glimpse as the royal subjects who are carefully porting the Lintunga's possessions to the royal boat.
Following them, is the Litunga himself who will be accompanied by his Prime Minister and other local area chiefs (Indunas).
He walks proudly and is greeted by this royal paddlers, who know it be a great honour to paddle for Litunga.
The Litunga's boat bears the legendary name of Nalikwanda. It is a barge of magnificent size, able to carry the chief, his possessions, his attendants, his musicians, his 100 paddlers and is capped with a statue of an elephant, the Losi symbol of power.
The Litunga's goods are loaded and he takes his place in the shade under the elephant while the royal drums and xylophone play. The quality and sound of the instruments are mind blowing and mesmerizing.
Two white scout canoes are sent first to check the depth of the water and for the presence of enemies. These five person dugout canoes glide with speed and precision.
Once signaled by the scout boats, the coordinated paddlers heave mightily and release the heavy boat from shore to begin the journey to the highland. The Lintunga's royal boat is followed by one for his wife, the Queen, and one for the Prime Minister. Hundreds have come to watch the Lintunga set off.
Now under the hot sun, the boat moves through hand dug canals, rivers and standing water. It will take 6-8 hours to reach the final destination of Limulunga, the highland palace. It is said that the journey is grueling and in old days fatigued paddlers were thrown out of the boat to the crocodiles. The drums continue to beat, coordinating and energizing the paddlers.
Meanwhile a massive crowd gathers at the highland palace called (Limulunga). They line the banks where the royal boat will soon land and then wait in anticipation...
Finally, on the horizon a large black elephant is seen moving slowly in the distance, then the ancient drums (one thought to be over 150 years old) are heard playing the familiar beat only played for this ceremony, the crowd erupts upon first sight and sound!
The scout canoes sprint down the canal to make sure all is safe for the Litunga. They move at impressive speeds, obviously energized by the cheering crowd. They continue to do do laps as the Litunga's boat approaches.
Now, the Lintunga does not just sail in and land. His boat fiercely charges the bank and then retreats three times, each time playing a different war song to flush out any enemies planning to ambush.
On the third time the giant vessel plows into the bank. The boat for the Queen (with the crane on top) and that of the Prime Minister follow behind.
Remember, when the king boarded his boat he was dressed in traditional garb, but as he emerges at his destination he steps out wearing a finely polished British commissioner's uniform given to him from the British Royal Family during colonial times. Among the waiters is Levi Mwanawasa, the reigning President of Zambia who rises and greets the Lintunga at the foot of his boat. They then walk together up the long road to the palace with a rambunctious following.
Here the Litunga addresses the crowd, before entering his palace for a night of feasting and dancing. The following days are a celebration for all in the area!
For me, being able to witness Kuomboka was electrifying and humbling. This ceremony with it's very practical roots holds great symbolism and importance for this tribe and I'm happy to see it flourishing today.
- Chad a.k.a. 'Nalishebo' as I'm now called.
Monday, February 05, 2007
I could always buy food, but it was Sunday and I didn't feel like making the long walk to the market (1hour) to buy rice or maize, so I decided to tough-it-out until evening and hope my roommate Monde would bring some fresh fish for dinner.
I then sat under a tree, and with a few pesky but lovable kids poking at me for attention, tried to distract myself from hunger by reading. The previous weekend I had started Nelson Mandela's autobiography, and thus far I was enjoying it VERY much.
After a few chapters and to my delight, my kind neighbour, Bo Nyambe, brought over a steaming bowl of 'something' – something that I had yet to encounter after 6 months in
I shoveled large spoonfuls of this new food into my mouth and then asked "kingi ki ye?" What is it? Bulgur wheat I was told, bulgur wheat from World Vision! WHHHAT - I almost spat my food out as I gasped in shock?! There I was, an Engineers Without Borders Volunteer, eating official World Vision relief food – ironic. While I hadn’t stood in line at the school waiting to hear my name called, I none the less had questions of ethics bouncing in my head. I couldn't help but laugh, but food aid and the need for it are far from funny issues.
The reason boatloads of food aid have been chugging up the
Anyhow, below average rain fall and extreme flooding are not a good combination. It means the maize has been stunted by water deprivation, and that before any harvest at all, the field can become completely inundated overnight. This sounds like a tall tale, but when I take my small canoe to work each day, I look down and see the tops of maize plants (7 feet tall), three feet under water! It's shocking.
So what's the logical solution to this problem? Food Aid, Food Aid, Rah Rah Rah! Well not really, but many an organisation and many a government believe so. Today roughly 20,000kgs of maize and bulgur wheat were sent up the river, and the same will follow tomorrow. Once it arrives in Kalabo, it is distributed through a fascinating ad-hoc private sector delivery service, where anybody with a boat or an ox-cart can receive one 50kg bag as payment for transporting ten bags to distant villages. This quickly gets the food to the places hit hardest. Globally 4 million tonnes of food aid is distributed annually, with
The case for food aid is strong; people are starving and they need help immediately. It's inhumane to let people suffer when there is a global food surplus. Additionally it makes donors feel good to hand out big bags of food to skinny starving people - it looks great in the press and slogans like “from the American people” printed neatly on the bags helps for recognition...
I believe though, that food aid is NOT the solution, and should not be considered official development assistance. I think of development as a process of lasting positive change and food aid does not qualify. In
Bo Ndate Scana, grows maize, rice, cassava, sorghum, millet and vegetables, he catches fish, gathers fruits, rears chickens and milks one cow – his livelihoods are certainly diversified. Between all of these different sources of food and income, he'll be fine through any particular weather disaster. If his maize floods, his rice will flourish, if his chickens die, the fish will bite, and under all conditions, the resilient and amazing cassava root will always bear good yields and feed his family well.
When I first arrived in
I can't honestly claim to be unconditionally against food aid, but I would institute a policy in which every dollar invested in relief food must be matched by two dollars towards productive livelihood diversification training and agricultural extension work. I would then start gradually decreasing the amount of food aid that is distributed, and withhold it for only the most extreme disasters, and even then, I might institute a food for work program or something similar.
Times certainly are the toughest I've seen in Kalabo so far. Crops are flooded, malaria is rampant from the standing water encouraging mosquito reproduction, cattle are dying of corridor disease, and my work has slowed to a sluggish pace due to the logistical difficulties of traveling to villages and organizing meetings with a wooden boat and rubber boots. I'm still smiling though, because I've learned how people survive and I have hope.
People are lifted through problems by a great wave of family and community support. Many African cultures define family much more broadly than we in
Today I read the last page of Nelson Mandela's “Long Walk to Freedom.” His struggle against Apartheid lasted his entire lifetime and left him innocently imprisoned for nearly 30 years.
There is no doubt that this fight was difficult, tragic and trying, but I couldn't help but think how much simpler his battle was then ours. Apartheid was well defined and legislated. Someone was clearly responsible and the oppressed were united by commonalities. The battle that we face today, the end of extreme poverty is none of these. Poverty is not a legislated Act, it's a condition of life for many of the Southern majority perpetuated structurally and personally. It is complex, ill-defined, under-perceived, dispersed and multi-caused.
I’ve always found the concept of an outsider fighting for the liberation of others a bit questionable. Can you and I genuinely contribute to ending extreme poverty? Do we accurately understand? Can we truly empathize? And will we fully commit? On the last page of Mandela’s book I found encouragement.
"To be free is not merely to cast of one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." - Nelson Mandela
I thank you for your support on my short assignment and congratulate you as part of this much longer struggle.
Keep rockin and rollin!