Laura Brekke sent us this video to show us around a village in Cambodia.
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Josh and Lisa are working with IRD to develop a home-based care service for orphans and vulnerable children in Mozambique. They sent us these photographs to create a visual context of their daily life, surroundings, and work with IRD in Mozambique’s Inhambane province.
Here at the IRD HQ, I am encouraged to stay knowledgeable about global news and foreign policy that may affect IRD’s current work or reveal opportunities for further IRD programs. This means getting daily emails from UN Wire and Middle East Progress, and checking sites like foreignpolicy.com and CNN international regularly.
The other day during a routine perusal, I came across an intriguing photo essay entitled, “Postcards from Hell.” It features images from sixty of what the essay’s author calls “the world’s most failed states.” Topping the list is Somalia, which is still struggling to recover after two decades of civil war. Following Somalia on the list are four other African countries to round out the top five. IRD does work in many of these countries and is supported by regular aid from the US and many other Western nations. Unfortunately, this aid is not enough, and the political and cultural environments in many of these countries prevent sustainability and progress in the areas of basic human rights and economic stability.
The images provoke sadness and have the potential to invoke feelings of hopelessness; the title of the essay itself insinuates inescapable earthly infernos of suffering, violence, and desolate poverty. Billions of people experience these conditions daily and those who work in international development and foreign policy face the seemingly insurmountable task of trying to alleviate the myriad problems that these regions suffer from. READ MORE
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I grew up less than two hours from here; I have family in the area, and even spent four years as a Howard University student living in our nation’s capital. Yet over the past few weeks, I have experienced a different side of Washington, DC as an intern at the IRD headquarters.
For example, I attended a Congressional hearing on Capitol Hill for the first time, where I learned about efforts and recommendations to increase the participation of women in developing democracies. I also attended panels and speeches at various Washington think tanks featuring ambassadors, senators, foreign dignitaries, and renowned academics. These events have expanded my grasp of foreign policy and exposed me to how much I still don’t know about the struggle for democracy and civil society in developing countries.
Now I know my new experiences may not be as dramatic as my colleagues who have traveled to Asia and Africa, and my discomfort on the crowded Metro system during rush hour in the heat and humidity of DC is nothing compared to sub-Saharan and rainforest-like conditions. Yet there is something refreshing about exploring the unknown within a familiar place. It sort of reminds me of my experience at seminary. Being a lifelong Christian, studying my faith for the first time in an academic setting has opened my eyes to new worlds of theological discourse. My familiarity with the Bible was just the tip of the iceberg compared to the wealth of knowledge I’ve encountered in my Old Testament courses. READ MORE
Having been in Sudan for close to one month now, I am constantly peppered with emails, all asking essentially the same question, albeit using different phrasing: “How is Sudan?” “What are your initial impressions of the country?” “What are some major differences between Sudan and the United States?”
When I first started receiving this wave of emails I was reluctant to respond to these questions, as I didn’t want to make premature assumptions about the largest country in Africa after only a few days. Now, however, I feel I have gained enough of a sense of Sudan that I can share my feelings on this wondrous nation.
If I could sum up Sudan in two words or less, I would describe it thus: A land of unorthodox beauty. A little background may help one understand why I use these words to describe Southern Sudan. As a nation, Sudan has endured what most observers describe as the longest civil war on the African continent, a conflict that has spanned decades, destroyed villages, broken livelihoods, and torn families apart. In Southern Sudan, a peace accord between the main combatants in this civil war was signed in 2005, which brought about a fragile peace and return to calm in this portion of the country—the dividends of which I see everywhere around me in my placement with IRD Sudan in Duk Payuel, Jonglei State, Southern Sudan. READ MORE
Cambodian culture is not only distinct, but it is distinct in a visible way. By visible, I mean that as an American it is easy to detect the differences between my way of life and a Cambodian’s way of life – the food, the language, the “dress code,” and of course, the vast economic and political differences. But by visible, I also mean something that is perhaps more obvious, and definitely more indicting of the way my life is organized in America.
Cambodians live in a visible way, meaning that their lives are not hidden from the lives of neighbors, customers, or foreign tourists. Many own little shops lining the roads or sell fruit at the local market, sitting next to their products hour after hour. Most of their homes are comprised of one large room, perhaps one bed. Cambodians do not remain hidden behind tinted windows because bicycles and motorcycles are the most common forms of transportation. Granted, this visibility may not be an active choice for many Cambodians because of their various levels of poverty and utter dependence on others. But this visibility, whatever the reason, is in fact a radical departure from the way Americans, more often than not, choose to structure their lives. READ MORE
It was a constant sort of hum-chanting that filled the room with a warm, radiant vibration. Four monks, ranging in age from about 20 to about 60, sat on the floor of our large conference room. Shrouded in large pieces of orange or red fabric, they chant-hummed in a harmony that seemed to swell through the room like sweet incense smoke. My knees hurt from kneeling on a reed mat. I was lost; the language was foreign, the moments of bowing strange. I felt terribly out of place.
On Thursday of last week our office had a blessing. Here in Cambodia, inviting a local monk to come to your office or home to bless both your person and your space is a common practice. Monks are everywhere; their bright orange and rich red robes stick out. They ride on the back of mopeds, they wander around markets, and yesterday I even saw a monk using the internet. I don’t know exactly why I find this weird—I mean, I am going to become a minister, yet I use a computer every single day. Perhaps it is because for me, Buddhism is still a mystical religion that has—until Thursday—stayed hidden in the pagoda. READ MORE
One word: Sudan. Two words: United States. Not much of a difference if you ask me.
Some may feel that it’s crazy for me to assert that Sudan, an underdeveloped country in Sub-Saharan Africa, is strikingly similar to the U.S., a robust industrialized nation quite influential on the geopolitical landscape. But through closer examination, this seemingly absurd claim becomes inherently clear.
Far too often, many individuals living in societies such as the U.S. characterize places like Sudan as distant worlds, only accessible through the hyperbolic depictions of “Tinseltown.” And if not vis-à-vis Hollywood, it is most frequently described within the poverty-stricken context of a post-colonial reality. This is unfortunate because, as I must admit, people around the world are akin to one another more than they are different. Hopefully, a detailed look at my experience thus far will help to shed light on this. READ MORE
“Community” is quite the buzzword in the American church. Churches strive to reach out to the communities in which they are located, and strain to foster community within the congregation. Small groups, circles, core groups or whatever name you prefer, are all the rage because they help develop a sense community among members. We struggle to create community, because it is such a struggle to find community in a society of personal automobiles, self-serve checkouts, and schedules that are too busy to allow time for family, much less a larger community outside of those few people for whom you care most.
Coming out of the American culture where community is a struggle, when visiting a country like Mozambique, I am always amazed at how organically community is here. Despite—or maybe because of—all of our Western technical expertise, there are certain aspects of life we will never understand as well as our neighbors in other parts of the world. After meeting my neighbor Sulemane for the first time on the Wednesday I arrived in Maxixe (the town in which I’ll be working while I’m here), we became immediate friends. Three days later Sulemane, my colleague Lisa, her Mozambican friend Orlando, and I were taking a day trip to the beach. We joked and laughed, talked about work and life, and shared a meal and snacks together as if we had known one another for several years, not just a few hours. The next day we were at it again, acting like best friends strolling through the streets of Maxixe. A week later Sulemane, Lisa, and I were again exploring the city and taking a short ride to the next town over, just to have something to do as we passed the hours together. All of this stemmed from a brief introduction by the IRD secretary. READ MORE
We’re here! It was a long trip, but after traveling for 28 hours and navigating our way through 4 different airports, we were able to set foot in Mozambique. I am fortunate enough to have done work in this country a few years ago, which was when I first fell in love with Mozambique. I feel extremely blessed to be able to return and work in a new and challenging capacity. In our first two weeks here, we have spent time in Maputo, Maxixe, and Cambine; three places that could very well be three separate countries.
Maputo (pronounced “ma-poo-too”)
We spent our first three days in Maputo, receiving a warm welcome from the IRD staff and a brief orientation to the country and the work that is being done here. Compared to the rest of the country, the capital city seems to exist in a world of its own. Roads are well-paved (comparatively), multi-storied buildings are abundant, and traffic jams occur on a regular basis. Almost any food craving can be satisfied, from freshly caught prawns to pepperoni pizza and mint-chocolate chip ice cream. And if you walk through certain neighborhoods with well-kept yards and shiny new cars, you’d never guess that 75% of the country survives on less than $1.25 a day. But just like with most large cities, there is a large economic disparity between its inhabitants, and the slums can be found just a few blocks down from the mansions. READ MORE