Photo by Camille Albouy.

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From the Field

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As you walk down the street in Senegal, people greet you with 'peace' and strangers invite you into their homes for a cup of tea.
On a recent trip to Senegal, Director of Student Programming, Aaron Slosberg visited the West Africa Gap Semester program. He reflects on his time in Temento Samba — of the warm hospitality he received and centuries-old traditions he experienced.

Gratitude for Temento Samba

On this Thanksgiving day, I’d like to share my deepest gratitude to the community of Temento Samba, the students of the Fall 2021 Senegal Semester, and their wonderful instructors, all of whom welcomed me with open arms during my recent visit to Senegal. I spent 5 days with the group during the end of their homestay in Temento Samba. Right from the start, I was in learner’s mode as students taught me about the local Pular greetings, customs, food, and inner workings of village life. It was so fun to be in the role of student and to have Jackson, Shreya, Hayden, Ace, Anna, Ethan, Isa, Jamie, Owen, and Willow as my teachers. Despite the tranquility of life in Temento, our days quickly overflowed with learning and activities. We hiked to the border of Guinea-Bissau and listened to a community leader talk about the history of conflict stemming from the colonial past. We camped out in our bug huts under a full moon and awoke to a magical sunrise silhouetting the surreal outlines of baobab trees. We plucked fresh peanuts from the ground and roasted them in bonfires discovering how different their flavor could be from a grocery store shelf back home. We drank carefully brewed ataya (mint tea) in community circles under the shade of the mango trees. [caption id="attachment_158447" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] Mamadou strumming the harp-like kora[/caption] We were serenaded by Mamadou strumming the harp-like kora while baby goats added their hilarious array of background vocals. We ate meals of faro, millet, rice, and bissap leaves all gathered from the surrounding fields. We donned our homemade Senegalese outfits surreptitiously commissioned by each host family from the local tailor. We gathered as a community on our penultimate day to celebrate each other in a party that saturated the senses in drumming, singing, dancing, and even wrestling. Each of these sentences contains a multitude of stories that evade easy description; to do so feels like trying to convey the magic of the ocean with a thimble of salt water. What I can say with clarity, is that I am forever grateful for my time in Temento Samba. And, I’m grateful for you, dear family and friends, for trusting us with your children and allowing them this opportunity to become a part of a very special community in ways that will reverberate well beyond their stay in Senegal. I will be posting a series of photos in the spirit of a ‘picture is worth a thousand words,’ although I think we’d need about a million to do it all justice here.

Photos from Temento Samba

[caption id="attachment_158452" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] Students seated at the start of an epic farewell party in Temento Samba[/caption] [caption id="attachment_158450" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] The “konkoran” are fascinating figures who come to ward off evil, and playfully scare children[/caption] [caption id="attachment_158449" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] A group discussion in the shade of the trees[/caption] [caption id="attachment_158448" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] Student amidst X-phase planning[/caption] [caption id="attachment_158446" align="alignnone" width="1280"] Hiking through the forests of Temento[/caption] [caption id="attachment_158445" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Samba trading his instructor hat for his peanut farmer hat[/caption] [caption id="attachment_158444" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] Jackson breaking down his tent at dawn[/caption] [caption id="attachment_158443" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] Student getting ready to camp under the moonlight[/caption] [caption id="attachment_158440" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] Students planning their X-phase adventures[/caption] [post_title] => Reflections from Visiting the Fall Gap Semester in Senegal [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => gratitude-from-temento-samba [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-12-17 16:15:00 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-12-17 23:15:00 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 638 [name] => From the Field [slug] => from_the_field [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 638 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [parent] => 0 [count] => 81 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 81 [category_description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [cat_name] => From the Field [category_nicename] => from_the_field [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) ) [category_links] => From the Field )
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Finding Connection in a World of Digital Malaise 

“Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.” — Zen Kōan [caption id="attachment_158399" align="aligncenter" width="970"] Camping on the north end of Madeline Island[/caption] This morning my cat, Amazae, was in the bathtub chasing his tail. Ever faster he spun in frantic circles seeking his prize, not knowing that his success would ultimately end in self-harm. Perhaps, I thought, this isn’t so different from us humans, frantically pursuing greater control of the world around us, seeking to “develop” and not knowing that this too will end in self-harm. For me, and many others I think, the global pandemic presented a unique opportunity to ask the question, “What am I chasing? What are we chasing?” It offered an invitation to reconsider our pathway forward as individuals, and as a collective species. Do we continue to chase our tail in pursuit of ever greater technological prowess and development? What if we choose to stop? What if we choose to answer a deep yearning for reconnection to self and to the world around us?  Charles Mann describes this dichotomy as that of the Wizard and the Prophet. “The conflict”, he writes, “between these visions is not between good and evil, but between different ideas of the good life, between ethical orders that give priority to personal liberty and those that give priority to what might be called connection.”   

The Good Life 

This summer I had the great fortune of working with a group of Dragons students on the South Shore of Lake Superior. The course explored notions of “The Good Life” as defined by farmers, professors, ecologists and artists of both indigenous and white descent in the area. After a year and a half confined to four walls, forced to interact with friends and family through the cold glass window of a zoom call, our collective longing for meaningful connection was palpable. We had experienced an acute and collective sense of disconnection and isolation as a result of living life virtually. But this phenomenon goes well beyond pandemic times to a longer trajectory of increased human isolation, isolation from our non-human community. As Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in her seminal work “Braiding Sweetgrass,” “Philosophers call this state of isolation and disconnection ‘species loneliness’—a deep, unnamed sadness stemming from estrangement from the rest of Creation, from the loss of relationship. As our human dominance of the world has grown, we have become more isolated, more lonely when we can no longer call out to our neighbors. It’s no wonder that naming was the first job the Creator gave Nanabozho.”  

Basket Weaving on the Shores of Lake Superior 

[caption id="attachment_158401" align="aligncenter" width="1620"] April Stone weaving a black ash basket on the shores of Lake Superior[/caption] “I’m not really into basket weaving,” one of our students mentioned in their entrance interview. Perhaps they associated the art form to a Michael’s department store, or a Martha Stewart magazine. Perhaps they didn’t realize that by ‘basket weaving’ we meant entering into communion with a fifty year-old being through ceremonial harvest, the intimate and sensual intermingling of blood and tree sap as we slice through end grain and accidentally cut ourselves. The two-million year old ‘thud’ of an axe on wood flesh, and the meditative processing of weaving the raw material of a living being into a 12,000 year-old vessel that changed the course of human history. Basket weaving can mean a lot of things depending on how we approach it. And so, we set out this past July to find a deeper connection through the harvest of a black ash tree. Through sunshine dappled forest we walked, slowly, with Joan Elias at the head pointing out the names of plants, narrating the recent history of this 190 acres of forest in recovery.   

Stewarding the Land Back to Health

Joan is our host for these five days, allowing our group to camp in an old hay field alongside a century-old barn, and her vibrant vegetable garden. She has been stewarding this land back to health for the past 31 years alongside her late husband, also an ecologist. In the early 1900s the entire Chequamegon Bay area was logged to a tree, leaving a scarred landscape that is still in the early phases of healing.  At her side is April Stone, a traditional black ash basket weaver, educator and Bad River Tribal member. April has agreed to work with our group for six days, leading us through a live harvest, the processing of raw material, and the weaving of baskets into a finished product. Today, we are here for the harvest. We are here to take a life from this forest, to remove a member of the community.  

Asking for Permission  

[caption id="attachment_158397" align="aligncenter" width="2560"] Dragons students with Joan Elias and April Stone preparing to harvest a black ash tree[/caption] When we arrive at the adolescent black ash tree, spontaneous silence spreads through the group. April lights sage and speaks to the tree, asking permission for a harvest. Without invitation, students begin to step forward and place their hands on the tree, to talk to it, to whisper words that I do not hear on the outside of our small circle. In turn, we each step forward to acknowledge the tree, and the significance of our coming to take it.  I found myself speaking to the tree in Spanish, which seems absurd now. Perhaps it was my attempt to create a “special” connection with the tree, as we all had. I think we all wanted to show that in these last moments of its sacred life, we were willing to do what we could to extend ourselves and meet the tree on some kind of middle ground. Is this what a relationship looks like? How do we talk to trees? How do we love them? How do they want to be loved by us?   

The Black Ash 

‘Thud’... the first swing of the axe biting deep into the intricately patterned bark. Our violence would continue, with respect, reverence, vigor and also joy, satisfaction, and fear at each blow, moving ever deeper into the layers of the flesh, each student taking their turn at the axe. As the tree is slowly hewn away we spot dark rot within. “Oh no!” Our collective response to the concern that we had slain this tree for naught.  In a moment we felt wasteful, clumsy, wanton in our destruction. Next, we were reminded by our teacher that even if the tree would not serve for making a basket, it would be composted back into the earth, that it was already in the process of dying, and would lay on the forest floor, nourishing its kin.  The moment passes and we see that the tree will indeed serve our purpose. As we boisterously depart the forest, our trophy hoisted high on our shoulders, the abundance and emotion of our harvest takes me back to Kimmerer who writes, “Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift.”  

Learning to Weave Baskets

[caption id="attachment_158402" align="aligncenter" width="2560"] After strips of new wood are removed from the trunk students work in the shade, learning to weave their raw material into different shapes and patterns[/caption] In the shade of a century-old dairy barn, students take turns pounding along the trunk of the tree—collapsing the weaker earlywood, and liberating the latewood to be peeled off in strips. Surrounded by raspberries and flowers, and sitting in small circles sharing stories of life back home, they apprentice April through the process of cutting and weaving the strips into small receptacles.  The smell of freshly harvested black ash fills the nostrils, and the time passes without warning. Over the next five days we become intimately familiar with the tree, the texture of the strips, the way the material plies and shapes.  On our final day with April, we head out to Mooningwanekaaning, or Madeline Island. We set up our small camp looking east across 200 miles of open fresh water and settled in to finish our baskets. As dinner is prepared by a group of students, others head into the woods and return with an abundance of wintergreen leaves and berries, wild blueberries and service berries.   

Connection to Each Other and the Earth 

[caption id="attachment_158400" align="aligncenter" width="2560"] April and Cricket return from a harvest of wild blueberries, service berries and wintergreen along Lake Superior.[/caption] The web of relations is strong. One harvest has led to another, and now we know the names of a few more plants, have put their fruit to our lips, have tasted the forest, seen how it grows together in a tightly knit community. We are a part of that community and are compelled to ask ourselves all the questions related to what it means to be in community, to be a part of the exchange of energy and life.  That night, we sat together around the fire sharing our life stories, allowing our personal identities, struggles, values, and experiences to weave together like so many strands of a basket. These connections we feel to each other and the earth are born of the intermingling of sap and blood, the physical, carnal, emotional exchange we share through the thud of the axe, the silent moment of whispers in the forest, or the stories we share as we weave on the beach. These are precisely the "connections" that Charles Mann speaks of when describing the way of the Prophet. And in these simple tasks—chopping wood, carrying water, (weaving baskets)—we experience interconnectedness and belonging. To experience a slice of the good life, wild harvests, starry nights on the beach, and the power of basket weaving while connecting to the land, check out our Summer Course Lake Superior: The Good Life here. This course runs from July 5 - 30, 2022.  [post_title] => Reconnecting to the Earth and Ourselves on Dragons Lake Superior Summer Program [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => basket-weaving-on-lake-superior [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-12-10 21:47:30 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-12-11 04:47:30 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 638 [name] => From the Field [slug] => from_the_field [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 638 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [parent] => 0 [count] => 81 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 81 [category_description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [cat_name] => From the Field [category_nicename] => from_the_field [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) ) [category_links] => From the Field )
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    [post_content] => This story is from the field and written by Jacquelyn Kovarik, a Dragons instructor who is currently leading a group of students from Tufts University through a semester in the Southwest (USA). Jac shares her story of the group's time in New Mexico, celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day. Her reflection speaks to the importance of traveling and seeking out lesser known realities in the United States.

Monday, October 11th, 2021 was an eventful day for the Southwest Tufts Civics Semester. It was our last day in northern New Mexico, which had been our program base for the first half of the semester. It was also Indigenous Peoples Day 2021, and the first year this day had been federally recognized by the so-called United States. As we began to say our goodbyes to the dramatic and recently snow-capped Tewa Kusempi peaks (the so-called Truchas Peaks), it felt fitting to head to a Tewa-led community celebration of Indigenous excellence in O’ga P’ogeh (so-called Santa Fe). We spent all day Sunday cleaning and packing so we could pile into the van and Jeep on Monday morning to head an hour south for the celebration. 

“Indigenous Peoples Day: Back to Our Roots - Celebrating Indigenous Excellence” was a community celebration put on by the Three Sisters Collective (3SC), a collective of Pueblo, Tewa, Diné, and other native women. Dr. Christine Castro, who also goes by “Dr. X”, is a founding member of the collective and first let us know about the celebration five weeks prior, when we met with her in so-called Santa Fe during our orientation week for a native-centered tour of the city. Dr. X is a tribal member of two Tewa Pueblos and has dedicated her life to educating her communities and the greater Santa Fe community about Tewa culture and the ongoing fight against neo-colonization and neo-colonialism. Seeing Dr. X that Monday afternoon, completely in her element and often being trailed by laughing native children, was so joyous—she was surrounded by her community of native and non-native friends and loved ones, and the day’s activities were dedicated to celebrating Indigenous excellence. This was radical joy in the face of colonization and violence. It was tangible and so so sweet. 

The celebration was hosted by Reunity Resources, a farm and community center in Agua Fría, Santa Fe. This was not our first time at Reunity—we had come first with Dr. X on that Sunday five weeks prior and had also returned in mid-September for their Fall Festival. Returning again for Indigenous Peoples Day really felt like we had become a part of the northern New Mexico community in a meaningful way, despite five weeks having flown by. The sun was shining and native vendors were selling their art and work in rows along the rows of corn and wildflowers. Solange Aguilar, a queer Apache/Yo’eme/Kalnga/Kapampangan artist, sold us stickers that said “My Queerness is Ancestral” and “Protect the Land with Me.” Students bought jewelry and handicrafts for their friends and loved ones back home. Sticky sweet paletas dripped down our forearms as we gathered in the performance space to listen to the Indigenous open mic. Everything felt so abundant, immediate, vital. 

Celebrating Indigenous Futurisms

[caption id="attachment_158251" align="alignnone" width="2049"] The student group attends an open mic for Indigenous Peoples' Day[/caption] The performances started off with a young native Japanese girl named Ishi. Her voice was breathtakingly beautiful and carried over the vendors and blooming crops: You cannot eat money, when the rivers are poisoned and the fields are barren you cannot eat money. What if we lived in a world that valued the earth and sustenance over monetary gain and capitalism? These are Indigenous futurisms and Ishi was generously giving us a taste.  Israel F. Haros Lopez was sitting nearby, beside his pregnant spouse. About a month prior we had gathered on this same farm with Israel to make art and commune with the earth. Israel is the founder and director of Alas de Agua, a grassroots art collective in so-called Santa Fe run by and for Chicanx, Latinx, Indigenous, queer/trans, immigrant, and BIPOC artists. I was surprised to see that Israel’s spouse had not yet given birth - when we met with him nearly a month prior he had said the baby was coming any day now. “Alas de Agua” translates to “Wings of Water” in English. Israel jumped up and walked to the open mic, a water glass in hand. He grabbed the mic: “Together we are going to call forth the names of our baby - multiple names because we have not decided on one yet. He is overdue and we so badly want him here with us.” His voice cracked and there were tears in his eyes, and he looked directly at his spouse and began to perform spoken word, calling on Water to deliver their baby. Water is our blood. Water is our bodies. The water we shared the first time we made love. The water that is holding our son now. The water that is our love. Water is our baby. Water is life. Let the Water break now. Israel was calling on Water to deliver their baby, sharing the glass of water with his spouse at the end. What if we lived in a world that valued water as our teacher, our lover, our elder? What if we lived in a world that revered water as a sentient being with personhood and rights? These are Indigenous futurisms and Israel was generously giving us a taste.  To the left of the stage were a group of people sitting in a circle and harvesting amaranth seed as they listened to the performances. Two people stood up, brushed the amaranth seeds off their laps, and headed to the mic - Beata Tsosie-Peña and Frayer of Tewa Women United. TWU is a collective based in Española that works to build the Tewa community and end violence against Indigenous women, girls, and Mother Earth. We had met Beata and Frayer a few weeks prior in Española, when we met with them for an afternoon at the Española Healing Gardens Oasis and learned about the intersections between seed sovereignty, Indigenous sovereignty, and reproductive/gender justice. In addition to working as the Environmental Health and Justice Coordinator at TWU, Beata also works as a doula and is a Pueblo representative for the New Mexico Governor’s task force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. That day we harvested beautiful purple and pink colored beans in the field, laughing with our hands in the dirt. Beata and Frayer took the mic for a spoken word duet: The elm tree did not ask to be planted along our Río Bravo shores. They were brought over without their consent, by white men who knew nothing about their seeds, their branches, their root systems. What if we lived in a world that treated seeds and plants as our elders? What would it mean to ask a plant for consent, to form a loving relationship with the ecologies around us? And what if we lived in a world where native women could give birth the way they wanted, and lived without fear of violence? These are Indigenous futurisms and Beata and Frayer were generously giving us a taste.  As the open mic came to a close, a DJ started mixing The Bee Gees and a dance party broke out. We hopped and stomped and spun around in the late afternoon sun with everyone else who had just witnessed all the beautiful wisdom of the Indigenous open mic, and as we moved our bodies there was an undeniable wave of irresistible joy.  The site and organizational visits we have been doing on this program are often heavy. From nuclear colonialism and the effect of Los Alamos and the Trinity Test Site atomic bomb testing on the immediate surrounding Indigenous communities and on the whole planet; to environmental racism and the incarceration of Black and Brown youth in underserved Albuquerque neighborhoods; to the struggles of immigrants to obtain legal protections in our country’s broken immigration system; to the violence that trans, non-binary and femmes migrants face while trying to cross the border for a better life - liberation for all often feels far from our current reality. Beata herself shared with us that the reason she got involved in environmental health and justice work was due to the daily realities of living next to a nuclear weapons complex. There is much healing to be done.  The celebration at Reunity Resources this Indigenous Peoples’ Day was a reminder of the power of radical hope and joy—the need for this in the healing process. Despite ongoing colonization and violence, we danced. We danced together, and together we witnessed —with our own eyes and ears and bodies—what Indigenous futurisms hold, for us all, if we are willing to listen and learn.

Hear what students had to say about the celebration

[caption id="attachment_158247" align="aligncenter" width="2049"] Students from the Tufts Civic Semester celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day in New Mexico[/caption] Lily Feng, 18, Farmington, Connecticut: “There was a moment where we were in the courtyard listening to the open mic, and I looked around and saw all the diversity of people there, and it struck me that we were taking part in something revolutionary. It was the first time Indigenous People’s Day had been recognized by the Biden administration, and it was the first time the Three Sisters Collective had put on this celebration, and it felt powerful. It also felt like our first portion of the trip had come full circle - all the Indigenous people who we had met while in northern New Mexico were there, and it felt like we had created longterm and meaningful relationships. We were able to participate in these radical Indigenous futurisms, as Dr. X said, and that is powerful.”  Caroline Bewley, 18, Willamette, Illinois: “What made this day particularly memorable was that it was our last day in northern New Mexico so it was a day that was already filled with so much emotion. We got to go for an Indigenous People's Day celebration at the farm that we went to on our first day, so going back really was a full circle moment and felt like the perfect way to end this chapter of the program. We also got to listen to spoken word poetry, music, and singing from Indigenous creatives which I really enjoyed. Additionally, at the celebration we got to say goodbye to some of the people that had taken the time to meet with us and teach us more about what they do and how they are contributing to the betterment of their communities.”  Biani Ebie, 18, Lagos, Nigeria and Boston, Massachusetts: “I really enjoyed the celebration. Just being able to witness Indigenous excellence was something special. Seeing Dr. X and Israel and Beata and Frayer again, it felt like a full circle moment and felt like the best way to end our time in northern New Mexico. It felt cyclical in the best way possible.”  Ben Chisam, 18, Atlanta, Georgia: “It was really powerful because Dr. X shared about how the particular Indigenous community that was coming together for the day’s celebration was a new community. It was powerful to see that space being created. We witnessed a lot of the colonialism of Santa Fe as a city during our time in northern New Mexico, and it felt powerful to see a decolonial space created by Indigenous people and for Indigenous people. It was also a testament to the fact that Indigenous people are not just a figment of the past, but are very much a force of the present and will be in the future as well. It was a safe and radically inclusive space to be in.”  Learn more about our domestic Summer Programs and Gap Year Semesters for the 2022 season. The program most closely related to this story is the Rio Grande Semester, offered next in Fall 2022.  [post_title] => Indigenous People's Day in O'ga P'ogeh: Celebrating Indigenous Futurisms  [post_excerpt] => Learn how the Dragons - Tufts Civic Semester group celebrated Indigenous Peoples' Day in northern New Mexico. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => indigenous-peoples-day-in-oga-pogeh-celebrating-indigenous-futurisms [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-10-21 22:47:43 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-10-22 04:47:43 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 638 [name] => From the Field [slug] => from_the_field [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 638 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [parent] => 0 [count] => 81 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 81 [category_description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [cat_name] => From the Field [category_nicename] => from_the_field [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 653 [name] => Global Community [slug] => global_community [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 653 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [parent] => 0 [count] => 55 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 7 [cat_ID] => 653 [category_count] => 55 [category_description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [cat_name] => Global Community [category_nicename] => global_community [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) ) [category_links] => From the Field, Global Community )
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    [post_content] => This webinar is brought to you by the Dragons Global Speaker Series – a program where our global educators share lessons in critical thinking related to current world events.
On October 18, 2020 Evo Morales's leftwing party, Movimiento al Socialismo (Mas), celebrated a stunning comeback with the progressive candidate, Luis Arce winning Bolivia's presidential election in what could be considered a landslide victory (about 20 points according to exit polls.)

It’s a remarkable turn of events, especially considering that just under a year ago, Morales—the longtime indigenous president and incumbent—was overthrown in a police-military coup who then installed the right wing evangelical Jeanine Áñez as president.

In this webinar recorded in May of 2020, Julianne Chandler, Dragons Latin America Program Director, shares her experience of living in Bolivia as the Coronavirus pandemic collided with the fallout from an already devastating political crisis.


The Fall of Evo Morales and Political Transformation in Bolivia


The Plurinational State of Bolivia was already in crisis when the global pandemic took hold, after contested elections in October of 2019 incited national protests and the sudden ousting of longtime indigenous president and incumbent Evo Morales. A highly controversial debate about whether or not Morales was victim to a right-wing coup has been overshadowed by draconian quarantine measures and increasing restrictions on civil liberties being implemented by the interim government of Jeanine Añez, no friend to Bolivia’s indigenous majority. As a new round of national elections in Bolivia continue to be delayed indefinitely in the face of the public health emergency, serious questions remain unanswered about Evo’s hurried departure, what constitutes a coup d’etat, and the politics of pandemic under a de facto government in South America’s diverse and often misunderstood Andean nation. This session will provide an outline and assessment of recent events in Bolivia from Julianne’s personal experience living through the political crisis and pandemic.

Presented by:

Julianne Chandler, M.A. Poverty and Development, The Institute of Development Studies. B.A. Anthropology and Latin American Studies, New York University. Julianne is the Latin America Program Director with Dragons and lives in Tiquipaya, Bolivia with her husband and two daughters.


Interested in developing your own in-field perspective of Bolivia through cultural immersion, wilderness exploration, and language study? Learn more about our unfiltered and immersive Summer and Gap Year programs here.

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    [post_content] => I want to tell you about my extraordinary friend Sushil Babu Chettri from Nepal. He’s an inspiration for a whole number of reasons, not least for his remarkable life story. His full firsthand account can be found on the Learning Service blog.

He was born in a remote village in the west of Nepal, but ran away as a child and ended up on the streets of Kathmandu. At the age of eight, he learned how to beg from tourists and avoid getting addicted to drugs, while enduring the violence of street gangs.

After some time a tourist “rescued” him and brought him to an orphanage, but unfortunately, the place was corrupt and abusive. The children had no-one to care for them and had to cook and clean for themselves. They did not go to school and had no healthcare. The kids were not even fed enough and were sent out to beg for food. The owner collected donations from various sources but the money never reached the children.


Volunteers would come in and out of the orphanage, never suspecting that they were contributing to the exploitation of the children. The volunteers showered love and gifts on the orphanage kids, but the children found it traumatizing to have a conveyor-belt of caregivers, and when they left the hardships resumed.
At the age of twelve, Sushil was the oldest child in the orphanage and felt responsible for getting the children out. He eventually exposed the situation to an American lady and then made a police report about the conditions in the orphanage. The children were all rescued and it slowly their story came out – none of them were orphans, they had all been trafficked there.
The children all went to an organization that cared for them and tried to reconnect them with their families. Sushil felt he was too old to start school but instead he learned skills like how to use a camera and started making short films. He started documenting the lives of street children through film and raising awareness of social issues such as getting children of Kathmandu’s slums into schools. He only reconnected to his family and returned to his village when he was an adult, finding out for the first time that he had a younger brother. The issue that Sushil campaigns on most passionately is orphanage trafficking. After experiencing firsthand how orphanages are run as businesses in order to attract donations, with children stolen from rural areas like where he grew up, he now hosts talks and workshops with tourists and volunteers – and Dragons students! – to share his experience. Recently he has been trying to draw attention to the plight of children trapped in abusive orphanages during the coronavirus pandemic. In recent months, Sushil has been back in his remote home town documenting the situation of migrant laborers as they pour over the border from India despite the strict lockdown. He has been active in campaigning for aid for them, but also for aid to be given in the right way and to not be tokenistic or vanity-driven. He is also launching a project to build a well in his village in order to support vegetable growing there.
Throughout Sushil’s life, he has demonstrated remarkable resilience. He is friendly, positive, and fun, and is always willing to use his time and voice to help other people. He is an enormous inspiration to me – and as close as they come to a living legend.
Sushil Babu Chhetri is a freelance photographer and filmmaker who is based in Kathmandu, Nepal. His films include Flowers in the Dust and Letter to God. He is also an activist campaigning on behalf of children living on the street and in orphanages. You can follow him on YouTube and Instagram.  
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About Mbouillé

Mbouillé Diallo currently works in diplomatic security. He is an educator and taught young Senegalese and American students, specializing in language and culture. He is a seasoned Dragons instructor, he led Dragon's inaugural West Africa summer program in 2005 and has been invited numerous times as a speaker and trainer for Dragons staff training. A former radio host, he is very interested in politics and geo-politics, though he is not a member of any political party. He is currently writing an autobiographical book and lives with his wife and four children in Thies, Senegal. A former soccer player, trainer and referee, Mr. Diallo likes to watch soccer games and see his kids play.    


Interviewing Mbouillé

Can you speak a little bit about what it was like to grow up in Kolda?

I remember, when I was a lot younger, my parents or people of their generation would refer to the regions North of the Gambia as Senegal, and our area (South) as Casamance. I always wondered why. To me we were all Senegalese. My father served in the army and later the Police of Senegal. We ended up living in Kolda just because my father decided to build his house there. Actually, many of my siblings and myself (as a little boy) did not like having to live in Kolda. Because we wanted to be in the North and be "Senegalese". As I was growing up, I realized how grateful I should be to God and my parents for giving me the opportunity to grow up in Kolda. I am not sure I would have learnt and understood a lot of things. Maybe, I would not have been the same person. Two examples can help explain why I am saying this:
  • People like me who grow up in Kolda are what I call a "Language and Culture Melting Pot". Thanks to my past and experience I speak at least seven languages. In my neighborhood, we were surrounded by families of different origins. Almost in each family, they spoke a different language and had something specific to their culture, religion etc. There were several ethnic groups and each had some specificities. That's why I would do whatever I could to not miss family ceremonies. As such, I was able to grow up learning from others and build my own personality, my future… my life. I am deeply convinced that without this past I would not have had the opportunity to work at the US Peace Corps, Dragons and other foreign organizations, or it would not have been the same. With my background and education, it was quite easy for me to understand others and know that staying or working with someone thought to be different from you is a gift and WEALTH.
  • When I was a little boy, electricity and running water was nonexistent in our neighborhood. We learnt to struggle to succeed in difficult conditions. We would study at night with "lampe Tempete'' (kerosene lamps); and had to pull water from wells to drink, bathe, and do the laundry etc. The legend says that the best civil servants (teachers, health workers, etc.) were mainly posted in the Northern part of the country. My family was considered as one of the wealthiest in the neighborhood, but we loved each other, as friends and played together in the streets as one. We shared food, clothes, school supplies and anything to make friends happy. We learnt to be independent and fight to succeed at school and in society. The one thing I feared the most was going to the bush to fetch firewood for cooking or working in farms. However, by following my friends and seeing how well they were doing, I decided to do the same. The most memorable times of my childhood comes from the moments I spent with friends in the bush, hunting, wrestling, playing games and fighting sometimes. Growing up with that is worth years of school studies.

You reached out to Dragons with a grant proposal to fund Dr. Yaya Balde's campaign to purchase Personal Protective Equipment in the Region of Kolda. Can talk to us a little more about how these funds will help healthcare workers and the local population?

Healthcare workers were quite unable to fulfill their daily tasks to reach out to communities in the beginning, communicate well with them, let them know that following guidance given by authorities is key to fight COVID 19. The health system and facilities in Kolda is one of the least equipped in the country. Staff did not have enough tools (masks, gloves, hygiene gels, soap etc). Healthcare officials could not keep telling people to wash their hands if the latter don't have soap or water (in some areas). They used a few radio programs, but being in the field was the best way to communicate with people. Healthcare workers knew it would take time to change people's mind and let them understand that COVID 19 is real and anyone can be infected. The virus can survive anywhere; be it a hot, humid or cold area.  They needed the basic tools and products to help communities fight. The public health system also depends on volunteers, since many health workers are not treated as civil servants and their salaries depend on the fees paid by patients in public hospitals and health care centers. Some health workers unions and hospital managers publicly announced that they might not be able to pay some salaries in the near future if solutions are not found quickly. So, I understood that people's lives are at risk. How can someone who struggles on a daily basis to get the minimum to feed themselves and their family be able to pay for fees in order to be taken care of by public health care? And if the health care workers are frustrated and stressed out, because not only don’t have good salaries, but also they might even be paid, I do not think they will be able to help fight COVID 19 in an efficient way.  I thought it would be very helpful to help with means to anticipate and limit the number of people contaminated or affected. I contacted Dr. Balde and learned that there is a committee in charge that can receive donations. Knowing that I do not have enough income to personally bring a help that could impact, I decided to contact friends who could work directly with him and coordinate donations.  

What is the current state of the Covid-19 crisis in Senegal? How has the virus impacted daily life for most people?

As of today Senegal Registered 3253 confirmed cases among whom over 2000 recovered and 38 died. The government of Senegal has not yet opted for total lockdown. However, we are in a state of emergency and under curfew (2100 to 05:00).  The virus has impacted people's daily life in many domains: In terms of the economy, the majority of Senegalese workers are in the informal sector. The economy has slowed down and many locals have been having problems getting income to take care of their daily needs and their families. This crisis has also shown that the health system is extremely weak in this country as it is in many other developing countries. We realize now that the health system has issues in staffing (low salaries or no salary for many of them), and equipment (absence of masks, gloves, hygiene stuff) etc. More importantly, this crisis shows that good communication, hygiene and healthy diets can save lives and money.   The government voted for a special budget to support needy people. As such, food and hygiene products were supposed to be delivered to families that do not have income within a short period of time. Unfortunately, over one month after the decision has been made, many regions have not yet received anything from the government. The government could have done a better job if they did not focus on political actions that we call in French ‘Du Voyez moi’ (look at me). The minister in charge of this task is travelling and using the government TV and other Medias to show up and pretend that he is doing a good job delivering what the community deserves.  On a positive note, this crisis has pushed some sectors to be creative and work on resiliency. Though we are not used to producing and consuming locally, some sectors have decided to participate in the fight by producing masks, machines, gels etc.  

In your opinion, how effective has the leadership in Senegal been at managing the crisis?

To me there was good leadership in the beginning, in the sense that there was an agreement between the current government, the opposition, and most of the other sectors of the society. They all decided to fight the pandemic together. However, I believe, they forgot to take into account certain realities. Most of the recommendations were to stay at home and follow recommendations made by health organizations and authorities. The communication was done in the way that they focused more on stigmatization than addressing the issue. Many people still consider COVID 19 as shameful. That's why many communities did not want to be moved from home (house/village,city, neighborhood) to their quarantine  places (hospitals, hotels and centers).  Also, in my mind, the decision to move all the patients tested positive was a mistake. Many people could have stayed at home and taken care of. The huge amount of money spent to move and take care of those people in hotels could have been saved for investing in testing, research and equipment.  The decision to follow some recommendations was not adequate. For example, they could have recommended locals to wear masks right at the beginning of the crisis, rather than recommending only sick people should wear a mask. I think that added to the false belief that COVID does not exist.     Also, some local wealthy people and politicians who pretended to bring their own revenue into the fight were not doing it for the sake of helping needy people, but rather for publicity. Why would someone whose aim is to help people get out of the crisis expose the stuff and money he is giving in front of cameras and post it on social media? On the other hand, I came to realize that Senegal might not be as poor as our authorities claim. The amount of money that has been collected from politicians and other private business owners could have been enough to help us tackle the problem right at the beginning. If this money was used in the way it should be, the health system in this country would not have been at this sad level.     

Is there anything you wish people living abroad knew about Senegal?

Senegal is one country with a lot of differences and details specific to peoples’ lives; it’s not fair to say there is one culture of Senegal. Senegal is not a poor country, but communities are not always given the opportunity to take advantage of their resources. The colonial system and history have impacted Senegal in different ways. Depending on where you are in the country, you can see these differences.  As such, the decision-makers should take into account the community realities in order to manage and help this country get out of the hole. So, for people living abroad, the best way to know this country and understand the realities to connect directly with locals, stay with them, travel with them….  Also, the educational system has to change. No community can make progress without a good system of education. And leaders should understand that not only people who are literate in French should be considered as educated people or intellectuals. There are a lot of people who could be good resources, but they are not being asked; if they are, their ideas are not taken into account.

What are your hopes and fears for the future?

I will summarize my hopes in one sentence: I wish the future of this country to be left in the hands of those who have the capacity and deserve it. I am optimistic that the new activist movements that are spreading now all over Africa will help us get to that. Many young Africans now understand that the most obvious guarantee to move forward is real Africa Union…

Anything else you want us to know?

I will be happy to get back to you if you have further questions. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to express myself in a few lines about my country…..    

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