Global Environmental Summer Academy – Week 3 update

Warm greetings to you all,
I am writing to you from Vancouver. I just got back last night after spending the last week at GESA. Week three was full of lots of interesting discussions. We spent the first two days of the week in a TED talk style workshop where we presented our improved versions of the talks,  I mentioned in the first week’s update. The organizers have put a lot of effort in helping us improve our speaking and presentation skills and we could all see significant improvements in the delivery and content of these talks. These should be available online once they finish editing. I will share the link with all of you so that you can see my talk as well as those of the rest of the participants.
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Giving my TED style talk. Photo courtersy of Inanc Tekguc
We also visited  the IUCN HQ which is based in Gland (about 1.5 hours) away from Bern. We had another discussion on spirituality in conservation and got to learn about some of IUCN’s work on disaster preparedness, climate change and application of indigenous knowledge to respond to climate change. I was quite pleased to meet a Nigerian scholar, John Agbonifo who talked to us about the struggles of the Ogoni peoples against the desecration of their landscapes by oil drilling activities of Shell and the Nigerian state. The struggle of the Ogoni was led by amongst others, Ken Saro Wiwa who was executed by the Nigerian government. You can read more  about that here He told us how the Ogoni people have to this date managed to keep Shell out of their land. I knew about this struggle but I think I need to read more about it and it is nice to know that there are African scholars who study this resistance.
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My Ugandan, Mauritian and Indian colleagues and I presented the ethnobotany break together.  From Uganda and Kenya we  had Ugali, Kachumbari, spinach in peanut sauce, masala chai and something called ROLEX(!). The latter is a a fusion of eggs and vegetables rolled in chapati/friend bread. Our Ugandan colleague told us that this is mainly eaten by university students and the those in the lower income brackets in the city. So, if you are in Uganda and ask for Rolex, you will not get a watch…you will get Rolex :). One of the funding partners of the academy is Rolex(the real one) so there was much laughter about that.
Yellow Ugali spinach and kachumbari
Clockwise: Spinach in peanut sauce, Ugali and Kachumbari

Talking about the food

Since we had to speak about the food I had a chance to reflect about Ugali – how it has become a staple food in Kenya and in many other parts of Africa as well(the name of the dish varies across countries), irrespective of the fact that it is not indigenous to the continent(Maize was introduced to the east coast of Africa by the Portuguese who brought it from the Americas in the 16th Century). In Kenya for example, if the price of maize flour rises there is a national outcry. The Swahili name for flour is Unga. So, it is common to hear people say something like “Kutafuta unga” which translates to looking for flour but in actual sense it is a metaphor for earning a livelihood. When there was a increase in commodity prices in 2011 Kenyans launched what became known as the ‘Unga revolution’. I came across a short documentary that was made about this and I thought I would share it Unga Revolution Kenya.
Different varieties of corn or maize
Different varieties of maize
We have also been talking about what to do next  in order to keep the network alive as well as to initiate regional experiences on similar subjects.  The African ‘delegation’ is working on something similar in Ethiopia.
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Classroom shot. Photo courtesy of Inanc Tekguc
To finish this off, I would just like to say this has been an amazing experience and it is not lost to me that it has been made possible because of your generous support and kindness – I will never forget this. It is really great to know that there are people who are passionate about the same issues that I care about and I can get in touch with them for advice or other support. It is also very encouraging to hear of community driven initiatives that seek to resolve environmental and or governance challenges and that are doing so successfully.
All Participants
I now feel very energized to start planning for my field work in Kenya.  Once again, I thank you all for making this possible for me. I truly appreciate it.
Gloria Kendi Borona

Global Environmental Summer Academy – Week 2 update

Dear everyone, 
Greetings from overcast Bern. It has been another wonderful week here at GESA.  We  started off the week with discussions on spirituality in environmental justice issues with great speaker (Alastair McIntosh) from Scotland. Listening to Alastair reminded me of reading Wangari Maathai’s book ‘Spiritual values for replenishing ourselves and the planet’. We had other discussion of environmental justice issues led by Ashish Kothari from India. He presented some very interesting case studies of communities taking their destiny in their own hands and defining their development objectives. 
Trees of Bern
Trees of Bern
Ashish also talked about a website they have created that showcases inspirational community driven initiatives in India. These include alternative schooling (we are all in agreement that the education system is in need of serious reform, right?), self community mobilization among the ‘untouchables’  who are oppressed by the caste system (a restoration of people’s dignity and confidence) and community resource governance initiatives. You can read more about these projects here.  We often hear more about what is not working and get preoccupied with a gloomy analysis on how bad things are and all the good initiatives get swallowed in the negativity.  It is heartening to know that there are people who are thinking and doing things differently.
View of the city of Bern
View of the city of Bern
 We also got to tour the food ways of Bern and visit projects that are engaged in some very innovative work to reduce food waste. For example there is a company that buys all the rejected food (according to EU standards) and cooks meals which they then sell at subsidized prices.  Later in the week, we visited the Swiss Development Corporation and had a very interesting discussion about Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). These are supposed to succeed the Millennium Development Goals(MDG’s) when the world meets in Paris in September 2015.
Aeere River
There were some very well thought out critiques from our end e.g. Goal no 1 is to end poverty. One of  the participants asked why we are preoccupied with poverty instead of working on reducing wealth if the challenge we face in the world is too few wealthy people/countries and may poor people or countries. Another critique was that the SDG’s are not keen on upsetting the status quo. There are no any strong measures to prevent exploitation of the poor or the environment. We are entrenched in a predatory capitalistic system that benefits few at the expense of the many. Up and until when we can have a honest conversation about that and concrete actions to address that, gross global inequalities will continue to be an issue. There cannot be an end to poverty when the economic system we have is sustained by poverty i.e. extract from the poor, get fabulously wealthy and then tell them that you are helping them develop.
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Cheers to that!
Ice cream break
Ice cream always makes you feel better 🙂
At the end of thee week we had a very interesting session with another summer Academy group that is dealing in food sovereignty (having decision making powers on what to grow, where,when, how etc) issues. We also talked about the  land grabbing in the global south.  I was stunned to hear the facilitator mention that 80% of the land  that Switzerland depends on is not in Switzerland. It is in other countries. This then leads to the question – what is a country or a nation state? If, say, Switzerland benefits from Ghanian land, why shouldn’t a  Ghanian live in Switzerland without going through the whole de-humanising process of acquiring visas  or being labelled as illegal immigrant? I use Ghana as an example because  we all love Swiss Chololate but cocoa does not grow in Switzerland. It grows in countries like Ghana and others. How many Swiss people have ever seen a cocoa plant? or even know what it takes to grow cocoa? It is not too difficult to see that there is something very wrong in this world on  multiple fronts.
By the banks of Aere River
I must say I am really enjoying this learning experience and looking forward to next week and beyond.
Yours most sincerely,
Gloria Kendi Borona

Global Environmental Summer Academy 2015: Week 1 update

I was lucky to attend the Global Environmental Summer Academy (GESA) in Switzerland from 26 July to 15  August 2015. I am publishing a series of three letters that I sent to all those who supported my fundraising efforts at Gloria’s environmental leadership. I want everyone to know what what GESA is all about and hopefully many more people can benefit from future editions, like I did. If you are interested in environmental issues, critical thinking, innovative solutions or community driven resource governance this academy is for you. If you think there is something fundamentally wrong with the way this world is governed and structured, this course is most definitely for you.

Global Summer Academy – Week 1 update

Dear everyone,

I am writing you this email because you all supported me to raise funds in order to attend this summer academy. I remain most sincerely grateful for your kindness and generosity. I thought it would be nice to send you weekly updates on what I am doing since this OUR project. 

Who doesn’t like sunflowers? They make me think that life is good. This was taken during our filming workshop
So, warm greetings from Bern! We have  21 participants from 18 countries (chosen from  502 applicants!) attending this academy. I arrived on Sunday 26th July. We left for a two day retreat to the Alps and we had quite a wonderful time there.  During that time we engaged in work that reconnects us with all of nature and each other. I really liked the aspects of being conscious of  our place on earth and using that as a stepping stone to engage constructively with environmental issues of our time(s). 
Tourists. This is a world heritage site
Oeschinen Lake Kanderstag Switzerland

Below is a small video of the Alps

We returned to Bern after the two days and embarked on presentations about our work or projects.  There is an amazing group of people here! People doing lots of interesting work in subjects that are of great interest to me; indigenous knowledge systems, food sovereignty, sustainable agriculture, climate change, the politics of water, disaster management and biodiversity conservation. I learnt and continue to learn so much through listening to and interacting with these colleagues. The best thing for me is that I do not have to explain my work so much (I find that I often have to). This is the first time since starting my PhD that I have come across a group of people who easily get and support what I do. For the sake of those who do not know, my research focus is on  how to leverage on indigenous knowledge systems in order to ensure sustainable people-forest relationships.
My presentation was well received and I got a lot of good feedback. I used the three legged African stool as a metaphor to discuss my research work and shared this short video by Wangari Maathai which people really liked or related to. Watch it here I will be a humming bird.  We shall be giving improved versions of the same talks at a TED talk style workshop that will be open to the public and the videos will be posted online so we will all get to see that.
View of Aere river in Bern
Aare River in Bern, Switzerland
We also have also been learning how to film and I am extremely interested in this since I want to film some of my research work. We produced small films in groups and my colleagues say that I should consider a career in  Hollywood *:D big grin. I even got offers from those who are willing to be my agents – ha!
View from the organic farm from where we were filming
Agricultural fields
Oh, I forgot something very important that I really like (this update is getting rather lengthy!). During the break times we have what is referred to as ‘ethnobothany breaks’. I LOVE this part of the programme!! So, what happens here is that participants share food that they brought from their countries and give some explanation about it. It is so interesting to hear the different stories about food/foodways. So far we have shared food from Morcocco, Cyprus, Hungary, Canada, USA, Finland, Italy and Turkey.  I am still thinking about what to make.
Ethnobotany break
Example of an ethnobotany break

Week two update

Week three update