One month later…

It’s hard to believe that the internship ended a month ago. Sitting back at home, returning back to a routine of seeing family, friends and loved ones make it feel surreal that for over half a year, I was living in Jamaica working at CVC.

Reintegration can be easy for some, but difficult for others. Some interns we met went back right away- not ready to come back to Canada, while others catch up on lost time- wondering what their next steps will be.

For me- it was very difficult returning back in the first month. With crazy family events to  winter storms, Jamaica felt so easy compared to Canada. I had wondered- how am I going to settle back?

What helped? Telling the stories and sharing experiences with those who were in the same footsteps through the re-integration training and public engagement activities. Staying busy by jumping into part-time work. Keeping in touch with CVC members and other friends that I made abroad.

What are my next steps? I don’t know. But- what I do know is my passion to work in international health has strengthened and I will be leaving Canada soon.

Where to? Time will tell.

Thank you for staying with me in my journey in Jamaica.

Soon come.

 

To stay updated with my journey, feel free to follow my personal website at: http://taratchen.wixsite.com/tara

 

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Much Needed Review of the Sexual Offences Act Currently Underway

In Jamaica, the Sexual Offences Act of 2009 along with the Offences Against the Person Act of 1864 provide the legislative basis for all crimes of a sexual nature. I remember, quite vividly, reading all about these two pieces of legislation in my first week of work. My research confirmed the existence of what is commonly referred to as the “Buggery Laws” – four articles in the Offences Against the Person Act that make certain “homosexual acts” illegal. See below. Continue reading

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Happy Earthstrong-Reggae Month in Jamaica

Happy Earthstrong! (Happy Birthday!)

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What better way to close off our last month in the internship by celebrating Reggae Month! For the entire month of February, the Government of Jamaica announced in 2008 that it was to be a celebration of Jamaica’s reggae music. This was done to highlight and celebrate the impact of the musical genre on the country’s social, cultural and economic development. Additionally, two of the late icons of Reggae Music: Robert Nesta Bob Marley and Dennis Brown celebrate their birthdays on February 6th and February 1st. The entire month is filled with activities such as live weekly concerts, lectures, an awards ceremony and so much more; organized by the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA).

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“Out of Many, One People”: The Chinese Jamaican Story

Happy Chinese New Year! Saturday, January 28th, 2017 is marked as the New Year by the lunisolar Chinese calendar otherwise known as the Spring Festival. It is the Year of the Rooster for those who are born in 2017, 2005, 1993, 1981, 1969. I am actually a Rooster meaning it is my lunar year! Chinese New Year is a huge celebration in my household- more important than the New Year we celebrate as January 1st. It is a time for families to be together, wherever we are. My family and I would have a “reunion dinner” where my mother and I would cook a number of dishes that hold special meaning for good luck, wealth and so on. This year is very different for my family because I am in Jamaica and my parents are in Taiwan. It is the first year that I can remember where we are not celebrating together as a family. Although we are miles apart, technology today is able to allow us to skype each other for well wishes and greetings.

Celebrating Chinese New Year in Jamaica

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HIV/AIDS Refresher Training Days in Aboke, Northern Uganda

 

This past week was a busy an exciting week for me here in Uganda, with facilitating HIV/AIDS training sessions for work during the week and running mountains for fun on the weekend.

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So Pack Light

I have always envision myself on television telling stories. You know like Barbara Walters but with a whole lotta’ chocolate. Growing up I would learn the steps to almost every top 10 Billboard Chart hit that made my body want to move. I would dance in front of my dad’s vanity mirror with a bristle brush in mind belching out Christina Aguilera, Brandy, and 3LW lyrics. My over the top jumps and attempts to breakdance would shake the ceiling of the floor beneath my three level apartment, which my family and I lived inconveniently on the third floor of. Personality, refers to individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. My personality was reflected extrovertly, I was made to believe very early that I was inconveniently blessed with ‘the gift of gab’.  In fact my father created a three question maximum conversation cap because I was the forsaken ‘why?’ child. So you see, journalism as a career made sense.

But Why Dad?

But Why Dad?

I remember resting my head on my fathers jolly Saint Nicholas belly as he watched, devotedly, CNN, NBC, and BBC every morning and every evening after work. Our family rituals didn’t include church sermons but rather congregating around the television screen for annual award shows, breaking news, and basketball games during its glory days – Scottie Pippen, Tony Kukoc, Dennis Rodman, Michael Jordan over anybody. Correction,  journalism always made sense. but with the changing face of information I thought I should choose a safe career path and became a LPN. I spent three years working in long-term care, hospitals, and rehabilitation centers before it finally downed on me that this wasn’t gonna work. I went back to school and obtained a degree in Politics and Governance at Ryerson University with a minor in Journalism. After completing my degree I was hungry for hands on experience.

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Photo: Scottie Pippen & Michael Jordan Chat while off court

I choose Jamaica for a number of different reason, but mostly because I needed a break from academia. I was working at a community radio station called CJRU hosting my very on show on social justice issues that showcased Canada’s conscious Hip Hop scene. I graduated and couldn’t wait to tell the world how full of shit they were and how much shit we were in as a global community. I was ready to tell amazing stories that mattered and would change lives, stories that would make North American’s congregating around their television screen like my family did for most of my childhood. I too needed an awakening, so I choose a placement that would help me expand my academic horizons and personal wellbeing mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.  ICAD was one of the very few placements that offered a communications position. To my great excitement I applied and I was accepted. I met loads of interesting people. All of whom anticipate to make their mark and change our world. Most of my IYIP peers are pursuing a career in healthcare related fields, sure of what steps need to take next to prepare them for their end goal. I on the other hand knew I wanted to be in the communications field and knew the healthcare sector has a need for public relations professionals. But I was still unsure if I would get my dream job and what my dream job really looked like.

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Photo: Training session in Ottawa with 2016 – 2017 International Youth Internship Program (IYIP) participants

I could have never asked for a better organization, location and rewarding 6 mouth placement. Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC) is a coalition of community leaders and non-governmental agencies that are advocates and service providers, working with and on behalf of Caribbean populations who are especially vulnerable to HIV infection or often forgotten in access to treatment and healthcare programmes. These groups include men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who use drugs, orphans and other children made vulnerable by HIV, migrant populations, persons in prison and ex-prisoners, and youth in especially difficult circumstances. At CVC I feel respected, apart of the team and valued. My resume and portfolio have grown astronomically since joining this forward thinking counter-stone organization. My knowledge on HIV advocacy has enriched far beyond my imagination and continues to grow. Jamaica too has broaden my understanding on the quality of life, the value of history in ones identity, and the art of healing and rejoicing through music. So it should come at no surprise that I would have a change in my course of direction, should it?

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Photo: CVC Staff/Volunteer Tara Chen and I Participating in a Gender Based Violence Awareness Campaign at Half Way Tree in Kingston, Jamaica

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Photo: Me (Juanita Muwanga) Live Twitting at Cvc’s Policy Monitoring Workshop Training at the Knutsford Court Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica

Now approaching the ending of my internship I have fallen in love with outreach just as much as social media and writing. Working closely with CVC’s Programme Unit I have found the most memorable and favourable task I assist with are in relation to program development and service delivery. I have an undeniable desire to return back to the colouring board and expand my knowledge in sociology, psychology, and public policy. I have find myself assisting CVC clients to the point of taking it home with me, sometimes quite literally. My interests are and probably always will be cross-cutting between advocacy, social mobilization, and capacity building of vulnerable communities. I would’ve never realized this had I never moved to Jamaica, worked for CVC, and desired an authentic Jamaica. Not so Up – Town and not so resort like, but I fair mixture of Downtown to complete the two parallels.

World AIDS Day Breakfast and Run with Jamaica's Minister of Health at Mona Dam, Kingston, Jamaica

Photo: World AIDS Day Breakfast and Run with Jamaica’s Minister of Health at Mona Dam, Kingston, Jamaica

This placement as well as my pervious international exposure, both through volunteerism and travel, have shown me there are many ways to be a storyteller. Stories teach us about life, about ourselves and about others.  In the developing world classism, sexism, racial discrimination, ethnic/tribal tension, homophobia, and islamophobia are stories you hear all too often. Only a few of the victims whose faces grace the cover of newspapers around the world are remembered. After sharing their story they are quickly forgotten and replaced by yet another horrific phenomena.  But where does the healing process hold president for these victims? Although there is a great need for healing programs and social service such resources are either nonexistent or greatly underfunded. I have learned that although I love journalism I would like to assist in providing social services in the developing world and be on the ground when catastrophe hits. Providing emotional support and broadcasting to the world the reality of our world.

I was asked to design a half page ad for @cvccoalition to celebrate Jamaica Aids Support for Life 25th Anniversary. The half page ad was in every single newspaper on Sunday! Ahhh so thankful for all the hands on experience I've gotten since deciding to move to. Today it's an ad tomorrow it's an article

Photo:  “I was asked to design a half page ad for @cvccoalition to celebrate Jamaica Aids Support for Life 25th Anniversary. The half page ad was in every single newspaper on Sunday! Ahhh so thankful for all the hands on experience I have be given since deciding to move to to Jamaica. Today it’s an ad tomorrow it’s an article”

One of the hardest things with a change of career is believing that we cannot do this new task. We tend to think of ourselves as a one disciplinarily persons, unable to change our career focus without public scrutiny. From our peers, parents, friends, and even ourselves. These outside views are what seems to define us. Now we have to redefine ourselves and begin to believe it deeply inside ourselves. Once we believe it, others will too. Journalism in the global south is the staple that holds together community and international awareness but is misleading and often one-sided. So for my future IYIP participants if you are looking for real life experience after academia you cannot go wrong with an international internship. Your choice may even lead you to another career avenue, a spare time hobby or research interest for your graduate degree. Be willing to explore the unexpected and open minded enough to take chances. Be willing to explore the realities of the nation that you have been placed in and not close yourself off because of what you read online by some ‘resort only’ travellers. Be willing to learn how to live like the locals and humble yourself by trying it out. Be willing to speak up about what you like and write down what you think should change. Be willing to share yourself with the locals and not assume the worst because of how they are dressed. Be willing to speak up at your placement and respect your needs and desires because above all this is your experience. Don’t overthink your future, ACT! Make progress through process. Regret for me lies in what I wish I had done had I only trusted my instinct not my naysayers.

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Regret the things you didn’t do not the things that you have done. Even if you wish you could’ve done things differently, you learned something about yourself in the process.

 

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Eyes open, heart full in Kibera

Kibera (photo courtesy of Colin Crowley)

Kibera (photo courtesy of Colin Crowley)

Last month Jennifer and I made the trek to Nairobi for a week of work with a CAP-AIDS Uganda partner organisation, Kijiji Cha Upendo (KCU) – Swahili for Village of Love. KCU is a grassroots community based organisation operating in the Kibera slum, which is home to some 1.5 million people. They work with orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) and their caregivers. Their work includes subsidising school fees for OVCs, providing zero interest micro-loans to caregivers to reinvest in their respective businesses as well as workshops and training on small business management and best practices, hosting biweekly community forums where beneficiaries find support and share their experiences, successes and challenges, and community outreaches to members suffering with various health problems.

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World AIDS Day 2016

December 1, 2016, was a day to remember. Weeks and weeks of planning, long days and nights, hundreds upon hundreds of emails and phone calls, all in preparation for December 1, 2016 – World AIDS Day.

We began planning the annual event that J-FLAG hosts for World AIDS Day in mid-October. It was set to be a high-level breakfast forum that asked 200 people from various personal and professional backgrounds to come together under the theme “Celebrating the Gains, Meeting the Challenges.” Attendees included representatives from government, civil society organizations, religious affiliations, academia, media and more. The program featured notable individuals such as Jamaican Minister of Health Dr. Christopher Tufton, USAID Jamaica Mission Director Maura Barry Boyle, UNAIDS Jamaica Officer-in-charge Dr. Nkhensani Mathabathe and Director of the Division of Global HIV and TB (DGHT) at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Shannon Hader. It was truly amazing to see so many passionate and hard-working individuals involved in the national HIV response in Jamaica showing their support on such an important day.

World AIDS Day Breakfast Forum Invitation

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Diving head first into Lesotho.

Lately there has been a constant theme of, “where did time go?”

Since arriving in Lesotho, more often than not I find myself thinking about how quickly the weeks go by. A new life in an unfamiliar country, surrounded by conversations in an unknown language, adjusting to a new sleep schedule, a new routine and a new role, have all been contributing factors to the speed at which these past four weeks have passed by. When mixing these causes with the saying, “time flies when you’re having fun” it’s no wonder time is flying by.

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Deep in the village with the King of Lango

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to attend an official clan leader inauguration ceremony for Omolo Atar Odyakol clan in Ogedi village, Kole District. A friend and I were picked up in the morning to make our way deep into the village. After about an hour of dodging potholes on dirt roads we arrived at the venue. There were more than a thousand people gathered for the event coming from all corners of the district. I knew then that this was going to be special.

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