Friday, March 15, 2013

One Tree at a time: Dangarad’s Story

A huge part of my job is collecting information. Information is one of the key components of the development field. It is used to detail the baseline situation of a community before intervention, used to create proposals for the intervention, track successes and failures and most importantly, to get a first hand perspective. The latter is probably my favorite form of interaction. I like hearing from the people themselves. More importantly, the people should be heard by the government, humanitarian community and each other. This post is dedicated to International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. I am telling this story as people rarely hear about such efforts in Somalia and it is important to share more messages like this to the world.

A few weeks ago, I meet with some women from Badhan that share friendship and a passion for environmental protection. This was not my first time information gathering in Somalia but it certainly impacted me. The first vibe I felt was the impenetrable bond that the women had. A colleague of mine, who I look up too, assisted with translation as my Somali is still at the basic level. The women formed a group called Dangarad, a Somali term that simply stated means humble. Dangarad’s longer meaning refers to a person who knows his interests and keeps after them, and for these women this is certainly true as the women have gone from voiceless to environmental activists. You see these women are amongst Badhan’s most impoverished, all relying on social support. All are in their 40s and 50s and are from multiple clans and marginalized groups. Collaboration across clan lines is uncommon in Somalia, in fact clan conflicts and the inability to collaborate exacerbated the country’s issues in the past. Currently as Somalia is recovering many are attempting to work together, further proving that the Somalia is changing.
Dangarad Members lead the way to the trees they foster, Sanaag, Somalia             
 Dangarad has been watering trees on the outskirts of Badhan for over 5 years now. It is hard to imagine how women that barely have enough to support their families are supporting the little vegetation that remains in Badhan. The charcoal burning industry has resulted in a catastrophic level of deforestation in Somalia. Where an extensive forest once graced the landscape of Badhan now is barren and resembles a desert. Drought has severely affected the livelihoods of Somali’s. The women of Dangarad draw and carry 10 liters of water from makeshift buckets one at a time from the local well and walk around 2 kilometers twice a day just to reach the trees. The women were received humanitarian assistance and were trained in income generating activities which assisted many to create businesses in Badhan’s village center. The businesses help most of the women maintain their basic family needs. All say their lives were improved due to these interventions with many of their children now in school and nutritional status’ significantly improved. 

Member of Dangarad cares for a young tree, Sanaag, Somalia
The trees Dangarad waters were oringinally a part of a tree-planning activity initiated by Adeso. The trees are particularly suitable for the dry arid climate of the region. The women volunteer their time to water the trees yet volunteerism is a concept that is accepted easily in Somali culture. As they were explaining what they did I was simply amazed by their dedication. The women had eventually asked for more trees and where also provisioned wheelbarrows which allowed for 40 liters of water to be carried at one time. Of the 1,000 trees planted, 743 remain and are maintained by the women. While this initiative began as a way to re-green the area, the benefits have helped the trees remain. Somehow this still baffles me just how dedicated they are. Livestock use the trees for shade and feed from the leaves. Over time pastoralists brought their herds for shade and to feed nearby and the women became concerned that the roots of the trees could not withstand the appetites of the herds. Dangarad responded by collecting rocks and tins to create barriers around the roots of the trees, allowing them the chance to regenerate. They also dug canals to improve water absorption. The budding forest has faced many challenges. Some of the trees were cut by charcoal burners. “There are charcoal burners around and we can’t stop them from taking the trees. We can’t protect the trees so we need to convince them,” remarked a member of Dangarad. Aside from the charcoal burners some men from the village began to remove the stones the women placed to protect the roots of the trees. 
The women of Dangarad stand in front of a tree they foster, Sanaag, Somalia
Dangarad is the only group in Badhan working on environmental rehabilitation. They believe there is more incentive now to protect the trees aside from re-greening the town but would like more support in their efforts. After inquiring about their home lives it became clear that the women are struggling. Their children are in school but the school fees are increasing forcing the women to consider removing them. While some have land they lack livestock which could generate income. While the Dangarad women are facing personal hardships they believe the trees are like their children and envision a bright future for them. “In the future they would like to see the land become a forest as it used to be, with a big name that is well known. We want to see our land green again.  As the town is seeing the outcome of our efforts if we continue providing awareness we are hoping we can succeed in our efforts.”

After our conversation I asked if I could take their picture. I wanted to share just how amazing bonds are. This group of women has formed such a strong one that is deeply entrenched in who they are. I was moved to tears but held them until after we parted. I was inspired by their sisterhood and passion for the environment. Above all this, I was inspired by how the women have endured throughout the many hardships they face. I was not expecting to feel such emotions but there are times in Somalia when the survival stories I hear and the current conditions, although improving, just overwhelm me.  Living here, as a westerner, has helped me understand Somalia differently than most westerners. I am evermore appreciative of the stories people, especially Somali women share with me and the hope they have for the future.  

Saturday, March 2, 2013

My Field Favorites Part II

I have finally gotten to Part II. A reader emailed and mentioned several typos from the last post. I do apologize for them. Living in a rural area of Somalia, my internet is not reliable and trying to upload the posts is a hassle in itself. I had used spell check prior but the blogger spell check auto-corrects itself- to Dutch! Nevertheless, I am adding this on my to do list for when I am on leave. Also, another reader emailed thanking me for including websites on the last post. You are most certainly welcome! Here are some of my final field favs. Enjoy

1) Herbal Tea (loose or bag)
 You really can’t go wrong with tea. Upset stomach: Tea, general wellbeing: tea. You name it: tea. Ideally you should purchase these locally but if you have a favorite or rare type of tea you like then you may want to bring a supply.
For gastro issues: peppermint (also helps with mild headaches) and Hierba Luisa (digestion), ginger (upset stomach), Anise
Calming: Chamomile, lemon grass, tulsi.  Valerian( sleep aid)
Blood pressure, Kidneys/liver:  Hibiscus, cinnamon

I swear by the Immune Tonic by Urban Moonshine. It is made in my home state of Vermont is an herbal supplement and really aids digestion and really does make you feel better. The downside for some is that it contains alcohol. In which case, I recommend Airborne. Even if you are not coming down with a cold this stuff also picks you up giving you a great energy booster. Another really good product, also from Vermont, is the Elderberry Syrup by Honey Gardens. It is a traditional immune formula made with propolis (royal jelly) and is specially formulated for immune support.

I take these two to support the intestinal tract. For those anti-probiotic they are excellent all natural replacements. These are unique to the Americas and even though they are available in Africa and Asia, mostly in ex-pat health food stores in upscale shopping areas, if you are willing to pay twice as much. I buy these in Europe or when I am stateside. They are also available in powder form for tea making.  Slippery elm (native to North America) powder helps to soothe the digestive tract. Cats Claw (Uña de gato), is native to South America and has been used medicinally by indigenous peoples for centuries. According to Wikipedia, the Asháninka tribe of Peru uses the plant as a general health tonic, contraceptive, anti-inflammatory agent for the gastrointestinal tract, and as a treatment for diarrhea, rheumatic disorders, acne, diabetes, cancer and diseases of the urinary tract. It is great to use for intestinal inflammation if you have been ill and is also used against dengue fever traditionally in Brazil.

4) Travel Silks (aka Silk long johns) 
In the field I wear skirts. They are culturally appropriate and easy. While many in the west go bare under their skirts, that is a no no in many cultures.  I opt for cotton leggings or the occasional slip as they are cost effective but some prefer silks. They are more expensive but light and more comfortable. The benefit of silks is that they are both effective in hot or cool weather and they dry faster. See link for item.

5) Travel Yoga Mat 
 I just started working out again after running in my first marathon in 2012. Living in Somalia, running is not an option so I aim for long walks and indoor workout exercise. Working out in the field is very important! I will write another blog post on this. I got this mat over the holidays and let me tell you it is wonderful. No you don’t need a mat but I only have very slippery floors and let me tell you I pulled something the first time I tried to do yoga. It is a little costly but very worth it to just pop a Yoga DVD in the computer and work on my core or practice relaxation! For Gaiam Brand click here. For Manduka brand click here.

6) Cashew Butter 
I love this stuff. It is much better for you than peanut butter. Almond, soy nut butter, and sunflower seed butter are good alternatives. In the field, let’s be honest, sometimes the food becomes mundane. That’s when I opt for a good old sandwich. I get local honey or jam (sometimes syrup) and add cashew butter to make a sandwich. Apparently there are many health benefits of cashew butter like: good fats (omega 3’s), vitamins and minerals, and it is a great source of protein. Peanut butter, mainstream brands, are often full of additives and bad oils. Also some people are allergic to peanuts.

7) Granola
 I always travel with granola. I also like to add dried fruits to it. It’s healthy and gives you energy. Also if you plan ahead you can make it yourself. This way it’s cheaper and get to decide what you want in it based on your tastes. Again you make this locally but if you are in a crunch (excuse the pun) store bought is just as good.

8) Ginger Chews 

Ginger Chews are fantastic! Some people prefer candied ginger to this but to me they are the same. Ginger aids symptoms of nausea and upset stomach. If you add hot water to these chews it makes a great tea when your tummy is not feeling well. Also I find that this gives a pick me up after long flights, when I have a headache/cold/flu, under stress or fatigued.  Pure ginger works as well. My favorite brands are Ginger People and Reeds but there is a generic Chinese brand out there. Check your health food store.  For Ginger People brand Click here. For Reeds brand click here.

9) Incense 

Last but not least. Again you can find this locally but if you have your favorite scent you may want to preorder. Incense helps clear my mind and relax. It is usually paired well with yoga or a good book. In the field, down time is very important. Whatever you do make sure you fit it in.

These are my field favorites. Try to pack yours on your next assignment…you will find that you will be much happier as a result.