Tapping Our Trans-Local Potential for Change

Archive for the ‘Douglas Olthof’ Category

Improving Global Health: Tapping Our Trans-Local Potential for Change

Featured Speakers of the evening - Back row: Marj Ratel, Ashok Mathur, Dr. Shafique Pirani, Mohammad Zaman, Lyren Chiu, Derek Agyapong-Poku, Jerry Spiegel, Steven Pi. Front row: Shaheen Nanji, Ajay Puri, Dr. Kojo Assante, Joanna Ashworth

This post was written by Shaheen Nanji, Project Co-Director; Douglas Olthof, Project Researcher; and Chloë Straw, Project Research Assistant.

On March 16, 2011 the Engaging Diasporas in Development Project convened the second in its series of public dialogues. The dialogue was entitled Improving Global Health and covered three core themes: (1) the unique skills and experiences of diasporas influencing health; (2) how these experiences are transforming health practices and systems; and (3) tapping the current and potential impacts in Canada and beyond.

The first session opened with an overview of global health by Dr. Jerry Spiegel, an associate professor at the Liu Institute for Global Issues and UBC’s School of Population and Public Health. Dr. Spiegel explained that international health becomes global health when the causes and consequences of health issues circumvent, undermine or are oblivious to the boundaries of the state and thus beyond the capacity of any one nation to address. He also spoke of the huge disparities between the need and the capacity to deliver health services, speaking to the reality that the majority of health care providers (many of whom are from the Global South) are in North America and Europe while the burden of disease is overwhelmingly in Africa and Asia.

With these important points in mind, Ayumi Mathur brought participants into small groups, asking them to consider and discuss what health means to them as individuals. Further adding to this focus on health at the personal level, the group heard from a diverse group of storytellers.

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Climate refugees: Diaspora response to a human health crisis

Bangladeshi women try to adapt their livelihood strategies to a landscape changing rapidly due to climate change. The Ganges (locally called Padma), one of the three major rivers, is eating away valuable agricultural lands every year, making thousands homeless and landless destitute. Photo: Mohammad Zaman.

This post was written by Douglas Olthof, Project Researcher and MA in International Studies at Simon Fraser University.

Over the next 30 years, some 30-40 million Bangladeshis will take what they can from their homes and move to higher ground. They will pour into Dhaka and other Bangladeshi cities, overflowing the already expansive slums and bastees; they will cross international borders into India, Myanmar and other countries looking for livelihoods, homes and some semblance of security for their families. This mass of humanity, at least equal in size to the entire population of Canada, will not be pulled to the cities by the promise of a better future. Theirs will not be an economic migration associated with new opportunities, but instead a forced exodus driven by an unprecedented environmental calamity that they have played virtually no part in causing. They will make up the largest group of climate refugees this world has ever seen.

Bangladesh is the world’s most densely populated deltaic country. More than half of the country’s 160 million inhabitants make their homes on a massive delta formed by the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers. A one-meter rise in the sea level – as is predicted by some of the most conservative climate change models – would inundate roughly a third of Bangladesh’s land and trigger a forced migration unprecedented in its scale.

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Vancouver doctor brings a cure for clubfoot to children in Uganda

A Ugandan baby born with the potentially crippling congenital disorder know as "clubfoot." Photo: USCCP

This post was written by Douglas Olthof, Project Researcher and MA in International Studies at Simon Fraser University.

In 1998 Dr. Shafique Pirani returned to Uganda to visit his birthplace and childhood school. A member of the Ismaili diaspora, Dr. Pirani had been among those expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin’s government in 1972. In making preparations to visit the country of his birth, he had not intended to tackle problems of Ugandan public health, but while on that visit he bore witness to a problem that he was uniquely qualified to diagnose and address.

Years before his fateful trip to Uganda, Dr. Pirani had taken a research interest in a congenital musculoskeletal disorder known commonly as clubfoot. This disorder occurs in roughly 1 in 1000 children and, if untreated, leads to deformation of the feet. This can leave the sufferer walking on the sensitive dorsum (top) of the foot, resulting in chronic pain, immobility, ulcerations, infection and, often, stigmatization. At the time of Dr. Pirani’s visit, the most commonly practiced treatment for clubfoot around the world was corrective surgery.

Surgical treatment for clubfoot in Uganda was not an option. In a country of 28 million with a birth rate of 3.5% annually, approximately 1500 Ugandan children are born with clubfoot every year. As late as 2008 the country had 20 practicing orthopedic surgeons, most of whom were concentrated in Kampala and focused on trauma. Dr. Pirani recognized a dire need for alternative treatments for clubfoot in Uganda that could be economically and socially feasible.

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Vancouver’s diaspora shares development stories

Dialogue story tellers gathered together before the Engaging Diasporas in Development dialogue. Photo: Greg Ehlers.

This post was written by Douglas Olthof, Project Researcher and MA in International Studies at Simon Fraser University.

On January 19, 2011 the Engaging Diasporas in Development Project convened the first in its series of public dialogues. The dialogue was entitled “Innovations in Poverty Reduction and Economic Development” and covered three core themes: responding to basic needs through grassroots mobilizations, business and economic development, and tapping the potential: learning from the diaspora.

Participants began filtering into the Morris J. Work Centre for Dialogue amid considerable buzz. Soon thereafter, as the sounds of dozens of conversations mingled above the assembly, a single voice cut through the din and invited everyone to join together in conversation and collaboration. Vanessa Richards urged the participants to join in song and for the next few minutes the diverse crowd became a united chorus. With melody and harmony still reverberating through the room, the dialogue had begun.

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Vancouver’s diasporas promote development around the world

This post was written by Douglas Olthof, Project Researcher and MA in International Studies at Simon Fraser University.

It is an understatement to call Vancouver a diverse city. Take a ride on the Skytrain during peak hours and you are likely to overhear conversations in four or five different languages. Explore the city’s restaurants and you can sample cuisines from around the globe. Cruise the summer festival scene and you will experience cultural delights from every continent. It is undeniably the case that the cultural milieu of our city draws substance from as many regions of the world as there are seats in the UN assembly.

As residents of this pluralistic metropolis we can easily recognize the contribution that the diaspora­­ have made to our city’s development. What is less obvious, however, is the contribution that members of the diaspora make to development around the world. One of the objectives of Engaging Diaspora in Development Project is to identify and highlight diaspora involvement with international development. This effort is already turning up some remarkable stories:

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