london (ontario lol)

Two weeks ago I was at western university in London, Ontario, to compete in an international competition called the World’s Challenge Challenge (no typos)

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Every year, western presents the sustainable development goals to 20~ universities, encouraging students to come up with a solution to these global issues (which is the most daunting ask for 19 and 20 year olds ever). Each university hosts a regional competition, from which they pick a team to send to the international finals at western university. you have 7 minutes to make your pitch plus questions from the judges

 

 

 

my team came up with the concept of using multi-story gardens to build sustainable communities. Because it was a competition with a global context, we situated our pitch in protracted refugee situations, which is a situation that has moved past the initial state of crisis and instead into a state of long-term stagnancy with limited access to education, work, and other long-term needs. for example, the average protracted refugee lives in a camp-like setting for 9 years (!)

our idea is quite straightforward – a multi-story garden structure made out of wood to grow produce vertically instead of horizontally. In fact, it’s been done before – we just tweaked it a bit. but our design isn’t even the star of the presentation; in my honest opinion, it needs a lot of work and isn’t very robust. But I think our multi-discplinary approach to a complex issue is what led us to win the regional competition at UBC.

Why multi story gardens are great

  1. Many refugees come from backgrounds in agriculture
  2. Food rations are often micronutrient deficient
  3. Produce can give a sense of cultural integrity to displaced populations

 

 

 

 

I know you’re probably thinking that I sound like western savior from Canada trying to solve the issues of poor nations although our team tried really really really hard not to come across as such. In any case, our 7 minute pitch sounded like more of a case study than a business pitch for social ventures (which is what the competition was better geared for, I think)

The top prizes were 30k, 20k and 7k for first, second, and third place. My team didn’t place but i am so so happy for the teams that did win – the startup world is in better hands with these people!! also arguably in more experienced hands.

1st place: e-hop (electric car charging)
2nd place: catalight (water filtration)
3rd place: sanitation solution for rohingya refugees

the winners were studying law, in the midst of their masters in business/entrepreneurship and had just graduated from kinesiology (respective to first/second/third place)


I came out of the competition feeling a bit fuzzy.

  • What exactly did I invest my energy and resources into? If this isn’t a product that I can sell to people how else can this actualize as a ‘solution’?
  • What’s the future of this idea? is it a concept to pitch to aid agencies??

we came up with the idea in december, won the competition at UBC in february, and spent the week at western preparing for the competition in june.. now what? pitch competitions take up so many resources and tons of energy, time spent that’s too valuable to simply dispose of and move on…

And here ensues the repeat of the cycle of what am I doing with my life is my impact even worthwhile who am I to try and solve such complex issues I really don’t know what I’m doing will I ever be financially stable everything is very transient

 

 

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“so wyd this summer”

i think transferring into the faculty of land and food systems was the best decision i have made in my undergraduate degree thus far. not only do i feel a better sense of direction and more empowered about my courses, but i’m convinced that it’s preparing me to be a great farmer at some point in my life when i grow up.

in all seriousness, i’ve also learned about the complexity of the global food system and the challenges that it poses – particularly in feeding 9 billion people by 2050 under the weight of a warming planet. it’s forcing me to think about what type of professional i want to be – how do i want to contribute my skills – how do i change the current, industrialized system towards sustainability? as a scientist with a corporate company? as a policy analyst working for government? as an activist working for a non-profit?

this summer i’m taking on a combination of pseudo-roles, from food policy analyst to dietitian. i’m based at the mcconnell foundation à montréal, which is a philanthropic foundation known for funding, supporting, and initiating systems change. they work in indigenous reconciliation, building sustainable cities, supporting university students’ innovation, and of course, sustainable food systems.

healthcare is one of the most under-utilized public sectors that directly shape the food system. hospitals, rehabilitation centres, and long-term care centres all purchase millions of dollars worth of food and serve thousands of meals daily with the goal of nourishing patients and residents to health. how do we encourage these facilities to embrace nutritious, sustainable, and resilient food?

nourish health was born out of this question –  a cohort of 25 healthcare professionals across canada who seek to change the role of food in the healthcare system. this summer, i’m working closely with this group of people, analyzing how to best guide healthcare institutions to make sustainable food choices.

in my two weeks as an intern thus far, i’ve taken a nose dive into the eutrophication, acidification, and global warming potential of grass-fed vs grain-fed beef. i’ve done a crash course on social finance and impact investment (shout out ECON101 for changing my life and giving me the premise to do so) and i’ve been working en français which has challenged my language capacity and increased my vocabulary in niched areas.


“Philanthropic organizations and governments essentially do the same thing: fund and invest.”
– 
one of my colleagues who has to deal with my pestering

things i have learned thus far:

  • i’m learning a lot in areas i don’t know anything about and it’s humbling to do so
  • being in an office environment is new and intimidating (especially when you add a second language in)
  • i am exploring how to invest myself in things authentically without necessarily feeling a need to make this my life’s path

portugal

things I am learning

  • events become less relevant to write about the more time that passes
  • memories become foggy the more time that passes
  • just write down things immediately after they happen!!!

travelling in the middle of the school year is stressful with the added responsibility of having to catch up on classes – but I wouldn’t trade the opportunity for the world.

in March I flew into Lisbon, Portugal, where I was welcomed by an international troupe of young journalists (with unconditional thank yous to environmental defence, the foundation for environmental education, and UNESCO!)

moments like these remind myself that the world truly doesn’t revolve around western countries. my peers came from the smallest countries in eastern europe and completely different time zones in the pacific. it humbled me to be able to interact with people from all over and to have found common ground

day 1

portugal is incredibly stunning. (obviously i say this because it’s the first time i had visited the country BUT it was impossible not to stare out the window while driving)
the skyline is dotted with castles, the country is bordered by almost entirely ocean, and lisbon feels like a time-warp with cobblestone streets

the portugese exude a patriotism that is inviting, welcoming, and asks you to learn more. we were greeted with a musical presentation of chants/cheers/song/dance by students from a local university and i was mesmerized by how passionate they were!! it felt like camp olympia (tcdsb reference) but for an entire country haha.

we ended off the night with a buffet of snacks. each of us brought snacks from our individual countries, the canadians armed with bags of maple cookies and coffee crisps.
i quickly fell in love with israeli peanut puffs (called bambas). if you ever get the chance, please try them

day 2

i woke up early to go on a run because our hostel was 5 minutes away from the coast 🙂

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the day was spent both challenging and collaborating with one another. we assessed our own definitions of ‘sustainable development’, what a ‘developing’ country is and the role of ‘developed’ countries in said sustainable development.

group dynamic is particularly difficult when you have such a variety of life experiences in one room. it felt like a micro-version of what talks at the UN or global conferences must be like. the wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly

day 3

the YRE style of reporting is to do a day’s worth of field work and produce items to report the very same day – photos, videos, articles. as exhausting as it was, i think it’s good insight into the world of journalism and quick turn-around times.

 

 

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thankfully we were guided by some amazing mentors who ranged in experience from government journalists to film makers to global freelancers.

day 4

we spent this day presenting to each other what we had produced overnight (literally). it was so impressive to see the quality of everyone’s work. below are my favourites

aaaand next thing you know i was on a flight back home to start school on Monday 😥


I want to feature the other Canadians who are doing awesome work:

Connie; illustrator, graphic designer, all-around cool person, check out her stickers of ‘ugly’ food!
Aian; smart person working on an application that will track your carbon emissions
Vinh; rad interior designer with his own studio, looking to incorporate sustainability into his practice
Kristin; sassy zoologist with the best youtube channel!!

adventuring home

i have been incredibly blessed to have visited so many countries and cities in the past year… but you could drag me to the ends of the earth and i will still love toronto, scarborough, home.

it’s the only microcosm of social, academic, and familial comfort. these facets of my life no longer intersect as well as they used to – although i don’t come home just to relish in nostalgia. it’s a privilege to have relationships which span time zones and coursework that can’t be condensed into car ride conversations. but it keeps me sane to return to a place of familiarity and reminds me of all the things i’ve yet to learn.

i am learning how to have relationships that are elastic and able to withstand distance. interactions with friends are now limited to lunch dates, where i have to condense a year’s worth of experiences into 10 minutes. i have found intimacy in sharing stories rather than physical experiences, knowing that whoever i’m sharing them with would just as much have loved to have been there as well.

i am learning how to prioritize professional ambitions.. i still don’t quite know what i’m doing but i know that i’m doing well and that i’m going to do well. i’ve ceased from surrounding myself with people who don’t believe in the same. my skills are broad, interdisciplinary and well-rounded so if you don’t see that potential it’s your loss lol!

the biggest challenge for me this new year will be navigating it all. understanding what to prioritize… aka how to disappoint the least amount of people (including myself).

here’s a lame picture of my favourite intersection in the city

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** i wrote this post on january 3, 2018 – i’m home for reading week and a lot of these sentiments still resonate with me.

germany???

by some twisted stroke of luck I have found myself on a train to Bonn, Germany, where I’ll be working as a youth reporter for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23) thanks to a wonderful organization called the Federation for Environmental Education.

this all happened within the span of a few weeks but is also the culmination of the past few years. in 2014, I entered an international environmental journalism contest hosted by a Canadian non-profit, Environmental Defence. I wrote an article that highlighted my school’s initiatives to reduce waste management because I thought my school was doing a good job with tri-annual audits, a plastic water bottle ban, and creative posters around the school to reduce waste. I guess Environmental Defence thought so too because I ended up placing first on a national level and my relationship with them has led me to this opportunity today.

A few things I have learned from this experience:

  1. YOUR NETWORK may be the most valuable to you when you least expect it
  2. YOU, yourself, as an individual, are a lot more valuable than you think you may be

i am still feeling imposter syndrome quite heavy like one day someone’s going to come up to me and expose me as a fraud?? despite the fact that my passions are valid?? and maybe I really do have experience that could be valuable to people??

nonetheless i am going to be very annoying on nearly every social media platform for the next few days. i think this is an opportunity too grand to limit to the confines of my own personal experiences so the closest thing i can do is share it online. you can follow my blogs here, or at the following links:

https://environmentaldefence.ca/blog/

https://yreint.exposure.co/

thailand

in the chaos that is midterms i find solace in my travels from two months ago. this is long overdue and half-assed in all honesty because it’s hard to evoke the same sentiments from awhile ago lol

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thailand was waterfalls, hippies and temples

i first flew into chiang mai, which is a city in north thailand. on the first night we visited a night market but after three months of seeing the same things being sold (elephant pants, elephant statues, counterfeit apple products, knockoff raybans) it gets exhausting and there’s no use in spending money on things i don’t need TBH

we made our way over to pai which is about 762 twists and turns over a span of 148 kilometres. i have never travelled over such turbulent streets !? but it was well worth the trek. pai is a hippie town equally made of expats and locals. i don’t think i’ve ever seen so many asian people with dreads as i had in pai.

pai is also known for being super ‘chill’ especially when tourists are known to party crazy hard throughout the rest of thailand. this was easily one of my favourite cities that i had travelled to

after two days too short in pai we headed back to chiang mai, where we got some rest before doing a jungle trek the next day. you can’t hike these regions without a guide because a) you’re bound to get lost b) respect for the locals who have treaded lightly for who knows how many years.
the hike was an uphill battle but we were greeted with the warmth of a homestay when we finally arrived

bangkok

probably the closest to the western world i had been in three months. it was bizarre to have seen such large shopping malls on one end of the city and bustling street vendors on the other.

bangkok’s beauty is in its temples. i wish i knew more about buddhism but i knew enough to step back and admire.

 

it’s a bit absurd to reflect on my travels a little more than two months after the fact. maybe i’ve been pushing off making this final blog post about the final stretch of my trip because i didn’t want to come to terms with the fact that this trip is over?

i don’t know when i’ll be back and the context that i’ll return with… but i can sum up my adventures as a 19 year old girl country-hopping through southeast asia as daunting, enthralling, captivating, exhausting, fulfilling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

north vietnam

north vietnam is mountains, ocean, sunshine, nature, nature, nature

i spent 10 days too short in hanoi and the surrounding region, encompassing halong bay, cat ba island, and sa pa.

HANOI is chaos (pure chaos)!!!! I thought walking the streets of phnom penh was difficult but the strategy to navigating the streets of hanoi is to close your eyes and put one foot in front of the other, alongside a hope for the best.

welcome to the chaos

not literally. but you do have to maintain a certain level of confidence – you can’t stop and hesitate to walk across the middle of the street – you’re more likely to get hit that way. although traffic is chaotic, i found that drivers are more considerate and will swerve around you (even if it seems like they’re coming at you at 60km/h). plus, most traffic is moto traffic and they can’t go faster than 30kmh in such a crowded city.

living in hanoi is expensive (1 million dong per square metre = 55 canadian dollars per square metre) but the food is cheap (40 thousand dong for a bowl of pho = 2 canadian dollars for a bowl of pho)

narrow streets and crammed alleys

the buildings in hanoi are built to be very tall because land is so expensive. families make the most of their space by running a business on the ground floor and living + renting the upper floors.

SA PA is serenity. there is nothing more simple and wholesome than living in the mountains and spending your days tilling the rice fields.

i am thankful to have had the opportunity to live with a homestay for the duration of my stay in sa pa. in sa pa, there are as many as 9 different ethnicities which call sa pa home, each with a distinct language.

 

i stayed with a h’mong family who have roots across china, laos, thailand and vietnam. they are expert trekkers in the hilly regions of sa pa (even in flip flops).

 

a h’mong

village lives revolve around the rise/fall of the sun and meals. wake up to the crow of the rooster, make breakfast. tend to the farm animals. eat lunch. till the rice paddies. eat dinner. sleep when the sun does.

h’mong people have been able to retain their culture whilst welcoming curious tourists into their homes. it’s a facet of tourism that brings in sustainable income to families who have formerly depended on solely the rice fields to earn a living.

 

with my homestay, Lu Thi, on our way back to the town of Sa Pa

HALONG BAY is a magical place filled with as many rock formations as there are tourists. (which means there are a lot)

i think this experience was the closest i’ll get to luxury in the next 10 years or so-
i’m not sure when i’ll be able to afford jumping off boats into the pacific again.

 

my night on cat ba island was spent trying to find out what it’s like to live as a viet youth. my friend ray and i saw a few jumping off the pier into the water below, so we joined. we also tried to follow crowds of teens on tandem bikes pedalling to the beach, but got there a bit too late and probably missed the party.

the best thing about travelling is doing what the locals do. immersing yourself in the culture is difficult (especially when you don’t speak the language or look the part) but it’s worthwhile when you end up doing cool things not listed on tripadvisor or yelp.

 

*** honourable mention goes to my good friend raymond flores, who i somewhow convinced over snapchat to join me and bought his ticket the week before