We felt privileged to be a part of the Planetary Health Field School. The power of our academic community was in our diversity as individuals and willingness to learn from each other’s backgrounds and perspectives. We had mutual goals of learning but were unaware of how things would unfold. We have become more conscious of our own thought patterns and positionality. Through a mindful practice of intersectionality we grew to understand our differences as strengths and work together cohesively. This course gave us the opportunity to learn in a true multidisciplinary environment. Planetary health was a new concept to us but this course has provided an understanding that would not have been possible in a closed lecture theater in a Canadian university setting. The chance to live as global citizens immersed in a different culture expanded our minds and left us wowed. Through the work of collaboration, we had the ability to accomplish bigger things than would’ve been possibly if working independently. Our shared experiences will stay with us forever.
Robin, Dene, Robyn
We each had unique reasons for choosing to be a part of the field school in Uganda. Most specifically, we all share the yearning to flourish, growth and gain a better holistic understanding of the world we live in. Despite all coming from different academic backgrounds, we all strived to understand key issues that affects planetary health and how it contrasts with that of Canada. Throughout the experience, we were able to see that Uganda was not just defined by what resources they are lacking or in need of, but more importantly areas in which we can learn from. In particular, we felt we learned most about youth education regarding conservation efforts. The future is in our hands, and so it is important that we impart the knowledge we have learned on the significance of the environment and the ecosystem services it provides. If we are to see change, we need to ensure that the future generations are aware of the folly of the past.
Briana, Dolapo, Michael
Studying abroad provides an experience unparalleled by an ordinary classroom. In class, we hear about real world issues, but are highly disconnected as these problems are often out of sight. Coming to Uganda and witnessing various environmental problems showcased the complex interplay between the environment and humans and showed us how a healthy environment is essential for a healthy community. The cultural immersion aspect, interacting and hearing the community’s stories and challenges, also made the experience both intimate and enlightening. Working in unison with the community gave us the opportunity to come face to face with these real-world issues and prepared us for facing these challenges in the near future. We all brought our different perspectives, each coming from a unique background, creating an interdisciplinary community. This exchange of knowledge and experiences created an environment that fostered collaboration which is ultimately a key component in planetary health.
Cayley, Kevin, Michelle
We’ve now been in Uganda for three weeks, and it feels both longer and shorter to us. Some things still feel foreign, but we’ve also adjusted to the food, weather, and environment – at least to some extent. When we were on our way here, we all felt like we had some idea of what to expect – but found things to be very different than anticipated once we were on the ground. Although the culture and lifestyle are very different in Uganda, many of the problems we face are the same. We have issues of hunger, homelessness, poverty at home as well – but the scale there is very, very different. Here in Uganda, there is an immediacy to these problems, and the potential impacts are so much more serious than what we face in Canada. This experience has made all of us much more aware of how privileged we are. It has also helped us realize how the issues presented by global-scale climate change creates problems that affect everyone at every level. However, it also presents opportunities for people around the world to come together to cooperate and solve these problems in new ways.
Oneita, Jolie, Will
We all came on this trip for different purposes but one thing we all had in common was that we wanted to challenge ourselves. Our diversity in life experience made this field school a place to learn from each other. We view things differently and talking about our perspectives allowed us to gain insights that we might not have acknowledged so deeply before.
The wild life in their natural habitat was unlike anything we have witnessed. This gave us a more wholesome understanding of the natural environment around us. The relationship people have with water here is much different from our own. This reminds us how privileged we are but also shows us how vulnerable we are when depending so heavily on the municipal infrastructures that determines our day to day life. Our toilets flush. Our water is clean. We can shower and wash our dishes whenever we want. We have so much more time because of this alone. What we see here is resilience.
This makes us wonder what developing nations are developing into. We hope that whatever they develop into allows them to maintain their sense of self-efficacy and that they don’t repeat the mistakes we’ve made.
Branaavan, Cosette, Zoey
While we enjoy our last hours in Jinja, we reflect about the past weeks, all the things we have seen and learned, all the people we have met, and all the friends we have made.
Waters once clear and teaming with native fish, are now turbid, fluorescing green with thick scums of algae, chocked with mats of unfamiliar vegetation, and home to a dwindling fish community that resembles little of its historic self. This is the story of Lake Victoria, and how a once thriving lake-supporting the main protein source to local communities-has since become a shell of its former self. The pressures of rapid population growth and demands to support an international fish market has turned this former freshwater oasis into an ecological misfortune. The deliberate release of foreign stowaways-to foster a lucrative fishing economy-may have increased fish landings in the short term. But ultimately, these actions may have damaged the lake potentially beyond a state of repair, with now more nets than fish themselves. Ironically, the initial bounty of fish went to feed hungry mouths abroad. The plight of Lake Victoria asks us to consider: should countries export food when they fail to meet the nutritional demands of their citizens?
Kevin, Cayley, Michelle
We visited a fish landing this morning, where we saw local fishers bringing in their catch. We were very surprised by the tiny size and huge number of fish caught using the capture fishing method, which uses bright lights to lure fish to the surface at night so they can be more easily caught. Our guide told us that they capture 250 tons of fish per month, at just this single landing site. It seems to us that the PESCA project that we learned about at NaFIRRI yesterday is very timely, because if you extrapolate the catch to all of the landing sites in Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya, there must be a huge amount of fish taken every month. There was a lot of rain this morning, so unfortunately the rest of our activities for the day were canceled. Instead, we went to Main Street in Jinja for some shopping, relaxing, and coffee at our new favourite hangout – the Deli.
Oneita, Jolie, Will
The rains interfered with the last day of the field school. We take advantage of the situation and reflect on our journey.
Aquaculture is a vital component of the fish industry, with a goal aimed at providing fish without extensive stock depletion. The National Fisheries Resource and Research Institute (NaFIRRI) has several established aquaculture facilities that provides fish for several African countries. Both the biodiversity and total size of fish species found in Uganda are decreasing, reducing the total available protein, predominantly a result of environmental pressures and over fishing. The government has also established programs to reduce the number of fishing communities, instead shifting their focus to agricultural practices. We were told that most of these shifts in lifestyles were community led, due to reduced fishery profit, but may also be government led. But we also got inspired by the efforts that the institute was taking to using its research findings to impact policies and behaviours of the locals to be more sustainable. Their efforts inspired us as rising professionals on how we could use our fields to positively impact policies in our communities.
Dolapo, Briana, Michael
Although geographically isolated, the Northern and Southern Hemispheres each host their own unique Great Lake system. Each aquatic subset contains its own unique attributes, such as climate and wildlife, making one noticeably distinct from the other. However, both Great Lake systems play a pivotal role in structuring the communities that inhabit their shores and share common struggles that jeopardize their future. Nutrient overloading, declining fish stocks, and invasive species are a few of the current themes threatening the life-giving potential of these Great Lakes. While countries often construct distinct geographical barriers and keep their troubles within, they often neglect that other nations are too are facing similar challenges and could also harbour potential solutions. It is time for the global north and south to come together to share their ideas, build relationships and share science in a collective effort to solve common problem because with collaboration comes innovation.
Michelle, Kevin, Cayley
Scientists at the National Fisheries Resource Research Institute (NaFIRRI) are sharing with us all we need to know to understand the environmental, social, and economic facets of Lake Victoria.
Any day spent out on the water is a good day. We piled onto a flatbed wooden boat called the Pearl of Uganda. We putted around the inlet, checking out the aquaculture where fish cages counted in the hundreds. Fish farming was introduced Lake Victoria to create an industry in response to exploited fish stocks. The Fish Farmers’ Association was established to develop good practices to ensure sustainable practices. The shoreline was developed with hotels, resorts, a golf course, bars, and a youth detention centre, which has now been repurposed for adults. However, the development is not as intense as we are accustomed to in the cities of North America. We got to see the source of the Nile, which is actually a groundwater fed springs where the Nile and Lake Victoria meet. Jinja is the adventure capital of East Africa, and we are looking forward to the adventures to come over the next few days.
Robin, Dene, Robyn
Did we mention that Jinja is not only by the shore of Lake Victoria, but also looks at the source of the Nile River?
We left the lap of luxury very early this morning and headed back to Makerere Biological Field Station for one last lunch and short visit with the staff. Before that, we checked in with of this year’s projects to get an update on how things are going. All had made a lot of progress since we were last there. Will was happy to see that the Miranga Community Well Project was almost complete, and Oneita and Jolie were impressed by how much more of the Kasojo community garden had been cleared in a just a few days! So much progress had been made, and all of the groups were so committed to their projects, so we really think they will succeed and look forward to hearing an update next year. After lunch we got back on the bus for the long ride to Jinja – including a drive through the outskirts of Kampala. After the tranquility of the rainforest and Queen Elizabeth National Park, the hectic bustle of traffic and people in the city was a real shock to see.
Jolie, Oneita, Will
Lake Edward and Lake George are impressive, but it is time for us to get back on the road to meet the greatest of them all: Lake Victoria.
We had the opportunity to go to Lake Katwe and learn about the process of salination that the community has been doing for approximately 600 years. This community is well known in the continent for its natural salt and high-grade rock salt. In fact, during the peak season over half of these materials are exported to neighbouring countries. Sadly, we also learnt that the recent discovery of rare minerals in the lake by Chinese companies could put the local’s livelihood and dependence on the resource at risk. We were told that the profits from mining the lake were to be shared between the Chinese company and the Ugandan government. However, drilling for the minerals will disrupt the economic value that the locals get from the rock salt and salt. This again made us consider the importance of the governments role in ensuring that economic growth from private investment does not damage the sustainability of domestic growth. As we’ve seen in the community projects, reinvestment locally helps improve the local quality of life.
Dolapo, Briana, Michael
With the sun breaking the horizon, we raced to our safari vehicles and drove towards the open savannah. As we headed out, surrounded by towering mountains, we knew entered the infamous Rift Valley and our adventure begun. We first confronted a herd of elephants waking from their morning slumber, and after maneuvering around the elephant blockade our guide said softly, “now let’s see what else nature has to offer us” and excitement filled the air. The road finally led us to see the queens of the savannah, four lionesses, as they rested under a tree to avoid the blistering sun. As luck would have it, we also stumbled upon one of the rarest of Africa’s Big Five—a leopard fetching a fresh kill to feed her cub. Finding this needle in a hay stack in her natural habitat was surreal, and as the leopard strutted away with her prized reward, we are reminded that life always comes full circle.
Cayley, Michelle, Kevin
The rainforest was loudest at dawn, but the savannah is certainly busy at dusk. Elephants, lions, leopards, hippos… we’ve met them all!
The experience of being on the water was spiritual and relaxing. Our senses were heightened; the smells, the wind on our faces, and our eyes stimulated by the intersection between water and land. Understanding that relationship for these animals through their natural behaviour and their connection to water was a deeply grounding experience. Feeling their collected eminence, living so closely together, is a lesson to us in gravity and wisdom. These creatures have a holistic relationship with each other. The elephants are like elders, wrinkled, wise, and old, yet deciding the shape of the land, and thus the fate of so many others. Today I relived the teachings of my haba (grandfather), to use my eyes as my ears. To hear the lessons Ënë Níh (Mother Earth).
Dene, Robin, Robyn