Discoveries from Working in Durban, South Africa

Written by Layla Clarkson

Six months have gone by since I uprooted to Durban, South Africa with the Sustainable Communities International Internship Program (SCIIP). I’m finding it difficult to believe I will be back to Canada in less than one week. To summarize my experience in a single blog post would be a difficult feat. For that reason I will instead highlight some of the key discoveries I made from spending time in the office of the Municipal Institute of Learning (MILE). MILE is a local government-driven, practitioner-based initiative part of eThekwini Municipality that at its core helps to facilitate dialogue and learning in government. I worked in the Academic Collaboration pillar of MILE which makes city-academic partnerships happen.

Please note that the insights below come from my own experiences and perceptions.

1. Some of the most passionate people I’ve met work in government

When I revealed to those I met in Durban outside of the municipality that I was working in a government office the majority of them would respond along the lines of, “Well, you’ll certainly get a lesson in inefficiency.” Their comments alluded to frustrations over government officials who make broken promises, are greedy, and may also engage in corruption. While these officials certainly do exist in South Africa and around the world, I also had the pleasure of working with extremely passionate people in the MILE office and I met others at work events who also do not fit this stereotype. Through getting to know the MILE team especially, many truly care and work towards making the city of Durban a more caring, inclusive, prosperous and sustainable city.

2. There’s a lot we can learn from what is happening in Durban, South Africa

The reason I came to Durban to work in local government was to learn. There continues to be a huge influence in South Africa from the ‘West’ or ‘Global North’ (terms that are indeed problematic) in many facets including economic investment, pop culture and so on which can have some seriously concerning effects that I will not focus on at this time. For this reason and others, it is important to recognize the innovative, unique, and influential work being done in South Africa that other countries around the world can learn from. For example, MILE fits this kind of work entirely and having an initiative like a MILE in local government in Canada could be hugely beneficial I would predict. My colleagues and I joke that I need to start a CA-MILE (Canadian MILE)… and perhaps one day I will be lucky enough to do so.

3. City-University partnerships matter

In the past several years I have become passionate about citizen engagement and methods of improving citizen connections and communication with their governments. I have now also become an advocate for increased engagement between government and universities, or as popularly described ‘town and gown.’ Through working in the Academic Collaboration pillar of MILE, I’ve come to learn the value of having these major institutions come together. The value lies in learning from and collaborating with one another on many shared issues such as water and sanitation practices in the city and blending backgrounds of theory and practice.

4. Canadian and South African governments have some common challenges and some very different ones

Having worked in the Foreign Service during a previous internship and having taken international relations and political science courses throughout my degree, I have observed some common challenges in found in governments around the world including Canada and South Africa. These challenges include transitioning to sustainable practices, issues of political interference in administration, and issues of efficiency among others. More uniquely to Durban and South Africa I have also observed however, issues such as extreme drought and an unemployment rate of over 25% (as opposed to many cities back in Canada hovering around 5- 8%). This puts some similar and some different issues at the forefront of conversation here and to more critical degrees.

5. This opportunity through SCIIP is a rare one

I know opportunities like SCIIP aren’t available to everyone and I’m humbled to be able to be part of the program. I was the only international person in my office and I was often asked if there are similar opportunities for South Africans get to go to Canada via programs like SCIIP. Regrettably from my understanding this often isn’t often the case. I will be forever grateful for what I was able to learn and experience during my time at MILE, in Durban, South Africa.



Finding Solutions Within The Problem

By Nicholas Curry

Construction for the Seed Fund Project that I am working on with Lisa Mak finally started!  Working with the Environment Department at the Municipality of Viacha we are trying to address aspects of the two highest environmental concerns stated by the municipality.  The two problems that the municipality has named are the lack of trees, and waste management, specifically separating and organizing waste for recycling and composting.  Combining these two issues we decided to build a tree nursery at the newly created Punto Verde using recycled materials, specifically focusing on plastic bottles. 

The goal of this project is not only to create the physical structure of a tree nursery, while reducing the amount of bottles and plastic on the streets and in the landfill, but to also to create awareness about the importance of waste disposal and separation.  Along with the views of the municipality it was very clear to us when entering Viacha and walking around, that waste separation and management are issues that need to be addressed.  We hope that through the construction of the nursery, a promotional campaign and a few workshops that we can help alter the actions and views towards waste in the municipality. 


The idea for this project started manifesting at music festival in Costa Rica about a year ago when I was helping clean up and noticed that the recycling station was taking plastic bags and stuffing them into plastic bottles.  After a brief discussion I found out that these plastic stuffed bottles became extremely durable and could then be used for construction purposes.  Who knew that a good idea could come the day after a musical festival.  It wasn’t until 8 months later when we were discussing the amount of plastic bottles and bags spread throughout the municipality that this idea would come back into my mind.

There are many different ways of using plastic bottle bricks, commonly refereed to as eco-bricks, as a building material but they can be separated into two main categories: structural or non-structural.  I have chosen to talk about the structural purpose because that is how our tree nursery will be using utilizing these eco-bricks in construction.  Even within the structural category there are many variables.  The most common structural design is using the bottles literally the same as bricks by laying them horizontal and stacking them in rows and filling around these rows with cement or another binding material.  What material the bottles are stuffed with also varies from project to project.  We haven chosen to use sand to stuff the majority of plastic bottles saving a lot of time in comparison to the plastic stuffed bottles.

Our lives currently revolve around these bottles.


In the past couple years some literature has started to appear on the use of eco-bricks for building material.  Within the literature there have been many tests conducted to discover the strength, insulation, sound and fire protection of these eco-bricks.  In almost all of the test’s the bricks have faired very well, either being comparable or fairing better than traditional building materials with the exception of fire resistance. 

They told me to be careful about falling in love while I was away.  I didn’t listen. 

Another positive benefit of using eco-bricks is that they are very inexpensive in comparison to regular building materials coming with a little price tag or none at all.  However the trade off is that they are very labour intensive and require many hours to create.  As Lisa and myself have discovered making these bricks is no easy task and when choosing to build with them this is a factor that must be considered.  For this reason the use of eco-bricks can be huge advantage for communities that have little money to spend and lots of people available for labour.  On the other hand they can prove to be pretty stressful if there is only two interns and they are working on a tight deadline.  Thanks for reading and wish us luck!

  1. Taaffe, Jonathan, Seán O’Sullivan, Muhammad Ekhlasur Rahman, and Vikram Pakrashi. “Experimental characterisation of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) bottle Eco-bricks.” Materials & Design 60 (2014): 50. doi:10.1016/j.matdes.2014.03.045.
  2. Mansour, Ashraf Mansour Habib, and Subhi A. Ali. “Reusing waste plastic bottles as an alternative sustainable building material.” Energy for Sustainable Development 24 (2015): 79. doi:10.1016/j.esd.2014.11.001.


Lessons to take home

I honestly don’t know if there is a better way to expedite learning and personal growth than travel. A new place, new people and new challenges can all serve as catalysts for change. Moving somewhere new takes this process to a whole new level. You have to learn to work within the cultural norms of a new environment and accept that your assumptions will be challenged. Although I make an effort to take on professional and academic opportunities abroad, every single time I underestimate the transformative power of these experiences. San José del Cabo has been no exception. Here are 4 lessons from my time in Los Cabos.

  1. Routine can be fun, especially if it involves weekend adventures.

I have never been particularly fond of routine, but maybe I just wasn’t doing it right. Things are so relaxed in San José, especially in the evenings, that Chantal and I have fallen into a pretty satisfying routine of working out, eating well and sleeping lots. It’s been a great reminder of how good it can feel to slow down sometimes. Plus, with so many people holidaying around you, it’s kind of hard to get stressed out. The one thing that gives me anxiety is making sure I maximize my time here. The perma-sunny weather amplifies this anxiety because it always feels like you need be doing something. I’m not complaining though, I love being outside and there are a whole lot of ways to do that Los Cabos. The mountains, canyons, beaches and desert are all within a 45-minute drive of town.

Playa Los Frailes – Day trip to one of the beaches of Cabo Pulmo
  1. Don’t forget your coffee thermos!

One thing that has been difficult to adjust to in Los Cabos is the lack of recycling. Every time I throw a glass jar or an aluminum can in the trash, I feel that reoccurring sensation of eco-guilt. Luckily, this has been an important exercise in self-reflection. In Canada, under the cover of recycling, I imagine that I produce a lot less waste than I actually do. Here I have had to face my waste. As a result, I have become so much better about carrying my coffee thermos and bringing a Tupperware to restaurants for leftovers. I have also made it a personal rule- no thermos, no coffee.

Using baskets at the market to reduce waste!
  1. Small gestures matter.

Whether it’s a proper hello, a “buen provecho” or a Valentines Day rose – small gestures matter in Mexico. These social norms are ingrained in Mexican culture and are part of everyday life. Example #1 – Every morning, when the Director arrives at IMPLAN he personally greets each employee. Example #2 – When Mexicans walk by somebody eating, they say “provecho”. Without fail, fellow restaurant-goers will wish you a good meal as they walk past you. Example #3- On Valentines Day, José Juan brought chocolate bars for everyone in the office and the mayor sent out roses to the municipal staff. Over and over again, Mexico has reminded me that small actions can have a big effect on feelings of community and camaraderie.

“Buen provecho” – Chilaquiles and green juice
  1. Use your relationship resources.

We were facing some serious delays putting our Seed Fund project together. It was the beginning of February and we were starting to feel the pinch of time. After weeks of cancelled meetings, we still hadn’t secured a partner for our school garden project. These struggles coincided with the arrival of Caroline (the other Caroline, supervisor Caroline). During an enchilada lunch meeting, Alex, an old member of the IMPLAN team, sat down with us for a bit. Caroline asked him straight away if he had any ideas about who we could partner with and…. BAM! He had an answer. Since arriving here, I have been reminded again and again about the power of using your relationship resources. Sometimes help comes from surprising places. All you have to do is ask.

dsc_3163Fellow interns- some of the best relationship resources around!
Bye Mexico! Miss you already!!

By: Caroline Morrow  insta

On the Road Again

By Brenna Walsh

One of the most interesting things about having this position at l’institute africain de gestion urbaine (IAGU) has certainly been the opportunity to see the country. I have been involved in a project in which IAGU, the Senegal-Luxemburg Cooperative and Unité de coordination de la gestion des déchets solides -the national body who oversees waste management in Senegal- are working together to implement waste management systems in six different communities in northeastern Senegal. I actually happen to be about to head out on my second (and potentially not my last, even though I have a little less than five weeks left in Senegal) driving tour of northeastern Senegal tomorrow. The communities are fairly widely spread, and as I drive out tomorrow I will certainly be thinking a lot about how the six very different meetings we had in the six different communities when we visited in December. This really drove home my boss’ (frequent) insistence that to implement an effective and sustainable waste management system it is most important to consider the specific needs of the community in question.


Driving tour of northeastern Senegal from December 2016, week 1 in blue and week 2 in red! 

To give a bit of background on the project, the six communities are having landfills and transfer centers built to support door-to-door household waste collection programs. The primary purpose of our last trip was to collect information on the current waste management strategy in the communities which will be used to help build the community specific management plans for the new system. The communities involved in the project have populations from just under 15 000 to just over 100 000 inhabitants. The smallest of the communities actually has had the most success with waste management using initiatives such as incentives and recognition within the community to have the cleanest street and neighbourhood.


One of the landfills which was built previously by our partners but never used, which will be fixed up and integrated into the new system in 2017.

It was interesting to see the contrast in issues in smaller communities vs. larger communities as well. In one of the smaller communities in particular we had a very warm reception and the representatives from the mayor’s office which we spoke with seemed very enthusiastic about making the system work efficiently but they were worried about getting all the big contracts in place for the project as they had not undertaken many projects this complex in the community. In one of the regional capitals on the other hand, they seemed very used to dealing in big contracts, but though they had designated representatives who were heavily involved and dedicated to the waste management system, it seemed as if the job of keeping track of all the different parts of the system was getting to be a bit hard for the those involved. At IAGU, we hope that the management plans which will accompany each of the communities new systems will help pull things together, paint a clear pictures of the system and help keep those who are involved on task.

One aspect which was present in all the communities was the presence of wild dump sites and unregulated landfills. These are places where community members dispose of waste directly or where waste is taken by formal or informal door-to-door collectors. There was however a large contrast between communities as to why these unregulated dumping groups had become so prevalent. In one of the larger communities that does have a designated landfill, the lack of regulation at the site lead to waste collectors who were trying to drop waste at the site becoming impatient while waiting to unload the waste. Instead of dumping waste in the landfill in an orderly fashion, if a truck was already at the site, some collectors began to get as close as they could and just empty their trucks on the side of the road leading to the landfill. As garbage which was dumped started making it harder to get down the road to the landfill, this caused a snowball effect and there are now large piles of garbage on a stretch of road about two kilometers long in the approach to the landfill. As this waste is not being disposed of properly and causes a health hazard if it is left on the side of the road, burning these piles has become a common practice, which has short and long term consequences due to resulting air pollution.


Please back-up to reach landfill! Though the largest wild landfill in this community was recently cleaned up, mismanagement at this approved disposal site has resulted in truck drivers dumping waste along the road, which is burned to make space and to reduce short term health risks such as the presence of disease vectors in raw waste, but which creates dangerous smoke, inhaled by informal collectors and other community members as well as contributing to air pollution.

In another community in which many neighbourhoods are only accessible via dirt roads, the vehicle for pick-up was not chosen keeping the conditions during the rainy season in mind, when these roads get muddy and flooded. As it was too late to re-work the system once the rainy season arrived, the community was unable to continue collection in these neighbourhoods and informal collectors stepped in. As they do not have formal agreements bound by health and safety practices with the community, it is much more likely that informal collectors will create wild dump sites rather than take waste to the area designated for disposal by the community for reasons of convenience and proximity to pick-up locations. One of the things that IAGU is focusing on in the community specific manuals is plans for pickup broken down neighbourhood by neighbourhood using specific vehicles, whether motorized or pulled by a horse or donkey depending on which will suit the needs of the neighbourhood during both the dry and rainy season. It has been interesting to get a view of all the different aspects which come into play when planning a community wide system, and getting to hear the past experiences from these communities makes it easy to understand why the new system must be built keeping the existing system and limitations for each community in mind.

In terms of getting to see the country, traveling to these towns was a fairly neat opportunities as they are not in what you would typically classify as tourist locations and I probably would not have gone to these areas if not for this project. I got to peer across the Senegal River over the northern and eastern boarders (in Podor and Matam respectfully) at Mauritania. I took in the big sugar factory in Richard Toll which processes all the sugar cane grown in Senegal (the factory employs 300 workers, and the number of seasonal workers who harvest in the surrounding fields is certainly several times this) as well as the brand new solar farm, the largest in West Africa. I also got to see six camels wandering the fields on the side of the road and a cow on top of a bus. I drove through the colonial town and old capital St. Louis, and can understand why the French picked the location as it is where the Senegal River meets the Atlantic as well as drive by –and stop and buy from a couple different vendors really quick- the kilometer long stretch of vendors selling handmade woven baskets along the road in Thies. It isn’t very often that IAGU works on project that are so widely spread in the country, its projects are usually centered in the Dakar region and it was quite lucky that this project was ongoing during my internship. It is always interesting to get out of Dakar and looking forward to seeing some new sights in the coming week, and expand my road side baobab photo collection!


Every baobab is different! I am interested to see the contrast in how these trees, which are found spread across many fields that line the highways in Senegal will look this coming week as we are two months further from the rainy season than my last trip. Plants in Dakar are looking pretty dry, and baobabs shed their leaves when there faced with a shortage of water.

Office Surfing through eThekwini

When I first started this internship, I never thought that my experience would be as broad as it has been. I was expecting work in a municipal office where there would be set projects for the time line that I am in the country, and that would be the entirety of the internship. However, I have been blessed with the privilege of going to several different offices within the municipality and working with all of their teams.

When I first arrived, I was based at the Inner Thekwini Regeneration and Urban Management Programme (iTRUMP) which is an office of the Area Based Management (ABM) department based in Warwick Junction. The Warwick area is historically one of the most challenging in the inner city, yet is also full of opportunity. It is the main public transportation and informal trading hub in the city including taxi ranks, bus ranks, the train station, several open air and covered markets, as well as street traders and other informal workers like card board collectors and trolley pushers. Based in this area, I got to know the true city with all of its flaws and potential. Often this area is only considered a problem because of the hectic nature of the informal activities, but it is actually a brilliant mixture of people making their own way in the city and those who use their services. I hope that in the future those working in the informal economy will be supported more to make their living in a clean and safe manor rather than them being regarded as a problem to shut down. The iTRUMP office is working in the area to help make it a cleaner, more livable place and also deal with problem buildings through the bad buildings programme.

A screen shop of what happens when you Google search “iTRUMP” that I found humongous. Hint, the man pointing at the map is my boss and manager of iTRUMP, Hoosen Moolla.

From the iTRUMP offices, I moved to the Urban Management Zones (UMZ), another office of the ABM department in the inner city. This team operates differently than the iTRUMP’s method of project-based urban management by focusing on precinct management. The inner city of Durban is divided into 6 zones, or precincts, which are monitored daily by a Zone Support Officer and Junior Zone Support Officer. In this office I was able to travel to every part of the inner city, road by road, and got to know all of the areas intimately. Through this process, I learned where there are problems in the city, what the recurring issues are, and what the city is doing about it. I also learned a lot about the everyday functions of the line departments like Roads and Storm Water, Cleansing and Solid Waste, Metro Police, Parks and Recreation, etc. through monthly meetings about outstanding calls the departments must complete. This part of my placement was crucial to understand how the city works in detail, so that I could work on bigger scale projects with the full picture in mind.


A view of the UMZ green roof from across the street

Now, I am placed at Urban Renewal with the Catalytic Projects team who work on the large-scale development projects in the city like Moses Mabhida stadium and the beach front promenade. The team that I am working with has just finalized the new Inner City Local Area Plan (LAP) and are finishing the Regeneration Strategy accompanying the plan. By working at two of the ABM offices and getting to know the city in detail, I have a solid understanding of the city to contribute to this team. Since my education and work background is project-based development work, this final placement is ideal for me to get more experience contributing to municipal projects in the field I studied. Moving forward, I will be working on the implementation of several of the projects identified to start the Inner City LAP. In the coming month, we will also be working on finalizing the Regeneration Strategy, which will lean heavily on the urban management programmes at ABM. Since I spent time at iTRUMP and UMZ, helping with the Regeneration strategy is the perfect finish to my internship in the field that I want to build my career.

A work in progress shot of the Inner City Local Area Plan physical model

Race to the End

February 2nd

By Jessy Rajan

The end is in sight, just under five weeks left at IMEPLAN and I wonder and reflect on what I’ve done and what is left. Since returning from the Christmas holidays, time has just flown and it is hard to believe we are now at February. As I reflect on the past four months in Guadalajara, I think about, more than anything, the changes we’ve seen in this continent, but also about my life in this city and at IMEPLAN.

To begin, I’ve come to realize that the most important part of an internship is to understand the field of work better, rather than to necessarily gain specific experience. My time at IMEPLAN gave insight into the world of city planning at a metropolitan scale in a developing country. I have become familiar with the layers of bureaucracy and political influence in a planning institute. These types of challenges slow (and sometimes halt) development often seen in the private sector. As a direct result of the bureaucratic process, my project, waste management, was delayed for nearly three months and now, with just over one month left of my internship, will be moving forward rapidly.

Board meeting with all the mayors of Metropolitan Guadalajara

Despite the challenges I’ve faced in the work place, (with my project, integrating into the office, the language barrier etc.) I have made a great home in Guadalajara. The opportunity to live in Guadalajara, for me, was definitely the main benefit of the internship. Since moving here, I’ve felt very comfortable and fulfilled by my lifestyle. It is a great city for cycling, there are great opportunities for entertainment and the food is amazing. The city hosts many entertainment and cultural events throughout the year, emphasizing the importance on quality of life. In turn, I have had a great quality of life.

Nighttime group bike ride organized the City of Guadalajara

As I approach my 6th month, I begin to realize that I need to go home (Canada). If I could, I would live in Guadalajara for years, but at this point, with the current state of politics, I think I belong in Canada. As a visible minority in Canada, I have experienced segregation and divisiveness; racism has been subdued, but not eliminated. With the recent events in the United States, I worry that the standard of leadership in Canada will degrade and begin to waver on important issues. With an impending provincial election (in British Columbia), I feel that now is the time to be involved in politics and to actively participate in an earned democracy.

Although I have had vast fortunate opportunities to travel, living abroad has always been my goal. This internship has allowed me to live in a new city, in a different country/ culture and reach an important goal. Though, I hope to find this opportunity again, I have also realized the importance of contributing to the community I come from. Mexico, I’ll be back, but for now it’s time to go home.

Snapshot of life in Guadalajara; pictured bottom right corner is a friend from my language school.

Navigating cross-cultural communication and creating connections and opportunities for collaboration

By Lisa Mak

It has been three months since I arrived here in La Paz, Bolivia, marking the midway point of my internship, and it has been an adventure every step of the way. Coinciding with the new year, this has allowed me the opportunity to reflect on my time here so far, as well to set new goals for the remainder of my internship (as well as the rest of the year). While I have lived abroad and travelled overseas to many different places, I have never experienced a place quite like La Paz, and Viacha is even more foreign. The landscape of the Altiplano alone is completely unlike anywhere I’ve seen, with vast plains stretching out across the horizon only to be met with ominous mountains, creating a sense of isolation that is eerily beautiful.

selfie-with-james-on-train-tracksSelfie with James while we were exploring the countryside outside Viacha one day.

Adding to this is the novel experience of working in the municipality of Viacha. It is a buzzing hive of activity, with ministry workers, citizens, and other visitors passing through constantly. However, despite the seemingly hecticness of the municipality, the work-culture here, as a derivative of greater Bolivian culture in general, is fairly relaxed. Every morning, I am welcomed and greeted by handshakes, hugs, and kisses from my colleagues. My co-interns and I are in different departments, and as a result, I have had the pleasure of meeting various people and departments I otherwise may not have had the opportunity to meet. One thing my co-interns and I have noticed within the municipality is that despite the personal relationships between individuals here, there seems to be a lack of professional relations and connections across the different departments. There is a lack of interdepartmental communication, and collaboration is virtually non-existent.

Selfie with Gladys and Edwin.jpgSelfie with my supervisors, Gladys and Edwin, in the Department of Environment office.

While I am learning a lot here – the context of Viacha, the culture and customs, the issues and solutions, amongst a plethora of other things – what I am learning most and is proving most difficult is Spanish. While I do have an intermediate to high-intermediate level of the language, I am still learning and the language barrier is very much a present and constant obstacle for my own communication, hindering not only my ability to express myself as eloquently as I would like to, but also limiting the content or subject matter I am able to discuss. This limited capacity of communication, therefore, affects what I am able to do, who I am able to speak with, how I am able to interact, and consequently, my ability to establish more meaningful connections and relationships.

group-photo-on-viachajames-dayMy co-interns and the Department of Planning celebrating Viacha’s anniversary (which also happened to be James’ birthday).

It is interesting to note the parallels between my own struggles with communication and the lack of communication between departments within the municipality. Just as my challenges with communication results in me having to work much harder, the lack of communication across different departments also hinders the planning processes and project outcomes for the municipality.

I am very fortunate and grateful for my co-interns, not only for their companionship, friendship, and support throughout this incredible experience, but also for their language abilities. Both James and Ingrid are fluent, native Spanish speakers, and at often times, act as a dictionary, if not, translators for me. Having them as resources and collaborators have definitely made my experience here much less of a struggle. While I still have to work harder to compensate for what I lack in language skills, I would have had a much more difficult time if it were not for them.

fam-bbq-at-titosWeekend barbecue with our colleagues from the Department of Planning.

As we interns come from different parts of Canada, with diverse cultural, educational, and experiential backgrounds, we represent a wealth of knowledge for each other, as well as the municipality. This is evidenced by the fact that we are all working in different departments. This diversity has been incredibly valuable since we are able to collaborate, share knowledge and ideas to better identify issues, and create more innovative and effective solutions. Through collaborating, we all gain greater access to more information in more efficient manners. We believe more communication and collaboration is something the municipality can greatly benefit from as well.

fam-photo-at-la-muelaFamily selfie on an outing to La Muela del Diablo. I am incredibly grateful for these wonderful humans. I could not have asked for a better group of people to share this experience with.

In a way, being in different departments, has allowed the interns to facilitate interdepartmental communication and collaboration. Our projects are multifaceted and interdisciplinary in nature, requiring the help, information, and expertise from multiple departments. We hope that through these interactions, linkages can be created and strengthened, so that these connections will remain long after we leave, facilitating more communication and collaboration between departments with improved outcomes for the municipality and its residents.

My experience in Viacha has definitely been a steep learning curve, as I continue to learn and develop personally and professionally. And as I move forward in my role here, gaining new experiences and knowledge, I am also building and enhancing my own capacities and capabilities. Similarly, as we interns progress and continue our work here, we also hope the capacity within the municipality can be increased and improved. I have come to realise that this internship opportunity truly is a mutual learning experience between the interns and the host organization, perhaps more so in my case than in others. My struggle with Spanish is mirrored in the municipality’s lack of communication, while the emphasis on the importance of collaboration among my peers and myself is reflected in our work and projects, and thereby enabling and encouraging interdepartmental collaboration. Not only have I grown through this internship, but perhaps our presence here can be the ripple effect that will see a wave of change in the municipality’s approach to communication and collaboration.

A future in urban planning

It was during my first weekend in Los Cabos, while dining out on the other side of town when that I realized how difficult it is to get around the city without a car, especially after 10pm. It felt as though I was a teenager all over again growing up in the suburbs of North Vancouver begging my parents to drive me everywhere, only to get stuck in traffic and miss my commitments. As I attempted to get around Los Cabos, I couldn’t help but wish that I could develop a more efficient transportation system for the municipality. Perhaps, I could transplant the incredible metro system that I saw in Medellín, Colombia or one of the reliable minibuses that made my trip around Turkey’s western coast so stress-free. On my long journey home along the Los Cabos coast I began thinking about how my travel experiences have shaped my understanding of urban spaces.

I went into this internship thinking I wanted to further my studies in Urban Planning but knowing very little about this field. Being a month and a half away from finishing my time in Los Cabos, I realize now how much my experience here has solidified my future goals. Living in Los Cabos, I feel I have learned so many wonderful things. With the beautiful landscapes and relaxing vibes, it is sometimes hard to remember that I am here for work. That said, this internship has completely re-enforced my ambitions for the future and re-defined what planning means to me and how I would like to approach it. This past week I finished my applications for grad school in the hopes of attending a masters program in September for urban planning and for the first time in a long time, I am sure this is the path I wish to continue on.

From a planning perspective, Los Cabos was the perfect municipality for this learning process. Despite it’s unbelievable landscape, Los Cabos has many challenges. The municipality was created to become a tourist hub and rapidly grew to become one of Mexico’s main tourist attractions. This has resulted in a plethora of hotels being built along the coastline with a certain disregard for environmental issues, a lack of public spaces, limited public access to the beaches, a lack of consistent public transportation and absolutely no recycling. The city has been completely planned for tourists and people with cars. Nevertheless, IMPLAN has many cool projects in the works and plans for the future of the municipality to make the city more sustainable and liveable for its citizens.

All of these elements coupled with my internship have helped me visualize my goals more clearly. Working for IMPLAN Los Cabos as a Social Demographics Assistant, has allowed me to work alongside Statistics Mexico to create urban indicators for the municipality’s long-range plan, facilitate public consultation workshops for youth in the area of food security systems, and exposed me to multiple projects that have taught me about GIS systems, participatory planning and designating environmental protected zones. Through to this experience, I have been able to delve into topics to which I had not yet been exposed: urban agriculture, environmental policies in city planning, the complexities of balancing sustainability and economic growth and most important, that the North American model of urban planning is one of many.

Working on location has taught me so much more than I expected it to and I am excited to transfer these skills I’ve learned into my future. I hope to come back to Los Cabos one day and witness all the progress and good work that IMPLAN has planned for the city.

By Chantal Gougain

Two months in, Christmas around the corner, and what teamwork now means to me

With Christmas literally days around the corner and being in the midst of this year’s finale, I reflect back on my year in 2016. Amongst many changes from leaving my job, friends, and life in Vancouver to pursue my dreams of travel, cultural immersion in an effort to learn Spanish and enrolling in continuing education, to this life changing opportunity working in Colima, I would say this is probably one of the most unforgettable years of my life. I have grown and learned so much from all the people I was fortunate to cross paths with and after many years living in existential crisis, this year has been nothing short of adventure and self-discovery.

Prior to coming to Colima, I mostly feared social exclusion and not being able to find people I would connect with. I envisioned a six month internship where I would be battling some of my deepest fears of loneliness, and inability to communicate on even a fundamental level in Spanish.

Yet, fortunately so In the two months being in Colima, I have never once felt lonely or displaced. There seems to be something magical here at IPCO. The team at IPCO as colleagues at the office, friends in the evenings, and family for the weekends/special events, and for the holidays. Unlike the traditional working environments I’ve been used to where there is a fine line between your personal and professional life, I’ve finally been blessed with the opportunity to join a inclusive, hard working team that extends themselves above and beyond their capabilities in a strong effort to accomplish projects and goals. And even though my time here is limited, for as much as I know I’ve been treated as one of them, part of the team, part of the family. Even with a short period of time here, I’ve already been invited to and attended a baby shower, a bridal party, wedding, and unfortunately so, even a funeral.

Beautiful bride & groom during their first dance.

IPCO table at Angie’s wedding

So what is my one takeaway from my time here at IPCO? It’s the value of team work cannot be underestimated. Cultivating a team environment beyond colleagues, IPCO does a great job at extending that on a more personal level. Seeing how the IPCO team work together has made me realize how important it is to be apart of one where I’m comfortable with voicing my concerns, where I’m comfortable in general to speak my mind. IPCO has taught me, team members not only need to work together, they need to connect on a deeper level to inspire transparency, to encourage a safe space for communication and ultimately the formation of strong relationships that draw people in to work in a cohesive entity. I strongly believe that when this is in place, people are empowered to do their best, working towards one objective with utmost efficiency to accomplish goals and projects – much like what IPCO is doing right now. Despite it being the midst of the holiday season, the office will remain open and everyone will be here working away in an effort to meet project deadlines. The beauty of it is seeing how hard working they are, how not once do they complain about being here and not once do their egos get in the way where they expect praise for their hard work and dedication. They are here at the office to work, to get things done, for the ultimate benefit of the city in accomplishing goals and project deadlines.


Before coming to Colima, I worried about spending the holidays alone, but with Christmas only days away I haven’t even so much noticed December is already nearing an end. In the weeks leading up to December 24th are many posadas which are customary festivities held between family, friends, coworkers and I have already attended an innumerable amount. Fortunately, I’ve been invited to several family Christmas dinners as well. My only issue now is deciding on which to attend. Regardless, I’m lucky to know I won’t be spending the holidays alone and have fortunately never once felt an uncomfortable sense of solitude here.

Wrapping up this year with another bang and wishing every all the best and very warm and happy holidays!

Happy Holidays to All!

By: Wendy Ly

Finding the Connection Between Pachamama and Climate Change

By Nicholas Curry

In December of 2010 the Bolivian government passed a law entrenching rights to Mother Earth or known to the people of Bolivia, and much of Central and South America, as Pachamama.  When the revised version of this legislation came out I would have just finished my first year at University and my first season of tree planting.  It was in this time that I read a book on ocean acidification, sparking my interest in, and desire to combat climate change.  It wasn’t until I got accepted into the Sustainable Cities International Internship Program that I made the connection between the news I heard years before and the country I would be spending 6 months in.

One of Mamani Mamani‘s depiction’s of Pachamama. He is a an Aymaran artist from Bolivia.  Source of photo here.

From the surface the accomplishments of Bolivia and the Evo Morales led government of the past 10 years seem fairly amazing.  Beyond incorporating Pachamama’s rights into law, Evo, famously recognized as South Americas first indigenous president, has: raised the country’s GDP, partially nationalized the petroleum industry, stopped the war against the coca plant (which has been traditionally chewed by the indigenous population for hundreds of years) and globally voiced the need to curb temperature rise to 1 degree celsius.

Not to take away from this governments many great accomplishments  but my experiences in Bolivia have opened my eyes to the naivety of my initial views of the country’s and its’ environmental policies.  While many of the laws and positions held by the government appear as if they are making major steps towards environmental protection, it often seems as if it goes no further than the paper they were written on.  Furthermore, it is true that love and respect for the Pachamama are ingrained into the cultures of Bolivia, especially from the indigenous population, however in many ways it does not translate into knowledge about or action towards addressing climate change. 

Upon realizing the disconnect between Pachamama and the need to address climate change a colleague and myself have become interested in how we could help address this issue.  We currently work in the small city of Viacha outside of La Paz which is made up of many small rural communities and has a large indigenous population.  Knowing the challenges of creating a plan that is both culturally sensitive and that addresses the amount of poverty in this area, we have set set out to increase knowledge and action towards proper waste disposal.  Not only will we construct a building partially made from recycled bottles but we also hope to implement sorting stations in public areas.  Beyond adding physical spaces to increase awareness we will also host educational workshops, and implement a promotional strategy.

When drinking beers in Viacha and much of Bolivia it is custom to pour the first sip out for Pachamama.

The next couple photos were taken throughout my time in Viacha.  It was only when I started to write this article that I chose these photos to highlight how ingrained waste is to the landscape.

The plains of Viacha.
Train tracks into Viacha.
The yard of house near a community centre in one of Viacha’s rural communities.  The owner of the house asked me if I wanted a photo on top of the donkey.  I made quick eye contact with the donkey, understood exactly what it was telling me then politely refused the offer.
This area was the old dump.  Currently being dug up for construction of a new bridge.


The threat of climate change is a very real for the people of Bolivia.  The recent drought and melting of glaciers have left the city of La Paz with limited water for the past couple months.  At the same time the government and the people have a true desire to get out of poverty.  With careful and thoughtful planning one does not need to compromise the other.  In order to address this disconnect we hope to  build an emotional connection between the community, Pachamama and the need to be conscious of your daily actions with regards to climate change.  After numerous environmental campaigns in Canada we know that the strongest way to connect individuals to a campaign’s message is not through facts but rather through an emotional connection.  Furthermore we want to incorporate a financial incentive by building the ground work for a pay per bottle system to be used as another added incentive for people to take part. 

While our project will only impact a small part of a relatively small city, we hope aid in the growth of a emerging culture of waste disposal that emotional connects environmental protection to the traditional idea of taking care of Pachamama.  Giving to the community not only knowledge but also the necessary tools and incentives we do hope that our project will impact the community in a positive way.  Still, in the beginning stages there is much for us to plan, and consider with regards to the wording of our campaign and the message we put forward.  If interested in hearing more about the project there will be more details coming out as it unfolds.

Not lacking in creativity, I was pretty excited to see these old pants being reused as a car cover when we stopped by this house for some apthapi.