The Day I Chose Not to Eat: Part Two

Below is the concluding half of my blog: The Day I Chose Not to Eat

Thirdly I was not free to live my life the way I wanted to. I could not just pick up a food item and enjoy its taste, texture and nutritional benefits. I could not eat anything without feeling guilty. I could not stop thinking about food. I was constantly coming up with different ways of doing a “cleansing” fast or a “sentimental” fast. It consumed me. I might argue this was a case of social poverty. Society was a significant contributor to this issue and it was within social situations that I felt most vulnerable.

Today I am glad to say I have a healthy relationship with food. I decided one day last September that I would just try eating for sustenance and enjoyment (rather than comfort); allowing myself to eat what I wanted when I wanted to. This was a scary step for me, because mentally I could not fathom allowing myself to eat exactly what I wanted. It seemed like a trap, I mean, how would I ever lose weight if I ate whatever I wanted to?!

I followed through, however, and have found freedom from food (and a much healthier body image) since then. Unfortunately development work takes more than a change of perspective. Just because someone decides they will not allow their family to experience hunger caused by structural violence does not mean that they will find freedom by stealing a loaf of bread, for example.

The world is itself in disorder, maybe not a literal eating disorder, but a disorder nonetheless. This program (international development) would not exist if the world were in order *chuckles to self*. Therefore the conversation and struggle to end poverty continues. Unlike my approach of secrecy to the disorder, however this one is tackled through open conversation, a key catalyst in any road to healing.


Post script: I am at the point now where I enjoy talking about my struggle because it reminds me of how far I’ve come and allows people to become familiar with a significant part of what makes me, me. If you have any comments or questions for me please ask, I’m an open book.


The Day I Chose Not to Eat

I don’t have a vivid memory but a day I will never forget is during my summer break in between grade 7 and 8. I was 12 years old and I remember my family was out for the day; I had the house to myself. Growing up with four other siblings, this did not happen often enough and I cherished every solo hour I had.

I was in the kitchen; I think I was about to prepare something to eat when I thought to myself “what if I just tried not eating at all today? No one is home to make me eat, they wouldn’t know the difference and I could probably lose a lot of weight really fast!” Evidently this idea was due to a poor self-esteem, not some funky science experiment.

So I didn’t eat that day. At all. And I felt great. I really didn’t feel any different than if I had eaten. I wasn’t hungry, I had energy and the best part was that I could do this without having to tell anyone my dirty little secret. Little did I know this decision would drive my life, or at least control a significant part of it for the next eight years.

I had an eating disorder. It was never diagnosed. I mean, I didn’t actually tell anyone for six years, so a trip to the doctor never happened but my eating habits were definitely out of order.

You may wonder what this has to do with development? I mean, talk about first world problems; you have more than enough food and you choose to starve yourself?! Seems seriously backwards. And I would argue that it is, but there are some parallels one can draw.

Firstly, this eating disorder severely affected my everyday life. It dictated exactly what I would eat by product and proportion. It told me which social events I could and could not attend because most of them involved food and eating in front of people. And it decided that this was the worst thing people could know about me so I had to, at all costs, keep it a secret.

Secondly I felt like I had no control over my situation. I’ve talked in past blogs about how poverty puts people in between a rock and a hard place. I was really not in that place, but this bloody eating disorder told me differently. I could try and avoid suspicion from friends by packing an apple for lunch or I could eat a whole sandwich and remain a disgustingly obese individual and wonder why my friends put up with me.

…to be continued…

Choice vs Risk

If you have ever taken a 100 or 200 level International Development course with Dr. Larry Swatuk you will know that development = maximizing choice and minimizing risk. The cycle of poverty puts people in between a rock and a hard place. It forces people to do what they would not do under ‘normal’ (whatever that means) circumstances – usually in pursuit of their own, and their family’s life.

Drugs of all kinds are a daily fact of life in the favelas of Brazil. A Channel 4 news reporter wanted to meet the individual providing much of the community with these drugs. To his surprise it was a middle-aged mother of three. She sells everything from glue to crack-cocaine.

When asked about her clientele she says age doesn’t matter. She sells to everyone. Later on, however, between tears she says that she often turns down the young kids asking for crack-cocaine because all she can think about is someone else doing that to her kids. She couldn’t imagine someone selling drugs to her children therefore she can’t do that to someone else’s child.

This mother of three says that the very drug she sells to feed her children is “the devil’s drug. It came for three reasons: to kill, to steal, to destroy.” She is between a rock and a hard place; her risk of not being able to provide is high and her choices to diversify means of provision are limited.

Choice is something us Westerners seriously take for granted. I’m not much of a foodie so I always remark when others can discuss food (I mean cupcake flavours, not the unequal distribution of food resources in corrupt countries, for example) for a sustained period of time. Some days I feel like our (Westerners’) largest daily dilemma is if we should get the main entrée or just a burger for dinner. I mean, the Watson’s Eatery (the cafeteria here at the St. Paul’s University College) menu gets taken seriously here, folks.

I’m not saying it’s bad to discuss or care about what we will eat. I think it is a sign of a healthy relationship with food, which is very important. But I think we take our choices for granted and in that, can lose sight of the realities of the world that we live in. As much as I’d like to, I cannot change the global risk versus choice equation to eliminate poverty. But, I can be aware of them and at least for the rest of the day be absolutely grateful for the choices I have at my fingertips and the minimum risks I have to take to attain them.

What’s the ‘riskiest’ thing you’ve done lately?

…Post script: I can’t help but remark how even this question exposes how much choice I have because I was going to use the word today instead of lately, but thought “that’s too often, we don’t have to expose ourselves to significant risk everyday!

…Much of the 100% does.

A Guarani child embraces a dead rat.

A Guarani child embraces a dead rat.

“It’s not a good life.”

My last blog touched on how statistics about the sex industry during large sporting events are exaggerated. Human trafficking and sex working, however, are still issues in need of attention. Several organized social justice advocates have collaborated to create the It’s A Penalty Campaign. The initiative is to reduce sexual exploitation of children during the World Cup.

The campaign takes a legal approach. The main message is to fans and foreigners, reminding them that sex with a minor (under 17 years old) is illegal, or offside. Prosecution can take place in Brazil and in an offender’s home country.

Although the campaign is backed by: the Metropolitan Police, the Football Association, the British Prime Minister, the UK and Brazilian Governments and the Brazilian Federal Police, I’m not convinced it will be effective. Legal backing is necessary. A lack of legal intervention is often a significant contributor to the prosperity of the sex trafficking industry.

The campaign is just another Band-Aid solution. It doesn’t reach the problem at the root but at a fast-paced, high-energy event like FIFA, I think it is a good approach.

The campaign raises awareness about sex trafficking. This is a warning to foreigners looking for a “good time”, it encourages strict legal enforcement and focuses its attention on the offender rather than the victim, as I mentioned in my last blog.

Susan Ormiston of CBC News says that some food vendors at the World Cup sell more than just food. Some have resorted to putting their children in the sex industry to make a quick profit. The situation gets more complicated when children become victims at the hands of their own parents – where they should be the most safe. While I don’t believe any parent would want to do that, they do. There is something very wrong with the economy (and I don’t mean how much it is or is not growing) when this is how people are making a living.

To add to the objectification of human beings, taxi drivers in Brazil have a menu of girls where buyers can take their pick based on size, age and hair colour. A counselor with Happy Child International (one of the organizations partnering to operate the It’s A Penalty Campaign), Rubia Uchoa says, “It’s sad. This is a system.” Hopefully one that is weakened by a more strongly enforced legal system.

Economic activity and tourism have evidently increased in Brazil, but with all problems development, the vulnerable population remains the most vulnerable. Their opportunity at economic activity is a few new faces to turn tricks for – hardly an opportunity.

Susan Ormiston was talking to people working in the sex industry. One girl, called Jeanne, was originally too timid to share any of her story. She did have something she felt was worth sharing at the end of the interview however, “tell the girls in Canada not to get into this. It’s not a good life.”

Pregnant teen smoking in one of Brazil's favelas.

Pregnant teen smoking in one of Brazil’s favelas.

Viva o FIFA!

Unless you’re living under a rock, you will know that the World Cup starts this Thursday. I am not a sports fanatic, but I do think it is a wonderful way to bring the world together. As I stated in a past blog, however, large sporting events such as these always cause me to question why such events are prioritized when there is so must injustice happening at the same time and usually at the same place. I am evidently biased in viewing sporting events this way but when it involves the emotional and physical freedom of a child, I do not apologize for that.

Human trafficking in relation to the World Cup has become a hot topic in the media since the 2006 games in Germany. Sonja Dolinsek, a blogger and PhD student sheds some objective and encouraging light on the subject.

Firstly, Dolinsek clarifies that human trafficking and sex working are not the same thing. Many sex workers migrate to areas of sporting events in hopes of finding more work. While this choice of employment offers much to be discussed, I will focus on trafficking. I believe individuals – no, victims, seriously,  let’s not overdo this political correctness thing- in the sex trafficking industry are not there by choice.

Statistics on human trafficking in relation to sporting events, Dolinsek found, have oftentimes been severely overestimated. Oftentimes this was just because the estimates were not based on sound data. There is no empirical link between sporting events and an increase in human trafficking.

As with many issues, development or not, there is a misallocation of resources. Here, the resources being media and the general public’s attention. Anti-trafficking campaigns, Dolinsek argues, have been more harmful at times than helpful. The priority given to trafficking has lead people away from the causes of trafficking related to sporting events – namely displacement and employment …or the lack thereof. When families are kicked out of their homes in attempts to ‘clean up’ the city people (children especially) are put in more vulnerable situations. This exploitation is due to the “structural factors that existed before sports event and will exist thereafter.”

These facts are difficult to hear but they provide encouragement to anyone interested, that progress is being made in the anti-trafficking struggle. It is informative because it gives people that are trying to make a difference in the industry of human trafficking a place to start.

Dolinsek argues that a good place to begin is to pressure the government for different policing strategies. Their increase in monitoring the industry puts sex workers in a more vulnerable spot and instead of working against sex-workers, they should be working for them. For their safety, and ideally help them find a source of income from something more fulfilling to the individual, the economy and society.

Statistics need to be presented based on reliable data. Misinformation distorts the situation and does not further a solution.

Lastly, the amount of exploitation during the World Cup is vast. The labour force needed for an event like this is made up of construction, food services, lodging and merchandise workers – among many more. Severe violations of human and labour rights are possible here just as much (if not more, based on what I just mentioned) as in the sex-selling industry.

Dolinsek’s article is a reminder to stay focused and realize what the issues being ‘solved’ are. She also provides hope that it is possible to at least further an end to human trafficking. That being said, I am excited to see the way this event brings different parts of the 100% together – in a completely pure, mutual, edifying way.



Who are you cheering for in the World Cup?

Feeding Your Soul

I never understood the appreciation that students always seem to have for free food, until this term, living away from home. When I’m really hungry, it’s pretty difficult to focus on anything else. To get a satisfying meal for free just makes it that much better. Some may say there’s no such thing as a free lunch but there is at Soul Kitchen!


Singer and restaurant founder Jon Bon Jovi inside Soul Kitchen.

It’s a communal restaurant founded by musician Jon Bon Jovi. There are no prices on the menu instead guests are encouraged to give what they can – whether in money or time. Volunteers get a nutritious meal and gain employable skills by trained staff that they may not have had before.

Some volunteer out of the goodness of their hearts, some volunteer because they have more time than money. The restaurant understands the financial struggle that many people go through and will therefore give priority to volunteers who are only able to pay with their time.

Community is another priority at Soul Kitchen. Guests are encouraged to share their meal with another customer whom they may have never met before to discuss the initiatives of the kitchen, the community and establish stronger relationships.

The restaurant uses fresh, local ingredients in their dishes. They have their own garden vegetable from which everything is organic. Their meals are three course containing an appetizer, main dish and a baked dessert as well as offering vegetarian options.

The restaurant is evidently a not-for-profit, therefore the people that are there are so because they want to be. Each dish is made with care and customers are treated like friends.

Soul Kitchen is a good example of development work. Development is complex but one step at a time is a good start. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs food is the first one. Not only does Soul Kitchen take care of that but also provides customers with a sense of community and relationship – the third need on the hierarchy. Development is also about people. Listening to their stories, their needs and meeting them where they are. When the little things are taken care of, the larger issues seem more approachable.

Food is a psychological experience as much as a physical one, as Soul Kitchen believes: “a healthy meal can feed the soul.”

Small Stones

In our placement preparatory course last week we were asked why we pursued International Development. There are many things I would seriously enjoy pursuing. I have considered being an interior decorator, culinary artist, stay-at-home…woman (that still sounds alright), but as my blog name states I am part of the 100%.


It is difficult for me to dedicate my life to deciding whether the wall should be periwinkle or lavender when a fellow globe mate doesn’t even have clean drinking water. I believe pursuits such as interior decorating and culinary art definitely have their place; we are all called to play a different role within the 100%. Mine, I believe is a development worker …who rolls sushi and restores antique dressers on weekends.

This may seem hypocritical since in my last two posts I talked about remaining hopeful in the field of development, but I don’t think poverty will ever cease to exist. Inequality has been felt from the dawn of humanity and likely every moment in between until now but I will still pursue development work. Even if I don’t cure the world of poverty…

“The [hu]man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” -Confucius

…I can do that. I can carry away small stones. And this is why I am in International Development.


A good friend of mine is currently living in Uganda. She recently went to Gulu, a city that Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) used to occupy for their inhumane (to put it mildly) endeavors. In her blog she shares some of her witness to the healing that has taken place by past victims of the LRA, including one of Kony’s wives and children.

As many of you remember, in 2012, the organization Invisible Children released a video about Joseph Kony. Its intentions were to inform the world – make Kony famous – and essentially, help bring an end to the rebel group. There has been much criticism over the video since then:

  • Invisible Children is highly biased; the film does not give the whole story
  • This video was a money grab
  • They do not use their funding efficiently or ethically
  • Filmmaker Jason Russell shows inappropriate behaviour after the video’s release, questioning the legitimacy of the organization


Picture from the first Invisible Children Stop Kony video.

Invisible Children released a second, much less publicized, video in response to some criticisms.

Because information is so accessible and social media gives many more people a voice, it is difficult to make truth of situations like this. One critic highlights the notion that the LRA was initially formed in resistance to Uganda’s National Resistance Army, which was exploiting children. Whether that is true or not, the LRA’s current mandate is no more justifiable.

The video was evidently unsuccessful in bringing down Kony. What the video did succeed in, however, is getting people to act. I am not saying the awareness raising events – Cover the Night – posters, t-shirts and bracelets were effective. But, they got people moving towards something likely more productive than what participants would have been doing otherwise.

I am hesitant to say that at least the video raised awareness because

a) just raising awareness is not always enough and

b) it was highly one-sided.

But, again, it got the attention of millions about a topic that does require attention to be solved.

While Invisible Children may not be seeing the success they intended, my friend’s blog is proof that issues are being addressed. If you can’t stop Kony, you can at least stop what he has done by addressing the needs of the people that used to be a part of his agenda. At Laminadera Village in Gulu, Uganda, that is precisely what is happening.

In the words of my friend “Gulu is a place resurrected. Redeemed. A place of peace. The peace that comes only from knowing a time of great pain.” Encouragement for any development worker.

It’s Not What You Do…

This past Wednesday was the annual Shape the World Conference. A day when the INDEVOURS who just returned from their overseas placements are able to share with faculty, family and future placement volunteers (me!) what they learned during their journeys.

Some people shared the technical aspects of their job roles, some people told stories of the people they met and of themselves, and some brought a convicting call to action upon their audience. A theme that kept on coming up was that development work is not easy. You will struggle with language barriers (which you should do your best to minimize), you will fail to understand certain cultural practices, your role will at times seems meaningless, and you may possibly step in dog poo.

To that, Simon Sinek will say it is not what you do but why you do it.

It sounds cliché, but he raises a good point. There are three questions (the golden circle): why, how, and what, that every organized pursuit – whether it be a company in the corporate world or a non-governmental organization fighting for peace – looks to answer. Most companies start from the outside, in – at what. Sinek argues that the ones that see the greatest success are not the companies that have something different to “sell” but the ones that sell something differently. They start from the inside, out – at why?

Looking at the human brain from the top it is divided into sections comparable to Sinek’s chart. The outer layer, the neo-cortex is the part responsible for rational and analytical thought – language, asking “what?” Within that is the limbic brain, it is responsible for feelings and controls behaviour – asking “why?”

Sinek’s theory is a beneficial reminder to us future placement volunteers as well. Sure we may be doing just data entry some days, or playing a role that surely a local could fill. I’m not justifying non-productivity, or saying that we can do whatever we want as long as we have good intentions; rather I am trying to spread some hope in the realm of development work.


I believe it will be hard; emotionally, physically and mentally. Some days will probably suck…a lot. But is there any line of work that does not have off days? It is inevitable. Learning and growing from such experiences, however, is also inevitable. For future reference, for myself maybe more than anyone – the work you do is not as significant as the reason for which you do it.

So, why are you (metaphorically and literally) embarking on X journey?

Where ‘Dem Boys At?

This has been on my mind for a while. Male empowerment. Today the words “female empowerment” have almost become a compound word. I don’t think that is a bad thing. I think women are oppressed in many ways and should be empowered, but every time I hear about it I wonder how it makes guys feel. Males may often be the source of female oppression but how often are guys uplifted and encouraged to raise the standards that society has put on them?

Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali talks about male oppression. She says, “boys are victimized too: they are taught that the male individual is not to be soft but be hard…his honour is between my legs.”

I was listening to a speaker a while back when they made a joke about women… it was received with silence. A few minutes later that same joke was put on men and there was a low snicker across the audience. If I were a male I think this would bother me slightly more than it already does.

There’s a new app called the broapp. It “automatically message[s] your girlfriend sweet things so you can spend more time with the Bros.”

I think you guys can do better than that, really I do. Firstly, if you don’t care about your girl enough to remember to send her a text (a fureaking TEXT!), why are you in that relationship? Secondly, does it not bother you that society is expecting such apathetic behaviour from you?

During my 5-month volunteer service in Botswana all of the international volunteers were girls. When a guy would come, on a short term trip the children would flock to them like no one else. They lacked a positive male figure in their life. There was no shortage of males. In fact, 90% of the friends I made in Botswana were males, because they were outside a lot more than the girls. They lacked a positive male figure in their life because those guys that fathered them were too busy avoiding their responsibilities.

Ladies, you have responsibility here too. Expect more. Expect them to remember to text you on their own (are our standards really that low?), to treat you as an equal based not on how you look or what you know but on who you are. Expect them to be real.

Maybe he enjoys chocolate and soaking in the bathtub more than you do (I do know a stereotypically manly guy like this and I think it’s awesome). Great. And maybe he is making the same mistakes as his father. Don’t berate him about it. Encourage him to do better because he can do better.

I leave you with a video of one of my favourite rappers…