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Report: “Overseas Internships” in Zambia

During the third grade of the RESPECT program, students go abroad, and work as interns in various organizations, which include NGOs, schools, public organizations, and so on. Azusa Iwane, who is one of the RESPECT students and belongs to a doctor’s program at Osaka School of International Public Policy, worked as an intern at a research institution in Zambia. She reports as following:

Hearing the voice of Zambian mining communities in the poverty narrative

[Pic. 1]Walking up to mining communities.

Having an as diverse as possible account of a given societal matter is fundamental for an effective engagement. The purpose of my oversea internship program is to comprehensively grasp the people’s perception of the poverty experienced by the copper mining community in Zambia whose voice is often inaudible in the current public discourse. Dag Hammarskjöld Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies (DHIPS), Copperbelt University has a strong record of engaging those disfranchised communities in the context of their research project on Ethnicity and Politics. Similar to other African nations, Zambia is also heavily affected by the international economic structure in which despite being rich in natural resources, they cannot fully leverage the profit expected from the extraction of such resources. Therefore I thought that documenting the situation of impoverished communities in Zambia would allow me to get a clearer understanding of this unfair structure of the current international society.

To faithfully capture the situation, firstly I have collected government data from the Central Statistical Office (CSO) in Lusaka. Those data allowed me to appreciate the overall poverty trend in Zambia. Secondly, I have performed a series of interviews with the assistance of DHIPS in three different copper mining communities within the Copperbelt province and the North Western province. The interviews were structured in two different parts in which I would ask the participants to self-report their degree of the fulfilments with respect to the Basic Human Needs assessment and their own perceptions of poverty.

[Pic. 2]Looking down on mining facilities.

Through this research, I could get a deeper understanding of the poverty situation as well as people’s perception on this particular matter in the aforementioned three mining communities. Each of the participants had different struggles regarding their life in relation to poverty, which they described in so many different ways. Across all the testimonies gathered from each of the individuals who accepted being interviewed, a recurring and clear picture of the sharp contrast between their lives and the wealth yielded by copper for foreign actors emerged. I felt this aptly crystalized the unfair financial structure of the current world. For example, there was the case of a single mother taking care of several kids, including orphans from her deceased friend, while she does not have any form of stable income. This family lives just few kilometers away from a mining compound I visited few years back when I was master student as part of the Respect program’s Zambian study trip, with facilities offering all modern comfort. Those instances inspire a deep sense of unfairness, which pushes me to work harder than ever on this matter. My fieldwork results also indicated that often individuals reported to be under the absolute poverty line did not necessarily consider themselves as absolutely poor. It is still unclear what aspect of their lifestyle is escaping the current standard poverty metrics, which causes this gap between the subjective and standardised assessment. Recurring references to solidarity networks, notably religious communities and neighbours, hint at possible explanations for this discrepancy. I believe that those aspects of poverty highlighted by the people who are most affected, give us important but overlooked facets of poverty that challenge the dominating narrative. I am so grateful for DHIPS to have given me this great opportunity that has inspired me to pursue even further my research.

(August 1, 2018, Iwane)

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