Reflections on events at The Global Centre

World At Lunch

Kazakhstan; the world's largest landlocked country

19/04/17

Today, Aknur Zhidebekkyzy spoke to us about her home country Kazakhstan, and her reason for visiting us in the UK. Aknur, a PhD student of Al-Farabi Kazakh National University and a visiting researcher at the University of Exeter, enlightened us all on Kazakhstan; its heritage, traditions, geographical and political climate, as well as the university at which she studies.

From this special event we were informed of a diverse range of topics about Kazakhstan; traditional eagle hunting, Kazakhstan’s ‘Switzerland’, beshbarmak, commonly used languages within central Asia, political relations between neighbouring countries, Kazakhstan’s history, as well as traditional Kazakh clothing. We learnt about Kazakhstan’s abundant energy resources such as coal, oil, and uranium, and its significant renewable energy potential. Many in Kazakhstan speak Kazakh and Russian, and are familiar with many of the languages spoken in nearby countries due to their common Turkish linguistic origins. Due to political tensions with China, Kazakhstan’s president Nazarbayev moved Kazakhstan’s capital from Almaty to Astana in 1997, in an attempt to preserve Kazakh power. Kazakhstan, the largest landlocked country, with an area as large as Europe, only has a population of 18 million people, thus it is joked in Kazakhstan that all Kazakh’s know each other.

Aknur also gave us insight into her university (Al-Farabi Kazakh National University), which is one of the largest in Kazakhstan, with attendance of 20,000, and it attracts many foreign students mostly from other Asian countries. Aknur herself is a PhD student and researcher, partnering with Exeter University to further her research.

This World at Lunch was a fascinating and educational event, particularly for those who lack knowledge of Kazakhstan! It encouraged us to think outside of our own immediate communities, to consider other traditions and perspectives, and even to venture outside and experience firsthand other ways of living.

Gown Meets Town

An opportunity for Exeter townspeople and students to get together to listen and contribute to presentations and debates from PhD students.

Devon Globe Trotters

Three months in Tolon; the many faces of Ghana

08/04/17

University student Natty Waldron came to speak to our Exeter community about his three-month volunteering experience volunteering with International Citizen Service in Tolon, Ghana.

Natty gave us a briefing of Ghana’s recent political and social history, as well as the country’s current state of affairs. He referred to political peace within an uninterrupted multi-party democracy with several peaceful transitions of power, smooth management of elections, and peaceful and democratic resolves of electoral disputes. Ghana’s economy has strengthened considerably in recent years, and from the 1980s to 2012 the expected years of school for children in Ghana has risen from seven years to 11.3 years, and the life expectancy at birth has risen from 53.1 to 64.4, whilst the HDI rating has increased substantially.

Despite such improvements, Ghana is still plagued by spiralling public debt, rising inflation and interest rates, a deepening energy crisis, poor working conditions, economic regional disparities, corruption, limited access to healthcare, and life-threatening diseases such as malaria.

Natty spoke of his team’s work in Tolon with NFED; Non-Formal Education Division. This project focuses o n the coordination of literacy activities in Ghana. Natty’s team ran income generation classes which included making soap and shea butter, which essentially aims to provide income for families and communities, and to equip Ghanaians with skills in finance, ICT, and marketing. NFED worked with Income Generating Groups (IGGs) which are women’s groups in Tolon and its surrounding communities. These IGGs focus primarily on making shea butter and processing rice, as well as dressmaking. NFED has worked for two years in Tolon in order to bring improvement to peoples’ lives there, and to increase production of the women’s local businesses.

ICS volunteers greatly focus on finding a strategy to improve and sustain this production, which includes registering the groups as cooperatives. Cooperatives work to empower people to improve their quality of life and to enhance their economic opportunities through self-help. Also, registering as a cooperative can increase the confidence of a group when applying for a loan or other financial support, and there is also more NGO support to expand your business.

Natty’s presentation included Adichie’s TEDx talk; The danger of a single story, which highlights common misconceptions negatively regarding Africa as a stereotypical, monolithic and uniform entity. This famous Nigerian author enlightens us on the rich and detailed complexities within the African continent which differ from country to country, and also questions the attainability of an ‘authentic Africa’.

Global Book Club

Michela Wrong: “I didn’t do it for you: How the world betrayed a small African nation” (2005; 400 pages)

30/01/17

At first I didn’t think I’d be interested in reading a lengthy book on the history of Eritrea, but I was soon taken into the story by the author’s vivid writing style. I wanted to know, as she promised to explain, what had happened in their history to make them so self-reliant and even bloody minded! It turned out that the little nation, situated between Ethiopia and the Red Sea, had suffered a series of invasions and that their plight had been ignored by the wider world. First the Italians had colonised it and subjected the people to an almost apartheid system of racial humiliation. Then the British had asset-stripped the country as they drove out the Italians. Next, Ethiopia, with its vision of a greater Ethiopia with access to the sea, and armed successively by America, the USSR and Israel, fought its little neighbour for years. The plucky Eritreans had fought back without foreign assistance but by its fighters living a strict Spartan existence in the arid mountains. When the Eritreans eventually achieved victory, they thought: Why should we be nice to other countries? They didn’t help us when we needed it! This, the author claims, lies behind their national character today. I found that this quest for an explanation kept me reading and that I became quite emotionally involved in the story. Well worth the effort!

Gillian Allen

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Global Book Club
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