The Climate and Health Interdisciplinary Research Programme (CHIRP) at Leeds is based in the Priestly International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds. CHIRP@LEEDS is a joint collaboration across the climate and global health themes, and partners the Leeds School of Earth and Environment, and the Leeds Institute for Health Sciences, including the Nuffield Centre for Global Health and Development. Led by Professor Lea Berrang-Ford, the programme integrates interdisciplinary expertise across Leeds faculties, including strengths in public health, epidemiology, medicine, engineering, climate science, nutrition, and geography.
Field Notes: An update from the Evaluating Indigenous Vulnerability and Adaptation Research (EIVAR) project
Arriving for an interview in the Shawi community of Nuevo Progreso, Mya Sherman and I are greeted by the entire family. Catching the family while they are home during the day can sometimes require a few visits, as the whole family unit frequently goes together to work in their chakra (agricultural field), which can be more than an hour’s walk away. When we are lucky enough to find a family, we are immediately invited to sit down. A clay bowl called a mocahua is soon presented to each of us and we begin to consume the masato that lies inside.
The culture of masato is one that permeates Shawi culture in the Alto Amazonas region of Peru. Masato is a fermented beverage made of yuca (cassava) and other starchy vegetables. It is a dietary staple for many indigenous communities in this area. The woman of the household ensures that there is always a healthy supply of masato to generously offer to any guest, be it a neighbor or a foreign researcher. The term ‘masato’ translates culturally to mean ‘friendship’, so it becomes a necessary part of life when conducting research with Shawi populations. Masato is surprisingly cool, a respite from the often oppressively strong sun. The drink begins as roughly chopped yuca (cassava), which is boiled and mashed (or chewed—a lot of work either way) to break down the fibers, then mixed with water and occasionally other vegetables. The resulting liquid is fermented for anywhere between one and seven days and served through a strainer into a mocahua to be consumed. Participating in the masato ritual with families made us quickly feel welcomed and like locals, yet we were instantly reminded that we were indeed visitors when we were forced to sneak away for some antacid to combat the heartburn associated with this acidic beverage.
The woman who serves me the masato is giving me a scrutinizing look, so I try to reply with “thank you, sister” in Shawi, the local language. She smiles, but that may be because I stuttered with the beginnings of “thank you, brother” before finding the proper word for “sister”. We settle into some conversation with the help of our research assistant’s translation, and soon we are learning new words in Shawi and telling our hosts about our families and hometown.
I wasn’t expecting to feel much deja-vu in Peru, but we had experienced a similar cultural exchange several times in the Batwa settlements of southwestern Uganda. For the past few months, Mya Sherman and I have been working with several IHACC communities as part of the Evaluating Indigenous Vulnerability and Adaptation Research (EIVAR) Project, the monitoring and evaluation sub-project of IHACC. Our work so far has taken us to the 10 Batwa communities in Kanungu District in southwestern Uganda and two Shawi communities in the Loreto province in the Peruvian Amazon, with plans to travel to the Canadian Arctic later this fall.
In April, we left home for the beginning of a four-month field season to spend roughly two months in Uganda and two months in Peru. We are conducting interviews and focus groups with IHACC researchers, field assistants, community members, and partner institutions to understand their perspectives and experiences working with the IHACC program since its inception in 2010. Our work aims to uncover the tangible and intangible impacts of this 5-year interdisciplinary research collaboration and to identify best practices and lessons learned for this type of community-based adaptation research.
Last Saturday, we completed our work with the community of Nuevo Progreso and presented our preliminary results to the community. Sharing these results directly with the community is important to showcase what we were doing in the community this past week, and to make sure that the information we collected was interpreted correctly. As we were preparing our presentation, our research assistant Elvis came to find us and invited us to join the community members resting from the obra communal—communal work, where all males in the community spend several hours working for the well-being and maintenance of the community. We were invited to sit among the circle of men as the women of the community each circled around offering masato to all of the resting workers, ourselves included. Mya and I began to identify the different variations that the women had prepared: some using just yuca, some adding camote (sweet potato) or papa morada (purple potato).
As we came together to talk (mostly about the Peruvian national soccer team, who had just achieved a 3rd place finish in the Copa America) and to share masato, the beauty of what was happening became clear. Even in a village lacking power, water, and many of the “comforts” one finds in cities or developed areas, the sense of community and tradition was more alive here than in most places I have lived. The people were enthusiastic about the research we had tried to accomplish, which was noteworthy since monitoring and evaluation is among some of the more academic topics that could be brought to the community. After sharing one last meal with the community, we left with a warm send-off and fond memories to take into the rest of our fieldwork.
Dr. Berrang Ford, Kaitlin Patterson, Sierra Clark and Isha Berry presented posters and oral presentations in Vancouver for the 16th International Medical Geography Symposium hosted by Simon Fraser University. The conference is put on every two-years and attracts medical/health geographers from around the globe, specializing in a range of topics, including infectious and chronic disease, landscapes of health and wellness, politics of geographical research, multi-level modelling, neighborhood effects on health, climate change, and many many more.
Kaitlin and Isha presented posters on the first day of the conference. Isha presented on leishmaniasis and political terror while Kaitlin presented on the lived experience of food insecurity among Indigenous Batwa in Uganda.
Tuesday was jam packed with GEEL presentations. Dr. Berrang Ford presented in the Climate Change session on the need to address socioeconomic factors as mediators or effect modifiers when looking at the potential impact of climate/ weather on health.
Kaitlin presented part of her Masters thesis in the Lived Experience of Health Session 2 which took a longitudinal and mixed methods approach to understanding food insecurity among Indigenous Batwa in Uganda.
Sierra presented at the end of the day in the Infectious Disease Session on inequalities in bed net ownership after an equitable distribution among Batwa in Uganda and the socioeconomic determinants of retention.
On Thursday, Sierra presented her poster on the Lived Experience of AGI among Batwa in Uganda which took a mixed methods approach to understanding the perceived severity of illness, the multiple consequences of illness, and the perceived barriers and benefits to taking preventative actions.
The rest of the conference was spent networking, enjoying amazing presentations by fellow colleagues, and taking in all that Vancouver has to offer.
Sarah MacVicar, an M.Sc. student from McGill University is in Uganda conducting her thesis research with Vivienne Steele, a Research Assistant from the University of Guelph. Sarah's work will examine the potential effects of climate change on maternal and child health among Indigenous communities in the Kanungu District of Uganda. Here is their first update from the field!
Today is the first day of our third week here in Uganda. We have now spent more than a week in Buhoma, and we have been busy! Before arriving here, however, we met with partners at Makerere University and the Ministry of Health in Kampala. We were able to coordinate logistics of our upcoming five weeks of fieldwork, which involves conducting key informant interviews and community focus group discussions about pregnancy and delivery experiences in the region.
After catching an Aerolink flight over the impressive hills of western Uganda, we were welcomed by the staff at Green Tree Lodge, who were happy to host more visitors from IHACC. Luckily for me, I had already met the staff on my last trip, and was happy to see them again!
We started our work in Buhoma with a visit to Bwindi Community Hospital (BCH) to reconnect with staff we had worked with during our last visit. We also introduced ourselves to new and visiting staff at BCH, and were pleased to receive updates on the hospital from BCH’s executive director. Since we spend a portion of every day at the hospital, it has been helpful to invest time in getting to know all of the staff and their roles there.
One of our fieldwork goals is to visit five communities (two Bakiga communities and three Batwa settlements) in the area, in order to ask questions about pregnancy and childbirth experiences. Our first three visits have gone well; it has been exciting to meet the communities we heard much about beforehand. With the guidance of our mobilizers and translators, Seba and Grace, we have heard stories from community members and been able to share meals with the communities. One highlight was seeing a group of piglets running around near the community centre! (Sarah wanted to take one home).
Although the rainy season was supposed to have ended a month ago, we are still experiencing some heavy downpours! At one point, the rain hit during our walk home from BCH, and we had to run into a shop to buy an umbrella to continue on home. According to our friends here, the rains have stretched on a month longer than usual. It is also been “cold” here in the mornings, and we have taken advantage of this by going for a brief jog before the day begins!