Humans of the World: Enkhbat from Mongolia

I haven’t met anyone as passionate about films as Enkhbat Natsagdorj. He was a teacher, a translator, and has been part of the development sector working for UNICEF Mongolia. But I’d say cinema and films is where Eba, as his friends fondly call him, found his niche.

Eba, a producer and a film maker, co-founded the NGO Altan Khalis (Golden Reel) which promotes art and indie films in Mongolia. Through screening and film festivals, they are able to introduce really good movies to the Mongolian people. It’s a breath of fresh air, according to Eba, as these are different from what is usually shown in cinemas.

In 2019, Eba’s short film ‘The Search’ won the Audience Award in the ‘7 Days Film’ of the Kazan International Youth Film Festival. The common theme of his works is real life motivated by his desire to raise awareness on social issues.

For Eba, arts and films can change the world. It is dependent, however, on time and space. He explains that a good film seen at the right moment and place can make an impact on a person. He shares some of those that made an impact on him – Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, and Carlos Reygadas’ Japon.

Eba is a Chevening Scholar currently pursuing his Master’s in Film, Television, and Creative Practices at the University of East Anglia. He wants to keep creating films as it is a powerful art form. It is his hope to share original stories particularly of Mongolia to the world, to share their truth. After all, there’s more to the movie industry than Hollywood.

Humans of the World: Cleo from England

I have to admit that I was surprised to learn that Cleo was a Commissioned Officer of the British Army. Sounds stereotypical but the truth is, only a few women get to work in the army. Sexism still exists in the world but it’s a good thing women like Cleo are trying to change that.

Unapologetically a crier, Cleo is not afraid to show her emotions. She does get some flak in the military for being a woman, for being friendly, and for laughing a lot. But receiving a Conley Award as a troop commander proves that she can be herself who does not necessarily have to conform to the mold of a typical soldier.

Cleo talks about being deployed to Afghanistan with 31 all-male soldiers. She recalls a few dicey moments where they were under fire and was humbled to know that despite soldiers assuming a tough persona, they are all human beings who also get scared every now and then.

“How can the world be so cruel and the world just stand by?” Cleo asks while sharing about being in Congo with the UN where the experience taught her the realities of how to make things better. The military responds, reacts, and prevents conflict-related violence. Cleo thinks there’s a lot of opportunities where the military can have more scope to be more effective. That is training, understanding, and harnessing the power they have for good.

Cleo is now a reservist and is tilting her career to another thing she is passionate about – sustainability. She admits she’s not perfect when it comes to it but for her, it’s not about being perfect but the drive to be better. And I for one hope we all have that desire to be better, like Cleo, not only for our own sakes but for others as well.

Humans of the World: Yeam from Malaysia

Yeam is an economist who works for the Central Bank of Malaysia. His job entails analyzing how the economy is doing on the ground and feeding that in to government policies and strategies to keep the economy active.

He took a leave from his 10-year work engagement and is currently studying MSc Applied Psychology & Economic Behavior at the University of Bath as a Chevening Scholar. Everything is influenced by behavior so Yeam wanted to explore the psychology lens of economics that could lead to better policies that has people’s buy-in.

Yeam is interested in people that is why he quite enjoyed spending three and a half years of his career in Sabah where he did get the opportunity of interacting and building relationship with industry players. He also does a lot of volunteering through the influence of his girlfriend who is a full time social worker. In the UK, Yeam continues to volunteer. He would often talk to homeless people he encounters, offering them some food and drink.

He recalls how his father would give young Yeam 50 ringgit note and would then be instructed to pass this on to his grandfather. A seemingly simple task but this has instilled in Yeam the act of giving; his dad’s behavioral psychology strategy at work.

Yeam recognizes that kind intentions might be abused or it may result to dependence. So he stressed the importance of taking a long-term perspective such as providing education, medical help, or support in getting employment. And in the end, Yeam believes that we can only help those who want to help themselves.

Yeam might be on a break from work but he certainly is not taking a pause from learning, from being kind, and from treading the road towards a life of significance.

Humans of the World: Khandan from Afghanistan

‘I #ChooseToChallenge gender stereotypes,’ says Khandan, an Afghan woman who, herself, is trying to change that. Growing in a culture with such stereotype of women needing someone to protect them, Khandan was able to travel to the UK and practically live on her own to pursue further studies showing that she can be independent.

Khandan is studying MA Gender Analysis in International Development at the University of East Anglia as a Chevening Scholar. Having worked in the gender equality and women empowerment sector since 2014, she wanted to improve her skills and learn more about gender from the analysis perspective. Through the course, she is learning about gender relations and power and other analytical models that could support her work.

When asked about how exactly women can be empowered, Khandan shares a gender conflict analysis she did with the UN that reveals how men are excluded from the conversation when talking about women empowerment. The lack of support from men is an opportunity where engaging them can be instrumental for pushing the agenda. Related to this, Khandan talks about the formation of National Masculinity Alliance in Kabul which the office she works in, United Nation Assistant Mission in Afghanistan, supports. These group of men coming from different organizations are committed to fostering gender equality within their own circles. They also get to work with religious leaders and communities.

It might be difficult to consider war torn Afghanistan as one’s home but not to Khandan. Amidst the conflict, she sees the dedication of the people to keep going. ‘We do have the problem but in the meantime, we have the power, the energy,’ Khandan expresses. ‘What is important is to stay strong and work harder.’

Her friends are telling her not to return to Kabul but for Khandan, escape is not the solution. ‘I’m born to be challenged and not to be in my comfort zone,’ she says. An epitome of a strong, independent woman, Khandan is indeed a model to her fellow Afghan women and the rest of the world.

Humans of the World: Dario from Italy

A lifelong learner. That is Dario’s brand. Open-minded as he is, he puts a lot of effort in connecting and staying connected with people. For him, the more people he meets, the better, as this gives him different perspectives in life.

Dario is doing his postgrad degree in Brand Leadership at UEA. He read one of his professor’s books and was fascinated at the idea of how everything is branded and how the future of brands brings exciting opportunities. This motivated him to pursue the course, which for him is a perfect mix of theory and practice.

“As brands do, we change and evolve. It would be wrong not to,” Dario stressed. This, perhaps, could be the reason why he is learning another language, French, despite him already speaking Italian, English, and Deutsch. So it doesn’t come as a surprise, as well, that he’s actually a certified olive oil sommelier.

True to being Italian, wherein everything is done with the heart, Dario is passionate about many things. Aside from business, languages, and olive oil, Dario is interested in renewable energy. He volunteers for Young Energy Student, a German group engaged in various projects on energy.

We choose brands that reconnect us to our values and what we stand for. For Dario, who is a leader, a scholar, a linguist, an olive oil sommelier – these definitely speak of his brand. A true lifelong learner.

My Chevening Journey: Winter has left and spring is here

A friend once remarked, ‘Winter is coming and it’s going to be miserable.’ So I dreaded it a bit considering that season affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression caused by the change in season, is actually a thing.

For a Baguio boy like me where the temperature is cooler compared to the tropical heat in most places in the Philippines, I’m not really a fan of the cold. That’s why I didn’t mind the ‘stay indoors’ order as part of the UK’s COVID-19 precaution as it’s freezing outside. Plus, there’s a lot of readings and essays to write anyway.

It snowed a few weeks ago. Probably, winter’s last hurrah. And since I couldn’t be with actual people to marvel over the lovely snow, I befriended inanimate snowmen instead.

Now, spring is here. Almost here, I think, with the temperature getting a bit warmer, well, less cold. And flowers are starting to appear giving patches of color everywhere. The other day, I thought it would be a shame not to enjoy the sun today so I went for a walk at a nearby cemetery which is actually like a park.

People I meet along the way would say hello, or nod, or give a smile which is not uncommon in a small city like Norwich. And it’s nice. To be recognized as a fellow human being. Especially so that it’s the only face-to-face human interaction we can get these days, aside from trips to the supermarket. Which, mind you, has become a sort of highlight of the week for many.

I look at the headstones. A lot of Elizabeths and Williams. Being in a graveyard obviously makes me think of life’s fragility and it does give me a sense of gratitude. It reminded me of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, ‘Go to the limits of your longing.’

Let everything happen to you.

Beauty and terror.

Just keep going.

No feeling is final.

Brilliant words to motivate me as I face school work deadlines coming. It will be fine. Or not. But it’s okay. I’ll do my best to just keep going.

Humans of the World: Mariana from Mexico

It is amazing to get to meet a fellow Chevener who, like me, is also part of Teach for All, a global network that develops leadership in classrooms and communities.

Mariana was a Teacher Fellow of Teach for Mexico (Enseña por Mexico) which allowed her to get to learn a new context of her home country. Majoring in Communication, she was able to bring her experience in media and documentaries in the fishing community she served in.

She initiated a project that taught storytelling through filmmaking. It was an opportunity for her students to tell the stories of their parents, particularly those practicing sustainable fishing. The project gained recognition and support from the government of Mexico and the films were even shown in cinemas.

Having to deal with kids dropping out, or students wanting to be drug dealers, and seeing other forms of social inequalities, Mariana had to remind herself to choose her battles. She saw how a support network such as the families of students have a role in shaping their future. She emphasized that in education, if you work alone, you will not see results.

Mariana is pursuing an MA in International Development at the University of East Anglia and after completing this, she hopes to work in the education sector in Mexico focusing on indigenous communities. She thinks directing her attention to a specific community could bring about change which can inspire more changes to happen.

The Quest for Sustainability

In the past years, the zero waste lifestyle has been gaining popularity. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, however, more people are resorting back to disposables and single-use plastic. Experts assure the safety of reusable containers but consumers are not taking any chances.

This is unfortunate, and as rational choice theory assumes information gap, I am keen to say that raising more awareness is needed. Social psychology points to nudges that will subtly change unsustainable behavior to a more sustainable one. In this case, I see how social media and influencers can actually promote sustainability.

Social practice theory, meanwhile, proposes that interventions should be directed towards practices. I think this is related to Rare’s levers of behavior change. Strategies focusing on emotional appeals, social influences, choice architecture, information, material incentives, and rules and regulations can be maximized to achieve the desired change.

Levers of Behavior Change - Behavior Change for the Environment – Rare
Levers of Behavior Change from Rare’s Center for Behavior and the Environment

The emphasis seems to be on individual action yet systems of provision perspective sees choices as embedded in the system. Thus, the system has to change. Although changing the system tends to be complex and this most certainly will take time.

Does this mean that individual actions do not matter? Certainly not. Researcher Samantha Earle, during the Norwich Science Festival said that individual action sends signals and shapes everything. It is the building block of culture and it can shift cultural norm. She adds that civil society and protest, not governments can make the change citing how this led to the the abolishment of apartheid and the institutionalization of women voting.

In our Sustainable Consumption class last semester, I have learned that there are many ways of defining the problem of unsustainable consumption and, similarly, various paths of solving it. There is definitely no easy solution. Different sectors of society should do their part. Work should be done at different levels. The approach should be collaborative and dynamic. And striking the balance among these is the key towards this seemingly elusive path of sustainability.

My Chevening Journey: 40% Influence on Happiness

The term break is normally an opportunity for Cheveners to do a bit of traveling and I for one had some plans made. But alas, reality has a way of smashing expectations big time. It does not come as a surprise, really, in this time of the pandemic. It is what it is and you just roll with the punches. Research, after all, says outlook and activities has a 40% influence on wellbeing (parents account to 50% and circumstances, 10%). Surprisingly, a lot of energy is put into getting a better job, or moving into a better place, or earning more money. But since we tend to compare ourselves to others and quickly adapt to circumstances, we eventually end up dissatisfied. For money, after meeting basic needs, it will not make us any happier.

So reflecting on the past weeks, to ramp up on the 40%, I tried to find happiness where I was. It was a good thing UEA had some offerings of ‘Winter Warmth’ activities. An afternoon of Christmas tea and cake, an early morning walk where I got to learn about sculptures and the brutalist architecture of the campus, and some ‘pawsitive’ time with the company of dogs.

Food and friends are always a good combination. Enjoyed a healthy, vegan, Greek Christmas dinner; finally got to meet fellow UEA Cheveners; welcomed the New Year with the flat mates; and had regular Zoom catch-ups with the Pinoy Cheveners.

It was not quite the term break I had in mind but it was lovely. Yes, the lockdowns suck but it gave me more time to do some academic work. To be honest, though, I spent most of it watching series which was not all too bad.

It started snowing yesterday which actually motivated me to write this post. It was a pleasant surprise to wake up in the novelty of snow gently falling. Mundane days seem to drone on but every now and then, it is nice to be reminded that I could choose to be happy, no matter what.

Climate Justice Now

Not one, not two, but three typhoons have badly hit the Philippines just in the past few weeks. Because of climate change, these extreme weather conditions have been becoming more and more frequent. Despite that, a study found that climate change awareness is low among Filipinos.

In a lecture for our Climate Change and Development class, however, Asher Minns of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research said that generally there is enough climate awareness but not enough dialogue. Thus, we’re missing our climate targets, which also undermines the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

That may be okay for developed nations that are not greatly affected by climate change or can sufficiently adapt to climate impacts. It’s a different story for the Philippines. Strong typhoons will continue to be the norm. Floods will destroy properties and leave families homeless. Livelihood of farmers considered to be the poorest of the poor will be gone. And worst, this will lead to countless lives lost.

Good governance, effective Science communication, and community participation led to zero casualty in the Camotes Islands during the onslaught of typhoon Haiyan in 2013. These good practices, unfortunately, are not followed in most places in the Philippines which focus on disaster response instead of prevention. Glorifying the resilient Filipino spirit has even further led to government inaction.

Adaptation measures should be prioritised by climate-vulnerable countries but there should also be urgency towards global effort in reducing greenhouse gases to mitigate climate change .

But the question is, who is willing to take the lead? How can we untangle the complexity of climate politics and negotiations? And how can we overcome the psychological distance of those in power?

The climate crisis is a social justice crisis and it’s up to us to work together to re-strengthen our humanity. Our present and our future depend on it.

Photo Credit: George Buid