“It truly is a life-changing experience” Natasha Yatawara

 

Where is she now? Natasha Yatawara is in Gambia in Africa of all places.

That’s the ‘placement’ she chose as part of her Master of Development Practice (MDP) at Peradeniya University. iSrilankan is featuring Natasha in a student testimonial series on the MDP at Pera but her story stands on its own with insights into a culture where gender-divisions in labour are surprising and the smiles shine through despite the survival challenge faced by the Gambians.

1.Why did you wish to get in on the MDP? What are the factors that attracted you?

Well it was my mother who introduced me to it first (she is also in the same class :)) but when we found out about the new approach focusing more on field training and the inter-disciplinary course content itself, covering geography, biology, statistics and economics (which should be essentially included if the development practitioner is to design and implement projects that would benefit different aspects of life of the beneficiaries) it made more sense and we thought this is it !!

It fit our requirements as my mother has been in the development field for over 2 decades and the course allowed her to revisit her practical knowledge through different models and structures and I have wanted to be involved in grassroots development of communities ever since my first trip to one of my mother’s project locations when I was a kid and it also allowed me to expand my understanding of concepts studies during my under-grad in Sociology.

On a personal level, the MDP also caught my attention as it was offered in Peradeniya – a place I’ve always wanted to be at – purely because of the beautiful landscaping of the campus 🙂

2. How would you recommend it to someone who was interested in further study in dev ? What is your special worded message ?

This is a course that draws people from all disciplines be it engineering, law, education, healthcare or main-stream development workers and the course has something to offer for all of these backgrounds as well as to draw from them too. (which is how most of our classes were conducted-an introduction of a new model or a concept leading to lengthy discussions between lecturer-student and students themselves which created an enriching environment to be engaged in).

So if you wish to be involved in development and not just expand your knowledge but also to be more broad-minded and inclusive (which in my opinion are essential ingredients for an effective development practitioner), this is definitely a programme for you! You will contribute to it as well as gain from it.

3. How are you finding your placement in Africa ? what are the surprises, the delights and how does this change the way dev studies are taught in a classroom? What is the additional insights this placement/internship brings

Well, I’ll start with exhilarating!! I couldn’t have wished for a better place for the internship. I don’t mean to say its easy but the challenges in terms of adapting to a new culture, environment, work ethics have all been a test of my abilities to adjust and I’m impressed with the personal progress so far 🙂 and of course the people in this place (The Gambia-West Africa) are the most accommodating and warmest community you will ever find. its incredible how much at home I feel among them.

In terms of surprises, the most striking was the gender division of labor. The roles of men and women are evidently different from the Sri Lankan communities though interesting in terms of physical energy required for each task and the particular individual assigned in performing them.

I wouldn’t say it changes (or it should change) the way development studies are taught in the classroom as you need to have a grounding in the concepts and understanding of how they can be applied in the real world, but field training in a challenging environment definitely makes you if it doesn’t break you.  I think this is the true test for someone aspiring to be an effective development practitioner.

When you are out here (as opposed to in the classroom) all your antennas are constantly attuned to the environment around, body language, verbal responses, cues on how well or bad the shared ideas/information is received and might be put into action and so on. In class you’d learn about importance of making a mother understand why washing hands before every meal, after meals, during the day with disinfectant, etc., is crucial for better health of her children, but how do you make it work in a place where water is one of the scarcest resources and therefore you keep reusing the same bowl of water to wash five different things?

“I think one of the most important things I’ve realised is that what is right for you is not necessarily right for another community. You cannot help them develop if the picture of “developed society” you have in your head is one brought from home.  It has to come from the community itself and what they want, not what you think they want.”

It truly is a life changing experience 🙂

best from Gambia,
Natasha

Message from Dileni Gunewardena, MDP Programme Coordinator, University of Peradeniya says: If you are interested in this Masters in Development Practice (MDP) at the Peradeniya University which is for those who work full-time as well as not, those who are local and foreign and those who may not have the formal graduate degree from a University but experience, please read more on the Masters Worth its Salt here, please check our MDP website for details and keep in touch by liking us on Facebook.

Applications for the following academic year 2013/15 are NOW OPEN Dec-Feb. Please see the MDP website for details and for your easy reference here is the Application page.