Who? Mirjam van der Kraats (23), MSc student of International Development Studies
What? Thesis study for Cordaid
Where? Jakarta (Indonesia), Cebu City (Philippines), Yangon (Myanmar)
‘For three months, I flew to a new city every month for my thesis on Cordaid’s urban resilience projects. At first, the crowds and chaos took a lot of getting used to, especially in Jakarta. The roads are always jam-packed, so the only way to get anywhere is by scooter taxi. The first time I sat on the back of one was pretty nerve-racking. I was given a half-loose helmet for my head, and my hands were still looking for something to hold on to when off we went, whizzing in and out between the cars. The heat, the honking and the exhaust fumes overwhelmed my senses. Fortunately I quickly learned to give up control, and sitting on the back of a scooter seemed totally normal after a few days. Now it is one of the things I miss about my time in Asia. Those scooter rides gave me the opportunity to see what life is really like in the city. I so enjoyed the little scenes from the daily lives of the locals and the backstreets where tourists never come.
Swimming in waste
I was conducting research on urban projects that aim to improve the resilience of the local population. I visited places and saw situations that no one should have to live in. In the slums you see children swimming in a lake of waste and you can smell burnt plastic. The houses are on rickety bamboo stilts and it feels like you could fall through the floor any moment. The worst part was that fifteen minutes away there was a luxurious shopping centre where the very rich indulged in splendour. That difference between rich and poor was probably the most harrowing, confrontational part of my experience.
The work and the people I met have become a great source of inspiration for me. In my interviews I was often surprised by the positive mindset of the local population. They always make the best of things and are actually happy, despite the poor conditions. I will never forget the many smiles and their hospitality. My fieldwork also showed me how development organizations work locally. In my degree programme we learn to look critically at development work, but when you visit the projects it is not the same. It is inspiring to see how passionate the local staff are, how committed they are to improving living conditions in their communities.’