This blog is for those wanting to keep up to date on all the work that the Vermont Council on World Affairs is doing around the world.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Brexit: But How Does it Affect Everyone Else?

By now you have undoubtedly heard about Brexit: the United Kingdom’s recent referendum vote to leave the European Union. If you have watched the news at all in the past weeks, you have also heard opinions from both sides of the argument from people in the UK. But I was curious about how the average person outside of the UK-- those who weren’t afforded a vote-- felt about Brexit.


Although this vote was made by the UK for the UK, it is undeniable that this move will produce effects that ripple throughout the world. It’s worth finding out how those indirectly affected feel about this decision as well.

I reached out to friends in various corners of the world to hear their thoughts on the matter. What I got was an interesting array of opinions.

Positive Reactions:


While no one I spoke to was thrilled about the decision for the UK to leave the EU, this may be because the purpose of Brexit was to benefit the UK, not the rest of the world. However, it does seem that there are potential economic benefits for Britain, and that other states may take notice, and follow their lead.

One friend of mine criticized the EU. He noted the success of other European countries that have never been part of the EU as possible positive examples of where countries choosing to leave could be headed:

The current structure of the EU is partially undemocratic and intransparent, and has failed to resolve the refugee crisis. For that reason, populist movements that are demanding more national autonomy and wanting to leave the EU are becoming more and more successful all over Europe. Countries such as Norway and Switzerland, which are not part of the EU, have been very successful, and only time will tell whether opponents or proponents of the Brexit are right.” --Matthias, Germany

All of the other people I spoke to had a difficult time finding the silver lining in Brexit, and opinions ranged from slightly ambiguous to scathing.

Negative Reactions:


“As a Moroccan I think Brexit will probably lead to tougher immigration regulations, especially for people from this side of the world. Second, acts of discrimination against foreigners might increase in the coming years. At the end of the day, this came to be as a result of a free referendum, so it's the Brits’ call and I hope they get whatever they have wished for.”
-- Khalid, Morocco

While Morocco’s borders are physically quite close to the UK, worries of the effects of Brexit can be felt all the way in India as well. Britain and India’s intertwined histories mean that trade relations and immigration are more connected and may be more affected than one would think at first glance:  

“The new leadership in the UK will initially have a lot of uncertainty regarding its trade and business, keeping in mind the dropping pound rate. Also, Britain has been a support to countries like India, especially when it comes to dealing with the EU and this change might have an influence on how the rest of Europe and India handle their ties now. On a more personal level, the rising racism against expats in Britain might make it difficult for Indians who move there… and even for the ones who are already settled there.”
-- Sharath, India

Concerns about the increase in overt racism are not unfounded. “Just days after the British vote to leave the European Union, police in the U.K. announced an increase in hate crime reports against immigrants and minorities”, said Judy Woodruff, of PBS Newshour. Part of the aim of the leave campaign was to reduce immigration. It would be hard to argue against at least some of that motivation stemming from xenophobic roots.


A perspective from the ‘other side of the pond’ acknowledges her distance and outside perspective, but shares similar concerns, as well as the idea that the people voting were uninformed:

“As Canadians we have a hard time understanding some of the concerns people have in Europe about a population influx; we have so much space here and are disconnected from how other countries experience immigration issues. We don't really border other countries so the way new citizens or refugees come to Canada is quite different. It seems to me though that a bunch of uninformed people voted for something that they don't really understand because they will not gain any of the autonomy they wanted and they look horribly selfish for not wanting to help other world citizens who are in need. To me it is a sad reflection of selfish racist tendencies that haven't been resigned to Britain's history but are still very much a part of the mentality in their country.”
-- Justine, Canada

Justine’s concern about underinformed voters was expressed by others as well:

“I think it might be too much of a rash decision. Most of the people who voted yes were just looking at one side of the coin; namely immigration into Britain. However, they might not have thought about the benefits of being part of the EU, especially in terms of currency. This decision has actually plunged the value of the pound drastically. They might not have thought about the influence of the referendum on the capital, London, which is one of the most crucial financial centers in the world. It might help relieve the stress from job competition in the short run, but could bring great inconvenience and harm to the country in the long term.”
--Meijing, China (currently studying in the U.S.)

Meijing is not the only person to recognize potential economic fallback from the vote. The opinions also become stronger the closer the ties to the UK become, and I was intrigued to hear what two of my former professors, British citizens currently living in Australia, thought of the vote in regards to Europe:

“We're both disappointed in the result. It threatens our mobility as teachers and scholars of French and Italian, but also offends our sense of being European. Surprisingly, Wales actually voted (narrowly) for the exit, without fully understanding the consequences on the generous regional funding we receive from the EU, which helps fund our national assembly and many Welsh language projects. This leaves us deeply concerned.”

They also shared their thoughts on how this will affect Australia as well:

“Many of our Australian students also hold passports for the UK and are concerned about what this will mean for their plans to go to live in Europe. Many of them would like to base themselves outside of the UK but now worry that the UK passports they hold will be worth no more than their Australian ones, and they will have to go through the process of applying for visas and work permits (which were not necessary while the UK was part of the single market). Economically, the Australians like to compare their currency to both the British pound and the US dollar. While the pound has crashed against the U.S. dollar, the Australian dollar has also lost a few points, which people suspect has to do with the trade links to the UK, as part for the Commonwealth that the Leave campaign mentioned as providing evidence of the UK's lesser need for strong ties to the EU.”
--Christopher and Natalie, Wales and England, respectively (U.S. naturalized citizens, living in Australia)

On the flip side, I had a chance to hear the view of one of those Australians based in Europe but outside of the UK:

“I was very disappointed that I was frozen out of a vote for something so drastically important for my personal life, in addition to that of the fate of Europe. The vote was purely political power games and the aspirations of the players promoting themselves. Parliament members have all acted with no plan or strategy for a leave victory, and instead of doing the hard work, they have all left the mess for someone else to clean up. It is deplorable behaviour by any member of parliament. Now we have seen that lies and manipulation can win an election. Facts are no longer part of an electoral process-- this is the most shocking result and I feel the far reaches of it. I hope we as a people can stand up and curb the influence of those who spread misinformation. The result of the referendum has been a sad tragedy for all of Europe and the European idea; a setback that will destroy decades of work. One forgets in peace times how and why the block was created in the beginning. I hope that history will need not repeat itself for us to wake up.”
-- Alexander, Australia (British citizen, living in France)

It seems that one of the large concerns is that the positive aspects that come from being part of the EU have been taken for granted in the UK, such as funding for cultural initiatives, and more gravely, for European and global stability.


Not everyone is so pessimistic though, and until Article 50 is enacted (which there is still much uncertainty about), there is still hope for some that the integrity of the EU will remain intact:

“I think the EU is a small example of the world in the future. All countries can live side by side in peace and tranquility. The UK doesn't have to leave the EU-- they can show that they want a peaceful world and we can try to solve all problems together. In addition, many jobs in Britain are linked to the fact that they belong to the EU as well as lower prices for things like flights and phone services. EU regulations have also led to a cleaner environment.”                                                                                                                        -- Vandad, Iran
While there is a small glimmer of hope from a few, the overwhelming sentiment in people I spoke to was that of disappointment and concern.
What you’ve seen here is just a small sample of voices from around the world, aimed at at getting you thinking: How does Brexit affect you and your country? How might it affect someone else in a different country? And when you look back twenty years from now, what part do you think Brexit will have had in the trajectory of world events?

At this point, all we can do is wait and see how things will pan out, but there is no doubt that the implications of this vote will echo on.

This post is written by VCWA Program Assistant Chelsea Beaulieu

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

It's All Ghana Be Great!

VCWA Tetra Tech representative and Executive Board Member Erica Goldberg’s adventures on a work assignment in Ghana

July 11, 2016

There I was, hanging in mid-air, attached to a system of ropes and pulleys and surrounded by the vast Savannah in the Volta Region in Ghana, West Africa. Rappelling, as I learned it is spelled (contrary to how I had assumed it was spelled ‘Repelling’ as in ‘to back away from’), was something I never thought I would do. Especially not in Ghana, and certainly not as a part of a mountain biking excursion through the Shai Hills Nature reserve with Ghanaian outdoor adventure group Bravehearts Expeditions.

How did I get here?

I work as a Staff Associate with Tetra Tech ARD International Development Services based in Burlington, Vermont. I provide backstopping support on USAID programs in the Deputy Project Manager capacity and was selected for a short-term, two month assignment based in Accra, Ghana to provide administrative and operational assistance on a biodiversity and climate change program.
Similarly to how I spend my time on the weekends in Vermont, I am a firm believer in living weekends to the fullest, taking advantage of where you are and exploring. My assignment in Ghana was no exception to this life philosophy I have of adventuring in order to feel recharged to take on the work week.

Bravehearts Expeditions was one of the groups I joined on a weekend camping and mountain biking trip to the Shai Hills Nature reserve in the Volta Region. My Brave Hearts Expeditions trip leader was Jay Jay Segbefia Dziedzorm, who I learned received a United States African Development Foundation Grant (USADFG) in 2014 for his work with Bravehearts Expeditions. You can learn more about Bravehearts Expeditions, Jay Jay and the USADF Grant by watching this short YoutTube video here.   

We arrived at our campsite at Shai Hills Nature reserve on a Friday evening after dark. Upon arriving, we cooked some cassava around a camp stove, then immediately went to sleep. Upon awaking, we were greeted by dozens of baboons; not at all bothered by our presence and just going about their morning activity of grooming one another other.
After getting a lesson on how to use radio walkie talkies and compasses and testing out our mountain bikes, we were ready to hit the trails. I learned fairly quickly that biking in extreme heat (well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) and humidity that makes the air feel like a sauna, that I would only be able to withstand about 20 minutes of Savannah mountain biking before needing to throw my bike to the side of the trail, sit under a tree, and rehydrate with lots of water. Two days of this stopping and starting again biking led me to incredible views of open grasses and shrubs that made me nostalgic for ecological restoration work I had done in Illinois on Prairies growing up. The group would shout out when they saw Antelope and yell ‘Erica, did you see that?!’ I was so focused on maneuvering my bike through the rocky, red clay terrain that the closest I saw to seeing the antelope that the rest of the group saw was just out of my peripheral vision.

When I learned that we were going to rappel on Saturday, I told Jay Jay that I would sit that activity out. He said he understood my choice, but that I may change my mind once I saw the others successfully rappelling. I had already made up my mind that this was something that was not for me, but after all 10 of the other group participants successfully went down the side of a boulder – I ended up taking the plunge too. I figured the odds were in my favor if everyone had already made it down safely. I am so glad I did! The feeling of overcoming what was mainly a mental obstacle made me feel like there was nothing in my path I could not handle. As I’ve trekked through difficult hikes, work tasks, and general life happenings I have tried to keep this wisdom with me.

If anyone travels to Ghana and is up for the challenge, I would highly encourage you to look up Bravehearts Expeditions and join them on one of their excursions!

Blurry Baboon at the Shai Hills Reserve Campsite

Bravehearts Mountain Biking Group

Erica Rappelling

Mountain biking break to hike to the summit of Mount Hioweyo - which used to be an old cave.

Tent set up at campsite