Here is a write-up of on one of our Sustainable Cities interns, Caitlin Purvis. Based in Colima, Caitlin is working to engage marginalized groups, particularly youth, into discussions about public space.
By Hannah Sutherland – Peace Arch News
Published: June 15, 2010 11:00 AM
For the original article, click here.
Unlike in South Surrey, where Caitlin Purvis grew up, the neighbourhoods she is currently working in are covered in graffiti.
Tags are painted on most surfaces in the communities of Colima, Mexico, including walls, benches and rocks.
There are no garbage cans and few sidewalks – the ones that do exist are dilapidated – while barren fields, basketball courts or run-down gardens serve as public spaces.
Lighting is scarce.
New parks that lack large trees for shade during the day are frequented in the evenings instead. It’s a workable solution, unless – as Purvis is often told – the lights don’t come on.
By working as a needs-assessment officer in the city, the Elgin Park Secondary grad is hoping to encourage Colima residents to take the first steps towards improving their communities.
She is currently interning at IPCO, the Planning Institute for the City of Colima, in her pursuit of a career in international development.
The 26-year-old is beginning a three-year project that will see two Canadian interns come to Colima every six months to work with marginalized communities.
Purvis is three months into her portion of work, and has begun investigations in seven of 12 communities by going door-to-door with a questionnaire.
The survey is to gather information on how public spaces – such as parks, gardens, rivers and barren fields – and the areas around them are used, as well as evaluate their designs and conditions.
Purvis will then facilitate workshops for residents that will focus on the identity and assets of the community, as well as create a vision for its future.
“While a report will be written up for the city, I am also hoping to inspire these people to start acting on their own and taking a look at their space,” Purvis said via email from Colima. “I am hoping (residents) recognize that they have a voice and can use it and that they can begin to make the changes they want to see.”
Her passion to help underdeveloped communities sparked during her first trip to Mexico, a two-month road trip when she was 12.
“I realized that there is a lot of suffering in the world, and that I am an incredibly fortunate person to have led the life I have, and to have been raised in South Surrey,” she said. “I have always sought to learn more and to understand why there is so much poverty and suffering in specific regions.”
Purvis acquired a global studies degree from Ontario’s Trent University, which focused on social, political and economic issues in Latin America.
She arrived in Colima in March, and has since visited communities where many people are unemployed, with little to no education.
Children who do attend school usually walk far distances to get there, often cutting along active train tracks, where gangs and prostitutes are present at night.
There are few recreational activities, sports teams or community centres, and Purvis said she has been told the neighbourhoods are rampant with gangs, alcoholism, drug addiction and crime.
Despite the apparent dangers, she said Colima is one of the safest cities she has visited in her global travels, which have included living in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Guayaquil, Ecuador, where she worked with youth in gangs.
Purvis said she has met some of the youth in pandillas (small gangs) in Colima, and described them as curious and inviting.
“In my eyes, they are no different from the majority of youth throughout the world. They are full of ideas and, when they trust you, they open up and are incredibly generous and fun. It’s just unfortunate that they have not had the abundance of opportunity people raised in more affluent areas are often afforded.”
By interacting with the people living in Colima, Purvis has been able to encourage their involvement in her project.
“There is some skepticism that no one will come to the workshops,” she said. “This concerns me greatly. However, during my investigations, I promote the workshops and am very passionate about the benefits that will come from them. I do seem to be drawing interest from the people I speak with in these communities.”
When Purvis completes her term in August, she will look at acquiring funding to continue working in Colima for another six months. If unsuccessful, Purvis plans to find another project in the field, and – although she is willing to go abroad again – is hoping it will be based back home, in the Lower Mainland.
“I really hope that I can continue to do something I feel good about, something good for this world and future generations, and something that will make a difference in someone’s life, even if it is just a little.”
To find out more about Sustainable Cities’ International Youth Internship Program (IYIP) – click here.