Kate Letizia, one of our CIDA IYIP interns, has had her work featured in the University of Calgary Alumni Newsletter. Kate finishes her internship in San Fernando, Philippines, early next month. Thanks for all the great work, Kate!
I’ve included the article in full below, the original can be found here.
Alumna Kate Letizia follows her compassion around the globe and most recently she’s been working with Sustainable Cities in San Fernando, La Union, Philippines.
By Jen Allford
Kate Letizia BA’08, has always employed basic logic to guide first her education and now her career: “People are suffering, and if you’re lucky enough to be in a position to be able to help them, you should.”
Letizia has followed her compassion to Nicaragua, Mexico, Sweden, Peru and now to a little city in the Northern Philippines that, like many areas in the developing world, has big problems with waste management.
As an intern with Vancouver-based NGO, Sustainable Cities, Letizia is working with municipal officials in San Fernando to help implement community-based solid waste management programs and improve the city’s existing sanitation system. She’s also helping get local young people interested and involved in environmental issues.
Kate’s passion for international development started immediately after high school when the self-described “naïve and somewhat self-absorbed eighteen year old” took off to Nicaragua to volunteer her time working with under-privileged and homeless youth in urban Managua and various rural communities throughout the country. The trip to Central America sealed the deal. “Seeing children living in inner-city dumps, sleeping and eating amongst old hospital waste, dead and decaying animals and used needles confirmed my desire to work in the developing world and do what I could to generate positive change for struggling communities,” says Letizia.
She came home to Calgary and promptly enrolled in International Relations at the University of Calgary, where she was drawn to classes that looked at urban poverty in Latin America. Influenced and encouraged by two professors in particular, Dr. Wil Holden and Dr. Miriam Grant, Kate’s third year at the U of C narrowed her field of study even further, as she “began to take a serious interest in the connection between poverty and environmental degradation in urban environments in developing countries, particularly in relation to sanitation and waste management.”
By her fourth year, she had gone to field school in Peru and completed a semester in Mexico where she studied in Spanish and picked up more than a little cultural experience.
And, she knew she wanted to go to graduate school. “I decided to choose a graduate studies program that encouraged its students to do useful and relevant thesis research in non-western countries, which would double as work experience when applying for jobs,” Letizia reasoned.
She found that school in Sweden, at the University of Lund. “Tuition for international students in Sweden is free,” says Letizia, “And their program requires students to spend their second year of studies in a developing country doing hands-on research for their thesis alongside an NGO of their choice.”
For her thesis, she went back to Peru to undertake research on the potential of recycling microenterprises to engage citizens, manage waste and promote sustainable human development. When Letizia graduated with her M.Sc. in June 2010, she applied for a Canadian International Development Association (CIDA) Youth Employment Programme for an internship with Sustainable Cities in Mexico.
“I had filed their name in my ‘Organizations I Must Work For’ folder long before I heard about the internship,” she says. “I had been following the work of Sustainable Cities for years and was continually impressed by their exciting and forward-thinking achievements in promoting urban sustainability both in Canada and in other areas around the world, especially in a number of developing countries.”
She was thrilled to get the internship, but Sustainable Cities thought Kate’s experience in urban waste management would be of better use in the Philippines. “I couldn’t refuse the opportunity,” she says “despite the fact that I was completely unnerved by the location change.”
But Letizia is adapting to life and work in San Fernando. She reports the heat is intense; the vast numbers of people squeezed into a small region can be overwhelming and understanding the culture–with both the huge American influence and fierce protection of Filipino traits and languages–can be tricky.
She and another Sustainable Cities intern are working with municipal staff to transfer waste management from the municipal level to the community. They’re also working with USAID and the local Rotary Chapter to amend the sanitation code for the entire city to ensure that all septage tanks are emptied regularly. “Contamination of groundwater has been a huge problem in the past and the new sanitation code should play a large role in making the local groundwater a lot safer for use,” she says.
Finally, the two interns are getting young people in the area more engaged in environmental issues by delivering lectures, organizing tree-planting and working on a resource guide to increase youth participation in the community-based waste collection program.
It’s valuable and rewarding work. “People here are astonished that I would travel so far from home to try to help protect their resources and health,” says Letizia. “Helping create clean, healthy and sustainable living environments for people in precarious situations is imperative.”
When she finishes her work in San Fernando in mid-February, Letizia is determined to find another position, anywhere in the world, to help people deal with solid waste issues in a dignified, entrepreneurial and sustainable matter.
“I’ve worked really hard to maintain a view of the world that ignores national borders, and I’m trying to spread that message by offering my time and services to those who need them most, regardless of where they live.”