Field Notes

Kaitlyn Finner trip to Rigolet

Kaitlyn Finner spent the past week in Rigolet, Nunatsiavut sharing the findings of her Masters research with residents of the Labrador community.

From May 2013 to May 2014, community members participated in photo card interviews and four sets of food inventories to assist the research team in characterizing Rigolet’s food system.

Pamphlets describing the project and its findings were shared with all households in the community and an open house was held on February 25th. Despite stormy weather over 50 residents stopped by for a bowl of soup, and to hear more and discuss the project!

The project in numbers: 16 Weeks of food inventories 27 Households 48 Participants 72 Photo cards 1,051 Wild food entries 14,969 Store food items

Notes from the field: Sarah and Vivienne’s final days in Buhoma


Sarah MacVicar, an M.Sc. student from McGill University was in Uganda this summer conducting her thesis research with Vivienne Steele, a Research Assistant from the University of Guelph. Here is their last update from the field. Text and photos by Vivienne Steele and Sarah MacVicar.


We have wrapped up our seven weeks in the field and are now settling back into life in Canada. The final weeks were a flurry of data entry and sharing results with local partners but we managed to finish everything we needed to do.

Our biggest challenge was completing the data entry from the maternity records, but with some help from the wonderful records department staff, we were able to finish entering the complete set of records. The hospital IT staff were pleased with this contribution and we hope it will be helpful to a number of hospital staff in their research. One evening as we were working late entering records, we got the call we had been awaiting—there was a birth happening on the ward and we were invited to come and assist with the procedure! Cradling this brand new creature moments after it entered the world and tying off the umbilical cord put into perspective everything we have been working on. The experience made it starkly apparent why facility-based deliveries can be so important-- the mother bled profusely and the nurse was concerned about postpartum hemorrhaging. Fortunately the sutures held and the mother was able to sit up and meet her baby girl. As the nurse entered the birth information in the record, she asked for our names—we are now listed as having assisted during the birth on the very records we have spent weeks entering.

In our second last week in Buhoma our friend Levi from BDP guided us on the Batwa Experience tour. We headed up a steep mountain path and were welcomed by a traditional dance by several Batwa men and women, who then demonstrated honey-harvesting, hunting practices, and medicinal plant identification. Learning about the traditional way of life for the Batwa in the forest contrasted greatly with what we saw on our community visits to their new settlements. The preservation of traditional knowledge through the Batwa Experience is an important initiative, but it also reminded us how many traditional food sources were lost when the Batwa were evicted from the forest.

Another big highlight of our last two weeks in Buhoma was the chance to see some mountain gorillas! We got to watch a family of gorillas who were taking a break for a lunch snack on their way back into the park.

On our final day, we held a preliminary results sharing meeting at the hospital, where 40 BCH staff were in attendance. It was a great chance for us to give a summary of IHACC, our projects, the work we had been able to accomplish while at BCH, as well as next steps. We also gave an overview of the health records evaluation draft. Our presentation was well received, and the staff were eager to review the soft copies of the evaluation that we distributed. Many people offered some great feedback and questions about the direction of our research.

We will miss BCH, Bwindi and the many connections and friends we have made in Uganda. However, we are looking forward to continued collaboration with our Ugandan partners as we develop our projects over the coming months. We are very grateful to all who have helped us and feel fortunate to have had this experience. This time has reminded us both of the value of fieldwork; it has grounded our research in real-life experience and motivated us to make our research useful and relevant for BCH and the communities we have been working with.

Notes from the field: Sarah MacVicar and Vivienne Steele in Buhoma, Uganda (part II)


Sarah MacVicar, an M.Sc. student from McGill University is in Uganda conducting her thesis research with Vivienne Steele, a Research Assistant from the University of Guelph. Here is their second update from the field! Text and photos by Vivienne Steele and Sarah MacVicar.

Vivienne, Grace, and Sarah It’s hard to believe that we are halfway through our time in Bwindi. Things have been going very well, and we are looking forward to making the most of our last two weeks here!

We have had the opportunity to visit six communities in Kanungu District—two Bakiga and four Batwa communities. In each visit, with Saba and Grace’s guidance and translations, we heard some of the stories of childbirth and delivery from the women in the community. These powerful narratives will be guiding our research as Vivienne investigates antenatal attendance and Sarah looks into how climate change may affect birth outcomes in the region.

For our brief mid-trip break, we had the chance to go visit Lake Bunyonyi, a lake in the Kabale District, near the border of Rwanda, rumoured to be the second deepest lake in Africa (up to 900 m deep!). We stayed in a “geodome” style house, with an open view of the night sky. Crawfish from the lake was on the menu – as well as dodo pizza! Before leaving, we headed out on the lake for a morning paddle in a dugout canoe – beautiful, made us feel like we were back in Canada.


IMG_1914Other gastronomic experiences: Sarah tried jackfruit for the first time and loved them! We will definitely be having more before departing. We also had supper at the Bwindi Community Hospital’s guest house, which was a great opportunity to interact more with folks from the hospital.

We are looking forward to our remaining time here, with an upcoming visit from our supervisors Professor Berrang Ford and Professor Harper! They will be here with and with several other IHACC PI’s—Didacus Namanya, Dr. Lwasa, and Professor Ford. We will be continuing data entry at BCH and doing a few more key informant interviews as we wrap up our research over the next few weeks.

Notes from the field: An update from the Evaluating Indigenous Vulnerability and Adaptation Research (EIVAR) project

Update by Tom Marcello.

A "mocahua" filled with "masato"Arriving for an interview in the Shawi community of Nuevo Progreso, Mya Sherman and I are greeted by the entire family. Catching the family while they are home during the day can sometimes require a few visits, as the whole family unit frequently goes together to work in their chakra (agricultural field), which can be more than an hour’s walk away. When we are lucky enough to find a family, we are immediately invited to sit down. A clay bowl called a mocahua is soon presented to each of us and we begin to consume the masato that lies inside.

The culture of masato is one that permeates Shawi culture in the Alto Amazonas region of Peru. Masato is a fermented beverage made of yuca (cassava) and other starchy vegetables. It is a dietary staple for many indigenous communities in this area. The woman of the household ensures that there is always a healthy supply of masato to generously offer to any guest, be it a neighbor or a foreign researcher. The term ‘masato’ translates culturally to mean ‘friendship’, so it becomes a necessary part of life when conducting research with Shawi populations. Masato is surprisingly cool, a respite from the often oppressively strong sun. The drink begins as roughly chopped yuca (cassava), which is boiled and mashed (or chewed—a lot of work either way) to break down the fibers, then mixed with water and occasionally other vegetables. The resulting liquid is fermented for anywhere between one and seven days and served through a strainer into a mocahua to be consumed. Participating in the masato ritual with families made us quickly feel welcomed and like locals, yet we were instantly reminded that we were indeed visitors when we were forced to sneak away for some antacid to combat the heartburn associated with this acidic beverage.

The woman who serves me the masato is giving me a scrutinizing look, so I try to reply with “thank you, sister” in Shawi, the local language. She smiles, but that may be because I stuttered with the beginnings of “thank you, brother” before finding the proper word for “sister”. We settle into some conversation with the help of our research assistant’s translation, and soon we are learning new words in Shawi and telling our hosts about our families and hometown.

I wasn’t expecting to feel much deja-vu in Peru, but we had experienced a similar cultural exchange several times in the Batwa settlements of southwestern Uganda. For the past few months, Mya Sherman and I have been working with several IHACC communities as part of the Evaluating Indigenous Vulnerability and Adaptation Research (EIVAR) Project, the monitoring and evaluation sub-project of IHACC. Our work so far has taken us to the 10 Batwa communities in Kanungu District in southwestern Uganda and two Shawi communities in the Loreto province in the Peruvian Amazon, with plans to travel to the Canadian Arctic later this fall.

Mya and Tom in Buhoma, Uganda

In April, we left home for the beginning of a four-month field season to spend roughly two months in Uganda and two months in Peru. We are conducting interviews and focus groups with IHACC researchers, field assistants, community members, and partner institutions to understand their perspectives and experiences working with the IHACC program since its inception in 2010. Our work aims to uncover the tangible and intangible impacts of this 5-year interdisciplinary research collaboration and to identify best practices and lessons learned for this type of community-based adaptation research.

Last Saturday, we completed our work with the community of Nuevo Progreso and presented our preliminary results to the community. Sharing these results directly with the community is important to showcase what we were doing in the community this past week, and to make sure that the information we collected was interpreted correctly. As we were preparing our presentation, our research assistant Elvis came to find us and invited us to join the community members resting from the obra communal—communal work, where all males in the community spend several hours working for the well-being and maintenance of the community. We were invited to sit among the circle of men as the women of the community each circled around offering masato to all of the resting workers, ourselves included. Mya and I began to identify the different variations that the women had prepared: some using just yuca, some adding camote (sweet potato) or papa morada (purple potato).

Mya, Tom and Elvis (their Research Assistant) in Nuevo Progresso, Peru As we came together to talk (mostly about the Peruvian national soccer team, who had just achieved a 3rd place finish in the Copa America) and to share masato, the beauty of what was happening became clear. Even in a village lacking power, water, and many of the “comforts” one finds in cities or developed areas, the sense of community and tradition was more alive here than in most places I have lived. The people were enthusiastic about the research we had tried to accomplish, which was noteworthy since monitoring and evaluation is among some of the more academic topics that could be brought to the community. After sharing one last meal with the community, we left with a warm send-off and fond memories to take into the rest of our fieldwork.  

Notes from the field: Sarah MacVicar and Vivienne Steele in Buhoma, Uganda


Sarah MacVicar, an M.Sc. student from McGill University is in Uganda conducting her thesis research with Vivienne Steele, a Research Assistant from the University of Guelph. Sarah's work will examine the potential effects of climate change on maternal and child health among Indigenous communities in the Kanungu District of Uganda. Here is their first update from the field! Text and photos by Vivienne Steele and Sarah MacVicar.

Sarah MacVicar, and a view of Biwindi Impenetrable Forest. Today is the first day of our third week here in Uganda. We have now spent more than a week in Buhoma, and we have been busy! Before arriving here, however, we met with partners at Makerere University and the Ministry of Health in Kampala. We were able to coordinate logistics of our upcoming five weeks of fieldwork, which involves conducting key informant interviews and community focus group discussions about pregnancy and delivery experiences in the region.

Airplane View v3

Vivienne Steele, on a runAfter catching an Aerolink flight over the impressive hills of western Uganda, we were welcomed by the staff at Green Tree Lodge, who were happy to host more visitors from IHACC. Luckily for me, I had already met the staff on my last trip, and was happy to see them again!

We started our work in Buhoma with a visit to Bwindi Community Hospital (BCH) to reconnect with staff we had worked with during our last visit. We also introduced ourselves to new and visiting staff at BCH, and were pleased to receive updates on the hospital from BCH’s executive director. Since we spend a portion of every day at the hospital, it has been helpful to invest time in getting to know all of the staff and their roles there.

One of our fieldwork goals is to visit five communities (two Bakiga communities and three Batwa settlements) in the area, in order to ask questions about pregnancy and childbirth experiences. Our first three visits have gone well; it has been exciting to meet the communities we heard much about beforehand. With the guidance of our mobilizers and translators, Seba and Grace, we have heard stories from community members and been able to share meals with the communities. One highlight was seeing a group of piglets running around near the community centre! (Sarah wanted to take one home).

Although the rainy season was supposed to have ended a month ago, we are still experiencing some heavy downpours! At one point, the rain hit during our walk home from BCH, and we had to run into a shop to buy an umbrella to continue on home. According to our friends here, the rains have stretched on a month longer than usual. It is also been “cold” here in the mornings, and we have taken advantage of this by going for a brief jog before the day begins!