CORUSUS, the 2022-2024 Open Society University Network (OSUN) project led by Dr. Brandon P. Anthony from the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy of CEU, is strengthening teaching, learning and research by cultivating cooperation to address the sustainability of rural livelihoods in South Africa, Kyrgyzstan, and Lebanon, whilst bolstering the sharing of knowledge and experience between faculty and students of partner institutions. It facilitates student exchange to promote inter-disciplinary and cross-contextual co-learning and integrates targeted internship funding for CEU’s MESPOM program.
In summer 2023, in the 2nd year of the CORUSUS project, seven MESPOM students have decided to take up the challenge and do their mandatory internship within this framework. Below we share their experiences, mostly with their own words from the internship reports.
Medhini Igoor Vijayakumar, Wits Rural Campus, South Africa:
“The internship carries forward the work done by the previous batch of CORUSUS interns and will complement the quantitative data that will be collected through planned household surveys to be conducted in 2023. This year the internship focused on science communication, knowledge transfer, indigenous knowledge, and the use of media. The focus area was four villages in Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces of South Africa – Sigagule, Cottondale, Ludlow, and Phalubeni. The end product will be a 15–20-minute documentary-style video....”
“The CORUSUS project is focused solely on livestock farming. Through our time carrying out the research, a key observation was that sustenance crop farming and livestock farming are highly interlinked and interdependent in the South African context, but the weather patterns and climate change affect crop farming equally, if not more, than livestock farming. Incorporating both types of farming could expand the scope and results of future research.”
Hedda Thomson Ek, Wits Rural Campus, South Africa:
“This internship has exposed me to many new situations and accelerated my learning in qualitative research and filmmaking in an international context with an environmental focus. Having a large agency over the project, I have practiced skills in groupwork, time management, organizing and planning, as well as communication. Working in a group of three, we have experienced the importance of making use of everyone’s individual skills and collaborating to work effectively towards a common goal.”
“Working with our translator, I have learned the importance and challenges in working with various languages in an interview process and in translating meanings and expressions of interviews. Furthermore, our translator taught us the importance of both formal and informal practices to make the project viable in the region it is filmed by showing respect to people and communities’ traditions and culture. Working in a new cultural context has been a privilege, both to practice working and collaborating internationally within the project and to learn more of other traditional knowledge systems and world views.”
Jasmine Chakravarty, Wits Rural Campus, South Africa:
“The internship's goal was to collect stories, knowledge, and viewpoints from rural livestock farmers in South Africa's Bushbuckridge area, highlighting the impact of climate change on their traditional practices and livelihoods, as well as their coping strategies. This involved conducting filmed interviews, which will be edited into a video designed to be a concise 10-minute presentation for sharing among livestock farmers in CORUSUS locations and intended for sharing with the public.”
“The internship served as a significant learning journey for me, encompassing not just the acquisition of skills and technical expertise, but also a deepened cultural comprehension and educational growth. To begin, in terms of skills and experience, the project granted us substantial autonomy, empowering us to make pivotal decisions ourselves. From determining the interview methodology to devising strategies for managing and organizing our captured footage, this level of independence proved both a challenge and an invaluable opportunity.
In particular, I believe I cultivated proficiencies related to teamwork, given that the project was a collaborative effort among three individuals. Despite some divergences in our approaches to certain aspects, we evolved into a cohesive unit, adept at deliberating concepts, capitalizing on individual and collective strengths, and ultimately achieving consensus among ourselves.”
Monika Somogyi, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan (AUCA):
“Our assignment involved investigating the impact of climate change on farming in Kyrgyzstan within the framework of the CORUSUS internship. We were tasked with conducting interviews with local nomadic pastoralists and capturing these interviews on film to create a documentary (the interviews were translated, edited, and subtitled in Russian, Kirghiz, and English). The primary objective was to utilize this documentary as a valuable research resource and share it with farmers, community members, researchers, decision-makers, and anyone interested, to raise their awareness about this issue. … upon its completion, this documentary will serve as an important tool for shedding light on the ongoing challenges related to climate change and pastoralism in the country.”
“The editing process involved determining the placement of interviews within the film, selecting landscape footage, capturing scenes of farming life, and incorporating music. The documentary aims to capture the real-life experiences and perspectives of local Kyrgyz pastoralists in relation to climate change.”
Guilhem Chiarello Coupinot, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan (AUCA):
“We created a documentary showing the direct impacts of climate change on farmers’ lives. We believe that this visual deliverable is both more accessible and understandable to a wider number of people than reports confined to the scientific and scholars’ community - we tried to find a balance between interviews, scientific data and images. The documentary is around 30 minutes long and includes interviews with farmers, mixed with other interviews conducted with experts with the aim of legitimating the words of farmers.”
“Spending time with farmers was the most enjoyable part of the internship for me. I was able to get a sense of their reality and how climate change transforms their livelihood.”
Carla De Agostini, American University of Beirut (AUB), Lebanon
“I participated in a variety of agrotourism activities during my internship, including visits to farms that produce organic fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, cooperatives that empower women and promote local products, water management plants using solar energy and drip irrigation, and facilities for organic pesticides that minimize environmental impact. As part of my efforts, I also interacted with local communities, especially women and some Syrian workers, and gained a greater understanding of their challenges and opportunities with regards to income generation, social inclusion, and access to resources.”
“The CORUSUS internship at Environment and Sustainable Development Unit (ESDU) was an enriching and rewarding experience that enhanced my knowledge and skills in the area of rural sustainability. Through the activities, interactions, and observations I engaged in during my stay in Lebanon, I gained a great deal of knowledge. In terms of learning outcomes, I was able to achieve the following: I have gained an understanding of the different aspects and dimensions of rural sustainability, including environmental, social, economic, cultural, and political aspects. Additionally, I have gained an understanding of the challenges and opportunities that rural communities in the Bekaa region face, including climate change, migration, conflict, poverty, and gender inequalities; I learned about how ESDU and AUB collaborate with various stakeholders and partners, including farmers, cooperatives, non-governmental organizations, universities, and international organizations, to achieve their objectives; I gained an understanding of the different skills and competencies necessary to work effectively in the field of rural sustainability, such as communication, teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, and adaptability. Moreover, I develop more of the attitudes that are necessary for ethical and respectful work in this field, such as empathy, curiosity, openness, flexibility, and humility.”
Lena Zehne, American University of Beirut (AUB), Lebanon
“The internship aimed to provide valuable insights into the Lebanese rural communities and their local food systems, fostering a deep understanding of the region's unique context. Through our work at AUB's main campus and FAFS in Beirut, and later at AREC in the Bekaa region, we actively engaged in research and development methods (e.g. clip and weighing), exploring innovative solutions for food security (e.g. sprouts instead of grains for rangeland-management), water management (e.g. practices to avoid evaporation during aggregation), waste reduction (e.g. composting systems), circular economy practices (e.g. start-up), and sustainable agriculture (e.g. the final projects of AREC’s students). Our time spent in Lebanon was of immense importance, as we learned how to promote the local food system and extended our support to rural communities.”
“By achieving the set goals of the internship, we not only enhanced our own learning and experiences but also made a significant contribution to the advancement of sustainable practices and rural well-being in Lebanon. Our internship experience was far more than just sustainable agri-tourism; it was an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the culture, interact with the locals, and be part of a transformative initiative that strives to ensure a brighter future for Lebanon's rural communities.
Throughout this internship, I have learned that sustainable rural development is a complex and multi-faceted endeavor that requires collaboration among various stakeholders, including local communities, research institutions, and governmental organizations. The experiences I had in Lebanon reaffirmed the importance of community engagement and cultural sensitivity in designing effective and sustainable solutions. It also emphasized the significance of research and continuous learning in developing innovative approaches to address pressing challenges such as food security and water management. As reflections on the organization, I commend CEU, AUB, and the other OSUN partners for their commitment to promoting rural sustainability through the CORUSUS project.
Overall, I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to be part of the CORUSUS project and contribute to the advancement of rural sustainability in Lebanon. The internship has been a transformative experience, broadening my horizons and deepening my passion for sustainable development. I am confident that the knowledge and skills I gained during this internship will serve as a solid foundation for my future endeavors in promoting environmental stewardship and community empowerment.”
Congratulations and big thanks to all the students participating in the project, for their internship work and sharing their reports with us.
The CORUSUS project will have its third and finishing year in the 2023/24 academic year and is waiting for applications for the internships in 2024 summer.
Rural environments are complex social-ecological systems and are explicitly linked with several Sustainable Development Goals addressing poverty, food security, and sustainable natural resource use.
Collaborating for Rural Sustainability (CORUSUS)
Objectives: Addressing poverty, food security and sustainable natural resource use. Strengthen teaching, learning and research by cultivating cooperation to address sustainability of rural livelihoods in South Africa, Kyrgyzstan, and Lebanon.
Document small-scale farmers experiences of changing weather patterns, adaption strategies and related challenges and opportunities.
CORUSUS on the website of the Open Society University Network (OSUN)