Q&A with Dr. Cherie Enns

I think I am always learning and my thoughts on this are always shifting. What right do I have to impose ideas and values on other communities? For me, more recently, it means I am more of a listener than a doer

Dr. Cherie Enns is an associate professor at the University of the Fraser Valley’s School of Land Use and Environmental Change. She holds a Masters in Community and Regional Planning from the University of British Columbia, and a Ph.D. in International Policy and Program Management from Ardhi Regional University in Tanzania. Her research focused on pandemics, climate change, and conflict and their impact on children. She is also a registered urban planner.

Interview by Julia Chalmers

What lead you to become involved in sustainable development and program planning?

I grew up in Kenya which is what drew me to working in that region. I was also initially drawn to social work as a career, but I realized that community planning is in a way social work at a community level and that intrigued me.

What global development issues are you most passionate about?

I am very passionate about children’s’ rights. My main areas of research include children in conflict, children in pandemics, and children affected by climate change. A recent project of mine was investigating grave violations against children in areas of conflict in sub-Saharan Africa.

In your opinion, what are some of the most critical global development issues?

Children in conflict, children in pandemics, and children affected by climate change. There are so many elements and components. If we could address pandemic conflict and climate change, a lot of the other elements as they related to the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) would inadvertently align, such as poverty, education, and food security.

How has working on both community and international levels impacted your view of global citizenship?

I think I am always learning and my thoughts on this are always shifting. What right do I have to impose ideas and values on other communities? For me, more recently, it means I am more of a listener than a doer, I am a facilitator and a mobilizer. I am not someone who is going to solve problems without listening really carefully to communities. That doesn’t mean I don’t have particular skill sets that I would like to use in some contexts, but they can’t be used divorced from the local leadership or community.

What roles do disaster planning, crisis management, and urban planning play in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?

If you think of almost anything, from how we organize our housing, to how we create public spaces and play spaces, every element of the city in a pandemic has to be rethought. Everything we talk about as good such as public spaces, bringing people together, transit, increasing density, all have health implications. For example, if you go back to the history of urban planning, it really formally began following the Industrial Revolution. During this time, people worked very closely in inner cities, in manufacturing and different industries and faced cholera and disease. City planners and those who could afford to try and escape those elements of the city had to rethink how to plan and design cities to be more prepared and resilient in the face of pandemics.

What advice would you give to students pursuing a career in global health and sustainable development? 

  • Try to know your audience. You cannot go into a project without empathy and understanding as motivation
  • Live in the place where you hope to work or research, get to know that community. I am honoured to have completed my PhD in Tanzania and will be a visiting scholar at Ardhi University next year when on sabbatical.
  • If you want to work internationally, perhaps begin by working locally with immigrants and refugees and migrant communities here so that you’ve got some understanding of a culture before you travel elsewhere.
  • Be very cognizant that you’re not the expert; you’re just a resource person. The experts are the people who live in that context or place.
  • If you’re interested in working with the UN or WHO, I would certainly look for international internships or experiences. Pay attention to programs such as Queen Elizabeth Scholars program as Universities Canada has integrated exchange and reciprocity into this program.
  • In addition to the applied work, there is also the policy work, and that’s where masters and Ph.D.’s can be very useful if you’re interested in global health policy and the effect on communities.

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