Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Archive for the category “EWB”

Exit Stage Left

Hello interwebs,

This is it.

It might be awhile before I return to Africa and/or blogging.

I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts and ideas over the past few months.  Maybe some things from my “Ways to Help from Home” list struck a chord or now you want to visit Ghana yourself.

Regarding international development, I still don’t think money is the best answer.  If you want to donate, however, I recommend Engineers Without Borders and PeaceGeeks.

If you want to continue reading more about EWB, you can check out their blog page.

For me, it’s back to school to finish my master’s degree.  After that, who knows what adventures await?

Much love,
B.

Failure Report

EWB is a unique organization for a variety of reasons, one of which is their annual Failure Report.  Every year, different EWBers writes about their struggles, challenges, and fiascoes.

This is huge!  In the international development world, no one wants to admit that their projects don’t work.  They’ve taken money from donors and implemented a new idea on the ground; afterwards they need convince everyone why it was worth the money.

In reality, however, many projects fail.  Or, at the very least, need to be adapted.

EWB celebrates its achievements, but also admit their failures.

Sometimes, though, the Failure Report seems a little watered down since we can’t say anything insulting to our partners.  There are a few aspects of All Voices Matter that would make a good Failure Blog Post, but I won’t publish anything disparaging online.  For the most part, however, All Voices Matter has been an impressive, successful project.

But I can write a Failure Report about myself.  Or a Failure List, since that’s easier.  Reflecting on my experience here, I can’t tell if I would categorize it as a success or failure.  My gut feeling leans towards the fiasco/shit show side, but my coworkers say I’m a “good JF” so maybe my time hasn’t been a complete disaster.

Consequently, in true nerdy fashion, below is the Con/Pro (Failure/Success) aspects from my placement.

Failures

  • Sick 1/3 of the time (typhoid, malaria, food poisoning, flu. Best response from another EWBer last week: “You’re sick again?  It’s not like Pokemon.  You don’t have to catch them all!”)
  • Robbed twice (in 2 weeks)
  • Didn’t make many Ghanaian friends
  • Instead of befriending the neighbourhood children, stopped responding when they yelled  “Salaminga, hello!”
  • Never baked a cake or pie with my host-sister
  • Didn’t clean my room as thoroughly as I should have because I was afraid of the spiders in the corners
  • Low number of applications for next year’s UBC JFs (I should never have written about the bugs)
  • Angered by host-family by leaving without enough notice
  • Cried a lot

Successes

  • Healthy 2/3 of the time
  • Completed all my work
  • At the end, the Tamale Planning Officer phoned me to confirm a meeting time instead of completely missing it
  • Made really close expat friends
  • Kept in touch my friends and family
  • Maintained my sense of humour
  • Blogged almost every day

Because I tend to be a happy-go-lucky puppy, I want to view this placement as a success.  Furthermore, I want to think that these past three months contributed positively to my life experience.  Maybe it’ll take more time and reflection back home before I can put this experience in enough context to evaluate it.

Dream a little dream

Last weekend at the EWB fall planning retreat, we talked about interests, passions, and dreams.  For a short introduction on our dreams, I was paired with Miles who is one of the Kumvana delegates.  He told me that his life dream is to make Ghana agriculturally self-sufficient.  He wants to end his country’s reliance on maize, cassava, and soy imports.  Moreover, he believes that this can accomplished by small famers: improving agriculture can vast amounts of people get themselves out of poverty.  Somehow, Miles wove into his descriptions how much he loves children and that increasing women’s rights will also help Ghana become a stronger country.

He is an amazing human being.  You can donate to his Kumvana placement here.

In comparison, my life goal of “I want to stop the BC Ferries 10 minute cut-off rule to Bowen from the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal” seemed a little uninspired and boring.

So I forced myself to think big.  What do I really want to do with my life?  Besides get a dog.

I want to give people freedom.

In transportation theory, transportation is seen as a means to give people mobility and accessibility.  It’s important to be mobile so that you can move from place to place.  More importantly, it’s important to be able to access different services.

For example, say you live on a bus route that takes you to the airport.  You’re relatively mobile.  But what if you never fly?  What if there are no services along that bus route that you need?  Stuff like employment, health services, recreation, groceries.  In that case, you don’t have adequate accessibility.

In much of the developing world, transportation provides mobility without accessibility.  It’s easy to get to some places, but they’re not always the places you want to go.

Moreover, cultural considerations, safety concerns, and environmental issues are all related to personal transportation.

Personally, I value my freedom.  I like my freedom so much that it makes dating difficult: I hate feeling caged in and will break up as soon as it feels like my opportunities are starting to shrink (which usually happens around the second date.  Yep, I can be crazy).  In Tamale, it’s been emotionally difficult to have a curfew imposed by my host-family.

My dream is for people to feel safe and secure in their freedom.  I don’t want people to be afraid of traveling at night, for women to fear certain routes, or children to get sick because the hospital is too far away.

No one should die because roads curve dangerously or traffic signals are timed incorrectly.  A little bit of data collection, design and citizen engagement can go a long way in improving transportation systems – especially in developing countries.

As my transportation expert friend Patrick says, transportation alone can’t solve society’s problems.  But the system can either exacerbate or alleviate them.

It’s time to design better systems.

Bumpkin

In December, I have to attend 2 days of EWB “debriefing” before going back home.  Or, as I like to call it, “reintegration training,” because I can be snarky and ungrateful sometimes.

I thought to myself, Why would we need reintegration training?  None of us were living in villages.  Tamale isn’t that big, but it’s that different either.

Last weekend, however, EWB had their Ghana Fall training session at Lake Bosumtwi an hour outside of Kumasi, which is the second largest city in Ghana.  As my fancy air-conditioned bus rolled into Kumasi around 11pm, I was shocked at all the multi-story structures.  “The buildings here are huge!” I exclaimed.  I felt like a little country bumpkin being in the big city for the first time.

So maybe I will need some help to “reintegrate” into Canadian society.

More EWB-UBC Questions

Here are some more questions from my awesome UBC Chapter back home.

In your blog post, Fight Patriarchy, you mentioned that many charities are aimed at helping men. In what ways do NGO programs benefit men more than women?

To begin, my apologies.  I often make sweeping generalizations in my blog posts that I don’t back up.  To answer this question, I’m going to narrow my scope and focus on Tamale.

In this city, there are a lot of different NGO projects with different agendas.  There are a lot of different NGO projects with different agendas.  Many of them specifically target women as recipients of aid or education.  Unfortunately, however, it is extremely difficult for foreigners to understand the local cultural implications of their work

For example, I’m currently working with a group that is educating women on obstetric fistula.  Since this a medical problem that occurs from prolonged childbirth, it first appeared to be a “woman’s issue.”  Consequently, they started their project by focusing on women.

They soon discovered, however, that the problems surround obstetric fistula are much more complex.  Early marriages, teen pregnancies, malnutrition, and poverty all contribute to the high rates of obstetric fistula.  Moreover, it often doesn’t matter how educated a woman is on the subject because ultimately she needs permission from her husband to go to the hospital – either to give birth or get treated afterwards.

We exist in a patriarchal society, so all these small patch-up solutions ultimately help to uphold patriarchy.

Here’s another example.  For the GIFTS project, Amplify hired Ghanaians to work as field workers.  They record housing information, GPS coordinates, and paint numbers on the houses.  Out of 10 data collectors, only one is a woman.

This isn’t because Amplify is biased: they actually aimed to hire more women.  But many women can’t work a full-time job here.  Instead, they need something that they can organize around household chores and childcare responsibilities.  For instance, my seamstress’ 1-year-old son usually hangs out in her stall with her.

As a Canadian, I view my job life and home life as separate entities.  Women here, however, often don’t have that luxury.

Does that make sense?  Have I answered your question?  I wanted to delve into counterrevolutionary theory, but that would have started a long “end patriarchy!!!!!” rant so I tried to give examples instead.  Let me know if I haven’t been clear.

If people are using pay-as-you-go cards, then would they be paying to answer the surveys you’ve sent out?

With pay-as-you-go, you only pay when you make the outgoing call.  Receiving calls doesn’t cost anything.

In what other ways can we/NGOs help if we don’t build infrastructure directly? How do we help improve infrastructure indirectly?

By helping countries improve their government’s accountability, which leads to your next question:

You suggested improving the tax system, however, how could developed countries help developing countries improve their governments as whole?

I wish I had concise answers for you.  Honestly you’re asking me things way outside my depth of knowledge, so please take everything here with a grain of salt.  Actually, take it with a mountain of salt.

I think we need to focus on our own governments and lead by example.

In South Africa, I got to meet the Governor General because my friend’s boss was receiving an award.  As a fellow Canadian, I was invited to the party.  We went to the Canadian Diplomat’s house in Pretoria, which was huge.  I met Craig Kielburger, the guy who started Feed the Children.  A large group of important Canadians were traveling around southern Africa to meet state leaders and see the countries for themselves.

It was outrageous.  Besides the lavish food spread, they had also brought in Canadian beer and maple cookies.

Most African governments are disgustingly corrupt, but we’re not shining ideals either.  As Canadians, I think we need to demand more from our politicians.  Advocacy is key.

I know that’s not a great answer.  I’m basically saying that we can help African governments by ignoring them and letting them fend for themselves.

More than that, though, we also need to recognize that many of our actions in Canada undermine sovereignty in African states – like our electronics that often contain minerals from conflict zones.  We need to consume less stuff.  If oil, gold, diamonds, and other resources weren’t so precious, then people wouldn’t fight over it.

These are tough issues.  It’s so complicated that I have no idea how to tackle them.

That being said, things change quickly.  Look at how quickly China and India created a new middle class!  Nothing is hopeless.

If anyone else has more ideas, you’re invited to share.

Beads of Hope – PLEASE DONATE

“Nafisa Rafiatu Adams is a social entrepreneur. Her business, Beads of Hope, started with ten women and girls in the community and now has nearly 50 women, who consist of rescued child brides, teenage mothers and girls engaged in child prostitution. She is proud of the fact that she have been able to provide an alternative source of income to these women through beaded jewelry and they are in turn able to cater for their children.”

Please donate to Nafisa so she can come to Canada as part of EWB’s Kumvana’s Program.

More information can be found here.

This is exactly what I was talking about in #1 from my Ways to Help from Home list: Support overseas education.  C’mon, do it.  You know you want to!

Authenticity, Part I

Last week, at the Ghana Spa, I got a little bit closer to being a true EWBer.

Sometimes it feels like EWB elevates “suffering.”  Maybe people might not consider my JF placement a real placement since I live in a town, not a village.  My host-family’s house has concrete floors and metal doors.  There’s a store that sells chocolate, cheese, and butter.  I can buy lettuce.  I have a toilet and running water.

This isn’t “authentic” Ghana.  This isn’t a mud house with no windows or doors.  I don’t have to eat TZ every day for a year.  I don’t have to wait until it’s dark so I can poo outside in a hole.

Thank god.  I don’t think I’d handle “suffering” very well.

But last week I got a little bit closer.  Typhoid with diarrhea and vomiting.  For the first time in my adult life, I pooped my pants.

It was just a little bit.  I was at home in my bed and it didn’t even make a mess.  I was able to lurch to the bathroom and clean myself up.  But it was a step.

I know people are scoffing: “Whatever.  You didn’t have to lie outside in your own filth in the sun.  Don’t pretend you’re hardcore when you’re not.”

In this luxurious lifestyle, I’ll take whatever authenticity points I can get.

Just a face in the crowd

Brittany, one of the JF’s who was in Uganda this past summer, wrote a great blog piece about returning home to Canada.  Check it out!

Job Qualifications

Team, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m seriously under-qualified for my job here.

Maybe that isn’t much of a secret.  This Junior Fellowship program is for university students, after all.  It’s for kids in their early 20’s who often don’t have much work experience to learn and contribute what they can.

Moreover, tons of work in developing countries isn’t given to qualified candidates.  One of my planning profs last year was about to go to Nigeria and Zambia for an economic development planning project and someone in the class asked, “Are you excited?”

“Not really,” he answered.  “International development types usually wouldn’t get the time of day in a western country, but in Africa everyone listens to them because they’re white.  I can’t stand those idiots.”

On a similar note, one of my good friends back home constantly teases me that I’m a dumb mizungu (white person) in Ghana for show-off.  “You don’t know anything about citizen engagement,” he says.”

“But I want to learn!” I whine back.

“And you have to go to Africa and take someone else’s job to learn?  Some African who’d be a lot better at your project than you?”

“I know, I know,” I concede.  “I’m part of the problem in this whole messed-up system.”

My main issues with my placement aren’t about citizen engagement, though; they’re technical.  Simply put, I’m terrible with computers.  One of my coworkers even asked me, “Have you always had someone else do your computer stuff for you?”

“No,” I said, embarrassed.  “But I’ve only done simple stuff.  I can learn programs, like AutoCAD, but I can’t fix stuff.”

As mentioned in a previous blog post, by USB stick got infected with a virus from someone’s computer.  I’ve never had a virus before.  When I explained the problem to my boyfriend, he said “Did you Google about it?”

“Oh… I guess that would be the next step.”

“That should’ve been your first step.”

Ugh.  Of fucking course.  So I Googled “Duplicate folders virus” and found out how to get it off the original computer.  It entails entering a command prompt, which I have no idea how to do.

Dumb mizungu.

[Side note: this post does not reflect at all on my Amplify coworkers.  They are amazing at their jobs.]

Local Government Service launches revenue mobilisation project

Check out this article on Amplify’s GIFTS project!

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