Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Archive for the tag “Reflection”

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.

3 Words

Don’t worry – this post isn’t about the big three words.  It’s about less important words.  Or maybe more important, since knowing yourself is arguably better than someone else claiming to know you.  Before I get too derailed on cynicism about love, however, let’s get back to business.

When I first arrived in Ghana, my coach asked me to describe myself in 3 words.

Try it for yourself.  Now.

—BREAK TIME—

Tough, isn’t it?

In the end I decided on these: generous, driven, and silly

I don’t know if they’re the most accurate choices.  After all, my best traits are just the opposite side of the same coin for my worst traits.  Where I like to say “driven,” other people might call the same characteristic “obstinate,” “impulsive,” or “inflexible.”  Likewise “silly” could be interpreted as “optimistic” and “fun-loving” or “trivial” and “offensive.”

It’s all about the spin, right?

Reflecting on my JF placement, though, I can see some of my traits have been helpful while some definitely have not.

I think the most useful have been self-motivation and optimism.  First, my work assignment was not enough for a fulltime job and it would have been easy to get bored.  I like to keep busy, however, I worked on other things like my master’s thesis and blog writing.  Plus, luckily I was sick so often that I when I was healthy, I had lots to do!  And there’s the second trait.  Some aspects of this trip have been less-than-ideal, but I’ve still had tons of fun here.  It always feels good to laugh, even when things are awful.

My biggest hindrance has been my short-temper.  Lots things here annoy me, like children constantly shouting, “SALAMINGA! SALAMINGA! HELLO! BUY ME A TOFFEE!” even while they’re pooing in the bushes on the side of the road.  Or men making the “PSSST” noise (which is how Ghanaians get each other’s attention and calling “White lady, come here! I want to marry you!” Or the lack of traffic rules.  Or how impossible it is to get a straight answer.  I’m usually good at laughing at things, but I can also be too irritable – mostly when I’m being closed-minded or self-centred.

All in all, I don’t believe my words have changed.  But I’ve also seen some uglier sides of my personality that I have to come to terms with.

Ugh.  I hate self-reflection, maturity, and personal growth.

Another hindrance.

Foundation Learning I

Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is a unique organization for a variety of reasons.  One in particular is their commitment to personal growth and learning.  Although I tend to ridicule self-reflection, their dedication to their Junior Fellows is pretty inspiring.

One of the first assignments we had was on the concept of development.  We were given some videos to watch and questions to answer.  Below is my response.  Please be warned that it was written at midnight the night it was due, so you’d probably be better off watching the videos than reading my last-minute answers.

 

Assignment: watch four of the six videos below and answer the following questions:

  • For each video, based on what was said, how do you think that individual defines development and therefore what needs to happen in order to progress towards development?
  • For all videos you watched, where do the individuals’ viewpoints diverge? Converge? (That is, on what do they agree? On what do they disagree?)
  • After watching the videos, what information do you think was missed? What wasn’t discussed that you think is important for the debate?
  • After watching the videos, how would you define development? Is this the same, or different, from how you thought about development before?

Videos:

(I watched Jacqueline Novogratz, Dambisa Moyo, Jeffrey Sachs, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala)

For each video, based on what was said, how do you think that individual defines development and therefore what needs to happen in order to progress towards development?

Jacqueline Novogratz’s definition of “development” implicitly means “economic development.”  For Africa to progress and lift people out of poverty, the west needs to invest patient capital into innovative entrepreneurs.  We need to transform our view of Africans as people who need charity to individuals who can create, consume, and scale small innovations to meaningfully large enterprises.  Although she argues that we should invest in businesses for their social impact, all her examples of company success hinge on financial success.

Dambisa Moyo also views “development” in term of economic development, although she believes democracy and government accountability are necessary to advance capitalism.  If African leaders relied on their citizens instead of foreign doors, they would be incentivized to create wealth and jobs for the African people.

Jeffrey Sachs’ definition of development is intrinsically tied to technological advancements.  He thinks that most development tools are in place, we just need to use them better.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on the other hand, defines development on the individual scale at a more personal level.  Ultimately, however, she uses economic justification for her claims.  To move forward she argues that we need partnership between donors, governments, and local African people.

For all videos you watched, where do the individuals’ viewpoints diverge? Converge? (That is, on what do they agree? On what do they disagree?)

Novgratz, Moyo, Sachs, and Okonjo-Iweala all agree to a certain extent that the current aid system isn’t working, however they all have different solutions.

Novgratz thinks we need to revitalize aid by combining government money with market systems to create patient capital.

Sachs believes we need to invest smarter in proven solutions.

Okonjo-Iweala argues that the African people, particularly the African leaders, need to coordinate so that they can help the west help them.  She believes that historically aid has been used by development organizations who are more focused on their development than the African people’s.

Moyo, on the other hand, doesn’t believe in aid at all.  She thinks Africa needs to utilize market systems to pull itself out of poverty.

After watching the videos, what information do you think was missed? What wasn’t discussed that you think is important for the debate?

I think the debate needs to expand beyond economic development.  While a thriving economy is a necessary part of healthy systems, it is simply one tool.  We also need to discuss social, political, and environmental implications.  In today’s world, can an economy thrive when women’s opportunities are severely limited compared to males?  How does environmental degradation disproportionately affect the poor?  How can we claim to have decolonized Africa when some leaders feel more accountable to international organizations or western states than to their citizens?

After watching the videos, how would you define development? Is this the same, or different, from how you thought about development before?

I define development as improving the lives of people – however they think is most important.  For some women, they may think political representation is more important than having a job that fits into the world’s neoliberal economic system.  For some, improved quality of life may mean safe drinking water.  We need to work with people to understand how they want to better their communities instead of assuming, “If everyone had a job, they could pull themselves out of economic poverty.”

Post Navigation