I finally have a key to my room (as of yesterday) and I’m starting to feel like I’m really here, in a new province, away from home. I’ve been exploring the town and meeting the locals on my runs, walks with friends, at the gym, and around campus. The 50 Coady Diploma participants from all over the world are trickling in and I’ve already met:
- the pastor from India, Father Paulson
- the Argentinian with the Russian accent who has worked in Macau for the last 10 years
- the Sudanese who swims naked in rivers (because that’s what they do in South Sudan), and
- the dude from Malawi who was all decked out in a tourist-y shirt and baseball cap with “Malawi” splashed across the front (“Hi, I’m Alex from Malawi,” he says as I shake his hand)
When else would I ever get the chance to chat with, eat lunch with, and take three weeks of workshops and classes with fifty international/community development specialists from all over the world? They’re here for six months for Coady’s development leadership diploma program, but we as interns still get to sponge up as much as we can from them before we head out to our NGOs. When else would I ever get to do this? I am continually challenged to engage in serious, intellectual, political, philosophical conversations on topics that I’ve never even thought about most of the time – other interns are always recommending books to read (notably, Race Against Time by Stephen Lewis) or watching and discussing movies on developing countries in the common room just across from my bedroom. I feel like I can’t keep up! =P
Today is my first day off and I have a lot of catching up to do in terms of both internship-related errands and in this blog. I have so many things I want to post about that I could write a novel on the past week, but I should probably be time-efficient and just get them out in a list of random rambling notes. I figure it’s most important to just get them down so I don’t forget. Then I can come back to reflect upon these ramblings later and talk about them more in depth when I get back home next year and get the chance to meet with you guys in person! =)
- I had no idea that when people travel, they have a higher risk of engaging in risky sexual behaviour.
- We met the president of StFX who shared some insights and advice on his travels during a lunch with Coady staff. Later, we hear through the gossip mill about what he can be like outside of his presidential role. Only in a small town…! And speaking of small towns – my fantasy of living in a place like Antigonish has been tainted a little as I inadvertently hear more gossip and begin to see how complicated relationships can be here. Imagine having a limited crop of potential suitors, knowing who everyone has slept with, and having everyone know about your nasty break-ups!
- I am so lucky that I have the ability to run. Two of the interns are beautiful and lean ladies, but can’t run anymore because of physical injuries. One was injured just before the triathlon she had signed up for after having been training for many months!
- Advice from a former intern: as a female, if you feel unsafe (e.g. at night in a dangerous part of Africa), approach a sex worker. What a powerful bond there is that connects women from all walks of life.
- Kim’s (the internship program coordinator) philosophy is to squeeze learning opportunities out of every situation. For example, the fact that we don’t have our visas yet? Patience and trust in the system.
- Turn judgment into curiosity. For example, if my NGO has a very roundabout system that seems inefficient, turn the frustrated “Why the heck would they do it this way?” attitude into a pondering “I wonder why they do it this way?” outlook. Look into their iceberg and see the “invisible”/below the surface reasons for their thoughts, actions, and behaviours. Now that I think about it, I guess this goes for any interaction, not just cross-culturally.
- From the sounds of it, development work seems to consist of a lot of planning and reporting, especially when it comes to funding. On a completely separate note, there are also a million acronyms used in this field. Do you know what NGO, CBO, ASRHR, OVC, and PLWA stand for?
- We received our work plans, which were developed last year (because that’s when the funding applications were due). It will be a true test of flexibility and my confidence/trust in my own abilities when we get to our host countries because things will most likely not follow these plans, if at all. I guess that’s what life is like.
- Coady’s philosophy is centred around Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), capacity building (thanks for explaining this to me, Crystal!), with the view that these communities already work. Our role is to assist these communities in identifying their assets instead of their needs or “what’s missing” (a very paternalistic attitude).
- It will be difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the experience we will have and/or the difference we’re going to make. Change is ongoing, can be internal, and will hopefully continue beyond the time period of out internships, particularly because sustainability is a fundamental theme of all of these projects.
- The more I learn, the more questions I have instead of answers. Development work seems to be an ongoing discussion, as is research, as is morals and ethics, as is determining what it means to live a good life.
- I feel that I’m really good at making eye contact with people, but I start looking away when I’m speaking to people as I try to formulate my words.
- If you find yourself riding in the back of the truck, choose the spot closest to the driver.
- I love how in many parts of the world, fat is beautiful.
- Has anyone ever heard of “sex bracelets”? I think a certain number or colour of bracelets signifies how much sex you’ve had!
- I’ve been writing down all the things I want to blog about so that I don’t forget, but there are already three to four notes that I’ve made that seem completely foreign to me now. Bah!
People that I want to remember
- Cassie’s boyfriend came to visit and we met his friends Mory from the Ivory Coast (in West Africa) and Thesfaye from Ethiopia. It’s weird to think that French is the national language of the Ivory Coast.
- Joseph from Tanzania.
Joseph’s living at our dorm right now and was in Halifax to present at a conference on the radio station that he and his colleagues have started up in the rural Kagawe region. People in Kagawe are in so much poverty that many still don’t have toilets, need to carry water from so far away, and need to grow their own crops despite not being educated as farmers. It is through radio that he’s been able to reach out to the rural communities, broadcasting on issues such as agro-forestry, health, and sanitation. I had a chat with him this morning about how this first trip to Canada has been an eye-opening experience for him. He thought he was making a difference when he planted 500,000 trees in his home country, until he saw all the trees that we have here in Canada. It just goes to show that we often think we know, we understand, we’ve tried our hardest, we’ve made a difference, until we open our eyes a little wider and take in the rest of the world.
I asked Joseph if he ever felt like giving up. Wouldn’t he? After seeing how much more he needs to do, how many more trees he has to plant, how much more work he has to do to educate the people of his country – wouldn’t it be so easy to get lost in the sheer magnitude of the task? He told me three things:
- Use only what you need. He had visited CBC in Ottawa, was given a tour, saw the rows and rows of cubicles and equipment, but instead of feeling overwhelmed with all that he still needed to do with his tiny radio station in Tanzania, he thought about how he had everything he needed. There were some pieces of equipment that he would like to have, but he was striving for one cubicle’s worth of equipment, not to become like the entire CBC station.
- Patience. It took him 15 years to get his radio station up and running and it started with a little collection of resources that turned into a library that turned into a newsletter that turned into information boards that turned into a radio station.
- Be a catalyst. We could drown in thinking about all the little things that could still be done/changed, but if we take the broader perspective and view ourselves instead as a catalyst for change, it almost feels as if we can make a substantial difference in the world.