Uniterra Road Trip – Students Without Borders version!

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A major part of my job here in Sri Lanka is welcoming and orienting new volunteers to the Uniterra program. In early September, we received nine Students Without Borders volunteers. They are each here as part of their undergraduate degrees, completing mandates relating to tourism, gender, handicrafts, and more. They come from three universities in Ontario (the Universities of Ottawa, Toronto, and Waterloo) and are each here from three to ten months. When they first arrived in the country, on the fifth of September, we gave them a couple of nights in Colombo to rest and get used to the heat and the time change (9.5 hours from Ontario!). During the day, we completed orientation sessions on topics such as culture, reporting, culture shock, language, and so much more!

Then, for their first weekend, they each completed a twenty-four hour village homestay in Wilpotha (remember I did that, too!), after which they returned to Colombo for a city tour and one last day in the city before moving on to their mandate locations around the country. This schedule was¬†a whirlwind of a first week in the country and with such a big group, it was a lot of work to organize and execute. Though there were some hiccups here and there, I’m really proud of how orientation for this crew went. (The Uniterra team here at WUSC Sri Lanka is strong and experienced and I’m lucky to work with such awesome people on projects like this big orientation.) The volunteers are an eager and brilliant group so they were easy to handle and I’m excited to see the work they’ll do at their partner organizations while they are here.

After the business of orientation in Colombo and Wilpotha, we set off in a bus filled to the brim with volunteers, Uniterra staff, and so, so, SO much luggage. Where were we going? All over the country to drop everyone off at their mandate locations! We spent four nights on the road. In this time, we visited seven towns and cities and seven¬†partner organizations. We completed eight¬†mandate meetings and organized accommodations for all our students (we try to find a place for them to stay that suits their needs but they sometimes move if they find something that they prefer and is still within our budget). It was so busy but I had a really amazing time. I feel a special connection to the Students Without Borders Uniterra volunteers because that’s how I started in the Uniterra program, too. I went to Ghana and Botswana on Uniterra mandates as a student a couple of years ago. Now, in Sri Lanka, I’m a long-term volunteer and I’m in the¬†position of supporting other volunteers as they embark on their Uniterra journeys and throughout their mandates in the country. Most of the students are doing this for the first time so their mix of excitement, nerves, and fear keeps¬†me¬†motivated to support them well in their first weeks in the country.

We started our road trip to drop everyone off last Monday afternoon. First stop: Matara¬†to visit INDECOS, Uniterra’s long-time partner NGO that hosts an excellent program for women entrepreneurs. We dropped two volunteers there, had some tea, took some photos, ate some cake, and then quickly said goodbye to get on to our next destination of the day, which was Tangalle. Further down the southern coast are the beautiful beaches of Tangalle and the surrounding area. In Tangalle, we dropped another volunteer (who gets to live in a lovely hotel across the street from a beautiful¬†beach and the hotel¬†has a pool!) who will be working with the local tourism association. After another goodbye, we all crammed back into the bus again to head to the last destination of the day: Hambantota.

In Hambantota, we stayed at the beautiful¬†Peacock Beach Hotel, which is along the beach and also has an amazing swimming pool. Honestly, though, I was too tired to swim after almost six hours of travel so I quickly went to bed after dinner. (Self-care is important, especially on the road!) The next day we visited the Hambantota District Chamber of Commerce, where another one of our volunteers will be completing research about women’s participation in the tourism industry. We even got a chance to celebrate her birthday with a cake, a song, and some impromptu presents before heading off the next destination: Arugambay.

We arrived in Arugambay with enough daylight left for me to take a solitary walk along the main drag and then back along the beach. It was a perfect way to stretch my legs¬†after another long drive. I loved walking alone through a sea of tourists, surfers, fishermen, and merchants. Arugambay has its own unique flair of tourist kitsch that makes it very different from many other parts of the country so it’s fun to explore. That night in Arugambay, we stayed at the Bay Vista hotel¬†and slept soundly to another night of waves just outside our window. The next morning we found our volunteer staying there a place to live¬†before dropping her off and heading out on the road again, this time up the eastern coast to Passikudah.

Passikudah is another beautiful beach town, but one that is much quieter than Arugambay. It’s less surfer and more resort and we were lucky enough to stay at one of these beautiful resorts on Wednesday night, called The Calm. We even got some free time to play in the warm and lazy waves and walk along the beach (a new favourite hobby of mine, a perk to living on an island). There was also¬†a pool there and I made sure to swim in it as well as the sea. It was refreshing to get some time to relax and get to know the volunteers still with us a little more. That is always my favourite part of the Uniterra road trips; getting to know our volunteers better along the way. Building these budding friendships helps me better support them through the ups and downs of their mandates because we’ve at least got some foundation of trust. They’re also always just really cool and interesting people. We had some fascinating conversations about love, politics, development theory, family, life choices, and religion on the bus and beach throughout the road trip. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to meet such dynamic people!

On Thursday, we dropped another volunteer in Passikudah, who will be working with the local tourism association just like our volunteers in Arugambay and Tangalle. Then, we said goodbye to the coast. That day, we traveled into the central region of Sri Lanka, through the Knuckles mountain range (small mountains but still amazing views!) to the heart of the country and formerly the heart of an empire. Kandy is easily one of my favourite places in Sri Lanka. I love being in a city with history so obviously surrounding you. The history is found in the temples and the lake and the building and even the layout roads. It’s hilly and lush and incredibly colourful and busy. I love it there and always feel refreshed when I spend time in the cooler air. In Kandy, we had our last meetings between volunteers and partner organization (this time, the Women’s Development Centre!), making the end of our¬†road trip. We stayed overnight at the incredible Thilanka hotel, which sits atop a hill with views of Kandy town and the lake from each room’s balcony window. I slept so well that night, hoping that each of our new volunteers were also well and settling in happily to their new homes, towns, and partner organizations.

I woke up on Friday morning early, giving me some time before breakfast to catch up with a couple of friends in Canada while sitting on the balcony with the amazing view of Kandy sprawled out below me. Listening to the Buddhist chants coming from the famous tooth temple, I felt peaceful and comfortable and thankful for the opportunities I have so see and experience Sri Lanka through my job of supporting volunteers placed all around the island. I love the work of volunteer management and I love especially working with the students, whose hopes and fears remind me of myself just two years ago (and, now, too, if I’m honest!).

We traveled back to Colombo on Friday morning. The bus was now fairly empty, with just¬†the Uniterra staff (me, Sanduni, and Harshani) and one last volunteer. This last volunteer is now settling into her new home in Colombo, where she’ll also be working for a tourism association and likely will be regularly traveling east for work (lucky girl!). After arriving back in Colombo, I was tired of course but also interested in exploring just a little bit more. So, we visited the Colombo International Book Fair in the afternoon – fighting the huge crowds of people eager to buy books! (who knew?) – before retiring to our homes to catch up on the latest season of Suits, given to us by another of the volunteers (thank you!).

I originally was going to travel this weekend but instead I’m taking time to enjoy my wonderful home in Colombo. I cleaned and reorganized my apartment (hopefully my roommate doesn’t mind when she gets back from her own work travel on Tuesday…). I also invested in a proper pop-up mosquito net (finally!) and an incense burner to bring the calming smells of temples and shrines that I’ve grown accustomed to here into my home. This morning, I visited the Saturday “good market” and plan to cook properly for the first time in this apartment because it’s time to officially stop eating so much delicious take-away. (I can’t help it… the food options in the city are so diverse!) I’m writing this now still sweaty from at-home yoga practice, sipping Ceylon tea, at my newly rediscovered kitchen table. I’m tired from travel, yes, but feeling good and positive and, as always, grateful to call this place home.

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Hambantota beach in front of the Peacock Beach Hotel (these waves may look calm in the photo but I assure you, they are not calm!)

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Sunrise from my Peacock Beach Hotel balcony in Hambantota

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Birthday celebrations in Hambantota for Uniterra volunteer Jessica (right)

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The salt pans just outside of Hambantota

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Beach views in front of Bay Vista hotel in Arugambay

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You know in a tourist-y place when you can get nutella rotti!

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Beautiful Bay Vista hotel in Arugambay

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Morning views in Passikudah

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We saw an elephant in the distance (top right!) in Minneriya National Park along the way from Passikudah to Kandy

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Views from my balcony at Thilank hotel in Kandy

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Proof I saw this view in person ūüėČ

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The tooth temple in Kandy is so majestic at night!

If you would like to donate to my fundraising campaign for Uniterra (note this money supports local partners not my volunteer mandate), check out my Canada Helps page.

Youth Programme in Naula

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For most of last week, I had the unique opportunity of¬†observing a major programme run by the WUSC Sri Lanka staff. From Monday evening until Thursday morning, staff from the various WUSC offices around Sri Lanka ran a 2-day adventure-based leadership and diversity programme for young people ages 18 – 29 years. And they were kind enough to invite me along to watch!The 120 youth who attended the programme are participants in WUSC Sri Lanka’s ASSET program, which focuses on vocational training for youth and women in hospitality and tourism, construction, ICT, and vehicle mechanics. Last week’s¬†leadership programme was specifically focused on giving these participants a chance to talk about what it’s like to live in a diverse country with various¬†ethnic groups, religions, and¬†language barriers. This programme is especially relevant to Sri Lanka, a country¬†working on reconciling post-civil war, which officially ended in 2009. The programme also focused on leadership and personal development, touching on all these themes throughout.

The programme was hosted at the National Youth Corps Training Centre in Naula, which is about an hour north of Kandy (Sri Lanka’s second biggest city, after Colombo where I’m staying). The training centre is a large space in the forest, set against the background of beautiful hills. On the grounds, there is a outdoor but roofed meeting hall that can house at least 200 people as well as¬†various administrative and dormitory¬†buildings. The main attractions, though, are¬†the rope activities used in adventure-based leadership training, which is called “outbound” here. The meeting hall was used on both days and the rope activities were the focus of the second full day of programming.

On Monday, I traveled from the WUSC office in Colombo to Naula, stopping only twice on the four-hour journey into the hills (we stopped the first time briefly to reorient ourselves because our driver apparently got a little lost and the second time for a roadside lunch of rice and curry). Once in Naula, we arrived at the training centre around the same time as about half of the programme participants. (The other half arrived later in the evening since they were traveling from further away.) I could tell by their excited chatter that the participants were eager to get started. They settled in the dormitories where they would stay for the duration of the programme and then there was a short welcome and introduction.

Once this was over, the WUSC crew headed over to our own accommodations, a hotel just up the road called Hotel Dino (sadly, not as in “dinosaur”). Although it was a rather steep, treacherous journey up to the hotel, it was well worth it because the staff was fantastic and the service was excellent throughout¬†the three nights we stayed there. (They do not have a TripAdvisor yet since they are quite new but I’d definitely recommend Hotel Dino if you’re looking for accommodations in the area!) After a late dinner, it was time for bed since the next day was to start quite early.

The first full day of programming was Tuesday, when participants went through a series of icebreakers activities to get acquainted with each other, since they were from all over the country (from as far north as Jaffna and as far south as Matara!). The rest of the day was taken up by activities focused on introducing the ideas of diversity and inclusion to the participants. The message of the day was put quite well by one of the facilitators who said at once point, “We are different but equal”. Most of the programming was in Tamil and Sinhala, ensuring that everyone in the room understood. Tamil and Sinhala are the two major languages in Sri Lanka and also loosely represent different ethnic groups in the country. Because of this, few of the participants spoke both languages. Over the course of the programme (and I would argue as a result of the diversity-focused workshops), many of the participants tried to learn a few words of each others’ languages, which was heartening to see because key¬†focuses of this programme were¬†cross-cultural communication and reconciliation.

Each day was broken up by a morning and afternoon tea as well as a noontime lunch. The food was a mix of northern and southern food, allowing participants to share in each other’s cultures in even this small way. Furthermore, participants’ days started with fitness training run by the National Youth Corps, to reinforce the importance of physical activity as a routine. So while the programme was focused on diversity and inclusion as well as personal development¬†there were many important lessons woven into the planning of the event.

The second day was adventure-based leadership and team-building activities that took place on the ropes. The students were introduced to the ropes activities by the National Youth Corps trainers. They demonstrated each activity and even once put on a little sketch to show that it’s okay to be fearful of flying through the air on a rope (even though it’s 100% safe because they were harnessed in!). There were five rope activities in total. The first was a Tarzan-swing where participants jumped from¬†a platform, “swinging”from a rope, towards a rope wall, which they would then climb down. The second was a standing zipline (I did this one! It was so much fun, though sadly there is no photographic evidence!). The third was a race to the top of a spiderweb rope. The fourth was a race up a more horizontal rope net. And the last had participants walk across a ladder high between two trees, holding a sliding rope above their heads to keep steady. The activities¬†were very safe because of the harnesses but they felt daring enough to elicit a fear response so participants had to build themselves and each other up to overcome their fear. The entire day was filled with cheering and gleeful screams. It was so much fun to watch and I know they had a lot of fun doing it as well.

During the afternoon on the second day, the WUSC crew took a break from the programme to visit a nearby spice garden while the National Youth Corps staff facilitated the rope activities. We climbed into the truck and drove a little down the road to one of the many historic¬†spice gardens in the area.¬†It was definitely a welcome break from all the excitement. We got to hang out and learn a bit about the medicinal properties of the various spices grown in the garden and around Sri Lanka. We also got free head massages, which was very relaxing until I noticed that it left my hair looking extra wonderful, if I do say so myself (note the sarcasm!). My rat-nest-like hair was perfect for the end-of-programme plans that were happening that evening – a goodbye “graduation” ceremony where each participant was presented with a certificate… which meant I was photographed approximately five billion times (give or take) in the span of an hour… with my wonderful-looking post-head-massage hair. Oops! Hopefully WUSC keeps those photos quiet but… I have a feeling that one day I’ll show up on a brochure somewhere looking like I’ve been through a hurricane!

After the certificate ceremony, the WUSC crew as well as the folks hired to photograph and video the programme all went back to Hotel Dino for a group dinner. We were all very tired but also strangely energized despite all the walking / shouting / talking / socializing / organizing and reorganizing. I felt dead and I had barely done anything so I was especially impressed that the rest of the WUSC staff had the energy to be upright and awake let alone chatting and laughing before dinner! This was actually a wonderful evening, despite the exhaustion, because I got to see everyone in an excellent mood, teasing each other and sharing stories over a meal. I felt comfortable, at ease, and welcomed (even if most of the time I had no idea what they were talking about because I still haven’t started my Sinhala lessons).

The next day, Thursday, I was blessedly told to sleep in and relax while the rest of the staff facilitated reflection activities for the participants before everyone went their separate ways before lunch. We drove back to Colombo that afternoon and I arrived back to Colombo in a bit of a daze but definitely grateful for the opportunity to observe such an interesting and productive few days at the youth programme!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for my next post about a weekend away at the Old Dutch Fort in Galle!

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Banner for the youth programme in Naula offered by WUSC Sri Lanka to ASSET program participants

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The signs welcoming participants to the National Youth Corps Training Centre

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Participants at work during one of the programme workshops

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Everything during the programme was translated into both Tamil and Sinhala, showing how to practice what you preached about diversity and inclusion (pictured here are notes about participants’ fears and expectations… note that one student said he had a “girl’s phobia”, haha!!!)

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One of the programme facilitators describing an activity to participants

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A tree filled with encouraging words in English, Tamil, and Sinhala at the National Youth Corps Training Centre in Naula, Sri Lanka

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Another one of the many inspirational saying posted around the grounds

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Morning activity on the second day – a relay race!

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One of the rope activities

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The end of the Tarzan swing!

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Spiderweb climb!

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We had good luck with the weather except for a couple of short downpours… and when it rains here, it REALLY rains.

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The hilly backdrop to the programme – simply beautiful there!

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These ladies (participants’ mothers) really wanted a photo with me with the mountain in the background so I asked if I could have one, too! They were awesome, keeping me company on the sidelines during the programme even though we didn’t share a language

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Some of the WUSC crew at the end of the first day

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Putting this photo in because the name for these sweet buns translates to “crocodile buns” which I think is hilarious!

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Stayed positive because the sign told me to ūüėČ (also – my hair’s so puffy in the humidity!)

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Outside the main hall, proudly wearing my WUSC Sri Lanka tee-shirt!

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At the end-of-programme graduation certificate ceremony

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End-of-programme group photo (shortly after this was taken, every single one of those balloons had been popped from waving them around!)

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… And that’s a wrap!

If you would like to donate to my fundraising campaign for Uniterra (note this money supports local partners not my volunteer mandate), check out my Canada Helps page.

Band Aid 30 will likely suck just as much as the original

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At a press conference yesterday, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure announced that they are producing yet another version of the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas” for their Band Aid project. The original song was released in 1984, raising a record amount of money for famine relief in Ethiopia. It’s been rerecorded a few¬†times for various causes, including in 1989 for ‘Band Aid II’ and then again in 2004 for ‘Band Aid 20‘. This year’s version is being called ‘Band Aid 30’ and will be sold to raise money to fight against the current ebola outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

While I have no doubt that¬†slacktivists everywhere will swarm to iTunes and buy the song to¬†feel good about ‘making a difference in the world’, I have some very serious issues with the problematic narratives spread through the Band Aid project. These issues can be boiled down to two main points that I’ll elaborate on below: 1)¬†the lyrics of the song are truly awful, and¬†2)¬†there is no self-representation by the people who are being ‘helped’ by this money; instead people in the Global North are representing them in a terrible way.

Let’s tackle the lyrics first. We’ll use the lyrics from the most recent release, Band Aid 20, which you can find here for reference. Band Aid 30 will have slightly different lyrics in reference to ebola and West Africa but it will likely not change much at its core.

Even the cover art (by Damien Hirst) is Othering

Even the cover art (by Damien Hirst) is Othering

I’ll¬†start with the title, which is offensive¬†itself because it suggests that people in developing countries have no understanding or awareness of the developed¬†world. This is, of course, not at all the case. Media like news, music, television, and movies coming from the Global North is¬†widely accessible and consumed¬†in developing countries. More importantly, the title is most problematic in the sense that it seems to completely forget the colonial history of Christian missionaries working to stamp out the traditional beliefs and religions of people in the developing world.

The second¬†lines of the song¬†reads, “At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade”. This recalls¬†the narrative that developing countries – especially those in the continent of Africa – are ‘dark’ and therefore dirty, terrifying, and uncivilized. Of course, mentions of darkness is also a thinly veiled¬†reference to skin colour. In contrast, developed countries are set up as the bringers of light into the ‘dark places’. This false binary suggests that whiteness is superior¬†and darkness needs to be eradicated.

This is not only racist since it sets up darkness as negative and whiteness as desired, but it also feeds into the paternalistic notion of White Man’s Burden – the idea that it is the developed world’s duty to spread its ‘enlightenment’ to the ‘darkest’ corners of the world.¬†This is echoed in the next lines of the song, which encourage the listeners to “throw your arms around the world”. Again this presents the Global North (bearers of ‘whiteness’) as¬†superior on the linear scale of ‘development’¬†so it is¬†required to ‘take care’ of the Global South by spreading its whiteness there.¬† Continue reading

Co-op placement at WUSC Botswana

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It’s amazing to think that I’ve officially been ‘on the job’ for a month and a half! It seems like just yesterday that I stepped off the plane and moved into my housemum’s place. I feel like I’ve integrated well in Gaborone in general and also settled into my position at WUSC, which has already been fun and rewarding.

The WUSC Botswana office in Gaborone

The WUSC Botswana office in Gaborone

Since I split my time between offices, I only spend a couple of days a week in the WUSC office here in Gabs. On these days, I am lucky enough to avoid public transportation because I can walk to work in just under an hour (it takes practically the same amount of time to take the combi to work… the traffic is busy!). Even though it’s getting hotter outside, I still enjoy getting some fresh air before the sun gets too intense.

At WUSC, I am here to support the international scholarship management (ISM) program. The ISM program is a partnership between WUSC and the government of Botswana, which has a program called “Top Achievers” that sends the most successful¬†Batswana high school students to universities around the world. WUSC Botswana, of course, helps facilitate the scholarship students who choose to study at Canadian institutions.

My job is mainly to help with the promotion of Canadian post-secondary education institutions. Many of the top achieving students haven’t even thought about Canada as an option for their education abroad so it’s fun to start that conversation with them. We do this through education fairs and presentations at high schools in the area. I really enjoy presenting in front of a crowd, especially when the audience is so eager for information, as most of these students are because they have inspiring ambition for their futures.

The second part of my work here is more about personal academic / career counselling services for students who are serious about exploring their education options in Canada. I will be doing a lot more of this in the coming months, once exams are over so students can turn their attention towards selecting their desired program and school of study. I am really looking forward to helping students find out which school in which part of Canada will suit them best. I know I will enjoy being a part of planning for their futures.

I work with an amazing woman named Ona, who has done a great job of both showing me the ropes and also letting me have independence. I have several ideas that I’m excited about implementing such as building a more comprehensive online profile including social media and a website that is tailored to the students, based on their questions and concerns. I should be moving forward on these ideas very soon.

I’ve already had a great time motivating the students to study hard and disseminating to them information about Canadian universities. I hope this happy momentum continues throughout the coming months. I’m slated to finish my placement at the end of February 2015 so, until then, I plan on making the most of my time at WUSC. So far, so good!

Just another white volunteer in Africa?

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I’m sitting on the patio of my favourite restaurant in Bibiani, thinking about how unbelievable it is that I am in Ghana right now. I mean, I’ve been here for over two months so it’s not like I’ve had a sudden realization about my current location. What I mean to say is that I’m beginning to understand that I’m here not just for a few days or weeks; instead I’m measuring my time here in months. I’m away from my home, my country, my family, and my friends. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve done so far in my life. (I’ve had challenging things happen to me but this is the hardest thing I’ve chosen to experience.) But I’ve gone through the worst of the culture shock and now I feel quite settled. I walk through the streets of Bibiani and they are familiar, something I could hardly imagine even a month ago. Though it’s been a classic roller coaster experience – full of ups and downs – I know that I’m incredibly privileged to be here.

That’s just the thing, though: I’m privileged. As a Canadian citizen and a white woman from an educated background and a middle-class family, I am privileged. I remember, vividly, the moment that I began to learn just what that means. I was in my first year of university – my first term, even – and I was participating in an anti-oppression workshop, which was another first for me. The facilitator handed us each a piece of paper and a pen and told us to take ten minutes to write on a timeline the moments in our lives when we realized that we are different from other people. These differences could be physical, cultural, lingual, socio-economic; anything at all. It took me a long time to even think about anything and, by the end of the allotted time, I had written down a few things, but my timeline was not nearly as filled as other participants.

I’m grateful for those who chose to share their experiences with the group that day because it helped me grow. One young woman had been in daycare told that she had strange hair because she’s black. Another had faced fear from peers when she chose to start wearing a hijab in high school. As they spoke and others chimed in, I realized that the things I had written on my timeline were mostly moments when I learned that there are others in the world who, unlike me, face complicated struggles in their lives such as poverty, oppression, and injustice. For example, I wrote down the time in Baltimore when I was very young when I saw a homeless person living under a war memorial. I also wrote down the pain and confusion I felt when I read a book in grade school about the history of HIV/ AIDS. The timeline I’d drawn up during this workshop was mostly –¬†except for a couple of times when I’d experienced sexism –¬†evidence of my privilege. This was something I’d never been faced with so bluntly before.

It hit me hard and I remember being afraid of what all this meant for me. Was my degree in international development completely inappropriate? Does my privilege mean that I am condoning and even participating in neocolonialism as a development student? As a co-op student spending time abroad? Thankfully, as a result of some wake-up call conversations with some amazing people who’ve taught me a lot about anti-oppression, anti-racism, feminism, and social justice, I have learned to move past ‘white guilt’. And I’m learning when I need to sit down, shut up, and instead¬†listen to¬†the experiences of others and also when I simply should not be in a space because my presence would be disruptive to an open atmosphere. Despite this growth, the questions I first asked myself back in first year, in that workshop, are questions I still grapple with today. Continue reading

Today’s Agenda: A Celebration of the Girl Child

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At work today, I attended an assembly at a local school here in Bibiani with my supervisor, the Girls Education Officer for the Ghana Education Service. This assembly was a pageant-style competition but instead of focusing on physical beauty like the pageants we see on television, this competition crowned a winner based on her self-confidence and intelligence.

Some of the large crowd at the event. By the end of it, there were at least three hundred people there!

Some of the large crowd at the event. By the end of it, there were at least three hundred people there!

After the opening prayer, a young woman gave an impressive speech on the value of girl child education. She ended her speech with¬†James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey‘s famous¬†quote:¬†“If you educate a man, you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family.” Her strong, clear voice ring through the large crowd of local community members, all nodding along and clapping¬†for her and her powerful words.¬† Continue reading

Top Five Take-Aways From Training

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I’ve spent the past week in pre-departure training¬†in Ottawa at the WUSC headquarters in preparation for my co-op placement in Ghana. The training days were very long but they were also very rewarding because they were¬†filled with really important information about living and working abroad, including everything from culture shock to conflict management. I’m really lucky to be working¬†with an organization that is this¬†supportive of its volunteers. Here’s a short list of some of the biggest reminders and take-aways from my training this week:

1. Find a penguin

The analogy often used to describe culture is an iceberg. We know that the majority of an iceberg is underwater so when we look at one¬†floating in the ocean we must recognize that we are only seeing a small part of it. This is where we get the phrase “just the tip of the iceberg”. Culture is like an iceberg because what we see on the surface is connected to a lot of history and meaning that we might not be able to understand by just looking at it at face value. This is why we need a little help and this is where a ‘penguin’ comes in handy. A¬†penguin as a person in-country with whom you have a connection, who you can go to when you have a question about culture and they can help you understand. Inevitably, I’ll make a¬†cultural faux-pas or two when I’m in Ghana so¬†I hope I can find a penguin to help smooth my cultural understanding and integration.

Continue reading