Extended Placement Details

29 08 2007

Partner Organization: Engineers Without Borders Canada

Role: Global Citizen

Location: Calgary, AB, Canada

Duration: September 2007 – April 2008

Your Organization – Engineers Without Borders Canada

Engineers Without Borders is a non-profit Canadian international development organization. . EWB’s overseas objective is to promote human development through strengthening already existing organizations. EWB sends Canadian volunteers to Western and Southern Africa to partner with local organizations. EWB is striving to make Canada a model global citizen for how the world responds to the challenge of global poverty. Choosing to reduce poverty will only happen when people understand the connections between their daily actions and the lives of people in developing communities. That is why EWB is raising awareness among the general population and challenging:

  • Canadians to make pro-poor decisions
  • Our government to improve their policies
  • Canadian corporations to adopt fair and humane practices

Your Placement – Global Citizen

Specifically, I will be based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada where I will be working with the University of Calgary Chapter and the Calgary Professional Chapter on the outreach and engagement component of their activities. This community generally has the passion to drive change in Canada, however, there is a lack of connection between In-Canada activities and Overseas impact. There also appears to be challenges in engaging people who generally care, but are distracted by other activities.

    The Match

      1. This placement is located in a booming city of approximately 1 million people. I will be working alongside some of the best and passionate champions of development that Calgary has to offer to maximize the impact – an experience which I am looking forward to.

      2. This placement, since it is mainly focused on Outreach and Engagment, requires someone who has strong communication skills – something which I have experience with (but still much to learn).

      3. This placement is going to be a little bit challenging because I will be working on this placement over 8 months to engage people on broader development perspectives and how to translate that into daily actionable items. I will also be partnered with next year’s Junior Fellows to prepare them for their placement.




Placement Extended

23 08 2007

August 7, 2007

As this experience is coming to an end, a new one is emerging set with new challenges, new opportunities, new solutions and creating new relationships. This new placement takes me to places and provides me with opportunities that 2 years ago, I could only imagine that it was possible. As a result, it’s an opportunity and a placement that I couldn’t turn down.

My next placement is set in a country that has had a history of corruption, a waning government, an impeding energy crisis, a growing disparity between the ‘wealthy’ and the ‘poor’ and a different culture that would require new skills to engage and empower people to believe that change is possible.

The customs and language are not far from what I’ve already learned, the climate and geography are easy to acclimatize to and the people whom I’ll be working closely with, from what I hear are one of a kind development ‘champions’ if you may.

The biggest challenge that I have identified with my next placement is:

  1. Apathy – The majority of the population, from what I know is more on the apathetic side. I found that the citizens, although really warm and inviting, have a problem of being distracted from all the materials in life, having challenges focusing on issues that really matter, believing that they have a voice to call out for change.

  2. Balance – This is more of a personal challenge. Balance to the cause in the next chapter of this placement will be a little more challenging especially when faced with something as challenging and as difficult as apathy. Balancing my personal life with ways to overcome apathy, well, there seems to be a very fine line that separates the two. There’s also a lot of change occurring in my personal life with the post-secondary chapter of my life coming to a close end.

However, I’m excited for the next placement, being able to leverage what I have already learned as a Junior Fellow in Malawi and use it to the benefits for the next placement.

I suppose you’re feeling pretty anxious and sad that there’s a possibility that you will not be seeing me. However, I’ll be continuing this blog, documenting the joys and tribulations of volunteering in the next placement. Luckily for you though, my placement is in Calgary, Canada. Stay tuned for more updates.

Oh the Places My Laptop will Go!

11 08 2007

Well, you may or may not have heard already about my laptop incident. I’m going to start with the factual part and then delve deeper into the emotional part.


On Friday, June 27th, I arrived at the Guesthouse at 3:30pm from work. I dropped off my stuff (backpack with my laptop) to head to the market to pick up some gifts for the ladies of the village. The door was locked but the system was to leave the key in the cabinet in the common kitchen area (room 1,2,3,4,5). Coming back from the market at around 5:30, I found my fellow volunteer hanging out and we proceeded to chat for about 2 hours. When he decided to go for a run, I decided to get some work done on my laptop and lo and behold, my laptop along with the cord and adapter and $200USD was gone.


I reported it to the management and to the police but I was pretty upset, although it may have not seemed like it. Now I’m following up with the police as I’ll be in Lilongwe for the next 2 weeks to see what progress has been made. So far, I would like to believe that the police are doing their job, but it has been pretty difficult to track their progress. I mean, it seems to be my bad luck that everyday when I have visited them, they police officer in charge of my case is either not in yet or has knocked off and apparently, when I text them, they don’t text back. Bad luck or just screening the calls, who knows? I suppose I should just accept that chances of recovering the laptop are pretty low and that I should make the most out of the back-to-school deals.


Now the emotional part:

I’m on the slow road to recovery, finally accepting that laptops and money are pretty liquid and replaceable items. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it still sucks to have these things gone with my personal information, but it’s not the end of the world for me. I’ve learnt to deal with it pangono’pangono (slow by slow) but this circumstance has put a little bit of life into perspective.


For instance, say you were a farmer in rural Malawi and you hired someone to transport your entire tobacco yield to the auction floors in the big cities, only to find out that the transporter disappeared with all your tobacco, what would happen then? Or, if a hyena came in the middle of the night and took one of your biggest pigs into the bush and you were only able to recover a leg and the stomach, what would happen then? That’s some food for thought.


But I’ll admit that during my time here, I’ve had a pretty hard time trying to find poverty. I know, I thought that once I got here to the third poorest country in the world as defined by the UN Human Development Index, that I would see it everywhere I go. But instead, I had to really look hard at the circumstances and the situations surrounding me and in fact, had to have this sneaky theft occur for me to finally realize what poverty really is.


So my definition of poverty is based on vulnerability and opportunity. I, like the two very real situations described above (the first one is based on a farmer that one of my fellow JF, Tony had encountered, and the second is one that happened 2 nights ago to Mpanje, my neighbour/brother/uncle?) We were all vulnerable, all humans are vulnerable to something in some extent (my apologies for the vagueness of the comment) but we all have different opportunities. For instance, I have the opportunity to come home to recover these losses. I have opportunities to employment and earning a steady, fairly well paid income, cushioning these losses. The tobacco farmer has the opportunity to regrow his crop next season, but for this season, he has no income. Mpanje has the opportunity of waiting for his 19 piglets to grow big to the size of this pig (man, it was huge). But the questions still linger:


If someone steals all your tobacco, your goat, your maize crop, how would you go about recovering that? What types of systems or safety net could you use to cushion the losses? What effect would that have on your life for the next 6 months to a year?


Like I said before, I wouldn’t consider myself to be a victim, it’s pretty hard for me to accept that because to be a victim is to be powerless but I’m not really in a powerless situation. I have the ‘power’ to cushion these losses, but at the same time, I’m becoming a little more irritable and more curt when this happens, I’m becoming more cautious and weary of strangers, just generally, I don’t want this to happen again while I’m here.


It’s funny how one situation can influence your life.

Funny Story #3: Pigs vs. Hyenas

11 08 2007

Three nights ago, I received a phone call from Mpanje and the dialogue went a little like this:

A: “Hello?”

M: “Hello Annie”

A: “Hello Mpanje, how are you?”

M: “Very fine. Anne, a hyena took my pig! Very wonderful!”

A *slight confusion*: “I’m very sorry Mpanje, when did this happen?”

M: “Just right now. Malikhitcho, Strong and me, we went looking for the pig and we only found one leg and the stomach.”

A: “Very wonderful”

M: “Bye”

A *slightly confused*: “by…(Mpanje hangs up the phone)…e”

So long..farewell..aufweiterzen goodbye…

11 08 2007

Then: Three months ago, I entered into the Gulugufe village, my eyes saturated with tears. I’d like to believe that it was from the dusty roads traveling to the village, but honestly, the tears were from feeling pretty desolate and isolated from the rest of the world. I had no idea where I was or who these people were living in the village and I couldn’t understand even the simplest greetings!


I waved goodbye to who once were strangers but became my family, my community and my friends for the last 3 months on Sunday. But before then, we had a formal ‘celebration’ with the Senior Chief for the region to send me off on my way. It consisted of the village (37 people) sitting together under the cool shade of the trees with the men and I sitting in the chairs. The ladies and children sat in on the mat. First, the Senior Group gave a speech along the lines of “Thank you very much for staying in the village, if you have any problems, please let us know, I’m very happy that you have stayed, please remember the problems faced by your family here.” Agogo (Grandfather) then gave a speech “Napiri, we are very happy to have received a visitor like yourself who have stayed with us here. I’m asking for your forgiveness if the children have touched or offended you in anyway. We’re very sorry for your going and wish you a good journey.” I gave my impromptu speech “Thank you everyone for allowing me the privilege to stay with your families. As you can see from my body, I have been kept very well. The children and the families here have been very hospitable and I have learnt much from all of you (like cooking nsima). I hope you stay very well in the villages and I can’t express how thankful I am for this experience and opportunity for working and living with you”…


We ate chicken and nsima for lunch and that was that ceremony.


I, of course, in the tradition of having a Foodfest annually, had to throw a Foodfest in the village. There was an entire goat, Irish potatoes, carrots, onions, biscuits, and fanta/sprite/coca. Let me just say that Mpanje is awesome. He helped me locate a goat for 3,500MK (about $30) and biked a total of 60km to get this goat for me! But you know, Charlie, my Cock. Well, we didn’t eat him after all, so he’s living a long and prosperous life in Mwansambo (to the dismay of my carnivorous friends).


Now: Three months later, I’m leaving the Gulugufe village, my eyes saturated with tears. I’d like to believe that it was from the dusty roads around the village, but honestly, the tears were from feeling pretty lost, having to leave my home, my family and friends. I had no idea what was going to happen with the relationships that I built with them or what their futures would bring. I couldn’t express my gratitude enough in Chichewa, the local language!

Funny Story #4: So this chick fainted the other day and…

11 08 2007

Madalitso is this clever and mischievous 4 year old boy who lives in the village. He’s fully of energy and I have no idea where he gets this from. Agogo and my favourite 4 o’clock past time is to herd the chickens and the chicks into the coup. The one day, I was busy roasting peanuts on the fire and Madalitso and another boy, Phiri (9 years old) were catching these newly born chicks and putting them into the coup. Madalitso, who had this one chick in his hand got really excited because I was almost done frying the groundnuts and totally forgot about this chick in his hand. Upon his excitement, he threw the chick on the ground like a footballer who had scored a touchdown. The chick became unconscious for about 5 minutes when I finally poked it a little and it kind of jittered awake. I took it and put it in the coup. I thought it was pretty funny.

Wrapping Up Spring Roll Style

11 08 2007

I’ve been sitting in front of the desktop computer at work for the past 4 days, madly typing up my reports to make recommendations for monitoring and evaluation and credit recovery. I’m very thankful to my parents for putting me in piano lessons for 13 years of my life where I’ve learnt to drill my fingers for quick action. I’ve managed to pound out a 20 page report with a 13 page appendix in 4 days and this is just one of the reports that I will make.


Part of EWB’s strategy is kind of like walking on the beach. When you walk by the water, you’re sure to leave a footprint, but when EWB walks, it is trying to lessen that development footprint so that the work that we do with our partner organizations is sustainable and continued. Have I achieved this?


I’ve focused on helping to advance TLC’s operations lessening that development footprint means that I have focused working with certain people in asking questions and providing suggestions (only after I ask for their suggestion). Right now, the work in the Monitoring and Evaluation side of things is on implementation and building habits. Credit recovery I think is being emphasized but it has a long way to go trying to overcome challenges such as free issues from the government and other NGO’s. (Who said free = good?)


But nonetheless, I’m wrapping up or exiting Malawi in three different areas of life:

         Community – I’ve already described this in the previous post

         Work – I’m going through that process now, producing recommendations based on my four month experience

         In-Canada – I’m looking for strategies to help me reintegrate back into Canada and change some minds in Calgary.


Comments are always welcomed!