Ghana an Overwhelmingly Friendly Place

January 28, 2015 | Jesika, DVM, WUSC, Ghana, A Rocha Ghana

I have now been in Ghana for just over three weeks and the first thing I noticed about the country is people are nice. People are very very nice. Every day I will have at least 15-20 strangers stop me and welcome me to Ghana. They will say “Akwabba Ghana, ete sen?” (Meaning welcome to Ghana how are you?) and I will respond “eye, madasse” (meaning good thank you). Many of the times they will ask for my number so that I could call them and ask them for help if I need it, or so that we could simply meet again. I thought at first that people were just being very friendly towards me because I am white (or an Obruni in Twi) and perhaps therefore interesting to them. However Ghanaians to do this with other Ghanaians as well. It isn’t just me.
I have learned that before you can start any conversation with anyone whether it is a taxi driver, your peer, or a shop keeper you must first greet them, shake their hand and ask how they are doing. After a conversation you have to reassure the person that you are now friends if they were a stranger before, so I say “wo ye mademfo” (we are friends). Meeting people is a production here.
It doesn’t seem like this sort of thing would be so unheard of in Canada. Certainly any Canadian can say they have had these sorts of exchanges with strangers and meet several very friendly people perhaps weekly, maybe daily. But never have I seen people so willing to start conversation with someone they don’t know and to genuinely care about what that person has to say. It is clear that this type of attitude has created a strong, vibrant and welcoming community in Ghana. At first it was overwhelming to have so many people I don’t know speaking with me every day. I do not typically stop when someone says hello to me in the street in Canada. Slowly I am getting accustomed to it. I leave enough time to go to the market and to speak with every shopkeeper, as I know I will not be able to just get my things and hurry away. The friendliness here is something I will be sure to bring back with me to Canada. Going out, taking the bus and shopping is much more enjoyable when you smile and laugh with other people rather than staying in your bubble and only exchanging a few words with the cashier. Ghana is overwhelmingly but wonderfully friendly.

Economics in India

January 27, 2015 | Chantal, ECO/POL, CWY, Inde, Ajeevika Bureau

As I am entering the third week of my stay in India I’m slowly but surely getting used to this beautiful country with its fascinating culture and welcoming individuals. There have been a lot of adjustments on my end but I think it’s completely natural when you visit a country so vastly different than Canada.

The most fascinating aspect for me has been the way that shopping and business is conducted in India compared to home. I’m sure most people have heard of the bartering economy and it flourishes in India. Here you barter for everything, from your cab ride to the food you buy in the market–nothing has a set price. Of course as a non-native you have to be extraordinarily careful because many will try to take advantage of your lack of knowledge of appropriate prices, I was told that I should always ask for the price and then counter with a reduction of about 50%. So, for example, an auto from my place of stay to old city Udaipur should cost you roughly 100 Rupees and sure enough when I ask many drivers will demand that I pay anywhere from 100-200 Rupees.
It takes a lot of time and practice to get comfortable about this bartering because you need to be able to communicate with the seller but also know what a reasonable price is. Ultimately, I’ve found it all comes down to some good old fashion supply and demand. It really is nothing more than trading and the decision of the amount depends on who has a greater desire for the goods in the exchange. So to go back to the auto example, the price to old city will increase to 150 Rupees at night when finding an autos become much more scarce and difficult to find. Then, attempting to take an auto at the end of the night it is reasonable to expect the driver to charge 500 Rupees and there is little choice but to accept the price since the chances of finding another driver are slim to none. Ultimately bartering has allowed me to see basic economic principles work on the ground. I was concerned at first I would struggle to find some economic aspect of my internship while in India but clearly that concern was unnecessary given how society functions here.

My Last Week in Ghana

January 6, 2015 | Kyle, DVM, AFS, Ghana, HRAC

On my last weekend in Ghana, I joined a trip up to the Northern region of Ghana. This was an exciting opportunity to see a different side of the the country I had spent the last three months in. We left in the morning and travelled by bus, leaving from Accra and travelling down to Kumasi, about a 5 hour bus ride. Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city, is notable as the capital of the Asante kingdom, a state existing prior and during the period of colonialism. The Asante were traditionally the most powerful of Ghana’s peoples, a status solidified by the key role they played in the gold trade. Lush and green Kumasi was a stark departure from arid and dusty Accra. While in Kumasi we saw the palace of the Asante king; the Asante monarchy still exists to this day and is held in very high esteem throughout Ghana. After touring the palace we departed to tour a traditional Kente weaving village. Kente is a bright, woven textile traditionally used as clothing, and it is still woven by hand in many parts of Ghana.

After seeing some of the sights in the Asante region, we proceeded along the road towards Tamale, the capital of the Northern region. Along the way, we stopped at Kintampo falls, a lushly forested waterfall in a ravine running through the savannah. We stopped and went for a swim underneath the falls, which were also a very popular swimming spot with the local population. Impromptu snack stands had been set up along the riverbank, selling barbecued sausages and an impressively wide variety of kebabs.

Our final destination, was the Northern region itself. Here, we stopped for lunch in Tamale, the dusty capital of the Northern region, and then moved on to Dalun, a small and remote village. Here, we met the local chief, who lived in a sprawling compound with his ten wives and an indiscernible number of his fifty children. Later, we went to a shea butter processing village, where some local women demonstrated the labor intensive process used to transform shea nuts into shea butter. We then proceeded to a chaotic local weekend market, where it was easy to get lost among the bustling crowds and it felt as though oxygen was at a premium. Impressively, even in this seemingly remote market, everything from American CD’s to Chinese-made clothing was for sale. In the evening, a group of local boys and girls demonstrated some traditional singing and dancing to us.

As we made our way back to Accra, I couldn’t but think how I was going to miss this amazing and diverse country when I left for home later in the week.

Reflecting After Leaving Ghana

January 6, 2015 | McKenzie, SOC, AFS, Ghana, HRAC

I have been back in Canada for a  few weeks now, and  although I miss certain things about Ghana, I am very excited to be back in Canada. I have noticed that since I have been back I have found joy in the little things and am more appreciative. For instance, during a train ride to Ottawa I thought to myself “I should charge my laptop on the train while I have power, incase there is none when I get to Ottawa” only realizing that we in Canada are fortunate enough not to suffer from regular power outages, so I don’t need to worry. I have also begun to notice the things we take for granted in Canada- such as access to affordable education, the environment, and of course, affordable dairy products.

Being in Ghana for three months was an incredible experience. I learned so much about Ghana, West Africa,  my host organization, and about myself. Ghana is a beautiful country, and I was lucky enough to be able to travel to various parts of the country for my work- and during my free time. During my last week in Ghana I had the opportunity to go on a study tour of Northern Ghana. I was able to go to Kumasi once again, neighbouring Kente fabric villages such as Ntonso and Ahwia, and visit the Manhyia Palace Museum. I then proceeded to the village of Damongo, and visited Kintampo Falls along the way. While up North I had the opportunity to visit Mole National Park, Larabanga Mosque (the oldest Mosque in Ghana, and one of the oldest in West Africa), the Dalun chief, a traditional compound house, a bustling market, and a Shea Butter Processing Village. Going on this trip allowed me to understand how people outside of major cities in Ghana live- and how their human rights difficulties differ from those in cities.

I struggled with being able to finish my last work assignment at HRAC, which made the idea of leaving a little bit stressful. I was researching other countries foster care regulations, in order to improve the proposed foster care regulations of Ghana- but had a lot of difficultly finding the information I needed.

My time in Ghana was life changing. I was given the opportunity to experience absolute poverty, and extreme human rights abuses, while working with amazing people at HRAC . While there was many ups and downs during my time abroad, the the experience has taught me more than I would ever learn in a classroom- and I hope to visit Ghana again in the future.

Home Again, Home Again

December 12, 2014 | Olivia, DVM, CWY, India

I returned to Canada with mixed feelings. I was very excited to see my friends, family and dog, but I was also aware of what I would be leaving behind. Now that the internship is ending, I find myself reflecting on what I have enjoyed, what I wish I had done differently, what I would do if I had more time, and how I will adjust to living in Canada again. Three months is the longest I have spent outside my country, and yet I feel as though the time has zipped by. I don’t think I would ever have felt that I completed everything I set out to complete. I found that as I was finishing my tasks, I was rushing to get things done, trying to take on more that was not feasible. All of a sudden I was thinking “Oh wait, I need to look into this, I need to do this, I need to try this.” But it was time to return to my country. As much as I love my country, I don’t think I was quite ready to leave. However, if I had four months, I would want five. Essentially, I am torn between two worlds that I have learned to love, one which I have explored for many years, am comfortable in, and have learned to behave appropriately in, and another that I am just beginning to discover and integrate into. I reflect on my internship journey and I am so thankful that I had this opportunity to work in another country. I am able to track my own confidence in who I am and in my host country through my assignments that I have been completing throughout. I have gained valuable insights about India from people living in India, and I have also gained valuable insights about myself.
When I was home, I knew I would miss washing my clothes in a bucket, waving down an auto when I need to get somewhere quickly, leaping off the sometimes moving bus at my stop, practising my Hindi with the locals, watching people dance in the local style with total abandon and with huge smiles on their faces, asking questions about India with my colleagues and friends, and participating in and learning about the many festivals in the region. I feel very blessed to have gone to India at the time that I did. I avoided the hottest, most uncomfortable weather, I was able to witness many interesting festivals, and my organization was going through some very interesting changes and working on many new projects while I was there, allowing me to gain more perspective about work in India. I have made many new and wonderful friends in India who will be difficult to forget.
Essentially, this experience was phenomenal. Any internship and occupation has it’s own unique challenges, but I am fortunate that I found mine were hardly insurmountable for me. I have found that it was more difficult to re-adapt to Canadian culture, and my life here than I anticipated. I think my experience has helped me to gain some clarity regarding decisions for my future. I definitely think an internship is worth consideration during university. It can help to discover whether one is cut out for the realities of the field, differing work cultures, and other aspects of international development. I learned that by body dislikes change, which meant that I was ill almost the entire time I was in India, but my mind loves change, which allowed me to cope with the challenges I faced. An internship is useful for someone who might work in this environment and needs a test drive to see whether they can cope in a different environment from what they are accustomed to. I see this internship as the next step in my journey towards international development. It helped me to answer the question “Can I do this as a career?”

Goodbye India!

December 12, 2014 | Travis, DVM, CWY, India, SPID

Being in India for the past few months was an incredible experience. I learned so much about India, about my host organization, and even about myself. India is a beautiful country, and would be amazing to simply travel around, but doing an international internship gave me a unique experience of living in India, becoming part of a community, and learning about Indian culture in a way I could not as a tourist. There were definitely challenges at times, and being far from home in a different culture is not always comfortable, but in the end I will value every moment of my experience. There were tough times, but there were many more fun times; nights out with friends, travelling, exploring Markets, forts, and temples, trying street food, Indian sweets, and fresh fruit. This international internship allowed me to explore this new culture and see India, but more importantly, it forced me to grow as a person, allowed me gain international experience, and left me with amazing memories and a love for India.

My internship with SPID (Society for Participatory Integrated Development) was an incredible learning experience. Instead of learning about development through lectures and research I was able to experience, and see development first hand. This was an opportunity for me to gain international experience, and dip my toes into the development world. SPID has programs working with mostly youth and women, helping raise their standard of living through skills development, heath, education, and advocacy. It was a unique chance to see how a local NGO such as SPID operates, what programs they have, and how they make a difference in everyday lives. During my volunteer experience I have gotten to know the kind people who work at SPID and members of the community they work with. Being able to contribute to their work has been an extremely rewarding experience.

My supervisors and co-workers were always extremely helpful and understanding. They wanted me to have the best experience possible, and were always willing, if not eager, to teach me about their country and their work. I got to know the students in the job-readiness program, and see them grow over the course of their 3-month program. I got to go to health camps, street plays, and really feel like part of the SPID community.

Leaving India, I am leaving behind amazing roommates and co-workers who I came to know and love over my short stay. Reflecting on my internship, it is the people I met who made it such a memorable experience. They were my friends, my teachers, and my travel buddies. It is hard leaving and knowing that I will not see them at the office, or be able to talk to them every evening after work. I will always cherish the friends and memories I made during my stay, and the lessons that I learned will stick with me through the rest of my university career and beyond.

All that remains is to say farewell India, and thank you for al the amazing memories!

De retour à la case départ? Pas tout à fait.

December 8, 2014 | Roxanne, ECH, MAC, Nepal, Ban Landmines Campaign Nepal

Me voilà officiellement de retour au pays, à parcourir le campus de l’université d’Ottawa, à reconnecter avec mes ami(e)s et ma famille, et à reprendre ma vie quotidienne ici. Toutefois, j’hésite à employer le mot « reprendre », puisque ce n’est pas tout à fait le cas. Je ne reprends pas le quotidien que j’ai quitté en septembre. Les choses ont évoluées, mais plus important encore, j’ai changée. Comment cela pourrait-il en être autrement?

Les trois derniers mois m’ont permis d’acquérir de nouvelles habitudes et de nouvelles compétences. Les gens que je viens de quitter ont partagé avec moi leurs conseils et leurs valeurs, des atouts que j’espère être en mesure de mettre en pratique dans les futurs projets que j’entreprendrai. Ces changements seront peut-être imperceptibles pour mon entourage, et cela me va. Tout ce qui m’importe, c’est de garder le souvenir de cette expérience bien vivant dans ma mémoire.

En partant d’Ottawa, j’ai quitté une vie où chaque minute compte et dont le rythme effréné est synonyme d’efficacité. Malgré mes efforts pour être des plus organisés, peu importe le nombre de tâches que j’essayais d’accomplir simultanément, j’avais constamment l’impression qu’il n’y a pas assez d’heures dans une journée pour arriver à tout faire. C’est quelque chose que j’ai peu à peu appris à mettre de côté. Non pas d’être efficace ou d’être organisé, mais plutôt de vivre dans le moment présent, accepter les choses que je ne peux contrôler et mieux savoir faire face aux imprévus. Mes collègues népalaises me ramenaient constamment à l’ordre, en me demandant ; «à quoi bon stresser, cela va-t-il changer quelques chose?». Mettre mon énergie dans ce qui importe plutôt qu’appréhender, et apprendre à contrôler mes pensées à travers la méditation sont définitivement des habitudes de vie que je veux explorer davantage maintenant que je suis de retour. Je souhaite également savoir m’émerveiller des petits plaisirs du quotidien comme j’ai su le faire à Katmandou. Ce n’est pas seulement en voyage qu’il faut reconnaître la beauté des choses ordinaires, mais chez soi également.

Est-ce que j’ai un mot de la fin à partager avec vous? En toute honnêteté, non. Je ne peux résumer mon aventure au Népal et trouver les bons mots pour exprimer mes sentiments en quelques lignes. Je pourrais parler pendant des jours du travail qu’il reste à faire pour sensibiliser les gens aux droits des personnes handicapées, des paysages que j’ai pu admirer à Katmandou, Pokhara et Chitwan, de même que des différences qui existent entre la culture népalaise et canadienne. Je suis loin d’avoir complètement satisfait ma curiosité et je compte bien continuer d’apprendre dans les semaines, les mois et même les années à venir. Ce stage n’est pas une expérience isolée dans mon parcours; il fait partie de mon cheminement personnel et professionnel – un processus continu.

Namaste, Roxanne.

Reflecting on an Amazing Three Months

December 5, 2014 | Ryan, PAP, CWY, India, Swami Sivananda Memorial Institute

My internship and placement at Swami Sivananda Memorial Institute (SSMI) was nothing short of amazing! As a volunteer, I feel as though I was able to contribute to my full capacity while always being engaged in several programs. Working with the SSMI team has been an exhilarating experience where I really feel I was able to grow as an intern, a student, and a person. As SSMI works in the areas of education, health, nutrition, and women’s empowerment, I was able to really broaden my understanding of each of the program areas and really understand the role of NGOs in meeting individuals on the ground. I was engaged at all levels, with each day always bringing something new and exciting.

My first weeks involved me taking a look at the various projects that are currently underway, spending a couple of hours with each of the program coordinators and officers to learn about the what is currently being done. Throughout my three months I also had the opportunity to draft several program proposals (marketing strategies, sanitary napkins, and education), attend meetings with the Director and General Secretary, visit rural India, and attend artisan outlets such as Dilli Haat where the products made by the textile production unit are sold. Needless to say, my internship was full of unique and invigorating experiences for me to grow and learn. SSMI really provided my with an environment where I could showcase my strengths while still providing me with an opportunity to learn and the possibility explore diverse subject matters.

For my long-term project, I was involved in a life skills program called “Ujjwal Jeewan” for underprivileged adolescent girls. It involved holding sessions with the girls in the area of Jahangirpuri to develop the ten life skills outlined by the World Health Organisation. I had the opportunity to do data analysis for a baseline survey and draft the final report which will be submitted to the Ministry of Women and Child Development. Working on the program with the SSMI team was an amazing experience as it really provided me with the opportunity to be engaged with an ‘on-the-ground’ project while still being able to showcase my expertise and skills.

Leaving India has been quite tough for me… I really miss everything I was able to experience, the people I met, and the amazing work. I feel as though I have really been able to establish my place in the organisation, where I had the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way. It was truly an amazing adventure! I feel as though I was able to grow so much in three months than I ever could have if I were to have stayed and completed the semester in the classroom. There really is no other way to fully understand the NGO sector, and I am so happy that I was able to take part in this experience and complete my internship with such an amazing organisation like SSMI.

Fin du stage

December 4, 2014 | Olivier, EIL, Uniterra, Bolivie, FundacionMaya

Le moment est venu pour moi d’écrire un dernier blog sur cette magnifique aventure en terres Inca. Je suis présentement au Canada pour suivre les dernières formations à l’université. C’est le temps de décanter et porter un autre regard sur mon expérience. Je dois dire qu’au niveau social ça s’est très bien passé. Grâce à mes activités extérieures au travail, le rugby notamment, j’ai pu rencontrer des gens fabuleux, de bons amis que j’espère garder longtemps. Ils m’ont permis de voir la Bolivie et La Paz sous un autre angle et de m’intégrer rapidement à cette société en pleine ébullition. Mes amis m’ont bien expliqué que la Bolivie change peu à peu et que les opportunités seront grandissantes au courant des prochaines années. Ils m’ont par contre indiqué qu’il restait beaucoup à faire et qu’il manquait toujours des leaders et des entrepreneurs boliviens pour compléter le changement.

Au niveau de l’entrepreneuriat, ma dernière assignation m’a permis de mieux comprendre quel était le statut réel de l’entrepreneuriat en Bolivie et en Amérique du Sud en général. Au courant du dernier mois, j’ai effectué des recherches afin de trouver des textes académiques adéquats pour une maîtrise que la Fundacion Maya va lancer à l’automne (printemps au Canada) prochain. Cette maîtrise, qui se donne en ligne, a pour but de former l’esprit entrepreneurial chez les participants. De cette manière, la Fundacion Maya s’attaque à un problème majeur en Bolivie le manque d’entreprise d’envergure. Ici, je ne veux pas dire que la Bolivie est dépourvue d’entreprises ou que ces dernières sont de second ordre, mais force est d’admettre que la majorité des entreprises boliviennes sont des microentreprises. Malheureusement, elles ont peu de chances de se révéler comme étant des facteurs d’expansion économique, favorisait l’innovation et la création d’emplois de qualité. En effet, le trois-quarts de ces entreprises ne se développeront jamais comme petite entreprise et ne croiront jamais pour devenir un établissement fructueux.

Plusieurs facteurs peuvent expliquer ce fait. L’explication majeur étant que cette entreprise n’est pas née d’une volonté profonde de l’entrepreneur, mais bien d’une nécessité. Pour ces entrepreneurs, leur commerce est une activité de survie; sans cette activité, ils seraient sans emploi et sans moyen de subsistance. C’est un peu comme s’ils étaient des entrepreneurs par défaut. De cette manière, le propriétaire ne cherchera pas automatiquement à développer son produit ou service ni à faire croire son entreprise. Malheureusement, ce n’est pas le type d’entrepreneuriat que la Bolivie a besoin. La Bolivie a besoin d’entreprises avec une forte possibilité de croissance afin d’offrir des emplois de qualité à la population. De plus, ce type d’entreprise nécessite des idées novatrices afin de progresser. Subséquemment, cette innovation enrichie le pays et permet d’autres débouchées dans d’autres secteurs.

C’est donc pour cela que mon dernier mois a été très intéressant. Pouvoir contribuer, tout en apprenant, à l’entrepreneuriat au pays a été pour moi quelque chose d’enrichissant et quelque peu gratifiant. Je peux participer à la construction de l’édifice avec une pierre, aussi petite qu’elle soit, c’est tant mieux. Je réalise maintenant comment s’organise l’aide et le développement humanitaire, comment elle fonctionne, quels sont ses particularités et ses défis. Si ce stage servait pour moi d’introduction au monde de l’humanitaire, je crois que ce fut une belle introduction. Je crois que je n’ai pas eu à faire face à des manques au niveau matériel comme mes collègues d’autres pays, mais la dynamique de travail m’assemblée plus ou moins similaire. Il y a beaucoup d’adaptation au niveau des horaires et de l’organisation entre les différents acteurs à faire, mais rien de vraiment impossible à accomplir. Finalement, Je tiens à remercier la Fundacion Maya pour m’avoir intégré à son équipe et à ses projets, tout comme le CECI qui m’a donné l’opportunité de vivre cette aventure et un dernier remerciement à la Faculté des Sciences Sociales de l’université pour permettre à ses étudiants d’effectuer des stages à l’étranger. Merci de m’avoir lu et au plaisir.

Wrapping Up, But Not Saying Goodbye!

December 1, 2014 | Ashley, DVM, WUSC, Malawi

I have just concluded the final week of my internship with WUSC as a Program Assistant for the Academic Leadership Program and the Student Refugee Program. This internship has been both amazing and difficult on so many levels for me. However, I have truly loved going to work everyday, especially the days that I travel to the Dzaleka refugee camp. Although the work at the office has been short, it has been extremely busy with preparation for the last few weeks at work. The SRP students are preparing to write their TOEFL and DELF/DALF tests, therefore I have been working to prepare the English students for their TOEFL exam. This preparation has included practice reading tests, listening tests, and practicing speaking English with one another. Hopefully, the students are well prepared and will do well on their TOEFL test in the upcoming month.
In addition, I have really been connecting with my students, gaining a better understanding of their lives, hopes, and struggles. However, I feel like it’s only been the last couple of weeks that I’ve been able to make these connections. The first two months of my internship was filled with uncertainty and trying to understand what was expected of me in my role as Program Assistant. The uncertainty prohibited connecting with the students to a certain extent; however, once I became more comfortable in my role I was able to build a stronger relationship with my students. In fact, I intend to continue working with three of my SRP students during my research as they have agreed to act as translators for me while I am conducting unstructured interviews for my Master’s thesis.
Regarding the ALP students, I have been providing sessions for the grade six and seven girls in the camp. My first session, beyond the introductory session, focused on leadership and teamwork and my second session focused on effective communication. Unfortunately, just as I have finally gotten the ALP sessions started my internship has come to an end. I can only hope that the next Program Assistant is able to start up the sessions with greater ease and speed than I was able. To support this hope, I have left a detailed report for the next Program Assistant regarding my recommendations for him/her on how to conduct the ALP sessions, what process is required prior to each session, and who to engage with regarding translation of documents and sessions. Hopefully, this will help to kickstart the next ALP sessions.
On my last day as a Program Assistant with WUSC in the camp, I threw a goodbye party with the students. This party was for the English and French teachers, the students, and myself! The teachers because their contracts are also ending this week, the students to celebrate their hard work in TOEFL and DELF/DALF preparation, and myself as it was my final day as a WUSC Program Assistant with them. I bought food and drinks and we had a proper celebration. The party was great and it was really nice to see the students relax and have fun with their teachers and myself! The students gave speeches and did stand-up comedy. They also gave me four bracelets reading We Love You, Ashley, WUSC 2015/2016, and Zikomo. Additionally, the students made me an appreciation certificate! It was very touching and thoughtful of them.
As previously mentioned, now that I have completed my internship, I am going to continue travelling to the refugee camp as I will be conducting my research for my Master’s thesis within the camp. My research is focusing on perceptions of socio-economic security between female refugees and refugee camp stakeholders. Therefore, I will begin recruiting participants, training my translators, and working to complete my research within the next three months.
Wish me luck in my upcoming research! Zikomo!