Hopes, Fears, and Other Thoughts

Tomorrow is the day that I start a new path in my life – working in international development.

I will be working with the organisation Engineers without Borders in Ghana (a country along the southern coast of Western Africa) and will be assisting the Governance and Rural Infrastructure (G&RI) team for four and a half months. I will leave the technical descriptions of my work to latter posts.

But before I leave the Great White North, I will stay in Toronto for a few days, starting this Saturday, for my pre-departure training. I’m looking forward to some intense learning sessions, meeting my fellow Profession Fellow (PF) volunteers and all the great staff at the EWB National Office. It may become daunting, but the important things always are.

Throughout the last few months, I’ve grown considerably in preparation for this adventure. From my re-engagement of EWB, through the Edmonton City Chapter; to my swift application for the PF program in February; and continuing with months of Foundation Learning, mentorship meetings and early morning phone call overseas; I’ve slowly began to get my head around working in a foreign country in Africa and what my work will involve.

As a result of all this learning, I’ve had many assumptions changed and my eyes opened. Growing up in a farming background and then residing in the relatively small (in terms of population, anyways) city of Edmonton, I was content with going to Africa, living in an isolated town, sleeping under a tin-roof, and being exposed to a region in desperate need of assistance. This is the picture that many people have of Africa and it’s hard to blame them for thinking this way. There are far too many infomercials and fundraising events which focus their cameras on scenes like this. But this is the exceptions to the rule. The rule being a growing, bustling Africa, full of enthusiastic, hard-working people, no different from any Canadian you may have met. They have cities like us, are addicted to cell phones like us, and enjoy life like us. They are our distant neighbours.

Another presumption I had was the inevitability of getting sick, even having malaria. This was very short-sighted. With the proper attention to my surroundings and use of the correct medicine, it is entirely possible to end my placement in no worse shape than when I began. All you need to do is follow the Boy Scouts solemn motto: Be Prepared! Consequently, I’ve been receiving vaccinations for everything from yellow fever to HepA to rabies. I’ve got my malaria medicine, antibiotics, and a whole slew of other pharmaceuticals. All of these measures have eased my fears and hopefully keep me healthy. I will strive to stay vigilant to any dangers around me and hope not to get a false sense of security.

I’ve also been introduced with the challenges of working in a new society (Africa/Ghana), a new work environment (government), and a new lifestyle (dependent on others for information and help). These 3 areas will be my main areas of personal learning and growth over the next few months. I hope to expose myself to as many people as possible and learn as much as I can. I hope that I can bring some new ideas to the G&RI staff and leave a lasting impression on the people I interact with.

I hope that anyone reading this blog will muster the courage to challenge me. No matter how much I learn, I still have misconceptions and biases about the world around us.

So. Ask questions. Leave comments. Start a discussion outside the confines of the internetz. Leave no stone unturned and no mind unopened.

Well, I’m off.

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