About Society

My Political, Economic and Religious Self-Education

“The general population doesn’t know what’s happening. And it doesn’t even know that it doesn’t know.” -Noam Chomsky


Unknown Unknowns

My politicization began roughly a decade ago and has steadily developed since then. When I moved from rural Alberta to Edmonton, I knew little to nothing about the world and how it operated. I didn’t have a political affiliation and was clueless about the fundamental differences between the Conservative and Liberal parties, whether federal or provincial. To complicate the matter, Canadian politics consists of three levels of jurisdiction: Continue reading

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Books, Thoughts

Propaganda of the Deed

The children of Marinaleda have the pleasure to tell you about the situation in Andalusia and specifically, Marinaleda. A few days ago, our parents, in an open assembly, agreed to go on hunger strike. We are in solidarity with them. We have been on hunger strike for several days.

Why are we on hunger strike? We are on hunger strike because our parents have already spent six months living on the alms of community employment. In our village people earn not even two hundred pesetas a day, because sometimes they only work two days a month. We live in such poverty that some families have to borrow money from their neighbours, because the shops no longer give them credit. Put yourself in our place and think: is it fair that while some children are on holiday with their parents and families, others don’t know if they will eat that night? Is it fair that while some children have private tutors, others can’t even attend state schools? Is it fair that while some waste large amounts of money on toys and luxuries, others have no shoes to wear and must go barefoot?

We don’t think it is, and that is why we are on hunger strike. That is why we have gone several days without food, and we won’t stop until a solution arrives, because this situation is unbearable. It is even more unbearable in a land as rich as Andalusia.

Friend: the problem in our land is serious, and so we are going to continue fighting alongside out parents. W will continue fighting because the problem is also ours; so please consider and answer these questions. What will become of us? What is our future? Your future, we imagine, is already resolve, but what of ours? Who will resolve ours?

This is not a fairy tale, but a real situation which you will never know . . . We ask you with all our hearts to stop and think, and perhaps you’ll feel anger or pity and you or your parents will us some solution.

Sorry if these words are strong, but our hunger is stronger. Greetings from your friends. Marinaleda.

Continue reading

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About Society, Books

Selling Off the UK Government to the Lowest Bidder

Government outsourcing–contracting private companies to provide public services–can produce amazing results. The process links government revenue with business tools. When a government’s own in-house capacity is limited, contracting private companies can be an essential solution, whether it’s providing stationary or building bridges.

Outsourcing can also be a stressful exercise, as John Glenn, American astronaut and the fifth person to go into space, responded when asked how he felt sitting in a space capsule getting ready to launch and listening to the countdown: “I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of two million parts — all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract.” Continue reading

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Ghana

TOMS Shoes

When I walked into the Social Welfare office to give training on Microsoft Excel (as I usually attempted every week), I was confronted by a pile of boxes next to the door. These didn’t seem like anything special at first glance. They were stacked tightly, with the odd computer printer box mixed in for a splash of diversity. There are many departments that have things in there office, waiting to be handed out. Youth Employment has had bicycles and hair dryers. Community Development has had large bags of Ionized Salt. So, I went to take my seat, not thinking too much of them.

The boxes themselves were very plain. Crumbled and stamped with basic text. They read “Toms Not For Resale”. It took me a few glances and a more carefully reading to understand what the boxes were trying to say. They were Toms shoes and the were meant “Not For Resale”. These were indeed the end of the supply chain from all those American and European malls where people buy Toms shoes at retail price and expect that one pair will be delivered to someone in need. I was actually seeing the result of that business model.

Sadly, I would be returning to Steven’s office many times before experiencing the shoes being used. Steven is the department officer of Social Welfare. He has a few office staff and all of them have field duties in addition to what they must do in the officer, mainly involving reporting. It was about a month of me asking Steven for updates before he was able to start handing out shoes to children. 

There was the one week where it looked like we were going to go out to visit the schools, but the volunteer from Best Generation Community Foundation (the Ghana organization that was actually coordinating the distribution of shoes along with local government officers) was unable to make it up from Accra. So, again we waited. Luckily, Steven was able to make some progress working by himself. He visited the various schools and tabulated lists of needy children.

Then the next week there was an issue getting a vehicle. Like many smaller, newly decentralized departments, Social Welfare doesn’t actually have its own means of transportation. You can only imagine the frustration this causes when you need to visit a village an hours drive away. But I digress.

In the end, we were able to get a vehicle and all the volunteers were in town. Everything was in order. First stop, St Kizito A Primary School – one of the many primary schools found within Bole. Here, 24 children would be receiving a brand new pair of black Toms shoes. For some, it would be their first pair of new shoes. For others, it would be their first pair, period.

Only a few minutes drive from the District Assembly, we arrived at St Kizito during the perfect time – during class. The students about to receive their donation were already pulled out from class and could be interviewed without any interruption from fellow classmates. Although many were curious and watching from inside the school quarters.

Children fell into three general groups: those with new-ish footwear, mainly bathroom sandals and one or two with actually sneakers; those with bathroom sandals that were cracked or missing a piece; and those with nothing, bare footed.

The children provided their names and stood for some stereotypical “before” photos. Then the boxes were offloaded from the rear of our truck, ready for handout. Chooses sizes posed a difficult challenge, as most children had no idea what size of feet they had. So, round and round, the “try it on and see if they fits” attempts went. All in all, it went pretty smoothly. This was the first attempt for everyone involved, seemingly.

After the school visit, I was returned to the office. But the group of volunteers and government officers continued on to Sonyo Primary and one other school for more distributions. In the end, they handed over more than 300 pairs of shoes that day.

Here are some other children who received a bit of happiness that day.

During the short ride I had with the volunteer from Best Generation, he was able to provide a few additional facts. Not only was Bole District receiving 1,000 pairs of Toms shoes, but so were many other Districts. This was the first round of donations from Toms in Ghana. Although they would be returning in 6 months, and presumably, on a continuing basis, both me and Steven questioned whether the proposed plan of giving these same children another, slightly larger pair of shoes was the best tactic.

They might hand over their old pair to a sibling or friend, but from the visits Steven went on, there was an astounding need for shoes. How about the children that will receive nothing and continue to walk bare foot?

I encourage any readers to not just go out and buy a pair of Toms shoes because of this post, but to question the reasons why children across the world are unable to afford such basic necessities, like footwear.

Thank you.

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Ghana

On the Job Redux

After a lengthy discussion with my EWB coach one Friday, I was able to focus my energy into 2 impact projects: Data Analysis and Project Management. Both of these relate to things I’m more experienced in and, most importantly, have an interest in pursuing.

IMPACT #1: DATA ANALYSIS

For data analysis, I will be shifting my focus from just the 4 main departments – health, education, agriculture, and water & sanitation – to those departments most excited to delve into their data looking for answers. The steps I hope to work on in my time here are as follows.

  1. Determine Starting Point: perform a survey of all departments and catalogue resources and skill level.
  2. Get People on Board: present a group presentation to gauge excitement and willingness to learn.
  3. Work Together: perform 1-on-1 workshops to increase people’s capacity.
  4. Understand the Data: facilitate discussions to lead to deeper understanding of the information collected from the field.
  5. Share with Others: have partner department present findings in front of all departments in a meeting.

After my initial survey, I found that almost all officers had a computer, which is the starting point. Most had a very basic or no understanding of Microsoft Excel and how to use it. They had maybe opened it a year ago, but forgot what they learnt due to lack of use. From my results, the need was great, with 10 organizations available for workshops. These partner departments are:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Education
  3. Social Welfare
  4. Community Development
  5. Finance
  6. Human Rights
  7. Youth Employment
  8. Audit Services
  9. Rural Enterprises
  10. Environmental Health

After the survey of departments, I moved to performing a group presentation (step 2) to get everyone introduced to MS Excel. I went over how it looks, what can go in a worksheet, and then some basic math functions. 

I tried my best to have them involved throughout, so that it wasn’t just another presentation that would be forgotten. The highlight was the second half, when I gave them problems to solve. Luckily, one of the participants brought a laptop so along with mine, we had two to use.

I am now in the process of step 3 – creating and initiating workshops on a more personal basis. There is a lot of excitement in the department for this training, so I hope everything goes well. I am most excited to test out my teaching skills and see what results we create together.

IMPACT #2: PROJECT MANAGEMENT

It should be no surprise to anyone, who knows that I’ve been working in Project Management, what my second impact focus should be. There are many development projects occurring in the district: schools, dams, roads, health facilities, economic programs, and more.

After interviewing many government officers involved in the implementation of these projects, I received many ideas on improvement. The ideas span from before construction, during construction, and after construction. One example is to change the project handover from a dry, bureaucratic procedure to a more involved community gathering. This should help to get the community on board for the lifetime of the project.

Some ideas seem easy, while others are very lofty. Some with have a big impact, while others might not change anything. I will hope to implement some, or more realistically, one of these ideas.

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