Hopes for Uganda

1280px-Flag_of_Uganda.svgToday, I will be flying from Edmonton en route to Uganda. This will be my second time on the African continent and a new chance to explore the world of development in depth. In Ghana, my biggest take-aways were adjusting to being a first time international traveler and doing development research projects. In Nicaragua, I focused all of my time and energy leading a team of other travelers.

This time, I will have the freedom to explore and to develop projects organically, based on what I find. I will be partnering with the Kigezi Health Foundation (KIHEFO) in Kabale, Southwestern Uganda. Some potential projects include local sources of nutrition and greater access to improved water, but these may change with time.

Some of my personal goals include:

  • growing my photography skills, so that I can share my experiences with people back at home;
  • improving mt writing, through regular blog posts here; and
  • becoming a better collaborator, by interviewing people and using their points of view in my work.

Stay tuned for more in-depth reports.


Similar But Different

Canada and Nicaragua are different countries. This may seem redundant to point out, but it’s always good to start with the truth.

These two countries have different national languages, different climates, different histories, different economies, different political structures, and even different flags. Even with all these differences, they are similar in that they both have these common marks of a country. These two nations might be different in almost every possible  way, but it is also possible to see similarities in the struggle for progress that both possess. I will try to highlight three of these differences/similarities below.


One thing that you can reflect upon when
traveling outside Canada is on our use of technology. When we board a bus or other public transportation, you can purchase a ticket ahead of time and it might even stamp the time that ticket was purchased. This makes it easier for the driver as he doesn’t have to worry about collecting fares. This is doubly true if a Canadian utilizes a monthly bus pass; then all that person has to do is flash it to the driver and move on

In contrast, Nicaragua uses a person in photoplace of a machine. On our morning bus ride to work, each person would get on the bus and either find a seat or stand. After a few minutes have passed, a man (I never
saw any females doing this job), like the one in the photo, would walk through the aisle and collect the fare, which was 4 cordoba, or about 16 cents. The fare is a flat rate to ride the pass and it travels in a loop.

The Nica method has some interesting benefits. For one, the fare taker will help an elderly or pregnant women get off the bus, if they need it. They will take over for the driver, if need be. And they (along with another helper) will tell the driver when to leave. This last one is very handy if you are racing to get on and don’t want to be left behind.

It also is a tough job when the bus is 110% full and they have to walk from the front to the back with an aisle full of people, bags, and whatever else is brought on board.


If you walk through Esteli, you will see a variety of commercial establishments. Some are massive, with everything you would ever need. Some are small roadside stores selling a single product, like shoes or clothes. And some might be just a man and a cart, selling vegetables or phone accessories.

It’s even more surprising when you see all ophoto (2)f these within a few feet of one another, as in the photo to the right. PALI is a chain of supermarkets, owned by Wal-Mart, found throughout Nica. There are even larger MAXI PALI stores that are on the outskirts of town which have more room for parking.

In North America, we can sometimes romanticize the memory of “Mom and Pop” stores where you could walk in and speak with the owner. They would answer your questions and in doing so, you would build a relationship with your retailer. This is still a reality in many developing countries, where the worker behind the counter is usually the owner as well. But due to globalization and open markets, the large transnational corporations are also able to get a piece of the pie. It is an interesting contrast between large and small entrepreneurs and one that affects Canada as well.


One final contrast I found was the way construction happens.

Small-scale building, like a house or school imageblock, is more labour intensive in Nica versus the machine-intensive style you would find in Canada. Many people are skilled at construction tasks, such as excavation or building. I believe this is owed to the high cost of machinery in Nica as compared to the high cost of labour in Canada.

It is also important to note that the building
materials are different. In Canada, you find a lot of wood used in framed homes and in hardwood floors. This is a result of our easy access to lumber. In Nicaragua, the vast majority of urban homes are constructed from concrete – a mixture of sand and cement.

(On the build site, we mixed 1 bag cement : 9 buckets sand : 7 buckets gravel for foundation concrete. To make mortar for the beams and touch-ups, it was 1 bag cement : 7 buckets sand; no gravel. Both cases required water to mix.)

I highlight these examples as a means to show that all people have a shared humanity. It is easy to identify differences, but it’s just as important to consider the common thread that links different parts of the world together. We have a shared drive to improve our lives through hard work and determination.

We all have family and friends.

We all experience love and loss.

We all share this planet and are connected to one another.


A New Chapter

The past two years have seen a complete change in my life´s focus. This came about from my first international experience, working with Engineers Without Borders Canada in Ghana at the end of 2012.

The next year – 2013 – say we go in and out of different project management jobs, as I stuggled out of an engineering-focus and more into a development-focus. I attempted to get a second international placement but did not succeed. I volunteered with a number of organizations, as a way to increase my understanding of poverty and global development work.

Luckily, 2014 will be much more promising and transformative in relation to my new work focus.

I will be living and working in Nicaragua during the month of May, in partnership with Project HOPE, an Edmonton-created initiative between Ceiba Assoication and MacEwan University. Myself, my co-team leader, and 11 students will be working on the repair of 6 classrooms in Esteli, as well as the construction of a multipurpose room with the dual ability to provide a space for teacher planning and student counciling.

When I return to Canada, I hope to set out new horizons that include more travel and work in other countries. Grad school is also my intention starting in September.

Stay tuned for more updates.


Always Pack Light

This is the 3rd installment in lessons learned while travelling abroad for the first time. It may or may not be the last of what I learn along the way.

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to do a village stay in Bale. It is a small farming village with about 750 people, just northwest of Bole. To get there, I took a moto ride with my host brother, Wisdom.

On Friday, the entire community and most of the entire nation was mourning the passing of the last president, John Evans Atta Mills. So, naturally when I arrived at my host family’s house they were surrounding the tele. Not what I was expecting when going to a remote village. There were even some mud huts that were outfitted with satellite dishes to get BBC and French programming. An amazing combination of modern and traditional technologies working in harmony.

My village home

Some of the other activities that day included walking through the town to visit the local primary and secondary schools; visiting the two boreholes supplying clean, potable water to the entire community; and buying some snacks. Back at home, I was exposed to a lack of toilets, so naturally found a bush to free myself. Also devoid in the village are showers, so a bucket filled with water and a little ingenuity to clean yourself is needed. The thing that many people may find surprising is that people in Ghana actually take 2 showers each day, whether by bucket or running water. It’s one of the many cultural differences that rarely makes it onto our television programming.

On Saturday, I was fortunate enough to visit some local farms to see the unique crops that aren’t found in Canada. There’s maize, cashews, yams, ground nuts, millet, and many more. As I stopped to talk from farmer to farmer and hear about the current status of their farms, I would inevitably tell them about my own farming past. Sometimes Wisdom would drop that little bit of info if I forgot. So, naturally, they put me to the test and wanted to see how good I was at weeding around their yam mounds. By the level of laughing, I was either doing a surprisingly good job or was complete rubbish. I think I was more of the second one.

I was pleasantly surprised by the scale of some of these farms. Most were run by a single family, without fertiliser or herbicides, and an astounding amount of manual labour to clear weeds. This truly is the pinnacle of organic farming.

As I met many people and was in need of my own place in Bole, I left midday on Sunday. The ride back on moto would take about 45 minutes, with only a helmet and my death grip on the rear rack for safety. It was surprisingly smooth (most of these weekend’s surprises were a result of me going into it with a clear head and few expectations). The only downside was the backpack full of supplies that I had brought.

There were the necessities to prevent sickness: mosquito net, medicines, some clean water. Others to record the weekend’s events: camera, notebook, pens. And some other comfort items: change of clothes, sandals, iPod. All in all, this made for a heavy load for my back to burden.

If I could have done it again, I definitely would have brought less of the luxuries, like clean clothes and running shoes, as these were not needed for my survival and were under utilized. But I guess that’s called learning from your mistakes.

Onto my next adventure.


Always Arrive Early

Part 2 of my globe-trotting, “I don’t know what I’m doing here” experience.

Last Monday, I ventured from Tamale to Damongo, where I would meet another EWB volunteer – a Junior Fellow by the name of Ryan Voon. I would be job shadowing him to get a good indication of how a District Assembly operates. But before I could start learning, I needed to travel across the Ghanaian countryside.

Early in the morning, I got to the tro station and waited patiently. A tro tro is a smaller bus or van that takes people from town to town at an affordable rate; in this case it cost me 5 cedis. I got there around 6:30 am, but it didn`t depart until around 10. The downside of the affordable ticket is that you have to wait until the whole vehicle fills. If I had taken the MetroMass instead (a more luxurious Greyhound-like bus), I could have bought my ticket in advance and left at a predetermined time.

We started out of the station and on our way to Damongo. Due to some unfortunately antics that took place (kicking a passenger off the tro midway into our trip due to some arguments), we got stuck at a roadblock for 2 hours. After he joined our party and we got going again, we arrived at our final stop around 4. So, all in all, I waited for 3 hours before travelling for another 6 before getting to my stop. Keep these figures in mind for later.

Since my Monday became a wash, I could only share dinner with Ryan before retiring to my third guesthouse of the week.

At the Damongo DA, I met most of the senior officers and other staff. At lunch, we had some great discussions on the project that Ryan was working on – revenue mobilisation. Unfortunately, one day was all I had before I needed to hop on another bus to get to my own district.

So Wednesday morning rolled around and I was all packed and ready to go. Based of my previous travel experience, I was thinking that the bus that my EWB African Program Staff (APS) and coach Binnu was riding on from Tamale would take about 4 hours to get here. Boy was I wrong!

She had left at 6:30 so I was planning on leaving around 9:30 and tour the market for an hour or so. Unfortunately, my guess was way off. The MetroMass bus got to town around 9:00 making it incredibly efficient in comparison to the tro I was on. I called my local taxi driver, but no answer on the other line. (In Ghana, having the personal phone number of a few taxi drivers is very critical, especially if you go off the main road and are out late at night.)

Luckily, Ryan saved the day and had a local government employee pick me up at the guesthouse and drive me to the station. Just in time too. The bus was just rolling out as we got there.

So, moral of the story: I should have followed my own motto of `Hope for the best, plan for the worst.` The worst case in this story was a really fast bus.

Sometimes other countries can have really slow transportation systems. But other times they can be even faster than those we have at home. It is far better to be too early and wait a little extra then to be a few minutes late and completely ruin one`s plans for the day. Luckily for me, my karma was still doing a pretty good job.

Safe travels.