Thursday, May 11, 2006

Thoughts before leaving for Zambia

Dear Reader – with all the excitement of my first Zambia blog, we’ll start with a small disclaimer.
If you are expecting excitement from this message, you may have to wait a couple weeks until I can tell you about all the cultural differences and daily challenges that would make for a really exciting read. But for now I just want to talk about some of the reasons that I am going on this placement, and what my goals are. This is mostly a personal reference that I can use to determine the success of my placement and the necessity and role of foreign influence in under-developed countries.

Why I’m going;
Through my involvement with development clubs at McMaster, from the Make Poverty History campaign and through a library of development focused reading, I have become aware of many injustices in our world. The Make Poverty History campaign has taught me that every 3 seconds a child dies due to poverty. My Political Science class taught me how the wealth and mass consumption currently enjoyed by the rich world has come from and is currently coming from an unethical use of economic force to control the actions of the poorer countries. Stephen Lewis has taught me that AIDS is killing an entire generation from Africa, and we’re doing very little about it, further more our drug companies are making money from this suffering.
These among other things have left me with a feeling of helplessness, questioning how I can sit idle as people die at the snap of a finger. When I was in India I saw this poverty first hand, much like everyone has seen on t.v. from world vision ads, or numerous campaigns asking for your money to make a difference. But unfortunately through EWB I found out that it is not as simple as just giving a donation and expecting that you will help solve these problems. You have to worry about the dependency on aid, westernization eliminating cultures, development projects that jeopardize the environment, and many failed development projects.
This placement with Engineers Without Borders is an attempt to address the feeling of helplessness that naturally comes when studying poverty and development. It is an attempt to empower myself to make change and eliminate the frustration that I got when thinking about these issues.

My Goals;
Have some sort of positive impact on the organization I’ll be working with, and the family and community I’ll be staying with.
Gain a better understanding of what Development in Africa means, and how we can have an impact.
Share my learning and experiences with as many people as are willing to listen.
Be able to tell people that the $6000 that McMaster raised and spent on my placement was well spent, and has made an impact in Zambia and in Hamilton.

The Project I’ll be working on.
Up until about two hours ago I’ve been telling people that I’ll be going to Chipata Zambia, to work with Paul Slomp and International Development Enterprises (IDE). The project in Chipata was to include drip irrigation demonstrations, field layout design optimization, and stream diversion from irrigation. However this has recently changed, but we’ve been prepared to expect constant change in development. For various reasons IDE has lost much of its funding in Zambia so the placement has been cancelled. Since the Zambian Kwacha has appreciated 40% the foreign money is not worth as much, so projects are being cut back, also some poor leadership in IDE’s head office in Denver has led to changes in allocations of funding. But a similar project will hopefully be started up in Chipata by a different Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) but it will be starting a bit later, so another volunteer will be going there.
The new project however is really exciting, I’ll be staying near Livingstone, which is the tourist capital located in Southern Zambia (home of Victoria Falls). I’ll be working with the long term volunteer Mike Quinn on the Sorghum project which is being run by CARE Zambia. This project involves trying to get a larger number of farmers growing Sorghum rather than Maize (corn). For Cultural and political reasons, Maize was made the primary crop in Zambia, now nearly the entire population eats maize porridge for every dinner, and Sorghum is considered a poor mans crop. The reason that we’re promoting Sorghum is that crop diversification is essential to prevent major food security problems. With only one crop drought and disease could have disastrous effects the food production of the entire country, also Sorghum is just as nutritious and more drought resistant. But my knowledge is somewhat limited, if you would like to read about it first hand Mike Quinn has published some amazing articles on the cbc website http://www.cbc.ca/news/viewpoint/vp_quinn/ or his latest article can be found here http://www.myewb.ca/home/ShowPost/11133 if you read these you will know as much about my placement as I do.
The really exciting thing about my placement is that CARE generally works in relief and this is one of their first projects in long term development. If this project is successful there is a lot of potential for impact on CARE’s long term strategies. Since CARE is a large influential NGO there is some serious opportunity for impact.

Some other Random Issues
Cost of Placement- The placement costs $6000, which is a pretty huge chunk, and if donated directly to the people in need it could significantly change their lives. Also this amount could employ a Zambian engineer for an entire year. So there is a lot of responsibility that comes with having this investment placed on my shoulders. It is a very different dynamic from when I went to India last year when I was paying for the trip and the entire goal was just to see the culture and have a great personal experience. This summer on my out of country insurance it says that I am a development worker and since people have donated money to EWB in order for this placement to happen, I have a lot more to live up to.
My biggest Fear- I’m not at all worried about living and working in Zambia, I am sure that people there will be very similar to people here, just some might speak a different language (although English is common). My biggest fear is that the NGO that I will be working with will have the wrong expectations of me. That they might want to me tell them what to do, and what will work and to start implementing these solutions. The philosophy that EWB uses is to ensure that we ask the right questions to help Zambians find the solutions to the problems they have. We try to build the capabilities of the Zambian people by generating change from within the people.
It will be strange to fly from across the world just to tell them that I don’t have the answers, and that they actually have them, but I’m just there to lead them to those answers.
My biggest excitement – The thing about my placement that I am most excited about is the opportunity to live with a Zambian family for the entire summer. I will be living with a family that is typical beneficiary of EWB’s projects. This should give me an awesome insight into the culture of Zambia that a tourist could never get.

Final Thought-
It was a great feeling to lug my oversized backpack to Toronto, after having it stored away for 8 months. While I am nervous about spending the summer in Zambia it is just the level of nervousness that comes with trying something new. I know the Zambian people will welcome me with open arms, and that there is nothing to worry about. I am really excited about the opportunity, and looking forward to sharing my experiences and thoughts through this blog. A huge thanks to everyone at the Mac chapter as well as my family for their awesome support and encouragement; I’ll have a great time trying to live up to all the awesome expectations.
Be sure to stay tuned for the more exciting updates, which should start in just a couple weeks.

See you all soon
Rob

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

great post rob!! it really is good to know you have those concerns in mind. i have similiar concerns working for macgreen (paid by students to do good?...) i'm sure you will make an impact and learn a lot.

i'm looking forward to reading about it and hopefully learning a lot from your trip myself. take care of yourself, and have fun too. when you get back there will have to be many stories over pints at the pheonix!
-matt

7:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm waiting, and waiting, and waiting for entry number two: My thoughts once arriving in Zambia.

Let's go!

-Kathleen

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