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CREATED & EDITED BY DAVID LI IN CONJUNCTION WITH VOLUNTEER ABROAD, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO JUNE 2011 ISSUE

SUBMISSIONS & COMMENTS TO volunteerabroad@utoronto.ca


Outgroup homogeneity effect: The tendency for people to overestimate the similarity within groups to which they do not belong. ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Breckler et al., 20061 As outsiders, we tend to lump developing nations into broad groups. We refer to “African children” or “African culture”, for example, not considering that Africa is a diverse continent of 54 nations and one billion people. The effects of these generalization processes are potentially harmful in the field of international development. We have seen in the past the harm of adopting “one size fits all” approaches in foreign policy and development. The truth is, although many communities face the same types of problems, whether disease or famine or poverty, these issues do not exist in a vacuum. Rather, they must be considered within a social and cultural context. This journal is the collective work of people from across North America who have lived and worked all over the world. These are their personal stories and memories of culture, society, and life in worlds completely removed from our own. These are the lessons they have learned from people in the best and worst of circumstances. With these stories, I hope we can all begin to better recognize and appreciate the vital role of culture in global development.

David Li University of Toronto ʼ12

1Breckler,

S., Olson, J., & Wiggins, E. (2006). Social Psychology Alive. Belmont, CA: Thomson.


Belize. It seems so long ago, yet it has only been two months since I embarked on a ten-day internship at the Institute for Sustainable International Studies in Belize, a place I yearn to return to. Here in Toronto, the cement is hard beneath my shoes. I miss the sand between my toes, the bright sun shining down and the stillness of the air as I walked along the beach in the village of Hopkins, Belize. I miss the village life, where everyone knew one another and there were nods and smiles as I walked the dirt roads. By comparison, city life back in Canada seems harsh. Noise surrounds me wherever I go. Traffic whizzes by, cars and buses honking. People are lost in their own worlds, paradoxically isolated by technology, and friendliness must be actively sought after. As I walk through Toronto, I cannot help but wonder about days long ago, when our ancestors walked the earth and animals were free to roam about, and things like busy roadways, a bustling downtown core and financial concerns didn始t exist. In Hopkins, children ran and played, making up their own games. They weren始t fixated on the latest fashions or video games, or planning the next thing to purchase. They relied on themselves, a simplicity that has long since disappeared in our society of mass consumption, our soci-


ety of turning a blind eye to the effects of overconsumption on the world around us. I miss the impromptu drum sessions we had with the Garifuna youth, where everyone gathered and the children from around the village came to take it all in. We laughed, danced and attempted to drum along. I miss the sense of community that surrounded us. I remember my first swim in

the ocean. My friend knew I was scared to swim, and stayed by my side to make sure I was okay. I miss jumping the waves as they came crashing around us, and the laughter when I accidentally swallowed sea water and said, “I think I have had my quota of salt for the next month or so.” Here in the city, the cement is hard beneath my shoes, but there is a smile on my face because Belize and the people I met there are memories I will never forget. ■

Christine McFarlane University of Toronto ʼ11


Botswana. 93,000 AIDS orphans and 16,000 HIV-positive children as of 2009. 3,228 refugees and asylum seekers as of 2010. 45 years of stable democracy. Nameless, faceless, voiceless statistics. This was the mental profile I carried of Botswana as I set foot in the country for the first time. By the end of my twelve weeks in Botswana, I would be able to recall these statistics, not by their numbers, but by the lasting relationships I was fortunate enough to build. The HIV-positive youth I volunteered with; five-year-old Naledi*, an orphan who took me by the hand to show me her home at SOS Childrenʼs Villages Tklokweng, a community of family-based foster homes; and the child refugees from Zimbabwe who shared their stories with me and many others. The organization I interned with was DITSHWANELO–The Botswana Centre for Human Rights. Although most of my time with DITSHWANELO was spent analyzing Botswanaʼs laws and policies related to child trafficking, corporal punishment, child support and refugeesʼ rights, one of my most memorable experiences was or-

ganizing Childrenʼs Rights Exhibitions at two junior secondary schools. With my colleagues, I spoke to more than 1,000 students about the political violence conducted under the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. The Exhibitions were started by DITSHWANELO and a German artist, Mr. Goetz Berger, in 2008 to honour Zimbabwean children who were forced to flee political repression when Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai went head-to-head in the national presidential elections. DITSHWANELO interviewed some of these uprooted children in an effort to determine the reasons for their displacement. Each childʼs story was unique and heartbreaking, imbued with vulnerability. One child was forced to campaign for Mugabeʼs party; others fled with their parents, who supported Tsvangirai; still others took flight alone after their parents disappeared. We shared these stories with students attending each Exhibition. We also shared photographs taken by Amnesty International that documented human rights abuses committed against *A pseudonym.


supporters of Tsvangirai, human rights activists, and journalists. Yet, included among these images of destruction were messages of inspiration, personal resilience and faith penned by Zimbabweʼs displaced children. DITSHWANELO hopes that increasing empathy for and understanding of the plight of Zimbabweans will reduce the xenophobia routinely encountered by refugees. What better way to start building a culture of human rights than first amongst the future generation of national leaders? I was inspired by the strength of the Batswana

childrenʼs own convictions about human rights and the willingness of Zimbabwean students to share their stories, often with a maturity far beyond their years. Several children dissolved into tears, and the schoolʼs guidance counselors remained on hand to provide emotional support. One student I had spoken to at the school showed up at DITSHWANELOʼs office days later, looking for more information about childrenʼs rights. She spent an entire Friday afternoon poring over the resources in our library, popping into my office with questions now and then. That af-


ternoon, I felt as though I had helped spark at least one childʼs curiosity or social conscience; I felt that I had made an impact. Instantly, all the hours spent organizing the event seemed completely worthwhile. One of my biggest challenges in Botswana was reconciling my own beliefs with the plurality of perspectives on human rights. The overall aim of human rights work is, of course, to do good while avoiding those two dreaded words in international

development: “ethnocentrism” and “hegemony.” While I was lucky that DITSHWANELOʼs values fell in line with my own, I recognize that many Batswana view human rights as neocolonial and culturally insensitive. It is up to the Batswana, then, to find a way of bridging universality and cultural relativity -- two warring world-views -- for the benefit of the human condition. There is no end to the personal, professional and academic lessons I learned in Botswana. But, unequivocally, the most valuable lesson was learning to “put a human face on development,” a concept that activists have strived for since the failure of structural adjustment. It is, to me, an ideal that is impossible to achieve without recognition of the “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family,” as expressed by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. The burden lies on the shoulders of the next generation of leaders, whether Batswana or Canadian, to bring these statements to fruition. ■

Jesse Firempong University of Ottawa ʼ11


Burkina Faso. Volunteering with the United States Peace Corps in Burkina Faso, West Africa was an eyeopening experience that has shaped not only my perception of the world, but my purpose in life. Burkina Faso literally translates, in two of its six official tribal languages, to “land of the honest man”, and it couldnʼt hold more validity -- the people are so kind, so generous. I worked in community health development, and my experience was humbling and truly invaluable. Seeing people live in such different conditions touched me deeply and gave me a greater understanding of what life is really about. Burkina has three top threes worldwide: 1st highest illiteracy rate; 2nd highest infant mortality rate; 3rd least developed country; and technically one more: most diarrhea cases for Peace Corps volunteers worldwide, an unfortunate truth I soon discovered. Burkina is poor. People didnʼt have a lot, but they were happy. There werenʼt

many cars; travel was mostly via moto or bicycle. People strapped goods, including furniture, to their bikes and performed a balancing act to get home. There was no electricity in the villages, so we used kerosene lamps at night, which made the rooms even hotter than they already were. The first time I went into the village, I remember feeling like I was on a Broadway set. The houses


were made of dirt and donkey dung, finished with tin roofs. Toilets and showers were nonexistent. You lived with the animals -- chickens, cows, goats, donkeys, all in the courtyard. Not all children went to school, and the ones who did often walked miles to get there. Life was work. The activities of the day revolved around the tasks of life: pumping water from the well, cooking, sweeping dirt, farming, taking care of the children, biking many miles to the city for

goods, and washing clothes by hand, which was surprisingly difficult and time consuming. After a few days of this routine, I was amazed that I had never heard anyone complain, not even the children. You couldn't get an American child to even begin to do some of the things I saw children do in Burkina. It is an incredible amount of work to sustain a family -- and everyone still made it a point to pray five times a day! Sleep was not a priority; people retired around eleven in the evening after a long day of work and chores, and woke up long before the sun had risen to do it all over again. It was humbling. Some days were so challenging I wanted to scream, and other days were so amazing that I felt there was no other place in the world IĘźd rather have been. Most days, however, I just felt exhausted from biking five miles to the market and back, learning two languages at once, and being surrounded by people all day. There was so much to learn and take in. All in all, it was an experience I will never forget and that I will take with me wherever I go. â– 

Lacey Greathead University of Miami Ęź10


Cambodia. I first met Siphen and Mach Meas in the fall of 2009. I was traveling with Pacific Discovery, a small study abroad agency that specializes in meaningful experiential travel. We were on a two month educational volunteer trip and had just entered Cambodia from Vietnam. We planned to stay with the Meas family at their home in Takeo Province for four days in order to volunteer at a school and build a toilet for a local family. Both Siphen and Mach were survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide and good friends of Scott and Rachel, the directors of Pacific Discovery. Their home was built amongst rice fields very near a small pond that had been created by a US B-52 bomb dropped in the early 1970驶s, as we were informed over dinner the first night. I was not entirely sure what to expect before meeting the Meas family. I knew that they had a long friendship with Pacific Discovery, and I had heard that the volunteer work at their location was amazingly rewarding. Yet, having never met anyone from Cambodia before and knowing little of Khmer history, I was entirely blown away by the Meas始 kindness and willingness to teach us

about their life. Siphen told us her family始s story: one brother brutally killed by the Khmer Rouge, another brother lost for over 15 years, and the whole family starved and living in constant fear between the years 1975-1979. Mach told us that these stories were common among Cambodians. Every single Khmer person was affected by the years of civil war, genocide, US air raid bombings and poverty. I remember thinking to myself, how does a family and an entire society recover from this kind of mass violence? The Meas were educators in every sense of the word. Everyday, they taught at Takeo schools. They held bi-weekly meetings in Phnom Penh to address issues plaguing the Cambodian education system. They built a small school outside of their home that they ran as Hope For Happiness, an NGO that combines English language instruction with other life skills. They taught at Hope for Happiness everyday after work, and it was always packed with children thirsting for knowledge. The Meas also set up a toilet-building project because 80% of the families in the region did not have toilets or access to clean water.


They were the Cambodian administrators of Book for Cambodia, a New Zealand and Cambodian-run NGO that had built six libraries in the region. All the while, the Meas balanced raising a family, helping out in the local Buddhist temple, and welcoming volunteers with open arms. During our time with the Meas, our team taught English and basic health education, built a toilet,

learned to cook delicious Khmer foods, and sat every night with our amazing new friends, playing games and trading stories. These were without a doubt the best moments of my life. Through the Meas, I realized that, by truly loving oneĘźs family and community and having respect for the people of this world, one can accomplish so much in a single day, not to mention in a lifetime. The morning we left, I sat by the pond, admiring the gorgeous water lilies and lotus flowers that now nearly completely covered the surface of the water. This is what it takes, I remember thinking to myself. This is how you change the world. You plant something special, work as hard as you can with what you have, and believe that it will make a difference. Even this lily pond, created by the destructive power of an American bomb, had become something beautiful. I will be forever grateful to the Meas family and Pacific Discovery for allowing me to have this opportunity. It was, and still is, unparalleled in my life. â– 

Hillary Sites University of Oregon


Ghana. Have you ever seen a patient with ulcers covering his entire leg? Have you ever cleansed those ulcers with ointment and gauze, and sprayed bug spray on them to ward off the insects? I have; it was all in the job description as an international medical volunteer with BaseCamp International Centers. I have also gauzed infected penises, helped stitch various body parts, and even assisted in the circumcision of a baby boy! But none of these experiences were as emotionally powerful as my time with Sarah. Sarah was 12-years-old and HIV-positive. She came into the treatment ward to have her ulcers and infections cleaned and treated. She had several deep holes along her back and underneath her buttocks. The nurses and I dipped thinlyrolled gauze into those holes, cleaning pus and various bacterial infections. I was scared. I knew I had to be strong, confident, and comforting, but I feared that a small mistake could put my own life in danger. One afternoon, as I was helping to cleanse her ulcers, pus splashed and nearly reached my face. For

about five minutes, I stayed calm because I didnʼt want to scare Sarah or make her feel uneasy. But slowly, I began to feel nauseated and my body became numb. I stopped seeing and hearing. I collapsed. At that moment, I wasnʼt scared or sick, but embarrassed. I had wanted to put a smile on Sarahʼs face, and I was afraid I had let her down. We had become friends during her daily visits to the treatment ward. Although there was a language barrier, we still managed to greet each other and share stories and laughter. Fearing our friendship was crushed, the day after my collapse, I awkwardly muttered, “Ete sen, Sarah?” How are you, Sarah? Sarah responded, not with awkwardness, but with a huge smile. She reassured me that she was fine and that she understood my reaction. I was amazed by her strength. Living in Ghana for two months, I would say the most important lesson I learned was to be modest. Whether one was rich or poor, college educated or undereducated, sick or healthy -- there were always things to be learned from others. I learned to see situations completely removed


from my life in Canada as perfectly normal. For example, I initially didnĘźt think I could live without a bath or shower for more than a week. I hated drinking water out of small plastic pouches rather than from the tap. Tro-tros, a common form of public transportation in Ghana, were uncomfortable, and I was shocked to see chickens crossing the street like humans. After a month, all of these things became normal, and even wellloved. I loved the plastic water bags and the breeze I felt riding the tro-tros. I no longer bothered to walk away from the chickens. It was culture, and I was embracing it. I realize now that I was not simply volunteering in Ghana. I was living in a new culture, understanding life outside of my own, learning a new definition of normal -- and enjoying every single moment of it. â– 

Justina Lee University of Toronto Ęź12


Ghana. I spent four months in Ghana during the summer of 2009. I remain so grateful to have had the opportunity to immerse myself in such a rich and powerful culture. The majority of my time was spent at La General Hospital in the capital city of Accra, where I rotated weekly from ward to ward. I also volunteered at the West Africa AIDS Foundation and worked on the Orphans and Vulnerable Children Project. Lastly, I participated in a program called “Ghana Ethnomusicology�, hosted by the University of Alberta, that took place at the University of Ghana, where I studied Ghanaian culture, politics, history, language and, of course, music. Due to the length of my trip, it is difficult for me to pinpoint one specific memorable experience, as there were so many rewarding and eye-opening moments. I value such experiences as working with patients in the hospital, dancing and drumming with local musicians under the scorching heat of the Ghanaian sun, traveling to rural communities for outreach, spending time with the locals, and learning about the culture. Roland, one of my favourite lab technicians at the hospital, chatted with me daily about life. We shared many conversations about the improvements that he wanted


to implement at the laboratory. After speaking with my other colleagues in the lab, I began to realize that they had many ideas to improve their workplace, their government, and their country as a whole. As my passion for development work increases, reflecting on these experiences has helped me understand that, although Westerners may think they know the best way to improve and aid “Africa”, locals also hold strong opinions that must be heard.

Learning about daily life and, more specifically, health in Ghana brought me to the realization that I had been taking my life in Canada for granted. Here at home, we enjoy reliable health care and effective treatments and resources. In my experience, these are things that many Canadians rarely sit back to appreciate. The Ghanaians taught me to reflect and appreciate the beauty of life in both the best and worst of circumstances. ■

Linda Sun Queenʼs University ʼ12


Morocco. WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 26, 2009 RABAT, MOROCCO “To love is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.” -- Emily Dickinson The sun is shining, the wind is blowing, and itʼs another beautiful day here in Morocco. I have yet to use the sweatshirt and raincoat I packed -never mind the one long sleeve I brought “just in case”. After all, this is AFRICA! Today was another eye-opener at the orphanage. After feeding several gorgeous newborns, I made a mad dash down to the toddler room. Since most girls are adopted by 18 months of age, I entered a room full of boys and a few disabled girls. I was placed in charge of “Speed Racer” and “Koala Bear”, otherwise known as Safeen and Nasir, respectively. Safeen spent most of his time running around, grinning mischievously as he watched me chase after him with his buddy on my hip. I was rescued from my chase by another volunteer, and I decided to spend some one-onone time with my quiet Koala Bear.

Nasir latches onto you with both hands in a grip that cannot be broken. He is about 15 months old and his eyes are half-shut most of the time with the most sorrowful look on his face. The second you sit down or, heaven forbid, set him down alone on the ground, he begins to let out a sad little cry that doesnʼt stop until heʼs up and swaying in your arms again. Today was my first day with him and I decided to rock him while sitting and singing, “Draw me close to you, never let me go…” Nasirʼs crying slowly dissipated; he leaned his head against my chest as I continued to slowly rock and sing to him. When I stopped, he leaned his head back and looked up at me. He put his pointer finger on my lips and gently opened my mouth. When I started singing again, he held his gaze first on my moving lips and then on my eyes. My voice cracked and tears streamed down my face as I looked into those sorrowful eyes. I wished I could take all the pain away and lift the burden off of his tiny little shoulders.


“Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree…” It is hard not to get angry or upset when one wonders why abandonment and suffering are happening to such little souls. I can only give

them as much love as possible and try bring a smile to their faces. I can hold faith that Nasir will join the 25% of abandoned children who are eventually adopted, and that someone will love him very much. After all, that is exactly what faith is: hope in that which one cannot see. POSTED BY NICOLE AT 3:33PM 2 COMMENTS Authorʼs note: The following summer, Nasirʼs mother came to the orphanage and brought him back home. ■

Nicole Griswold Bellevue College ʼ13


Namibia. In February 2011, three University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) faculty members visited the University of Namibia (UNam) to help faculty there develop active teaching and learning strategies. This was made possible with financial support from Academics for Higher Education and Development (AHED). The UPEI team facilitated a course in “how to teach at university” to 85 incoming college teachers, as well as work-

shops in active teaching and learning strategies to 25 lecturers from the UNam Faculty of Science. One UNam lecturer told us, “There are 1000 students and a 75% failure rate in my firstyear math class.” Recognizing these enormous resource challenges, UNam has since asked UPEI to return to help set up academic programs, such as student mentoring and tutoring, to address these high failure rates. One of many unique experiences was a visit to the home of a Namibian family. Every family member helped prepare and serve a traditional meal. The meal began with our host pouring warm water from a silver pitcher onto our hands. We then dined on fresh wild spinach stew and ground millet, using our hands until we embarrassed ourselves and were offered utensils. The main course of baked chicken and freshly slaughtered goat was a most distinct culinary experience. Our hosts then took us outside to a thatched hut where they demonstrated how food is prepared using traditional tools.


At UNam, Larry helped out in the first-year biology laboratories. “It wasnʼt long before students started showing up at my office for help with lecture materials from both my lab course as well as biology courses I wasnʼt even teaching. I even saw a couple of chemistry students,” he says. “Among them were graduate students. These students sometimes didnʼt receive sufficient time with their UNam faculty and supervisors to go over experimental protocols or review results. I was able to sit with students for hours at a time, discussing things they needed advice on to advance their research. I came away from this experience realizing that a key impediment to quality education in a developing country is the lack of qualified people to provide sufficient supervision to eager and talented students.” Since access to current textbooks and teaching materials is limited at UNam, UPEIʼs computer science department has been instrumental in providing teaching resources. Wayne discovered

that UNam faculty member John Magenya was preparing lectures for a database management systems course using the same classroom textbook as UPEI. “I teach this course on a regular basis,” says Wayne, “so I have a complete set of lectures notes, student reference materials, and student assignments. A couple of days later, I returned to his office with the course material. His preparation time was drastically reduced! Rather than spending endless hours just writing class notes, he could instead think about course objectives and strategies for delivering concepts.” Our visit to UNam has given us an appreciation for the role that technology and the Internet can play in overcoming pedagogical issues faced by many developing countries. By establishing and nurturing relationships among faculty and students, teaching resources can easily be shared, courses not otherwise available to students can be delivered, and faculty and student research opportunities can be explored. ■

Barbara Campbell

Wayne Cutcliffe

Larry Hale

Associate Professor UPEI

Associate Professor UPEI

Associate Professor UPEI


Nepal. It was midmorning and I was accompanying my friend and colleague on his Intensive Care Unit rounds at the hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal. I was in Nepal for the first time as a volunteer to provide faculty development and curriculum planning for a medical school project. We stopped at the bed of a young girl. She was around 12 years old, but looked 8. She was wearing a dirty salwar kameeze tunic top, her hair cropped very short and spiky, as though it hadnʼt been washed in a while. There were dirt smudges on her chin and elbow. Her spindly legs were sticking out of her tunic, her right lower leg wrapped in bandages. She looked feverish and was sleeping fitfully. I asked Arjun what had happened to her. He said that she had been hit by a car the day before and, as a result, they had amputated most of her foot. He was concerned about an infection at the wound site and worried that they would have to amputate more of her foot (they later removed her lower leg). Having visited the orthopedic hospital outside Kathmandu earlier that same week, I had visions

of crutches and prosthetics in mind when I asked Arjun, “What will happen to her?” What I meant was, “How will she get around?” and “Will she need crutches or will she get a prosthetic foot?” He turned and fixed his tired eyes on mine. “Iʼm not sure you appreciate the full extent of this injury for her,” he said. He went on to explain that she was the daughter of a poor rural couple; they had likely been bringing in produce to sell in the city when she was injured. The fact that she had had her foot amputated meant that, in the eyes of her family, she would likely not marry or be able to work for wages, and therefore would become a burden. There was no malice in those observations, just the cold reality of a poor family living in a desperately impoverished part of a developing country. The cost of anything beyond keeping her alive would be beyond her familyʼs means. I have since volunteered in Nepal once a year, on average, for twelve years now. Yet this single experience in 1999 remains vivid in my mind and emblematic of the disparity between rural and urban life. To this day, it makes me wonder what


determines our chance of birth. The little girl, had she been born into a more affluent family, would have had access to better health care, sustained medications, rehabilitation, prosthetic devices, education, and an opportunity for a more positive future -- so many more choices. Life in rural Nepal is difficult, and there is very lit-

tle room for injury or accidents. The doctors do their very best to treat the poor and underserved, but at some point, the patients are discharged and have to navigate the hurdles, both literal and figurative, as best they can. And I am left to ponder the genetic toss of the dice that provided me with so many more choices than the little girl in the ICU. â– 

Carol Ann Courneya Associate Professor University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine


Nepal. On March 27, 2011, I travelled to Kathmandu, Nepal. I knew beforehand that I would be spending the next month teaching 58 medical students at a brand new medical school in Patan, a neighbouring city to Kathmandu. As a Medical Geneticist, Medical Educator and Faculty Developer, I was prepared for my role as a volunteer faculty member at the Patan Academy of Health Sciences (PAHS). I had funding from Academics for Higher Education and Development (AHED) and all of my necessary vaccinations -- minus the rabies. (This will become relevant shortly!) I was prepared, yet I still could not have anticipated everything that I did and learned. During my time in Nepal, I learned so much by watching problem-based learning (PBL) implemented in this new context, and by comparing it to my own teaching in Canada. PBL is a pedagogical strategy in which small groups of eight students each work with one faculty member to solve a problem. Students are expected to work together as a team to research and solve the problem, learning communication skills along the way. PBL requires a lot of discussion, which is facilitated by a tutor. I was struck by the fact that the Nepalese students had to not only embark on a brand new way of learning, a challenge in and of itself, but they also had to do so in English. I was also


struck by the local cultural reticence and began to feel that perhaps PBL was not the best learning strategy for some cultures. Perhaps this wasnʼt a “one size fits all” pedagogical method. Finally, I was surprised to see an overconfidence in students during PBL discussions regarding their own prior knowledge of specific issues. The students didnʼt rely on evidence and were extremely confident, even when questioned by the faculty or when their assertions were clearly wrong. The other students followed and believed their peers. So interesting and different than Canadian medical students! In between work duties, we ventured out into the surrounding areas to take in the sights. I travelled by public transportation to Dhulikhel, visited temples, met friends in Thamel, met a few wonderful children at the Sonrisa orphanage, and even trekked part of the Helambu trail. Then, one fateful day, I visited Pashupatinath, a world famous Hindu temple and UNESCO World Heritage site -- fascinating, beautiful, and home to crazed monkeys! Perhaps my blog can explain it best:


Well, it happened. I was the stupid tourist who was attacked by a monkey right outside the Pashupatinath temple.  Okay, attacked may be a bit strong of a word, but it was close! It grabbed my skirt and very threateningly and aggressively yelled and hissed at me.  And what did I do?  I yelled "Katie, Katie, Katie!" over and over until Katie came and scared the monkey away. Wow. Who knew I would freeze, not do anything,

and just yell for my friend to save me? I would like to emphasize that we were not doing anything to the monkeys at all when this happened. We were not feeding them or trying to touch them or any other stupid thing. I think they were just expecting us to give them food and the one aggressive female was upset when we didn't.  Now I am afraid of monkeys... great... ■

Jane Gair Senior Instructor University of Victoria UBC Faculty of Medicine


Tanzania. I recently completed a volunteer placement with Youth Challenge International (YCI) in Morogoro, Tanzania. We participated in a wide variety of projects with local partner organizations, mostly centered on HIV/AIDS prevention, active citizenship, and gender empowerment. Although I enjoyed my placement and believe we did valuable work, I did at times grow frustrated with seeing slow, incremental changes when I really wanted instantaneous results. One day, I was in my office working away on reports when “Dr. Lucy”, the founder of our partner NGO and a Tanzanian Member of Parliament, tapped on the door and asked if she could come in and meet the new volunteers. I invited her in and we had a long discussion about the type of work she does for women and children all over Tanzania. At one point, she referred to a mutual acquaintance of ours who provided home-based care for people living with HIV in Morogoro. “Did you know she used to be a sex-worker?” Dr. Lucy asked. I was surprised by her candour but still managed to answer no, that I had no idea.

Undeterred, Dr. Lucy continued with her story. “Yes. She was one of many sex workers we were able to find work for. In fact, there were more than 1,200 women like her; most now live up north. And you know, we never could have done that without CIDA*.” I couldnʼt help but feel a strong sense of pride at her words, knowing that my country and the organizations I worked for had made such profound differences in the lives of more than one thousand women. All these women had wanted was a safe, reliable source of income to provide for themselves and their families, and my organizations had helped to make that happen. It was at this point that I mentioned how impressed I was to see the commitment of Tanzanians in honouring International Womenʼs Day in March, a day that is not widely acknowledged in Canada. In Tanzania, this day was commemorated with parades and guest speakers. I was especially proud to see all of our students from the school I volunteered at participating in the parade. *Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)


“Did anyone offer you a T-shirt?” Dr. Lucy asked. I told her that I wasnʼt aware we had T-shirts for the event. “Theyʼre old,” she answered. “We used them at the parade a few years ago, but there might still be some left. Let me look around for you and if

there are any left, Iʼll see about getting you one.” I thanked her but wasnʼt confident in getting a Tshirt before I had to return to Canada. However, she surprised me by arranging for another volunteer to deliver a Tanzanian International Womenʼs Day T-shirt on my last night in Morogoro. I still wear it to this day. ■

Sarah-Leanne Deslippe University of Ottawa ʼ11


Uganda. During the summer of 2009, I worked on community health initiatives in an eastern Ugandan village with the Uganda Village Project. I worked with a team consisting of one Ugandan volunteer and three students from the United States. We lived in a house in the village of Bugabula. Our work to improve community health in Bugubula had many components, including educational outreach for various health issues, setting up supply chains for mosquito nets and water treatment chemicals, organizing the construction of a shallow well, and coordinating an HIV testing day. Upon arrival in the village, there were various challenging aspects we had to become accustomed to. We quickly adapted to such environmental changes as living with no electricity or running water. What we found more challenging was modifying our expectations and approaches to “getting things done.� My team members and I were idealistic and eager to ac-

complish much during our limited time in the village. Forging forth enthusiastically, we worked hard to prepare our first educational outreach. To our dismay, only a few people had showed up by our planned starting time. While we waited, we became increasingly worried about the poor turnout and whether we should proceed as scheduled, continue waiting, or reschedule altogether. However, some team members began going around from home to home with a local village leader to mobilize people to attend the outreach.


Although it took a couple of hours, we eventually had a sizable crowd gathered to hear our health presentation. As the summer progressed, we learned to focus less on adhering to schedules and more on slowly building relationships in the community. Rather than being distractions from our work, our morning conversations with the village women while pumping water at the borehole and the hours we spent playing with children in the yard

helped us learn and become more integrated into the local culture and community. We were also extremely fortunate in that the village leaders were motivated to do all they could to help their community, and were therefore willing to aid us in our efforts. These relationships were essential to our progress in various endeavors. The village leaders also became part of a Healthy Villages Team that continued, even after our departure, to promote beneficial health practices through working year-round with Uganda Village Project staff. I continually reflect back upon the personal impact of living and learning in Uganda. The positive experiences I had have encouraged my desire to work in developing countries in the future, despite the challenges. I have also tried to apply the lessons I learned in Uganda to other areas of my life, realizing that investing in people can ultimately be more worthwhile than focusing on objectives. â– 

Crystal Shen Mayo Medical School Ęź13


Uganda. I had been interning on the maternity ward of the regional referral hospital in Masaka, Uganda for almost three and half months. One morning, I entered the Neonatal Special Care Unit to find a mother standing over the crib of her newborn twin babies. I could see that she was very poor and, although she spoke to me in Luganda, I understood perfectly that she was concerned for her babies and wanted assistance. After three months in Uganda, I still knew very little Luganda, but I had come to understand very well the desperate look of concern, the subtle pleading gestures, and the dreadful haunting sound of sorrow in a country with maternal and infant mortality rates among the highest in the world. I went out into the halls, feeling deeply frustrated by my own inability to help. I tried to persuade a nurse or doctor to treat the motherʼs newborns. Sadly, I was met, as was often the case, with “Thatʼs not my area” or “Iʼm busy.” It was several hours before I returned to find Prossy, the special care nurse, with babies literally piled around her. She was cannulating and

medicating them one by one. I noticed that one of the twins from earlier had died. Anger flared inside of me. I felt so bitter for the mother who had stood humbly over her babies, powerless and forced to wait for someone else to care for them. I was on the brink of launching into an emotionally charged tirade when I realized that it wouldnʼt be of help to anyone. I took a deep breath and asked, “What can I do?” Prossy asked if I could remove the dead baby to make room for those who still needed treatment. She explained to me that she had put the other twin on oxygen; she was trying hard to save it so that the mother could leave with at least one baby. To our dismay, when she lifted back the blanket that covered the premature infant, we found that it was mysteriously no longer on oxygen. Our bewilderment was only overshadowed by the sinking realization that the only things the mother was going to be leaving with were two tiny corpses wrapped in dirty sheets. Prossy was devastated. She dropped her head to rest on the edge of the crib. She was exhausted.


I slowly began removing the cannulas from the twins始 tiny veins and the nasogastric tubes from their nostrils. I took care to fold and place all but two of the soiled sheets on the shelf beneath the crib. The hospital did not supply sheets or blankets, so babies were wrapped in whatever the

family could afford to bring them in. Like many other infants, the twins slept in a sea of rags. By tidying the sheets, I was trying to lighten the mother始s burden in some small way. The tension was palpable in the small waiting


room full of anxious mothers and, as I slipped on a pair of gloves, I felt as though all eyes were on me. I was acutely aware of the look of distress and sadness permeating every crease of my face as I lifted the first twin from the blanket. I was not prepared for how cold the tiny body felt in my hands. Perhaps I had naively expected my gloves to camouflage that distinctive feeling death leaves on a body. I gently maneuvered the baby, wrapping and folding the sheet around its small body, and closed it off from the world. While I was wrapping the second twin in a dirty sheet, Prossy placed another baby swaddled in a bright blue fleece blanket next to mine. I didnʼt understand why at the time, but the direct contrast of the thin, stained veil enclosing my baby with the warm, vibrant fleece of the other infantʼs blanket made me uncomfortable. I finished wrapping the babies and placed them on the shelf below the crib where I had earlier placed the folded blankets. It was only later that I realized that the contrast between the two blankets drove home

just how very poor my twins were. Their mother had sought help only after her babies failed to breathe and respond as healthy newborns should. They were covered in straw and wrapped in old T-shirts and dirty rags. While speaking of the experience with fellow interns, I was surprised to hear myself expressing sorrow over the fact that, despite the motherʼs efforts, the babies had died in the end. In my mind, they had died because they were poor. Although I overtly considered this thinking irrational and oversimplistic, my heart told me that this mother and her babies had somehow been cheated. Level of income, access to transportation, education level, spousal support, and other social factors have an unquestionable impact on a babyʼs odds of survival. In fact, the dead babies in their dirty sheets were but a microcosm of the correlation between poverty and death that is so true for much of the African continent and, indeed, the world. ■

Sadie St. Denis York University ʼ07


Get involved. Academics for Higher Education and Development (AHED-UPESED) http://www.ahed-upesed.org BaseCamp International Centers http://www.basecampcenters.com Books for Cambodia http://www.booksforcambodia.org Canadian International Development Agency http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca Cross-Cultural Solutions http://www.crossculturalsolutions.org DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights http://www.ditshwanelo.org.bw

Patan Academy of Health Sciences http://www.pahs.edu.np SOS Childrenʼs Villages http://www.soschildrensvillages.ca The AIDS Support Organization http://www.tasouganda.org Uganda Village Project http://www.ugandavillageproject.org United States Peace Corps http://www.peacecorps.gov University of Ghana http://www.ug.edu.gh University of Namibia http://www.unam.na

Institute for Sustainable International Studies (ISIS Belize) http://www.isisbelize.com

West Africa AIDS Foundation, Queenʼs Chapter https://www.facebook.com/waafqueenschapter

Pacific Discovery http://www.pacificdiscovery.org

Youth Challenge International http://www.yci.org


Journal of International Experiences - June 2011