The first steps to my overseas work is the mandatory Engineers Without Borders pre-departure training that is required of every overseas staff. It is pretty intensive training with over 200 hours in classes, nightly homework and field trips. For the training I have moved into a medium sized town home in Toronto to bond with other African Programs Staff and immerse into the EWB vision and approach.
The actual training has been intensive so far and slightly more work than expected. Everyday our sessions start at 8:00AM / 9:00AM and go until 5:00PM / 6:00PM with a 2 hour break normally for lunch. EWB claims that the training is not training, but instead meant for learning – I tend to disagree. With session after session, and home work assignment after assignment, the little room for self reflection outside the classroom sums up intensive training to me. At the moment I am beginning to find a routine to adjust to and figure out a way to incorporate those things that I love and need to accomplish everyday.
A few people have asked me why the training is so intense and why more than just a speech about cross cultural awareness is important. Most Canadian development organizations who send overseas staff to sub-Sahara Africa simply include a few staff meetings to integrate you within the organization and a CIDA intro session on how to manage culture shock. Perhaps this is why people have been asking me why my training is so intensive.
The reality is that the development sector is really complex. There is a number of stakeholders and forces working with and against each other that need to be accounted for when attempting to find solutions to tough problems. Most consultants tend to focus on the problem at hand in a linear manner, whereas in the development sector, navigating the local context, current best practice and exercising change theory – modeling more in loops / webs is appropriate. For example, anticipating that fixing / installing a water well closer to home with safer to drink will lead to more time for income generating activites, education, better health ect. are large assumptions to make. Fixing a well is only half the battle. You have to fix the well, understand why it broke in the first place (or why there was none), convince / educate people about safe water, build the capacity of the community to manage the well and maintain it for the future. This includes cultural navigation for training, fund management, book keeping and structure for accountability. In this process there are several actors needed to be incorporated into the process – local people, local facilitators, local governments, funding suppliers / donors, consultants, markets and many more.
In the sessions so far we have reflected on our fears, fantasys and hopes for going overseas. Really delve deep to share our internal reflections and attempt to build useful tools to manage planning and important emotional triggers needed to make effective decisions. It is difficult to really think about what you want and how to get there. Most people spend a lifetime trying to figure it out. I am thankful I have a month to do so and a team willing to provide feedback, advice, and are constantly pushing me to think further.
We have been doing some practical work as well as reflection, which is good for a social scientist like me. Learning about rural livelihoods frameworks and behavioral change theory will be necessary for my work overseas. We have also begun a Behavioural Change Project that we will work on throughout the month to plan and practice actual tools to change someone’s behaviour. My project will be to change my immediate family’s perception and action towards working in sub-Sahara Africa. I am not sure what the strategy is, but I will keep you posted. I am also doing an independent research project instructed by my team lead on the roles of ministries of agriculture around the world. I think with the objective to learn about other roles MoFA can play in Ghana. I will post some more experiences and findings soon.
The title of this post was developed from an exercise where members had a ‘Eureka!’ or profound idea moment and seemingly explained it as a Gangsta’Piphany – and so now it is our team name.