Between 2008 and 2015, UBC partnered with Uniterra to send six UBC staff members to volunteer in developing countries on an annual basis. Although UBC will not be sending volunteers this year, we hope you enjoy reading about the projects that UBC staff have collaborated on around the world over the past seven years.
Leave for Change at UBC
By Jodi Scott on April 16, 2015
Normally when I travel, I am with my husband, Tom. He always has a camera with him – and I am generally waiting around while he is stopping to take photo after photo. I have to admit that I sometimes get a bit impatient.
But – in Vietnam, I was there without Tom – and I had (perhaps foolishly?) told some people that I would try to make a video about my experience. For the first time, I was the photographer. And I didn’t really like it. Turns out, it is hard to get a good shot and you have to keep remembering to take pictures. In the end, my strategy was to just take lots and hope for the best.
After I got home, Tom helped me put together the video about my Leave for Change experience. Okay – maybe he did most of the putting together part – but as I said, I supplied the pictures and the video footage from Vietnam. Here it is… I hope you like it.
By Jodi Scott on March 20, 2015
My 3 weeks in Vietnam have come to an end – and I am back in Ho Chi Minh City, flying home tomorrow. The time at the University has gone remarkably fast – culminating in a workshop that looked at Creating a Strategic Plan for their Green Campus vision. We had about 25 people attend – and apparently, since everyone came back after the 30 minute “tea break”, it was considered quite successful. There was actually quite a bit of discussion in the group work sessions and some very good ideas and information shared.
As with many things at Tra Vinh University, there was a formal opening and closing. I got flowers and a certificate – and had many pictures taken with all of the participants. And then many pictures of just me!
Later that evening, there was a formal leaving dinner, with 2 of the Vice Rectors, more gifts and a cake. I shared that dinner with Jennifer, another volunteer who also left Tra Vinh this week.
I feel very fortunate to have had my Leave for Change experience in Tra Vinh. It is a bit out of the way and there is very limited tourism. This meant that I had the chance to really observe and be part of daily Vietnamese life. My time here was filled with friendly, welcoming people who were eager to share their town and culture. At the University, the work I did helping them put a framework to their Sustainability Planning was truly welcomed – and I look forward to seeing where they are in a few years.
But – right now, I am thinking about getting home – and back to my own University planning. See you all soon.
By Shazeen Hasham on March 13, 2015
So I’m here. It has been a couple of weeks already (sorry I haven’t written sooner) but time here seems to be fleeting at an exponential rate…even more so than at home. A few months ago, when I received the call from Uniterra letting me know they have agreed to send me to Hai Phong Community College (HPCC) to be their Testing and Assessment Methodology Advisor, I couldn’t believe it. I can barely believe it still, but here I am. So much has happened already…
To begin, Simona (another Leave4Change volunteer) and I arrived in Hanoi after traveling for some 20 hours. We met up with the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) team at their office in Hanoi to get the low-down on how to proceed with our mandates. My mandate was going to take place in the city of Hai Phong, which is about 100km outside of Hanoi, by the coast. My first impression of Hai Phong was that it was not quite as chaotic and polluted as Hanoi, but a close second. It is the 3rd largest populated city in Vietnam (Thanks Wikipedia). The city has a pulse that beats until the wee hours of the night, everyday of the week. Stepping outside of my hotel at any hour (not that I did very often) I could find pho stands and bahn mi sandwiches just about everywhere. I’m getting side tracked… food does that to me. More about that on another post. Trust me; it needs its own post.
When I arrived at HPCC, I was greeted by Mr. Le Canh Phong, Dean of Foreign Languages and Informatics Department. We then proceeded to their board room where I met much of the faculty I would be working with over the next few weeks. This included HPCC’s Rector, Dr. Dong Tho Thanh, who very warmly welcomed me to their college. Despite the language barrier, Dr. Thanh expressed his happiness and gratitude at having me work with them over the next few weeks. In this initial meeting, Dr. Thanh stated the overall goal is to make improvements within the programs which will result in higher standards of education and overall satisfaction with the programs. Indirectly, this will lend to strengthening the working force and economy. In terms of my role, he asked that I share some of the evaluation and survey practices used in Canadian education institutions, namely UBC. He also asked that I work closely with the faculty to review the current methods of evaluations and begin the process of formulating a satisfaction survey for students who have graduated from the college as well as a teaching evaluation form. Lastly, he asked that I present this all to the faculty and staff near the end of my mandate. I was very pleased to hear that my mandate resembles much of the work I currently do at UBC. I was excited to begin working, but first, we had to have lunch!
Dr. Thanh and the staff and faculty of HPCC invited me, the two other (long-term) volunteers and Hanh (from the WUSC office) to a traditional Vietnamese lunch. In honour of the fact that I don’t eat pork or much seafood, Dr. Thanh informed me that all the dishes they ordered would be chicken. I was so touched by that gesture! There was probably about 20 dishes and rice wine to make everything better. It was fabulous! They already knew the way to my heart!
By Jodi Scott on March 13, 2015
The floor in my guesthouse room is very clean tonight. It sort of accidentally got cleaned when I flooded my room doing laundry this afternoon. I was working in the other room and didn’t even notice anything was wrong until I got up to get a drink and realized there were large puddles in my bedroom/kitchen. And since my bathroom is about 2 inches lower than that room and was full to overflowing, there was a lot of water not going anywhere.
I grabbed my handy Vietnamese phrase book and scanned through looking for words that might help me communicate with the security guy downstairs. As luck would have it, I found washing machine! I ran down, waving the book and pointing to the words – and then he followed me up to my room.
He had obviously seen this before. He waded into the bathroom and somehow cleared the drain using a toilet brush. The water from the bathroom went quickly down the pipe. As he was leaving, I gestured toward my floor – still mostly covered in water – and he pointed downstairs, when he led me to a mop. It took awhile – but I got most of the water up and with Tra Vinh heat, it was dry in no time. Plus – as I said, my floor is now pretty sparkly. My security “hero” earned a box of Maple Cookies as his reward. I hope he enjoys them.
And in case you were wondering about where I am staying here – I have added some pictures of my room that are not about my flood.
My room is on the third floor of the guesthouse and is actually a suite. I have a small living room, with a desk and TV and then a large kitchen/bedroom that you can see in the picture below. I also have a second bedroom with an attached bathroom, but obviously, I don’t need to use that. The rooms have air conditioning, wifi, fridge, stove, washer (yes, you knew that already). Pretty nice setup. A few little lizards and quite a few ants also live here – but I am managing.
By Jodi Scott on March 8, 2015
Technically, I have not been in Tra Vinh for a week, only 4 days -but let me tell you, it feels like I have been here a lot longer! Part of that is Vietnamese hospitality. Tra Vinh staff are very appreciative of the volunteers who come here, so I am treated like an honoured guest. My first day here, I was given a tour of the city, taken to the market to buy fruit, then the supermarket to get anything else I needed for my room at the guesthouse and finally out for dinner. The next day, I met with one of the Vice Rectors, was welcomed and presented with a gift (silk for an ao dai), had a tour of the campus – including the classrooms I asked to see, went out for lunch with some of my colleagues at the ICO and then there was a welcome dinner that included all of the other Canadians currently at Tra Vinh (there are 5 of us). Friday was a little quieter, although there was a big poetry event on campus that evening and when Jennifer, another volunteer, and I stopped to look, we were immediately greeted and escorted to the VIP tables at the front. We were on our way to dinner – but etiquette had us sitting, listening to Vietnamese poems for a few hours until we could gracefully leave and find some food.
And the food! I just can’t say enough about how good it is. Yes, I find it a little strange that breakfast seems the same as lunch (noodles or rice), but the food is tasty and so cheap. My lunch costs me about 30,000 Dong – less than $2 – and it is generally rice, some greens, an egg and a piece of chicken topped off with some spicy sauce. With an iced coffee or other cold drink.
Over the weekend, I had a chance to bike around Tra Vinh and take a few photos. It is a small city, and what I have seen is quite green, with a mix of modern and traditional. Traffic is not too bad – at least compared to Ho Chi Minh – and I felt quite safe riding around on my bike. I am still amazed by how many motorcycles there are – but I am sure I would have one if I was here for a longer time. Or maybe not – since I am working on Tra Vinh University’s green campus strategy and that would definitely go against that. Actions speak louder than words…
And that leads me back to my work here at Tra Vinh University. I am doing some planning with the International Collaboration Office and other campus stakeholders to put action items to their Green Campus strategy. There is a vision document that has support from their Rector and the Board, but there is some confusion about how to move forward. I am looking to give them a roadmap, using some of the APPA documents and trolling the internet for Green Campus planning info. Luckily, Sustainability is well integrated into UBC projects, so I feel like I am starting from a good place.
I will end this post with some pictures of Tra Vinh – you can see that it is sunny and hot! A lovely working holiday.
By Jodi Scott on March 3, 2015
Hello from Vietnam! I am currently in Ho Chi Minh City, doing an orientation and working further on my workplan but tomorrow, I am heading to Tra Vinh University, http://en.tvu.edu.vn/ located in the south of Vietnam in the Mekong Delta. I will be assisting the International Collaboration Office (ICO) with some project management training, possibly around green initiatives but I won’t really know until I have had some more discussions with the staff at the University.
I will be in Vietnam for 3 weeks. I am here as part of a volunteer program called Leave for Change (L4C) – a UBC opportunity that offers professional and personal development to staff while providing support to organizations in developing countries. L4C is a component of the Uniterra Program, a leading Canadian international volunteer cooperation program, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and implemented jointly by World University Service Canada (WUSC) and the Centre for International Studies and Cooperation (CECI). UBC sends 6 volunteers each year to different countries to share knowledge and assist with capacity building in the partner organization. I applied in the fall and was selected to go to Tra Vinh, Vietnam.
My job at UBC is Senior Planner in Infrastructure Development. I work on projects related to the physical space at the University. The projects are varied, from helping units use existing space more efficiently, to working as part of the team for construction of new buildings. My speciality is classrooms –so I am very keen to see what the teaching space looks like at Tra Vinh University.
Today I went to see another volunteer, Steven, who is working at Ho Chi Minh City College of Economics. I toured some of their classrooms – and had a chance to learn how to make spring rolls. They are having spring roll making competition this weekend and this was a practice round. After the lesson, we all had a wonderful lunch. Vietnamese food is very tasty – and I am looking forward to trying more.
And now some photos from our practice session/lesson – making spring rolls.
By Sylvia Lim on January 31, 2015
Three weeks has passed by in an instant. Yet, I feel like I’ve known this place forever. The memories will hit me harder once I’m home, once time sets in, and I’ve had the chance to reflect on all the lovely people I’ve met.
Volunteering in another country opens your eyes to the realization that the challenges we face are very much the same, regardless of where we are in the world. Working in a vocational college, at Bac Thang Long, you notice that the same issues Vietnam is going through now, are very familiar to what we have seen in Canada just a decade ago. Trade schools are becoming less popular compared to sending your kids to university. However, the demand for workers skilled in vocations and trades are increasing, but there are little graduates to fill those gaps.
In the field of International Partnership Development, the area I was working in, again, there is great demand for training and curriculum development in specific skill-sets, but the resources and capacity to teach in these fields are limited. Or, partnerships with organizations that offer these training programs, come at a cost too high for most students in Vietnam to afford.
However, there is good news. As vocational colleges strive to build different kinds of partnerships, the focus will shift towards partners that are committed to 1) understanding the context of their partnering country and the student needs, 2) are interested in long-term partnerships that are not purely ‘transactional’, but rather, capacity-building, and 3) will provide relevant skill-sets that directly set students up for jobs in their local market.
It will take many years, but Vietnam’s labor market and economy is already moving in the right direction. Attitudes will change, teachers will find more opportunities for professional development, and students will once again see the value in high-quality vocational training that will lead to attractive jobs right after graduation.
I’m excited to see what’s in store for the future of Vietnam. Moreover, I’m excited to continue the friendships I’ve made here – hopefully I will be returning soon!
By Daniel Holloway on January 30, 2015
I arrived in the big smoke later on Wednesday evening after having a very African day. I was woken from my slumber at 7:30am by the CECI assistant that I have been working with, “we must get to the office and meet Mr. KAN” he stated. Rousing myself and throwing on some pants, we rushed to the office. Mr. Kan was unfortunately already in a meeting so we went and had a coffee. Returning to the office one hour later, we were told to come back “in the afternoon” because Mr. Kan was again busy. This story played itself out throughout the day until we eventually met at 2:30pm.
I am now in the nation’s capital, Ouagadougou. I do not suspect it will be making the 2015-16 edition of the New York Times in their “places to visit” section. It is much more what I anticipated my”African”experience to be; a loud, dirty city, with pushy vendors, lots of pollution and void of any real tourist attractions. This morning I passed a dead body splayed across the road in what appeared to be a bike and scooter accident. Nobody skipped a beat and our taxi merely swerved around the corpse as the firefighters stood by idly.
Needless to say the capital is not to my taste and makes me yearn for the chickens, goats and pigs of Dedougou. I have been spending a lot of time at the French Cultural Centre which provides a tranquil refuge from the hubbub of the city. The food there is rather good and they have a lovely veranda with a fine selection of international newspapers. I imagine I will be spending my next few days shuttling between there and another cafe that is well regarded.
The city did however provide me with one of the most surreal experiences of my life. Bumbling along the street, trying to maintain my “don’t talk to me” scowl, I passed the beautiful Grand Mosque and saw a giant super market oddly named “Marina Market”. Venturing in, my ears were instantly piqued by the sultry sounds of Lana del Ray’s “Summertime” pulsating through the speakers. Wandering the aisles, I found a wide selection of fine European products that prove impossible to find outside of the Continent. I suspect I will be heading back tomorrow prior to my departure so that I am able to fill my bags with goodies.
My final presentation to the Union went well and I hope that they follow some of my suggestions. Speaking to some other volunteers, it seems that one of the biggest hurdles facing organizations in West Africa is the lack of follow through on implementation. This was clearly illustrated to me when I discovered a very detailed strategic report on communications that had been prepared in 2013 by a large Dutch NGO. Few at the Union were aware of its existence and none of the very good suggestions had been adopted. That being said, I have faith in Mr. Kan up in Dedougou and hope he makes some progress.
By Sylvia Lim on January 29, 2015
You just can’t help but take hundreds of pictures of food in Vietnam. I’ve spared over-posting these photos and will summarize – if you love food, you can’t find a better place to indulge than in Vietnam. Just within the street food world (which I have been trying a lot of) you can find endless little morsels of ‘snacks’ (here, anything eaten without rice).
There’s Xoi, or sticky glutinous rice, which comes topped with crunchy shallots and shaved mung bean . Or, the definitive Hanoi BBQ pork – bun cha – vermicelli noodles (bun), fatty pork (cha), and a handful of fresh herbs dipped in a tangy, chili, fish sauce. Then there’s banh cuon, steamed rice pancake rolls filled with pork and woodsy mushrooms, again, topped with deep fried shallots and a massive heap of herbs.
Of course, there’s oodles of noodles – pho bo (the familiar beef noodle soup), pho ga (chicken noodle soup), bun bo hue (a special Hue, spicy noodle soup with pork hock and cubes of blood).
Finally, cha ca la vong, a landmark dish in my memories of Vietnam; so much so, that I once tried to recreate it in Vancouver (but massively failed) in my search for that perfect triangulation of flavors – turmeric, galangal and dill.
I could list out many more dishes, but I think, as a foodie, I’ve been incredibly lucky to land here, in Vietnam, where there’s a different meal to be had, everyday.
By Daniel Holloway on January 26, 2015
This weekend I was meant to travel to the second largest city in the country, Bobo Dioulasso. I was very excited for the adventure and the intrepid Mr. Kan had arranged his weekend so that he could come with me to act as a guide and driver. Unfortunately I received an email late on Thursday from the Embassy urging Canadians to stay away from Bobo due to an anti-Je Suis Charlie demonstration that was planned for Saturday in the main city centre. With the five people that were killed during similar demonstrations in the neighbouring country of Niger last week and the porous border controls in the region, I did a lot of reading and soccer watching this weekend. Additionally, I can imagine the headline in the newspapers at home “Local Idiot Killed in Anti-Western Demonstrations Despite Warning from Consulate.”
The mighty Etalons du Burkina have had a dreadful tournament and played some truly boring soccer the other night. Their tournament is now over, yet the town continues to be teeming with interested parties glued to the fuzzy television sets that light up the local bars and roadside shacks.
On Friday I met with the President of the Union who was a breath of fresh air. A relatively young guy, he was previously a producer and was therefore well appointed with the communication issues facing the Union. He agreed with many of my suggestions and it will be interesting to see if they are followed up with. If I have learned anything, it is now much of a blessing and a curse international development is. The UGPA has be benefitted from partnerships with various other NGOs, however, the people such as my self eventually leave and take with them any consistent follow up. Not an easy problem to solve.
By Daniel Holloway on January 22, 2015
It has certainly been a formative experience on the dining front since I have arrived. The past couple of days I have been confronted with goat liver, pig tripe/intestine and a sautéed platter that mysteriously contained the entire sheeps head, leaving teeth to boil along with the fat and meat. I have ventured as far as I can, but I must admit that is not too far off the beaten path. Something tells me I will not be finding the newest Nobu location hidden on any backroads.
I have past the half way point of my time here and I am still struggling to figure out exactly how to solve the problem with which I have been tasked – ensure that a clear line of communication exists between the Union, the regional leaders and the producers. Unfortunately, I have encountered a culture where numerous barriers exist to those proposing change and a mentality of “it will never work” or “this is how it has always been done” is present. Add to this a limited population from which to draw the regional leaders, widespread illiteracy amongst the producers and all of this has caused me to drastically scale back my already modest goals.
The last two days were spent in a rather confusing Union meeting at the Center for the Advancement of Women and Gender. What made this time unique was the fact that the majority of the meeting was held in the local language, leaving me completely lost. I reverted to elementary school student status and doodled in my note book and read my book. The positive to take away from the meetings were the wonderfully bright and colourful outfits that the women wore.
The weather has been unreasonably hot lately, hovering around 37C. Today offered a small respite with the weather down around 30C. Despite the lack of any real progress, the gentlemen with whom I am closely working, Mr. Kan has been nothing but friendly and went out of his way to ensure that I had a good bicycle to get around town.
This is weekend I am heading to Bobo Dioulasso which is the second largest city in country. They allegedly have a mosque that dates from the 19th century and a very good market.
By Sylvia Lim on January 19, 2015
If you think Vancouver has a coffee obsession, come to Hanoi, where there are more variations on coffee than you can count. Vietnam has become the second largest exporter of coffee after Brazil. Here you can find that coffee is taken a few notches up on the creativity scale. In just a week, I have sampled the ubiquitous ca phe sua da (iced coffee with condensed milk), egg coffee, yogurt coffee, yogurt coffee with glutinous rice…the list just keeps growing.
Arabica beans are most prized for the depth and strength of its flavor. Add a dollop of rich condensed milk and, chances are high that it’ll be hard to go back to a grande dark or a Tim’s double-double.
Oftentimes, a large part of the charm is trying to find the cafes themselves. Walk through unmarked alleys, in-between narrow corridors, up a flight of stairs, and you may find yourself in a verging-on-hipster cafe decorated in nostalgic bric-a-brac (think old commie posters and sewing machines even your grandmother would throw out). Many of these places have a bygone charm and atmosphere unreplicable in any other locale but the Old Quarter district of Hanoi.
By Daniel Holloway on January 18, 2015
What an interesting weekend. I really didn’t know what to expect heading into it, I am after all living in a hotel on the edge of a dusty, small town that I would challenge geography buffs to find on a map. Truth be told, I was even having a pity party for myself, complaining in my head about everything. I am happy to report that as with most things I have discovered in Africa, I have been pleasantly surprised at the way things have worked out. I had a chat via the Internet with a good friend of mine who told me to get my head out of my a$$ and to appreciate my surroundings because I probably wouldn’t be going back anytime soon. With these words in my mind, I set out to see what Dedougou had to offer.
Saturday I wandered around like a drunk toddler, turning down random streets, sticking my head into local businesses and all around just getting as lost as one can get in a town the size of whistler village. It is a weird sensation being 6’2, 200 lbs and the only white person around. People come rushing up to me blowing kisses, wanting to touch my skin and inviting me into their house. At no point did I ever feel threatened or did anyone ask me for anything. In fact I had to turn down numerous offers from people who wanted to invite me for a meal.
People in Dedougou spend their time in the same manner that people in any other town or city might; they get their hair done, they meet friends for a drink, they kill chickens and goats and stroll down the street with them.
I finished my self-guided walking tour at the general store and loaded up on essentials to get me through the next two weeks. As wonderful and pleasant as the women who run my hotel are, I cannot bring myself to eat another bowl of rice with sauce (usually tomato, onion, mystery meat), pasta or chicken (more pigeon like w little meat and small bones). I purchased some cutlery, a plate, laughing cow cheese, and bought some papayas, limes, bread and bananas on the street. Returning home I made a feast that was fit for a king and should hopefully hold off any scurvy or gout that might be lurking.
In the evening my boss picked me up on the back of his motorbike and we tore though the back roads of town to find a bar where we watched Burkina Faso lose 2-0 to Gabon in the African Nations Cup. The city was alive with colour and a cacophony of sounds that would not have been out of place in Italy, England or Germany were any of their countries playing in the European Championship.
Today is too hot to do anything. It is 35C without a trace of wind or a swimming pool in sight. I am fortunate to be in a hotel with a lovely shaded courtyard. This evening I might venture out as I spotted a business claiming to be a pizza parlour. This could prove to be a fruitful discovery.
Hard to believe that I have already been here a week.
By Daniel Holloway on January 16, 2015
As my first week of work draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on many aspects of what I have experienced versus what I perceived my experience to be. Perhaps the greatest myth that has been shattered for me, is how inaccurate the Human Development Index is. While Burkina Faso is by no means a rich country, it is also unfair to classify it as 4th from last, with numerous war zones (Afghanistan, Syria) above it, as well as the the murder capital of the world Honduras comfortably ahead of it. Abject “poverty” exists on the surface as people do still live in mud huts without any form of running water, but the society as a whole is flourishing and you see people getting by with what they have. Granted I am in the countryside but there are no beggars or vendors harassing you as there are in many “developed” countries such as Mexico or France. Additionally, people are constantly out and about going along with their business.
My work has been progressing slowly, though I suspect that CECI/Uniterra are aware of this and they have not given me an overly ambitious mandate to complete. I have been tasked with compiling a report concerning the communication issues that exist between the Union of agricultural producers and the farmers themselves. Currently, the union relies on a series of representatives to distribute the information given to them at a series of quarterly meetings. Problem is, the people who are receiving this information aren’t providing the farmers with the information upon returning to their respective communities. Sending out some tweets isn’t exactly an option out here…
Next week is another week to get out in the field and figure out how to go about this. It is noon and everyone has cleared out for the day. I better join them!
p.s. – office managed to get wifi, it is a dream!!
By Sylvia Lim on January 15, 2015
A day into arriving in Hanoi, I traveled to the World University Services Canada (WUSC) office to meet the lovely staff there and learn a bit more about my mandate in Vietnam. One of the top priorities for the country is strengthening the skills training for the labor market. Better education means better jobs; eventually leading to a reduction in poverty levels.
My work takes me to Bắc Thăng Long (BTL) College – one of 8 colleges across Vietnam working with WUSC volunteers. The ultimate goal for the college is to become a multi-department college specializing in trades and vocational training. The idea is to provide practical training to students who can then secure employment in local trades (i.e., hospitality, automobile parts production, esthetician/spa centres).
I have paired up with Minh from BTL to work on drafting a Strategic Plan for International Partnership Development. Partnerships between the college and international groups are key to achieving priority objectives including creation of exchange/internship opportunities, international curriculum development, and providing skills training most relevant to the labor market. BTL already partners with institutions from Japan, Korea, Switzerland, Canada, and Germany.
I’m excited to co-develop this plan with BTL college – the 5-year strategy will hopefully set the stage for exciting future partnership opportunities!
By Sylvia Lim on January 14, 2015
The first thing locals teach you when you land in Hanoi is how to cross the street. In a city of 6 million residents and 4.5 million scooters, chaotic is an understatement. However, there are instances of tranquility to be found. I spent my initial days struggling with jet-lag which meant I frequently woke at the uncharacteristic (and in my opinion, ungodly) hours of five or six-thirty, a.m. This meant a chance to see what the city is like at dawn. My hotel, conveniently located close to Hoan Kiem Lake, meant that I had a chance to observe the busy-doings of early-risers in the city. I was fascinated to see locals playing full games of badminton and dance classes set to the sounds of early 90’s pop songs. Hoan Kiem Lake presented the perfect intersection between public and private life, in a setting that, for a moment, takes you away from all the pandemonium of the city.
By Daniel Holloway on January 14, 2015
Today, I had my first day of work. I am based in the very small town of Dadougou in the Boucle du Mouhoun region. It is very close to the border with Mali and is quite culturally distinct. There is a strong Muslim influence in the area and people are very proud of the agricultural background present here.
I have been charged with bridging the communication gap that exists between the cotton producers and the Union (UGCPA) that helps the producers get their products to market. There is a lack of awareness that exists between the two and it is my hope that at the very least I will be able to work with the Union to develop a plan of action on how to best address this. I suspect I will be out further afield, meeting with the small producers and try to beat establish a way of communicating with them.
My accommodation is proletariat but does the job. There is some wifi and hot water, so I do not have much to complain about. The Union have provided me with bike that I will use to “commute” the approximate 1 km that I have to travel.
Today it is very hot, so we are all taking a little rest. Happy Trails!
By Daniel Holloway on January 12, 2015
Three flights and 26 hours later I arrived in Ouagadougou. My initial impressions are very positive and I am very surprised by the level of functionality I have witnessed in the city. Prior to arriving, I was not sure what exactly to expect but the internet had informed me that Burkina Faso was 4th from the bottom of the Human Development Index. Many of the streets are paved, the airport was relatively “normal” and functioned without issue, and there are even the odd set of street lights.
Last night myself and two other CECI volunteers that I am staying with went and had a meal in a lovely restaurant frequented by ex-pats. It had a sand floor and was impeccably decorated. Unfortunately, the wifi is inconsistent here and uploading photos is not always possible. I hope to have some posted with my next post.
Today our driver, Simon took us on a tour of the city. There are not many tourist sites and the majority of our day was spent at the CECI headquarters meeting various officials. Everyone has been very helpful.
My only complaint is the dust! The entire city is built upon a foundation of red dirt. It blows around as we are currently in the windy season and the air is filled with these fine particles. It resembles the photos of Beijing one might see, with a grey air hanging over the entire city. It burns the throat and leaves one feeling as though they have a minor cold.
Tomorrow I am heading 250km out of the capital to Dedgougou. I will be based here for the next three weeks.
Hope to find some wifi there. Happy trails!
By Dana Higgins on January 3, 2015
Another great part of this experience was all of the amazing people that I got to meet, both locals and other volunteers. It’s wonderful how quickly people become friends when traveling. Maybe it’s because as volunteers/travelers we are all out of our element and thus more willing to be open to random invitations and adventures. Part of it also may be a ‘pay it forward’ mentality where we try to provide newcomers with the same advice, support and logistical tips that we received from more veteran volunteers upon our arrival.
While language barriers provided some challenges with communication, I found Nepali people to be very warm and welcoming, especially the people that I worked with at CECI and WEAN.