Who’s Feeling Prepared?

IMG_4736Here’s the scenario: You have ten new long-term, overseas volunteers (African Program Staff, or APS) coming in for a month long training program at the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) National Office in Toronto. Each has vastly different skill sets, education, work experience, international experience, motivations, interests, and learning styles. Most will be going to completely different overseas projects, in different industries in one of the five countries where EWB operates.  The outcome of this training program is for every new recruit to be at least aware of–if not somewhat “prepared” to deal with–the vast number of potential scenarios, issues,  challenges and environments they might face.
Clearly, this is no easy task. Most people and other organizations would likely design a very technically rigorous curriculum to try to organize as much of the information as possible into concentrated chucks and fire away. Others would concentrate only on the basics (health, safety and security) and hope to fill people in more thoroughly on the ground. EWB‘s approach is somewhere between the “drinking from a firehose” method and the “figure it out when you get there”.  The array of topics covered is impressive, but the emphasis is necessarily more on the exposure of the issue, idea or concept than it is on deep understanding or mastery.

Here is just a sample of what we’ve been discussing lately:

  • African Histories
  • Urban/Rural Livelihoods
  • Anti-Oppression/Racism
  • Colonization/Imperialism
  • Gender Issues
  • Power Structures & Hierarchy
  • Root Causes Analysis
  • Systems Mapping
  • Behaviour Change Models
  • Human Centered Design
  • Participatory Approaches
  • Mental Health
  • Technology Diffusion
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Safety and Security
  • Cognitive Biases
  • Social Entrepreneurship
  • Foresighting

Monitoring and Evaluation

Sometimes, what makes the biggest impact isn’t necessarily the content, but how it is being delivered. What really sets EWB Pre-Dep (Pre-Departure Program) apart, however is the amount of on the ground practise and the explicit connection between international development and local issues.  This has been by far the most interesting and valuable part of the past couple weeks for me as we’ve been able to connect and integrate the universal issues of oppression, embedded hierarchies, power structures and inequality that are at the root of many of the social issues both in Canada and in countries in Africa. We have been given the chance to make small, (yes, perhaps token), efforts to connect with the local African diaspora, First Nations leaders, women who have come through the prison system and the residents of some of Toronto’s poorer neighbourhoods. The exposure to these issues and the questions they have been raised will surely influence my time in Ghana, and I will definitely endeavour to dive more into Canadian social justice issues on thisIMG_0886 blog in the future.

About a week and a half left in the training program before I fly out to Accra on September 17th!

More to come…


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