I Don’t ♥ You Toronto, But Maybe We Can Be Friends

Hey Toronto…We need to talk, I know it’s not very original, but the line “it’s not you, it’s me” works here. I’ve only really spent time with you this month and that clearly is not enough time to understand all your depth and complexity. Still, I feel like we had a good run and it was fun while it lasted. Remember that time I got lost in your labyrinthine back alleys late one night on the way home and you opened up a wormhole that spit me right out at my back door. Or, all those times when you’d trip me with your phantom curbs in the sidewalk–hilarious, I fall for it every time!

I’ve really liked how you’ve organized yourself and packed so many different people, places, sights and sounds all interwoven in one place, but still kept things distinct and varied–like a quilt of plaids. You’ve also got some great ideas on stuff: 24hr streetcars, great options for recycling and compost, lots of end-of-trip bike facilities, and those super cute (and quiet) house sparrows that flutter around all over the place–best invasive bird species ever! Where you really shine, however, is in your bars and restaurants, or maybe this is just where I’ve spent the most time. It’s amazing how so many of your pubs have secret outdoor backyard areas or rooftop patios. I’m also a huge fan of your reasonable liquor laws (get it together Vancouver!): you can get a drink at a restaurant or a cafe without food–what a concept! I’d love to stick around to explore more, but I don’t think I can maintain the pace of the past month, we’re moving too fast and I need my space.

Again, not speaking from a lot of experience, more just my initial impressions, but you’ve got some serious issues Toronto and I don’t think I could live with you permanently.  I understand you’re a giant, spinning, churning humanity machine and you’ve got huge pressures to make sure everyone gets their food, water, electricity, their garbage picked up, and their sewage treated. Sometimes, however, I think you’re a bit too efficiency minded and it makes you seem a little impersonal and machine-like. I wouldn’t say I’m so shallow that it’s a deal breaker, because it’s what’s inside that counts, but you’re not exactly a stunner in the looks department. Especially coming from the drop-dead beautiful Vancouver with its ocean, mountains, and trees, you’re a little flat and dirty. Also, I only say this because I care, but at times you smell bad and it’s really unattractive.

All-in-all, Toronto, I think you’ve got a lot to offer and could make some people very happy and comfortable; we’re just at very different places in our lives. I feel like I’d need to change too much of myself to be happy living with you. I’d need to get a brand new set of hobbies (running in circles at the park, buying a hipster bike, drinking weak lagers, etc.) and interests (art, barhopping, wearing parkas). I just don’t have the time or interest to do that at this stage of my life. Thanks for the good times, I’ll definitely be back for visits here and there, but if I don’t see you for a while, take care of yourself.

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…