Pre-departure lessons

Hi friends! It’s been a while since I last wrote, largely due to the immense amount of preparation that has gone into this internship. I’m writing to you from Victoria, BC, where myself and 11 other interns have been getting briefed for the past two weeks. It’s been 12 days of 8 hour briefing sessions which has essentially been a crash course on development workers in our respective destinations. Two of the girls are headed to Kitwe, Zambia. Two to Bushara Island, Uganda, and two to Jinja, Uganda. The other 5 are coming to South Africa with me. I know the last two posts have been fairly vague, so I will try to be clearer henceforth on.

You may be asking what a crash course on development work may look like. To be frank, I didn’t expect the past two weeks to be as rigorous and comprehensive as they were. We dedicated a day entirely to health, where we were educated on bilharzia, jiggers, the prevalence of malaria, etc. We spoke to an ex-intern who didn’t adhere to the safety code and ended up with a number of ailments (one of which involved a worm crawling out of his ass cheek…). Moving right along, there was also a day dedicated to security, where we role played for drastic situations (hostage scenarios, terror attacks, etc.). Naturally, I am inclined to share the most extreme examples because I love shocking an audience, namely my family. All jokes aside, that was probably one of the most important days, because our facilitator went into detail about things I wouldn’t have thought twice about. Rewinding to my time in Bolivia 2011 and 2012, I pretty much did everything wrong. Walking around markets with my backpack worn on my front side thinking it was the safe thing to do… looking back I really wonder how I didn’t get mugged making it so obvious that I was holding something valuable enough that I kept it so close. If I were a local I probably would have mugged myself. I won’t go into my other failings as a voluntourist just yet, because I could probably get about 4 blog posts out of that topic. I will delve into my shortcomings another time. Other topics that were covered were: The historical landscape of the African countries we are visiting, The Dochas Code (I will write more about this in a few weeks), Career support, Canada’s cross-cutting development issues (Gender equality, Environmental Sustainability and Governance), and finally, the one topic that was covered every day; achieving cultural competency.

The big takeaways from the briefing were not centered around our internship roles and how much work was expected from us while in our roles. Instead, the past two weeks can be summed up into two points: 1. Don’t cause any harm (to anyone/yourself) 2. Fit in. The second point was especially important because if we become culturally competent, then our internships will have been a success. True; I applied for this internship for the work experience, however, I would rather return to Canada in 6 months having fostered strong, lasting relationships, and having fully immersed myself in another culture, then having added a new page on my resume. 

Taking this human rights approach to development means that I am obliged to employ one word in everything I do. My job isn’t to AID, SYMPATHIZE or SAVE anyone. Instead, my job is to PARTNER with those I’ll be employed with, working together as equals to socially engineer their emerging societies. We’ll be on our way tomorrow, so next time you hear from me I will be in South Africa. Until then!

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