Pre-Departure Training, Malaria Medication & Uncomfortable Topics

October 12, 2016.Janelle de Vries.6 Likes.0 Comments

For some reason it still feels like an outright lie when I tell people I will be boarding a flight in less than 7 days to go work in Lusaka, Zambia for the next six months. It isn’t. At the top of my inbox this morning was a request to provide information for Air Canada’s Secure Flight Program. Two weeks of our three week pre-departure training have already passed. I am on pill #3 of my weekly malaria meds. This is happening.

janelle2Pre-departure training has been an exciting and challenging medley of personal and professional growth. Training takes place between the University of Toronto’s downtown campus, the EWB National Office on Bloor Street and the EWB House located in Toronto’s vibrant Midtown neighbourhood (not far from Downtown and close to Little Ethiopia and Korea Town). 11 of us Longterm/Professional Fellows share the middle and bottom floor of a 3 bedroom walk up with 1 shower, 2 fridges and a backyard pergola that houses a grape vine with 5-10 decent looking clusters. It’s a busy and energetic space that has fostered relationships which will undoubtedly extend well past our time here in training and abroad.

Week one of training provided the context for the cities, regions and countries we will soon be stepping into. The biggest take-away from this week for me was gaining a deeper understanding of the external factors that have placed much of the continent of Africa in the position it is in today, most specifically the role the Western world has played in this process and the privilege we come with when arriving overseas. These understandings are important in allowing individuals serving in the international development field to think with those they are serving, not for them, to ask more than tell, to listen more than talk and to learn more than prescribe. No one’s ideas are better than another’s. Together our ideas have the power to fuel real change.

Week two was an introduction to the tools, models and systems we have at our disposal for our work overseas including things like Adaptive Leadership, Scaling and Systems Change. Our workshop on Human Centered Design was my personal favorite. Devon from the EWB National Office had us physically go out into the University of Toronto campus and work with students to “design a better university experience”. In the end we had ideas ranging from facilitation workshops for professors to personalized mobile phone applications that would allow students to easily connect to people, clubs, classes, groups and events on and around campus they were interested in and passionate about.

“…we take what we have been taught in training, dissect it, question it and apply it.”

The most impactful part of pre-departure training has by far been the moments that were not scheduled, forced or planned. Being able to spend time with 10 amazing, talented and beyond smart individuals from various backgrounds and fields across Canada (we have everything from Chemical and Geomatics Engineers, to Lawyers, to Data Scientists and International Development Majors) is something I am very thankful for. As a cohort we have learned exponentially from each other’s experiences and, most importantly, from being comfortable enough to have brave discussions in a safe and encouraging space. Conversations trail off after training into the early morning, moving from passions to dreams to politics to prejudice. It is in this space – crammed on a love seat, a sectional or a window bench – that we take what we have been taught in training, dissect it, question it and apply it. It is this space that has allowed us to bring up uncomfortable topics like oppression, privilege and racism. Discussions like these are integral to building better global citizens and I am grateful to have had even a few of them.

Our final week of training will focus on gathering everything EWB needs from us prior to departure. It will include presentations where we will be formally sharing with each other and the EWB National Office information about our ventures and the work we will be performing while overseas.

These last two weeks of pre-departure have been an exciting and challenging medley of personal and professional growth. I CANNOT WAIT for week three to begin.

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