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.
Pre-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.