2007-2008 African Program Staff

In the past the Waterloo Chapter supported Sarah Lewis, who worked for the Ghanaian Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA), and Jenn Dysart, who worked for WaterAid, in Zambia. Sarah is a graduate of Economics from the University of Waterloo, and also a past president of the Waterloo Chapter. Jenn is a graduate of Chemical Engineering from the University of New Brunswick, and was the co-founder and co-president of the University of New Brunswick Chapter.

Sarah Lewis

Placement: Ghanaian MoFA
Country: Ghana
Blog: http://sarahlewis.wordpress.com

My recent graduation, and my decision to apply for an Engineers Without Borders (EWB) overseas volunteer position have created a wave of very exciting events in my life. The challenge and responsibility of my placement with the Ghanaian government will be demanding, and at the same time I feel alive with hopes and fears for the year to come.

I've known that I will engage in international issues throughout my career since volunteering with EWB in Cameroon during my second year at the University of Waterloo. The dedication of my Cameroonian partners to the improvement of their communities despite enormous limitations is one of the big motivations behind this decision. It has been my great pleasure to share the story of our exchanges with the UW chapter over the past few years, and I hope that I've done something to return the generosity of African communities in welcoming me and teaching me so much about the challenges that exist for people outside of the bubble of my Canadian life.

Since my experience in Cameroon I have asked myself the following questions over and over: What should I do, given that my actions impact the challenges that these communities face? How can I leverage my resources to contribute to the development of a more equitable world?

The next step for me in this questioning process is an EWB placement with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in the Upper East Region of Ghana, West Africa. I feel that there will be great potential for me to learn from and contribute to international development through this partnership, which is the culmination of two years of EWB's work. I'm also thrilled to continue sharing the fruits of this project with the University of Waterloo Chapter.

To all of you that I know at Waterloo, I can hardly thank you enough for taking me this far in my journey. I hope you will be able to continue learning with me as I step into a more responsible position within Engineers Without Borders. It is an opportunity that I could not imagine having prepared for without your support.

Her work

March 16, 2007
I am having a great first week at MOFA. The staff is very helpful and supportive of my work. I have been able to contribute to the work of the Monitoring and Evaluation department by updating spreadsheets and providing advice on computer matters while completing a diagnostic of MOFA's programs and beginning to design a baseline study which I will complete over the next two months.

28 May 2007
I have a lot of work ahead of me, assisting MOFA's Extension Staff in their efforts to support farmer groups. I still believe, as MOFA does, that through improved farming practices farmers can see increased profits, and farming families can invest in new ways to gain income and create opportunities for themselves and their children.

But I have to say that the past few weeks have dampened my initial enthusiasms with a solid dose of realism. Farming is hard work, and farmers are the hardest working people I think I have ever met. The more time I spend in the field with MOFA's Extension Agents, the more clear it becomes to me that farmers operate in an environment where the future is difficult to predict.

On any day I could be:

  • Travelling to the field with an extension agent to meet a farmers group to
    • ... run a workshop
    • ... gather information
    • ... provide feedback on AEA's extensions techniques
  • Collecting market data with MOFA enumerators (statistical staff)
  • Completing reporting with the district Information Officer
  • Computer training for small issues (when in the office)
  • Reviewing proposals that extension agents have prepared for/with farmer groups
  • Reporting to the regional director and developing strategy
  • Developing workshops and discussing progress of Agriculture as a Business with my AEA project team
  • Collaborating with my fellow long term overseas volunteers
  • Visiting or calling Junior Fellow Ryan to check on his progress and make decisions about his placement together
  • Participating in district staff meetings

Jenn Dysart

Placement: WaterAid
Country: Zambia

Hey Waterloo!

I want to take this opportunity to sincerely thank you for all your support and encouragement this past year!

The working partnership really helped me maintain that important connection to Canada. I think this was a busy year for all of us, and I apologize if we weren't able to communicate as often as we would have liked. I still felt, though, that many positive experiences came from our partnership, and you trulyhelped me realize the type of information Chapters are looking for from overseas volunteers. All of your fund raising efforts have been truly appreciated. Please know that there is someone on the other side of the world that is completely grateful to you for your determination to create change.

Her work

My work with WaterAid, over the past 2 months, has involved mobilizing communities to finish constructing their latrines. Mobilizing is development lingo which, in my case, is used to describe visiting villages, holding meetings, encouraging people to complete their latrines and offering support. We also try to address any concerns or issues raised, and pass them along to the appropriate person.

WaterAid works as a facilitator - theoretically, we don't actually do any of the implementation on the ground after initial training. We conduct meetings at the beginning of our program to teach people about sanitation, water and hygiene issues and the health effects associated with these. We train leaders of the communities as latrine builders, pump caretakers, etc., and help to form V-WASHE (Village Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Education) committees.

Once the program has been established, we work through our extension staff within the [Zambian] Department of Health who has employees permanently located in the rural areas. They gather information, perform monitoring, conduct meetings and essentially act as our eyes in the villages. In theory, this results in our program being fairly sustainable but when did anything in theory ever work well in practice?

Many people in my area have better access to water and sanitation facilities because of WaterAid, but there are still numerous problems faced by the organization. One of the major obstacles is creating incentive for the extension staff to perform an effective job (they aren't paid by WaterAid). Even though we may idealistically believe that they would perform their work for the development of their community, this takes a backseat to spending time and energy working to feed one's family. Even through the Department of Health, the employees are very busy with their community health work and see WaterAid tasks as extra effort for which they don't feel appropriately compensated.