Saturday, 31 October 2015

Dare Something Worthy

Recently our family was informed that we have been accepted to a 9 month volunteer placement with Cuso International partnering with NEWLO in Grenada. While this might seem like the start of our journey it is really the middle.

Map of the Carribean
For me it started when I was very young. My mother was (and still is) socially active and therefore so was I.  When I wasn't making signs to free South Africa I was marching in Take Back the Night. I was raised to believe you could make big changes and affect the lives of others around the world.

When it came to university studies a logical choice for me was to apply to the International Development program at the University of Guelph as my first choice. I was so excited about the opportunities that the degree would offer me and was sure I would get in. I had participated in every kind of social/political activity and I had been even been awarded a National Citizenship Award at 16. I was the real deal, how could they not want me? So when I got a thin envelop from Guelph saying that I had not been accepted I was devastated. Back then when someone said no I thought that was the end of the discussion, so I closed that door.

For our family this journey started February of 2012 when the entire family went to Costa Rica and stayed in a local village rather than at a resort. It made us realize that there are incredible learning opportunities to be found in immersing yourself in a culture. And a window opened.

We began to plan financially to take a leave of absence, we called it "The three year plan". The plan had to be three years out because we needed to take our boys out of school in a non-critical year of their education, and yet ensure they would not be so young that they did not remember the experience.

Those who have taken courses with me at CFB Trenton would know that my screen saver in the classroom scrolled across during breaks reading "Three Year Plan". I did this intentionally because I wanted people to hold me accountable to my big idea. It was important for it to be a real plan not just a wouldn't it be nice plan. At the start of this year I stopped surrounding myself in my office with policy documents and business plans and created a cork board filled with images of the types of places we wanted to be. And in the middle of all those images the Latin phrase "Aude aliquid dignum" Dare Something Worthy.

We have dared something worthy; to contribute more fully, to engage more broadly and to be global not just local citizens. We are taking this adventure and we hope you will come with us. We will be blogging and our boys (aged 10 & 12) will as well. Hopefully it serves to inspire you to do something worthy of who you have the capacity to be. If you are already on that path or are thinking about volunteering with Cuso or VSO hopefully it helps provides you with insight into a volunteer placement and into following your dreams.

Cuso takes a pay it forward approach, where volunteers who are going overseas assist in raising funds to help send the next group of volunteers. As a registered charity the Canadian government has partnered with Cuso and donates $9.00 for every $1.00 donated, which means when you donate to Cuso every dollar donated becomes $10.00 If you would like to help us send volunteers to help alleviate poverty please follow this link. 

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Skills for Working in Development

From May 9-13 Brent and I participated in the Cuso Training program Skills for Working in Development (SKWID) course in Ottawa Ontario. As an introvert it has taken me a bit of time to process the experience. But I wanted to share my thoughts for future volunteers.
This reminded me of our roadmap to learning in SKWID
First it was absolutely an experience rather than a “course”. For many our only experience with a course is reading and lectures- if we are lucky maybe a little bit of group work thrown in. However SKWID is all about interacting with the knowledge you already have and reframing that knowledge to assist you in applying it to working overseas.  The facilitators do a great job of guiding the discussion and adding their own experiences to bring some of our hidden values and beliefs to light. I think this is a critical part of the learning process, we all have things we didn't realize how passionate we were about... until we are confronted with them. Knowing what those hot button issues are, can help you to understand where you might have difficulties when your values bump up against your placement countries values.

Next, it is tiring! You are not only managing your own learning but meeting new people and navigating those relationships. For me, many of the concepts presented were not new but that didn’t mean it wasn’t work to consolidate that knowledge. For my husband, many of the concepts were new (now he wishes he had taken some of my courses!) and for him being confronted with new ideas daily was also tiring.

Most importantly as tired as you are, try to have dinner with your colleagues at least once. As I noted, I am introverted, so all day with 20 people and then having dinner with people seemed a bit overwhelming. However it helped to build relationships and trust. Some of the people on my course I hope to have visit my home over the coming years, unfortunately we are all going to different countries but I want to keep up with their journeys, because they are all remarkable people.

In this particular session we had a group of young women from Veterinarians Without Borders. I was so impressed to see these remarkable young ladies getting ready to set out to places I know I would not go because of my fear of not speaking the language, how different it would be to Canada and the living conditions. The projects they were setting out on were interesting and important and you could see that they would advance the lives of women and improve the economies of local communities. I will be thinking about Anika, Mary Clare, Sarah, Julie, Michelle, Nancy, Jamie and Liz (some of whom are already in country) and their work this summer.