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2010 May

News and Updates from our Chapter

11 May

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9th Annual Waterloo Afro Festival

May 11, 2010 | By |

In its 9th year, the Afro Festival of Waterloo is an opportunity for the local community to celebrate and share in cultures from all 54 nations of the African continent. With over 7,000 visitors in attendance in 2009, organizers are hoping for more than 8,000 this year, enjoying food and entertainment for youth and adults as well as entrepreneurial workshops for women.

The festival runs from noon to sundown on Saturday, July 24th.  More information can be obtained from the African Women’s Alliance of Waterloo.

10 May

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Farming is Hard

May 10, 2010 | By |

“Ehhh, a kpeng a mung!” (“You have done well!”) Salifo beams at me. I stand and survey the yam mound I’ve just created. It’s a bit smaller than its neighbours, but the shape is good – mound-like – and the dirt is well-packed. Indeed, I’ve done well! I move on to the adjacent patch of earth and start digging again. In the time it took me to make that one, Salifo has completed 3 big yam mounds, far superior to my own. But hey, I’m just learning!

I manage to make 6 yam mounds before I collapse under a nearby tree. It’s hard work! My hamstrings are quivering from bending over and pulling dirt toward me – think dead lift, over and over – and my hands are developing blisters from the rough-hewn wooden hoe I’m using. And I’m sweating like a pig! Unfortunately, this is the biggest aerobic workout I’ve had in a while. (Something about running in 30 degree weather just doesn’t appeal to me…)

 We arrived here at the farm by riding our motos down a narrow, winding, sandy path along a rain wash-way and then out into the fields. We parked our motos under a tree, then continued on foot to this yam field, which belongs to Salifo and his brothers. The field is about a quarter of an acre in size, though they want to increase it to half an acre. They had already prepared the land, turning it under and removing all the brush that had grown in the last few months.

 Now it was time to build the yam mounds, which are cone-shaped and about 3-4 feet across. The yams grow better in this loosely-packed earth, where the tuber has room to grow big without resistance from the hard-packed land underfoot. The mounds are made first, then a seed yam is planted in the top of each one. The seed yams are grown at the end of the harvest, from the same plant after the full-grown yams have been harvested. After the seed is planted, leaves are placed on top of the mound and covered with a chunk of dirt to hold them in place. This is supposed to keep the mounds from drying out and becoming too hot. A finished yam field is truly a bizarre sight to behold!

Salifo finished 2 rows of yam mounds, then came to join me in resting under the tree. We ate some boiled yams as a snack, part of last year’s harvest. As we sat, I asked him to compare his different types of work.

 Salifo is one of a few people in Zuo who can speak English, which means he is often recruited for community “volunteer” work by Ghana Health Services. For example, he has spent many days in the last 2 weeks helping with a campaign to distribute mosquito nets to children under 5. This involved training in Tamale, traveling to various communities to register the children, picking up the nets, returning to the communities to distribute and hang the nets, and filing in the information booklet for each net he distributed. It’s a lot of work! And he does it all without knowing how much he will be paid at the end – usually just a token for his time.

 I asked Salifo to compare this to farming. Which does he prefer? He answered emphatically, “I choose to farm!” When I asked him why, he responded that with the farm, he is his own “in charge” (boss). He decides which work to do when, how much to invest in each field, and which crops he will plant. The manual labour is hard, but he knows he will get something out at the end – a harvest he can eat, or sell to earn money for his family. He also knows that, barring any natural disasters, the reward will be directly proportional to the efforts he puts in. Finally, there’s none of that tricky business of trying to persuade a mother to make her child sleep under a mosquito net.

We are often told that people in rural Africa are farmers because they have no other choice. While that is true in many cases, there are also those who choose this profession, like Salifo. Really, it’s not a bad gig, if you don’t mind manual labour. Each farmer can be seen as a small business-owner, making decisions about his investments to maximize his profits. And like many small business-owners in Canada, farmers work long hours to achieve success, which they can then attribute to their own hard work.

As I look across at my 6 yam mounds and compare them to the ~30 that Salifo made, I have a newfound respect for farmers. I’m reminded of a bumper sticker I’ve seen in Canada, showcasing farmers’ pride: “Farmers Feed Cities!” I’ve seen similar stickers in Ghana, reminding people that farming is a noble and necessary profession for the well-being of the entire country. So, props to Ghanaian farmers!!

10 May

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The African Century

May 10, 2010 | By |

Today’s Globe And Mail newspaper is a special issue, featuring an impressive extent of content focussed on the future of Africa.   Just scroll down the section’s main page to see the list of fascinating articles.

Feel  free to share any comments you have about favourite article, worst generalization, best points, etc.  OK, it was difficult to choose just one specific online feature to recommend for this week’s link, but I’ll go with the excellent article ‘The scramble for Africa begins anew”, by Paul Collier, author of “The Bottom Billion”.

If you have a chance, do also have a look through the interactive “The Lure Of Africa” photo gallery.

04 May

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Engineers: Local or Global Citizens?

May 4, 2010 | By |

Many Canadian engineers agree that our academic curricula need to better equip engineering students for professional life in a dynamic and global 21st century. A 2009 survey conducted within the Canadian engineering community by EWB-Canada indicated there was a “strong disconnect between the profession’s desired future impact and its current inability to help make globalization’s benefits accessible to disadvantaged communities.” Where there is less agreement, however, is around how to best affect this change. A series of four articles published in the Journal for Policy Engagement between May 2009 and April 2010 provides an interesting snapshot of the divergent views on the subject.

In May 2009, Jonathan Fishbein, Program Coordinator for Curriculum Enhancement and Global Engineers at EWB-Canada, and Adrian Chan, Associate Professor in Systems and Computing at Carleton University, authored a paper asserting engineers needed to better understand their societal responsibilities. With an industry-wide global mindset the attraction of socially conscious engineers to and public perception of the profession would be enhanced, and the best way to achieve this mindset shift would be through reflective changes to engineering curricula in our universities.

For many who have professionally matured in an EWB-infused culture, this stance may appear as a no-brainer, but for others in the Canadian engineering community, the issue is not as clear cut. In fact, several published responses to the article haven’t been in support of Fishbein’s and Chan’s viewpoints.

Alexander Kobelak, a retired engineer with 40 years of experience working in international settings, was not as taken by the idea of producing global engineers in the classroom. In his January 2010 article, Kobelak maintains that engineers who work abroad are different than most in the profession, often possessing qualities inherently that make them successful at what they do. He continues by stating that these qualities  are hard, and perhaps impossible, to teach to all engineering students, subsequently rendering a globally focused curriculum inappropriate.

Fishbein and Chan’s published response claims these skills are already being incorporated into current curricula with no negative impact to technical abilities. They argue further that “our globalized economy requires more engineers equipped with superior communication skills, with flexibility working in different cultures and contexts, and who have a facility for multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary teamwork, a well-developed sense of social responsibility, and strong complex problem analysis skills,” best described as “global engineers.”

The latest word in the JPE published debate came in April 2010 from Jonathan VanderSteen and Usman Mushtaq, a post-doctorate fellow at the University of Guelph and a M.Sc. candidate at Queen’s University, respectively, who portend that engineer development should be focused locally and not globally. “Local community engagement provides many of the benefits gained from international experience with fewer practical, ethical and pedagogical risks” claim the authors. “As well, focusing on local communities strengthens engineering’s relationships with the people it is most intimately connected with and helps practitioners prepare for a future in which they are likely to be more locally engaged.”

For those who were not able to previously partake in this debate or attend the 2009 National Engineering Summit in Montreal, reading all four articles is recommended to get a taste of the discussion. Each of them, as well as a host of others can be accessed through the noted links or through the JPE website. For additional commentary with an EWB flair, the published discussion in the JPE is also mirrored on EWB-Canada’s intranet website, MyEWB.

Most in the engineering industry would agree with VanderSteen and Musthaq: “Canadian engineers can create positive [and] transformative change in society.” Exactly how we train the new wave of Canadian engineers to best do this appears to still be contentiously at issue.

01 May

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The Next Empire

May 1, 2010 | By |

China’s Economic Impact In Africa

I was just reading a fascinating article by Howard W. French in the current issue of  The Atlantic (May 2010).  “The Next Empire” explores the potential benefits and pitfalls of the significant infrastructure developments happening in Africa now, through China’s large commercial investments.  This piece is my web recommendation for this week, and if you’re interested in reading more by French, his book “A Continent for the Taking:  The Tragedy and Hope of Africa”, is available at both the Waterloo and Kitchener public libraries.