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EWBGR

News and Updates from our Chapter

18 Nov

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Chapter Planning Meeting

November 18, 2010 | By |

Next Grand River Chapter Meeting:  December 16

The next meet-and-greet and planning meeting of the Grand River Chapter is currently scheduled for December 16th at 7 PM.   (Please check back here on the day of the meeting, in case of any last minute update regarding location or time.)  Anyone considering becoming more involved in the Grand River Professional chapter, or wanting to learn more about Engineers Without Borders in general, is invited to attend.  We’ll have lots of interesting feedback from our chapter’s fantastic group of volunteers currently working in Ghana and Malawi.  If you have to drive through snow to get to us, we’ll have Fair Trade hot chocolate to warm you up !

Location:  Christ Lutheran Church, 445 Anndale Road (off Lexington just past intersection with Davenport), Waterloo ON,  N2K 2E3  (Lots of parking available)

11 Nov

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Who’s coming to EWB National Conference 2011?

November 11, 2010 | By |

Hey Everyone ~

It’s EWB’s 10th anniversary and we’re having our biggest conference yet to celebrate in Toronto this January. For the past three weeks I was seconded to the conference team to build a website to generate some buzz about who’s coming to conference. Check it out here: http://my.ewb.ca/conference/who/.

Anyways, that’s my quick status update on the project I’ve been working, it’s been tons of fun and I hope you enjoy playing around with it!

I’m heading off to the West Africa Retreat in mere minutes – should be a great weekend.

Cheers,

Ben

30 Oct

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EWB 10th Anniversary Gala

October 30, 2010 | By |

The 10th Anniversary EWB Gala is all set to wow you. On Saturday, January 15, 2011, 2000+ people will come together at the Allstream Centre in Toronto to celebrate African humanity and achievements like never before. And we have a world class presenter excited to join us.

Engineers Without Borders is thrilled to announce that K’naan, the internationally acclaimed poet and hip hop artist, will be joining us to celebrate our 10th anniversary conference.

K’naan is not afraid to shed light on sensitive issues and address real global challenges through his music. Whether standing up to the UN, or consistently creating urgent music with a message, K’naan always makes his voice heard.

To read more about K’naan: click here.

K’naan will inspire attendees through a unique keynote address and then close the night with a small performance.

(Above text courtesy of the EWB National Office website)

Register for the exciting 2011 EWB national conference here  .

28 Oct

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Chapter Planning Meeting

October 28, 2010 | By |

Next Grand River Chapter Meeting:  November 18

The next meet-and-greet and planning meeting of Grand River Chapter’s fall season is currently scheduled for November 18th at 8 PM.   (Please check back here on the day of the meeting, in case of any last minute update regarding location or time.)  Anyone considering becoming more involved in the Grand River Professional chapter, or wanting to learn more about Engineers Without Borders in general, is invited to attend.  We’ll have lots of interesting feedback from our chapter’s amazing group of volunteers currently working in Ghana and Malawi.  See you there !

Location:   229 Glasgow Street (SIDE entrance), Kitchener

06 Oct

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EWB Eastern Retreat

October 6, 2010 | By |

Are you looking for a refreshing break from your regular routine and a chance to enjoy nature, all while expanding your understanding of what EWB is all about? If so, the EWB Eastern Retreat is just the place for you! Along with other regional chapter members, you will have a chance to meet National Office staff and chapter leaders from Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. There will be workshops to sharpen your leadership skills and build your knowledge about EWB.  And yes, the weekend will be fully catered. Please comment to this post or contact our chapter if you are interested in arranging carpooling with others from this area.

Where: http://www.mansfieldoutdoorcentre.ca/facilities.html

When: Nov. 5th-7th

Cost: $120, includes lodging and food

RSVP To: Eli Angen <eliangen@ewb.ca>

27 Sep

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What am I doing here? – Part 1

September 27, 2010 | By |

Update From The Field

Grand River chapter’s Erin Antcliffe, one of EWB’s hardworking African program staff, has posted a fascinating and informative new entry in her blog (September 17th 2010).  You can read it here, or on Erin’s own site “What am I doing here?   Reflections on my role in Ghanaian development.”

Alright, enough of this fluffy stuff. It’s time to get down to business. I want to finally answer the question you’ve all been asking:  What are you actually DOING over there ?

I’m going to answer this question in a series of posts over the next few weeks. I’ll start out with the basics, then dive deeper into the “what”s and “why”s behind what I’m doing here. After all, that is the name of the blog!

So let’s start at the beginning. What does it mean to work for EWB in Africa?

My work is divided into 4 main areas: Partner, EWB team, Canada connections and Personal (in no particular order – no, health does not come last in the priority list!). Let me tell you a bit more about what I’m trying to achieve in each of these areas.

Work with my Partner:

Our team is partnered with MoFA, the Ghanaian Ministry of Food and Agriculture. The purpose of this ministry is to increase food security by providing extension services to farmers, including technical knowledge, business advice and skills training.

Ghana is divided into 10 regions, each with a regional-level MoFA office, then each region is divided into several districts (the number depends on the size and population of the region), each of which has a district-level MoFA office. EWB is working with MoFA at all of these levels – National, Regional and District. I am working at the Tamale District office and also occasionally at the Northern Regional office (which is also in Tamale).

We work with MoFA because MoFA works with farmers, which is the majority of the poor rural population in Ghana. These are our “target beneficiaries”, if you want to use the development lingo. Working with MoFA allows EWB to reach a wide number of farmers thanks to MoFA’s well-established extension network. However, MoFA is also constrained by a lot of issues common in developing countries. Some of these issues are beyond their control, such as donor constraints and lack of funding. But there are other issues that can be addressed, like motivation, management skills and staff capacity to do the work.

Our goal is not to add additional programs to MoFA’s plate (which is what most NGOs/donors do – design their own programs and use MoFA as an “implementing agency”, taking them away from the work they’re supposed to be doing). Instead, we are working to strengthen the core MoFA extension work – helping farmers to improve their farms and put more money in their pockets. This means embedding ourselves in MoFA’s offices and working alongside the staff to address everyday issues, as well as encouraging them to have a long-term vision for the work they’re doing.

Work with the Agric Ghana EWB team:

The Agric Ghana team is currently made up of 6 African Programs Staff (APS) and 3 Professional Fellows (ProFs) from EWB’s Professional Chapters in Canada. We work closely together, communicating often even though we are spread out across 2 regions in northern Ghana. Once a month we come together to work as a team for a weekend. During these meetings we work on team strategy including planning, evaluating and changing our programs, work to share what we know with others, do some professional development and have a whole lotta fun! These meetings are great for keeping us on the same page as a team and enhancing the work each of us is doing. We also give and receive coaching with other members of the team to help each other set goals and grow. It’s a great environment to work in – I love this team!

Canada Connections:

Believe it or not, I actually consider it work to keep in touch with Canada! I do this because otherwise I would never prioritize time to write in my blog, or take photos to send to the National Office in Toronto. But I think one of the most important things we can do as APS is to let other people know what we’re doing. All of you reading this in Canada have an enormous amount of information at your fingertips, and a huge potential to use this information for outreach to the Canadian public and advocacy to the Canadian government. So let me help you by telling you what I know!

I am also partnered with two of EWB’s student chapters in Canada, the University of Western Ontario and the University of Waterloo (go W’s!). My job is to keep them informed about what’s going on with the Agric Ghana team and give them resources to help with their programs, from fundraising to member learning to outreach. And of course, we want to develop some awesome personal connections between EWB’s African programs and Chapters. Can’t wait to work more with these amazing guys and gals!

Personal:

Finally, I have some personal goals for my time in Ghana. These include things like health and fitness, happiness and motivation, keeping in touch with my friends and family at home and making time for personal and professional development. For example, I’m really good at building trust with people, but I need to work on how I use that trust in group situations. I’m also working to become a better manager. And of course, I’m trying to eat my 5-10 servings of veggies every day! (Though it’s virtually impossible here… man, I never thought I would miss salad!)

I hope that gives you a good overview of what it’s like to work for the Agric Ghana team. In the next post, I’ll tell you more about what I’m actually doing with MoFA. Until then, please send your comments and questions my way and I’ll do my best to address them in the coming posts. Thanks for reading!

31 Aug

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Chitsime – A Well

August 31, 2010 | By |

Update From The Field

One of EWB’s new African program volunteers, our Grand River chapter’s Don McMurtry, has started a really interesting blog.  It will follow Don’s progress and challenges during his four months in Malawi as an EWB Professional Junior Fellow.  You can read his first post here below, or on his own site “Mudzi Madzi“.

Two days ago, after a three hour mini-bus ride south from Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, I arrived in the town of Balaka. An EWB colleague who accompanied me on the 6 am departure from Lilongwe’s chaotic bus “terminal” (two tiny block sheds in the middle of a large grassless field filled with people, busses and cargo vans, recounted standing for several hours on a jam-packed coach, so our trip was far less uncomfortable than might be expected.

While in Lilongwe and again here in Balaka, I have been staying in guest houses that offer a variety of room types. The one on Lilongwe had as many as seven people; here at the Chitsimi Hostel it costs 500 Kwatcha per night (about Cdn $3.33, including breakfast) for a four-person shared room. Single rooms are available as well, but I am happy to meet others. It is my hope to soon find a family in a nearby village that will accept me as a guest and where I can still walk a convenient distance to the office.

Balaka’s District Water Office (part of the Malawi Ministry of Irrigation & Water Development) will be my base of work for the next four months. On Friday morning, my second day in the district office, Mr. Nkwate (a Water Monitoring Assistant) was asked by Mr. Mapsere (the District Water Officer, aka his boss) to take me to Utale to visit a rural health station. It was very helpful to meet some of the dozen “health surveillance assistants” who work in that area as I slowly assemble my understanding of how water services are provided in rural Malawi. It also made more clear how interdependent the Health and Water departments are, just as they are in North America.

Unlike most districts in Malawi, Balaka has a substantial gravity-fed pipe network reaching into rural areas as well as bore-hole wells equipped with hand pumps. As the district population has grown, less water, sometime none, makes it to the more remote edges of the almost three decade old network. There are other reasons for taps being non-functional as well, but I don’t yet have a more comprehensive systemic understanding at this early stage. Most of the Utale taps fall into the non-fuctional category.

Tap water in Lilongwe and here in Balaka is drinkable. Chlorine is added to the water as it enters the distribution network near the reservoir dam but one can imagine there is a drop-off of concentration in various circumstances. The scent of water from the tap is welcome.

At the health centre I learned about HTH, the chlorine powder added to water for drinking. Rural people without piped water add a teaspoon of HTH into a 20 litre container to make the water safe.

Nkwate gave me some riding instructions as we departed for the health centre on the back of a District-owned motorcycle. Twisting along dirt paths and roads, at times bumping across railway lines, was a reminder that I must spend a portion of every day doing back strengthening exercises or I run the risk of a recurrence of my lower-back disk injury. The brain-bucket (aka motorcycle helmet) EWB had me purchase while we were in Toronto for training was one of the more essential things stuffed into my bag.

15 Aug

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Culture Shock

August 15, 2010 | By |

Update From The Field

One of EWB’s African program staff, Grand River chapter’s Erin Antcliffe, has posted another intriguing new entry in her blog (August 13, 2010) .  You can read it here, or on Erin’s own site “What am I doing here?   Reflections on my role in Ghanaian development.”

Erin writes: 

I met John while at a meeting in the garden of a local guesthouse. “Hey, Wayne, how is it?” he greeted us. “Hey, John, long time! How is Accra?” replied Wayne. Wayne, our team leader, introduced John as an employee in the M&E department for MoFA in Accra. He sat down to join us and his animated personality soon made us forget our meeting.

John had come to “the north” on a data collection assignment for MoFA National. Apparently all districts had been asked to submit some data on the farmers in their area, but hadn’t been doing so. John came to find out why, and to assist the districts in submitting the data.

He is young, maybe 30 years old, born and bred in Accra. This was only his second time traveling north of Kumasi. Last time he got very sick on his second day, so this time he had packed his white pick-up full of bottled water and food from Accra. “But John, they sell bottled water in Tamale.” “Yes, but it’s not the same quality as what we have in Accra. You never know what you’re getting.”

As his driver chauffeured him north, out of the lush green forests of the south and into the savannah of the north, he marveled at what he saw. “People actually live in mud huts here! Some don’t even have electricity! Me, I can’t imagine living without a microwave.”

He stopped the driver a few times in villages to talk to people as they passed, but they couldn’t understand each other. “You mean there are people in Ghana who don’t speak Twi??” Twi is one of Ghana’s major languages, spoken by many people as a common language even if their local language is different. But is mostly found in the south.

Through an interpreter, he had a conversation with an old woman in a village. “I asked her how old she was, and you know what she said? Ten! I mean, I didn’t expect her to know her exact age, but ten? She doesn’t even understand the concept of numbers!” The fact that someone in Ghana can live her whole life with no formal education is unfathomable to John.

“How can you live here? I don’t know how you EWB people do it.” “But John, this is your own country. You don’t think you could live here, in the north of Ghana?” “No no, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I could go to your country, Canada, and live in the north there. It would be an adventure! For you people, living in Ghana is an adventure. But I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t live here.”