Training Part 2 - What We Learned

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The view from where I was staying during training

Ten days of training was a very intense experience. Each day was at least 9 hours long and there were often events to go to or homework to complete afterwards. We covered a lot- talked about everything from health and safety to intercultural effectiveness to development approaches.

Here are two messages that really resonated with me from the training:

There are Systems. Even if You can't See Them

Having worked previously in Africa, I know from personnal experience, that what can seem insane or chaotic, actually often turns out to be entirely reasonable within the social environment you are in.

Like bartering for example, I hear people coming back from all parts of the world complaining about  “not knowing the real price” of an item. They assume the system of charging more is just people out to get you. But, having different prices for things, depending on who you are (and more importantly how much you have) is often a way to create greater social equality. Think about it this way- everyone needs food. So if you make more money you should pay more for you food because this will mean someone with less money can pay less. That way everyone can still eat. It's the same idea as tax brackets really.

So the best advice I have been given in dealing with what seems to be different, or seemingly chaotic (and the method I have used myself in the past) is to watch and not say anything for a very long time. Eventually things will be clear.

Sitting with Your Privilege

It's important to acknowledge your privilege and also sit with what that means. You have a camera, a computer; you can live in a nice neighbourhood; even the fact that you can travel outside your country to work or visit is all about privilege. All of these things are a reality of where you were born. While you can't change that, you should be able to acknowledge it and understand what it means for other people in the world.

One thing I find about living in African countries is that poverty is never invisible. In Canada, if you choose to stick to certain neighbourhoods you can go days or even weeks without having to see the inequality that exists even in our world. But here, even if you are in a wealthy neighbourhood, there will be people doing work, walking somewhere or selling food who are obviously barely getting by.

One of the positive things that comes out of this is that it means people are always talking about developing, improving, and addressing poverty. Even a hip-hop radio station will have talk shows devoted to discussing development issues. I find it really energizing to see so many people engaged in the task of making their society better. (Something we could do with more of back in Canada)

Going Forward

At the end of the training, the ultimate message is that as interns we are there to learn and watch. It is not our place to go and try to solve all the problems we see because we are likely to either A) be misunderstanding the situation or B) the problem will be too big to solve on there own. What I hope for in my internship is that after watching and learning, I may be able to share in some of the work that these organizations are doing. If I can say that I did that at the end of 6 months I'll be happy.


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