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Engineers Without Borders


WSP is excited to partner for a second year with Engineers Without Borders (EWB)! Meet Janelle de Vries, Geomatics Proposal Office Lead from Calgary, Alberta. Janelle embarked at the end of September 2016 on a journey that has taken her to Toronto (for EWB training) and then to her fellowship in Zambia until March 2017. There are more ways to follow our Engineers Without Borders fellow this year via social media (Instagram and Facebook) and Janelle’s blog (both written and video) can be found on Janelleinzambia.ca.


After a 35 hour marathon of a journey, Brian lands safely in Zambia!

October 26, 2015

Three full weeks of pre-departure training with Engineers without Borders have flown by! During these weeks I participated in more skills development sessions, including sessions on design thinking, analytical thinking, entrepreneurial thinking, and more. Some of these sessions were focused on skills that I already apply on a daily basis, though they were still quite useful as I’d never previously received any formal training in this regard. Other sessions focused on concepts that were less familiar to me, which provided me with useful insights that I will take with me to Zambia and throughout the rest of my career. It was a great couple of weeks of learning all around.


A highlight of the final two weeks of pre-departure training was the group project we completed.  Engineers Without Borders is involved with a lot of great ventures in Africa, but when one looks at its engagement level with African diaspora communities in Canada there is ample room for improvement.  The group project involved the preparation of  a “proposal” for how EWB might consider engaging these communities in Toronto and what value might be derived from doing so.  The proposal was delivered in the form of a presentation to the others in my pre-departure training cohort as well as EWB staff.  Our group came up with approaches that included (but were not limited to) increasing the networking with African diaspora associations, as well as recruiting more African diaspora into EWB.

Engaging African diaspora has the potential of being a very complex undertaking.

The project was a highlight for me because I knew it was not “filler work” that would just sit on a shelf but it was work that would actually benefit EWB.  I look forward to seeing how EWB Canada evolves as an organization in the coming months and years.  Another reason it was a highlight for me was because it got me out of my comfort zone.  Not so far out of my comfort zone as to be demotivating, but just enough to feel like I was developing new skills.  Our approach for determining viable means of engaging African diaspora communities involved us actually reaching out to these communities.  Our first step was to have face-to-face conversations with pedestrians in the Regent Park area of Toronto, before we developed a more targeted approach that involved cold calling African Canadian organizations and community groups.  Neither of these tasks are things I’m used to doing and it was great to see the improvement made by all group members as we each became more comfortable with reaching out.

Another highlight of the final week of pre-departure training was an African dinner cooked by Pauline, a Burkinabe living in Toronto (Burkinabe is to Burkina Faso as Canadian is to Canada), followed by a Q&A session with Boris Martin, the CEO of EWB Canada.  These both took place in a casual environment in the comfort of the EWB House in downtown Toronto.  The dinner was outstanding, and the Q&A went until almost 1am.  It was more of a conversation and we all learned a lot from Boris about EWB and its principles, ventures, and direction.  I asked Boris a question about how much value I can realistically bring to Rent-to-Own in Zambia as 4 ½ months abroad is really not a lot of time.  He responded by saying that in the world of international development, 1 year or even 5 years is really not a lot of time either, and neither myself nor the Long-Term Fellows should expect to move mountains during our placements.  At the same time every pair of hands is a big help and 4 ½ months should be long enough to make some meaningful contributions.  It was great to hear his perspective.

35 hours of travel… With just enough time for a cheesy London phone booth photo!


After a Thanksgiving weekend full of packing and spending time with loved ones, it was time to finally depart for Zambia!

The journey was quite the hike as I went from Toronto to London to Johannesburg before finally arriving in Lusaka, the capital and largest city of Zambia, around 35 hours after I initially arrived at Pearson Airport in Toronto.  Though the journey wasn’t as torturous as it might sound – I had company on the way.  Valerie, one of the Long-Term Fellows in my pre-departure training cohort, was making the same trip and will also be based in Lusaka and working with Rent-to-Own.  We were also fortunate enough to have a layover in London just long enough for us to spend a few hours stretching our legs and walking around town, which was a great way to break up the trip.

Touching down in Zambia, my adrenaline was in full force and I was excited to see how my first few days would unfold.  Really happy to be here!  Stay tuned for my initial impressions of Zambia and Rent-to-Own.

Welcome to Zambia! I’ve made it (at the airport).

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Do you have ideas on how to engage African diaspora communities in Canada?  Please reach out to me; I would love to hear from you!



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