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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.


The Journey to Zambia is Days Away! Pre-departure Training and Malaria Pills are on the Agenda

October 02, 2015

The countdown is on! I officially leave for Zambia on October 12 and begin my work with the talented entrepreneurs at Rent-to-Own later that week. It's been slowly sinking in that this is actually happening with each vaccination I get, form I fill out, and travel/visa document I obtain. As it sinks in, the excitement continues to grow.


159 Malaria pills…

My last day of work in the WSP Toronto office was September 18.  It didn't feel like so much of a "goodbye" as it did a "see you soon".  To be honest, I was too busy ensuring that my projects were either wrapped up or transitioned to really have time to stop and reflect that I wouldn't be back again until March.  Though I did take a nice midday break - the sendoff lunch and card from my team was much appreciated.

EWB Fellows: Yue, Valerie, Alanna, Sylvie, Nazareth, Pierre and WSP’s own Brian

September 21 was the start of my pre-departure training.  The evening prior, I met up with the people who would be my "classmates" for the next 3 weeks.  I put classmates in quotes because as I would soon find out, the training is far from typically classroom sessions.  In addition to myself, there are 6 EWB Long-Term Fellows who are being deployed to various locations in Africa, each for a period of at least a year.  It was quite invigorating to be surrounded by other individuals with positive attitudes and excitement visible on their faces.  Also present was our pre-departure training facilitator, who gave us the run down on how the coming weeks would unfold.  It sounds like a great experience is in store.

The EWB office with the Zambia flag displayed in the foreground

The first week of pre-departure training was a great learning opportunity and exceeded any expectations I had going in.  The week focused on knowledge and skill set development, and it was also lots of fun!  In terms of knowledge, we had valuable sessions on African history, EWB history, international development, anti-oppression, and more.  To me the value of these sessions wasn't so much in the actual material learned, as each topic was difficult to cover in a short 2-3 hour session, but rather the value was in making me all the more motivated to read up and learn more in each of these areas in the coming weeks and months.  The other category of sessions in the first week covered things such as communication, self-awareness, leadership, and coaching.  These sessions in particular were very interactive and were more of group discussions than actual lessons.  I found them very valuable, as I recognize I have room for improvement in all of these areas, and it was great to share our perspectives with one another.  It was also an excellent opportunity to bond with the other EWB Fellows and establish a sense of community among the group.

It is difficult to summarize the key takeaways of the first week of training but one item that resonated with me was the notion that I'll be going to Africa not to "fix" anything or "help" anyone, but rather to "serve".  To fix implies that we, in the developed world, know better than those in the developing world and that we believe we're the only ones who can do the job.  Similarly, to help implies that while we recognize that the locals will have a better understanding than us of their own processes and challenges, we still believe we're the only ones who can do the job (due to our first world education and experience).  It's not wrong to want to fix Africa or to help Africa, but instead the best attitude to bring is that of serving Africa.  In serving, we remain humble about what we know and also recognize that locals can be empowered to continue our work after we leave.  The implied sustainability and long-term impact is what makes serving, in most cases, the most effective approach.  To quote a former EWB Fellow, "systemic change must be institutionalized rather than individualized".

Dispersed throughout the week were also opportunities to meet other EWB team members, and even the EWB Board of Directors and the EWB Toronto Professional Chapter.  The atmosphere in the EWB office where we spent most of the week is very friendly, easygoing, and welcoming.  It was great to meet so many other people enthusiastic about international development, and several expressed excitement and gratitude that the Professional Fellowship with WSP materialized.

On to the second week of pre-departure training!

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