Friday, February 27, 2009

"I want to reach down into your guts and give you a bit of a twist here"...

... says Wilfred Laurier professor Garry Potter.

I'm not too sure how many of you get the chance to read The Record, but on Thursday, February 26, the front page of the local section featured an article 'Everything is going to get worse' and I thought it was worth trying to get a discussion started about it... or at least hear your opinions!
You can read the article at

"His goal was not to cheer up his audience but to scare them into action." In brief, a sociology professor from WLU delivered a "public lecture laying out his grim predictions for the world. He didn't leave much to hope for." As you read the article, you may feel as I did - a little annoyed at his pessimism, his seemingly lack of motivational skills and maybe even his lack of point. But once I re-read the article, there were a couple things which stuck out to me. "Believing that anything else but the worst is coming is sticking your head in the sand."

Potter, himself, recognizes his negativity, but firmly states "We have a lot to be pessimistic about, but I don't think we should give up."

Once upon a time, I most likely would have strongly rejected Potter's approach. Cynicism, gloom and hopelessness just don't seem like a fitting attitude to take when trying to motivate people to rise up to their social responsibilities and take action for both their and their children and their children's children's lives. However, if this scare tactic is the only thing that will get people to stand up, shake their heads and do something productive, then I think people should refrain from criticizing Potter's plan of attack.

For example, we know that our destructive habits are killing the earth and us... yet we continue to pack our landfills, drowned garbage in our waters and stuff our air with chemicals. How many more commercials or movies or statistics do we need to see before we (and by we I mean cities, companies, nations and continents) actual do something SERIOUS about it.

Moreover, we know safe ways to prevent pregnancy, yet unwanted teenage pregnancies continue to occur at an alarming rate. We hear the deadly effects of drugs and alcohol, yet children are becoming involved in such activities earlier and earlier each year. These examples are the things that we have all been educated about since we were young. If we cannot manage to come up with effective ways of getting a hold of these catastrophes, how will we tackle the other areas which Potter mentions: oil at $400/barrel, more wars, increased child prostitution, a deeper recession, general brutality, misery and starvation.

I know there a MANY people who dedicate their lives to these issues and who don't need to be scared into action. I don't think any of us have been scared into joining the Beyond Borders program, and I think that is something special. However, we also know that we are not going to our placements to change the world so much as we are to observe and experience. What the world needs, though, is real-life global sized changes which requires the efforts and response of everybody.

Personally, I am not so sympathetic to the person who felt attacked or whose feelings were hurt after Potter's lecture -if that's what it took to get people passionate about building a better tomorrow then so be it. Words are SO easy to say, but often, action is left to the wind. If people need a reason to act on behalf of their words, and fear will be that reason, then I guess that is the best we can hope for right now.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

... that stupid "What if" game...

So I just re-read Jessica’s blog on worrying... a bunch of us so far have been feeling weird emotions about this whole thing and I just thought I better get mine out.. if not for anyone else, then just for my own sake!

Every now and then, I get that bottom-of-the-pit-of-my-stomach feeling about WHAT THE HECK AM I GETTING MYSELF INTO?! On the whole, I think I’ve been pretty confident about this whole thing – I know (kind of) what I’m getting myself into; I know why (I think?) I’m getting myself into it and I have (a pretty good) idea what I might get out of it.


What if I don’t know what I’m getting myself into? What if the surprising and difficult things at WASL will only be magnified 110% in Mochudi... so much so that I won’t be able to wrap my head around it, accept it or even come close to understanding it?

Or what if all along my intentions haven’t been what I thought they were... John brought up a good point in one of his blogs discussing the feeling you get when you share with someone this “self-less act” you’re embarking on and the satisfaction you feel when they respond with “Wow, I could never do something like that”. But how selfless can it really be once you begin using it as a way to define you? In all honesty, I don’t think I have used (or abused) the Beyond Borders program in this way, and I sincerely hope that I can fight the temptation to do so in the future, but I also can’t lie and say I don’t feel it creeping into my mind or conversations every now and then.

And lastly, what if I have NO CLUE what I am going to learn out of this. I have a perfect, clear image in my head of some of the things I will see and lessons I will learn. Does that even make sense? –How can I possibly be anticipating lessons I will learn?! –Or ways I will change? Often I worry that this whole thing will be like that movie that everyone hypes up so much and you can’t be more excited to see it... then you do and it’s a total dud... not even coming close to your expectations. Maybe the even more intimidating thought are the unexpected ways I might change... what if I come home and don’t have the same interests anymore and can’t relate to my closest of friends, or find myself unable to cope with the North American lifestyle.

Oy vey. This is DEFINITLY not like me to be posting this stuff (don’t forget, I’m a green... I have no feelings!.. and even when I do, I most certainly don't talk about them!) I feel extremely vulnerable posting this and I hope I don’t offend anyone, or give anybody the impression I’m in this for the wrong reasons or whatnot. This is a CRAZY learning experience for all involved and every now and then it can feel a little overwhelming. I still can’t wait to go and I’m excited for the next 2 ½ months of prep... but once you start thinking about all of the “What ifs”, you just seem to get on a roll. Either way, I feel better after venting... thanks for lending an ear!


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Stepping Stones International (SSI)

Hey all!

I've been a little frustrated lately... my jeep almost got hijacked while I was downtown Kitchener, work has been keeping me very busy, my school workload is nutso with midterms coming up, and last night, my jeep DIED on my home from work. I figured I needed something to take my mind off of all these things, and what's a more perfect way than thinking about this summer! ... a lot of what I say is better worded on their website, so check that out too!

As I've alluded to in past posts, orphaned children in Botswana is a hugely important issue. In fact, in Botswana, 64% of youth ages 10-18 have been left orphaned and vulnerable by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I'll be working with such children in a community called Mochudi. Here, I will work with other volunteers to foster life skills (motivational skills, confidence and knowledge) so that they make the decision to get on the right path, leading them either back to school or into the workplace.

As I understand, all these skills are passed along through discussions and activities (as opposed to classroom setting). For instance, one event that occurs is the Mochudi Initiation Camp. Here, the group spends a week at Mokolodi Nature reserve. This camp-out retreat is not only meant to allow the youth to see the amazing wonder's of their country (THE WILDLIFE), but also is meant to merge their traditional culture with their urban culture as they begin to plan for their future. At the same time, communication skills, developing a network/community and more are added bonuses of the retreat. At the end of the day, SSI is there to tell the youth to acknowledge that they have been through some absolutely horrific things, but it is important to take responsibility in making a better life for themselves. Moreover, in times where they have felt abandoned and unloved, they need to see that they are anything but unloved... they are important creatures on this planet and deserve to have a safe and healthy lifestyle.

I truly can't wait to get there and have such a personal impact on the future of so many young lives!!!!!!!!!!!

I see some interesting similarities between SSI and what happens at WASL. For instance, many of the volunteers working at Worth a Second Look are people who have previously been in jail, rehab or on assistance. WASL is a place where these volunteers can be re-integrated into society in a healthy way - it teaches them about their duty of being a responsible citizen. For many, WASL and St John's kitchen has played an important part in their lives in helping them have a meal or a mattress to sleep on. Now that they have been able to get a firm ground on their lives, this is a way for them to come back and help shape the lives of others who are currently in that position. When I think about it, that might be the best medicine/rehabilitation anyone could take part in.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


I just wanted to take this quick oppurtunity to thank everyone who has donated to St. Jerome's University on my behalf. Thanks to each of you, I have been able to surpass my goal of $2000. A huge thank-you also goes out to a past employer or mine, Tim Hortons, who has generously donated $1000 to the program. It is so warming to know how many people are out there supporting me on this adventure... I truly don't know how to effectively say thank-you and tell you how greatful I really am.

In addition, I will continue to accept donations, so all are still more than welcome! You can decide on your own if you would like the money to go towards St. Jerome's University (who funds the Beyond Borders program) or if you would like me to use that money to purchase items to take when I move to Botswana (such as pens/paper/markers/calculators/sports equipment/etc).

So again, thankyou thankyou thankyou!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Brief Botswana Presentation

The other day in class we all gave a brief presentation on the country we will be calling home in the summer. We also received some feedback, so I promise for my next presenation I will take my hands out of my pockets and slow my speech a little! I figured I might as we post my presentation as well:

Botswana Stats

- Total Area = 600 370 km
-> 6% of the area of Canada

-> Landlocked

- Population = 1 842 323 people
-> Similar land – people ratio as Canada (largely due to protected and untouched areas)
-> Capital is Gaborone with over 10% of the population living there

- Maintains one of the world’s highest economic growth rates until just the past 2 years. It has transformed itself from being one of the world’s poorest to being a middle-income country.

- Literacy rate of 81.2%. which is quite impressive for an African country [note: Canada has a LR of 99%]

Now we look at some of the reasons why Botswana is a developing country:
- Total Renewable Water Resources is 14.7 cubic km
-> 0.4% of what Canada has, making access to fresh water resources a huge environmental issue

- Under 5 mortality rate is 120 / 1000 live births (12%)
-> This is compared to 11 / 1000 live births in Canada

- Botswana daces unemployment and poverty at about 40%

- HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is at 37.3%
-> 2nd highest rated country, first being Swaziland
-> Top 19 countries for HIV prevalence all lie on the African continent

- An estimated 95 000 children have lost at least one parent due to AIDS, and instead of going to school, they become responsible to provide care to ill family and siblings… i.e. families are literally pushed into poverty.
In response, the government has set an amazing example to the rest of Africa. They have provided free therapy to the need citizens.

Just to break it down into a manageable size, I’ll paint a more personal picture using a size of 13 students (which makes up the Beyond Borders group this year):

o There would be 7 males and 6 females
o 7 of us would live in urban areas
o 11 of us would be literate
o 9 are Christians, 3 non-believers and the last is an other
o 3 of us own 60% of the wealth in the country and 3 of us own 4% of the wealth
o Maybe one us has access to the internet
o 2 of us haven’t made it past the age of 5
o 8 of us were left orphaned
o 5 of us don’t have basic sanitation
o 2 of us are hungry/malnourished
o 4 don’t have access to safe water
o 2 of us live on less than $1/day; 8 of us live on less than $2
and with respect to the 3 main diseases in Africa:
o 1 is likely to have a family member with tuberculosis
o 8 of us live in an area highly infected with malaria
o 5 of us suffer with HIV/AIDS
o ALL 13 of us feel the harsh effect of the AIDS epidemic every day of our lives

Again, these are just some high-level issues Botswana is facing. The orphaned children in Botswana is where my main interest lies and is important to the projects I will be working on during my placement, so stay tuned for another presentation on this important issue!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

WASL - First Impressions

Hello everyone!

So I had my first volunteer shift with The Working Centre yesterday, so as promised, here I am blogging about it! I would also like to note that this is my 5th attempt to write this thing, so BEWARE!...

So again, I am working with a project called Worth a Second Look (WASL from now on). The store is a “furniture and housewares” outlet with a goal “to provide the community with low-cost used furniture and assorted houseware items while keeping reusable goods out of landfills and creating opportunities for employment”. They even provide pick-up and delivery services to increase availability of goods.

As you can tell, I don’t blog very much... mostly since I just feel like I don’t have too many interesting things to say. So, before yesterday, I was having dreams of (well maybe that’s a little extreme, but I was actually looking forward to) blogging after volunteering at WASL. I thought finally I am going to have something to say! I have read many of my fellow BBer blogs and they have all expressed an abundance of love for their new projects with The Working Centre. As much as I would love to share their enthusiasm, I’ve got some more thinking to do.

WASL has an ENORMOUS range of items available for purchase. They’ve got electronics, furniture, household necessities, health products and toys for young children. And, all of these items are more than generously priced. When I walked in and had my tour, I felt pretty optimistic... it looked like there were so many important items for sale that people could really take advantage of.

So I spent the first half of my shift stocking. I would obtain a basket with newly priced items in it and it was my job to place these items on their appropriate shelf. As I continued to shelf item after item, my mood began to sour. More than half of the items I shelved could be classified as “Garage sale dust collectors”. There were too many figurines and non-essential items to count. What was more distressing is that I would put an item on the shelf that I thought would NEVER sell, and I would turn around and it would be gone. Literally, this stuff is FLYING off the shelves! Now you might be wondering, and rightly so, why in the world this would bother me. Well... I was finding that people who obviously were facing financial hardships were coming in and spending what little money they had on items that were unimportant. For instance, there was a man who explained to me that he had been living on the streets of Kitchener for the winter. He wished to buy a gold-fish net that was marked at $0.75, but he only had 71 cents. After MUCH bartering with the owner, he purchased the net with all the change he had. I was left speech-less... and those of you who know me know that I’m not often left without words. I couldn’t understand what I was doing there... or how my contributions were helping anyone... all I could see was that I was stocking shelves with half junk and half useful things, and only the junk was being sold.

With my crippling optimism, I decided to take a lunch and try to, more effectively, think about what was going on in the store.

Refreshed, I went back to work and started working at the register. Here, I found that much of my first impressions remained... however, there were a few cases that kept me positive. There was a father who was interested in purchasing a dresser for his daughter’s birthday, but didn’t have the voucher yet to make the purchase. The dresser was put on hold for him, and now thanks to WASL, his daughter will get a very nice dresser for her birthday. Also, there was a young couple – late teens – who entered with their baby. Obviously facing some hard times, the couple was able to purchase a microwave for $1.75, along with some children’s movies, books and blankets.
So now, I am still left with mixed reviews, needing more time to volunteer and figure out how to appropriately reflect on this all. I had a great talk with Joanne who helped me understand that it is important to be in situations like this... situations that are unfamiliar/conflict with our natural processing of life. She helped me understand that, for starters, many customers may be living with a very different mindset as me... they may not be able to evaluate the difference between having food for the day to having a gold-fish net. We also tossed around ideas about what different groups of people may consider luxuries, the need for control, and more. I plan to explore more of these ideas as I continue volunteering. I will also be looking into the philosophy of WASL and how their volunteers play an integral part in this philosophy.

So to sum up this LONG post (congratulations if you’ve made it through this whole thing, and DOUBLE congrats if you’ve understood anything in it!) I am still looking forward to volunteering at WASL. I know there is something really important to learn from this all; it just might take me a little longer to sort it out. In the meantime, feel free to browse the WASL websites on the right hand side.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Empowering through learning...

As I previously mentioned, the Beyond Borders crew will be putting in volunteer time at the not for profit organization The Working Centre in downtown Kitchener. Not only is this a great oppurtunity to enhance my resume and give a little back to the community, but I truly think that there is a lot more than I first imagined for me to learn.

One project that I found particularily interesting was the Recycle Cycles Community Bike Shop. Volunteers working on this project are dedicated to assisting (NOT fixing, but instead teaching) the public on bicycle maintenence, as well as work on refurbishing donated bicycles. Recycle cycles keeps bikes out of landfills and promotes a more environmental way of transportation.
There are two things that I find especially significant about this project. First of all, I have owned my own car since I was 17. In fact, just before Christmas, I owned two cars for about a year and a half. I've never had to really rely on any other means of transportation, or even given much thought to those who may not have their own car. What I'm getting at here is that I don't think I truly understood the importance that a bike could have on someone's life. And not only that, but to then have the skills to fix your bike yourself now gives you a mode of transportation you can rely on.
Secondly, and something that a number of projects at the working centre involve, is the transfer of skills. I know I'm a bit of a nerd, but I think that most people feel better about themselves when they are learning new things or when they have a skill that they can put into use. While the "outside" picture of Recycle Cycles is that people are learning how to effectively take care of their bicycle, I truly think the more important "inner" picture is about empowering these people by telling them: "Hey, you've got a great skill. You can now use this skill to better your and others lives. You are important and you are valued!" This message is obsorbed by the people and its effect will be seen in their daily decisions.
As many of the BB students have already shared a new ability to see Friere in everything, I think this is another perfect example!

As Recycle Cycles didn't fit in with my schedule, I will be volunteering at Worth a Second Look on Wednesdays. I'm stoked for the position and am sure I will learn a ton! After my first shift I'll let you guys know how it went!

Anyways, hope the weekend went great for everyone!