In a city of non-governmental organizations and federal development institutions, perhaps it’s no wonder that half the stories in Generation NGO — a new collection of articles by young people working overseas — are written by Ottawans. The book tells of the work done through CIDA youth internships and Canada World Youth programs but also describes the idealistic visions and pragmatic realities of life abroad. Here, a glimpse of what five local authors had to say about working overseas.
MEET THE AUTHORS: A launch for Generation NGO will be held Thursday, May 19. 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre, Upper Lobby, 1233 Wellington Rd. W.
Zoe Kahn Travelled to: Namibia
“As the evacuation of volunteers became inevitable, I struggled to understand the many injustices. Why did I have the power to leave, when so many of my friends and colleagues did not?”
Kahn’s chapter, “Adding Things Up in Namibia,” tells of a young girl’s fascination with the continent of Africa and invites readers into her naive mind as she prepares for a placement teaching math at Maria Mwengere Secondary School in rural Namibia, near the Angolan border. Once there, Kahn confronts the effects of HIV/AIDS and challenges deeply engrained gender roles. In her second year, when civil unrest leads to the evacuation of volunteers, Kahn sees first-hand the unfairness inherent in the development industry
Laura Madeleine Sie Travelled to: Kenya
“Everything took on a different political and cultural meaning in Kenya: a bus ride, a stroll down the street, an encounter with a beggar, the choice of vacation destination, personal safety and security. Every interaction was loaded with the weight of colonial history and the precedent of racial exclusion.”
“A Night Out in Malindi” tells of the events that transpire during a short vacation Sie takes with other Canadian development workers. Members of the group feel differing levels of apprehension about personal security in Kenya, and it all comes to a tipping point when a beggar is beaten for “harassing” them. Describing the incident as “a rupture in our group dynamic,” Sie analyzes her emotions and those of her colleagues — from one person’s adamant refusal to stand by and watch the beggar suffer to another’s residual fear after a violent mugging just weeks earlier.
Alisha Nicole Apale Travelled to: Thai-Burma border
“Although I had felt rather comfortable in the company of the young officer, only days afterward the experience of confronting anyone in military or police attire would send waves of fear through my limbs.”
Apale, an editor of Generation NGO, says that when she left for Bangkok in October 2003, she believed the key to a more just world lay in raising awareness among the haves about the lives of the have-nots. But this attitude changes as Apale learns to lie to border officials, witnesses the effects of child rape, and generally watches the world ignore the displaced Burmese. And when the Southeast Asian tsunami hits, after Apale has returned home, she experiences mixed emotions as she pulls out her credit card to help.
Valerie Stam Travelled to: Senegal
“Despite the connection I felt with people, at times I was intensely lonely. No one understood what my culture was like or why I talked, ate, laughed, and thought the way I did. Even though I was lonely, I did not want to leave … I wanted a link between my previous world and my current one.”
In “Coming Home to Foreignness,” Stam explores the inner conflict she experiences when her beliefs are challenged during her first trip to Africa as a 15-year-old. One of the editors of Generation NGO, Stam examines with honesty the difference between poverty in North America and the suffering in Africa. In the end, Stam realizes that in many ways, she feels more alive when interacting with new cultures.
Heidi Braun Travelled to: Kenya
“I try to tell her about the struggle I had being back in Kenya this time. I talk about how strange it felt staying at the fancy hotel in Nairobi and riding taxis instead of matatus. She congratulates me for moving up in the world and suggests I hang on tight to my job…”
In “You Go and Come,” Braun feels conflicted upon landing in Kenya for the fourth time. She tries to reconnect with the friends she made when volunteering with Canadian Crossroads International but feels disconnected now that she’s working full-time as a development worker and travelling business class. On her last day, Braun chats with old friends about Barack Obama. She feels coverage from Kenya has been excessive, but her friend compares the event to a championship victory of a sports team, one that Kenyans have every right to celebrate.