#INDEVSpeaks: Meet Margaret

“For it to bother me as much as it did led me to question a lot of things: was I not made for this? What’s wrong with me?”

10358549_1542020659387729_1062030606864382084_nMeet Margaret: a recent graduate from the International Development program at the University of Waterloo. Since September 2014, she spent 8 months Burkina Faso to complete the placement component of her degree. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with her and catch up about her placement. Read on to find out what she did in Burkina Faso, what challenged her and what she found was the most rewarding.

1) What was the organization that you worked for and what were your responsibilities?

I worked at L’Association Solidarité et Entraide Mutuelle au Sahel (SEMUS). The organization has a holistc approach to poverty and focuses on microfinance projects, health projects, malnutrition, agriculture and the environment. My domain, specifically, was agriculture and helping farmers better produce, conserve and commercialize their crops for a better profit. A specific area of focus while I was there was based on silos. Silos were built in 2013 for onion conservation and they’re currently still in the testing phase. The first half of my placement was spent collecting technical data. Further on in my placement, I was able to approach farmers that would be stocking their onions in silos in order to get a better understanding of what they understood and what they were expecting.

2) Of your different responsibilities, which did you most enjoy? 

I enjoyed going to the market gardens that the farmers of this cooperative were part of. In the market gardens I got to see everything that they were doing. Despite being in dry and dusty conditions under the Sahara, the gardens still flourished and farmers were able to profit from it.

3) Walk me through a typical day while you were on placement. 

The majority of my days were spent in the office. My office was a bit of a walk from my supervisor’s office so he would call me if he needed me. I would come and discuss whatever was on the agenda and then he would send me back to finish my work. Quite honestly, there were a lot of slow days at work so I’d spend time at the church and its orphanage. It’s run by Americans so I got my English-speaking then, but I’d also go in the evenings to help teach English to the kids until 10pm every night. I made friends with the community there and they became my family.

4) What surprised you most when you were on placement in Burkina Faso? 

What surprised me most was how much they couldn’t get over the fact that I’m white! They’d call me Nassara in Mòoré. Even after 8 months, they still saw me as the white girl and it hindered my relationships from getting any deeper. I’m thinking of one person in particular, and we had spent many afternoons at my house, shared many meals together and exchanged many conversations but at the end I still sensed that I was just the white girl. That surprised me because they’re so welcoming. It’s a great culture based on humility and respect, but that was that struggle.  Ultimately, I understood that it wasn’t as much categorizing as it was welcoming me in the way they know how.

5) In  what aspects did your placement in Burkina Faso challenge you? How did you grow from it?

Maybe even more challenging than  being called Nassara was how much it bothered me.  As INDEV students, we should be open-minded and used to being the outsider – which I thought I was. For it to bother me as much as it did led me to question a lot of things: was I not made for this? What’s wrong with me? This ordeal helped me reflect on myself and identify my motives. We’re all human. You can’t just ask “if I’m made for this” or “am I not made for this” because everyone has their struggles and challenges. Just because I don’t like them calling me that doesn’t mean I’m not fit for the development field.

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Continue reading below for the second half of #INDEVSpeaks with Margaret! 

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#INDEVSpeaks: Meet Margaret (continued)

1) I think one of the biggest changes that I first noticed within the first few weeks was the dreads. What convinced you to get dreads?

I wasn’t even in the country for a month when I got them! I have wanted dreads since I was 13 years old but I grew up as a conservative Mennonite so it was never in the picture. I’ve wanted them for so long and now that I have them, I feel like it’s an expression of me.

2) I asked you to share a photo that holds the most value to you. Why did you choose this one and what value does it hold?

unnamed (1) This is Justine. Justine is a friend from church. She’s about 17 years old. Like many other girls, she’s a seamstress, but she is also illiterate. There were moments here and there when you knew she wanted to talk. She hadn’t been educated so her French was very minimal but we could still communicate. She was so open and it seemed like she just wanted to share it with me.  One day, she asked me if I could teach her how to read – and I agreed. I found it odd that she lives in a court with at least 7 literate people, of family and friends, but she asked me for help. However, the further we got into the studies, I assumed that she might have a learning disability. She’s very intelligent but the way I was explaining things wasn’t getting through to her. I’m not a teacher so I couldn’t identify what her weaknesses were so I couldn’t address it accordingly.

unnamedBeing able to witness how much she progressed during our lessons together and how significant of a difference it made in her everyday life was so meaningful. In between lessons, we’d also have some of the best (in both of our broken French abilities) heart-to-hearts. She was so open and willing for more – relationally and academically – it was such a gift. When I look at this picture, everything comes back.

3) How do you think your placement has shaped your perspective? What were you able to take away from your placement?

I know a lot of people say that the beginning of INDEV seems negative because development theories make it depressing. But I came back really encouraged. I found that there’s a lot of people doing what we do and they’re passionate about it. They want to see positive change. Yes, there can be a lot of negativity about development but things are changing. There’s a huge global team of us out there!

4) What advice do you have for the cohort that is preparing to leave in September?

There will be many slow days that will discourage you but don’t forget the amazing opportunity you have. You’re in a new place where you’ll grow as a person, as a student, and as a future employee. You’ll have a support network there and back at home who care about you and care about your future. Take this placement and make it into something special.

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I’d like to thank Margaret for taking time out of her day and sharing about her experience in Burkina Faso. There is no doubt on my mind that this woman will go on to do great things for people – that which will go beyond the certification of her degree. If you would like to hear Margaret present her Capstone, she will be speaking at the annual Global Gala in Waterloo, Ontario on July 11, 2015.