For all the women in my life, this is for you:

“I want to apologize to all the women

I have called pretty

Before I’ve called them intelligent or brave

I am sorry I made it sound as though

Something as simple as what you’re born with

Is the most you have to be proud of when your

Spirit has crushed mountains

From now on I will say things like

You are resilient or you are extraordinary

Not because I don’t think you’re pretty

But because you are so much more than that”

Rupi Kaur 

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This is part of a larger collection of beautifully honest poems in her first book, Milk  and Honey. It is her recollection as a modern woman as she experiences love, loss, pain, and healing throughout her life. It’s an incredible set of poems on strength and survival. Her words will wrap around you and give you a warm hug in times of need. If you’re in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, pick up your copy at Truth Beauty Company in Uptown Waterloo. It’ll be worth it! 

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Here’s 8 things I really learned in my 4 years of university (so far)

The day that someone tells you to reconsider whether or not you should really be enrolled into Advanced Functions in grade 12 is the day that you learn a little something about yourself: you defy the Asian stereotype and math is not for you. So forgive me if I don’t remember the Pythagorean Theorem (I tried Ms. Fernandes) or follow the science-based path that my siblings paved out for our family name (1 doctor, 1 to-be-med student, and a teacher!! – holy crap!). And to my first year 8:30AM psychology class in Hagey Hall: I was there – but not really.

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Without further ado, here are the 8 things I really learned in my 4 years of university.

1. How to be independent & responsible for myself at 22

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“Sure we can go out but I can only spend $20. I’m watching my money. Like how the adults do it.”

“I’ll do laundry when I have no more underwear.”

“Yeah, so what if I’m having pasta for the second week in a row? Food is food!”

“No, look harder. It’s not a mess of a room, it’s an *organized* mess of a room”

2. Taking a book out of the library and actually using it for something (more than a paperweight)

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As of July 2015, I am proud to say that I finally learned how to do locate, check out, and use an academic book at both Waterloo’s library and Laurier’s library. So yes,  I guess you could call me a pro.

3. Survive without sleep

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Sometimes it just happens because there’s not enough time in a day or days in a week. Exhibit A: I once had to write a paper that was due at 10am – the same day that I had to wake up at 5:00am to work an 8-hour long Black Friday shift in the mall. Sometimes, you just have to forgo the sleep…

6. Effectively napping

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…or you develop effective napping techniques. It’s all about relaxing and letting your mind drift off, where ever you are. Even if you sleep on 2 chairs and drool on a stack of Big Boy Pajamas at The Children’s Place.

5. Find the simple pleasures in life

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This was huge lesson that I learn from my Global Youth Volunteer Network family in Canada, Morocco, and Uganda. Our time together doesn’t need to be glamorous, we just need a light heart, good laughs and better company (corny, I know).

6. Hoops come in all different sizes

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One of my professors passed along an analogy that was shared to her during her doctorate thesis. There are all types of hoops that we need to go through. Some are “assignment” sized hoops that last for a week, others are a bit larger – like a “thesis” sized hoop. Figure out the hoop size, give it your all and jump through it. Keep trucking along and remember, that it’s just a hoop – there will be more to come.

7. It’s okay to fail

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I had my first run-in with failure in grade 5 when my wonderful mother (she really is!) decided that my youthful, summer days would be better spent inside the Royal Conservatory of Music, learning advanced music harmony, counterpoint, and analysis instead of soaking up the sun with my squad. Failing advanced music harmony (twice, in grade 5 and 6) scarred me for awhile. Needless to say, I was scared of failing and scared of disappointing other people. Over the years, I’ve learned that I’m human and I make mistakes. Learning from these mistakes and failures pointed me into the right direction and proved to be more useful to me than, for example, holding an interesting dinner conversation about musical harmony, counterpoint, and analysis.

8. Learn as much as possible from the people you meet

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From their words, gestures, laughter, smile, tears and even their silences. Everyone has a wealth of stories to share, lessons they’ve learned, and things they’ve seen and I am honoured to have learned from such amazing friends, family and mentors over the years.

So maybe I didn’t have the conventional “4 year degree” but along the way, I did find a “5-year-university-experience-full-of-trial-and-error-but-it-was-and-will-be-worth-it”. 

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My university experience (as told by .gifs)

I started my university career hoping to have the classic 4 year experience . One where I’d “live, love, laugh” or “eat, pray, love” or join an all-girls acapella group and dual it out with the German vocal powerhouses. In all honesty, I expected to come out of university knowing exactly what I wanted to do, to be settled down, and financially secure.

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Fast forward to now and you can go ahead and add in another year of university and toss in:

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Some tears
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Frantic nights
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Sleepless mornings
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Love lost
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…and new-found love
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Disgusting amounts of sushi
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New friends (and foods)
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Trips to the hospital
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New jobs
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Trips around the world
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Phils & Duke nights
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New hobbies
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Rough mornings
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Some light reading
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and Netflix nights

I’m not sure I can remember all of the types of tress on campus (sorry ENVS 200) and please don’t ever ask me if the means of several groups equal (sorry to my stats prof). So, given my university experience, what did I really learn after spending 4 years in University? And how did I survive? (It helps that my program was mainly female as well…#nodistractions)

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Well, it definitely helps with friends around…

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Catch my blog post tomorrow to find out what I actually learned in University!

Thank you, Rita Pierson

This woman speaks powerful truths about the world of education and the role of teachers. If you haven’t seen it already, I encourage you to watch her TedTalk, Every Kid Needs A Champion before you continue reading (guaranteed to give you a few laughs and your daily dose of motivation).

Is this job tough? You betcha. Oh God, you betcha. But it is not impossible. We can do this.

How does education relate to development? In some ways, it’s quite obvious. Education is when an individual or a group of people impact the masses – big and small. As is development. Education is learning that is structured by theories and disciplines. As is development. Education can be a chaotic mess. As can development. Educators can be left hopeless, confused, burnt out and unmotivated. As can development practitioners.

There’s another side to it too – a correlation that focuses more on the beauty of education and development than the faults of the structure.

It’s about the value of human connection; of relationships.

Rita Pierson, TedTalk extraordinaire, says it the best: “Can we stand to have more relationships? Absolutely…we come to work when we don’t feel like it, and we’re listening to policy that doesn’t make sense and we [work] anyway. We [work] anyway, because that’s what we do.”

Relationships, the most meaningful of them, are twofold: we are enriched as we are enriching. Limits of relationships extend past the boundaries of education and development. It happens in our everyday lives and demands to be enriching.

This serves as an important reminder for my upcoming 8 month placement in September. Connect well and connect often – on a real, human, personal level. Drawing inspiration from Stephen Covey, Rita insists that the secret to relationships is that we should seek first to understand as opposed to being understood. Or it could be even simpler, like apologizing. So thank you, Rita Pierson. It’s a lesson duly noted.

You ought to just throw in a few simple things, like seeking first to understand, as opposed to being understood. Simple things, like apologizing.You ever thought about that? Tell a kid you’re sorry, they’re in shock.

Rephrasing Rita’s closing statement may be the best way to close this blog:

“Every person deserves a champion, someone who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insist that they become the best that they can be.”

****************************************************************************************** Feel free to share your thoughts on this TedTalk below! Even better, share one of your favourite videos – funny, inspiring and everything in between. 

Why “The Stamina”?

Since my blog became live in January 2015, I’ve received questions from friends and family regarding the name of my blog. “Sarah,” they say, “we get the un(tam)ed conversations part of your blog, but what the heck is up with The Stamina?” (Paraphrasing, of course).

So here it is: the blog post that will answer all of the question you’ve ever had about the mysteries of the world and why my blog name is The Stamina (focusing 99.9% on the last point).

First of all, let’s look at the definition of staminaDictionary.com describes it as:

noun:

strength of physical constitution; the power to endure disease, fatigue, privation, etc.

So what does stamina mean to me and why is it my blog name? Read on and find out!

1. It combines a piece of my past with my present

As if my name wasn’t short enough, growing up in high school, I was given several nicknames: Tammy, Tammy Wammy, Tam Tam, SarahTam (which was really just my full name), and Stam. After sitting around for a few hours, I decided to use my nickname Stam as the name my blog: http://www.stamina.wordpress.com. Unfortunately, that was taken.

So I stuck “The” in front of it. And the rest is history.

2. It reflects who I am as a person 

Similar to what I wanted to accomplish for my blog title, un(tam)ed conversation, I wanted to personalize my blog URL to reflect myself as a creative, international development student – who is a sucker for word play. I strongly believe that 1 pun a day keeps the corny jokes away.

3. It explains my understanding of International Development 

Quoting my very first blog post,  3 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Enrolled Into International Development, “[this blog] is my attempt to remain inspired by everything that’s around me, but at the same time, to be conscious enough to see past to coordinates of our system”. International development is a field that I am passionate about and one that I am committed to seeing through for a large portion of my life.

One thing that I’m learning more and more is that the content is dense, the stories are heavy, and the history goes deep. The reality that I’m facing is that this field is intellectually, physically, and emotionally complex. However, when I need inspiration, I look up to my peers and professors who have dedicated much of their time already in this field – it’s no surprise that they’re my role models. As I continue to engage with them, I notice that the common denominator among them all is their stamina. They all have stamina. In whatever trials and tribulations they’ve faced, they overcame it, persevered, and pushed on. They all have stamina and in my opinion, it is the most respectable trait that someone can possess.

4. It serves as a reminder to myself 

Following the footsteps of my role models, I aspire to have stamina: to have the same power to endure fatigue, disease, and privation in this field we call International Development. In 11 weeks, my cohort and I will be leaving for our 8 month placement to Sri Lanka, Malawi, Peru, Botswana, and Vietnam. I’m expecting for all of our physical, emotional, and intellectual capabilities to be stretched, bruised, and even a little broken. But to my friends in the program, and anyone else who is pursuing their dreams, I wish you this:

To have the strength to endure whatever comes your way. To have the stamina to see it through.

With love,

Stam

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#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! 

#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.