#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.


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. 


For what’s to come


“I’m afraid if I don’t choose a path soon, life will choose one for me.”

How much does the above quote resonate with you? This young woman’s photo was taken by HONY a few days ago and, like so much of his work does, it blew up on Facebook and Instagram. Though sometimes I like to think I do, the reality is that I don’t have it figured out. Looking for some inspiration in the comments below, I scrolled through and here are some that I thought were interesting:

“I have this same fear…everyone does. Don’t be afraid. Every single person alive is just winging it, we are all clueless.”

“Even if life chooses one for you, you have the power to decide if you want to stray from it. It took me 34 years to finally follow my passion – and it took me carving out a new path. Don’t be afraid.”

“This is the “quarter life crisis” summed up into one sentence…”

Quarter life crisis is right. Cheers to my friends who’ve completed their undergrad and are looking towards either pursing a post-graduate degree or going into the big-kid world.  As for me and my cohort, we’re eagerly anticipating to hear the results of our placement. We’ll be divided among 5 different countries: Nepal, Vietnam, Botswana, Malawi, and a South American country for Natacha. Where will we go? What will we learn? Where will this experience take us? What will we gain from it? Who knows but here’s my response for what’s to come: Come what may, I’m ready.

Is it possible to pick up a language in a month?

Hello! Bonjour! 你好! السلام عليكم

I have a love/hate relationship with languages.

I hate learning them.  I hate struggling in class. I hate finding a way to wrap my brain around a foreign language for 4 hours a week. I hate how my throat refuses to manipulate itself to make the ع and ح sounds in Arabic. I hate how I know I’m slowly losing my Cantonese mother tongue. I spend 3 weeks in Waterloo and 3 days at home only to sputter out my Cantonese like a 12 year old girl. Scratch that, 12 year olds probably have better Cantonese than me. Let’s settle for 6 year old girls.

Then there’s the love side.

I love talking to people in their mother tongue. I love exploring places and picking up the language I hear. I love spending time with people, learning about their culture and picking up their language. I love that I can walk around and pick up bits and pieces of an Arabic poster. Although it’s a pain in the ass to learn in class, I love learning new languages.

But the real question is this: Is it possible to pick up a language in a month?

Recently, my friend blogged about Duolingo – an app that helps you learn a new language. The best part? It’s free!

So starting April 13, I’m challenging myself to learn one language in one month. My goal is to be able to fluently introduce myself, exchange pleasantries, and count to 10. I’ll document my journey so stay tuned for my weekly progress updates!

Does this challenge interest you? If it does, feel free to join me! Otherwise, be sure to leave suggestion in the section below as to which language I should learn on Duolingo.

Somewhere in America…

What’s wrong with our society? Give these girls less than 4 minutes of your day and they’ll hit you with some powerful truths. Rhiannon, Zariya and Belissa serve as a reminder that age isn’t an indicator of wisdom. Teachers can learn from students in the same manner that students can learn from teachers.

We all have a story that’s waiting to be heard.

What’s behind your label?

Clothing labels are useful to check for three reasons: size, brand and material(s) used. Admittedly, the last thing on my mind when I go shopping is the person behind the label. When you’re caught up in the moment of perfectly adjusted lighting, upbeat pop hits and a selection of outfits that you wish you could buy, it’s easy to put sweatshops on the backburner.

It’s important to know about the fit and comfort of your clothes but it’s equally important to know how people are treated in the process of making it. That’s why The Canadian Fair Trade Network and Rethink partnered up to release three powerful advertisements that outline the hazards associated to working in sweatshops. The ad quickly attracted my curiosity because of the unusually long label that runs down the body of the garment. Just below each image, CFTN challenges us to buy fair trade clothing because it creates safe labour conditions for employees. From a marketing aspect, this advertisement is simple and straightforward: There’s a human cost behind the labels we’ve come to love.

  1. The lightweight blazer that takes you from day-to-night

Fair_Trade_End_Child_Labour_Suit_2000px1 (1)“100% cotton. Made in Bangladesh by Joya who left school at the age of twelve to help support her two brothers and newly widowed mother. Her father was killed when a fire ripped through the cotton factory where he works. She now works in the building across the street from the burned down factory. A constant reminder of the risk she takes every day. The label doesn’t tell the whole story.”

We’re all familiar about the horrific fire that ravaged a Bangladeshi garment factory in 2013 and injured over 800 people. Despite the promise of reform, current labour conditions still need to be improved.

  1. The timeless, knitted, cozy sweater 

Fair_Trade_End_Child_Labour_Sweater_2000px1“100% cotton. Made in Cambodia by Behnly, nine years old. He gets up at 5:00 am every morning to make his way to the garment factory where he works. It will be dark when he arrives and dark when he leaves. He dresses lightly because the temperature in the room he works reaches 30 degrees. The dust in the room fills his nose and mouth. He will make less than a dollar, for a day spent slowly suffocating. A mask would cost the company ten cents. The label doesn’t tell the whole story.”

On September 17, 2014,  workers in Cambodia successfully petitioned retailers to raise their wages from $100 to $177 a month. However, despite this small victory, the salary increase doesn’t remedy the human rights violations within. Is an additional $77 worth the risk of death? Can we put a price on a life?

  1. Soft jersey sweater, perfect for a day in or out

Fair_Trade_End_Child_Labour_Hoodie_2000px“100% cotton. Made in Sierra Leone by Tejan. The first few times he coughed up blood he hid it from his family. They couldn’t afford medical treatment and he couldn’t risk losing his long-time job at the cotton plantation. When he fell into a seizure one day it could no longer be ignored. The diagnosis was pesticide poisoning. The lack of proper protective clothing left him with leukemia at the age of 34. He has two daughters. One of them starts at the factor next year. The label doesn’t tell the whole story.”

With the heavy push for the Asian garment industry to improve their working standards, corporations are looking elsewhere to find cheap labour. In addition to lower labour costs, it’s easier to ship textile from Africa to European and American markets. Under a trade agreement signed in 2000, African countries have duty-free access to the US textile market. As unsettling as it is, the harsh reality is that Sierra Leone is being exploited for much more than blood diamonds. 

Here’s a challenge for all of us. Let’s not keep this issue out of sight and out of mind.  Let’s look past the capitalist façade and reveal the stories about the human cost behind the label.

Don’t Be A Sheepwalker

Take a minute to think about where you are at this moment. What is itching to be changed around you? What do you see in the status quo that doesn’t make sense to you?

That’s the premise of Seth Godin’s TED Talk, The Tribes We Lead. Right off the bat, Godin argues that we naturally want to see big, important and permanent change. And when he says everyone, he means everyone. How can this be done, you may ask? By connecting and leading the people and ideas in our tribes.

Tribes can be found everywhere these days. As students, it’s easy to connect with people who have the same interests on campus and around the community. If we can’t find a group with the same values around us, we can easily hop online and connect with people who do. The beauty of this generation is that tribes are popping up everywhere. As long as our values, interests and passions align within our tribes, our tribes can be used to create revolutionary change.

However, something that Godin neglects to clarify is that change doesn’t need to be on the same scale as the examples he uses. The change that The Beatles, Hugo Chavez and Bob Marley brought to their tribes, while inspiring, was initially discouraging. How can I, clumsy and mildly disorganized (that’s a lie, very disorganized – sorry mom) extraordinaire, lead a group of people to bring change of that magnitude?

Then it hit me.

While I currently don’t see myself in any position to create a grand movement, I believe it’ll eventually come to all of us. When you discover your passion, it becomes your life. Wouldn’t you say your life is everything to you? So in that way, can’t we say that the change that you and I will bring will be great and larger than life?

Maybe you’re like me and you find your interests stretched out so thinly that you don’t even know where to begin. One thing that I’m learning to come to terms with is that that’s okay. With time and dedication, we’ll find our way.

It may not be today, tomorrow or the next day. But I urge you to continue to ignite your passion, fuel your curiosity, stir a movement and break the status quo. Wake up and realize your potential. Stop being what Godin calls a sheepwalker –  you are not meant to shuffle along with your head down.


What’s your take on tribes? What are you passionate about? What’s stopping you from fulfilling them?

FYI, air-pumps inflate cars

Little Sarah, ready to brace the rapids in Canada’s mighty lakes. More importantly, ready to take on anything the world threw at her.

Here are four things I knew to be true as a kid.

  1. Air-pumps inflate cars. I only knew that because I would test out the seats as my dad pumped in air. I’d also give him a reassuring nod through the window to let him know the air was getting to my seats.
  2. If you want something, get it. As the youngest of four children, I found that the most effective way to do this was to persuade my sister to play Garage Sale. Here’s how you play: Put your least favourite toys up for sale and convince your sister to put up her most prized possessions. Usually it worked. Unless it was the stuffed animal she got a few months prior.
  3. The Mandarin has the most technical dish system known to man. Their elaborate system underneath the table collects your dirty dishes when you leave to fill up a new plate. How? The table would open like elevator doors and suck in the dirty dish. Clearly, I didn’t see the waiters.
  4. Asking questions, specifically “(but) why”, is an easy way to get all the answers you want. It’s also a really great way to annoy everyone.

And then I grew up.

School happened and we were told to ask good questions and colour within the lines. Peach, yellow, black and brown were the right skin colours to choose from, we should colour in pink dresses for girls, and  draw blue jeans and red T-shirts for boys. Teachers taught me how to learn, friends taught me how to talk and magazines told me how to dress. And I followed them all.

Over the course of 17 years, my imagination, creativity and curiosity took a hit.

With every year that passed, I felt burdened by the world. I found that my creativity came slow and my imagination was lacking. The last time I’ve gone out on my imaginative limb was when I told my friend that I wanted to marry someone with the last name “Ng” and change my middle from “Hoi-Lam” to “Nadine”. Why? So my name would be “Sarah Nade Ng” (get it?). Not as creative as a 5 year-old Sarah in my opinion.

But the fact I thought like that gave me hope. The little Sarah who thought air-pumps inflated cars was still around. Finding my way back to that creative side could be my greatest asset in the future.

Fast forward to now.

Today’s lecture in my Marketing and Communication for Development Agents class started off with Richard Laermer and Mark Simmon’s Punk Rock Manifesto. They constructed a witty yet cleverly thought-out manifesto for getting off your ass and becoming part of where marketing is today. The first article, “Avoid Risk and Die” is based on the idea that in times change, the greatest risk is to take none at all. The second article, Why Not as ‘Why Not?’, reminds us to question everything in order to stimulate our creative juices. (This carries on through to the the 15th article where they ask you to contribute to the manifesto).

Executing Laermer and Simmon’s Manifesto requires a  willingness to think outside of the box, a sense of confidence in yourself and your course of action, and an acceptance of the after shocks– whatever it may be. But most importantly, it demands for our inner-child to shine brightly.

So here’s my addition to the Punk Rock Manifesto. The 15th article:

Let your inner-child shine. Reignite the flame that drives your curiosity, creativity, and imagination and be brave enough to let it take you where it flies.


What would you add to the Punk Rock Manifesto? How has your journey with your imagination, creativity and curiosity panned out since you were young?