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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#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. 

For what’s to come

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“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.

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.

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