Monday, April 23, 2007

An Introduction

Who is this guy?

I'm a 19 year old second year systems design engineering student from the University of Waterloo, Ontario. I'll be spending a summer in Northern Ghana working with the Ghanaian Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA), a volunteer placement which was organized through Engineers Without Borders Canada. This trip is a way for me to begin to understand why there seems to be so much inequality in the world, and to determine what I can do to help those who seem to have found themselves on the short end of the fiscal stick. I think I have many preconceptions about what poverty is, and what it is not. For example, Steve Young, a past overseas volunteer from Waterloo (spent summer '05 in Tanzania), once explained that an activity like fetching water, typically done by women and children, could be seen by a Canadian as an unnecessary hardship. The reality, though, might be that fetching water could be the best part of a person's day since it often becomes a very social event where people have the chance to spend time with friends they wouldn't otherwise be able to see. I feel that there is so much that I have come to subconsciously assume, and I hope that in the months to come I can gain some insight into the livelihoods of the rural poor and those working to help them.

He needs your help!

My ultimate goal for this trip is to experience the realities of the rural poor and share them, and the stories of the people I meet, with as many people as I can get to listen. But to do this, I'll need your help! In order to make this blog as fantastic and insightful as I can, I need you, dear reader, to post comments and send me emails with your questions, thoughts, misconceptions or any other things that pops into your mind! I apologize if I am slow in replying, but I would love to hear from you - send me an email at rjcase at gmail dot com. I hope to hear from you soon!

Why is he going with "Engineers Without Borders"?

Good old Steve once suggested the following analogy: You give a man a fish, he eats for a day. You teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime. But EWB would go the step further - into a rural community and work with the local technology sector to enable the community to create, sell and distribute fishing rods - making the whole process much more sustainable and thus realistic. Essentially, the key (apart from the fishing rods) is in the approach that EWB takes. It asks the tough questions, it constantly re-evaluates its role in development, and always answers to the bottom line - those overseas who are asking for help.

Tom Owen, a past long term overseas volunteer with EWB and creator of the fantastic
Niger Currents website (documenting his experiences travelling down the Niger River in West Africa), offers a more precise definition of EWB,

Engineers Without Borders Canada is a young non-profit organization with more than 15,000 members organized in 27 student and professional chapters. In Canada, EWB raises awareness among Canadians about the impact of their daily actions on developing communities and aims to make Canada a model global citizen in the fight against poverty. Overseas, EWB's volunteers promote human development in some of the world's most impoverished communities. They help build knowledge and capacity among local entrepreneurs and organizations so they can spread innovative and appropriate solutions to the challenges of poverty.

To learn more about Engineers Without Borders, please visit

What's to come?

I hope to share the stories of the people I meet and my thoughts and experiences with you, dear reader! But hopefully this will be a dialogue, and I get a chance to hear your thoughts and comments too! I will try to update my blog as often as my circumstances permit - to get email updates please check out the "join group" tab on the google group I have created for this blog. Let the journey begin!