Tag Archives: International Development

Saving The Bees Or Saving My Rent?

In the last decade or so, there has been a massive increase in the number of campaigns and protests and such, by varied groups of people towards making our world a better place. I have great respect for people who live their lives completely or in bits for the restoration of human dignity, or compassion for animals. This brings to mind the people who work in the field in the communities and countries that require these interventions. It also brings to mind the people you find on streets in the city centres in different European countries; they wear brightly coloured raincoats and hold clipboards ready to stop you and talk to you about how you need to sign up to end game hunting in Zimbabwe, end the war in Iraq, to bring clean water to children in Lebanon, or to feed pregnant mothers and their children in Sudan.

All these causes are meaningful and contribute in no small measure to the many humanitarian interventions that are improving the lives of ordinary men and women. I know that these causes are important, because I have worked in international development; I saw how these contributions helped women make the choice between small creativity driven businesses, and commercial sex work. I also saw how the distribution of free condoms reduced the incidence of HIV infection. I saw how the funds collected by a small group of women in a small town church in North America contributed to the purchase of anti-shock garment that saved lives of pregnant women during prolonged and difficult labour.

However, that is not to say that there aren’t some disadvantages to this consistent request for funds from people. I have spoken to people who think it is all a huge racket to take advantage of people and pay big fat wages to development professionals, or to enrich individuals with no scruples who misappropriate these funds for personal gains; cars, houses, fancy holidays. I shall try to do a post on these types of issues soon enough. Someone also said to me that he was 33, and from when he was 10 years old, he saw the adverts on TV calling for aid to support African children. He was distraught that after 23 years, African children were still starving. I said to him that it continued to happen because those children who were barely able to feed have gone on to become struggling adults with their own children, and it is a vicious cycle; not entirely their fault, governments continue to be irresponsible and climate change is throwing us new challenges that make food production increasingly difficult on the planet. Very complicated.

Anyway, yesterday I was in the town centre and a really good looking man in a shiny yellow rain coat with the usual clipboard came over to me. I knew he was a campaigner looking for my money. I did not feel like stopping but what can I say? He was good looking and flashed me a smile that stopped me in my tracks. I asked him what he was campaigning for/about.

source: sciencebuzz.org
source: sciencebuzz.org

“Save the bees”, he said.

What? I thought it was a joke, I chuckled a little bit. But then I realised he was serious. He went on to tell me about how bees in the UK were going extinct. Bees are important and we need them for cross-pollination of crops. It was going to cost the UK over a billion pounds in the near future to conduct artificial pollination if nothing was done about saving the bees. Now at this point, I was struggling between keeping a straight face, and imagining homelessness and hunger in the UK and Ethiopia respectively. All these social issues are real and important, including bees. But the question is; what is more important, and to who, or at what point?

“We ask you to save the bees by giving five pounds by TEXt to …. right now and we shall give you a bee saver kit”.

He flashed that smile again, he was a really good looking kid. I think that these charities have found other styles too; hire only the hot ones with perfect straight teeth. I was distracted o. But man, I thought about it again, I have people in my distant extended family who are struggling to pay rent and school fees of their offspring, there are people who are so sick in Naija and are praying and drinking agbo because they cannot afford to go to hospital, hell I am struggling to pay my rent here as a student and buy books! I decided that I had no interest in saving the bees. The bees are not priority for me at this time, and I guess for many people. I shall eat bananas and the crops that bees do not need to pollinate, should I be unable to make saving bees a priority in the near future.

“No thanks, I shall not be saving the bees today”, I said and walked on, calculating how much more I needed to save to pay my fast approaching rent and buy that used book on Amazon.

Anniversary And So On

1. Do you ever think of moving elsewhere for a period of one year or two years? If yes, where would it be, if no why?
2. If you had a lot of money so much so that you could do anything at all that you wanted for a living, what would you do?
3. What’s your happy place/happy activity?
4. Do you think there is something bigger than yourself? Something or someone to which you would defer happily?
5. What would you do if there was no internet, even if it was just in a rural place for one week?

It is now one year since I began writing this blog. One hundred and five followers and forty posts later, I am thankful for the decision to begin writing it. I am also thankful to the blog companions whom I have run into along the way. It has been a really interesting journey so far, and I am looking forward to discovering some more blogs and readers along the way.

source:themecakes.com
source:themecakes.com

Today I was reading Moi’s blog and in the final paragraph of his post called drag, he asked for his readers to ask him a question or a number of questions. I did ask him a number of questions which I thought would be really interesting to answer here myself.

I am one of those people who have their lives dreamt out and know exactly where it is going. Don’t get me wrong, I have room for flexibility, as long as it does not change the grand scheme of things. So anyone who knows me will also understand why I resigned from my job on my birthday. I am taking a trip for a year+. I am moving to good old wet England for 14 months to study for a proper Msc to open up more opportunities for work in International Development. I chose a University in Luton, mostly because it was not priced at an arm and a leg and the faculty’s approach to Project Management is very innovative. However, lately as I have tried to research the city a bit more, all I read and hear is that it is the chav capital of the UK. A bit too late for that now, seeing as I have paid all the fees and bought the flights. If it is as rife with racial and ethnic conflicts as all the websites say it is, then it will certainly not be too different from some parts here ha! That’s for another post. So yes, moving around from place to place is something I see definitely in the course of my stay on planet earth. Right now, there are a few countries calling out to me; Ethiopia, the mountains and the culture are so rich, I want to live that a little. Tanzania is a beautiful place, I would like to live in Dar and perhaps climb the Kilimanjero at some point. South Asia fascinates me, I would like to experience Nepal and India, and not just to visit and go home like a tourist. I would like to walk some of Spain; the El Camino De Santiago is definitely on my bucket list. However, I am miserable in the cold and do not know how I could survive the cold for more than two weeks at a time.

source:elcaminodesantiago.co.uk
source:elcaminodesantiago.co.uk

If I had a lot of money so much so that I do not need to work anymore, I would set up an education trust which will give scholarships for a really good education to girls and boys from disadvantaged backgrounds to open up opportunities to them for growth and options. Then I would invest in performance arts and create a hub for artists in Abuja. I love cozy cafes that make you feel warm inside. So I would set up one to start with; Ethiopian coffee and moist cakes, wifi, wine, spoken word nights, chalkboards, clean lines, minimalist interiors, comfortable cushions, colourful rugs made from rags for sitting on the floors, wooden steps, a nice vibe. I could live there!!! I could spend all day there editing my photos, writing short stories and shocking theatre pieces.

That’s really my happy place up there. I love to sit in a cafe and just chill and write. I also like to sit at home on the weekends in something comfortable, reading a book and having a glass of wine. I love the smell of dust on a harmattan morning, I love that first smell of earth after the first rainfall post- dry season. I love to cuddle with that special someone while we just listen to music or to the sound of our heartbeats.

I believe there is something much bigger than myself. I believe that there is a creator of what we know as the universe. I do believe in God, I also believe in the energies he put in his universe and in our minds and bodies. We become what we strive to be, because we have conceived it and have put in the miles for it.

In the course of my work, I have had to travel to rural areas where internet was non-existent or extremely epileptic. In those places, I simply read books that I had taken along, written in my little notebook; diagrams, sketches, lines, poetry, plans, vision boards, then read some more. I also picked up yoga along the way. A portable radio is also very helpful and can keep me company for days. But it gets frustrating if I am unable to check my emails after two weeks. When I spent one full year in Gumel, there was no internet, indeed there was no mobile network connection for the first 6 months I spent there teaching English at a rural school. The spirit of community I felt there in those months was incredible and I have felt nothing remotely close ever since. I did escape to Kano every now and then for a proper salon, a nice restaurant and my emails. Whereas the internet has its merits; it turns the world into a global village and opens it up in such a manner that boggles the mind, it also changes families and sometimes the human interactions which should matter no longer exist.

Do you think you could live anywhere else but your home country? Could you live without internet? What is your happy place? Please share your thoughts with me.

Economic Partnership Agreements: Is Europe Under-developing Africa?

In 2004, I was in Lome Togo for a few months to work on my french and while there, I was introduced to an agreement between the European Union (EU) and African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) countries. The Lome Convention Agreement is also known as “Everything But Arms” (EBA), a process introduced by the European Union under which all imports to the EU from the Least Developed Countries are duty free and quota free, with the exception of armaments. The EBA had been the basis of ACP-EU cooperation for a period of time. It does have some stiff clauses and conditions which may be difficult to meet. Whether or not the the EBA entered into actually provides growth in terms of an increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for ACP is the question for another day. The rule of origin put in place by the EU makes it difficult, so that the import from the developing countries is not full of impact as the capacity to begin and finish the production of apparels and other products do not apply. If things were different and ACPs had the capacity, they may have progressed tremendously in the export of bananas, sugar and rice. Unfortunately, many ACP countries import these products themselves and do not have the capacity to produce enough to feed itself.

Cassava Tubers Source: www.thenetworks.co.za
Cassava Tubers
Source: http://www.thenetworks.co.za

However, a few years after the new millennium, the Cotonu negotiations and agreement replaced the Lome Agreement. This was geared towards a more reciprocal agreement which would give the ACP and EU an equal opportunity to negotiate and enjoy mutually beneficial trade agreements that were in consonance with the World Trade Organisation’s regulations. The biggest outcome of the Cotonu Agreement is the introduction of a series of negotiations which will lead to the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA). The EPA basically provides for the EU and ACP to have equal rights to import and export duty free and is being negotiated in blocks; South African Development Community (SADC), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and so forth. These blocks have been requested to conduct their negotiations themselves and thus it has turned into a regional affair, as the ACP is much too large for one single negotiation anyway.

Groundnut Sellers at a local Maraba Market Source:nairaland.com
Groundnut Sellers at a local Maraba Market
Source:nairaland.com

The WTO is regulating this as much as it could, although invariably, the WTO is made up of and funded by the countries with the highest GDP in the world. It reminds me of the voting on the Securuity Council of the UN before the invasion of Iraq by the US. But I digress. In negotiating the EPAs, I have followed the ECOWAS story very closely and I have struggled to find the light at the end of this tunnel. The countries that constitute the ECOWAS are all really small countries in the throes of famine and post-war reconstruction; Togo, Cote’d’Voire, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, and many more. Granted, there are a few relatively stable nations among them, or nations who could potentially be wealthy, had the mismanagement and corruption of governments not ruined their capacity for growth. Agriculture in the EU is already heavily subsidized. Imagine that all sorts of products and produce from the EU which may include fruit, chicken, fish,toothpick, soaps, flood the markets in the ECOWAS? The local markets and economy do not stand a chance.

Tailor Zaki Baushe Source: cartercentre.org
Tailor Zaki Baushe
Source: cartercentre.org

Let’s paint a picture here. My tailor charges $80 to make a lovely dress for me which I can wear to work or to a nice event. I was in the UK a few weeks ago, and it cost me half of that amount to buy a lovely dress which I wore to a wedding in London, and I saw dresses for a fourth of that price. The labour and the scale of production of these conglomerates in the EU (although loads of these factories have been moved to Asia) are so massive that they can churn out these dresses at a tenth of my tailor’s price. Imagine that the local market is flooded with those clothes duty free, the local market will completely die. My tailor Nnanna does not stand a chance if the EPA happens. Right now, he is not rich by any means; $100 per dress and all. He barely manages to get by, no thanks to the very high cost of production and business here as well as a tough business environment and lack of infrastructure. One of my dad’s oldest friends owns a poultry. He raises chickens and sells them to supermarkets in the small town where I grew up. He sells one large chicken between $10-$20, which can then be cut into small pieces for a family to use for one week, and he barely breaks even. Imagine that the market is opened and cartons of frozen chicken are allowed in (it is already happening, although they are being smuggled), and sold at a fourth of that price. How can anybody local compete?

Locally Produced Snack (Nkatie Peanuts) Source: nairaland.com
Locally Produced Snack (Nkatie Peanuts)
Source: nairaland.com

In theory, trade defense provisions will need to be negotiated, anti-dumping rules, and safeguard measures will be put in place in the negotiation of the EPA to encourage fair trade as well as the development of the world’s poorest countries. I worry though, that the EPA if signed, could destroy the economies of ECOWAS countries which are only just seeing the beginnings of a flutter before the flourish. The first deadline given to for 2008 has come and gone, it tells me that a lot of people are asking questions. These economies are being forced to liberalise to fast and too quickly and this could potentially pose a downhill turn to decades of baby steps taken towards development. A lot of these countries are very dependent on aid and cannot be liberalising their economies at this point. Why are they not refusing to negotiate? The countries voiced their objections, but the EU is not listening and the ACP cannot opt out completely because these trade talks are tied to aid and lending. It is my sincere hope that these issues continue to be flagged. A bad economy equals very poor standard of living for a people which equals non-existent human capacity development. If EPA is signed with economies that are not ready for competition with the almighty EU, the world will be worse off for it. Think about the influx of immigrants into the EU; legal and illegal, think about the drug problems, crime and potential sectarian and ethnic clashes that result from lack of opportunities and livelihoods.

Kano groundnut pyramid Source: superstock.com
Kano groundnut pyramid
Source: superstock.com

It is my hope that EPA is delayed by decades upon decades, while these economies are provided a fighting chance to improve themselves and gather momentum to compete with one another first, before being thrown in to compete with some G8+ nations.

Hahahaha She Can’t Read A Map

So I know that in a couple of years, I will probably be working with another IP or a Development Agency in India, perhaps Addis or even Afghanistan. I intend to move around some in the course of my career, perhaps two years at a time in one place. There is a small problem with this plan. I can’t read a map. To make matters worse, I am really bad at finding directions. When I go out at night with my friends and am driving, you will probably hear phrases like.

“Haba Anne that’s not the way o”.
Or
“Where are you going now”

To which I always answer;

“Sit there and wait for me to find it, you know I have no idea”
Or
“I know where am going, this is just another road to avoid those stupid roadblocks”

It all depends on my mood. But it is a fact universally acknowledged that I generally do not know where am going (for the most part).

hahaha she can't read a map: Photo Source: www.clipartof.com
hahaha she can’t read a map: Photo Source: http://www.clipartof.com

I was cleaning up my car yesterday and found an old map under the seat. It was a map that was handed to me a couple of weeks ago during a charity walk. I remember asking someone;

“Which way back to the lake”?

The person just thrust the map of the walk route into my hands and walked off. I threw my head back in the middle of the road and laughed heartily. Someone caught up and asked me what was so funny.

“Hahahaha she can’t read a map”, I said.

This nice looking guy walked off rather quickly, he probably thought I was a crazy person, talking about myself in the third person and cracking up so much at myself.

Let’s face it, I am in trouble. How can I advance career wise and excel in the field if I cannot figure out what is what on a map? GPS devices do not count. I use them occasionally, and they speak. I do want to learn how to read regular non-speaking maps. I wonder if there is a software that can help me.

How VSO and Volunteering Changed my Life

In the early years of my career as a young graduate, I honestly was not sure where to begin. I knew that I wanted to work in International Development, I read about the various agencies and NGOs, I picked up some french, but that was all I had. Until I heard about Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). VSO is an international development charity whose volunteers work with local organisations that serve poor people. VSO also works with young people on different programmes to expand their horizon and encourage them to become active citizens in their communities.

I got involved with VSO primarily because I wanted to do something different. I had spent a very fulfilling year teaching English as a Second Language (ESP) at a Secondary School for most of 2005 as part of the National Youth Service Corps.

However, I felt that I could have spent more time volunteering in a hands-on manner within a host community.

I applied to be part of the Global Xchange; a 6 month long opportunity to volunteer in a different culture and live in cross-cultural pairs, within host communities, was the start really to what I do today.

During the first 3 months of the exchange in Calabar Nigeria, I was placed in a Faith Based Organisation called Justice Development and Peace Commission JDPC. This placement gave me the opportunity to witness community development first hand. I acquired varied skills from community mapping to baseline survey of small communities that needed portable drinking water, access roads and schools for children. The experience has helped me tremendously as I have gone on to work on various community based programs including the United Nations Development Program’s Local Development Project dedicated to alleviating poverty and providing basic infrastructure in the once troubled Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

In the last 3 months of the exchange in Edinburgh Scotland, I volunteered at a wonderful organisation called Shakti Women’s Aid. Shakti offers information & support to black minority ethnic women, children & young people facing domestic abuse, forced marriage & other gender-based abuse.

My First Taste of Haggis tattis
My First Taste of Haggis Tattis
The briefings I received and the insight I got into the management of social and or violent domestic situations have been very useful. I have worked on donor funded Projects which provide palliative care, psychosocial support/counselling to People Living with HIV/AIDS and Income Generating Activities to the affected families.

As an individual, I learnt to work with my initiative and also as part of large and diverse teams, understanding and even appreciating the various cultures and perspectives of the other volunteers and the host communities. During those six months, I learnt so much more than I would have if I had spent that time in a formal classroom. I understood and used my skills while celebrating those of others. On GX, the various activities exposed me to global issues and offered me a platform for positive learning and change, challenging my attitudes and assumptions.

This experience has made me even more appreciative of the foundation and cultural richness of our world and inspired me to celebrate us. But it has also made me aware of the failings and weaknesses of who we are. This is why I would like to be a part of creating that needed change.

I was Fr. Christmas
Yours truly as Fr Christmas at Shakti. Children poked my belly and asked “Did you have a bad year?”
GX inspired me to do a little one day at a time, bit by bit using the network, skills, learning and experiences I acquired on the exchange to create positive change in my immediate community and beyond.

When I was selected to be a part of the global xchange, I didn’t quite know what to expect. The narratives of some returned volunteers and the introductory training courses gave me an idea that it would be demanding yet fun; but it didn’t quite prepare me for the life changing experience that GX was.

During those six months, no day was exactly the same.

There was always something different to see, to explore, to share and to learn. If I had to change my life, GX would remain exactly where and when it happened.

Thanks to it, today I have worked on the Programme and Operations Management of several projects from infrastructure development, capacity building and institutional strengthening, to care and support for children orphaned by AIDS. Today I work on a 5 year malaria prevention and control Project. Malaria prevention through the distribution of long lasting insecticidal nets and intermittent preventive treatment of malaria in pregnancy, Malaria control through appropriate diagnosis and case management using ACTs.

It certainly expanded my horizon and gave me the itch to achieve greater things. Amongst other things, it has made a global citizen of me.

To challenge yourself, make a difference in our world, and/or break into International Development, learn more about the amazing work VSO does and make a decision today to be a young active citizen and volunteer for 6 months, or volunteer abroad for more than one year using your skills to make the much needed difference.

How To Find An International Development Job: Steps To Take

I met two VSO volunteers today, one came from Scotland and the other from Boston and it brought some wonderful memories back. From my undergrad days all those years ago, before VSO, I knew what I wanted to do. It was only a question of how to get in there. I wanted to work in development; I declared and spoke it as often as I could albeit being unprepared at the time. Eventually I realised that if I wanted to get in there, I needed to do my research; and I did. However, I wish I knew what I know now. it would have made the journey smoother and quicker. If you are even the least bit interested in this area, it is truly worthwhile to pursue; there is nothing else I would rather do (except maybe travel writing and photography, which am now exploring).

To follow a career in International Development, it is important that you strategise and do your homework because it hardly happens by chance. These are the pieces of information that every potential development worker needs to have:

  1. Have a clear understanding of Development

You want to read the history, the need, the various schools of thought around development. You want to gain an insight into the various issues plaguing the developing world. That is why this sector exists in the first place; those issues.  

Understand the various kinds of Development

In development work, all organisations and goals are not the same. The work done varies, from ethics and compensation, to rules of engagement and streams of funding. There is relief work which involves a lot of disaster response; and then there is Peace Building which has to do with a lot of post-war reconstruction. Then there is the Development Aid which is more long term and is done by a wide variety of organisations; this involves intervention in a host of different areas in developing countries.

Understand the various kinds of Development Organisations

This sector has a lot of players. There are the Multilaterals which include the UNDP and the World Bank. There are also the Bilaterals which include Aid arms of Governments including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), DFID(or UK AID) Department of International Development, CIDA Canadian International Development Agency. There are Commercial Organisations which are for profit and are involved in some aid development work. Research Institutions are also huge and these include Universities. Last but not the least are Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) which are the commonest and are found everywhere; in the donor countries and in the developing countries where the implementation happens. These include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Save the Children, PLAN and hundreds more.

Start saving

Now that you understand who your potential employees are, it is time to start saving money. It is important to prepare for the possibility of funding your dream, for a while at least. It is possible that you will not find a job immediately you start looking; it is also possible that you may have to fly out to the field just for the added advantage of being on ground. Save everything that you can. It can be difficult with all the debt and student loans that are unpaid still, but a little here and a little there over one year can make a huge difference.  

Familiarise yourself with the needs of the Sector

People always say that they “want to help people” and would like to visit the field and be”hands-on”. While that is a really good goal and thought, it’s time to realise that “more and more of the hands-on work is casual labour “. Even more shocking to some people is the fact that “most development work is office work”.  This is a career path, so just because it is called development aid, or humanitarian work does not mean that it is not run by professionals. It is. The areas of intervention are increasingly requiring specialists. This is no longer about helping orphanages or digging a well for clean water. It is now about systems strengthening for sustainability, capacity building and integrated supportive supervision. There is still the odd distribution of condoms to health facilities and/or most at risk populations, or Long Lasting Insecticidal Nets to household with communities, but those are done by casual labour really, while the experts do the tracking using datasent in from the facilities. Thus find out through “devex”, and “reliefweb”, to start with; what the needs of the sector are.  There are always some people who will have the opportunity to learn on the job, but there are others who will get in the door quicker just for the specific skills set which they possess. You want to be one of those. Just like every other profession, there are so many skills set required; from Public Health, to HR, to Democracy and Governance, Finance and Accounting, Operations, Procurement, Logistics, Communication, IT, Project Management, to Security, etc.

Develop your skills to speak to some of the needs above

For my undergrad degree, I went with English Literature because I was passionate about books and creative writing. That was my passion as a mid-teen. Then I realised what sector I was interested in, and quickly picked up a second language and invested in Project Management skills. Find out what your interests are and how they translate into an International Development job, hopefully it is something that you are already studying (or studied) and it fits into existing development needs. This makes it much easier for you to break in. Remember to develop some “across the board” skills like report writing and public speaking.

Start knocking on those doors

It is time to explore fellowships, internships and volunteering opportunities (in that order). Usually for those opportunities to count as something, in order for you to make an impact and vice-versa, it needs to be at least six months long. Start from your home country and keep at it, give yourself a timeline to break in. You may consider moving to the city that has the highest number of Development Organisations. Sign up for surveys, attend free lectures on Health, War, Social Reform, Aid Effectiveness, anything that you can, in order to put yourself in the same space with Development people. Express your intention to intern or volunteer, read everything that you can on the region in which you are interested. It is likely that someone will see your hunger and give you a break; albeit unpaid, to start with.

Take the Bulls by the Horns: Fly out

Find out more about the developing country and the region that you are most interested in; Asia, Africa, the Middle East, etc. Make contact with a local NGO or an International one and fund your trip out. A lot of organisations will agree to take you in as long as it is at no cost to them and you will be of added value.

Finally, the key is really to read widely, work hard at improving yourself, and network. Attend parties, attend meetings, take notes (if you are already inside as an F, V or I), and offer to work extra, show that you are hungry for it and willing to put in the work. Try not to be too “in-your-face though, nobody wants a hounding job-seeker on their back. Focus on forging lasting friendships and people will be willing to put in a good word for you and opportunities for paid work will turn up.

Most importantly for people going to the field, be aware that your soft-skills are being evaluated, nobody wants conflict or rabble rousers on their team, so try to be amicable (be aware that the locals may  have a problem with you). I have heard local staff say that expatriates come from the “home country” as wet-behind-the-ears-volunteers, those same locals teach them the ropes because they know how it works, have more experience and have been doing the job for a while, and before they know it, the kid takes their jobs or the kid becomes their manager. Be aware of these feelings as you navigate the waters. Also, do not be a people pleaser, take work which you are not interested in, chances are that you will be stuck with that line of work as that is the experience you have garnered. Nobody wants to do work that they are unhappy with.

I have not covered all the steps to getting an international Development job. If you wish to add more, by all means do. Please add a few more, we can have numbers 9 and 10. Or more.