Story from the field: Impoverished Yes; Impotent No!

Impoverished Yes; Impotent No! By: Ellen Sparling

I met Geza, a United Nations Peace Ambassador from Ethiopia in 2011. Naturally, though dealing with a language barrier, we hit it off over our passion for travel, culture, and social justice. Over time, we decided it was time to humbly approach the vast issue of water inequality by starting in the village that raised him; a little village called Dukem. Throughout the course of a year, we raised approximately $6,500 in hopes of providing his home community with a well. This well would provide 3,000 people, who lack many essentials of life, with the clean water they needed in order to increase their standards of living. At the end of the year, I decided it was time for me to make the journey to Ethiopia. Not only to see the need and the poverty., but to to see the impact that clean water could have on this community, and why it was so crucial. I also went in hopes of following the trail of money. So often, people blindly donate money to large organizations they believe to be credible when in reality, money gets caught up in the costs of administration and advertisements, rather than the call and cause itself. So, I packed my bags and took a thirteen-hour flight to Addis Ababa. Upon my arrival at the airport, I was greeted by Geza and told that while I was in Ethiopia, we would meet the president. I couldn’t help but to laugh and say, “Yah, okay Geza,” with a sarcastic grin across my face. For the duration of the next four days, we spent hours in meetings with engineers, drilling companies, churches, and numerous other individuals. We also were privileged to spend time with the community we hoped to help. Now, I had been to many developing countries in Latin America before, but never to Africa. Amid planning my trip, I found that I was constantly reminding myself that I would see children with no clothes, no shoes, in absolute dire poverty. That really scared me—it scared me because as a young person, I had not one clue as to how I was supposed to respond to the firsthand poverty I was bound to witness. However, when I arrived to the local school in Dukem, I was caught off-guard by the happiness that the kids possessed. How could it be that these kids could be so happy? It was clear that they were expecting us, as they greeted us with song and jubilation. Cue the waterworks. The children were confused as to why someone would be so upset at the site of smiles and excitement. But how else could one respond to this seeming paradox of pure happiness in the middle of a poverty-stricken place? Anyone who knows me knows that I am a firm believer that if you want to help anyone, you have to have spent time with them. You have to understand and learn to appreciate their culture and why things are the way they are. So, we continued to spend time with the community, and do things the way locals do. Although I was only there for a short period of time, surely not long enough to grasp all aspects of this beautiful culture, my appreciation grew, and grew fast. I have high hopes of returning to Ethiopia to continue to learn more and allow my desire for development to grow.[quote align="right" color="#999999"]On the fifth day, we found ourselves walking down the long corridor of the Presidential Palace to in fact meet and have lunch with the President of Ethiopia. [/quote] It was about the fourth day into our trip when Geza reminded us, “Okay, we’re going to meet the president”. We couldn’t believe how persistent this man was, but after spending time in Ethiopia, we had simply learned to go with the flow. Sure enough, we began receiving calls from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and then from guards at the Presidential Palace. On the fifth day, we found ourselves walking down the long corridor of the Presidential Palace to in fact meet and have lunch with the President of Ethiopia. Geza did what we thought would be impossible. I have a strong belief in him that clean water will be provided to his community. While I learned extensive amounts from the community and its members, the most important lesson I learned was from Girma Wolde-Giorgis, the President. We expressed how we felt so blessed to be in Ethiopia and that we were inspired to help the community that our dear friend Geza was raised in. While President Wolde-Giorgis was grateful for the work we were doing and our passion for social justice, he raised an amazing point. He said, “I appreciate that, but Ethiopia is not a poor country. Our people will work hard, and make progress.” That was not only humbling, but also somehow empowering. We had to keep in mind that he is a diplomat and has to protect the integrity of his country, but by him making this point, it became clear, clearer than it had ever been before, that you should never underestimate the power of the poor. Just because they have been placed into a vastly different lifestyle does not make them incompetent or incapable. It became even more apparent to us that clean water was just the foot in the door Dukem needed to build a better future for themselves. The lesson in all of this is that we, North Americans, are not the heroes, the liberators, or the teachers. We’re coworkers, teammates, and most importantly, students.   Ellen Sparling a first year student at the University of Guelph, majoring in International Development and minoring in Spanish.  She can be contacted by email at

Story from the field: “The Remand Home”

The Remand Home By: Alecia Greenwood

Uganda, to me, is a country full of contradictions. I met people that were loving and peaceful, yet I knew many of them had been delivered from a time of violence and hatred. They were denied the liberties that they deserved, and yet they rose above the suffering. In travelling to Uganda, my mission was to offer myself to that culture, but in the end that culture offered more to me: on one sweltering late August afternoon at the Remand Juvenile Delinquent Home, my world was changed forever. I was unsure of what to expect and was nervous while approaching the facility. I was pleasantly surprised to find a beautifully serene property, decorated with ancient trees that were sprouting delicious mangoes and papayas. The boys who lived there lined up to greet us, introducing themselves while bowing their gazes down. Curious, I asked my local volunteer Charles why these boys were being detained. He said they were being punished for defilement—most of these minors were being accused of engaging in relationships with the opposite sex. The boys seemed like ordinary kids, and it didn't take me long to see that indeed they were. As soon as we got inside, we began voice exercises. I am a trained vocalist, and recalling months of vocal exercises and live shows brought me a sense of familiarity. Knowing that an unrehearsed performance was at hand, however, brought insecurity. I was taken back to my roots as I awaited the boys' performances. I firmly believed there would be no volunteers to break the ice, and I was pleasantly surprised. The boys belted out their smooth vibrations, and I allowed the chills to carry up my spine. I became entranced, so embedded in the moment that I lost sense of what was coming next—a moment of complete horror as my co-worker Dan looked to me and the circle fell silent, "Alecia, your turn!” [quote align="right" color="#999999"]...if we attempt to understand that judging ourselves and others is futile, we can free ourselves of the prejudice, fear and ignorance which lie at the root of our disillusionment.[/quote] The gaze from the expectant faces in the circle remained strong as if to say, "You don't get off that easy... this is Africa." Fear or unwillingness to act is not any sort of pardon in Acholi culture. I had a flashback to my performing days and, remembering my old techniques, pictured everyone with underwear on their heads. I knew I had to do it. If I failed to do this, what else would I fail to even attempt in life? I took a deep breath from the densely heated air and released my voice. I felt my stomach fall concave as I tried with all my might to have any comparison to what had resonated the room before. The group broke out into applause. This was a scary moment for me; singing in front of a juvenile delinquent home. I was entirely vulnerable, caught off guard and worried that the room would sound empty, given the previous performances. The boys smiled while nodding their heads. I was pretty sure I had done something respectable in the Acholi culture by accepting the offer to participate. Their reaction made me realize something profound: we cannot prepare for the unpredictability of our future. But, if we attempt to understand that judging ourselves and others is futile, we can free ourselves of the prejudice, fear and ignorance which lie at the root of our disillusionment. Believing in our abilities and removing our judgments can help us nurture our relationships and connect with people of all cultures and beliefs. Before departing back to Canada, we visited the Remand Home one last time to say our farewells. We printed out a group picture and gifted a copy to each boy. They told us that of all the visitors that had crossed their path, we were the first to do anything like this. The boys had all prepared speeches to express their gratitude for our visit. Listening to these speeches, I struggled with the thought of leaving them, and tried to come to terms with our impending departure. They would never expect us to stay, but I was overwhelmed with endearment as they invited us back to Gulu in the near future. At this moment I understood the true impact our group had had on them, and they on us. We were part of a connection to the outside world that had been denied them, and they taught us humility, charity and grace under pressure. Together they prayed that we would not forget the youth at The Remand Home. I fought back tears and determined never to forget. Although one week earlier I told myself it would be easier to sing knowing I would never see these people again, it only strains me now. The memories are still with me every day in every song I sing.   Alecia Greenwood received her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Human Relations from Concordia University. This story was written in honour of the boys at the Remand Home, and is dedicated to Onen Charles, Alecia's local volunteer partner in Gulu. As Alecia puts it, "He taught me everything I needed to know about being a true Acholi woman. He is the closest thing to God on earth."  

Nathalie Gingras

Nathalie is completing her B.A. in International Development with an emphasis on environment and development and a minor in French Studies. She participated in a semester abroad in India, travelling around the country by train and volunteering at a biodiversity conservation farm. She enjoyed the experience so much she spent the following winter backpacking throughout Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru. Despite her passion for international travel, Nathalie is fascinated by development on the home front, especially where environmental issues and resource development are concerned. After spending a summer planting trees in the bogs of Northern Ontario and another summer working in the Northwest Territories, she is planning to pursue a Masters in Environment and Resource Studies at University of Waterloo. She hopes to save the world, one tree at a time, especially if she can accumulate enough carbon credits to fly back to India!

Topics in IDS

The following list is not meant to be exhaustive; it is provided as one means by which authors may gauge the applicability of their submissions to the journal. Stand-alone terms have the words "and development" as an understood component of the topic. Indigenous Peoples' issues Activism Children and youth Civil society Colonialism and the processes of decolonisation Comparative and international politics Complex emergencies and intervention Corporate social responsibility Culture and development Debt Development administration / NGO management Development planning Developing area studies Economics Education Employment and labour issues Environment, ecology and biodiversity Ethics Finance Food and agriculture Gender issues Geopolitics Global governance Globalization Health Human rights and human security Humanitarian assistance Identity politics Information, media and the 'digital divide' Intellectual Property Rights International aid International Financial Institutions International political economy International trade Knowledge and technology transfer Law and justice (comparative and international law) Peace and conflict Population Population movements and emigration / immigration Postcolonialism Poverty and income inequality Project management & evaluation Questioning development / development critiques Race and ethnicity Regional development / regionalism Resistance Role of development studies Rural and agricultural issues Social movements Spirituality, faith and religion Theories of development & underdevelopment Tourism Urbanization and migration

Shidan Cummings

  I am a PhD candidate in the field of Chemical Engineering, working with bio-polymers (plastics). Although I am not involved directly with the academic field of development studies, I participate in local service initiatives that mainly work with children and youth on a neighborhood level. My initial involvement with Undercurrent began at the InSight conference in 2009 whereI represented the Baha'i Community of Canada. Since then I have been looking after the publishing and graphics/web procedures of the journal and am happy to provide a sense of continuity to the staff. It is no secret that youth are the most vital motivating force in society, and a hope of mine is that through the journal and its auxiliary activities the field and industry of international development can be revolutionized.  I look forward to what Undercurrent has in store for the future and will continue to represent the Baha'i Community of Canada at the InSight conferences.

Christie McLeod, Mondetta Charity Foundation (B.A., University of Winnipeg/Menno Simons College)

In addition to the Undercurrent, Christie currently works as the executive director for Mondetta Charity Foundation, an organization that strives to provide assistance and ease suffering in East Africa caused by HIV/AIDS and poverty.  She graduated in June 2014 from the University of Winnipeg, with a double major in International Development and Human Rights and Global Studies. Christie was awarded the gold medal for International Development, as well as the silver medal for a four-year arts program. Christie's passion for development issues was ignited by a six-month placement in South Africa before commencing her degree. She returned to South Africa last summer to complete a field course focusing on truth, memory and reconciliation. In addition to her regional interest in Africa, Christie is concerned with domestic sex trafficking and refugee issues in Canada, and is fascinated by the relationship between media and development. When she is not blogging for the Undercurrent (check out our blog here!), Christie also maintains a personal blog, which can be viewed at:

2014 is the Undercurrent’s 10th Anniversary!

  2014 is the Undercurrent’s 10th Anniversary! The Undercurrent was born in 2004 out of InSight, a gathering dedicated to undergraduate International Development Studies here in Canada. Since then, through the nation-wide collaborative efforts of its volunteers, it has provided valuable experience, improved academic writing skills and the chance to be formally published to hundreds of undergraduate students. Now, at 10 years old, the Undercurrent is better positioned than ever to connect young Canadians in International Development Studies to a national discussion about our place, and our thoughts in this field. What can you expect in the coming months? The creation of a National International Development Student Association (Yes, it's quite a mouthful, which is why we call it 'NIDSA'!) that will bring together the knowledge, skills and aspirations of IDS students from across Canada, fostering cross-campus dialogue and knowledge sharing and inspriing student engagement in International Development. A revamping of the Underblog that will see six categories of posts: -Alumni of the Month -IDS Program of the Month -Stories from the Field -Our World this Week -IDS Students' Bookshelf -Write for us! Interested in submitting a post for one of these categories? Learn more here A special 10th Anniversary Issue to be published this December! We will also be publishing a winter issue in April 2015. Following the successful revival of the InSight Conference at Brock University in May 2014, InSight 2015 will be held at the University of Ottawa. InSight's epic combination of professional development workshops, academic discussion, student presentations and networking opportunities renders it a one-of-a-kind conference that you don't want to miss out on!