Today I’m happy to introduce my first guest writer on my blog, his name is Chris Nawej and he is the Operations Manager for Forest Fruits Zambia, he grew up in the DRC and has now worked in Zambia for 7 years. I work closely with Chris and was lucky enough to have EWB host him at a conference in Toronto just two months ago. Chris has put some of thoughts down to share with you. Below are some photos from the trip.
Among the things I learned in Canada (other than what it’s like to shovel snow, and how expensive everything is) I have never known that telling someone that they’re fat is such a problem, or even an insult because in Africa we are used to people coming and saying “Chris you have become so fat”. Surely being fat is not something I want to do, I want to reduce it. On my trip to Canada I met Kristy and I don’t know if I told her she was fat or how it came about, but she said “Chris, shut up. You shouldn’t say that - here we don’t say that”. It was good to learn about the culture. So something that I’ve been using for the past 30 years in my vocabulary, now I can’t use it. Imagine a world where when I say to someone that they are fat - it means they are eating well – but now I’ve learned that in Canada someone getting fat, it’s like they are lazy. Yet they are the same world. It was good to have people around me who understood me and where I was coming from.
My biggest impression from my trip was to find people with so much energy and passion. Passion for things that are not personal, such as clothes, movies personal careers etc, but a passion to see another part of the world to develop. Why was this impression so big? Because I live in a world where people are self centered , they think of themselves so much. Even though people claim to work for other people (NGO, gov’t or business) they are using their resources to advantage themselves more than the people they say they’re serving.
At the EWB conference. Through being with Mark, I learn that yes, EWB was about really finding out what the issues are. But I was really impressed and touched – not so much from the presentations given by big NGOs, these I’ve seen in Zambia through my 7 years at FFZ – their language is full of sweet talk, but because when I looked around in the room during the conference and listened to the questions people were asking, they really wanted to know about the effect and the results of all the interventions and decisions that are made. That really opened my mind to see that people were really interested to see results, people wanted to know how have the lives of people been changed.
Another thing was – what I can call – the approach of EWB. In the past it was more on technology that could change the lives of people. Throughout the conference I discovered that EWB is at the level where it wants to invest in the development of people, I could see that it’s more about people rather than just the technology that they are using. I believe in this approach because for me, I believe the good way of helping Africa is to help Africa develop themselves. Africa has all the resources, Africa is rich, but many people in Africa haven’t seen that they can change their lives with what they have. This was also supported by what I got through the conference where one of the guests said “the development of Africa has to come from African’s themselves”.
It’s time for young Africans to change their mindset, to change their belief to learn that they have to work to develop themselves… not to expect people from outside to change it. We have seen it, a lot of people have come from outside, but it’s like we are still at a receiving point rather than to work hard.
A story that touched me was the story of untying aid. I didn’t expect to hear that story. After being around 600 EWB members, I can say I’m no longer surprised, but when I first heard it I felt it was a big signal. For me I knew that something needed to be done, because … for example, for the UN, it is said a lot that more than 70% of the expenditures remains in the western countries. They believe that when you want to give help to Africa you need to spend on things to give to Africa, and also to spend on wages of expatriates. This story showed to me the love that people in Canada have for Africa, that people want to see that Africa is being helped in a good way – not in a way where the help is hiding something behind. I have to say thank you to EWB, this is a good effort.
I can also say that I have never spent time to think about the work I’m doing and the way I’m changing the lives of people, until I had this trip and to see the place that Forest Fruits had to have during this conference. I felt that many people were happy with the work we do, before I thought “yes we’re providing a market to people”, but I’ve never spent time to really think about it. This gave me an opportunity to get feedback from people and it encourages me to continue the work I’m doing, maybe not always with Forest Fruits, but wherever I am, my work has to have a positive impact on other people.
One surprising thing at the conference was to see the lack of African students involved with EWB. I was both a bit surprised but also a bit happy. I felt embarrassed when people asked “are there not African engineers who can do the same thing that EWB is doing the same” – the answer is yes, there are many in Canada, but the truth is maybe we don’t have these people with such spirit. This is why I encouraged three Zambians I met to stay with EWB and to meet and discuss with other African students to become members. I didn’t feel good to see so many others getting so concerned, but this is a movement I’ve seen that is strong and with young people who really want to help.
To close, I met really good people. The way I was greeted and with some people like Kristy and Liz, we could interact as if we were knowing each other for a long time. And if that is the spirit in EWB, then I have found the right people to share with. I can say that I would be happy to become a member of EWB and I will even send my $40 this month end.
I would like to thank all the EWB staff, starting with George and Parker – we had some good discussions - and special thanks to Mark my colleague who taught me about this conference, to Robin who helped organizing me to get to Toronto and to everyone who contributed. I won’t close this without thanks to my two new good friends I met, Liz and Kristy.