Sitting in the shade looking out to the ocean and drinking Italian coffee makes any work-related complaints seem insignificant. Such is the benefit of having programs in Zanzibar, Tanzania and a definite perk of my role as International Programs Director. Although few will believe it–especially in the YCI office–my time in Zanzibar has been full, with meetings and program visits. And, as the second last stop on a three-week, four-country tour that has already included Ghana, Uganda and Kenya, I’m starting to feel the effects of hotels, airports and taxis. Seven flights so far–all on time and with my bag–with three to go.
I’ve had the chance to see groups of volunteers in action in each of our African countries; speak with both our existing partners and form a new partnership in Kampala, Uganda; meet with stakeholders and the youth we work alongside in each country I’ve visited; speak on a Mombasa radio show and; watch as a group of YCI volunteers presented the outcomes of their programming at the Canadian High Commission in Accra, Ghana. Today, I watched as YCI volunteers taught beginner and intermediate computer classes to local youth, some of whom were using computers for the first time.
It’s been an eventful trip and the chance to speak with YCI staff, partners and youth in East and West Africa is incredibly helpful when it comes to program and project design and oversight from Toronto–it’s too easy to forget the realities and challenges of working in the field from the comfort of the Toronto office. And for me personally, the chance to visit programs and be in the field is was what drew me to relief/development work in the first place.
I’ve been especially impressed with the creativity of YCI and partner staff and their ability to design relevant youth programs and integrate YCI volunteers and local youth in ways that provide a tangible impact at the community level. I’ve also been impressed by our volunteers and their willingness to learn from local youth; share their own skills and experiences; work and support each other as a team; help with programming and work; and learn in environments that are new and occasionally out of their comfort zone.
I’m not a big fan of “Africa” references, as the differences–even at the local level–are huge and comparisons across the continent are so general they’re often meaningless. I’ve been living and visiting different parts of this continent for almost five years now and apart from the constant learning there’s few real similarities across the countries I’ve lived and visited. Wireless connections, BlackBerry coverage and watching the Olympics on TV shows just how far technological advances have outpaced the solutions to economic, health and other social issues.
The young people I’ve spoken to also have concerns that cut across national and regional boundaries; concerns about finding jobs to support their families, a desire to further their education, disappointment at many of their leaders, concerns about their health and what their future will look like to name a few. Young people we work with also continue to find creative solutions to the challenges they face, work multiple jobs to provide for their families, work closely with YCI volunteers to share their own community knowledge and volunteer their time with YCI and our partners. And, at a very grassroots level, YCI and our volunteers are working to address a number of issues alongside youth and the partners we support. A small piece of a much larger puzzle.
That, and the view from the coffee shop in Zanzibar, makes the travel more than worthwhile.
-Steve Cumming, International Programs Director