Friday, October 20, 2006

London Free Press Article

Thought I'd throw this article up that I co-wrote with fellow EWBer and UWO Alumus Luke Brown on Bill C-293, published on Saturday, September 16, 2006 in the London Free Press. I must give much credit to Luke for doing most of the work on the article and I look forward to what this bill will mean for Canadian ODA and those affected overseas.


The promise-keepers: Making Canada accountable to the world’s poor
By: Luke Brown and Jason Teixeira

There’s a local bar in the city of Tamale, Ghana, West Africa. Its name is Point 7. To many people here, it’s a place to relax with friends over a local Ghanaian brew. To Canadians in Tamale, it’s a stark reminder of one of our major failures on the international stage.

In 1969, a commission led by Lester B. Pearson recommended a target for international aid: 0.7% of a country’s Gross National Income should go towards development aid. This standard was agreed upon by the United Nations’ General Assembly member countries: including Canada.

Yet Canada never met this obligation. Despite being the nation from which the goal was born--a country (ostensibly) passionately dedicated to the global good--we currently contribute a mediocre 0.34% of our GNI to the world’s poor.

However, it’s not too late for us to partially redeem ourselves by demonstrating a commitment to the world’s developing nations. This can be done through new legislation that is making its way through parliament: legislation that, while not boosting our aid, would at least make it more effective.

Bill C-293 (the Development Assistance Accountability Act) is a private member’s bill put forth by Liberal Member of Parliament John McKay, and will go to its second reading in parliament early this fall. This would mean making a few key changes to the way Canada helps other countries on their path to development.

First of all, the bill would enshrine in law that the raison d’être of our development aid is to help the world’s poor get a leg up on the development ladder.

Second, a petition system would let citizens of beneficiary communities comment on the effectiveness of the money we’re sending overseas. This means that if the aid is not truly geared towards poverty reduction, or if it’s not taking into account the perspectives of the poor, or if it’s not in line with Canada’s human rights obligations, then we’ll be sure to hear about it.

And who better to help keep our government accountable in aid spending than the people who are receiving the aid itself? Who better to let us know whether or not our dollars are actually having an impact?

Development efforts don’t always benefit everyone. As volunteers on the ground in Africa, we’ve seen first-hand the frustrations that people here can have with these projects. For instance, Helen Ayaro, a water and sanitation officer in northern Ghana, describes the effects of a dam project in neighbouring Burkina Faso. The Bagre Dam was constructed to allow farmers in Burkina Faso to irrigate their land when the rains are sparse.

“Authorities (in Burkina Faso) are in charge of opening and closing the dam. When they open the dam it can cause flooding along the White Volta River, which destroys crops and damages communities in northern Ghana.” This dam, designed to help some people work their way out of poverty in Burkina Faso, has had the opposite effect on other people in Ghana.

She laments that Ghanaians have little voice in preventing such problems from happening, whether the problem originates in another country, or in their own backyard. While the Bagre Dam wasn’t funded by Canadian money, we can still take a valuable lesson away from it to apply to the projects that we do fund. As Helen says: “We need to know, was what they brought to your community actually what you needed, or was it against your will? Is it making an impact, or is it violating your rights?”

Bill C-293 is in the spirit of empowerment: it gives a voice to, and ensures opportunity for those who need it, helping to pave the road towards independence.

"We may need some help and inputs to get started but we are doing it for ourselves now,” says Dorothy Kendulo, as she prepares her fields to grow mustard in rural Malawi, in southern Africa. “We can use technical advice and working together we can do things for ourselves - we are working."

We believe Canadians are a benevolent people. Ask your government to represent this on the global stage. Rather than making empty promises and half-hearted commitments, let’s prove to the world that we truly do care.

We may be far from reaching the 0.7% pledge, but we can still demonstrate that our moral duty to the world’s poor isn’t just an empty promise. Let’s make sure that Bill C-293 is passed. For more information, and to encourage your local Member of Parliament to vote for positive change in Canada’s role on the global playing field, visit

Luke Brown and Jason Teixeira are both Londoners and graduates from UWO’s Engineering program, and are now volunteering through Engineers Without Borders in Ghana and Malawi, respectively.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Rain has finally arrived…the silence is broken…

Like the sudden clap of thunder last Sunday that signalled the beginning of the rains to come this is the sudden beginning to a long overdue update and blog.

Maybe I needed the rains to shake off the veil of silence that has crept in since I arrived here in Malawi (although truthfully it didn’t rain much). Albeit unintentional I must apologize for my long silence and will try my best to keep updated in the coming months. I won’t promise to keep up with the same frequency as the rains as I have no idea what the rainy season will have in store and don’t want to get too swamped (no pun intended).

As a start I’ll try and set a bit of context…

I have no idea whom said it and despite the risk of sounding too cliché and painting the whole continent with one wide brush I must agree that ‘Africa gets into your blood’. From the moment I stepped off the continent following my volunteer placement with Engineers Without Borders in Ghana last year I have yearned to return. To return to the rhythm of the life, the music, the laughter, the pride, the humbleness, to return to learn, to grow, to share, to teach, to return to the rhythm this continent seems to posses but most importantly to return to fighting the biggest and most unacceptable injustice in the world, extreme poverty. It is slightly strange to me and not wanting to lump over 50 unique and individual nations into one basket I’ll leave it at this – I needed to come back.

I have once again returned as an Engineers Without Borders Canada volunteer but this time as a long term volunteer and will be based in Malawi for about a year. I arrived in Malawi on June 30th, 2006 and am working with the William J. Clinton Foundation on a new project called the Clinton Hunter Development Initiative, a program that incorporates Education, Health Care, Water and Sanitation, and Agriculture. My role within the project will mainly be focused on the Water and Sanitation (WATSAN) sector building on the knowledge and experience that I have built up in Ghana.

For now I am based out of Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi, but our project is focused in three different districts – one in the north, central, and southern region (but more to follow on project specifics in a subsequent update). One of the best parts of this placement thus far is that my wife Erin has been able to join me and she is now volunteering at a local primary school in our neighbourhood.

To find out more on Malawi check out the link to the right. But as a very brief summary: Malawi is a landlocked nation in southern Africa and is ranked as the 13th lowest country in the world according to the most recent Human Development Index. The life expectancy at birth is only 39 years old. It is estimated that 1 in 7 Malawians is infected with HIV/AIDS and as a result of this, chronic poverty, and preventable diseases such as Malaria and TB there is also a very high orphan population. The economy is also predominately agriculturally based, with about 90% of the population living in rural areas. Although these are stark and cut and dry facts I know there is more than the numbers represent and if there is one thing that I have learned from my experience within EWB it is to ask questions, to have an open mind, and be prepared to learn and this is exactly what I intend to do.

Malawi has also received a lot of international press recently as a result of a visit from Bill Clinton in July, the cancellation of $2.9 Billion USD of international debt at the end of August, and most recently a visit from Madonna. But what I wished we were getting press on was the countless farmers, individuals, women, and entrepreneurs that are fighting for themselves to break the cycle of poverty. Although I have been here for a short time I have already met many individuals that would make great role models and front cover pieces of any newspaper anywhere in the world. What I feel we need most in term of press are these types of reports and how we can all work together in breaking this cycle.

If you would like to be emailed every time I update my blog, send me a quick note and I'll make that happen. Also, check out some of the links to the right- you can find out more on Malawi, EWB, and the current weather where I'm staying.

Thanks to everyone for your support and contact and I’ll send out another update soon.

Take Care,