Pre Pre-Departure

In a little over a day, I’ll be in Toronto at the EWB house gearing up for some intense, challenging, and fun learning at the full week of pre-departure training that lies ahead. I’ve only just had a chance to look at the pre-dep schedule and I’m very excited-and a bit intimidated. It looks we’ll have long 12-hour days with fairly in-depth sessions, and I predict that, in true EWB style, sleep will be dropped in favour of challenging and interesting discussions. In light of this, I decided to go back over the Foundation Learning for a quick review to be as pre-prepared as possible.

Foundation Learning is the curriculum developed by EWB to prepare JFs (and maybe APS; I’m not sure) for their internships. EWB has the most in-depth learning prep for overseas volunteers of any NGO I’ve seen. I’ve been doing this learning for the past four months and I honestly believe I’ve gained more lasting intellectual growth from it than from the classes I was taking at the same time.

A few of my chapter members wanted to know what was involved with Foundation Learning, so I’m going to do a quick run-through of some of the more universal stuff, without giving away too much of the curriculum. Foundation Learning is built around a pyramid model, with the most vital information forming the stable base, and the sort of you-can-get-away-without-knowing-this-but-you-should-learn-it content at the very top. It goes a bit like this:

1. Health, Safety, and Wellbeing

This is exactly as it seems; it includes information on staying healthy overseas, logistics of travel, safety and security, etc. Also included in this section is the development of a PDP and MBTI analysis.

2. Understanding Culture and Approach

This module is about understanding contexts, both African and Western. Readings include Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh.

Things Fall Apart is a novel, which makes getting into it and learning from it very easy. In terms of style, it’s subtly like nothing I’ve ever read before. It’s definitely a good read for anyone.

White Privilege was much more eye-opening, because it is aimed directly at its reader. The main point that I took away is the fact that privilege comes from oppression in the largest, most obvious ways, but also in the smallest, least obvious. I suggest that anyone of privilege read it in order to get a fuller understanding of the extent of that privilege and that those who are less privileged read it to understand privilege from the other perspective.

3. Understanding Rural Livelihoods

Rural Livelihoods is a six-point framework for understanding the smallest unit of development: the household. It is applied to case studies in this module.

4. The Development Sector

Mastering the Machine: Poverty, Aid, and Technology by Ian Smillie gives an historical context to the development sector. This one was pretty eye-opening for me, because, in a nutshell, it points out development hasn’t changed all that much since the 1960s; we’re still struggling with many of the same things and suggesting the same good ideas without implementing them. This is more of an academic book, so be warned.

The Big Lie in Foreign Aid, on the other hand, should be read by everyone in the West. Those interested in development will find it quite intense and critical. I’m a firm believer that critical opinions should, at the very least, be examined. So, read it, but be prepared for a tough one.

5. Country-Specific Learning

This includes a short document prepared by EWB volunteers for EWB volunteers. It has some of the insider information and will be very helpful in Ghana, I’m sure. More self-directed learning is involved at this point.

6. Sector-Specific Learning

This module was mostly directed by the GaRI team and involved research, briefing documents, etc. The idea was to generate an understanding of the sector context, strengths, weaknesses, and actors. This was my favourite part of Foundation Learning, because it felt like doing work for the team before I was even overseas and it was really integrative in terms of the GaRI team and the GaRI JFs.

7. Creating Change

Documents in this section drew heavily from The Critical Villager by Eric Dudley. I suggest that anyone in development read The Critical Villager, because it takes a lot of common-sense things and makes them into a fairly solid framework, in my opinion. The main point is that development aid should be change-like. Seems obvious, right? Too bad many development projects don’t agree.

For more development learning materials, be sure to check out EWB’s list of opportunities.

That’s it for now, but I’ll be sure to post from pre-dep.



One response to “Pre Pre-Departure

  1. They make you read Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack? FANTASTIC. I remember how blown away I was when I read that in first year. (Everyone needs to read it, for srs.)

    there’s also a male privilege checklist ( and black adversity: the opposite of white privilege ( which is primarily about African-Americans but might be relevant anyway 🙂

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