Getting ready to work in the field of International Development (I)

Maricarmen Valdivieso 
Founder and CEO
Nexos Comunitarios

I might have met more than 700 young people who participated in our programs. Grosso modo, I would say that about 30 % of them are still somehow involved in the development field. I also know that some of them are feeling frustrated about profound problems in international development thinking that the foundations of it could be wrong and, hence, maybe, giving up after a realization of other challenges. With the permission of the person who wrote this post, let me share one post I found on social media of one of our most committed former interns:

Kibera Slum, Nairobi. I’ve been studying and working in development for seven years now, yet this was the first time I’ve spent an entire day in an urban slum. I felt disgusted, not for what I saw but for what I’ve become, i.e. a development practitioner. I felt ashamed for increasingly becoming part of this so-called “development community”, which in many ways continues to optimise Kipling’s theory.   

In a couple of weeks from now, I’ll be in (…) writing my thesis in libraries funded by those who have seeded this system of international oppression. I start believing that international development is nothing else than a monstrous sham, a self-perpetuating beast. “The White Man’s Burden” will continue to prevail unless international development is deinstitutionalised.

After reading it I had a mix of feelings. I was concerned about the possibility of him losing his motivation and perspective to do a great work in the development area, but, at the same time I was relieved to see that he still keeps his critical mind. Either I agree or not with his statement, I know it is not easy to be like this, after years of learning, training, working.   He is on his way to finish his second master degree from one of the top 5 universities in the world, his career is a list of accomplishments since his graduation of undergraduate school, also in a world-renowned university. Moreover, his achievements are not just in academia, but I witnessed first-hand his commitment to fieldwork and his success during his time with us.

During the last decade, international ‘volunteer’[1] programs have increased its number and from what I see, participants are being more honest whenever they join them. Nowadays, in our internship program, many of them tell us they participate in this type of programs to gain experience and learn so they can use this experience in their resume to find a job or to get into a graduate program.   I must admit that I used to struggle with the design of our initial programs years ago when we were offering ‘volunteering’

opportunities for young people.  I was not sure if our approach was the best one and was not sure about the real impact of them. By impact, I refer not just for our local community partners, but also for those ‘volunteers’ who came to participate with us. What did they learn? Do they remember what they learned when they go back to school? Do they believe what they learned in the field it is helpful in their future work or do they only want their participation to be on their resume?   We have received feedback and we were able to verify the participation of ‘volunteers’ was positive for our community partners. However, we haven’t been able to follow the 30% of participants currently plying their trade in the development arena. I’m happy to still receive emails from former participants with their news and sometimes with a request for a recommendation letter. I rest assured that they are still doing great work. But emails come from only about 5% of former participants, mostly from the people who knew what they were doing here and why they were doing it.   Since 2015, our approach changed and I’m more satisfied with the changes we are implementing little by little. Based on the idea that our programs are opportunities to learn, my perception has changed of what is most beneficial for our local community partners and for our programs’ participants. I once thought experience in travel and duration of program determined a successful program, but I realized this was not the case.   We have been able to develop programs with universities that share similar goals as we do as an organization. For example, our short-term programs of 1-2 weeks, we have received very positive feedback on the projects and on the strength of development ties between community partners and the participants’ experience. Where can we attribute the resounding success? Perhaps to a few factors:

–       Mutuality and transparency in the relationships: the university and NC are in charge of organizing short-term programs. Typically, programs are organized and confirm 6 – 9 months before the start. The organization of a program requires a great deal of logistics and discussions about the projects, including conversations on expectations, limitations, and the overall duration of each aspect of a given program. Built on mutual trust, we are able to communicate our concerns, and after the program, we provide feedback to each other, to improve the next experience. Working in this environment, is beneficial for all parties – the community, the participants, the university and us at NC. More people are supporting our projects like the Sustainable Homes in Cuncani, started by two wonderful groups of Alternative Spring Break last February in Cuncani.

       Focus on the needs of the community partner: the needs of the community take priority, built into the design and implementation of the program. This is the true indication of the success of a program, equal to, if not more than the satisfaction of the volunteer participants. After all, the primary component of a program done well is the impact on the beneficiaries, the target audience.

       Adequate orientation and supervision of the participants: this responsibility must be shared between the university and NC, and based on the results, the success of this step is the success and satisfaction of the two other actors: community partners and the program’s participants. While talking to a former colleague, we came to the conclusion that it is common to believe that for short-term groups like the Alternative Spring Breaks, participants require a more profound orientation whilst the participants of an internship program, do not need it because they are aware of what they are learning through books and lectures. This is not true. We have witnessed how orientation sessions for all participants to be more empathetic, build trusting and lasting relationships, maintain an open mind regarding culture and respect for customs deemed “weird” when they are just different.

–       Participants are genuinely interested in the program: Participants of our short-term programs are increasingly interested in participating in the program, learning about another culture, about their fellows, about themselves, about the world in general. Some of them might be interested in developing a career in international development in the future, but when they come for a shorter period, their main goal it is not to include the program in their resume or to gain more credits. There is nothing wrong in looking for experiences that would allow them to get better jobs or opportunities in masters programs but it is important to not lose the focus of the programs and to remember why the programs exist.

–       Genuine respect: much more than political correctness, there must exist a veritable respect towards all cultures and to each person involved.

There are other factors involved in the success of programs but I thought we could start our conversation with our short-term programs and the outlined factors, because short-term group programs are often criticized. For us, however, they have proven positive.   I believe these four factors can take us to profound discussions to what is needed to make this type of programs, an opportunity for all those young people who want to be more committed to a better world, those young people who want to use their opportunities and knowledge to do meaningful work and to have a positive impact on our society.

Thanks to the invitation of Dr. Neil Arya, last year I wrote a chapter for a book called: Global Health Experiential Education. From Theory to Practice that will be published soon. It was a tremendous opportunity for me to remember all the many experiences we have had throughout all these years, to analyse our mistakes and our successes and after them, been able to contribute to the improvement of our programs. As our ‘high-season’ for our programs has come to an end, I decided to share my thoughts with you because I know there are former participants and followers of our organization who are very talented and have the potential to be great assets in the development world.

Those very young people need to receive the best education they can from the universities they choose. If they are interested in becoming a development practitioner, they also require education and training in the field. The success of their time in the field is linked to their studies and the supervision they receive from their universities. Furthermore, universities need to recognize the importance of their learning from the field. Universities have the power to make their students, not just fine and efficient professionals but great ones, moreover, great committed citizens, with the potential to improve our world for everyone.

During the next weeks, we will be sharing posts written by our amazing program’s participants. We hope you enjoy them as much we have enjoyed their time in Peru.

Thanks for reading this long post and I hope this to be the start of an ongoing discussion of this subject. And perhaps lead to many more.


The eNCounter Program: Considering Your Future Every Step of the Way

By Justin Wood.

Entry level. They can be frustrating words for millennials these days.

When I finished university – part of the class of 2013 – I stepped into a job market that was full of opportunity, but not the kind I was expecting. More applications than I care to remember listed prior experience, sometimes years worth, as a requirement for full time, paid positions. I could never quite understand how graduates, fresh out of finals, were supposed to have experience under their belt – but so it was. In the meantime, employers eagerly filled unpaid internships and advertised volunteer placements. The internship seemed to constitute a new rite of passage that granted access to “entry level” career opportunities.

After completing my degree it quickly became clear that paid, full-time work was scarce in my particular sectors of interest. Having just finished four years of school, unpaid work wouldn’t be sustainable for long. So, as many graduates did, I too broadened my scope and took opportunities as they came, wherever they came from. I searched for paid work in related fields. I took unpaid work on the side. I tried to capitalize on every learning opportunity that presented itself. My goal was to build a resume of transferrable skills that, in time, would help me transition into the positions I was most interested in.

Sunny skies over Urubamba, Peru, home of the Nexos Comunitarios development office. December, 2015.
Sunny skies over Urubamba, Peru, home of the Nexos Comunitarios development office. December, 2015.

In the fall of 2015, after a brief stint with a research institute and a season in government, I took a position with a small development organization in Peru. Nexos Comunitarios provided me with my first exposure to development work and the day-to-day operations of a not-for-profit. As a development student, this was an opportunity I had been patiently waiting for.

Nexos Comunitarios (NC) is a Peruvian non-profit organization working in the High-Andean communities of South-Eastern Peru. NC, as an organization, focuses its efforts on fostering human capital in some of the most remote indigenous communities in the Andes. Currently, NC is working on community projects related to nutrition, food security and elementary education. To fund their work, NC provides foreign post-secondary students with opportunities to travel and learn with the organization on short-term exposure trips.

I arrived for my three-month placement with NC in October 2015. One of my tasks was to help develop a new program for foreign students; one that was longer in duration and offered a more comprehensive learning experience. Having studied development and public policy, I seized the opportunity to design a program that responded to a very specific need. It started with a couple basic questions: what experiences would be most helpful to students seeking careers in development, policy or non-profit work? What skills could NC equip students with to better position them for entry-level positions?

With these questions in mind, the eNCounter Program was formed. The eNCounter Program revolves around four components of active learning: 1) practical skill building in development and non-profit management 2) academic learning 3) language training, and 4) cultural exposure and engagement. Each component of the program is designed to be an asset; to appeal to future employers.

We wanted to ensure the fundamentals of non-profit management were covered; the importance of budgetary, financial, and contingency planning, for example, and the steps in a typical grant application. We wanted to open participants up to new perspectives in academia through study in South America, and simultaneously enhance students’ resumes by offering formal certificates for completed courses taught by the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru. We recognized the importance of language as an asset in the workplace, and have coordinated with local, Peruvian instructors to offer intensive language training, and we have provided opportunity for both structured cultural engagement and leisure exploration to round out students’ experience in Peru. Together, we tried to ensure that every experience in the eNCounter Program would be helpful to students in launching their careers.

Interview photo in Cuncani during the exploration work with Carleton University students in June, 2015.
Interview photo in Cuncani during the exploration work with Carleton University students in June, 2015.

After nearly 10 years of work, both in student programs and development, Nexos Comunitarios is excited to continue building on the efforts and experience of its predecessor, Nexos Voluntarios, with the launch of the eNCounter Program. Through the sharing of knowledge and experience, NC hopes to provide future development workers, policy experts and non-profit leaders with the skills and experiences essential for success. Our mission was to create a program that would be an asset to participants launching their careers, and their futures. We hope your encounter with Nexos Comunitarios will be just that!

For more information please visit our website.

16 days to go…

Hi everyone!

We are raising money for our POWER Lunch Program and two of our members have a challenge: 37 km hike and 100 km bike ride from Urubamba to Cuncani.

This is one of the post written by Kenji! Please, read it, share it and support our cause:


nilda casa (1 of 1)-2

Aside from me being an international development worker, and willing to promote community development, there is another very strong reason why I want to raise money to implement this POWER Lunch. That is my personal connection with children. I have always enjoyed being with children and from some point, working with and for kids became one of my Ikigai, a Japanese term that has been recently been recognized internationally. It is often translated as “meaning of being” but more accurately, it is the combination of “your values”, “things you like to do”, and “things you are good at”.

This picture was when I visited one of the families in the community Nilda (older sister) and Grizelda (little sister). I gain great pleasure when I am with them (and I hope they enjoy time with me as well…. crossed fingers). Being a field worker and working with a group of people…

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¿Qué comen las niñas y niños de Cuncani todos los días?

La comida es esencial para nuestra vida diaria y la refleja a la cultura local. He vivido en varios países como Japón, Alemania (anuque no recuerdo mucho), Canadá, y Perú, y es bastante sorprendente ver cómo los platos servidos en una mesa de comedor varían entre los países. Al mismo tiempo, la comida es un determinante crucial de una vida saludable. Debido a que la desnutrición es un gran problema en Cuncani, es muy importante continuar con nuestro esfuerzo para obtener una mejor comprensión de lo que los niños y niñas en la comunidad comen todos los días. Por ello, Nexos Comunitarios adoptó FotoVoz (una de las actividades basada en la metodología de Investigación Acción Participativa) con 8 niños de la comunidad para responder a esta pregunta.

En lugar de aplicar un método de investigación tradicional, mediante el cual los investigadores visitan a las familias para entrevistas o encuestas en relación con su consumo de alimentos; la metodología FotoVoz nos permite buscar el mismo resultado con participación de los niños y niñas en la captura de fotogradías de sus comidas diarias. El resultado es mucho más significativo ya que exhibe imágenes de las comidas servidas en sus hogares (a diferencia de las repuestas obtenidas a través de entrevistas o encuestas, que luego escribimos en el papel). Además, el diseño de FotoVoz construye una relación horizontal entre el facilitador y los paricipantes (los niños) a través del proceso. Por otro parte, esta metodología provee libertad para que los participantes pueden tomar fotos y disfruten del uso de las cámaras.

De 8 niños en la escuela, 7 niños han completado sus diarios de alimentos con las fotos de sus comidas. Cada diario ilustra una variedad de fotos de comidas, los niños y niñas muestran lo que comen en su vida diario. Veamos algunas de las imágenes tomadas por ellos.

La mayoría de las personas de la comunidad consume té con leche y papas con pan, maíz tostado (cancha) y, ocasionalmente, alguna fruta en la mañana. Por la tarde, las familias preparan sopa preparada con papas, arroz, en ocasiones, algún tipo de carne y algunas verduras.

IMG_3610Este es uno de los platos favoritos de Andrés que se sirve en su casa. Él la explica de esta manera: “esta es una sopa hecha de papas, carne arroz y verduras. Las papas son de nuestra tierra, y la carne es de las ovejas qye criamos.”People in the community consume milk tea and potatoes with bread, canchas (known as Andean toasted chullpi corn) or fruits. Due to lack of access to the potable water in the community, the families boil the water and drink tea or milk tea every day.


Todos los días, Verónica ayuda a su madre a preparar comida para su familia. En Cuncani es muy común que las niñas ayuden sus padres a cocinar diariamente. Verónica dice: “Este es papas con fideos. Yo cociné esto en mi casa. En fácil prepararlo, pero sabe bien.”.

Las papas son las más consumidas ya que son los cultivos predominantes que la comunidad cultica en su campo (otras verduras, arroz y frutas se compran en el mercado de Lares, los lunes de cada semana).

En general, las fotos tomadas por los estudiantes demuestran que las papas y el arroz son los alimentos básicos diarios. Una veriedad de vegetales es limitada y menos frecuente en la mesa del comedor.

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Al mismo tiempo, los niños y niñas no solo tomaron fotos de sus comidas, pero también capturaron paisajes, amigos y animales en la comunidad.


Esta es una foto de Francis con su padre. ºel dice “estoy ayudando a mi papa a cultivar la tierra. Estamos haciendo esto para ayudar a cultivar papas el próximo año. Mi ermanita tomó la foto por mi.” Todas las familias de la comunidad cultivan sus tierras de octubre a noviembre y cosechan las papas en la próxima temporada.

A lo largo del proceso de FotoVoz (lee el artículo anterior “Ajuste del diseño del proyecto”) los niños y niñas se mostraron entusiasmados con la idea de tomar fotos y crear sus propios diarios de alimientos. Como facilitador, diría que no fue una metodología fácil para adoptar Requiere mucho timepo, recursos, planificación y compromisos para llevar a cabo el proyecto. El plan necesitaba algunos ajustes en su proceso. Dos cámaras dejaron de funcionar, y algunos de los niños estaban tan emocionados de usarlas, pero olividaron tomar las fotos de sus alimentos de forma regular, o incluso perdieron las fotos que habían tomado. Además, la lejanía de la comunidad y la falta de acceso a las herramientas de comunicación (sin Internet ni servicio telefónico) permitieron coordinar con la clase solo una vez a la semana.

A pesar de estos desafíos, la realización de los diarios de alimentos, hechos puramente por las manos de los niños y niñas, es importante para nosotros. yea que refleja el trabajo hecho con valores de libertad y reciprocidad. Nexos Comunitarios valora la participación local y la relación horizontal con la comunidad como un elemento indispensable para promover el Desarrollo Humano Responsable. No estamos allí para actuar como simples invesitgadores o ayudantes de la comunidad. Estamos allí para promover el desarrollo junto con los miembors de la comunidad en cada paso del camino.

Este es la aplicación de la metodología de Investigación de Acción Paricipativa. Ahora vemos una mayor posibilidad para Nexos Comuniatrios de continuar utilizándola para aprender más sobre la comunidad y, al mismo tiempo, empoderar a las niñas y niños.

What do children in Cuncani eat every day?

Food is essential for our everyday life and it reflects a local culture. I have lived in Japan, Germany (although I do not remember much), Canada, and Peru and it is quite amazing to see how plates served on a dining table vary among the countries. At the same time, food is a crucial determinant of a healthy life. Because malnutrition is a problem in Cuncani, it is important to continue our effort to gain a better understanding of what children in Cuncani eat every day. Thus, in 2017,  Nexos Comunitarios, adopted the Photovoice (one of the methodologies of Participatory Action Research)  to work with 8 children in Cuncani to answer this simple question.

Instead of applying a traditional research method, where researchers visit the families to conduct interviews/surveys in relation to their food consumption, the Photovoice methodology allows us to seek the same result by engaging student through the activity of capturing their daily meals using cameras. The outcome is much more meaningful as it exhibits physical images of the meals served in their homes (and as researchers, we are not simply give the answers gained through interviews which we then write down). In addition, the design of Photovoice constructs a horizontal relationship between the facilitator and the participants (the children) through the process. Furthermore, the methodology provides the freedom for the participants to take photos and enjoy the use of cameras.

Of 8 children in the school, 7 children have completed their food journals with the photos of their meals. Each journal illustrates a variety of photos showing the children’s daily food intake and their life in Cuncani. Let’s take a look at some of the pictures taken by them.

People in the community consume milk tea and potatoes with bread, canchas (known as Andean toasted chullpi corn) or fruits. Due to lack of access to the potable water in the community, the families boil the water and drink tea or milk tea every day.

IMG_3610In the afternoon, soups made with potatoes, rice, meats and some vegetables were most commonly prepared by the families. This is one of Andres’s favorite dishes served at his house. He explains: “this is a soup made of potatoes, rice meat, and vegetables. The potatoes are from our land. Also, the meat is from the sheep that we raise.”


Veronica helps her mother every day to prepare food for her family. In Cuncani it is very common for the girls to help their parents by cooking on a daily basis. “This is potatoes and fried pasta. I made this at home. It is easy to make but it tastes good.”

Potatoes are eaten the most as it is the predominant crops that community grows in their field (other vegetables, rice, and fruits are purchased from the market next town). Livestock is also very common in Cuncani. According to the children, although they like all type of meats, they prefer the Guinea pig the most (families also raise pigs, chicken, alpaca, llama, and sheep). Guinea pigs are reserved for special occasions such as birthday, wedding, or celebration.
In general, the photos taken by students demonstrate that potatoes and rice are the daily staples. A variety of vegetables is limited and less frequently on the dining table.

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Children not only took photos of their food, they also captured scenery, friends, and animals in the community.


This is a photo of Francis with his father. He says, “I am helping my father cultivating the land. We are doing this to help grow potatoes. My little sister took the photo for me.” Every house in the community cultivates their land during October to November and harvest potatoes in the next season.

Throughout the process of Photovoice (see the previous article “[Work in Progress] Adjusting project design“), children have been excited about taking photos as well as creating their own food journals. As a facilitator, I would say it was not an easy methodology to adopt. It requires much time, resources, planning and commitment to carry out the project working hand in hand with the children. The plan needed some adjustments in its process. Two of our four cameras stopped working. Some of the children were so excited to use the cameras but forgot to take the pictures of their food on a regular basis, or even lost the photos they had taken. Also, the remoteness of the community and lack of access to communication tools (no internet or phone service) made it possible to coordinate with the class only once a week.

Despite these challenges, the accomplishment of the food journals, purely made by the hands of children, is significant for us as it reflects working with our values of freedom and reciprocity. Nexos Comunitarios values participation and horizontal relationship with the community as an indispensable element to promote responsible human development. We are not there to act as a mere researcher or helper for the community. We are there to promote development together with the community members every step of the way.
This is just a first step of our application of the Photovoice methodology. We now see a greater possibility for Nexos Comunitarios to further use this methodology in order to learn more about the community while empowering the children at the same time.

[Testimonials] Connecting

Ronny Bao, Western University

Tourism, similar to a coin, has two sides. One of its faces showcases beautifully alluring imagery of a foreign destination that attracts travellers from all over the globe whereas its second face hides a darker side of tourism that is rarely seen by tourists on vacation. While travelling can be enjoyable, enlightening, and life changing, it can also have a huge negative impact on the residents of the host country where vacationers travel to. Therefore, I have always been cynical towards travelling without a beneficial cause to others; however, this year I came across the opportunity of a lifetime when I applied to the Alternative Spring Break program at my university. My school had a pre-established partnership with Nexos Comunitarios, a Peruvian non-governmental organization (NGO) that focuses on assisting isolated populations in Cusco, Peru. Our week-long trip was spent through engaged learning while working with the NGO in one of the projects. The focused population of our trip were the residents of the high altitude community of Cuncani.

Traveling to Cuncani to build chicken coops with Cuncani residents while learning from them and building connections has opened my eyes in ways that I could have never expected. The residents of Cuncani live in a harsh but stunningly beautiful environment amongst the mountains at 4,000 meters in the air. To reach the homes of our hosts we were required to hike up part of a mountain after a bus ride that took us to the end of the highest paved roads in that region. Our entire group took three times as long as it would have taken our host  to make the climb; furthermore we all had sturdily manufactured shoes whereas she wore simple, open-toed, leather sandals with poor grip. Despite her footwear, our host and guide nimbly navigated her way up the mountains while pausing frequently so that we could both catch up to her and our breaths. Although the hike was hard, it was certainly worth it. The view outside the home of our hosts were absolutely captivating, the majestic peaks of the mountains were starkly contrasted against their precipitous sides that plummeted to the base of the mountains. Cuncani was truly a hidden gem that was masked by the poverty in its region, as a matter of fact it was even on the way to the world renown tourist destination Machu Picchu.

One of the short and long term goals of Nexos Comunitarios is to stimulate tourism in Cuncani. Given the depths of poverty and exclusion that many of its residents live in any amount of economic stimulation can vastly improve their standard of living. The biggest barrier in the way of tourism growth in Cuncani is its isolation and misinformation and lack thereof. Many people have never heard of Cuncani, therefore increasing traffic through those mountains require travellers who have experienced the beauty of Cuncani to spread the word. This is where my team and myself come in, we are energetic and curious young adults who seek to travel the world in an ethically appropriate manner. After travelling to Cuncani we are keen to introduce others to its charm and elegance.

Creating international information links to Cuncani and Peru to help its excluded citizens is only one of the various projects that Nexos Communitaros is working on. The NGO brilliantly combines tourism and programs such as #BeTheChange and InternLink and work into a perfect consolidation that appeals to post-secondary students such as myself. My trip to Peru has certainly changed my life by opening my eyes to the power that small actions have in the lives others. If given the opportunity I truly implore you to visit Cuncani under the guidance of Nexos Communitaros.



[Testimonial] #BeTheChange

Mathias Nilges, St. Francis Xavier University

Even after half a dozen very thorough showers, there is still Cuncani dirt in my callouses and underneath my fingernails. Cuncani refuses to let go. The same is true of my feelings and thoughts. Here, too, Cuncani, its people, its animals, and its landscape have left traces that, I hope in this case, will remain with me for a long time. And in some ways, I sense that some parts of me are still there. It is impossible not to be deeply moved by this part of the world and its people, people who live and work in a region that is both stunningly beautiful but also harsh and unforgiving. In conditions that had us shivering and huddling together for warmth in our cushy down sleeping bags at night, the people of Cuncani work to support their families and communities with few resources and little outside support.

Life in Cuncani is hard. And yet Señor Martin and his family welcomed us with such great warmth and with constant smiles and kind assistance that we felt not just humbled but often also embarrassed–embarrassed about how little we could do to help, embarrassed by the strength, resilience and resourcefulness of our host that showed in every action how easy and antiseptic our own lives ordinarily are. We left deeply touched and impressed by the people of this region, people who want and need support, but people who are also immensely proud of their heritage and culture, their region and way of life and who fight to preserve these aspects of their existence. We went to Peru to visit and work with people in some of the most remote areas of the country, those people who have been forgotten by the nation’s otherwise so successful poverty relief efforts. After having spent some time with some of these families, I wonder how I, or anyone, could ever forget them.

Addendum: I must add that no aspect of our amazing trip would have been possible without the help and support of the wonderful people of Nexos Comunitarios. Their organization deserves our attention and support, and I encourage everyone to look them up, support them, to work and collaborate with them. What a wonderful, inspiring, generous, and all around impressive group of people. Thank you, Maricarmen, in particular. You’re an inspiration.

Second addendum: though I will say this repeatedly at future public events, already at this point: I had the privilege to go on this ISL trip with the best group of students imaginable. They are all impressive young academics and some of the most kind, thoughtful, and caring people that I have met since coming to StFX. It was a joy to travel and work with this group, especially because they made everything so easy on me. Really, they didn’t need me around at all. And that’s probably the ideal impression a group leader should get: that no group leader is needed because the group members are so good at what they do and have grown into a unit of friends in ways that were heart warming to watch. Thanks for letting me witness the growth of your friendship, your work, and your analytical thought process over the course of this trip, Natasha, Laura, Emma, Elizabeth, Magie, Katie, and Carmen!

[Ambassador] What is good?

Alice Ebeyer, McGill University

Being a student, I have to go through a series of hopes, uncertainties and disappointments regarding the future of our planet (and mine). I am halfway through my international development studies as an undergraduate, and if I have solved some of the questions that the academy has posed to me, I confess to always being confused about the professional prospects that the development field has to offer. This tenacious feeling of having to help the so-called developing countries, tinged with a persistent post-colonial shadow. Today, the education we receive through this program urges us not to reproduce past mistakes. Yet new ones are committed; a clumsiness that reflects an ideology falsely focused on the common interest.

The realities within the university are contradictory, promoting an ideal of development that remains, in my opinion, a projection of capitalism in its entirety and its implementation. These economic ideologies are contingent to the power imbalance across the world: they imply an exponential enrichment which I believe can only be achieved by the relative impoverishment of an opposite. University then becomes a place where the distinction between professional aspirations and the idea of development aid fades. The personal interest is merged with the common interest, for better and for worse. Ideas are fusing: would I be a leader, what can I undertake, how can I participate in achieving the new goals of the United Nations? In a sense, this program conditions us and makes us want to achieve goals, to do good because we have been taught to do so. It is an automated form of applying knowledge that is not necessarily motivated by a genuine sense of spreading good around oneself. What is good? In my opinion, everything that minimizes the malaise of others. Everything is relative of course, but if these inter-relational fundamentals were re-examined in teaching, perhaps our vision of interculturality and co-working would be thorough and the need to be attentive to the people’s input would be further highlighted.

The result of these observations leads me to some form of confusion on the field. There is a somewhat hypocritical sentiment that knots my stomach when I think of the enthusiasm provoked by international studies. It has become so easy to volunteer, to travel with a purpose, to do Voluntourism or simply apply abroad for any kind of job. As a fashion, an ephemeral passion for the meaning of life that the journey grants. Opportunities to work in an organization that offers dialogue and connaissance as key principles are becoming scarce. They stress the complexity of reality: one that takes time, perseverance, strength but also a lot of love and humility to realize every new step. The ability of students to go around the world and/or work for this or that organization – for sometimes exorbitant amounts – in order to gain experience contradicts itself. We are offered a form of privilege of helping, to meet our personal needs. I finally come back to this vision of international development as a hand of post-colonialism, a rejuvenated version of the white man’s burden. To stem the yoke that the countries of the ‘South’ suffer subjectively, I think it would be a good idea to authentically support local organizations that encourage the participation of all groups concerned; no more no less. Clearly, if international studies are today quite trendy, I do not think they are reprehensible: simply flawed.

I find my international development program very complete in that it draws from various subjects and different disciplines. This allows us to learn a great deal and to absorb varied perspectives on development. Subjects such as sociology or anthropology offer a holistic view of global thought while economics or geography, among others, represent the development sector and the power gaps between countries in a more pragmatic way. We feel a deep criticism of Western ethnocentrism, the white man’s burden, or late twentieth-century development models that have contributed to the spread of neoliberalism. Theoretically, the focus is on our ability to know more about what is best for others or condemn invasive methods observed in research  as well as in development projects themselves.

The aim of future generations would be to find a balance, which will be done with time, education and the strengthening of collective consciousness. Do not misunderstand my criticism: I deeply believe that the involvement of institutions in promoting international development is a good thing. It shows that people are pacifying themselves, that new generations are adopting a different definition of happiness, including its global aspect. We must continue to spread the desire to improve human kind, in spite of its intricacy. I simply question the conflict of interest that development missions and the role of institutions bring to light: I am uncertain of their significant scope. We must continue to move forward and perpetually challenge ourselves so as to soften past tensions and, perhaps one day, offer a fair present.


[Thinking aloud] The power of sports

94th minutes of the game, when the final whistle has been blown, whole country burst full of joys and tears. The 2-0 victory against the New Zealand has allowed Peru to secure the last ticket for the World Cup in Russia, making it for first time since 1982. Although ranked as 10th in the FIFA world ranking, world top class national teams such as Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Colombia have stood big in front of Peruvian’s dream for 35 years. But on the night of November 15th, the Peruvian national team, and the country, put an end to this bad luck streak and made history.

The whole country celebrated. The President of Peru even declared a nation holiday the day after the victory. As a sports fan, I have always believed in the power of sports. The excitement of the them can have an enormous power to unite people, and even lead to social change. In the field of international development, we tend to focus on the academic issues, such as national policies or economic theories. However, that social change is just a collective result of the change in every individual’s behaviour or perspective. In this case, the excitement of sports is something many people share and can lead to a greater effort in making change.

I would like to introduce one of my favorite soccer players, who has demonstrated to the world how the power of sports can change the world. His name is Didier Drogba from Ivory Coast. He is known world-wide not just for his glorious professional career in the Chelsea, but also by bringing peace to his country.


On October 8th, 2005, the Drogba led the Ivory Coast to defeated Sudan by 3-1, qualifying for the Germany World Cup in 2006 for the first time in history. Nonetheless, while the team was full of happiness, a west African country was in middle of a deadly civil war between government-held south and rebel-held north. After the game, Drogba picked up the microphone in the locker room and through the live TV, he plead the country to end the war.

Men and women of the Ivory Coast.

From the north, south, center and east.

We have proved today that all Ivorians can coexist and play together with a shared objective to qualify for the World Cup.

We promise you that the celebration will unite people.

Today we beg you, please, on our knees.

Forgive. Forgive. Forgive…

This country in Africa, with so many riches, must not descend into war like this.

Please… lay down all the weapons.

Hold elections, organize elections.

All will be better.

(CNN “How Didier Drogba and his Ivory Coast teammates helped end the civil war”)

With the teammates, he asked the combatants to put down their weapons and cease the five year civil war. In addition to this, believing in the power of sports, Drogba negotiated with the government to hold international soccer matches in the north of Ivory Coast. Previously all the national matches had been hosted in the south. With the effort of this soccer player, he helped encourage the reunification of the south and north parts of the country, and the national match against Madagascar happened in 2007.


This is the power of sports. Drogba was able to bring peace to his country because of his fame and respect that he received from the population as a professional soccer player. All the excitement we have towards sports gave a player a great power to cease a civil war, which no one, not even president of the country, would have been able to achieve. And this says something to a country like Peru, where the social division still remains a major problem. The subjugation of the Inca’s by the Spanish, and tragedy of civil wars have left scars in the history of Peru. It still embraces a sense of discrimination and division amongst the ‘people from the coast’ and ‘people in the Andes’. Although the country has been trying to solve this issue, it is still a problem in today’s current society. However, just like the example in the country of the Ivory Coast, soccer helped unify the country. Two years ago, when Peru made it the quarterfinal of the Copa America (the most prestigious Latin American soccer tournament), the team captain Caludia Pizzaro tweeted the victory in Quechua.

“Ñoqanchis tucuyta churashanchis llapanchis cusisqa cannchispaq! Hatunllacta Peru!!, (We are giving it all, for everyone to be happy. Peru is a great nation!!).”

(Splinter: “Peru’s soccer captain tweets in Quechua to rally nation for Copa America quarterfinal”)

This Quechua tweet was retweeted 3.7K times, tackling the current social division and promoting the national unity and showing respect towards the Inca culture.

Sports is not just to provide entertainment, but also allows a possibility for making social changes, contributing to a sense of unity, and teaches team values. In the summer of 2018 in Russia, 32 countries will participate in the World Cup. Each team and player will be playing in honour of their country. I am sure it will bring the world joys, tears, excitement, and help unify nations!