[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.

 Credits: thechive.com

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.

  Credits: depor.com

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!

[Thinking Aloud] Changing habits


“Did you read the book I gave you?”

“Nah, reading is not my thing.”

“Good, stay naive.”


Just a few days ago, our donor for the Sustainable Home Project, Jim Norgate (Dreams to Beams), visited Urubamba. While at dinner one night, we had a conversation of how keeping one’s own finances can be beneficial. This conversation led to a discussion of having a good habits. Next day, I talked with Jim about how I am struggling to get into the habit of reading. Although many people have repetitively mentioned the importance of reading books, I was never able to get into the daily habit of reading.

Jim responded “so many people think they can change their behaviour or habits easily, but it’s not easy. We must think logically and identify what is the consequence of your habit.” He mentioned the incident that triggered him to gain his habit of reading his early 20’s. It was when his friend told him, “Good stay naive”. He was frustrated at first, but then, this comment motivated him of not wanting to be ‘naive’, and changed his attitude towards reading.

Why is it hard to change habits? When we try to change behaviour, there are limiting beliefs that prevent us from changing our habits. It is a reason which we create internally that we can’t do something. For example, I cannot read because I need to work on other tasks, I do not have time, or simply I do not like reading. These excuses have a higher priority within myself than my will of acquiring a new habit. Indeed, the desire of Jim not want to be ‘naive’ has overcome all these limiting beliefs in himself. Usually there needs to be a triggering event which causes the person to realize the negative habits of their habit to motivate them to change their behaviour.

Nonetheless, my research has indicated that perhaps motivation is not enough to acquire a new habit. There are three R’s principals of habit change: Reminder, Routine, and Reward. The Reminder is the trigger that initiates the behaviour. It is effective to initiate ‘new habit’ in a relation to other already existing habits. For example, in my case, I have started to read a book for 15 minutes before going to bed. ‘Going to bed’ is the already existing habit, and the action of ‘reading book’ is the new habit that I am trying to link with it. Although 15 minutes seems to be a short time for reading, the task is simple and manageable for me to repeat. The Reward is my satisfaction, getting rid of discomfort of knowing “I need to read more…” or “I need to get into the habit of reading”.

This notion of behavious change can help me in forming desired habits in the future. I am in the process of changing my behaviour. The success of changing habits is that I will able to adapt the same strategy to obtain other desired habits. At the same time, this understanding of behavious change is also related to our work at Nexos Comunitarios. One of ways to promote community development is to influence behaviour change in the community. By understanding how a person successfully acquire a new habit, it can show others how to gain a new habit. For example, our objective of traveling soap is to foster proper handwashing behaviour amongst children. Knowing this concept of limiting beliefs and the 3R’s of habit have helped me develop the project design.

First, we must thoroughly explain to the children why they should wash their hands with soap (with a specific demonstration). This demonstration and explanation seeks to stimulate children’s internal motivation to change their behaviour, acknowledging the both benefits and negative consequences of not washing their hands on daily basis. Then, we will install the poster in front of dining room at the school to remind the students to wash their hands with soap, so that the new habit of “proper handwashing” will link with the existing habit of “eating lunch”. To maintain their routine, the ‘handwashing checkmark calendar’ could be set up at dining room so that children would be prompt to do the handwashing to receive checkmark every day. At the end of every month, for children who have completed their ‘handwashing checkmark calendar’, they may receive small rewards such as candies or cookies. This is just an idea of how we can implement traveling soap to successfully influence children to obtain new habits.

Gaining a new habit is not an easy task. It involves high motivation, and 3R of habit principals. As an organization working with community members, seeking to provide a positive influence to stimulate behavioral change to better lives, and learning the psychological aspects of how one can acquire habit, is worth paying attention to. Understanding of the acquisition of habit change may not only help us to develop our desired habits, but also be useful tool for designing community development projects.