Posts tagged ‘work’

December 15, 2018

E4C Research Fellowship 2018

From May until September while I was in Beni serving with IRI, I also had a part-time job working as an Expert Fellow with E4C. I oversaw the work of three fellows from Guatemala, Kenya, and India. One of my fellows was working within the habitat sector and the other two within agriculture. One of the ongoing tasks of the fellowship is to research products to be included in E4C’s growing Solutions Library, a database of technologies that are intended to be accessible to low-income populations around the world. My role as a research fellow was to assign my fellows their tasks, keep them on track in completing them, and finally review and edit the finalized reports. I also had the privilege of helping push three larger research reports, two in agriculture in partnership with the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), and another in habitat with Good Earth Global. I particularly enjoyed the report about earthquake testing trends as I did not have experience in this area. Here are links to the final reports:

Working remotely has its rewards and challenges. It was quite an interesting challenge getting on calls with everyone from around the world. For me in Beni the calls happened in a window between 4pm and 10pm. I was thankful for the extra financial support, another opportunity to learn about products and services being implemented around the world in the habitat sector, and the opportunity to take leadership and grow my network.

August 4, 2018

UCBC Graduation

Campus was lively at the end of July with final presentations and graduation of the fourth year students. It was slightly difficult to concentrate on IRI work because the presentations were happening in the new classrooms in the same block and so there was a lot of applauding and cheering and conversation after each student finished. At the end of one of the days I attended Hortense’s final presentation for her final project. Afterwards there was a lot of cheering and congratulating as we headed over to the lawn for photographs. Her sister and cousin had also come for the event. It was fun to witness this important moment for her.

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On the last Saturday of July I attended the UCBC graduation. I was hosting Jessica’s father Bill for ten days at that time and so we went together at around 8am. While waiting for activities to start we went to sit at the pavilions near the CDP office, but before long we could hear the sound of brass instruments. That was the cue that the graduates had arrived to campus. There is a tradition that the graduates meet in the early morning at the mayors office and march all the way to campus which is no small distance! They were led by three students who made up the UCBC Brigade. When Bill and I found the group they were just arriving down the driveway to campus. It was so fun to take part in the energy and see the graduates dancing and grinning from ear to ear!

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The delegation proceeded to the Hope Tent and soon everyone was seated and the ceremony began. There was some praise and worship, welcoming words, a sermon in Swahili with translation to French (I was proud I could pick out quite a few words in Swahili), and then a long line of speeches and reports from various representatives. The ceremony started at 9am and it was not until 1pm that the graduates started being called up! They called the graduates up in groups by area of study, they walked across the stage and received their diplomas, they lined up in front of the stage, and then a few minutes were given for friends and family to go and congratulate them. People would come up with tinsel garlands and fake flowers to give to their loved-ones. It seemed like a fun way to do things! When it was Hortense’s turn I went up and joined the throng to congratulate her again!

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After some more worship, the UCBC leadership led a prayer for the graduates and then gave closing words. They encouraged the students to go forward and be their best selves and work to transform lives, communities, and situations around them in the same way as God has been transforming them in mind and spirit. In Congo people are often secretive about having higher education, and so the students were encouraged to hang up their diplomas in a visible place and not be afraid to take their place as leaders who bless others with what they have learned!

After the ceremony everyone was invited to visit and celebrate the opening of four new classrooms. By this time it was 3 o-clock! Everyone formed a line and walked through the various spaces, and along the path there were stations offering sodas, grilled meet kabobs, samosas, bananas and pineapple. The new rooms are very well done and it is an exciting milestone in the construction of the community centre.  It was a day full of celebration and new experiences!

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August 1, 2018

A Day in My Life in Beni

To give you a better idea of what my life is like here in Beni, I thought I would try to describe for you a typical day.

I wake up at 5:30am every morning. My schedule has totally shifted because the sun starts to rise at that time and in the evenings I usually climb into bed early to get away from the mosquitos. I sometimes do exercise because I find I am missing the regular activity I had from walking and biking all over Toronto! At around 7 I eat breakfast that consists of tea with either buns with avocado or honey, wheatabix with milk, and/or rice pudding (rice from the previous night, milk powder, a bit of hot water, and banana… yum!). Before leaving the house I have to make sure the cats have something to eat. There is Mama Cat, George the papa, and four energetic kittens that are growing fast. Soon we will be giving them away to some of our friends and colleagues. At 7:45 I am out the door to head to the university.

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I usually drive to get the university though it is also possible to take a motorcycle taxi or “moto”. I feel fortunate to be able to use Mary and Jessica’s car while they are away. Driving here is an interesting experience because all of the roads except the main one are bumpy dirt roads, and the car is from Uganda and therefore the drivers seat is on the opposite side. Fortunately it is a Toyota Rav 4 and so it can handle the bumps pretty well. It has taken several weeks to get used to the turning signal and the windshield wipers being in the opposite positions. On the road you always have to be 110% focused because there are motos and pedestrians everywhere and there is always the possibility of vehicles going in the wrong direction, not having working lights, etc.

UCBC is about a 15 minute drive away. I park near the welcome centre and then walk to the office of the Integrated Research Institute. The campus is small but growing. The community centre project is still ongoing (a project that EMI has been assisting with for several years now), this time with four classrooms complete and two more classrooms and a hallway being worked on. IRI is located in two of the newly built rooms; one of them is more of a meeting style room with a large conference table, and the other has individual desks. A few times a week we have meetings, but other than that everyone works fairly independently. On Monday and Fridays there is a chapel time at noon before lunch with some worship and a message. UCBC had a huge tent donated and built that they use for these large gatherings. At lunch most people gather on the balcony of the Academic 1 building. The school has a cook who prepares Kiringiti which is rice and beans. There is usually also a choice of Ndizi (a savoury plantain but ironically I don’t care for it because I find it too sweet) and greens that could be Sombe (made from cassava leaf), Aubergine (eggplant), Chou (cabbage) or others. I often eat with the group from IRI and try my best to follow their fast conversations in French!

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New classroom block where IRI is located

The school day ends at 4pm. Some days I leave an hour or two earlier to take calls or do work for my job with E4C. I also try to devote some time to learning Swahili. Slowly but surely my knowledge is increasing. Often I’ll make the short walk to a nearby small corner store and market to buy things like toilet paper, canned sardines for the cats, bread, bananas, and avocados. Othy sometimes visits and we sit and talk or watch a TV episode and then he stays for dinner. Dinner is prepared by two mamas who we hire who also help take care of the house. They are the main people who I try to practice my limited Swahili with. “Mama” is the term given to any woman who is married, and similarly “Papa” to any man, and so soon I will be called “Mama”! Dinner usually consists of a meat dish of either goat, beef, or fish, a carb dish of rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, ndizi, or fufu (a thick puree made from cassava root flour), and a vegetable dish of various kinds of greens (cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, cassava leaf, and even some greens I don’t know the name of). I enjoy dinner time because I always eat together with whoever is staying in the house at the time; it feels so different than my solitary meals during my studies and time working in Toronto. After dinner we usually enjoy tea and some fresh fruit like pineapple, mango, or passion fruit. After dinner I try to do one more hour of work, e-mails, blogging, or Swahili, and then I get ready to turn in between 9 – 10pm already! That about sums up a typical day! In the next post I will share some highlights from the last two months because not every day is like this!

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June 24, 2018

ISHOW Kenya and E4C Kick-off

In the beginning of May I had the privilege of attending Innovation Showcase (ISHOW) Kenya, an event that brings together inventors/entrepreneurs who are developing technology solutions that are accessible to low-income populations. Nine finalists from across Africa were invited to participate in the event. On May 9th the event was launched with an introductory session in the afternoon followed by a dinner. The next day the finalist teams went through rotations of meeting with industry experts in a particular area of product development. E4C was also a part of the rotation and interviewed the finalists to determine whether they were appropriate products to include in the Solutions Library. The finalists included a producer of biomass smokeless brickettes, a hands free pedal tap retrofit, a cart for street vendors that incorporates solar panels, a machine that harvests water from the atmosphere, an environmental controller for monitoring baby chicks, a biogas milk chiller for off-grid dairy farmers, a neonatal bacterial meningitis diagnostic device, and a smart electronic walking stick for the blind. As the expert fellow who was familiar with the library, I conducted the first interview, and then allowed all of the fellows to have a turn interviewing or note-taking. It was very interesting to talk to the teams of entrepreneurs. At the end of the afternoon there was a reception, and the judges announced the three winners who would receive between them the $50,000 seed grant and access to prototyping equipment. The winners were the biogas milk chiller, the biomass brickette producers, and the chick monitoring device. I like the structure of the event because all of the finalists get to network and benefit from the knowledge of the consulting experts. During the reception I conversed with several different people including an interior designer, business coaches, entrepreneurs, and global development practitioners.

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The next day the E4C Kickoff session started bright and early. It was similar in structure to last year except that we shared our introductions over Google Hangouts with the fellows who had attended the kickoff session in Portland. Since favourite movie was already done for the Portland session when the fellows in Nairobi were the ones calling in, we came up with the idea to share something that might be surprising about ourselves. It produced some very interesting stories! Next we had a presentation from a representative from Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE), a producer of sanitary pads using banana fiber. Then Iana, the E4C president, and Mariela, the program manager, took turns presenting different aspects of E4C as a whole, the Solutions Library, and how the fellows would be contributing to the work. Near the end of the day I had a time slot to bring the fellows through the practice of filling out a product report for the Solutions Library. For happy hour we decided to go to a neighbouring hotel called Ibis that has a nice rooftop bar. It started raining just as we planned to go and so we ordered Uber rides to get only a few hundred meters! We socialized over drinks (and cocktails because there was a special 2 for 1 happy hour deal) and I enjoyed hearing a bit more of people’s backgrounds and areas of work and research. This year’s cohort is from around the world and I am looking forward to working with them over the next four months!

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June 23, 2018

Nairobi

I am in awe at how God works things out sometimes. When I accepted to serve with IRI in Congo, I committed to serve 3/4 time because I knew that I would need to find some other work for additional financial support. Soon after, I was offered a position to be an expert fellow with Engineering for Change from May until September. This opportunity was ideal because the work is part time and done remotely. What amazed me even more is that I discovered that E4C had decided to have two kickoff sessions this year, one in Portland Ohio, and the other in Nairobi Kenya. Also, the kick-off session in Nairobi was being planned for May 11th, only a few days after my flight was scheduled to arrive in Kigali! All it required of me was to post-pone my arrival in Congo by one week, and book a flight from Kigali to Nairobi. The only inconvenience was that flight times were limited and so I had a 5 hour layover and a red-eye flight that left Kigali at midnight and arrived in Nairobi at 4am after a stop in Entebbe. The flight didn’t allow me any sleep, and so it was only the adrenaline of being in a new place that kept me going. My friends Jon and Kate recently moved to Nairobi and so I had arranged to stay with them for the first night. I know them from my time in Congo in 2014 and since then have visited them once in Ann Arbor and again in Congo. I was looking forward to seeing them again after two years! Jon had kindly arranged for a driver to come pick me up at the airport. The drive to their place took almost an hour. I was amazed at how cool it was and near the end of the journey we drove through thick patches of fog. Finally we arrived and it was still dark. How wonderful it was to see such warm and familiar faces! I sat with Jon and Kate in their living room and we caught up as they enjoyed their morning coffee. They were the first I shared the news of Othy and my engagement with, which was extra cool because they know both of us! Afterwards Kate made bacon and eggs and we enjoyed breakfast together and were soon joined by the boys. I enjoyed seeing the lush landscape out of the large back window as dawn arrived. Jon and Kate live in a house in Limuru, which is apparently one of the colder parts of Kenya and is an area known for its numerous tea plantations. It is so fresh that they heat the house by burning wood in a fireplace. Because of the fog and the rain, they were having trouble finding dry wood.

Shortly after breakfast I went and took a two hour power nap. I didn’t want to sleep so long as to throw off my schedule. I helped Kate do some homeschooling with the boys and then we went on a walk. They showed me their backyard which was a vast area of lawn and gardens full of large tropical plants and trees. We also visited the neighbour who rents the house to Jon and Kate and is responsible for creating this piece of paradise over the many years she has lived there. Her house is beautiful and from the colonial period. We chatted for a while with her and warmed ourselves by her fire. From there the boys showed us the soccer pitch that the landlord had set up for them and then took us through a trail at the back of the property. There were so many beautiful flowers and thick vines hanging from the trees! Jon and Kate decided to take me to have lunch at Brackenhurst. It is a nicely developed hotel and conference centre. Afterwards they took me on a drive to see the tea fields. The landscapes are stunning and I found that the pictures I tried to take didn’t really do it justice. We returned to the house and spent some time working, and then in the evening we made the decision to go and visit Phil and Emily who live only 40 minutes away at Rift Valley Academy. Phil and Emily are long time friends with Jon and Kate and I know them from my time working with EMI Uganda. We arrived just as the sun was setting. The view of the rift valley we had along the way was amazing! We drove along the top edge of it, and then to get to RVA we started curving our way down into it. We enjoyed catching up over a dinner of pizza and salad and delicious homemade cookies. The visit was short and sweet and we were soon on our way home. Unfortunately some fog had rolled in and it was a bit stressful coming back out of the valley because of being unable to see very well. We made it out and home safely and by then I was pretty out of it! I went straight to sleep! The following morning Kate made pancakes with a delicious homemade syrup. I played some lego with the boys for a bit and then Jon arranged for the same driver to come pick me up to take me to the Azure hotel where I would be staying for the rest of my time in Nairobi. I was sad to say farewell to Jon and Kate so soon, but was thankful for the time we had together and for their generous hospitality!

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May 22, 2018

Embroidery

Over the last few years I have begun experimenting with embroidery as an artistic medium.  I like how it reduces expression to lines and colour. The work is inspired by my Grandma who would often do embroidery on the cards she would give to friends and family on special occasions. The last time I did embroidery was for a set of Christmas cards. This time I made the two cards below as a gift for Philip and Rolf and they depict views from the 2 Fraser adaptive reuse project that I worked on for almost two years.

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May 5, 2018

PBAI RSA Farewell

At the beginning of April, Rolf, Astrid, Philip, and Anne hosted a nice little farewell gathering for me. Darcie, Fysel, Alex, and Mike also came out. We gathered at Rolf and Astrid’s new house and enjoyed dinner and conversation together. At some point in the evening Darcie managed to convince Rolf and Philip to sing something, after which one song surprisingly led to several others in impressive a cappella! Apparently there was still more to discover about my employers of almost three years! I was so thankful to be able to close my time working with them in a positive and memorable way. It is the end of a very good season of professional contribution and development! I am going to miss this group!

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April 14, 2018

Queen West SCS

This past year I had the opportunity to work on a small project with Philip Beesley and Rolf Seifert called the Queen West Supervised Consumption Site (SCS). Several SCS have opened up in major cities across the country to reduce the impacts of substance use on individuals and communities. Health Canada has a helpful website that explains the reasons, goals, and how the sites work. The project was a good opportunity for me because it was small and I was able to do everything for the project under the supervision of my boss including the bidding and negotiation process and contract administration. I learned a whole lot from working on this project, am proud at how it turned out, and am excited for the impact it will have! Photos are the property of Philip Beesley Architect Inc. and Rolf Seifert Architect. The photographer is Alex Willms.

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October 1, 2017

More about my E4C experience

From May until September I worked as a part-time research fellow for Engineering for Change. It was a busy season because I did the work in addition to my regular job and so was putting in 50-60 hour workweeks. Despite the hard work I am glad that I had this experience. The E4C work was different and interesting, and so broke up my workweek with a new and exciting challenge. I enjoyed learning about various poverty alleviating products and building methods being implemented around the world. I think the most interesting ones I researched were earth bag construction, HyPar thin shell concrete roofs, earthen floors, compressed earth blocks, and modular roof panels for slum house upgrading. Over the course of the fellowship I researched 34 products, filling out or cleaning up a report for each one, that will eventually be added to E4C’s growing Solutions Library. My job also involved contacting and interviewing designers and manufacturers of the products if we could not find enough information online. Although many people didn’t respond to my inquiries, many surprisingly did. I learned that it never hurts to send a reminder or make a phone call because people may want to contribute but just might have busy schedules. I also prepared a trend analysis for alternative building materials for which I interviewed expert practitioners working with a selection of materials that included earth building, bamboo, compressed earth blocks, earth bags, and the reuse of industrial waste. It was inspiring to see what people are working on around the world to solve the problem of affordable quality housing.

The final contribution I made was writing two articles for the E4C media platform, one of which is published and the other coming soon. The first one is called Easing Land Conflict in DRC: An Introduction to Open Source Mapping Tools. It was great to have an avenue to share some of my mapping research experience with a broader community. On September 15th E4C held a closing design charette where all of the fellows contributed feedback both from the experience of the fellowship and thoughts on ways to improve the Solutions Library as a whole. All of my encounters with the other research fellows beyond the kick-off session were on weekly Google Hangout video calls. The other fellows are equally passionate about global development from their respective experience, and I hope I will be able to stay in touch with them. I will get one last opportunity to connect with more people within the E4C network at an upcoming event called Impact Engineered which will celebrate and promote the work being done in the domain of engineering for global development. Research Fellows who live nearby were invited to attend and I am glad that Toronto isn’t so far from New York! It has been strange to be done with the fellowship because my week is no longer broken up by a different type of work. I have moved onto my next task which is to study for my final exams for licensure as an architect that I will be taking next month! It also feels strange to be coming to the culmination of ten years of combined study and work! It is an exciting time and I am thankful to God for bringing me to this point.

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March 18, 2017

Farewell to DW

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In the beginning of January, my fellow coworker Darcie left our firm after two years of working here. I enjoyed working alongside her and our occasional inter-desk banter. She is such a positive spirit and I will miss her! To celebrate her time with us I invited everyone over to my place for dinner. I got everyone to sign an old drawing of 2 Fraser and included some of the many inside jokes that we had accrued over the last year and a bit! Rolf surprised us all by giving Darcie a pop-up card of our faces (including Dakota front and centre of course)! We all had such a good laugh from it… it was brilliant! Here are a few of the inside jokes that I want to remember from my first year or so at PBAI:

E-mail typos like Wolf instead of Rolf that occasionally became intensional…

Trying to formulate a letter to the city near the end of a long day and laughing out loud about trying to describe that it is not possible to climb the guardrail mesh…. Climb Prevention! Climb Stoppers!

Darcie’s cat stories and random YouTube videos (I think the cat-herding one was my favourite.. if you haven’t seen it, look it up!)

Enjoying Alex’s spot-on impersonations, including one particular voice that for some reason would always give me shivers.

“Glug glug glug glug”, signifying that we should all go for beers

More than 30 washroom design iterations (might as well laugh about it right?)

“Chicken egg chicken egg… *sigh*” to signify the what comes first dilemma – a common occurance.

So it may look like we got nothing done with all of our tom-foolery, but we did in fact accomplish an incredible amount of work for such a small team! The picture above is a photo we took while on a site visit to our 2 Fraser project.

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