As of July 16th, I have been back in Montreal moving into the next chapter of my life. Despite the long blog hiatus since then, I will now be continuing the blog from back home, as there is much about my experience I would still like to write about.
So, what do you do? You work on the system, and you work on the attitude.
When I went back to Burkina Faso in February 2011, I was most excited about young leadership development, and Ibrahim was on my mind. Bolstered by the vision of African leaders who attended EWB’s national conference, it became my vocation to bring to Burkina universities the spirit of what drives EWB in Canada – passion for positive change, critical thinking about development, hope for a more just world, belief that change is possible.
But… at my first leadership workshop at the CAP/M most of the 40 students attending were looking at me pretty funny as I expounded on a definition of leaders as being agents of positive change. Poor, crazy Toubabou. Ibrahim, however, was paying rapt attention; as I later found out, it was mainly because he completely disagreed with what I was saying, but had come to think I should be taken seriously.
Ibrahim was the first – and only – person to show up at the first “team meeting” that followed that workshop. It was discouraging, but it allowed us to have one of many deep conversations about why I did the work I did. More importantly, through talking with him, I began to understand just how hard a worker Ibrahim was.
In the past, he had wanted to be a rural development engineer. He had twice unsuccessfully applied to the Rural Development Institute (IDR, where I also worked) and instead ended up studying to be a science teacher. He was drawn back to the agricultural sector because he thought he could truly have an impact on his country there. His plan: while working as an extension agent, simultaneously obtain a Master’s degree and subsequently a PhD. What I came to understand about the “There aren’t the means to do our work” I had heard months earlier, was that it did not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, “I will sit around doing nothing and take in my salary.” No. It meant “I will work as many hours as I have to every week, to unearth every opportunity, achieve my goals and raise my family.” That’s also when I found out that Ibrahim was 29, married, and expecting a child.
Before my work facilitating leadership development in universities, EWB’s program focused only on individuals: taking them as 1-year interns into our Burkina team and providing them with a unique work experience, intensive professional development and an opportunity to see their potential for having positive impact. Nasser Zongo, Idrissa Nacambo and Hermann Naré are young Burkinabes who I had come to truly admire for their optimism, hard work and determination. I had also seen how working in a team that matched their determination and invested deeply in their capabilities allowed them to grow without restraint. I aspired to give students at the CAP/M the same opportunity.
And so the case was made: not only would we have “Leadership Clubs” that aimed to give students their own “system” at the CAP/M where they could develop as leaders, but we would also take on a short-term intern to exemplify what it meant to be a change agent. Out of 20 written applications and 8 interviews, Ibrahim was finally selected – by a landslide. And from that point he never stopped.
When asked, during the group interview, to choose which EWB value most resonated with him, Ibrahim chose “Dream big, work hard.” For the next 4 months, that is exactly what he did. On the field nearly every day, evaluating the effectiveness of one of our partner’s CEF program, which aims to help farmers manage their farms effectively and entrepreneurially, Ibrahim has spent his few days off synthesizing his results or reading about development. While on our team, he has taken absolutely every opportunity he has had to learn anything and everything about what makes good development, communication, computers, leadership, and more. Like our other interns, he has become an inspiration and a model to our team. He is even extending his placement with us by another 4 months, acting as a model and guide to members of the new “Leadership and Development Club” at the CAP/M.
Before I left, Ibrahim introduced me to his family. I met his wife, his mother, his brothers and his friends. Lastly, one week premature, baby Aziz showed up just in time for my departure. It was truly something to become a new uncle, in a family thousands of kilometres from my own right before coming home. To his new-born son and his wife, Ibrahim introduces me as someone who changed his life. But all I did was find him. Truthfully, it was he who changed mine.
Currently, your donations to the Run to End Poverty Montreal are giving Ibrahim and Hermann the opportunity to extend their placements with EWB by supporting our leadership program. To donate to my campaign click here.
If you’re an R2EP runner, you can hear from Ibrahim yourself when he skypes in at our Saturday BBQ in Parc Lafontaine, corner Calixa Lavallée/Rachel (1pm).