Who is Dorothy? (Part 2-2)

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.

Montreal’s Run to End Poverty (R2EP) is this Sunday. This blog entry is part 2 about why I’m running. Part 1, which gives context, can be read here. To donate to my R2EP campaign click here.


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.


From left to right: Yakouba, Massamadou, Ibrahim, Dana, Nasser


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).

About dbgiacobbi

I am a volunteer with Engineers Without Borders Canada, spending 10 months in Burkina Faso. I work with an agricultural college (Centre Agricole Polyvalent de Matourkou) and a rural development engineering school (l'Institut du Développement Rural). My idea of development is helping people in Burkina Faso Achieve their potential follow their own vision for themselves, for their school and for their country.
This entry was posted in EWB & Development, Leadership, Life, stories and comparisons, Personal beliefs and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Who is Dorothy? (Part 2-2)

  1. Louis says:

    Très intéressant et bien décrit.
    Après ton retour au Canada, comment fais-tu ou comment EWB fait-il pour suivre et évaluer l’évolution du changement proposé par EWB au Burkina Faso?

    Bonne course demain, je regrette de ne pas pouvoir y participer cette année. Espérons que ce sera pour mieux se reprendre l’année prochaine.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s