For those who aren’t going to read any further, here’s the link to my prezi presentation: Chasing the Donkey!

First half of placement: too much thinking, not enough doing.

Too often in contemplation:

  • Why am I here?
  • ”Laissez-moi dans ma pauvreté, je vais m’en sortir.” – “Leave me in my poverty, I’ll pull myself out.” Thinks my host father out-loud after a frustrating encounter with some NGO reps.
  • Attentisme: ”wait-and-see attitude”.  There’s a strong culture of waiting for projects.  When an NGO-installed borehole pump stops working, communities wait up to two years before it gets repaired.  Nobody in the community has the skills to fix it, but nobody took initiative to find someone who can fix it either.  Am I here to encourage people to take initiative?
    • How many of you have pot holes on your street?  Do you know how to repair them?  How many of you have made a request to have them fixed?
  • It’s the end of June.  For 3 days now many of the youth have been at the parish, 40 km away, to be baptized.  Mesmin and I go to check up on the newly baptized.  It’s world cup season.  Everyone is anxiously asking us: ”has it rained back home yet?”
  • A woman’s group is asking me about how to grow soya and convert it into sumbala sauce (sauce for cooking).  Two kilometres down the road there is a soya farmer, and his wife knows how to make soya sumbala sauce.
  • My union gets support (training, money, things) from Donor.  Mr. M works for Donor and he came on Monday to ”prepare” our farmers and the union for the visit of Donor’s inspection team who’s function is to gauge the effectiveness of Donor’s support.  ”Preparing” the union for the visit means encouraging the union to give a squeaky clean report of Donor’s support.  This makes Donor feel good about what he’s doing, and it ensures the union will keep receiving the support, regardless of its effectiveness… Oh yeah, it also ensures Mr. M keeps his job.

In all these thoughts, feelings and experiences, my greatest enemy has been my own complacency.  I knew that I could be doing more.  I also knew that by not doing much  I wouldn’t be reprimanded, and due to my complacency, my ”laissez-fair” attitude, I was not upset with myself.  Let me share with you a story that has sparked an attitude change in me.

This story involves two young boys and a donkey.  I was walking home from a run and out of the blue a donkey, with wagon attached, was running FULL FORCE along the road about 20 meters away.  Trailing 10 meters behind were two small boys chasing after the ass, running as fast as they could.  Eventually a dog caught up and intercepted the donkey, causing it to trip.  I took in the scene, shrugged a bit and thought to myself: ”hmm, pretty interesting.  Not something I’d likely see back home…”.  This incident happened over a month ago and it wasn’t until recently that I thought to myself: ”Sammy boy, you should’ve chased that donkey too!”  I know that if I had joined in on the chase, I would have felt good.

”Don’t ask what the world needs.  Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.  Because what the world needs is people who have  come alive.” – Howard Thurman

This sparked an attitude change in me and since then I’ve been striving to chase the donkey, that is, being proactive, taking initiative… opening my conscious to what makes me feel alive.  Less contemplating and a little more doing, more being.  By doing there is always the risk of failure, but by not doing there are risk as well.  It comes down to acknowledging failure as part of learning.  I’m going to chase that donkey.  If some good comes from it, tant mieux, if there’s failure, there will undoubtedly be lessons learned.  What does ‘chasing the donkey’ look like?  Let me show you:

Chasing the Donkey!


I ate about 30 of these for lunch yesterday. Boil, dry & fry. Delicous!


Hello and welcome!

The posts dated from March to May are the exact same as my update e-mails that I sent out.  The blog posts contain the photos and the documents I attached in the e-mails, so it’s a convenient way to re-visit some of the stuff without having to find the e-mails in your e-mail accounts.

I’m not one for words, so I’ll let my prezi presentation do the talking:


Please post any comments, questions, feedback!

Carpe Diem

Bonjour à tous!

Check out the Prezi presenation I made!  It shows where I am and explains the basic structure of my Farmers Union: http://prezi.com/hneo74hwgkhn/


In +35 degree weather, the masked individuals would dance in the center of the crowd. The ceremony is to honour those that have passed away this year and to ask them to help bring good rains for the season.

''Tô'' - this is the staple food in Burkina Faso. The white part is maiz flour specially boiled with water to form an almost gelatin texture. The green stuff is ''oseille'' sauce. It's made from Oseille leaves.

So I’ve finally reached the ‘’in-country’’ part of my e-mails!

Departed Montreal Saturday May 8th 19h00.

Arrived in Ouagadougou Sunday May 9th at 16h30.

A volunteer from last summer explained to me what it felt like to step off the plane in Burkina, and I couldn’t agree more: the moment I stepped out from the fuselage of the plane and onto the steps leading down to the pavement, I thought the heat wave was from the exhaust of the engines, I was wrong!

May 9th to 14th: In-Country Training

Day 1: Arrived late afternoon. Rest, sleep.

Day 2: Shopping

500 francs CFA = $1.00 CAD (In reality, about 480 francs = $1CAD)

Our first task as JFs was to go shopping, individually.  Our shopping list:

Shopping List What I paid (in francs CFA) What I could’ve paid (francs CFA) (according to our team coach)
Flip flops 600 ($1.25) 500 ($1.04)
Small netting (to be scrunched up and used as a washing sponge, it works really well!) 1000 ($2.08) 100 ($0.21)
A mini plastic bucket (used for bathing in the latrines…no showers in some of the small towns) 250 ($0.52) 200 ($0.42)
Laundry Soap 125 ($0.26) 125 ($0.26)
Cell phone I had one already from someone who went to Ghana the summer before 15000 ($31.25)
Simcard 2000 ($4.17) +  credit Free + credit
2 or 3 ‘’pagnes’’ – this is a measure of textile material (about 2 m2).  They come in all colours and patterns and can be brought to tailors to make all sorts of clothing 3500 ($7.29) each 2000 ($4.17) each
A DVD movie 900 ($1.88) 700 ($1.46)
Fruit 2000 ($4.17): 5 mangoes, 2 tangerine, 2 avocadoes, 5 bananas 1000 ($2.08)

This was definitely a great way to dive head-first into bartering.  I had some bartering skills from my experiences in Indonesia, but, as you can see, I still ended up paying twice as much as I could’ve…

Days 3 to 5: More questions, more answers, more questions…more learning.

You might recall from my update e-mail #2 that we spent time preparing workshops.  Much of our time in Ouagadouga was spent finishing our workshops.  We then presented them to the EWB Burkina team, including three local Burkinabé economics students.

1) Workshop recap from e-mail #2:

Group 1 – build a workshop to be presented to Union presidents to demonstrate the importance and feasibility of making a business plan.

Group 2 – build a workshop to be presented to agricultural field agents to highlight the importance of their role in the agricultural sector and to motivate them in their jobs.

  • Field agents are the people who work for the union and they interact directly with farmers to provide services.  They are also the voice of the farmers in the unions; however, just like in Canada,

I was in group two; however, because my placement got moved from Bobo Dioulasso to Léna, I will be doing group 1 work, with a bit of group 2 work on the side.

In short, the two workshops are tools to help build the capacity of the unions/field agents to better manage their roles, tasks, and to get their respective professional developments into high gear!

Presenting our capacity building workshop for agricultural field agents

2) Asking questions and gathering information

In addition to building our workshops, a large part of our role as JFs is to collect information.  As JFs we will be working more ‘’on the ground’’ compared to the long-term volunteers (they work at the provincial and national levels of the farmers unions).  We will be seizing this opportunity as JFs to gather information regarding the following two topics:

a)     1)  Challenges faced by the agricultural field agents.

b)     2)  Relations between the unions and the farmer groups.

Before launching into the specifics of our work, please check out the PREZI presentation I put together.  It shows the basic structure of a farmers union in Burkina Faso:


I leave for Léna today, so my next e-mail will contain info on ‘’a day in the life’’ in Léna.  It will also have info on the specifics of my work in the Departmental Union.

That’s it for this e-mail.  I’m doing my best to get my blog up and running.  My blog will contain the exact same info as my e-mails (word for word), but it will also contain additional information.  It will serve as a place for people to post questions and comments.  Maybe we can get some discussions going too!

Carpe Diem




1) Below are links to the Live Action Role Play files – This is an activity we did during pre-departure training.

Character profiles to print Background_NGO Background_community

2) “Riz_Gras” – picture of my lunch the other day: “Fatty Rice” is rice cooked with tons of oil and some spices.  There’s yummy cabbage and some fish as well, delicious!

“Riz_Gras” – picture of my lunch the other day: "Fatty Rice" is rice cooked with tons of oil and some spices. There's yummy cabbage and some fish as well, delicious!

Now I’m going to share with everyone a bit about what happened during my “Pre-Departure Training”:

May 1st – May 8th: Pre-Departure Training in Toronto

West Africa JFs: Ghana – 16JFs

Burkina Faso – 8 (3 are going in the fall)

Pre-dep is an intense week where all of the West Africa JFs live together in a small apartment (the EWB house) in Toronto and spend sun-up to sun-down attending workshops, listening to stories from the long-term-volunteers, buying last-minute supplies, analyzing case studies, bonding and getting some sleep occasionally.  The Southern Africa JFs (going to Zambia and Malawi) then have their pre-dep training the following week.  Here’s a list of things we did:

Workshops and sessionsIntro to Rural Livelihoods, EWB’s Impact Model, Safety and Security, Intro to Agriculture,Messaging and Communication, Field Methods (participatory Approaches), Power and Privilege, gender roles, Hierarchy,Intercultural Communication and integration, Sorghum Case study, Nutrition, hydration, culture shock and mental health.

I’ll highlight a couple things I found interesting:

1) Privilege Scenario (we acted these out. The ‘’victim’’ would enter the room without knowing anything about the scene other than it’s at a bank in this case):

  • You’re a foreigner and you walk into the bank and there’s a line up.  The teller wants you to go to the front of the line.  Some of the other people in line REALLY want you to be at the front, others are annoyed.  The teller INSISTS you go to the front.  If you keep refusing, saying that you don’t mind waiting, the bank manager eventually comes out and gets angry at the teller, threatening to fire him/her because they didn’t make sure you were at the front of the line…

2) LARPing (Live Action Role Playing):

  • All JFs were split into two groups: 12 NGO workers (each from a diff NGO) and 12 Burkinabés from a small farming town (chief, priest, elders, youth, small scale farmer, large scale farmer…).
  • As the storyline went, a donor would be arriving soon and wanted to run a project in the village. It was up to the NGO and the villagers to decide what project would be best for the village. However, the NGO had very different project ideas than the villagers, and each character within the groups also had different interests and motives which made the decision making process even more challenging.
  • For example, I was the priest of the village and my main concern was to get the youth back into the village because they were moving to the big cities to find jobs.  I wanted the donor to sponsor the re-furbishment and re-opening of the village tomato-canning factory (which was closed down some years before) in order to create jobs in the village and encourage youth to come back.  On the contrary, the village tomato buyers (those who bought the tomatoes and brought them to the cities to be sold) were scared that the canning factory would put them out of business since the canning factory would attract large-scale buyers, perhaps from the European market.
  • The end result of the LARP can take many forms but it is important to realize the complexities behind development projects: who’s needs are being met?

o   The donor (ex: International Monetary Fund): what are their motives? Are they choosing a development project based on what THEY ALONE think is right? Or based on what is actually needed?  Who is the project affecting?

o   The NGOs: do they want the status of working with high profile donors? What takes priority, the sustainability of the NGO or the sustainability of the projects? How financially dependent is the NGO? Are their decisions based on the needs of the donor or the needs of the farmers?

o   The Farmers: are their voices heard in the decision making process of the NGOs and donors?  How is their relationship with the NGOs and Donors perceived?  Is it a reciprocal relationship? (i.e: how much responsibility do the farmers feel they have in the success of the project?).

That’s it for this e-mail.  I’ll be sending another one very shortly to FINALLY start talking about my time here in the Faso!

Carpe Diem,


Hello everyone!

I’m in Burkina Faso!  Here’s my number: +226 70 54 73 83.  Text or e-mail me your numbers and I’ll send you a text (only costs me 15 cents)!

Attachments: – “Projet de recherche” – contains cool info about Burkina Faso that we, the JFs, compiled: Projet_de_recherche_-_JF-Burkina2010

JFs crammed in the EWB apartment in Toronto asking Parker Mitchell (EWBs co-CEO) questions until 3am!

I’ve already broken my promise and haven’t kept to my “two e-mails a month” goal.  I apologize.  I’m going to send three e-mails within the week to summarize the past two months, yikes!

I’m currently in Ouagadougou (“wa-ga-doo-goo”), Burkina’s capital, with the 4 other JFs (Junior Fellows), and I’ll be in Bobo-Dioulasso (the 2nd largest city) for the next few days, so NOW IS THE TIME TO E-MAIL ME before I go and live in a tiny village called Lena.

March 16th – April 30th: More Foundation Learning and Preparation

Our team leader gave us three assignments:

Assignment 1: Research project

In groups of 2 or 3, we researched the four different subjects and compiled our information into a document.  I’ll BRIEFLY summarize our gatherings, but I’ve also attached the pdf if anyone wants to have a look.  I apologize, but it’s in French; however, there are some cool pictures of the different  foods.

1. History of Burkina Faso: the 1983 revolution with Thomas Sankara

a.       In short, Sankara spearheaded Burkina Faso’s economic independence from France and he promoted woman’s rights, among many other things.  He’s referred to as the “Che Guivera” of West Africa.

2. Demographics: the different ethnicities in Burkina Faso

a.       There are over 60 different ethnic groups in Burkina, the primary groups being the Peul, Bobo and Mossi peoples.

b.      “La Parenté à Plaisanterie” is a very interesting social practice that exists to diffuse any tension between the different ethnic groups.  It authorizes and even obliges ethnic groups to insult/mock one another by using humour in combination with stereotypes. For example: a Bobo will call a Peul their slave, but a Peul will refer to a Bobo as an alcoholic, but it’s all in good humour.  It has been said that if this phenomenon existed in Rewanda between the Tutsis and the Hutus, than there may not have been the genocide…

c.       Religion: a common saying in Burkina is that it is 50% Muslim, 50% Christian, and 100% animist!

3.       Climate: Very Hot!  With 80% of the population working in the agriculture industry, the livelihoods of many people are largely dependent on good harvests, which are largely dependent on the rains!  June to September is the rainy season with an average of 700mm per year.

4. Food!

a. Primary crops: sorghum (cereal plant, very drought resistant, used to make the local beer), Millet (cereal), peanuts, Maiz (corn), cotton, sugar cane, Hibiscus (flowers).

b. Primary Food: is called ‘’Tô’’.  It is sort of a jello-textured paste made from sorghum flour or Millet flour, water and spices.  It is the staple food in rural Burkina Faso.

Assignment 2: determine who is better suited (between the private sector and the public sector) to provide farming services (technical, managerial, financial etc…) to the Burkinabé farming population.

  • Because 80% of the population works in the agriculture sector, this is where Engineers Without Borders feels we can have the greatest impact in order to tackle some of the problems that contribute to poor livelihoods and poverty.  Currently the private sector (i.e: farmer groups and unions not associated with the government) is better situated to provide appropriate services, so EWB has partnered with several unions to provide support to increase the capacity of these unions to better serve the farmers.

For assignments 2 and 3 I’m being vague for the sake of e-mail space, but I will go into more detail on what we do in a later e-mail. J

Assignment 3: Workshops! – We were divided into two groups based on the projects we’ll be doing this summer:

Group 1 – build a workshop to be presented to Union presidents to demonstrate the importance and feasibility of making a business plan.

Group 2 – build a workshop to be presented to agricultural field agents to highlight the importance of their role in the agricultural sector and to motivate them in their jobs.

  • Field agents are the people who work for the union and they interact directly with farmers to provide services.  They are also the voice of the farmers in the unions; however, just like in Canada,

I’m in group 2; however, I recently found out that I will also be doing work on the business plan project!

That’s it for this e-mail.  Don’t hesitate to send me questions or suggestions.  You’ll be getting another e-mail bientot!

Carpe Diem


First blog post woohoo!  The first four posts are my “update e-mails”.  Feel free to post any comments!

MARCH 16 2010 Update Email #1

Hello Friends, Family, Co-workers, Students and Teachers,

In case you’re wondering, I’m your old pal Sammy Lyster (maybe you taught me a loooong time ago, maybe we sailed together or maybe you’re my mom, hi mom 🙂 This is going to be the first of a series of e-mails pertaining to my upcoming summer adventure: Africa!

For those that do not know, I am heavily involved with Engineers Without Borders (EWB).  Over the past year I have been volunteering with the organization in the McGill Chapter to help with EWBs in-Canada initiatives: raising awareness about global issues, giving high school and university class presentations, fundraising etc.. Check out http://www.ewb.ca/en/whatwedo/index.html or www.mcgill.ewb.cato learn more.

Just before Christmas I was selected along with two other members of the McGill EWB chapter to be a Junior Fellow (JF): This is EWB’s name for a short-term summer volunteer.  Since then I’ve been going through a myriad of preparation tasks (all of which I’m lagging behind in, yikes).

Where am I going?

I will be going to Burkina Faso (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burkina_Faso).  Previously a french colony, the main language spoken is french; however, there are lots of different languages associated with the many different ethnicities of BF.

When am I going?

I go to Toronto on May 1st for a week’s worth of pre-departure training, then I leave for BF on the 8th of May, returning to Canada on August 30th.

What am I doing in preparation?

Since December, I’ve been completing my Foundation Learning. This consists of:

a) Self evaluation and reflection:

-First, completing a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test. This test categorizes people based on four dichotomies, Extroversion vsIntroversion, Sensing vs iNtuition, Thinking vs Feeling, and Judgment vs Perception.  I’m an ENFP, do the test and see what you are! http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes2.asp

– completing a personal development plan.  This is a self evaluation where I assessed my strengths and weaknesses and laid out some goals for my own personal growth.  It’s a sort of contract I’ve made with myself and I have to hold myself accountable for achieving the goals.

b) Forms and Vaccinations

Emergency contact info, insurance, medical check-up, vaccinations, liability form, contract blah blah blah

c) Reading, reading reading!

EWB gives each JF a HUGE document containing tons of readings regarding:

– safety, security, and wellbeing

– Understanding Culture and Approach

– Understanding Rural Livelihoods

– The Development Sector

– Project Specific Learning

– How to Create Change

Some of the documents are EWB-produced, but there are lots of articles we read, as well as novels.  I’m currently reading Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.  I’ve attached two of the articles and I highly recommend reading them:

– Can tourism and altruism mix? by Benjamin Sichel, Briarpatch Magazine. Nov 2006.

– White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack by Peggy McIntosh

d) Returned JFs

The majority of my learning thus far has come from returned junior fellows (RJFs).  I have three wonderful friends that returned from Africa this past summer, and I can go to them whenever I need support, help, questions answered, or answers in need of more questioning.


That’s it for this e-mail.  I’m planning on sending these out twice a month.  Next time I’ll get into more detail about Burkina Faso, culture and history, and my placement: What will I be doing?  Who will I be working for?

Feel free to forward this e-mail.  I would love to get feedback and/or questions from people.  Want me to take you off the list? Shorten the e-mail? Send to a different address? Any questions about EWB?

Carpe diem,


5.5 Unpacking your Backpack

Can Tourism and Altruism Mix