CUSO-VSO Training All About Being Aware

Margaret Graves (L) and Maureen dry off between thunder showers at the CUSO-VSO training in Ottawa.

After seven intense days with CUSO-VSO in Ottawa I am exhausted and enlightened. The Skills for Working in Development training program covered much ground that I am familiar with due to my Humber studies, but it also delved into new territory. Plus, I was able to meet other volunteers, trainers and in-country experts from the four corners of our planet.

The majority of our training took place in the Centre for Intercultural Learning, a Foreign Affairs office in Gatineau, Quebec. Thirty-five volunteers from all parts of Canada gathered to tussle with the soft, intercultural skills so essential when dealing with traditions different from our own. Their expertise was in everything from medicine to education to accounting and their placements varied from paediatric care in Sierra Leon, to educational reform in Zanzibar. I was brought in as part of a Communications Brigade, which will be sent to cover the stories of CUSO-VSO volunteers in Burkina Faso, Honduras, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Cambodia and Ghana. Other volunteers were heading to Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

The training started at 8 am each day and finished around 4:30 pm. Small groups wrangled with culturally sensitive issues, coming up with solutions and sharing with the larger ensemble. One role play had me acting as a shy village woman dealing with an aggressive, goal-oriented CUSO brigade. I made no eye contact with the men and spent most of my time asking the women about their families. When it was over the men were very frustrated, but the women got my trust-building efforts.

Flip charts, role-playing, and participatory activities made the learning exercises solid and memorable. Excellent lunches made the long days a little more pleasant – vegans and carnivores were both satisfied.

My new friends will soon be off on international adventures, some for five weeks, some for two years. I wish them all the best in helping to make the world a better place and themselves better people. I know for me, the training alone has stretched my awareness of cultural differences and similarities. It’s important to be open and elastic. I learned, just like in yoga class, flexibility comes when the stretch is long and deep.

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