Tag Archives: CUSO

Report From Harar

A blonde woman in a white lab coat lifts an x-ray up to the window and six similarly clad young people gather round. Below them on a small iron bed lies a motionless child. Doctor Joanna Laycock is on her morning rounds at Hiwot Fana Specialized Hospital in Harar, surrounded by her students. “What are the signs of viral pneumonia?,” she asks. A student points to a clouded area of the x-ray. “And bacterial? What about tuberculosis?” An answer is murmured as Laycock nods and flicks away a fly.

The 31-year-old, British-born volunteer is six weeks into her one-year placement at the hospital’s pediatric ward. “This is completely eye-opening for me. I’m seeing things I’d never see had home,” she says. The most common cases are rheumatic fever, tuberculosis and malnutrition. There have been two fatal cases of tetanus since she arrived — something unheard of in the western world where vaccines have all but eradicated the bacterial illness.

My teammates (photographer Ethan Baron, and Catherine Beach, CUSO-VSO recruitment) and I have been on the road for the last few days, visiting volunteers in various placements in the east of the country. After speaking with Laycock, we meet up with Susan Davies-Jones in the medical school building adjacent to the hospital. From Northern Ireland, the 31-year-old midwife has a placement as an instructor. This morning she’s excited. “My furniture has arrived,” she says triumphantly as a desk and computer are loaded into her office. Although her project is to take students into communities and assess health needs and apply her knowledge to practices such as breast feeding, she hasn’t been able to get started yet. “I’ve spent the past month sharing offices and sitting in the hall.” A big smile spreads across her face. “Now I have a home base. It feels fantastic.”



•  Ethiopia was never colonized, but Italy occupied the country during WWII

•  Pizza and pasta are on just about every menu

•  An Ethiopian red wine that isn’t too bad is Gouder, costs around 60 birr for 750 ml (around $4 US)

•  Restaurants have 2 prices – local and Ferengi.


A midwife’s story

The VSO and CUSO-VSO volunteers I’ve met in the past two days have been amazing. Jacqueline McAuley is a nurse and midwife in her early 30s. She’s been here for a little more than a year, most of that time at Gondar University as an instructor and lecturer. Originally from Northern Ireland, she studied in Edinburgh and then went to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Longing to work overseas, she signed up with VSO in order to get experience in Africa. After 10 days in-country training, including a cultural overview, basic Amharic language training and gender issue awareness, she headed to Gondar, north of Addis Ababa.

Being a white woman in a traditional culture has been challenging. Her gender training instructor had warned her not to go out after dark and not to wear revealing clothes. “Attitudes towards women are little different here than at home,” she explained. As evidence, she noted she had two marriage proposals in her first week. “One was strictly business, visas etc.

With Jacqueline at the VSO office

The other, well….” She blushed and let me figure it out. Let’s say it wasn’t exactly romantic.

During her work as a lecturer, McAuley found she was more effective when she teamed up with a male pediatrician VSO volunteer. “Men are seen to have a lot more power. As a team we were able to accomplish a lot,” she explained.

In her year‘s placement, she developed a workshop for nurses and clinical midwives covering professional ethics, rights of patients, and standards. Accessing a small grant, she replaced rusted equipment with new delivery sets and brought in two neonatal resuscitation kits.

McAuley also educated her students on the importance of hygiene. “There was massive overcrowding in the ward. Forty women shared 20 beds, plus we had mattresses on the floor with three women sharing. Deliveries were done in the corridors and running water was infrequent. My students went ahead and cleaned the maternity ward on their own. This really helped the morale of the delivery staff. It’s a tough job. The women giving birth and their families were very appreciative.”

What has the experience taught her so far? “Everything takes time. You have to be diplomatic and you have to wait.”


• Don’t pat the dogs, they have fleas.

• Don’t eat kitfo, a popular, raw minced beef dish, because you’re sure to get sick.

• If you do eat kitfo, make sure you take de-worming medicine later.



first blog from ethiopia!

Sun pouring down like honey, dust swirling, and a nip in the air. These were my first impressions as I emerged from the airport and shook off more than 40 hours travel (delays, missed planes, you name it).

Addis Ababa is a city full of government officials, NGOs and people trying to eke out a living. Population is anywhere from 3-5 million, depending on who you talk to, and one-quarter is under 14. Driving to my hotel, I saw a donkey running down the street with no visible owner, sheep grazing by the side of the road and well dressed throngs marching off to work. Little rag-tag boys pulled on the sleeves of “ferengi” (foreigners) buying bottled water at roadside stands. Wafts of charcoal smoke and fresh baked bread curled through the window. I liked it already.

My first day at the VSO office, I learned that their main sectors were health and education and they had more than 90 volunteers in country. Most of these were from the UK and Europe, but there were a few Canadians as well. CUSO partnered with VSO a few years ago and one of their goals is to recruit Ethiopian Diaspora volunteers from Canada. I’ll be speaking to one in the next couple of days who is here on a 2-year placement.

Gender mainstreaming, secure livelihoods, and the plight of rural women, girls and people with disabilities, I was told, were also areas of concern for VSO.

In the office-meeting hall, I met a group of volunteers who were getting ready to start two-year placements throughout the country. Experts in teacher training and IT, they were learning how to use a kerosene stove, say “hello” in Amharic (the official national language), and tell the time, Ethiopian-style. The day begins at sunrise and so our 7 am is 1 am Ethiopian time. The calendar is a bit different as well. Seven years and eight months different. Oct. 18, 2011 is October 7, 2004 according to the Ethiopian calendar. Confusing but helpful when you want to fudge your age.

Interesting facts emerged. Volunteers in areas that are generally hotter than 37 degrees C get a small refrigerator. If you’re in a place like Addis, where the average temperature is around 17-20 degrees C you’re not entitled to a fridge. If you are 5 km or more from your placement, you get a bicycle. Allowances for guards (if you live in an area with security risks) are higher in Addis, where it is more expensive to live.

Pumped with excitement about their upcoming adventures, the volunteers vowed to keep in touch via e-mail using their newly purchased “dongals.” This little gadget connects to your laptop and allows you to get online no matter where you are. Handy, but not cheap.



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.