The first class of the School of Environment Enterprise and Development’s (SEED) MDP program has now gone abroad to complete their field placement projects in developing countries. The three- month practicum allows the students to head out into the world and apply the knowledge learned in their first two terms of course work.
The program is part of an international network put together by the MacArthur Foundation. This global association of over 20 universities strives to fill practical and multi-disciplinary gaps in existing International Development Studies (IDS) programs.
As a student in the University of Waterloo’s pioneering MDP class, Elizabeth Lougheed, is working through World University Service of Canada (WUSC) in Gaborone, Botswana. “For our field practicum we've all been placed on teams of three to four, working on a specific project with WUSC partners in various countries,” she says.
Lougheed, along with classmates Scott Bohachyk and Onaopemipo Onadipe, are working with the Uniterra Program established by WUSC and the Centre for International Studies and Cooperation in Montreal (CECI). “We're volunteering as program review advisors evaluating the activities of three WUSC partners working to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS in Botswana,” she says.
As the country with the second highest HIV prevalence in the world, the struggle is an everyday reality for many people in Botswana. According to Lougheed, there is a 17.1 per cent prevalence of the disease and life expectancy is only 55.6 years in that country. Despite a strong government plan to combat HIV disease, Botswana is considered a “middle income country,” and therefore there is less development assistance available to them than other countries facing the same problems.
Much of Lougheed and her classmates’ work centres not only around the issues facing middle income countries, but also how operational cooperation between different development programs in the region is affecting change. The students are currently evaluating and recording best practice stories for WUSC partner organizations such as, the Tertiary Education Council, Stepping Stones International, and Botswana Christian Aids Intervention Programme.
“So far, it has been fascinating learning about their work and understanding how Uniterra has worked with them,” says Lougheed. “They have all had great stories to share about the impact Canadian volunteers have made.”
As students of development practice, Lougheed and her classmates have also immersed themselves in the local culture. “We've learned a little bit of Setswana, the local language here, spent time with our host mother eating, and learning about power shortages […]” she says.
The work being done by the MDP students has also caught the attention of other leaders in the Canadian development field.
“Our arrival coincided with the visit of the Governor General's delegation visit to Gabarone,” explains Lougheed. “We participated in a WUSC meeting with the delegation and a reception afterwards. We got to meet three MPs including Peter Braid, who tweeted a picture with us, and a number of NGO leaders including the directors of the International Development Research Centre, CUSO and Free the Children. It was an amazing networking opportunity and we were told to apply for lots of jobs once we're done.”