Aliya - Learning by getting outside of the comfort zone

Story captured by Miriam Hird-Younger, as part of the series "Investing in Youth in Agriculture - Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB) in Ghana." This Wednesday, this AgEx Venture Leader brings to us the success story of Aliya Lakhani, a Canadian youth champion who participated in the EWB Junior Fellowship program.

 

I hear, and I forget

I see, and I remember

I do, and I understand. —Ancient Chinese proverb

After working with youth in agricultural training institutions in Ghana, Aliya, a young Canadian, has come to appreciate the importance of experiential training for youth as a cornerstone of agricultural development.

EWB not only works with Ghanaian youth through programs like the one at Ghana’s Agricultural Colleges, but also deals with Canadian youth to build their understanding of issues of poverty, inequality and social justice. EWB believes that Canadian youth need to be global citizens, with the knowledge and attitudes to support development and be socially responsible in their actions.

The Junior Fellowship program engages a few dozen youth each year to work with EWB programs and ventures in Africa from May-August. In 2014, Aliya Lakhani, from the University of Alberta, joined EWB’s partnership with Ghana’s agricultural colleges as a Junior Fellow. Through her work, she learned the significance of experiential and practical learning, especially in the field of agriculture. 

Aliya parallels what she learned in her own placement as a Junior Fellow, with the practical learning of agricultural students participating in community placements in Ghana - learning by getting outside of your comfort zone and into the field!

Aliya shares her learning

“As a 5th year engineering student, I was given the opportunity to work in Ghana for 3.5 months with EWB's Junior Fellowship program. I was tasked with facilitating the restructuring of the Internal Attachment Program (IAP) at Ohawu Agricultural College (OAC), one of the 5 public agricultural colleges in Ghana. The colleges expressed an interest in modifying the existing Internal Attachment Program, adopting a structure resembling my co-op engineering program whereby students were placed in farming communities surrounding the college and get to experience the lifestyle of a Ghanaian farmer.

At OAC, the students were placed with both medium size and large scale commercial farmers in rural Ghana for 16 days. Over half of the Ohawu students were raised in urban areas and for most this was their first exposure to rural farming. They were faced with many of the same challenges that I faced as a Canadian working in Ghana: the language barrier, the need to quickly adapt to and navigate a new set of cultural norms, and being away from many amenities that had previously been taken for granted.

From my conversations with farmers, students, and lecturers I was convinced that the students gained much from the community stay portion of the Internal Attachment Program (IAP). Before the IAP many of the students perceived rural farmers to be uneducated, unintelligent, and lazy. Even after a few days in the communities, it was evident that students were challenging their assumptions about rural farming livelihoods. And after working alongside a farmer for 16 days, not a single student still thought that farmers didn’t work hard.

It took until my return home for me to realize that I have taken away from my placement many of the same things that the IAP taught the students. Supervising the students during their community stay and talking to the host farmers I was directly exposed to the ramifications of some of the inherent flaws in global food systems, chiefly the distribution of profit in the value chain.

Living in Ghana has challenged me to put curiosity before judgement, to ask questions and evaluate the validity of the assumptions behind the judgement. Just like the students staying with, working with, eating with and learning with farmers, the value of my own placement was in the opportunity to see, feel, hear, smell and to relate personally.”

– Aliya Lakhani, EWB Junior Fellow, University of Alberta

Aliya continues to engage with EWB through her University chapter in Edmonton. Her experiential and practical learning in Ghana has shaped the way she thinks about poverty, development and agriculture in Ghana, Africa and around the world. No matter whether you are a young farmer in a developing country or a global citizen of a developed one, experience and practical learning is where you gain the most insight, skills and attitudes!