In a recent post, we gained insight into EWB’s Water & Sanitation (WatSan) Venture with a past EWB Fellow and Venture Leader of four years: Alyssa Lindsay! In this post, Alyssa shares her personal take on what led her to work in Africa with EWB and how it’s impacted her life. Read on to learn about her experience as an EWB African Venture Employee!
1. What drove you to apply to work in Africa?
I was driven by a desire to work closely with people and contribute to unlocking potential that exists in others and myself. I had taken classes in adult learning, communication process and leadership development, and wanted to try out these ideas and approaches on a full-time basis.
2. What was your top fear or inhibition associated with going abroad?
I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to find a value add that I could provide to the people/systems that I worked with and that I’d never be able to wrap my head around everything that was going on. Having little to no background in the culture and the rural water and sanitation sector was a bit intimidating, but it really pushed me to be open and ready to learn.
3. What did you hope to gain out of your experience?
I wanted to shift the path that I was following through life, towards one that focused more on human and personal development than technical development. I was able to focus on this in a technical field which was a great compromise for me at that time.
4. After living in Africa for four years, what advice would you give to prospective EWB Staff or ProFellows?
Explore with an open heart – you’ll never be Malawian (or Ghanaian or Zambian..) but that doesn’t mean you can’t seek to understand more and more about those around you. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or not know something (try not to, of course, but don’t let it paralyze you)– that is how you’ll learn more.
5. What do you think you’ll bring back to the workforce from your experience?
So many things: an increased ability to go with the flow, deal with the completely unexpected at a moment’s notice and not be very phased by it, a deeper understanding of how systems change (or don’t), and a closer and more honest connection with myself and others.
6. Most awakening moment working with EWB’s WatSan venture?
I was talking with a partner about WatSan’s work and he summarized our role as helping his office understand that they could make progress on their own, and that they didn’t need to wait for a project or a donor or someone external to come along and tell them what to do.
7. Summary of your life with the WatSan venture and living in Africa?
I used to joke that the only thing reliable about my daily routine was the presence of email, meetings and public transit – but none of those were very reliable in themselves. For the last two and a half years, I was based in the capital city of Lilongwe, I worked out of WatSan’s own office, but also spent time at sector meetings, and at the offices of WatSan partners. I also travelled a fair bit, checking in with other team members and partners in District offices. In Lilongwe, I lived with Malawian housemates in a peri-urban neighbourhood. We enjoyed cooking together and I loved spending time with their baby/toddler.