By Jessica Steele
For the next 6 months, I will be working as a Sustainable Waste Planning Assistant with l’Institut Africain de Gestion Urbaine (IAGU) (African Institute of Urban Management). Based out of Dakar, Senegal, this international non-governmental organization specialises in urban development research, technical support, training and environmental awareness. They support municipalities around western and central Africa in implementing sustainable waste management strategies that help improve local governance, promote environmental sustainability and alleviate poverty.
There are many reasons why doing an international youth internship with Sustainable Cities International and SFU sounds appealing. The chance to work with organizations and governments that are making a tangible difference. The opportunity to gain practical skills to further career development. The occasion to meet new people and experience a new culture. So far, this experience is encompassing all of those aspects. While I have only been here for two weeks, I have met many new people and had the chance to try a multitude of traditional Senegalese dishes (Lots of rice and fish!). At work, I am already being challenged as I learn about IAGU’s current focus projects.
The first project’s goal is to help 6 cities in central and northern Senegal set up sustainable household waste disposal programs. The proposed projects in the majority of the cities involves door to door collection of waste by horse or donkey-drawn carriages, transfer centres to sort and re-use plastics and other recyclable materials and finally, disposal of waste in controlled landfills with lagoons to treat leachate. The stake-holders in a project like this are extensive including the municipal government, funders, construction companies, management companies, environmental educators and trainers, and of course, the local people. All to say, there is a lot to consider!
The second project is an international project exploring the use and applicability of biogas in western Africa. Biogas, a ‘green’ gas obtained from the breakdown of organic matter in an oxygen-free environment, is a potential solution to energy problems in many rural towns. By using biogas, towns can re-use agricultural waste, stimulate agricultural production using effluent (a nutrient rich substance created during the production of biogas) and solve certain hygiene problems by finding a use for human waste, all while producing a sustainable source of energy. A biologist at heart, I find this project really interesting.
I recently read an article about working abroad that said:
“Don’t go [work abroad] because you’ve fallen in love with solvability. Go because you’ve fallen in love with complexity.
Don’t go because you want to do something virtuous. Go because you want to do something difficult.
Don’t go because you want to talk. Go because you want to listen” (The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems, C. Martin, 2015).
This internship is going to open my eyes to the complexity of working in international development. I am positive it is going to be difficult. And I know I will have to do a lot of listening. But this is what makes these internships so exciting. While only here for 6 months, we have the chance to work with established, local organizations and governments who are attempting to address complex sustainable community development issues. We get to be challenged both personally and professionally as we share our knowledge and skill set with our host countries. And finally, and arguably most importantly, we get to learn about and try to understand the successes and challenges that other people face around the world. I am very excited for what the next 6 months are going to bring!