More Than Words

"Language shapes the way we see the world". These were the words of my community engagement professor and they have stayed with me through the years and well beyond the four walls of that classroom. As I learn more about aid, international development, global injustices and inequities, these words have gained even more saliency in my mind.

Thoughts from Damned Nations still linger, especially those regarding the feel-good rhetoric of humanitarian involvement and many of our own desires to make a difference in this world (whatever that entails). We throw words around like "doing good", "charity", "empowerment", "social change", without a thought to their deeper meanings, historical significance, or the assumptions they bear. And then we act on such conceptions with the presumption of knowledge...a presumption that, on many occassions, can be more damaging than ignorance itself.

One of the most powerful quotes I've encountered is that attributed to Lilla Watson, an indigenous Australian artist and activist, and one that has become the motto for many activist groups: "If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together". The choice of words in the two sentences may, at first glance, be subtle but their implications and entire messaging are radically different. Power dynamics are changed, dependencies are shifted, and even the result of the effort are dramatically altered.

Some may scoff at this and say much of this is just another case of our society's obsession with political-correctness. And I'll admit, the thought has crossed my mind as well. But I honestly do believe that the words that we use and the discourses we take part in shape not only our assumptions about global issues, but ultimately the way we react and respond to them.

Just as a small pivot can change one's entire direction, so too can a single word.

For those of you who read this post hoping for Extreme's ballad, my sincere apologies. Let me make it up to you: click here.

I'm a Kiva Lender!

Hurray!! I've finally got around to doing something that I've been promising myself I would do for awhile now. As with so many things in life, we put it on the back burner and it stays there. But alas, I have made my very first loan on Kiva!

Meet Tarcila. She's an entrepreneur who owns a furniture-making business in a small town in the Philippines called Ilagan. For over two years now, she has been selling household furniture within her local community. Tarcila plans on using the loans to buy raw materials to make more furniture and hopefully expand her business.

Tarcila Tandayu

For those of you who don't know what Kiva is or how it works, let me give you a quick run down. Kiva is a non-profit organization that facilitates the lending of money (with a 98.79% repayment rate!!) through the use of the Internet to microfinancing insitutions in various developing countries around the world. These microfinancing institutions then lend the money to small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. As for how it works, here's a pretty simple diagram that explains the process.

The Kiva Cycle. For more info, visit

Now why Kiva? Because I firmly believe in sustainability, in empowering people to lift themselves out of their dire living conditions by giving them both an opportunity and a platform to do so. The people living in these developing nations are some of the most resourceful and intelligent people our world has to offer and they are the very people we should and need to be investing our money in. It is they who will ultimately alleviate poverty for themselves and for their communities.

So if you've got some dough to spare, make a loan's easy peasy and you'll be doing some real, tangible good! Visit today!


A huge thanks to my friend, Andrea, whose blog post served as reminder and an impetus to lend ASAP.


Health and Human Rights Conference 2010

This weekend on March 5th and 6th, the students of the University of Toronto International Health Program (UTIHP) hosted the Health and Human Rights Conference at the J.J.R. MacLeod Auditorium. Gathering a smorgasbord of scholars, professionals, thought-leaders, and concerned and socially-conscious youth, the HHRights Conference was a two day affair that sought to tackle the crucial but highly problematic issue of international aid and development. Asking hard questions about the current impact of aid, its current flaws, and potential solutions, the event generated truly thought-provoking and insightful discussions and conversations. Some highlights include:

1. Opening performance of "Broken Land - A Song for Haiti" by JC and Karim. I have no idea who these guys are (fellow U of T students, I presume) but what a way to start the conference! A soulful performance with equally riveting lyrics that set the mood for the rest of the evening. Have a listen to the song here...

2. Opening Keynote presented by George Roter Engineers without Borders Co-founder and Co-CEO George Roter kick started the event by sharing his experiences during his time in various African countries, drawing the link between the rather abstract theme of aid and development to its human connection. After all, as he said, the conference is "about these human beings living in extraordinarily challenging conditions who want to see change for the better". With a brief history of the development of aid and highlighting specific thought starters, George set the context for the conference reminding the audience that "we need to go beyond the idea of charity and start thinking about [aid] as opportunity, as partnership".

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