BS vs ASB and ACS....The True Story of a Life Lesson

Hey guys and gals!

Check out this truly inspiring guest blog post from our friend Dani Dye, a fourth year ACS student in the global studies stream and a leader of the ASB programme. Dani was part of a small group of students with ASB who spent a month volunteering their time in Kenya this summer. She has taken the time to share her experience with us, and also does ACS students proud by taking what we learn in the classroom to the real world to critically assess her impact and "international development" in general.

My name is Dani. I am an ACS student and one of two leaders for the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) programme here at Ryerson which has not only helped shape my university career but has become a driving force in who I am as a person, an ACS student, a daughter, a leader, a citizen of this get the point. In proper ACS fashion I have been trained to be critical and careful about all things in life including assessing the type of impact a student group such as this can have on community development abroad. ACS also thought me to be open to the life lessons that unfold in front of me and to reflect on all things in...well...“life”. This past May ASB traveled to Kenya for a month long project. While there these two aspects of my ACS schooling came crashing together as I was forced to re-evaluate my philosophy on development, volunteerism and the affect students from Canada can have on people’s lives abroad, at here at home and on each other.

I have been part of ASB for almost two years now. This was my third time volunteering in a group, my second leading experience and my second (but certainly not my last) time in Kenya. Kenya is a country of contrast and continues to teach me things about the world that cannot be verbalized within a classroom or in a textbook, which waaaas the whole point behind ASB. Our goal: learn. Our expectations: have none. How could a student group from Canada possibly change lives or have an impact on a community that faces challenges that are almost impossible for us to comprehend? I had up until now truly believed that international development was...well...”bull shit” one of my previous ASB blog entries was entitled. Part of me still does believe that MOST of the “international development” out there is bullshit, if it weren’t, people in the business would be...out it if! Bullshit here by the way is being defined as Harry Frankfurt did in his essay On Bullshit as an indifference to the truth where the speaker or doer attempts to impress or persuade their audience based on nothing but...bullshit or a complete lack of care for what is in reality....truth. I relate this to “international development” (...please note the inverted quotations...) via the fact that so many good-doers travel abroad truly believing they are “changing the world” or people’s lives or communities without any care for what they are actually doing or what the realities on the ground are; often emplacing western systems of “development” and expecting them to work in a place where historical and cultural realities are not taken into consideration...[end rant].

Every time an ASB team goes abroad we make it very clear that this is NOT what we are doing, our work is symbolic at best as we are traveling with a purpose and we are there to learn...and learn we did. What I learned was...the truth is...a student group from Canada CAN change lives and foster community development in ways I NEVER thought possible. Right here is where many would place a laundry list of the physical work we did and tangible structures we left. I will not. Instead I will tell you that the exchange that took place during that month cannot be quantified because it is neither finite nor measurable...nor was it ever expected...the not expected part being a critical contribution to its success. Deep roots of cross cultural relationships that continue to benefit this community based organization were planted and continue to have a positive impact. Young girls were empowered and motivated by learning that we had women on our team that were journalists, a career in Kenya that is dominated by men. Young children were inspired to learn when taught by young, enthusiastic rapping Ryerson students....some finding a new passion and expression through art. Women in the village realized that they too can climb up on a ladder and paint...if we “mzungu” women can...why NOT them? One young woman that showed endless potential will now move onto high school thanks to the connection she shared with two of our ASB members. A women's group that does more for their community in a week than most North Americans will do in a life time got new equipment to help them raise money for their group that in turn will help develop their own community initiatives. One ASB member came home with an invigorated need to get involved in his own community; he is now seeking employment in community outreach programmes within Toronto taking his lessons from Kenyan community unity and applying them here at home...this list could continue for pages…but I digress...

Our team also taught each other. Living with 13 other people for a month is a challenge at best. Adversity is plenty, personalities clash, work ethics differ, expectations of living standards vary...but through all this we learned to LISTEN, to be open, to learn from each other and to find that common thread that would hold it all together and THAT was a belief in what we were there to do....which turned out not only be to learn, but to teach, to inspire, to educate, to change: to change ourselves, each other, and others. It IS possible to change the world, to change lives, to help others and to facilitate community just can’t expect to...because THAT would be bullshit.


Melinda Benevides said…
Awesome post!

When I first heard that Ryerson had an ASB program I was really drawn to the idea of spending spring break actually learning valuable life lessons and making a difference in the world rather than partying it up in Cabo or somewhere ridiculous like that. I truly hope that I am able to have the same experiences that you had in Kenya. I am also really looking forward to starting my first year as an ACS student this fall. It seems like a very interesting program and I know I am going to love it! This was a very inspirational and motivating post. I am definitely pumped to begin making a difference in this world!!!

Melinda :)

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