International Development Week highlights work overseas

Matt Gardner
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Taking a page from the federal government, city council’s proclamation of Feb. 2-8 as International Development Week has brought the work of numerous development agencies to greater public attention.

From a local perspective, one of the most celebrated charitable organizations is the Centre for Excellence in International Development (CEID), with director John Fryters praising the official recognition of overseas development work.

For Fryters, an increasingly globalized world only reinforces the importance of co-operation between nations.

“I never coined the phrase, but we’re living in what we call a global village,” he said, noting that countries from Uganda to Ecuador to China are now just a flight away.

“The world is very, very small, and just from a human perspective, we need to take care of our neighbours, and that’s really why I am personally involved in international development … For the federal government to do that (International Development Week) once a year, I think that’s a good thing. I think that can only be positive for the world.”

“There is so much trouble in the world that we maybe might want to look at some good things that are happening in the world between countries and between peoples,” he added.

With Canadian offices in Prince Albert, Parksville, B.C., and Brampton, Ont., the CEID has become known for its development projects overseas.

Fryters explained the CEID approach to development as encouraging self-sufficiency and self-reliance.

“We have now actually paid staff in Peru, we have paid staff in Kampala, Uganda, and they’re working on our behalf,” he said.

“But these are local people … It’s not for us to go in and dictate what they should do. I think we need to come alongside of them and teach them how to do it.”

As an example, Fryters cited his visit last fall to two African orphanages -- one an Episcopal orphanage in Wudu, South Sudan with more than 200 orphans and the other in Busia, Uganda with more than 400 orphans.

“They have been in existence for maybe well over two decades, maybe even longer, and they have been relying on handouts,” he said, noting that he had received an email from one of the directors thanking him for a $200 donation because the facility was about to run out of food.

Drawing a comparison with Canadian workers living from paycheque to paycheque, Fryters pointed to the gap between the potential of the surrounding land and the ability of the two orphanages to make full use of it.

“Both of them actually have an agricultural land base, but they don’t have a tractor,” he said.

“Both of them were able to produce grain and corn, but they don’t have a grinding machine. Both of them have some electricity, but they would have to … increase their electricity capacity for their kids to have better education and to maybe have laptops or to have solar panels.”

Meeting personally with the directors, Fryters agreed on a plan to develop proposals to see if they could obtain a tractor, grinding machine and solar panels for each orphanage.

“If we could do that, the handouts would stop … They could produce enough food in livestock and in grain and corn and cassava and beans and things like that for their orphans,” he said.

The world is very, very small, and just from a human perspective, we need to take care of our neighbours. John Fryters

“In addition to that, they would have sufficient supplies over to sell to buy other necessities for the orphanages, and it would be totally self-sufficient.”

Thus far, the CEID has had some success convincing Canadian and American sponsors to help fund the project.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the organization is collaborating with Canadian and Peruvian partners with the goal of providing leadership training to 50,000 young people in a desert-based squatter city in Manchay, Peru.

Characterized by the ramshackle dwellings that house various migrants, Manchay is the site of two projects that aim to teach skills to locals.

One 40-week course, Gardens for Life, teaches people how to grow vegetable gardens in the desert -- not an easy task in an inhospitable environment where even cacti do not grow, but one that has seen increasing success.

“This is really desert land, and they’re now growing lettuce and tomatoes and beans and all kinds of vegetables,” Fryters said.

“Last year they graduated 40 students,” he added. “This year they’re going to graduate 80 students, and at the end of the graduation, they give the students sufficient tools and sufficient seeds and sufficient topsoil to go to their own houses and to their own properties to plant gardens … The 40 that graduated last year have all put the gardens in this year.”

Another course is Stitches for Life, which teaches unemployed individuals how to sew and create clothing, blankets and similar items, and which has experienced similar growth.

“Now they have moved into production,” Fryters said. “So they’re now producing clothing and … T-shirts, for instance, that are being marketed in Canada.”

Other CEID development projects include training for computer technology and trades such as carpentry, as well as replacing shoddy housing.

With so much work overseas, obtaining funding is a crucial part of agency operations.

The Prince Albert office raised approximately $50,000 in the last two years alone. Fryters’ office duties also include communicating with existing and potential partners.

Looking ahead, a CEID team is planning to return to Peru in April, with further trips to Uganda and South Sudan in September.

“I’ve been asked to go to India in August, and last year was very similar,” Fryters said.

“I just came back from Peru. We’re now looking at possibly going to Cuba. Some other people on our board of directors, they’re going to different areas. They go to Trinidad, Tobago, Jamaica, Mexico.”

“So we’re doing projects all over -- and it’s not just me, it’s also my other directors and they go in with various teams to do various things,” he added.

“It’s a very busy thing. I love it.”

Organizations: International Development, Centre for Excellence, Prince Albert

Geographic location: Uganda, Peru, Ecuador China South Sudan Parksville Brampton Kampala Wudu Busia Manchay Canada India Cuba Trinidad Tobago Jamaica Mexico

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