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Wednesday, 14 September 2011 17:15

Swift Current native to speak about helping in Zambia

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By Jessi Gowan — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Swift Current native Raquel Vigueras recently returned from a four-month work term volunteering in Zambia, as part of Canadian non-profit organization Engineers Without Borders (EWB).

She will be taking part in a EWBpresentation in Swift Current Sept. 24.  The presentation: Zikomo: an African night to support EWB’s work in Africa, will be held on the Saturday at the Lyric Theatre.

The EWB is a network of students, professionals, and Canadians from every walk of life who are committed to building a world of opportunity for rural Sub-Saharan Africans.Vigueras participated in the Junior Fellowship program, which offers an introduction to development and leadership training to members. They are as much about building great leaders and providing members with their first exposure to development work as they are about having impact overseas during the four-month volunteer placement.

“Last summer, I became involved with EWB through a friend, and immediately joined the executive at the U of S campus as co-VP of Youth Engagement,” explained Vigueras. “After the first few meetings and hearing the presentations given by the 2010 volunteers, who worked in Malawi and Ghana, I knew that the Junior Fellowship program was something I wanted to do.”

After sending in her application and an interview with three past overseas volunteers and a representative from the national office in Toronto, Vigueras was packing her bags for Africa — after only two months with the chapter.

“There were two of us who were sent overseas from the University of Saskatchewan chapter of EWB, and we both ended up being placed in Zambia on the Agricultural Value Chains (AVC) team,” Vigueras said. “EWB is a pretty tight-knit community of people from all over Canada. We have great connections and are offered great support from the national office staff in Toronto, and through conferences and being sent overseas we have made friends and connections with people from chapters all over Canada. We always welcome new faces, and people are always happy with the feeling of community they get when they join EWB.”

Vigueras’s work with the AVC team placed her with a company called Mobile Transactions (MTZL). The company deals primarily with money transfers, ordering and supplier payments, agent payments, and electronic vouchers. MTZL was started a few years ago because of a large problem in Zambia: 80 per cent of the money is unbanked, 77 per cent of the people have never heard of, or don’t understand the acronym ‘ATM’, and 61 per cent of the people earn money from ‘informal agriculture.’

MTZL is a mobile payments business that transforms economies, and is working to render Africa cashless. Any bank, any recipient, any network, and any sector can use the services. Vigueras was working on the promotions and marketing for a prepayment voucher system for a Zambian agricultural input company to encourage farmers to think about purchasing their maize seed early.

As it is right now, more than 90 per cent of farmers wait until the October and November (peak season) to purchase their maize seed. During these months, it becomes impossible to walk through the doors of a store because of the lines out the door of farmers waiting to purchase their seed.

“This places great strain on the farmer, the agents selling the maize seed, and the seed company itself,” Vigueras said. “What we are attempting to do with the prepaid vouchers is to get farmers to think about purchasing their maize seed early — leading to better planning, better planting and better yields.”

To encourage this, MTZL are offering farmers a discount — about a 10 per cent discount, depending on which pack size and variety they are purchasing. The situation works out for everyone — the farmers are receiving a discount and their maize seed early, which helps them to better plan for the upcoming planting season, the agents selling the maize seed are getting a more spread-out commission (rather than receiving it all during the peak season), and the seed company is better able to handle the time of reconciliation of seed, after the selling season has ended. The vouchers are sold during the months of August and September, and farmers can pick up their seed two weeks after they purchase the voucher from a participating retailer. This way, they will be ready for the planting season once it begins to rain.

“EWB places a lot of importance on its volunteers to integrate. How can we help the small-scale farmers to improve their lives if we aren’t living amongst them, understanding all of their financial constraints and whatnot?” explained Vigueras. “I spent the first half of my placement living in rural villages with families. I feel as though I got the whole experience, and it was a wonderful one. I really enjoyed the experiences of living with families — the family dynamics are completely unlike my own, and it was very interesting to see how other people around the world live.”

Vigueras ate their staple food, attempted to learn their local languages, and lived without any electricity or running water. While poverty exists in Zambia, she noted many people in urban areas have many of the same amenities as we have in Canada.

Now she has returned home, Vigueras is hoping to continue to help from Canada. She will host an event at Swift Current’s Lyric Theatre to inform people of her experience in Zambia with EWB, and raise awareness about the organization itself.

“I believe there is so much we can do as Canadian citizens to help build the capacity of people living in developing countries, and I would love for the people of Swift Current to know the small piece I played in the large role of development,” Vigueras explained.

The event will involve short presentations given by three people who went overseas this summer — Vigueras, Stephanie Laing (University of Saskatchewan chapter, AVC Zambia) and Ali Molaro (University of Regina chapter, Water and Sanitation Malawi). It will also feature some entertainment by The Ghanadians, a group that includes Joseph Ashong, a master drummer and dancer from Ghana. There will also be unique silent auction and raffle items.

“Engineers Without Borders is a non-profit organization that does a lot of important work in both Africa and Canada,” said Vigueras. “We are committed individuals who have a passion for development and we want to share this passion and our knowledge with the people of our communities.”

 Doors open at 7 p.m., with the program beginning at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 and are available at Pharmasave, or by call Raquel at 306-380-1700 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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