Lessons I learned in Africa

Lessons I learned in Africa


Everyone should engage in an oversea’s volunteering project in a third-world country at least once in their life.  

I left for Soundougouba, a little village in Mali, Africa on the summer of 2005, and came back 3 months later a whole different person. At that time I was 23, on the verge of graduating from a top-tier business school and beginning a great career in Marketing.  

Doing this project was so opposite from who I was, a young and ambitious capitalist college girl, yet a part of me was thrilled to stumble into a whole different world. A world where greed and money wasn’t at the center of people’s lives.

For those of you who never got the opportunity to volunteer abroad, here are some of the lessons I learned during that summer where I built a microcredit program, a community garden, and spent a lot of time just “being in the moment”.  


Live simply

There are 3 things in life: health, sickness, and the unexpected.”  ~ Malian proverb

Life doesn’t need to be complicated.  Live simply, cultivate relationships with other people and don’t forget you really don’t need all that stuff.

In my village, kids played with what they found in the trash.  Old tires, cardboards and even old pots and pans. Children there are always happy and smiling.  Does our children need the hundreds of plastic toys hanging around in every North American parents’ homes?

African children are happy

Happy kids in my “adopted family”


We are privileged – household items

Oh, how I missed a washing machine during my stay!  Doing laundry by hand when it’s over 110F outside in the shade is quite an undertaking.

Doing laundry by hand


When we told women in our villages about these boxed-sized machines that did wash all of our clothes without us having to move a finger, they didn’t believe us! They thought it was too good to be true. Same thing happened when they were told about dishwashers, dryers, microwaves.  

How easy we have it here in America!


I love my Citizenship

We know who’s who and who’s capable of what” ~ Malian saying

I never realized how lucky I was to be Canadian until I lived in Africa. The right to vote, the right to work, to marry who I want, to do whatever I want with myself whenever I want to.  To be able to travel almost anywhere in the world without a hitch.  Most human beings don’t have it as easy as I do, and that’s heartbreaking. I don’t think the place you were born should dictate your freedom, or who you’ll be able to become.


Slow down

Here we tend to live by the minute, always looking forward to the next event planned in our agenda.  When I first got to Africa, this was the big shocker.  Not the lack of electricity, or the absence of Internet and computers, not the fact that the latrines really were disgusting.  What shocked me the most was going from being busy all the time (you truly had to book an appointment with me at least 2 weeks in advance) to having absolutely nothing to do several days in a row.

Here we spend so much time running around that we don’t take time to appreciate what we have. By slowing down a little you get to enjoy life, while it lasts. Because who knows when we’ll reach the end of our existence, why wait until retirement at 65 (or older) to start enjoying life?


Malian Field

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.