Alumni Magazine of Cuso International
Creating equal opportunities in business
In this issue, you will read about a program in Tanzania that helps entrepreneurs transform their innovative ideas into growing businesses; volunteers helping a community on Honduras’s northwest coast get electricity; and how a program is helping women in Cameroon access new career opportunities. These stories are firsthand accounts of how Cuso International programs, volunteers, and alumni like you, are making a difference in communities around the world.
Message from the CEO
In this issue of Catalyst, you will find inspiring stories from Cuso International program participants, volunteers, alumni, and donors that showcase the impact we are having in communities around the world.
You will read about programs in Jamaica and Peru that are helping with food security for farmers and their families; our work in Inuit communities in the Northwest Territories providing hands-on support for students; and about Cameroonian migrants getting the tools they need to grow their businesses and build new lives in Nigeria.
Established as a volunteer-based organization in 1961, Cuso International has a long history of working for global progress. This summer I was saddened to hear of the passing of Keith Spicer, one of our co-founders. His vision and energy continue to inspire us today as we focus on advancing gender equality and social inclusion, improving economic resilience, and delivering progress on climate action.
As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to learn how this global crisis has impacted some of the most vulnerable in the world. Following the roadmap outlined in our strategic plan launched earlier this year, Cuso International is collaborating with community partners, local governments, and the private sector to improve the economic and social conditions of marginalized groups everywhere we work.
We are grateful for your support, and we hope you’ll continue this journey with us as we work to create a more equitable world for all.
CEO, Cuso International
Urban agriculture in Peru is creating communities committed to healthy living and a cleaner environment
Looking at bountiful fruit orchards and vegetable gardens in the district of Villa Maria del Triunfo in Lima, Peru, Gregoria remembers when the same area was nothing but a wasteland of garbage and neglect.
Different training in Tanzania, helps women grow their business
When Celina Chibanda founded Mategemeo Vegetables Supplies decades ago, she had no notion it would grow into the booming business it is today.
Supporting education in Canada’s Northwest Territories
In Fort Resolution, Northwest Territories, educational challenges are nothing new. Schools in the community often see low attendance rates and a lack of motivation among students.
Program helps Cameroonian refugee grow business and help train others
The ongoing conflict in Cameroon has caused thousands of people to flee their homes to neighbouring Nigeria, including 25-year-old Vanessa Mbahwei.
“The crisis is so bad; we were always running for safety. I lost my brother to the crisis. He was shot together with three of his friends on their way to the farm. I do not even know where he was buried,” she says.
Jamaica: Empowering women with disabilities and improving food security with sustainable farming project
For people living with disabilities, food security, transportation, and day-to-day living can be a challenge. Job placement can also be an issue for people in the special needs community.
Lighting the way for women coffee farmers in Honduras
In Honduras, Betty and Karla Fernandez spend their days working hard to produce high-quality coffee. The sisters are Tolupan, a Honduran Indigenous group living on Honduras’s northwest coast. They live in the remote village of Agua Sucia producing catuai and catimor coffee plants.
Creating career opportunities for women in Cameroon
In a remote village in southern Cameroon, most women stay at home to care for their families.
Paying tribute to incredible alumni and their vital contributions
We are saddened to hear of Cuso International co-founder Keith Spicer’s passing on August 24 in Ottawa at 89. Mr. Spicer had an illustrious career serving Canada in many roles. We send his family, friends, and former colleagues our sincere condolences. We thank him for his vision and energy.
Keith Spicer, who at the time was a University of Toronto PhD student studying Canada’s role in the Colombo Plan (for Economic Development in South and Southeast Asia), led early Cuso International meetings in 1960. Working alongside many toward a common goal, Cuso International was officially established the following year.
Spicer went on to become Canada’s first Commissioner of Official Languages and later, editor-in-chief of the Ottawa Citizen. He also served as Chairman of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. In 2004, he published his memoir Life Sentences: Memoirs of an Incorrigible Canadian.
Today, Cuso International continues to create economic and social opportunities for marginalized groups around the world. Together with our partners, Cuso International is focused on efforts to advance gender equality and social inclusion, improve economic resilience, and deliver progress on climate action.
Founded as a volunteer-based organization, Cuso International continues to value the many contributions of the skilled professionals recruited from Canada and in the countries where our programs are implemented. Over the past 62 years, more than 14,000 individuals have volunteered with Cuso International in more than 100 countries. Their expertise, networks, and knowledge have helped to build better futures for marginalized communities around the world.
Today, as we celebrate Mr. Spicer’s legacy, we remain committed to his vision and passionate about the work that lies ahead.
Mary B. Hureau
It is with great sadness that the family of Mary Hureau, fondly known as “Mary B.”, announce her peaceful passing at the Foothills Medical Centre on July 1, 2023 at the age of 79 years. Mary was born July 27, 1943 in Glace Bay, NS. She will be lovingly remembered by her son, Thomas and close niece, Michele. Mary was predeceased by her husband of 14 years, Thomas Daniel Hureau.
Mary B. lived a full life. She grew up in the Pier, worked in Africa and Barbados for several years as a nurse, as well as actively participating in Cuso International. Upon returning home, she proudly furthered her nursing career in multiple fields including Health & Safety, Palliative Care, and Nursing Instruction at St. FX University. She was well known and well-loved in the Cape Breton nursing community. Mary loved travelling, spending time with her friends and family, throwing parties, and enjoying the little things in life. She had a great sense of humour! We always had so many laughs with her! She could tell us funny stories for days! She was a stylish woman who always looked beautiful wherever she went. Last year she moved with her son to Calgary and spent the year enjoying new places and experiences. She traveled to Costa Rica, a country she always dreamed of going to and truly had the happiest year of her life. She passed peacefully 11 months later with her son by her side.
Annie Chantal Djiotsa
#IamCusoInternational because I am leading by example and adding my voice and action to a greater cause; the fight against gender inequality. I am helping empower women and girls and promoting female leadership.
After working as an army officer, mainly in strategic communication for 20 years, I took my retirement in 2019 and started volunteering in British Columbia for multiple organizations. It wasn’t until 2021 that I started volunteering with Cuso International.
I got involved with Cuso International after reading about different Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) and decided to apply after reading more about the work they do.
As a volunteer with Cuso International, I helped with their partner Union des Femmes élues Conseilleres Communales (UFeC) in Cameroon. I was a communication specialist with UFeC. My role was to help UFeC reach a greater audience and communicate its mission as well as its accomplishments, help them increase its visibility, and provide them with tailored communication tools. I hope to increase UFeC’s visibility and audience, with the goal to bring more financial means to UFeC so they help more women out of poverty, educate more women, and continue to be the strong female leadership incubator they are.
I am most proud of all the hard work I did while working with Cuso International, especially building UFeC’s website, which was a tremendous amount of work. As well as all the bonds of friendship I have made with the women I worked with, they are a huge source of inspiration for me since despite facing numerous challenges and obstacles, they still fight daily to push their agenda forward. They work tirelessly and wholeheartedly believe in their cause.
I hope to continue to volunteer with Cuso International and go volunteer in Tanzania next. While continuing to help in ways to give me a greater sense of purpose while allowing me to discover the beauty of Africa.
because I want to give, share, learn and support the advancement of gender-responsive public policies, programs and services that address equality issues faced by women and girls.
I first learned about Cuso International 15 years ago from my father, who always wanted to volunteer his geological expertise with the organization. When I began working for the BC provincial government in 2012 as a communications and web content writer, I discovered the BC Public Service supports employees to volunteer overseas with Cuso International; it has been a long-term goal of mine to participate ever since. Now that life has settled down, I am thrilled to be able to fulfill my desire to contribute my skills internationally in a real and lasting way.
I am looking forward to my upcoming placement, which starts at the end of April in St. Lucia, where I will be working with Cuso International partners to support its BLUEPRINT project; a four-year project funded by Global Affairs Canada that aligns with Canada's Feminist International Assistance Policy and aims to strengthen the capacity of public institutions to address gender equality issues faced by women, girls, and marginalized groups.
As a volunteer, I will be developing communication campaigns and coordinating community engagement initiatives to empower vulnerable women, girls and civil society groups. My work in St. Lucia will focus on increasing access to gender-responsive programs and services offered by government institutions.
Arthur Shears, a Cuso International volunteer in Nigeria, 1971-73, and Field Staff Officer in Ghana, 1975-77, has written a memoir Overseas Adventures – From Afghanistan to Zambia and Points In-Between about his experiences and adventures working abroad in 16 countries from 1971 to 2021. The book is now available on his website (northstarskillsfordevelopment.ca) and Amazon.
Cuso International alumni Wendy Nordick has written a memoir, Indelible: A Social Worker in the Wake of Civil War.
Driven by a long-standing desire, her education and her faith, mental health professional Wendy Nordick, and her husband Bill Blair, a retired judge, plunged into a two-year assignment with Cuso International. She believed her 25 years of clinical social work were appropriate credentials to help Sri Lanka, who had the highest rates of suicide in the world. Bill hoped to work for peace and justice. They felt they became laughingstocks when work visa delays left them homeless. Days before leaving, Wendy’s father died.
Once in Sri Lanka, she shivered in a rickety beer factory cum hospital where she taught mental health skills. A year later, she was transported into steamy, bombed out Jaffna, the epicenter of a civil war to teach a trauma team who worked with the war affected and tortured during the war. She was humbled by what she did not know and sought help from a previous refugee.
Mary Ndlovu, Cuso International volunteer living in Zimbabwe, continues to support the Edward Ndlovu Memorial Library (which she founded in 1990 in memory of her husband, Edward). Her friends in Canada have started a charity that would support the valuable rural program of the main Edward Ndlovu Memorial Library. Hence the name of the Canadian entity is Edward Ndlovu Community Libraries.
The Edward Ndlovu Community Libraries sees more than 1,000 library visits each month, with permanent book collections in two additional communities in Gwanda town. The library has been able to loan books for health workers and a shelf of books is placed in the Children’s ward at the provincial hospital, books have been delivered to 27 rural schools, and they have also provided books to the Gwanda prison for prisoners and prison officers.
Cuso International Caribbean Summer Social
On August 24, Cuso International hosted the 5th annual Summer Social in Toronto, bringing together our alumni community for an evening filled with Caribbean hospitality. Those attending had the opportunity to explore a photo exhibit, indulge in cultural delicacies, and enjoy the beats of vibrant music. Alumni were able to reconnect with old friends and make new ones, all while reminiscing about the cherished moments from volunteer placements.
Shellian Forrester, Program Manager, shared a video greeting from Jamaica, and Tania Shephard, our Head of Programs, Latin America and the Caribbean, shared stories about the incredible impact we've made alongside local governments in Jamaica, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“My CUSO placements helped me to really focus on what’s important in my life: meaningful connections with fellow human beings and global social justice. Being immersed in environments of injustice and away from the many distractions that often took up my entire life when living in the Global North, really made me aware of and able to act on my priorities. I never felt so alive in my life than when on placement; many thanks CUSO and my placement organizations Dispute Resolution Foundation (DRf, Jamaica, 2008-2009) and Support Health for Education and Development (SHED, Nigeria, 2010),” said Cuso International alumni Elizabeth Chen.
Volunteer with Cuso International
Together we can make a meaningful change in the fight toward gender equality.
Your efforts will help build inclusive societies for women and girls, improve economic opportunities, increase access to education and enhance maternal and girls' health.