“Changing Perspectives: My Journey through East Africa”

Zamir Janmohamed

After a fulfilling five years at the University of Waterloo, most of my classmates found their way into full time positions and began their lives as young professionals. Whether it was in search of passion, pride, money or knowledge, we were hungry for success and needed to maximize the degrees we now held.The diversity in knowledge gained through my education fostered an internal curiosity with the unknown; which quite honestly is a lot after undergrad.

Though having the same hunger for success, I wasn’t ready to take the plunge; I was too curious, too uncertain and yearned to see life beyond the confines of the developed world. With so many questions and a thirst for adventure, I dreamt of living, learning, and testing myself in a life outside my own. Having learnt to challenge the norm and wonder courageously at Waterloo, I was left with but one choice; I had to leave.

It has been one year since that decision,and all but two days of being back on Canadian soil. For the past 11 months I had the privilege of working as a minority in East Africa, as an Intern for Dr Alex Awiti through the International Internship Program. Dr Awiti is the Director of the East African Institute a new think tank within the Aga Khan University. Though seemingly clichéd, working in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, at the Aga Khan University has actually shaped my life by changing my perspective. Every facet of who you are is tested whilst living in such a diverse and developing environment. Whether it be haggling for your weekly produce or riding a matatu, the local transport, into the heart of Nairobi. These diverse and seemingly foreign experiences force you to step outside your comfort zones and find comfort in the unknown. Even without a North American standard of living, Nairobi was filled with laughter and smiles; happiness was present even in the heart of Kibera, the largest urban slum in sub-Saharan Africa. This realization has changed how I see happiness, and has left me yearning for foreign experiences and challenging,growth inspiring environments; not my comfy Canadian home.

Professionally, I was pushed to see beyond what is “known” about development, learning all too quickly that some of the best intentions go to waste because of ignorance and knowledge without context. I had the ability to make tangible impacts in my professional life, I witnessed development on a daily basis and am now all too aware of the dichotomies of development and developing.

The East African Institute works towards catalysing progressive change though contextually relevant research and public engagement. While the EAI has a long way to go, I truly believe its multidisciplinary work will shape East Africa for the better in the years ahead.Its largest initiative, the East Africa Dialogue Series (EADS) will allow for three years of thorough, contextual and community driven research. I explored the first of three themes, Youth Development. My role took me from research on malnutrition, to EADS vision planning and finally to managing the development of the EADS website. This website will be one of, if not the first, leading research and public engagement platforms in East Africa. Past my professional life, my wondering spirit was unleashed to its fullest potential, exploring and appreciating the greatest wilderness in the world. Whether it was defeating the great Mt. Kilimanjaro after a gruelling eight hour summit or witnessing dolphins mating in the wild whilst basking in the great Indian Ocean; this opportunity has truly left me with life long memories, friendships and experiences that will shape the path I now choose to walk. It suffices to say, the challenges of loneliness, cultural adaption and contextual knowledge acquisition have enabled a new, dynamic perspective.

This perspective will one day enable me to make my impact on this world. Only now have I begun to understand who I am, what I am capable of and what it truly