Chai with Rebecca






by Dena Thomas, M&E Intern

Development work, especially when addressing maternal and newborn health infrastructure in Uganda, often has challenges and setbacks that can bring even the most optimistic person down. The saying “2 steps forward, 1 step back” is common language. That’s why it’s imperative to have someone like Rebecca —- on your team when the going gets tough. Even in the most difficult times, Rebecca brings the energy, bright smile, or just the right words of encouragement to make everything seem ok. She is a delight to work with: professional, enthusiastic, hardworking and steadfast. In the last 2 weeks of my stay in Kasana on the project, I sat down with Rebecca to find a little more about this remarkable lady.

Can you share with me where you grew up Rebecca and tell me a little bit about your family?

I was born and raised in the east end of Toronto (downtown), in a neighbourhood referred to as Greek town. I lived there for 19 years with my parents, younger brother and sister, and various pets (dog, bird, rabbit, etc). I went to high school about 2 km away from home in an area known as Chinatown, and have a diverse group of friends who celebrate different traditions, religions and cultural backgrounds.

What type of travel have you done so far?

My family has always travelled and loved to do so. We’ve been to Turkey, France, Italy, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, and from Newfoundland to British Columbia back home in Canada.

After graduating from high school I took several months off to volunteer for an organization called Cross Cultural Solutions ( I spent 7 weeks in Ghana in a little town called Hohoe, helping grade 1 students learn to read. After that I travelled to Moshi Tanzania where I worked in a nursery school helping young children learn the alphabet and other educational foundations. I then went on to study International Development and Political Science at the University of Guelph where in my 3rd year I was fortunate enough to spend three and a half months studying abroad in India. There were twenty-five of us who travelled from the south (Chennai) to the north (Jaipur). We studied Indian culture, history, philosophy, literature, women’s studies, politics, and Hindi – all taught by Indian professors. It was an incredible experience.


Have you heard of the game True/True/False Rebecca, and will you play with me? Tell me 2 truths about yourself and one false and I will try and guess which is which.

Ok –

  1. I once was offered fifty head of cattle as a bride price in West Africa
  2. I’ve been skydiving in Newfoundland
  3. I lived the equivalent of 12 months in a tent

I guess that you’ve not lived in a tent for the equivalent of 12 months – is that the fallacy?

Actually, that’s a truth. For the past 4 years I’ve spent my summers working in BC planting trees. Each year I spend 3 months sleeping in a tent, so that’s about the equivalent of a full year sleeping on the ground, in a tent. That’s where I probably get my resilience from. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done because mentally you have to get passed the days where you don’t feel like working hard – but have no choice. But it’s also a great experience. It’s a kind of special Canadian subcultural experience. You really get close to the people you plant with. I’ve also seen moose, bears, bobcats, eagles, tons of deer and BUGS – lots of them! So to answer your question, the fallacy is that I’ve never been skydiving in Newfoundland 🙂

What is your favorite childhood memory?

It’s probably a family tradition that my parents started when we were growing up. Originally on Sundays but then transitioned into Saturday nights (so that we could watch the Leafs game afterwards), where we would all sit down to a large and specially prepared dinner. During the meal we’d have “question time” with our parents. They would quiz us on science, math, politics and current events – that would lead into these great discussions. It created a culture of conversation about anything at the dinner table. All three of us kids really enjoyed it.

Who would you say was your greatest inspiration growing up?

Short of my parents, I would say it would be my hockey coach in the final two years of playing, when I was sixteen and seventeen years old. He modelled inclusivity for every member on the team, and he pushed us all to reach our full potential. He was a great role model and hockey was a big part of my family. Both my brother and sister played, and my parents helped coach and manage teams along the way.

So what brought you to Shanti?

My friend (and fellow varsity rowing mate) Madelaine Thiel, sent me the link about the Shanti internship abroad in Uganda. I am always looking for opportunities to experience development work, so I applied for the six month position to take consecutively while applying for graduate school. It helped that I was volunteering for Tin Roof Global ( at the University of Guelph, who are currently involved with projects on the ground in Uganda.

What has been your greatest surprise since being in Uganda, working at Shanti?

It’s probably been seeing how successful the programming is working after only 5 years. Last Thursday was a huge inspiration, with Mothers coming with their babies for vaccinations, the WIGG women joining together for the liquid soap workshop, and over 30 women participating in yoga – it was very encouraging.

Where do you see yourself Rebecca, in say five years?

Well I hope to have completed my Master’s Degree by then, have a couple of years of field experience under my belt, and eventually work my way into consulting. Development work is a very competitive industry, and a lot of experience is needed before heading up a project. I’m not sure if I want to live abroad extensively – we’ll have to see.

What is your favourite book?

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. I love the characters in the book which give a very true and real life representation of people at their very best, and also their very worst.

I must say that A Fine Balance is one of my favourite all time stories too. It’s a large book, but you can get lost in it. Thanks for taking the time to share with me Rebecca.

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