Janet Sutherland

The Gambia, 1982

It was the non-governmental and community-based organizations that were doing so much on the ground and could do so much more with better supports.

By Kate Wilson

When Janet Sutherland spent six months working in rural Gambia, she saw how small initiatives like giving primary health care to women and children or providing access to seeds and tools could make a big difference in people’s lives.

As a Crossroader, Sutherland worked with the Freedom from Hunger Campaign, which was an agricultural development agency. She travelled to rice fields throughout rural Gambia, helping agronomists measure and record rice production, and she was also able to see how people lived their day-to-day lives in a developing country. Through her work with the organization, she became aware of how valuable a community development organization like Freedom for Hunger was to the people it served.

“It was the non-governmental and community-based organizations that you realized were doing so much on the ground and can do so much more, but that maybe they need to be partnered with partners in Canada and elsewhere to have better support.”

When she returned home, Sutherland was determined to pursue a career in international development because of what she had seen and done as a Crossroader.

“I didn’t really know what my path was ultimately going to be,” Sutherland says. “I just wanted to be in a situation where I was really promoting the ideals of Crossroads of cross-cultural understanding and support for international and community development.”

Initially, Sutherland supported the work of Canadian NGOs by volunteering with a number of organizations, including CCI. Then, for 20 years, she worked with the YMCA where she was responsible for delivering education programs on global issues.

“It’s not that everyone needs to go overseas to have that experience,” Sutherland says, “because you can introduce people to the same issues and to people from different places and [get them to] try and understand those issues from here [in Canada].”

Looking back, Sutherland knows that her initial Crossroads experience allowed her to have a career in international development.

“The opportunity to have a Crossroads placement gave me a window on another part of the world, and by having had that privilege then it’s shaped what I’ve done since then,” she says.

Even for those Crossroaders who did not go on to work in international development, Sutherland says staying connected with CCI allows people to keep in touch with others who have similar interests and concerns.

“You always have a connection with those people because they had a similar experience even if they didn’t go to the same place.”