Vera Radyo

(Gambia, 1970)

By Kate Wilson

Vera Radyo went to the Gambia as a Crossroader in 1970, but she can recall the memories of that time with fondness and laughter in an instant.

She describes building a schoolhouse with nine other North American Crossroaders and 15 Gambian youth in such detail, from mixing the cement by hand and filling the only mould to shape the bricks, to drying each brick out in the sun and piling them up to make a wall. She also remembers what happened when, after their first week of work, a tropical rainstorm hit.

“We went into a mud schoolhouse and we were just waiting there,” she recalls. “Then an hour later people were looking out the windows, which were just holes with no glass, and were horrified so I went to look. That one week of work was just destroyed by the rainfall; the wall had crumbled down.”

“Oh,” she laughs, “we had to redo it all.”

Along with her vivid memories, however, Vera came away from her Crossroads experience with a new awareness of the world around her.

“I think that experience shook me up” she says. “It forced me to look at my own values system, it forced me to look at what I was doing in my life, to look at what was important to me and it was clear that gaining material wealth was not … the priority in my life.”

In Gambia she was able to see that issues of poverty and discrimination were real and that people outside Canada lived very different lives. Despite the differences, however, Vera realized a common humanity connected her with everyone she worked and lived with.

“Beneath it all we were all just human beings – the same kind of blood flowed through our bodies.”

Vera returned to Canada determined to get involved in the issues that mattered to her and do meaningful work that would make people’s lives more equitable. She became very involved in the women’s movement, which became a topical issue in Canada in the 1970s, with the release of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. She also pursued a career in community development and has spent a lot of her career helping immigrants integrate into Canadian society. She is now a citizenship judge in British Columbia.

Vera knows the experience in the Gambia changed the course of her life and she has continued to be involved with CCI. She was even CCI’s first female Chair of the Board of Directors.

“I think [being a Crossroader] means being part of a family that has a strong interest in the developing world and in being a more equitable world. What I tend to appreciate about the Crossroaders that I’ve met is that we have common values and realize that we don’t have all the answers; that we need to learn as well as share our knowledge.”

“[CCI] is a great organization doing great work,” Vera says. “There is a lot of development of civil society groups…in developing countries that wasn’t there in the 70s, so working with them, strengthening them and providing specific expertise is the way to go – that is what Crossroads is doing now.”

 

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