Ruth Wilson

(Nigeria 1973)

Out of Africa

Crossroads was “formative experience”, Head of Family Medicine says

By Carlyn Zwarenstein

When Ruth Wilson went to Nigeria as a Crossroader in 1973, she and her future husband, Crossroader Ian Casson (Nigeria ’74) were medical students with dreams of practising in Africa. Soon, though, they realized they could apply what they were learning at home in Canada as well.

“Crossroads was a really formative experience of my life. I gained a great deal and was able to give back in other places.”

Today, Wilson is head of the Department of Family Medicine at Queen’s University and Chair of the Ontario Family Health Network. Thirty years on, the impact of her Crossroads experience continues to resonate through her work. In fact, she began integrating it into her life as soon as she got home from Nigeria.

“When we first came back to Canada, we were involved for a while in orienting new Crossroaders. It helped us to put a framework around our experiences in Nigeria.”

Later, Wilson applied her new orientation skills to ten years of teaching cross-cultural communication to medical students. Over the years, her passion for cross-cultural work has remained strong. She has worked with remote First Nations communities and helped to re-establish family medicine training in war-weary Bosnia. She has also maintained an interest in women’s health.

“We know that women are the primary caregivers. Improving literacy and health for women has a major effect on their families and communities as well.”

When Wilson travelled to Nigeria in the 1970s, CCI’s programming focused on cultural exchange and understanding.

“The cross-cultural principles I learned in Crossroads have really stood me in good stead through my professional life. It’s just been invaluable to me,” Wilson says.

Today, Canadian Crossroads International is at the vanguard of volunteer cooperation and international development agencies in Canada. Working in longer-term partnerships, volunteer placements focus on sharing skills and knowledge to build the organizational capacity of our Southern partners to meet the needs of their communities. Alumni, Wilson thinks, can play a role in the new CCI.

“For those of us who were Crossroaders back then, maybe [supporting CCI’s work today] is a chance to give back to our host communities in another way.”


Crossroads International gratefully acknowledges the support of: