*Content warning: sexual violence.
by Chelsey Rhodes
Lately I have been really struggling with the reality that EWB, and the broader EWB community and alumni, simply cannot seem to care about the many people injured by the organization. I’m sad about the people who have written to me over the years (I have emails and messages dating back to 2011) about the long-term impacts they are struggling with.
I’m sharing a few documents that paint a disturbing picture (and I have many more in an ever-growing folder). I’d been sorting through old emails, and I came across an exchange with George Roter and Mark Abbott from 2014. Interestingly, it includes the tidbit that I barely spoke in the so-called mediation in 2013 because of suffering PTSD symptoms (and I was in a separate room?!), which contradicts the public statement EWB released about me and has up on its website still, which they continue to circulate and chapters continue to circulate, which I’ve repeatedly told them to take down because it is false and defamatory. (Do they care? No.)
The emails were written in March of that year, after I had been pressured into a non-disclosure agreement in late 2013. The last reply was drafted but then I never sent it; I suppose I considered it futile. It languished in my drafts for years. I guess I am sending it now.
Next, I include an email from Mark Abbott regarding a “Serious Incident in Kumasi”, dated June 2014 (only a few months later). This was a violent break-in and attack that caused traumatic injuries to some or maybe all of the 15 people in the EWB house.
This incident included someone being raped at gunpoint while others hid under the bed.
Mark Abbott wrote that the injuries to people were ‘not life-threatening.’ Rape is life-threatening, Mark. PTSD is life-threatening. 33% of rape victims develop suicidal ideation, and 13% attempt suicide. Those stats are probably worsened when your entire organization and community abandons you or turns against you, or if you cannot access support to recover.
The awful part is, THIS WAS PREVENTABLE. If only EWB had listened to my warnings only months earlier; if only they had made the changes I suggested; if only they had listened to repeated suggestions by others over the years.
If only they had listened to Alex who was at that same house a week earlier and warned that it was not safe or secure; she felt so unsafe that she wedged a chair under her bedroom door handle each night. When she found out later what happened only a few days after she had left, she sat in her car and cried and had a panic attack.
If only they had listened to the others in the house who also knew it was not safe and said so. I had directly told EWB, repeatedly, that they were ignoring health and safety issues for staff and volunteers, underpaying and not supporting them adequately with safe accommodations and transportation, thereby exposing women in particular to heightened risk of violence.
EWB is liable for the injuries caused to these people. The Canadian government is possibly also liable for this and subsequent incidents under their funded Volunteer Cooperation Program (VCP), and Mark Abbott’s email is clear that Canadian consular officials were informed. I think there have been, and continue to be, many many incidents like this across many similar volunteer-sending organizations, that will eventually lead to a class action lawsuit against these organizations and GAC (formerly CIDA) for negligence and discrimination. [See: Legal Support for Victims of EWB]. There is no reason GAC shouldn’t be made to properly compensate people for negligently and repeatedly injuring them during their ill-advised attempts at getting Canadian university students to travel to the Global South to position a young, friendly (and now, feminist!) face in front of the destructive aspects of Canadian foreign policy and industry.
These programs should be stopped entirely. The organizations (mostly, the executives) benefitting from this funding need to rethink their entire mandate.
EWB should apologize and support everyone who they have exposed to harm and injury, including those who were targeted or retaliated against by their own staff and executives. They should start a reparations program for communities they worked in doing pointless, self-serving, and destructive stuff. The alumni and remaining chapter community should snap the fuck out of it and start demanding this be addressed. This issue is not controversial in any way.
This is what’s true: what happened to people was wrong. How EWB has publicly handled this was, and is, wrong. They have compounded the damage many times over by their refusal to tell the truth and take responsibility and make amends to people. This is how institutional violence works.
I don’t know if EWB supported any of the people in this ‘serious incident’ in June 2014 (or any serious incident) with counselling, or long-term financial support for the injuries or disabilities caused by their negligence. Given the zero fucks they gave about the long-term damage they did to me, I assume not. People staying in the house that night included Canadian staff and student fellows, and Ghanaian staff members.
Aakhil Lakhani was also assaulted that same summer, 2014, and then retaliated against when they reported it. There were other assaults that summer that went unreported. I mean, why would anyone bother to report anything to EWB? Why the fuck is EWB operating and still getting donations, and people are still making excuses for it? [Instead, why not donate to Aakhil’s legal support fund?]
Even reported assaults were not uncommon. Another document we obtained from 2014, a ‘pulse check’, shows that sexual assault, harassment, and other incidents were happening multiple times a year.Pulse Dashboard
EWB has known about this, for years.
The last document I include is from 2019, when an EWB staff member wrote to the EWB community that there had been a kidnapping of one of their chapter members in the same city as the 2014 incident, but that there had never been any incident there before –an anomaly, they claimed!– so they were not going to evacuate the Junior Fellows who they had sent there. This all happened the same summer that they had concealed the Derek Evans report from the Junior Fellow cohort, which apparently recommended they not be sent at all due to serious unresolved health and safety and management issues. So, EWB repeatedly hid relevant information from students, preventing them from being able to make an informed choice regarding their own safety or to demand better conditions and support from EWB.
I wrote to the EWB Board and said they were going to get someone killed.
They didn’t reply. I don’t think they care.
I wonder, did Boris Martin, CEO (why does a charity need a ‘CEO’?) just forget about what happened in 2014? Did he forget about what happened to me? Has he forgotten about the multiple people who reported Prateek Awasthi to him, and that he didn’t give a fuck so they all left and are still recovering from that? Has he forgotten about all of the other things that have happened under his watch? What is the utility of this forgetting? Why does the Board continue to sanction all of this?
Does anyone at EWB know what they are doing? What is the point of this organization? Has everyone forgotten that too?