Joyner expects the unexpected

June 09, 2005, vol. 33, no. 4
By Roberta Staley

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In the Third World, being a field project manager means expecting the unexpected - although helping a woman give birth in the back of your Isuzu Trooper borders on the surreal.

At the time, in 1986, SFU's Charles Joyner was in Nairobi managing a $7.5 million Canadian International Development Agency-funded project to create an administrative infrastructure for the Kenya Institutes of Technology project.

He had promised one of the project employees that he would drive his pregnant wife to hospital when birth pangs began. When his wife's contractions began in the middle of night, the father-to-be felt it impolite to wake Joyner. When Joyner was alerted in the early morning, the woman was already in heavy labour. She could not sit upright, and had to lie in the box of the truck.

Thirty minutes later, the trio reached a pre-natal clinic located off the highway. While the husband scurried to find help, Joyner jumped into the back of the truck to help deliver a "lovely baby girl. Within minutes, the head began to appear and about 15 minutes later she was out and I was clearing the mouth and nostrils and making sure she was breathing."

The lack of resources in the Third World, the language and cultural barriers - unexpected childbirth - has always stretched Joyner's ingenuity. Currently, SFU's director of continuing studies' international program, Joyner was once a mechanical engineer before moving to Montreal's Dawson College as a technical teacher. His passion for taking on new and different challenges led to his first international experience: recruiting Nigerian students for a scholarship program administered by the Canadian Bureau for International Education.

Joyner left last month for Sri Lanka, where he is the team leader for an SFU project to enhance the capacity of the Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL). Over the next 18 months, a team of eight SFU specialists and five local specialists will strive to improve OUSL administrative systems, increase student enrollment, develop a diploma program in educational technology and work with faculty to increase quality and relevance of instruction.

Sri Lanka is the latest stop in Joyner's peripatetic zigzag across the globe on development projects, a career that has taken him on long-term assignments to Kenya, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Pakistan, China and now Sri Lanka. In addition, there have been many shorter term assignments to Mongolia, Cuba, Burundi, Ghana, Maldives, Mali, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia, as well as most countries in southeast Asia.

Each country has required a unique creative pragmatism. While in the Philippines in the 1990s, Joyner was education adviser developing non-traditional education capacity among a network of public and private schools.

The necessity of innovation was emphasized when Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991. Tonnes of volcanic ash damaged buildings and washed out the transportation infrastructure. For the next five years, during rainy season, monsoon rains mixed with the volcanic sand, creating a cement-like slurry that engulfed low lying roads and bridges. Joyner's plan to support learning by using distance education materials allowed the students to study at home and travel to campus when the roads were passable.

Success in the developing world is measured in small incremental steps. When Joyner arrived in 1999 at SFU, there were several ongoing development partnership projects in the Philippines and Ghana.

Since then, he has created new development and project initiatives. Joyner's first SFU initiative, in cooperation with two Canadian partners, was the Malawi secondary school teacher education project (SSTEP). Now in its fifth year, it continues to graduate 300 secondary school teachers a year. This is more than double the number of graduates before the project started.

Joyner has also been overseeing another ongoing project: developing adult education capacity in two universities in Cambodia and in Laos, countries with fresh memories of civil war and atrocities.

Joyner says he is humbled by the lifetime of experiences, working to initiate change in education and training systems that could bring about positive change in the lives of so many poor people.

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