The face of kindness IV: Freetown style

This week one of my challenges was to really accept time is a different concept here. Pick-ups can be late with at least an hour. This meant the training I gave was at least an hour overdue and I had no time left to prepare my training room let alone set things up. To prevent further delays in the programme, I would start and tell myself to keep working in the pace I had planned, as speeding up wouldn’t mean my participants would understand more or better, by pushing more information into less time.

It paid off, everybody from Defence for Children Sierra Leone worked hard. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing opinions expressed, ideas voiced and understanding increased through an interactive process of learning and sharing.

The other challenge was my own anxiety about the quality of my work. I took this assignment on as I knew it would push me just that little bit more out of my comfort zone and it would be my first step on my Inspiration Journey. Working on a complex Monitoring & Evaluation system of a 10 country program for a big organisation with great resources is one thing, giving a good training on how to build your own system for a smaller organisation with less resources is another. I kept telling in the training that doing M&E is common sense and asking the basic question:

What change do you want to achieve in the lives of communities, people and your society and how can we show that this has happened through the work of our organisation?

By sharing that there is not one perfect answer to the last question, ‘but you can try to get close to the most perfect one!’ by using different methodologies, it opened up an opportunity for dialogue and in-depth thinking on what Defence for Children wants to do with their M&E.

With this open attitude I had other encounters. At the beach in front of my hotel I met Mohamed, who shared his life story on the challenges of living in Sierra Leone and how he had ventured out into West-Africa to find new opportunities; two men from the UK ministry of fisheries shared how they were trying to off load a patrol boat offered by the UK to Sierra Leone while facing corruption and constant delays; and another port captain from South Africa how he loved the challenge of working under these circumstances. I had excellent company as well from two women from Care Netherlands. We reflected over breakfast and dinner on our own work, the use of it and how to deal with the strange realities we came across (while walking along the beach road a man called after us whilst picking up a prostitute if we wanted to join? – we are still not sure whether that should be considered a compliment or not? And of course the other realities of our work…).

The last night I had my last ‘encounter’. It was on Beach river #2. The beach is run by the community around. For a small fee they keep it spotless, and it is probably one of the most pristine I’ve ever visited. Before we got there, we had run into the issue of time again. Our pick up was supposed to be at 2 o’clock, after an hour of waiting I gave a call. ‘No we’re still coming.’ As you’re never really sure what that means I called again later, and again later….and later…By the time we didn’t believe anymore we would go and whether we would even like the beach, they came through. And what I thought would be a drink and a swim on the beach, turned out to be a fully prepared dinner and full moon party of people laughing, joking, eating and drinking. DCI staff had been working on it all afternoon. It was absolutely fabulous and that’s when you know, in Freetown I’ve met the face of kindness again, you just need to be a little bit more patient for it.

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