A little over a week ago I was fortunate enough to fit in time for a trip to the field. As I mentioned previously, it was a longtime in coming. While I think staff are generally understanding of the circumstances that have prevented me from coming sooner, I do appreciated that over time they begin to feel abandoned, that there is an excessive focus on Bujumbura and not enough towards those out implementing the activities – our raison d’être.
I get it. I remember back when I was a Field Coordinator in Tanzania. You’re in the grind all day long, day in and day out, and you wonder sometimes not only if the efforts are appreciated but also whether the focus of the organization is really where it should be. Is it truly on the people that we serve or have we become what NGOs are often accused of – organizations focused on their own existence (fostering careers, raising funds, etc.) rather than on serving people who are in need.
I remember having a technical advisor who came to visit us in Kibondo. I think he spent about two weeks with us supporting out youth and livelihoods activities before returning to New York. A couple weeks later I received an email with his trip report. There were a few things about it that took me aback. In fact over time the report has sort of become a symbol of what to avoid in this work. One thing he did was include loads of activities with deadlines that he had not discussed with my staff or me. Needless to say, I got pretty angry. That’s a serious no-no (and it’s disrespectful).
|I was graciously offered up some boiled cow hooves for a little appetizer. I mean, how can you pass that up...|
The other problem I had with the report was that it was 95 pages long. Yep. Graphs. Footnotes. Rambling. I figured out quickly that though this was the result of a visit to our field site, it was ultimately not about our activities and beneficiaries. It was about him, impressing his supervisor and probably his career. I ended up making a pretty big deal about it and it was the last I saw of him.
Anyway, back to my trip. I went to Makamba for parts of two days. One focus was to talk to the team and get an idea of what was going on in the province. I need to know how the security situation is evolving get their participation in the brainstorming as to how to position ourselves to better support a potential return of refugees from Tanzania.
|Nice spot. A bit off the beaten path. Very clean given the water is drained and replenished every few minutes.|
The second day involved a teambuilding activity, including a trip to a hot springs and a nice lunch. Though it previously was our largest office, in recent years activities have declined there and it’s now the smallest. So the event was a bit more intimate with around twenty or so staff.
|Amazing spot at the southern tip of Burundi. Fishing boat cruising past. Tanzania border off in the distance.|
While I was traveling with the team I was receiving text messages regarding an assassination attempt in Bujumbura on the head of the army. You never know when this things happen if they will be some sort of trigger for instability. For a period of time some roads were blocked off, including of course the one where the attack took place – the road I needed to take getting home. Fortunately the road had been cleared long before I was back in the capital and I was able to return without incident.
|On the way home. Massive, lethal landslide from earlier this year. Not much progress on repairing the road.|
Since things generally ok for travel, I will likely to carrying out similar visits to other sites over the coming weeks. I have some catching up to do.