Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Back To The Real World

Monday 6/6/2005: 21:22 Banda Aceh

Well, I’m definitely back. It’s a little past nine and I just ate. Sabang seems like a distant memory. I was in the office for thirty minutes this morning, checked my email and then went to a planning meeting for seven hours. As I have mentioned before, my main term of reference is to implement a “Cash for Work” program. “The project, a short-term response to food and non-food needs, provides communities with an opportunity for employment where jobs and livelihoods have been lost, injecting money into their economy. While the program is short-term in nature, with the clearing of fields and villages will serve as a catalyst, allowing villagers to return to their villages and/or livelihoods sooner. From a psycho-social perspective, giving cash gives control to people who currently have little control over their daily activities. The clearing of a village will allow for the eventual construction of wat-san facilities and reconstruction of homes. Cash for work, as opposed to food for work, allows villagers control of their personal finances, deciding how to allocate and spend the salaries which they will earn. This project will not just focus on men, but women as well. With male and female supervisors in each village, our program will engender a community of mutual respect and cooperation.”

What do you think? Doesn’t that sound important… I just swiped it from the proposal I have written for our NHQ! My policy background is really helping me… I’m learning to BS with the best of them… no seriously, this is a great opportunity to help these people. They are essentially sitting on their butts. Their families are dead, their homes are destroyed, their livelihoods ruined. We help them take a step towards normality by paying them to clear their villages for rebuilding and their fields for replanting.

We are working with our Indonesian NGO counterpart. They are a family name in Indonesia. We’ve been working with them on capacity building and we will be working directly with them to implement this project. I have spent the last week in direct negotiations trying to hammer out the differences between our proposal and their proposal. We look at cost-benefit, estimated budgets, and project implementation procedures. We must make sure that our US proposal is in line with our sister NGO, our NHQ (and its lawyers), and the Indonesian government… WHAT?!?! You mean, the stuff I’m learning in my policy classes is actually useful?!?!

It’s easy to think… we’re funding this project so my word should go, but our counterparts are the ones who ultimately have to answer to the people. It’s easy for me to walk in and say, “this project worked for OxFam, let’s copy them.” But they have their own structure. For example, we as a Western NGO are a bit more trusting of the workers… but our Indonesian counterparts are fearful of corruption (even in a small project like this). They insist of having a supervisor supervise a supervisor supervising a supervisor! Today we had to hammer out the nitty-gritty. I thought I would be working one on one with my counterpart… we had had a formal meeting with about ten people to discuss this… I show up and the two of us start talking… then his boss stops by… AND sits down… the boss of the boss also comes in. Finally it’s five of them and me… I mean, we’re not confrontational… but it’s much easier to conduct a conversation with one person than with five!

But it was a fruitful meeting. I really like my counterpart. Sharial is a man of the people. He is a chemistry teacher at the local university by profession. He has a soft smile and easy going manner. After the tsunami he started volunteering with our sister NGO to help and to get his mind off things. I asked him if he had been affected by the tsunami… That was an understatement. Oh yes, he suffered… he lost his parents, his wife, and his three children in the tsunami. I don’t know what I would do… Would I kill myself? Could I even get up out of bed? When someone tells you that they have truly lost everything… how do you answer? What do you respond… “well Sharial, there’s plenty of other fish in the sea”… or “Sharial, I feel your pain” or maybe even better, “Sharial, I’m sure they’re in a better place.” It’s like that song,
“What do you say, in a moment like this,
when you can’t find the words to say it like it is,
just close your eyes and let the heart lead the way,
in a moment like this, what do you say?”
But I just tried to change the subject. I asked if he planned to rebuild his house. He said again matter of factly, “why should I build, I have nothing to fill it with.” You know, I worked for five years where my job was telling people that their parent, sibling, or child had just died… but I usually did it via someone else… but in a situation like this, where someone tells me with a straight face that they lost everything that ever meant a damn… I could only think of one thing to say… “I’m sorry.”

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