March 25, 2010

Thank you, please come again.

Andrei used to find it quite amusing to thank his employees for coming into work everyday. At day's end, he would send off his employees with an ironic "Thank you for coming to work today, please come again," similar to how 7-11 attempts to entice their customers into repeat visits (or maybe 7-11 achieves this with their delicious tacquitos, er, lest I digress...). In response, Andrei often received befuddled expressions and blank stares.

Here in Tanzania, getting into work safely each day sometimes feels like a herculean feat. Traffic is intense. Three lanes of traffic crowd into a space designed for one. Cars play chicken with each other angling to jump ahead of throngs of standstill traffic by driving against cars coming from the opposite direction. The clamor of taxi horns and dala-dala touts shouting to solicit passengers ignites the senses quicker than any local brand of instant coffee. Most days I arrive to work dripping in sweat from my bike ride to the office, with feet caked in mud from the previous nights' rains which require me to push my bike through pools of stagnant water in the sewer-less streets, jarred by an all too close encounter with a car. I often wish somebody would thank me for bothering to come into work each day and beckon me to please return again.

Instead, a few weeks ago I was told directly by someone in my office that I do not offer any valuable professional services as a mere "intern", however my tenacity is "endearing". This comment felt like a punch in the stomach for two main reasons, among others. Firstly, I know my current scope of work and portfolio of responsibilities would fetch a handsome salary under any other circumstances (ie: not being allowed to accept renumeration for my work here in Tanzania on account of the Fellowship I was awarded to support my time here). Secondly, I inherited a project from another visiting fellow that was distinguished from me by this person as offering "real" professional services. Upon a stroke of her goodwill, this individual decided to privately fund raise among her friends and colleagues from back home in the US the monies necessary to facilitate the purchase of an emergency motorized tricycle vehicle in a rural village in Tanzania to allow women to arrive in a timely manner to health facilities to give birth under the care of a skilled health professional. She did this outside any structured programming within our organization. Despite her good intentions, she did not consider the logistics of how this vehicle would be introduced into the community (including identifying and training drivers of the vehicle), and failed to develop a strategy to ensure the vehicle would be financially sustainable over time (including payments for fuel and maintenance servicing). Soon after I began work here, I inherited these tasks. I was asked to undertake research and develop a strategy to ensure a smooth transition of this vehicle to local community ownership and management. All the while, I feared my role was too little, too late. Until today.

Upon arrival to the office compound this morning, Mr. Ndaki, a man whom I greatly admire and respect, came rushing up to me to impart great news. Before he even greeted me (you know its big news in Africa when the niceties of the greeting ritual fall by the wayside), he shared a very welcome status update on the management of the emergency tricycle within this community. Following our  community facilitation exercises in February, the transportation committee we helped establish has since generated 800,000 Tsh (approximately $600USD - a huge sum in a village with pervasive poverty) in community contributions towards an emergency fund for the vehicle to support maintenance and servicing needs as they arise and they have agreed to establish financial management systems to ensure the long term financial sustainability of this vehicle including the collection of funds on an annualized basis from each community household, and perhaps, most importantly, the vehicle has already been instrumental in helping to save several mothers lives by facilitating timely arrival to a health facility at the time of delivery.

In this way, I have received the greatest, "Thank you, please come again," I could expect and all the convincing I need to continue to make the effort to come to the office each day. All is well that ends well I suppose.


In case anyone is interested here is a link to a video I placed on youtube of the excited reception of this vehicle into the community.

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