Monday, 24 October 2022

Sustainability, Resilience and other buzzwords in practice: a lesson from our beneficiaries

What is the impact of our work - I ask myself, when I get to understand a bit better how to frame the achievement of one of the project I was on since the beginning of my deployment (the Digital Skills Training). In a Theory of Change language, the impact is measured on whether "the intervention generates significant positive or negative, intended or unintended, higher level effect" on the society.

Whilst I wonder how I contributed to the impact of our projects, the departure day is approaching and I am relying on my rationality to remind me that it’s ok to be nervous. You remember the cultural adjustment curve? At our pre-departure training the facilitator explained that returning “home” is one of the hardest parts of the adjustment, as it’s all anew, but is not, really. The “Reverse Culture Shock” happens when you think you can get used to the “life before” easily, as it is familiar to you, but in reality the fact that your expectations are high, can pose another challenge. In fact, and that’s how I personally feel, something has irremediably changed after some time away.

Reverse Culture Shock
You can call it resilience, the skills of returning to your “shape” after a hit, a stretch, a tear. Or you can call it this: you've grown wider, to contain multitudes; deeper, to dive into something unknown; harder, to protect from the hits - that could be losing something, someone, seeing a dead man on the ground, seeing misery.

Reflecting on how I perceive resilience, I have started making links on the lessons I've learnt directly from some of the beneficiaries I worked with in the past 8 months.

I have seen how people help each other. I have seen that the unnecessary dissolves in thin air depending on the context, giving way to what is at the core. I may have started my deployment with a very western mindset -  having lived in the UK for many years, where everything aims to be very organised - but as I went by, I have learnt to strip from the constraints - time structure, organisation - I was so naturally wearing.

The teams I worked with, Mondo, UPA, YARID, etc… but especially the people I came across made me realise how limited resources can still contribute to big change. 

Let me tell you about the group of community members at UPA, our host organisation, who were trained on the Digital Competencies training, and how they became trainers to enable their community to achieve what they accomplish first. Let me tell you about the time they offered, leaving when it was still dark to meet with me in the morning, travelling at their own costs (and that we cannot refund due to the European Commission budget’s breakdown for our projects). This is a brief but excellent example of sustainability in capacity building. Apart from some advice I offered them on how to organise the Digital skills training, boost attendance and optimise the resources, they used what they have learnt from the training I facilitated, re-adjusted it on their new direct beneficiaries and developed their own way of spreading non-formal education amongst those who need it the most, to ultimately increase their knowledge and employability opportunities.  

UPA former trainees now delivering an ICT training

Let me tell you story of Alpha(1), who escaped Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) when he was little, witnessed his own school’s bloodshed, but made it through the forest alone without being captured by the militia, travelled miles with his mum and siblings, was tear gassed, discriminated, slept on many floors, but then is empowering other refugee youths supporting their studies when they fall through the cracks of school system. He wants to be a doctor to save people. He’s doing it already. This is what I call resilience. 

Alpha after our interview

Let me tell you the story of Diana,  from South Sudan, who took her first flight to Canada to be resettled this September. Alone, in a  new world, carrying the burden of years of deprivation, not being able to study as a refugee for the cost of education, and now ready to rock the world and contribute to global peace by studying International Diplomacy. This, to my eyes, is diving into the unknown.

Diana meeting me before her departure to Canada

And finally, let me tell you the story of Merlo, child of an orphan adopted by a Belgian family after the decolonization of Zaire, now DRC. Another story of displacement, fear, and lack of resources. He’s the one who built his own future by giving back to his community and working to cooperate and learn from each other, to tackle conflict within neighboring communities. He's the representation of embracing multitudes, whilst he organises the meeting of his grassroot NGO, football matches, Ugandan-Congolese-Sudanese cuisine and music festivals in Kyaka II refugee settlement.

Merlo volunteering in the community hub within the refugee settlementInterview with Merlo

Few months ago, I taught these refugee youths digital skills online using google classroom, but they paid back by teaching me much more. And they are only a few of those many who've given me a great lesson. I really hope these 8 months in Uganda are only the beginning of a longer relationship with this country which somehow will stick to my own definition of home.

Online Class with the refugee youth at Windle International

There's so much greatness in the simple things. I appreciate every small and big effort of my host and sending organisations, respectively UPA and Mondo Uganda, for making me feel home, supported and listened to. And of course I will never be grateful enough for my housemates who just created a fertile territory around me to be fully myself and be safe. Thanks to the beneficiaries and partners for making me grow professionally and personally.

Kampala from the National Mosque's minaret

And Finally, thanks to all the other small (or big) projects that I have got to see, support, learn from, even if theory were not part of my job. In particular to Amuno rural hub, founded by my friend Tony, and which this month we visited to do some activities with the children such as creating their own alphabet's chart, reading, drawing and lots of dancing! 

Amuno Rural Hub - community libraryAmuno Rural Hub - community library Amuno Rural Hub - community library (creating the alphabet)

Nsubira Okuddamu Okukulaba Uganda :) 

I hope I’ll see you soon 

(1) The full story of Alpha is available on Mondo Eesti Instagram profile or on this blog for the full story. Other full stories to come out on Mondo Eesti Facebook page.

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