In the weeds

2013-03-27 14.34.34

2013-03-27 15.19.09

2013-03-27 15.19.19Although we are officially ‘in the field’ it isn’t really very ‘fieldy.’ So far I have been far removed from the work in the weeds, for a long time. I have been in central offices, in resorts, in artificial situations, created for conversation. This is important of course, but it isn’t ‘the field.’

And so, finally today, we got into a car and drove to a popular neighborhood of Abidjan, turned off the main road into an unpaved alley and stopped in front of a tiny derelict place. Four large steps up landed us in the headquarters of a tiny NGO that is one of the thousands of ground troops involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS but also helping young women find their voice and their power. We were met by three volunteers while the founder sat on a small chair where he stayed throughout our visit, not taking part in our conversations. He is, I was told, the permanent presence, though I may not have understood this well – I have a different image of founders.

The tour of the premises was short, four of five tiny rooms, loaded with stuff, boxes and what not piled on top of each other. Two ancient computers flickered with spreadsheets, reports to donors in all likelihood, a scanner that didn’t work, an old dusty printer and lots of dossiers. It was all very minimalist and, for us spoiled westerners, not what we would consider a ‘conducive’ work environment. The volunteers who received us, nevertheless, were proud of their premises and the work they do. Hats off to them.

The founder, and anyone else who was not engaged in an activity, were watching a ‘policier’ that had all the ingredients for success: sex, violence, fast cars, strong bad men and cops – probably the same ingredients that make for all the poverty around them, minus the cars and the cops I suspect.

Someone was sent out to get us bottled water and a box of tissues, to wipe the sweat form our brows. And then we started to talk. Hearing their stories, the work they do, the attitudes they change was humbling – they do much with so little. If there is little of the things we generally expect and need in order to do a good job, they do have one thing aplenty: commitment. It drives everything, confirming once more that human energy for something is our most precious resource. In fact, when I asked them about their personal vision, it was the same as their vision for their NGO.

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March 2013
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