About three quarters through the managers’ workshop our translator shared with us that many (most?) of the 45 or so people in the room did not understand why they were there, why they were selected for the training and what the point was of these nice foreigners telling them how to run a wheelchair service. They had no wheelchairs to give away and if they did they were not at all of the quality that we told them was acceptable. Furthermore, they didn’t expect any of such wheelchairs anytime soon. We were teaching about budgets but budgets are handed down from above.

I cringed. This was everything that critics of development aid throw in our face and usually I counter by saying we don’t work like that. But here we were. We called an emergency meeting with our main counterpart, who we had expected to be with us, follow all the trainings and explain how this training fit into a larger plan. He speaks very little English and had us believe, some time ago, that he followed what we were talking about. Not so.

Any of the context setting and opening speeches had been vague about the purpose and thus the frustration of the participants was entirely justified. We rectified all this with more speeches and pointed out that the managers were ‘laying out the path in walking,’ to use a well-worn quote. In the final reflection people seemed to understand their situation better. One person mentioned an HIV training she had received years before HIV became a problem in Mongolia and then she realized the value of her training. Maybe people were just nice and polite to us.

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