Mission completed

I had proposed an agenda for the wheelchair stakeholder meeting that was based on a generic design we used in Manila and Mongolia last year. When I tried to explain what we would be doing I could tell it tickled their curiosity. But I could also sense that they really couldn’t imagine how I could pull this off with people working across hierarchical boundaries in an intimate atmosphere, or how I could get people to draw their visions and work with colored markers and modeling clay.

People everywhere use the words ‘thinking out of the box,’ liberally but few understand how you get that to happen. Even with my colors, music and markers, I rarely see action-out-of-the-box. The straightjacket is this: where else to find people who are willing to fund the bad habits that we, the international development community, have cultivated over the last 40 years, like payments to high level people to show up at openings and closings, the generous per diems and transportation costs that M. keeps doling out. For this she makes nearly daily trips to the ATM across the hotel which spits out countless one hundred dollar bills.

I was pleased about the dynamics and energy that was generated and the relationships that got started or reinforced. I always like to show people what is possible if you drop the U-shape or theatre setting and the powerpoints, and all things that emphasize hierarchy and status differences. We had a good number of people with disabilities getting their voices heard but unfortunately not as many government officials as we had hoped to hear them. The international agencies that provide or manufacture wheelchairs and/or services where well represented, as well as two UN agencies and Australia, all actively involved in improving wheelchair services. And of course the US government, though not represented, paid for the whole series of activities we did here: two weeks of training to provide wheelchair services to people who cannot sit upright by themselves, a two-day stakeholder meeting and a two-day meeting for managers of rehab centers. I am happy to be an American taxpayer spending our money on these kinds of things.

We have now completed our assignment. The rehab centers managers have their certificates, the stakeholders have their vision and the students in the intermediate level wheelchair training have their certificates and will soon have wheelchairs to work with.  My two team mates are flying out tonight and tomorrow morning early to return to their respective homes in Washington DC and Mindanao. I will have a day of rest in Phnom Penh with Axel who is returning from Batambang this evening on an express mini-bus, a scary thought. I have booked a Khmer massage at 9 PM tonight and expect a good night sleep. On Saturday we will depart for Bangkok where my next assignment starts the moment I land.

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