The sound of the sea

We started the second event today, a holiday in the US (or actually the night before the holiday). The MLK holiday is a fitting start of our work here as it is about giving voice to those excluded. The participants are professionals and managers working in rehab centers in Pakistan, Tajikistan, Madagascar, Vietnam and Cambodia and their ICRC colleagues. Their collective wish is to improve the quality and quantity of services to disabled people. There is also a hope to eventually wean the centers from the financial, material and technical support of ICRC and replacing it with local financing schemes. This requires strong leadership, sound management and good governance.

We have a huge challenge on our hands with at least eight different languages spoken and no common one other than English, a very poor English in some cases. Each country has at least one fairly fluent English speaker and so we count on them to translate and explain back the concepts that are often not all that translatable.

We do have all the support documents available in Vietnamese, Cambodian, Urdu, French, and Russian which I think it pretty amazing. The logistics of it all are very complicated and we are trying to manage. But of course everything takes longer and we often don’t know if everyone is on board. So far participation in plenary sessions is not what I am used to with only the confident or native English speakers chiming in. The concepts we are introducing are new to many, then throw the language inhibitions into the mix and you get a lot of blank stares.

On Sunday we gave the ICRC facilitators a preview of the week to help them start a few paces ahead of their country teams. In the evening we had a planning meeting at the frantic Asiatique Riverfront eating mediocre (mass produced) Thai food. The stimulation of the senses was beyond what I could stand, all the way back to the hotel. City life is OK for a couple of weeks but I am getting ready to exit this megalopolis.

When I woke up this morning at 4 AM there was only the sound of birds in the hotel’s lush garden. Except for the occasional early morning motor biker or car I was reminded there is such a thing as nature. When one participant from Vietnam explained that his name meant ‘sound of the sea’ I was reminded of my home on Lobster Cove where the sound of the sea is a constant. The things we take for granted!

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