I usually join our wheelchair training team when the practical clinical and technical work is done. Together we then teach the managers or supervisors of the participants in the just completed training how to run the wheelchair service in a way that supports the new skill set of their staff so they can start practicing right away. We cover everything from demand generation, organization and patient flow, finances, fundraising, monitoring and evaluation, managing change and staffing, while also helping them to understand the big picture of wheelchair service delivery.

We don’t always get the right people in the room. I had been forewarned about how hard it was to engage people and get them to speak out. Sometimes it seems that the only inducement to come to this kind of training is the per diem – the daily allowances that serve as a nice complement to, probably very low salaries.  It makes little sense for people who are already at their usual workplace but they demand it anyways. We follow strict US government guidelines, but people try to wrangle more out of us. This is what my colleague M has to deal with, over and over.

It is the per diem curse that haunts many of us and that has contaminated what we would consider a drive to learn. Like in other places, I assume this drive is there, with curiosity as its signpost. But there are only a few that show this.

It is complicated to teach the management course: there is a script that I find hard to stick to as it is a PowerPoint lecture-based set up. Especially on the first day there were many blank stares and people getting hopelessly tangled up in very basic math. Add to this that the slides we project are in Lao script and the tangle of wires and ear buds and mics for the simultaneous translation, teaching these classes can be quite unnerving in the beginning, even when one knows the topic very well.

And then there is the culture: a communist party culture superimposed on a highly stratified society and the trauma of the Vietnam War. Altogether it makes for a challenging teaching experience. It takes me about two days to get the hang of it and establish the kind of relationships that allow us all to relax and enjoy the opportunity of working towards something all of us deeply care about.

Then, after the management training was done we had a stakeholder meeting, bringing together key movers and shakers who are invested in pushing the wheelchair agenda forward, as part of a broader commitment to implement the UN Convention of the rights of people with disabilities.

Usually we have two days for this event but this time we were given only one day. For this meeting there is a script too but I never follow it as these kinds of meeting are too contextual to allow for a cookie cutter approach. I do have developed a kind of formula and then riff on that: where are we now? Where do we want to go? How did we get from here to there? Who is leading and coordinating efforts after today?

The complications of how to do small group exercises when the set-up is for simultaneous translation is something I had not fully grasped during the design phase. We managed anyways, reminding me that ‘where there is a will, there is a way.’

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