The retreat was over in no time. It was like a dance – at the end of each day we would meet with the team and counterparts to discuss the day and plan the next – we changed the steps and the rhythm each time. We constantly tinkered with the agenda, sometimes making things up as we went to make sure the Liberians got what they wanted: movement towards this dream they have of the hospital being a regional attractor; there was mention of India or Thailand’s coveted medical tourism but this remains a far out dream. The first order of business is to get the hospital back and beyond its former glory.

In one day we had succeeded to get the energy up, something we had set out to do. Then we pushed towards rubber hitting the road – an apt metaphor in this Firestone country. Some of the Board members had worried looks on their faces – they had said yes to the prestigious invite from the President to sit on the Board – but they may not have realized how much work there was to be done in between the quarterly meetings.

Slowly we learned about some of the undiscussables; the squirming and foot dragging we didn’t quite understand until our counterpart told us what was behind all that – powerful figures and family connections – a familar story in Africa.

My co-facilitators turned out to be brilliant, both of them. I would be sitting in the back watching them in awe. They got the people to put wheels under their lofty pronouncements.  In the final reflection and wrap up I asked them to show their commitment by raising their hands: 5 (or 10) fingers= 100% commitment; 1 finger 20% and a fist: none. We immortalized these commitments by taking pictures –  they could serve as a record if anyone wants to do so.

The sister of the minister had passed away on the evening of our first day; and so there was more rolling with the punches as the three day retreat was reduced by half a day to allow people to pay their respects. In spite of this we got nearly everything accomplished that we had set out to do. With focus and a good structure you can do a lot in two and a half days.

I wrote a positive email to all my colleagues at HQ who had told me I was wading into a mess. I’d thought they’d be happy to get some good news out of Liberia. Only 1 of 9 people responded. It’s puzzling to me; I had expected more of a reaction. It is nearly as if HQ people only respond to crises.

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December 2016
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