Last phase

The last phase of my three-center trip is a visit to a newly re-activated rehab center in Zinder. This re-activating was the leadership project of a group of people during a Senior Leadership program that we conducted with Yale University. The purpose of this program was to strengthen the ability of various actors in the disability sector to work together, across societal divides towards a shared goal. The Niger team consisted of a Paralympics champion in a wheelchair, an older and well known activist who had nearly completely lost his sight, a young woman heading an NGO advocating for the rights of people with disabilities, and two women from the upper strata of Nigerien society in high level government positions, and married to people in power.

After about 9 months the team succeeded in re-activating the center that consisted primarily of four walls, a roof and people who received a monthly salary, without any services being provided. Now there are service providers and patients – not many, but at least a few people near Zinder with (primarily) missing limbs don’t have to travel anymore for 14 hours on a bus to get help in Niamey; big small victories, at least for some.

The original plan was for us to travel on Monday, as a team (two from ICRC and myself) to Zinder. This city is about 1000 km to the east from Niamey in a more or less straight line. For security reasons we are not allowed to travel by road, which would have lasted about 14 hours. We fly with the UN Humanitarian Assistance planes, the kind that ferried us from Dubai to Kabul before commercial airlines began flying that lucrative route.

There is no regular schedule and confirmations and tickets are obtained the day before departure. On Friday we learned there was no plane for us on Monday. Later we learned that the pilot had malaria, so probably good that we didn’t fly. But it did disturb our plans, as I am nearing my departure date of 10/21.

We tried to conduct the session we would have held face to face via WhatsApp, and, when that didn’t work, by phone using one of the rare landlines.  With a tiny center, a four person team that has little understanding of organizational development and all the accompanying management and efficiency terminology, I concluded quickly that this wasn’t going to work by remote. The tools we use are already somewhat compromised in their use as I observed in Mali: full participation and insightful discussion of management systems, scoring their performance with candor and courage is a nice ideal – the reality dictates otherwise. Here with people just getting through the workday, the idea had clearly not landed. We had to go there.

Luckily, before the end of Monday we got our tickets and were told to be at the airport at 11AM. Sometimes one has to celebrate small victories. I went for a very long swim, had my brochettes and chatted on Skype with an old friend.

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