Posts Tagged 'Kenya'

Cross continental singalong

The last three days went fast. Our trainees practiced being a trainer, one short session every day. We saw the transformations: big for some, small for others, but all got better.  There were many opportunities for feedback – in the group, right after their session – from each other, from us and in one-on-one mentoring sessions. People were graded and given advice on what to work on, while we got soome good feedback on how to improve the TOT curriculum and set to work right away to prepare for the next pilot in Cape Town in early June.

On Friday night we finally left the hotel, where we had shuffled between our rooms, the restaurant and the training rooms (without windows) for the entire week. We went to a Brazilian/Kenyan restaurant where meat was served on large spits: beef, chicken, crocodile (Carnivore style). We sat at one long table with the (mostly) younger generation on one end, older folks in the middle and at the other end those in wheelchairs and mostly men.

We had a few ‘animatrices’ among us which led us to being the noisiest table in the entire restaurant. People learned to sing ‘Hakuna Matata’ which became the group’s song. It will forever takes us back to that night. Everyone got to teach a song. I contributed my favorite Dutch song (“en we voeren met een zucht/daar boven in the lucht/en we zaten zo gezellig in a schuitje/en niemand kon ons zien/en we hadden pret voor tien/lang leve de zeppelin”) which is a nonsense song, accompanied by a variety of hand and arm movements,to the great hilarity of all. It was wonderful to see people from Pakistan, Romania, Colombia, Brazil, Kenya, Uganda, Britain, US, South Africa and Tanzania having such a good time together.

On Saturday we held focus groups for a final round of suggestions and feedback before everyone went their way. We negotiated with the hotel management to have our farewell cocktail in the club lounge of the hotel with the TOT training team. We hailed from the UK, South Africa, India, Tanzania and the US. It was a most remarkable team. And leading us all was my formidable young colleague Maggie who won the respect of everyone with her superior organizational skills and great attitude; a model for anyone organizing a logistically, psychologically and geographically complicated design and testing process.


We completed the two day Training of Trainers core curriculum for wheelchair service provision on Tuesday. We are working in two adjacent rooms in parallel. Day one and two were the same; after that we diverged. I am in the group of trainees who will be training managers of rehab centers that already do or are thinking about wheelchair services. Our sister group next door is training trainers to conduct the technical/clinical part of the training package. The last three days of the week are for training practicum. We divided the management training sessions into sections and everyone gets three shots at doing the real thing, with ample support and feedback from us, more experienced trainers.

We have a remarkable group of very passionate people, some with considerable experience. And so we are going through the sessions much faster than I am used to, just recently in Laos but also in Mongolia, Cambodia and the Philippines. Confidence is rising by the day. On Friday we will explore the variations on stakeholder meetings that are supposed to move the wheelchair agenda forward in a country. At the end of this week we will have expanded the number of people in developing countries who can take the baton in this expansive relay race.

Over lunch I heard the creation story of this wheelchair movement. People inside the story are sometimes impatient with the speed of things. For me as an outsider it is an extraordinary story of building critical mass, mobilizing and aligning people in just a couple of decades. It is a story of leadership if ever I saw one. A story of building, one by one a worldwide movement aimed to give mobility and freedom (to do whatever you want to do) to children, caregivers and adults who are currently carried by their parents, stuck in backrooms or lingering in hospitals. I am a latecomer in this movement but so very happy and proud to be inside now.

Opportunity, luck and perseverance

About 10 years ago I met Elias – we cannot quite remember how, maybe via an acquaintance on Facebook, while I was on an assignment in Nairobi. What we had in common was a love of flying, but not much else.

When we met he had just found out that his arrangement to go to flying school in Australia had been canceled due to economic hardships of his benefactor. He was looking hard and praying hard. He wanted to be a pilot. I was so impressed with the power of his vision, a thing we teach about when we run our leadership development programs, and how far it had already gotten him, that I have often mentioned him as an example. I gave him the book I co-authored: Managers Who Lead, because he was such a good example of the kind of mindset and approach to life that we think makes for good leaders. He told me today with a big smile he still has it and uses it.

Back in 2007 or 2008 I tried to raise some funds to send him to Australia through my flight school in Beverly without any success. I felt I had let him down. But he didn’t see it that way, citing that the encouragement and enthusiasm of others helped him.

And while I was not being very successful in supporting him, and at times forgot all about him, he kept his eye on the prize and didn’t sit still. He took advantage of a requirement in the new constitution that reserved a percentage of every government tender for young people with no experience. He and 3 other young men created a company and applied. They have done well since. Now they are no longer in the youth category but they have established credibility and a reputation for good work. With the earnings from this work he was able to resume his pilot training here in Nairobi. He got his private pilot license, then his commercial license, and negotiated left and right to accumulate flying hours. His next prize is to be employed by an airline company.

Starting in a very poor orphanage, no shoes, and perpetually hungry, he has done well for himself. He now serves as an inspiring role model for the young kids in the orphanage. He belongs to a tribe of young people I have met from various countries who have overcome obstacles that would have paralyzed others. One thing they all have in common: they are constantly scanning for opportunities, they have a mindset that nothing is impossible; they are very good at establishing relationships quickly with total strangers (like me) and they have their eye on the prize, all the time.

Through his relationships with county officials (as a result of his company’s work), he has brought other benefactors and well-wishers to the Kapchesewes Children’s Home that is associated by the Africa Inland Church. A website of their own is his next venture. Now they only appear on other people’s blogs. The country has since connected them to the grid, making yet others things possible. This will continue the positive cycle of opportunity, luck and perseverance.

A lucky bid

Within 24 hours of our departure from Laos we heard that our bid for a business class seat on the 8 hour Kenya Airways flight from Bangkok to Nairobi had been accepted. I had never heard about bidding for business class seats. Checking for my seat on the Kenya Airways website there was a tab ‘bid on a business class seat’ that caught my attention. For amounts between 150 and 795 dollars one can place a bid for a B-class seat. I had originally placed a bid for 300 dollars, which according to a ‘chance’ meter indicated I had a slightly below average chance. My colleague upped her bid above mine. Then I got word that our taxes were done and we owed the US Government about 4000 dollars (Axel is drawing social security for the first time).  I immediately downgraded my bid to the minimum (chance meter said ‘very poor.’), expecting it would not be accepted. But it was, and so I had my first ride in a Dreamliner in style, sleeping a good part of the turbulent trip across the Indian Ocean fully horizontal in seat 1A. My colleague also got the upgrade but paid a bit more. It’s a chance game.

Companions in my cabin were few – most of them Congolese traders returning from Guangzhou where there is a thriving Congolese community that is doing very well buying Chinese wares cheaply and selling them for a bit more in the DRC. I had just read about them in the book ‘Congo’ by David van Reybrouck, who dedicated a whole chapter to this trade route. The flight originated there.

Because of our delayed departure from Bangkok we hit Nairobi exactly at the morning rush hour. It took two hours to get to our hotel.

On April 1 we met some of the faculty for this training of trainers, the people who wrote the curriculum and with whom I had communicated by email and on Skype during the long preparation phase of this first pilot of the TOT. Meeting them felt like meeting old acquaintances and we fell into easy conversation right away. And now the other trainers and participants are trickling in, while we are finishing the preparations.

We are using Uber to travel around town. It’s a great invention – we need no cash and we have a record of our trips. So far the drivers have been as prompt as can be expected giving the horrendous traffic jams here, and very courteous.

Ups and downs

Before heading to the airport I had a most inspiring coffee chat with an Ethiopian (woman) friend I worked with 7 years ago. At the time she worked with a government institution mandated to train senior government officials. What we proposed somehow unnerved them as it was out of the ordinary. We had hoped we could partner but they didn’t bite. The meeting with them was mostly memorable because of the excellent macchiato they served during our meeting; imagine that, at a government agency. But then again, this was Ethiopia.

My friend is busy teaching life skills to young Ethiopians and empowering women of any age. I learned about the Digital Opportunities Trust, a social enterprise that focuses on young people all over Africa. Her stories were both inspiring and sobering. She has moved away from senior leadership training because of the unwillingness of those at the top to examine their own behavior. This sounded familiar.

And as if to emphasize this point I learned that Robert Mugabe was elected to be the new Chairman of the African Union. My friend and colleague PT in Lesotho wrote in response to this news, “[I] am so disappointed. Something is terribly wrong with African leaders, their decisions and choices. Unfortunately no one will save us but ourselves. They know he will promote and protect corruption, and promote culture of impunity. It will take ages for Africa to be emancipated politically and economically. The continent is desperately in need of fresh ideas in order to progress at a desired pace.”

Further illustrations of the big egos and bellies of African officialdom accompanied me on the plane from Addis to Nairobi (in front of course). They kept their AU delegate badges around their necks even though the conference is over.  I looked at their big bellies and watched the young female handler – carrying the boss’ hand luggage which was a large carry-on which she carefully repacked with the many boxes of tax free whiskies,  champagnes and Dunhill cigarettes. They were treated to a special van and a security person who took them to the transit lounge. Once there they had to mix with the likes me.

Memory lanes and bumble bees

My short stop-over in Nairobi went fast. On Saturday I joined my friend/supervisor at the lovely Fairview hotel (a country hotel in the city – indeed!).

A few hours later I experienced the infamous Nairobi traffic (even on Saturday) driving out one and a half hour with a friend of a friend and her 8 month old son in the back to the Nairobi exurb of Karen.  When baby Karl started to scream I moved to the backseat and rubbed the little fellow who was looking for a breast full of milk. Disappointed in my ability to deliver the goods he kept crying until  we arrived at our destination, a lovely country inn called the Talisman. The “gastrolounge’ claims to have a wide variety of food and drink for every pallet” (sic).There I found my friend Ida  who left Boston nearly 2 decades ago and settled in Mombasa. While her husband kept her 4 year old engaged we were able to catch up on 20 years of missed and shared history.  The way back was a little faster but not much and baby Karl slept.

Back at the hotel I handed the baton of my function as Global Technical Lead (GTL) for Leadership and Management to my successor JP who flew in from Dubai and who will join us shortly in Medford.  She had moved her family to Boston in the meantime where they arrived just in time for the mega blizzard that is raging today on the East Coast. I feel sorry for them, coming from steamy Dubai. Her mom who is looking after the kids is probably less than pleased but I am sure the little ones are thrilled. Imagine that, living in a freezer suddenly and seeing your own breath while inside the warm and cozy Hyatt they have a pool and all sorts of goodies at breakfast. It would have been my dream.

My colleague and I downloaded about 50 years of stories onto our new team mate while she was busy scribbling notes on a large legal pad. She already showed she is a good listener and eager to contribute whatever new and fresh she has to offer.

In the evening I made another trip to memory lane, house number 2, visiting one of my 1951 cohort. After we celebrated turning 40 (a milestone which the women loved and the men were not that keen about), he left MSH and returned to live in his childhood home on the outskirts of Nairobi amidst what used to be coffee plantations. At that time the estate was far away from the city but now is more or less annexed.  Still, it looked to me like a country club, charming and beautiful. He lives there with his wife, three high school children, a bunch of dogs, and then some motor cycles. We looked each other over, exclaiming ‘you have not changed at all.’ Once again we reminisced while walking the estate and preparing for dinner which we ate family style outside sitting around an enormous roughhewn table with a clay chiminea ablaze to take the chill (a relative concept) at bay. If it wasn’t for the traffic, Nairobi would be a dream place to live. His house is, even with the traffic.

I listened to the story behind the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation (EGPAF) where he works. It is both a sad and a moving tale that proves Margaret Mead’s famous quote ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’ EGPAF has contributed much to decrease the suffering of families affected by the virus. It is a mission-driven organization like MSH, but much more focused.

On Monday we spent the day at the office, meeting new and old colleagues and talking about public health leadership, management and governance. I repeated a webinar I did some months ago that most of my Kenyan colleagues had not been able to attend. When people asked about my new role now that I was no longer the GTL for leadership and management, I invented one on the spot: my new title will be bumble bee, the queen of cross pollination. I will travel from project to project and serve as a connector. My first cross-pollinations are between our Rwanda and Kenya projects as they have much in common.

And now off to Addis for my last assignment.

Where we come from

We ended the training of trainers on a high note. Some of the heavy fog that most participants experienced on day one had lifted to a comfortable level. We celebrated the hard work and wished each other well and then parted.

Together with the Myanmar delegation I headed for the coffee place Tomoca to pick up some pounds of one of Ethiopia’s most prized export products. We filled four big bags with small and large containers with Yirgacheffe and Harrar coffee. The aroma wafting out of the bags made me  want to stop for a double machiato but we were runing out of time.  The coffee at our hotel was terrible, I tried it once and was cured. It had a sharp burned taste. As a result I had very little of the good stuff while in Addis. I hope to make up for the lost opportunity back home.

A few of us went out to a restaurant within walking distance and celebrated some more over dinner with some bottles of local wine.Breaking bread together is always the best part of these trips as I learn so much about where people came from, why they chose the professions they did and what they are dreaming of.

In each of these stories luck and perseverance play the main roles. One of our participants grew up in a large family (many siblings and then many more cousins), so large that the family could only afford one meal a day – after he came back from school. It was a ‘grab-what-you-can-get meal.’ It has produced a life-long habit of eating only one meal a day. It is rather humbling for those of us with a snack habit in addition to three meals a day.

That he became a physical therapist was purely by accident, or rather luck – being discovered by missionaries, preparing for priesthood, then falling in love and dropping that career. An unskilled job at a place for people with disabilities earned him a scholarship in Africa, then one in Germany, one in Holland,  andsoforth. Now is a successful professional, a father of five adult children who have gotten degrees in the US, in Canada and elsewhere. If it wasn’t for those missionaries and then the girl he fell in love with, things would have gone quite different for this man and his family.

Others chose the career of helping people with disabilities to live full and productive lives because of a family member who became disabled and all are now involved in educating the next generation. I am very happy to contribute to the work there are doing in my own small ways.

February 2019
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