Archives for August 2015

Taking the Time to Reflect

I just passed the halfway mark for my fellowship in June. This seemed momentous for several reasons: a) This is my first “real job,” thus I feel like a real adult with one work anniversary under my belt, b) I have less than a year to figure out my next steps, which still seem pretty nebulous right now, and c) How has it been over a year since I started working here? It seemed only proper to reflect on my experience thus far. Below are some of the reflections that I have written over the last few weeks.

First of all, I have learned so much in this last year. I have learned about humility, generosity, listening to and valuing people regardless of background or life situation, and patience, just to name a few. There are also two mentors that have encouraged me, shared their own professional journey, helped me make contacts, challenged me to contemplate tough questions, and have always been there to listen. My understanding of affordable housing has grown over the last year and it has become a cause that is dear to my heart. I have remained an optimist even when it was easier to be a cynic. I also learned how gratifying and how difficult it can be to work in a nonprofit.

In the midst of reflecting over growth from the last year, I am also constantly reminded of how much I still have to learn. For instance, engaging the community and donors on social media has been much harder than I imagined. Also, I have not mastered effectively delegating tasks to volunteers or other coworkers. Unfortunately, too often I take on more projects than I should and stretch myself thin, to the point where I am not doing anything well. I have been tasked with doing things out of my comfort zone, like trying to chat with and recruit volunteers; I am still not comfortable doing this or very good at it but having done it once makes doing it again less intimidating.

There are also touching memories that I will cherish long after I leave my post at DHC. Working on building luminary kits with spunky eighth graders in the cold and rain for what seemed like unending hours. The moment of elation when I found out that we were awarded funds from the first grant application I wrote at DHC. The time I received a note from an elderly women I helped on the phone that proclaimed that I “restored her confidence in people.” The utter chaos of our Souper Bowl fundraiser and the awesome team I had that helped avert disaster. The conversations I’ve had with tenants that remind me why my job is important and why advocacy is crucial- to take away the stigma of affordable housing and put a face to the work we do in the community. Meetings with passionate students and volunteers that have unique ideas and energy that fill me with hope that other people care as much as I do. Going forward, I will remember all of these things and continue to make new memories.

From these reflections I know that I want to appreciate and enjoy these next ten months. I hope to accomplish goals I have set for myself and help DHC reach new milestones. I hope to make a lasting impact on this organization as I know this experience has made an impact on me.

Quis custodiet ipsos excelum

I’m trying to navigate through the bureaucracy of obtaining a work permit with an immigration officer, and my progress is interrupted by the officer’s ringtone. It reminds me of the ringtone I had on the phone I was given during my semester in Uganda almost a year ago. Moments later, someone else’s cell phone brings up the same memory, then again. Welcome to East Africa, pronounces the immigration officer as he stamps approval in my passport. Where all ringtones are identical.

If everyone’s ringtones are identical, how can people distinguish whether it’s their phone ringing in a 20-person dala dala (read: a most common form of public transportation here; a little, chubby, falling apart Toyota van with anywhere between 20 and infinite number of passengers)? Would they even care to check whether they should pick it up on the off chance that it is theirs ringing? What if it’s an urgent call, say, a medical emergency? So it is I begin my work with the Touch Foundation thinking about the management inefficiencies of the Tanzanian healthcare system as suggested by people’s ringtones.

Hypothetical exaggerations aside, the provincial East African environment here in Mwanza does make you appreciate the impact that minute details may have on quite important aspects of life or, for that matter, lack thereof. During my first couple of weeks here, I have learned, for example, that, much like a bug big enough to drive you mad by flying and buzzing into your eardrum is the single most prominent vector of death south of the Sahara, a couple of minor, easy-to-overlook errors in an excel spreadsheet may result in dramatically inadequate staffing of healthcare facilities throughout a country north of 50 million people.

It’s not bad to have an opportunity to affect 50 million people after 4 years of liberal arts intellectualism, especially while being merely one more health-related NGO worker in the developing world. Like a mosquito. Only, hopefully, with a positive impact. A nice mosquito. (?)

Until my next post, I will be assuming the duties of keen vigilante of mosquito-sized details. An excel guardian.