small foundation with a big impact

workshop 2017

Since 2011, the year when Happy Watoto Ngorika opened, it has been my pleasure to spend a week there every year holding training sessions and workshops for management, staff, teachers and matrons and patrons. Until now, these sessions were held in January, at the beginning of the school year. The primary goal is to ensure that the organisation and its staff are as professional as possible. This year it seemed like a good idea to choose a different approach: Dick, as chairman of the management board, and myself as a facilitator/trainer would work together to stimulate the development of the organisation, its management and staff. At the same time we hoped that along the way we would be able to optimise cooperation between local management and the management board, and also to build greater mutual trust and understanding. It was a successful experiment for everyone concerned.

What were the themes in 2017? One theme was the function of the matron and patron (group leaders for the children). In January 2016, the talented woman who manages the homes, Nolarip, and I designed a change project aimed at enriching the function of matron, and given it more scope. The matrons would participate in counselling training sessions organised internally, learn more about the children’s developmental phases, and discuss actual cases involving the children. The concept of life books was introduced. These notebooks can help the children to understand their background, and gain more insight into their identity. We have evaluated this project and proposed follow-up steps for 2017. The results after a year of work were, to my mind, surprisingly good. The matrons have become more independent and their relationship with the children has improved. Their independent problem-solving skills have improved substantially.

Also, the attitude of the children who have gone from Kikatiti to Ngorika, has changed from worried, small and quiet to genial and open to challenge. The manager of homes, Nolarip, and the social worker Mary, have taken on these change projects, which are not easy, and done a good job every time. Great strides have been made in terms of their management skills in relation to 2011.
In a group of no fewer than 18 employees, we examined all kinds of communication and planning cases from the recent past. There was a sense that improvements could be made. After a lively, positive morning of talking about and discussing matters, joint conclusions were reached and decisions taken. Sharing information was an important issue for the participants. A tendency to hush up ‘difficult’ matters is a somewhat Tanzanian trait. Dutch openness is a foreign concept, but local management in particular wanted to move more in that direction. 

Cultural differences between the Tanzanian management team and the Dutch management board was another theme. The Tanzanian management and three Dutch members met to talk about this in a smaller group. We approached the subject from the standpoint of the following questions: What do we have in common? What are the main differences? What can Tanzania learn from the Netherlands, and what can the Netherlands learn from Tanzania? It was a good discussion. Open, and revealing, it clarified for both sides their sometimes implicit questions and observations.

An example: Following an explanation of the equality and lack of hierarchy in the Netherlands, also between children and parents, a Tanzanian colleague suddenly made the link with her own observations of Dutch children. Dutch children look directly at you, shake your hand, are open and seem at ease in the world. She compared this to Tanzanian children, who are very  respectful and obedient towards their parents; they look away and are cautious and subservient in their relationship with adults. Parents are also strict. In the Netherlands, children are allowed to contradict their parents. That is not the custom in Tanzania, even among adults. This was a stimulus to think about how children are treated within the organisation. On the one hand, some people approved of the Dutch approach to problem-solving. When Tanzanians share a problem, the other person is sympathetic, kind and tends to cry along with you. The Dutch add something to this process: they look for solutions. Which is a good thing when you’re in trouble. Their advice to us was “pole pole”, which means to take some time to let things sink in, and then to re-examine them. Did we recognise that? Definitely!

Once again, it was a great pleasure to with local management this past year, for both Dick and myself. Every year, their gratitude and cheerfulness is an inspiration. We learn from them, and they let us know that our experiences are useful to them. Development work at its best!

Wim Smit
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