(I would like to share with you some thoughts before I left Bangladesh, May 2008. This article was initially published in Sangbad Barta, VSOB Quarterly Newsletter, June 2008.)
It had been a fulfilling experience having stayed in Bangladesh considering the pains and joys of a volunteer for two years. I will be leaving Bangladesh on May 18 and hope to see you again in the near future. Let me share with you some thoughts having worked as Advocacy and Networks Development Adviser for Adivasi Unnayan Sangstha, a program partner of VSOB under its Indigenous Community Rights Programme based in northwest Rajshahi.
Being an indigenous person myself from northern Philippines from the Igorot tribes, I was happy to know that I am with Adivasis in the northwest whom I can feel and say that I am close to home. While this is so and considering common indigenous peoples’ issues and concerns let me focused in what my placement objectives meant: development of an advocacy strategy and an advocacy material for indigenous community rights. This, despite the frustrations of language barrier and organizational difficulties such as a difficult executive director.
How to go through such frustrations and overcome these are matters I would like to share to you much as we go through relatively the same difficulties in our placements. Having gained friends among the staff of the organization proved to be an ace once you have more than one in your and their confidence. They provide you translations in the most choto choto English they can manage and the most choto choto Bangla I could manage to ask them questions to details which come hard to get during management meetings much as translations happen to be a pain during meetings. In an atmosphere where you are far away from home and away from VSO compound, staff provide you also with enough moral support to facilitate working in a strange environment and where management could be downright difficult.
The staff introduce you to people who are relevant in work. From here I was able to meet some people who were very instrumental in achieving major placement objectives. Staff introduce you to their own people and from there you learn more of what life is in Adivasi villages up north or in the community where you work in for that matter. (With me in photo are from left: Gonesh Manjhi, Director, ASUS; Andreas Biswas, Director, JOYTUN and former AUS staff; Anwar, AKUTA Director; and Debasish Pramanik, ASAUS Director/ASHTA Network Sec Gen)
Though friendship with staff has to be restrained and disciplined as well much as the volunteer could be a sounding board to frustrations with the management and the executive director. Where such frustrations are proven however to be valid, the volunteer can’t help giving in some advise of what do in such circumstances.
This is where I affirm that development work and volunteering is for the people. Development work or volunteering is not directed to an end for any organization or institution for that matter. With this guiding framework, development work becomes more fulfilling, genuine, sustaining, and friendly.
With organizations and institutions which exhibit anti-people and exploitative actions contrary to what the organizational vision and mission is, are matters for the development worker/volunteer to reconcile with what people really need and aspire for. And where the organization especially the management, exhibits an incorrigible state of exploiting people and running contrary to what it purports to be, it is better that such organization will disappear to a state of nonbeing along with a corrupted management who does not know how to learn lessons well.
The joys come along with an empowered staff where management is exploitative and corrupted. The joys come along having made friends with community people where their voices matter much and who compose a significant part of what placement objectives mean. The joys come along with reconciling organizations and placement objectives and come to the end that the end- users to any development action in the very first place are the community people. The joys come along with having developed friendship with the NGO staff, with partners in development including VSO staff and other NGO friends, and with community people who most especially compose the substantial part of what development and volunteering means.
Friendship also makes things better where this is noted from the Program Office especially with the Program Manager who in most cases the volunteer has to turn to when difficulties arise in the workplace he/she cant handle. Though friendship too has to be tempered with a good dose of professional distance in order to see an objective and rational perspective.
What I can say though, there are always challenges in the workplace, in life. Let me say, live life to the fullest, give your best, and feel good. Life is worth living for a better and fairer world.
All the best and see you again!