Thursday 21st May – 6 months, 5 days
We had a planning workshop that started today. It was good, but I had some difficulty with the pace and flow of events (basically, slower and louder than Australia). It illustrated to me again the difference between my style as a foreign worker, and the style of other foreigners I work with.
A big part of the difficulty I had with the workshop stemmed from my belief that I should hang back a bit in work situations, and not make a lot of suggestions , but instead try to find out what my colleagues think and want and then help them with that (thus leaving it difficult for me to concentrate because I wasn’t contributing much). I believe it’s one of the hardest things to do when you’re a foreigner working in another country in development – giving other people space to do the work themselves. It’s easy in a developing country, especially a newly independent one like Timor, to jump in and start doing the work for them, without thinking. It’s *very* easy if you come from an individual-focused, take-the-initiative, put-yourself-forward work culture like Australia’s, and you’re working in a country which has a group-consensus-focused, deferential work culture like Timor’s.
It’s also harder for me because I have found that I am unusual in having this philosophy. I’ve developed this belief – that work should be driven by the developing country and its people, that it’s better to let them come to ideas rather than push them too hard, and so on – mainly from the Masters of Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development I’m doing at the Australian National University. I mistakenly thought that this would be a reasonably universal view, but I’ve found that the majority of international development organisations, non-government organisations and even individual consultants and advisers are pretty much interested in their own agenda first and just getting the work done themselves. I admit, it would be a lot easier to do some things myself, instead of trying to help other people learn. But how will they do the work once I leave, if I don’t give them space to do it now?
Anyway, this workshop confirmed my belief that my slower method is worth it. At one point, I was part of a group of ten, who had to answer a set of (rather difficult conceptual) questions to come up with a presentation. Two different people outside the group indicated they wanted me to lead, and I could have done a fine job, but I politely declined. I really wanted a Timorese person within my group to take over, and I really wanted these guys to practice working as a team together. I was hoping that if I sat back long enough, they would come to their own arrangement. I was right. A senior staff member eventually started looking through the questions and explaining them to others; our team leader for the Training team decided to be the scribe; once they had got going, they asked me, and everyone else, did we have suggestions for this part, and that part. At that point I felt good contributing some points they hadn’t noted yet. It is worth the wait to see them creating something together.