Less than 6 months and counting…

I am still, fortunately or otherwise, on this roller coaster, whirlwind, never-know-where-I-am experience of volunteering for Organization B, and have been hoping for a little more clarity before I updated.  Alas, clarity is not what I think I’m here to find, and so I shall just offer an update, regrettably infused with the same sense of indecision (and perhaps a little of the frustration) that has thus far themed my volunteering posts.

A positive note is that my role within Organization B has become far more clearly defined.  I am:

  • Developing a handbook/manual on planning, monitoring, and evaluation, complete with forms, guidance, conceptual analysis and tie-in to the development framework of the organization;
  • Helping (in which capacity I don’t yet know) with the development of a 5-year Publication – something like a larger version of an annual report, with a bit more of an academic tone;
  • Bulking out the website with information about their work – articles, time lines, and definitions;
  • Introducing and encouraging the implementation of various technologies (i.e., Google Apps) to improve their overall functionality as an organization

There are lots of other little bits and bobs, but it’s kind of slow-going.  Sentiment for N is not good…if what I’m hearing is true, it’s looking a lot like she’s about to lose the bulk of her staff in a pretty swift go – of the four project officers, 2 have had interviews, as has the finance officer and the administrator.  And one of the remaining project officers, as well as a Community Development Worker are looking elsewhere, and who knows what else is up that I’ve not yet heard.  The tension when she’s here is palpable; when she’s away, there is endless disgruntled chit-chat.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team so dispirited (well, maybe once).

As far as I can tell, she’s got no clue about any of it.

There are lots of reasons for all of the discontent that I won’t go into.  And as I’ve become increasingly distant from N (while she has simultaneously pulled away from me), I’m not really in a position to judge, as I don’t have her perspective.  And I have been an annoying manager that has driven my own dear (and wonderful, excellent, talented) team to tears (yeah – sorry about that, guys) with my endlessly optimistic expectations.  But I know the pressures I was faced with by my own managers…the thing is, in this case, she’s the head honcho…as has been previously mentioned in this category, I truly feel that N is not a manager, in spite of the fact that I find her to be an exceptional visionary and true leader.

So L, the German volunteer, and I decided that the team really needed a morale boost, and last week suggested that we all go out for karaoke.  Everyone loved the idea, and we scheduled it for today, perhaps a little strategically, as N is in Manila for the week.  But by the end of the day they had approached L and asked her to facilitate a sandurot, which is “deep Visayan,” as they say, for a sort of really intensive feedback session.  The word literally means confidant, but in this case it’s more where people get together and hash things out.  So we (mostly L) have developed a plan for the day, and we’re hoping that we can help some of the staff to articulate and present their concerns to N in a way that fosters a positive effort toward change…it all remains to be seen, but it should be a really good experience.

On that note…L is such a blessing.  There’s such a confidence about the way she goes about her work, and this sense of deliberate consideration for all the context involved in tender situations.  I’m trying to learn as much as I can from her while I’m here.

The ESL course at the prison (yes, I’ve jumped to Organization C) is really coming together.  I wish I could devote myself to it exclusively, in fact, but alas, one can’t, as Chris often reminds me, always get what one wants (damn you, Mick Jagger!).  The course is – as I think I’ve probably mentioned already – every two weeks, and so finding a way to fund the materials and more frequent attendance (it costs about $7.50 for two people to get there and back to the office…that’s a lot of money for an NGO that’s perennially in the red) is a big priority for me.  We had a young person turn up a few weeks ago…she’s 16 and has literally one tooth left in her mouth.  She has scars running the length of both arms from self-injury.  She has a defiance to her that I find refreshing, because for some young people that can be the last spark of resistance.

Having worked with a number of young people now – almost exclusively women – who self-injure, I have come to almost assume that there is sexual abuse at play:  not a single young person I’ve worked with who self-harmed was not a victim of sexual assault, or more commonly ongoing abuse.  Sadly, this young woman is no exception – when we returned to the office, M, the director, informed us that she knew her – had even taken her in at one point – and that she had been gang raped at the age of 6 by not less than 10 men.  Coupled with criminal neglect by her parents in every respect (hence the lack of teeth), she took to the street at a very young age – whether by force or by choice, I’m not sure.  Shortly thereafter she developed a severe addiction to rugby, which is a powerful glue that can be bought cheaply and is ingested by inhalation.  It serves as both an escape from the harshness of reality as well as an appetite suppressant…a perfect combo for the homeless child.  It was for this that she was arrested and incarcerated, and has now been inside for over a month.

She cannot read or write at all, and is quite hard to reach because she doesn’t know a word of English, and is so filled with self-hate and insecurity that she struggles even to make eye contact with me.  Thankfully I’ve got the support of L, the Social Worker, who translates, but also can communicate things that even if I learned to speak the language I’d never be able to say without my mother tongue.

And the beat goes on…the cafe is no longer in the pipelines…we’ve decided that the location we’ve got is a bit too notorious for rambunctious drunken behavior at night to be conducive to a hip new chilled out cafe, and that it would be better to maximize the snack shop already in place (For the record, the young people I consulted with raised this concern, but I only half-listened…how often do we make poor judgments because we should have listened to what the kids said to begin with?).  We need to fix up the website, and so Chris and I will meet with M and a young person who is studying IT stuff at university now (yes, there are also success stories!) to discuss how to move that forward.  And I am vowing that for the rest of this post I will refrain from using parenthesis (except here).

There’s a lot I want to see closure around before I go, and having an end date makes all of it feel a bit overwhelming at times.  No doubt I’m learning, though – about the work, about time management, and most importantly about my strengths…and my many, many weaknesses…oh, well – at least life stays interesting…

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2 thoughts on “Less than 6 months and counting…

  1. Mom says:

    Oh my daughter, it seems you have aged far beyond my years in your introspection and thought processes. My pride overwhelmeth me. Mom

  2. Jeska says:

    I love you Ann! You’re making a difference. No matter how frustrating it is at times, what you’re doing is invaluable to someone. Xoxo!

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