We are, in this very volatile little communications universe of ours, very good at dishing out advice. Depending on our constitution or Weet-a-Bix intake on any given day, that advice may be confessional, perhaps even a little too prophetic, as we counsel, coerce, orchestrate and strategise our way through the problems of our clients and the aspirations of those in our teams.
We strive to become, in the words of David Maister, trusted advisors. It’s our professional Holy Grail – a Utopian world of immense gratitude, unrivalled mutual happiness and the excitable prospect of an early settlement of fees. Which, when you think about it, is just a teeney-weeney bit shallow.
When it comes to proffering good advice, objectivity is one thing. But there’s little that beats good-old-fashioned first-hand, roll-your-sleeves-up, in-the-middle-of-it-all experience. In fact there’s nothing that beats it at all.
I’m a big advocate of the Day in Their Shoes type initiatives that are flavour of the month with politicians from Sydney to Seattle. But they have their limitations. The gloss still shines at the end of a day. Truth often takes weeks or months to reveal itself.
Five years ago I met a young lady in a workshop I was running who expressed her passion for the work of Not for Profit organisations. We spent a lot of time talking about it, exploring the pros and cons and testing the boundaries of where moral fortitude sat. And then we went our separate ways.
Some two years ago, I received a short email from that same young lady, now a project leader working with the United Nations providing assistance in some of the world’s most despairing places. It was a revelation. In that time since I had first met her she had become an orator, negotiator, story-teller and diplomatic of extraordinary calibre – a testament to what real experience is really all about. And where the very best advice can come from.
So let me, with her prior permission, give you a taste of what I now look forward to reading every month or so. Here, she tells the story of her time in Haiti – a story that you will unlikely have ever heard before. And it’s all the more wonderful for it:
Humanitarian workers and the media have a tendency to focus on the worst impact and consequences of a disaster: we talk about how many people died and were injured, how many children lost their parents, how many houses were destroyed, the number of people displaced… We analyze and report child trafficking, sexual violence, abuse, prostitution of minors, and media likes to report on corrupt and inefficient governments and NGOs, badly planned and executed interventions, responses that are too slow and too late, and weak or inexistant coordination among humanitarian actors.
The amount of suffering, destruction and pain that we witness every day can indeed be overwhelming. And yet in the midst of this chaos and horror, there are small wonders that take place every day.
Haiti, similar to Colombia, India and Pakistan, has reminded me of the tremendous resilience that people have. In the midst of the aftermath of such a horrendous disaster, I have witnessed the strength of amazing children that continue to study hard and take care of their siblings in the worst living conditions imaginable, communities that come together to help each other in the absence of government support and NGO presence, young adults that overnight become caretakers of their brothers or sisters children and don’t shy away from the responsibility, and people that themselves lost their houses and family members and only a few days after the earthquake start working for humanitarian organizations to help other Haitians that were even more affected by the earthquake than they were.
The Haitians I was able to work with have been nothing short of strong, hardworking, dedicated, caring, kind and committed people –and I am simply unable to put in words the huge amount of respect I have for each one of them. I will miss Haiti and its people, but in particular my team. I feel honored and privileged that I had the opportunity to work here.