December 08

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Humble Yourself or Life Will Do It for You

From since July 2017, I have had the privileged to work with Amref Health Africa UK for a six-month secondment based in Angel, London. A commutable PULSE assignment but one that took some adjustment from having the benefit being able to walk to GSK House daily. An earlier start and finish to my day, I learnt quickly enough that I’m set to avoid the ‘9-5er Gremlins’ and get a seat 60% of my hour and fifteen-minute journey…. Result!

I have gone from an intimidating Ivory Tower with an army of 3,000 situated in Brentford to a modest lower ground office of 20 employees. The removal of an extensive infrastructure was humbling. It encouraged innovation and confidence in myself to demonstrate what impact I can provide but also what I can expose myself to learn. It highlighted how much weight your network carries; something I’ve taken for granted in the Ivory Tower and so easy to cocoon yourself in that safety blanket.

I was warmly welcomed by Amref staff and the anxiety of change diminished very early on. The deliverables were clear and time-bound, allowing me to plough through and manage expectations feeling confident that I could provide support and increase my knowledge of the NGO sector along the way. What I have found very refreshing is being able to get involved in areas of the business which I wouldn’t typically provide input in my profession in such a large company setting, uncovering an area of skills I’ve come to realise I enjoy. Something to add to the development plan!

In November 2017, I had the most enriching experience on my PULSE assignment which was travelling to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with Amref for two weeks to support the Amref Ethiopia Finance department on Finance Capability building, and to visit the grass root projects funded by Amref UK grants.

The initial reaction from the family was a worry, travelling to a country that the Western world is ever only really exposed it to negative media for being troubled and deprived. My experience wouldn’t be any further than the perception. Addis Ababa is built up with high rise buildings with many erected shells of construction which felt like on every road, drivers navigating the streets in an organised chaos, shops selling familiar brands, laid-back residents and a presence of diversity. Development is a significant drive, and dominant in the capital. The main caution adopted was eating at trusted, sanitised places which were recommended by colleagues at the Ethiopia office or the use of the reliable Trip Advisor. Western food is accessible in most restaurants, but if you have a love of pizza, pasta and Ethiopian food, then you’re undoubtedly in luck! I wasn’t a fan of how they prepared chips…..

The work required to deliver in Finance was intense but very interesting. The primary challenge was the encouragement of sustainable change and providing robust recommendations the team were able to drive once I had departed, all within a week and also building rapport and credibility….this was very testing times! The feedback I got from the team has been very positive, enlightening and encouraging that the recommendations and designs of the change will be openly adopted.

The initial plan was to visit the GSK 20% reinvestment project based in North Shewa, a few hours drive from Addis Ababa. However, Amref Ethiopia HR flagged unrest in places the vehicles would have to travel through in transit to the project, so it was advised not to go. Instead, on the second week of my trip, I joined my Amref UK colleagues on a domestic flight to the South Omo region to visit a WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene) project combating Trachoma (bacterial infectious eye disease) in remote areas. With only two flights available weekly, we flew into Jinka on Tuesday and departing on Friday.

The transition from the developed Addis Ababa to Jinka was very humbling indeed! Hot running water has gone from the necessity to a luxury, brushing teeth only with bottled water, sharing the bathroom with at least half a dozen of eight-legged creatures daily, singing mosquitos; I quickly had to embrace my new basic living standards. But that part of the trip homed a spotlight for a mere short moment.

We travelled to the most remote parts of North and South Ari where Amref have successfully provided longlasting change to their beneficiaries health and the chance of survival. The primary impacts were educating the importance of sanitation and hygiene and correlating to better health, building toilets at schools and provide CLEAN running water for residents in the most remote areas. The living conditions I saw the residents live in soon put me back in my box to ever grumble about the cold showers I had to endure for a measly three days.

It was so fascinating to discover in 2017 that there are people newly educated about the importance of sanitation and hygiene. It’s such a given in our world, in fact, we now overdoing it by not exposing ourselves to bacterias and strengthening our immune systems. The beneficiaries we visited live in the most unimaginable remote parts of Ari, almost 5 hours away from the nearest hospital and roads only equipped for 4×4 to travel on, they didn’t know any different. And that’s the beauty of the start of the impact Amref are currently making. The excitement each kebele/village had of our visit, surrounding us purely through sheer curiosity and gratitude of the interest us outsiders had for their wellbeing.

Life has humbled me from this experience in Ethiopia. The main take away was the innocence of the new as essential as they are to you and I. Another is community and culture something that’s diluted in the concrete jungle of London. Also just how happy they are – they have very, very little in comparison to what everyone in the Western world is used to and yet, they were just so joyful.

Humble Yourself or Life Will Do It for You.

Cleo Matlou (nee Nedd)