A lot has happened since my last blog and I struggled to choose a topic to write about. Since I am just finishing what my colleagues at SDI (Save the Children International’s Sustainable Delivery Initiative) call my “Asia tour” I decided to share some thoughts and impressions from my first field visit. After delivering the SDI workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal, I was lucky to be invited to visit one of the projects SCI implements as part of the Nepal earthquake response. This catastrophe hit Nepal in 2015, killing 9000 people and injuring more than 22000 – so why are there still projects that have not been delivered as part of the response? To find out and understand we set off to „the field“, accompanied by the senior project manager, project manager, the partnership contact and our driver. The challenge soon became clearer when after the paved roads we hit the dirt track and the 4×4 swiftly got engaged. A full day of travel took us some 150kms away from the capital where we spent our first night in a small guesthouse. The next day then saw us off to start our hike (the 4×4 could not go any further) to the building project, one of many schools in remote areas that were most hit by the earthquake. Carrying our overnight gear we set off early to the village, conquering steep hills, swollen streams, ankle deep mud and torrential rain. We had heard the explanation for the delayed completion being the extended monsoon season and inability to transport building material, but seeing the extend of the damage with our own eyes really brought it to life. The road was literally non-existent, washed away by the monsoon and covered with debris from landslides.
It took us a sweaty, wet, very muddy and exhausting 5.5 hrs to reach the village and building site where we were welcomed with a flower garland and blessing and expected by all the school children who waited for our arrival.
If you think getting off a plane and going straight into a meeting is uncomfortable…. think again!
We were promptly ushered into a meeting chaired by the school principal, attended by teachers, parents, community representatives and a regional government representative (who also had to walk there to meet us). After formal introductions to all attendees, the meeting commenced and the community and school voiced their concerns, asking for reassurance that neither full completion nor quality would be compromised. My regional colleague‘s long experience really came into play here and his composed and professional response (all given in English and duly translated into Nepalese) was well received as well as our local colleagues and partners contributions… while I just practiced smiling calmly trying to convey trustworthiness and reliability while watching people‘s faces intently to gauge reactions as discussions went on. The meeting ended on a friendly note and the community felt reassured that SCI would deliver a fully finished and safe school for the children.
As we were too tired to walk back we stayed for the night at the home of a local family, before we set off for our hike back to where the vehicle could pick us up.
So, why did I choose humbled as a title for the blog? Because I was humbled on many levels in those few days.
- Humbled by how people accept living circumstances and cope with them. The roads leading to the village get severely damaged every year by the monsoon, cutting the village off from any motorised access for months, before getting repaired again after that. Imagine having to live self-sufficiently for months, no buses, no supermarket or shop to go to. Power cuts are frequent and landslides are a common risk.
- Humbled by children walking up to 1.5hrs one way to school through hazardous terrain.
- Humbled also on a professional basis. Whom of us can say that they are familiar not only with Project Management and/or structural engineering, leading large teams, reporting and internal stakeholder management, as well as being able to negotiate with and influence communities and government officials? And who of us would also be willing and able to hike to remote locations on a regular basis to supervise building work progress and maintain relationships?
For my Supply Chain brain this translates into: In the case of an out of stock situation having to go and inspect the line break down, advise on repair and recovery plans, report timelines and cost to stakeholders, followed by a meeting with a Patient group and government representatives to relay recovery plans and re-building trust – wow, that made me think…. How does this resound with you?