The Four Week Countdown

With exactly a month left to go, we’re definitely in the home stretch of our volunteer assignments. Songkran festivities will consume most of next week, so we only really have three potentially productive weeks remaining. I feel like I’ve accomplished quite a bit, but I have so many things left to do: helping the staff finish creating (and start using) the project plan for their school; developing the 2011 funding plan and tackling a few of the biggest 2011 grant proposals with the staff; a four-part public speaking training that I’ve been developing; and a few working meetings and trainings to teach the staff how to create a website for their NGO. Where did the time go?

I have enjoyed myself immensely here, and I am truly grateful that AJWS found me an assignment where my skill set has been so needed and appreciated. It’s difficult to imagine a better fit, as the capacities that this NGO needs to develop are the same activities that I practice in my job at Microsoft ever day.

One of the warnings that was reiterated a few times at AJWS orientation was that giving and receiving feedback is not easy in Asian communities, and that we would need to be careful about suggesting operational improvements because our staff might feel like they were “losing face.” It could be that this issue is more prevalent in Thai culture than Burmese, but it could not be more untrue with my NGO staff. Perhaps the fact that we are all women makes a difference as well. Contrary to the warnings, my NGO’s staff members crave feedback and are extremely receptive to learning new concepts and tools to run their organization better. Most of them are very young (the staff range in age from 18-28), and have been doing their best to run this organization without much training (only one completed university back in Burma, and a few did not even finish high school). Fortunately they’ve all had access to excellent educational programs for Burmese activist youth here in Thailand, and a few have completed internships with other organizations. They’ve also figured out, by instinct and experimentation, the basics of managing projects, including using their social networks and coming up with extremely creative and resourceful solutions to problems when resources are very limited. It’s very mature work for 18-year-olds!

I feel like my job is to tap into the talents and instincts that they already have, and offer them a few refinements and tools to make their jobs easier and help them work more efficiently. They have learned quite a bit already about project management, strategic planning, and fundraising, and we’ve been able to put some of the new concepts into practice. My biggest fear is that none of the lessons will “stick” without enough time for practice and coaching. I wish I could return in six months, like Alvin from the BBC, to check in and see how things are going.

It will be an exciting and busy four weeks. I know that I will never forget the time I’ve spent with this inspiring group of women, and I just want to give them as much as I can before I leave.

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