Thursday, April 16, 2009

Junior Experts Latin America meet in Honduras, 13 - 16 April, 2009

Sharing on the beach
From April 14th until 16th, five ICCO junior advisors come together in Honduras to exchange experiences about their work in Latin America. All of us are working with different partner organizations of ICCO in Honduras, Guatemala, Peru and Bolivia. It is the first time such exchange is being organized.

The objectives of the meeting are to learn, share and exchange so we can improve our work and ICCO’s Young Professional program in the future. Two of us have just started their work at their organization, two are almost at the end of their contract and one is just in the middle of it: a good moment to reflect and learn.

The different views from the ‘fresh’ beginners and the ‘more experienced ones’ on the shared issues were complementing and helping to challenge each other. This gave us some interesting results we will use when we get back to our organizations.

The first day just came to an end. Taking a step back from work helped to look at it from a distance. Being together here, all with our western background and sharing our learning processes gave us a special feeling of connection. And, last but not least, being on the beach in a tropical country surely helps to relax and reload our batteries for continuing our work!

Challenge and Success
Today, at the first official day of the meeting we have exchanged successes and challenges in our work and lives in Latin America. It was incredible to see that although we are working for different organizations, on different themes and in different countries, the challenges we face are so very similar.
Cultural issues are often mixed in our work and lives here. Often it is about finding a balance – between the expectations from outside as well as the ones you have created yourself. What do you do when a trustful Latino friend asks you if you can lend him money? What, if your colleagues do not communicate with you and they don’t react on your direct approach? How to keep good connections with ICCO and our families and friends in the Netherlands? And how to improve learning from other (ex) junior advisors? What do you do when your contract finishes and you are sent back to the Netherlands after two years of Southern tranquilidad?
There are a lot of questions, but fortunately many answers, too. Thanks to six actively thinking female heads in the South.

Getting to know the other by getting to know yourself
Today’s afternoon was a positive one. First we started with analyzing some of our success stories. What did you do that made you feel very good (not only about yourself, but more so about the capacity building process you started)? Various cases were shared with some very common ‘success factors’ like: patience, good planning and preparation, creating awareness on the importance of the process you are starting, support from the management and sensitivity to the local hierarchy and culture.
After that, the creative therapist amongst us, showed us some interesting insights, not only on ‘ what is creative therapy’, but also in ourselves and our ways of working. After the necessary creativity, cutting and sticking, we were asked to analyze how we cut, why we cut like that, how we placed the papers, and how this reflects who we are. It may sound silly, but it definitely opened our eyes. These types of creative workshops can be used to generate ‘self reflection’ or to organize team-building activities. Since it does not only reflect who we are, but also how we feel comfortable in a team.

Safety first
An unexpected, not so pleasant incident in Honduras was one of the main reasons for us, junior experts, to have this meeting in Roatan. All six of us have had our own experiences in safety issues. It’s interesting to see how we all adopt to the situation. Although sometimes still wondering and finding us in difficult circumstances, safety is always an issue and being in unsafe situation sometimes seems to be part of our daily life.
Exchanging our experiences helps us to reflect on what already seems normal to you and makes us wonder whether our situation really is that normal and what to do in extreme circumstances. Hearing stories of others makes us realize we are not the only ones finding ourselves in weird situations, where our safety and that of colleagues, friends, and acquaintances are at stake. When media cannot be trusted, and gossip is everywhere how can you make sure you are well informed about what’s going on? How can you define whether a situation is truly dangerous? And how can your attitude towards others influence their behavior towards you?
Through Skype we were able to talk directly to Sicko Pijpker to discuss our doubts and keep informed on ICCOs policy on safety matters. Although ICCO uses several tools to prepare juniors for their experience abroad, things can still be improved by including a gender aspect in safety issues and more information on local forms of violence and dangers. The decentralization of ICCO offers possibilities on keeping advisors abroad even better informed about the safety situation in the local area.
The local offices established in the south come with several changes, including for the people sent abroad. Whereas the regional safety program is still not clearly defined, the changes already show possibilities to improve the work and impact of the junior expert program. Advisors find themselves in a complicated situation with loyalty issues to both ICCO and their partner organization. Will PROCODE also be an opportunity for them to define (new) roles in their relationship with ICCO and their counterpart? Or would an external coach be the outcome? Or both?
Sharing our experiences makes us stronger. It enforces our feeling that we are not alone, but all in a quite similar situation. Face to face meetings like these enable us to share our stories, them being good or bad. It bonds us and renews our energy for taking our work one step further. But walking this path, we know whatever happens, always: safety first.

We should be proud of ourselves!
Yesterday was the last day of the three day junior expert meeting. And what a day it was! We worked all day and continued working late into the night. This time the activities were less centered on the sharing of experiences and more on formulating recommendations for ICCO.A big part of the day was spent on talking about the factors that support and limit a positive impact of the junior expert in the capacity building process. We formulated factors on the personal, organizational and environmental level (the organizations context). Especially the list of personal characteristics that support capacity building processes became quite long: flexibility, patience, knowing your limits, motivation, empathy, open attitude, ability to adapt, positivity, creativity, etc. We were amazed by the number of characteristics a junior expert should (in theory) possess. Of course some of these character traits you will learn along the way. We concluded that being a junior expert is not always easy and that we should be proud of ourselves.As the central theme of this meeting was learning, we also talked about the different learning instruments that ICCO provides for the junior experts. There are quite many; not all of them equally well known by us. We evaluated them all and formulated recommendations for ICCO afterwards. Of course the face-to-face meeting was one of the learning instruments that we evaluated. Our opinion of this meeting was unanimously positive. It is an excellent way to get to know other junior experts, exchange experiences, learn from others, and help ICCO to improve its junior expert program. For me, having just started with my work, the meeting was extremely valuable. Just hearing that others have experienced the same issues already makes a difference. And of course it was also just fun!

Anouk van Hoof - Junior Advisor Community Tourism, Peru
Ester Prins - Junior Advisor Sistematisation, Communication and Advocacy, Bolivia
Dirkje Jansen - Junior Advisor Documentation, Learning and Communication, Honduras
Marleen Willemsen, Junior Advisor Quality Management and Marketing, Guatemala
Johanna Pohlmann, Junior Advisor Creative Therapy, Honduras

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your experiences! It is good to read about the challenges you are facing and successes you are achieving. Your story allows me to learn as well. Que les vaya bien!