Lessons from the bush
by Emily Myron -- August 8th, 2011
Besides that Fanta Passion Fruit is the possibly the best drink ever, I have learned a couple other important lessons during my time here.
After reading Tawnee’s blog post about her experience working for a nonprofit, I was inspired to share with you similar lessons that I have learned. I strongly echo many of the things that Tawnee has said about her experience, so I will try to touch on some different aspects of my experience, and I encourage you all to read her blog.
Much like WildSouth, APW is a very small organization. With only a handful of permanent staff members, everyone must be flexible in their job descriptions. Since arriving, Sam and I have been treated as equal team members, and our ideas and suggestions are taken seriously. While Laly and Buddy oversee everything, the rest of us are left to complete the myriad of tasks we are given as we see fit.
Thusfar, these have ranged from full scale village mapping exercises, to assisting with summer camps, to developing wildlife count and game scout monitoring protocols, to creating GPS manuals and doing GPS training, to helping with boundary demarcation exercises, to conducting interviews, to updating the website, and anything else in between. As someone who hates to feel stagnant in her work, this sort of pace is perfect for me. I have loved dabbling and being a part of so many different projects, and there is no doubt in my mind that we will be leaving useful deliverables behind.
I have also learned patience. For anyone who knows me well, I am usually a pretty textbook Type A personality. I like lists, I like organization, I like having a plan, I like getting things done. Here, you can like those things all you want, but that doesn’t mean that they will matter. Everything takes time and patience. Larger organizations are often removed from on the ground projects – they start projects and come back periodically to check on them. APW is located in the area in which their projects occur, and they are present during every step and far beyond completion. The Maasai are a fickle tribe, and their opinions are constantly changing. This forces the organization to be flexible and well-grounded in their rationale. However, we must always remember that nothing can be forced; the will for change must come from the community. Fortunately, in my experience here, everything eventually works out (as Buddy says, “keep driving and you will always find a road”), despite any bumps on the way.
Additionally, APW is truly invested in empowering the local community. We have people who collect data that cannot read. We have people who can fix virtually anything that have never gone to school. We have people who have learned to use a GPS unit and to enter data that have never seen a computer before. Those who doubt the potential of motivated people are sorely naïve.
Finally, I have learned that you do not need to shower every day (or every two, or sometimes every three), or sleep in a bed, to be happy. Africafe, if drank long enough, is actually good coffee. Smoothly paved roads are hugely overrated (and nowhere near as fun to drive on as bush roads). And we are all much stronger than we think we are.