My older and wiser sister commented that I have not written anything on my blog about the work I am doing here. I can’t share details of my work, but I would like to try to reflect on some general things I have learned from this work experience.
1) I can’t think of a place more difficult to live than Somalia. While this seems obvious I have really been confronted with just how difficult it is to function there. On top of internal conflicts there are disrupting weather patterns including strong winds that blow off the tops of schools, heat waves, droughts, famine, and many other environmental challenges I can’t even begin to grasp. On top of all of this there is the lack of a stable central government and the presence of terrorists. I have the utmost respect for Somalis and other staff that work and live in this region.
2) Large organizations are incredibly hard to figure out, even for people who work in them it may take time to fully understand the structure, procedures, etc.
3) Interviewing people is exhausting, but it is fascinating in the way that each interview brings you a little closer to what you are trying to figure out. Each person I interview reveals a different piece of the puzzle. Usually after an interview my brain is overwhelmed with a new perspective and new ideas. I then have to process these ideas by going through my interview notes and putting them in categories (this is called coding and the least enjoyable part of the process). This cycle is how I spend most of my days: preparing for an interview (contacting people several times), interviews, reflecting, coding, emailing interview subjects for follow-up (and contacting more the people they recommended I speak to), and reporting back to my team.
4) Development and emergency programming are often seen as entirely separate spheres even though to people not in this field of work it can seem like they are the same. These differences include: different personalities of the people who run the two types of programs, different ideas of success, and different time frames. These differences can be seen in two projects operating in the same village in Somalia.
5) Almost everybody likes the opportunity to discuss their working environment and feeling like someone is listening to their input. This fact has made my job much easier.
6) After spending six weeks embedded in an organization you can gain a pretty knowledgeable perspective on the people, projects, and procedures, which is very rewarding. Yet it feels daunting to try to create recommendations as an outsider. Perhaps this is because this is my first report like this. As I return to the U.S. I will try to draft recommendations that I hope reflect the opinions of the many people I have been lucky enough to meet with or have skype calls with. There were so many people who were gracious enough to speak with me despite the frustrating Internet connection and other challenges of being based in Somalia. Or who were back from Somalia to see their families for two days yet still reserved an hour to come into the office to speak with me. I will try to craft recommendations that make an impact, which will hopefully serve as a way to give back to all of the people who took the time to speak with me.