This past week something utterly amazing happened, I held 3 trainings that were attended by all 5 people in my formation group plus one unexpected new person. I have been trying to have these trainings for months. The attendees are all Senegalese adults, men and women, with jobs with regional headquarters of national women’s groups and regional government ministries. I started out (foolishly) thinking I could sit down and plan the trainings with the group. Everyone could get out their planners and look at their schedules and say when they were available, on the dates and times that everyone had free we would have the trainings. This sort of organization thing happens billions of times per minute in the US, middle-schoolers do it without a second thought, for sure there would be no problem with my plan, right? Wrong, people showed up to that first meeting from 40 minutes to an hour and 40 minutes late, some didn’t show up at all. At this point I tried emphasizing the importance of coming to meetings on time with a little ‘Time is money’ (a phrase that every Senegalese person knows and attributes to Americans) analogy. If time is money, but I don’t get paid since I’m a volunteer, what is wasted if my time is wasted? -my answer was ‘business development help for the Senegalese people.’ Now I thought that might have been profound and creative enough that it just might work. Oh how naïve I was. Even less people showed up to the following trainings. At this point one of the attendees told me that if I wanted people to show up I had to get the head of the office I’m working with, my supervisor’s supervisor, to make a formal plea to the heads of the attendees’ various organizations. This is where I start pulling my hair out. Why isn’t it enough for me just to ask people when they are available and expect that they show up??? I eventually give in and have my guy call their people. This gets 3 of 5 to show up, between 20 min and an hour late. Through talking to my supervisor I get another suggestion, I need to write a formal convocation with all the info on it and stamped with a cute little seal and drop it off at everyone’s office. Now for some reason, that little piece of paper has made it possible for me to have now 3 trainings where everyone was there no more that 15 minutes late. It has been sort of a strange moment of epiphany for me, on one hand I’ve figured out how to get people to my meetings, on the other, why didn’t the people I was working with and who knew how frustrated I was, let me in on this little insight earlier?
Wait though, the story’s not over yet. All the lessons were also going very well, at least I think they’re getting it. At the end of Thursday’s lesson in how to calculate the costs of an enterprise, my group expressed some concerns. This started with a little complaining that there was nothing for them to drink or snack on during the 2 hour training. The offer was made to get a vender to come through and sell snacks to anyone who wanted to buy. No good, they weren’t interested unless I was buying. Then the problem of paying for the instruction manuals reared its head again, they have asked before if I could use my funds to buy them manuals (13,000 CFA or about $26 for each person) to which I said I’d ask my boss, but I didn’t think it was possible. When I came back to them and told them they would have to buy the books if they wanted them, each of them said they’d save up to buy them. This amount is substantial for them but I believe that it is possible for each of them to save the money and make the investment. Back to the end of my third ‘successful’ lesson, they started saying again that I should pay for their manuals. To this I told them that if they charge people for taking the trainings the books will allow them to give in the future, even a minimal amount, they will make that 13,000 CFA back in one or two trainings, and after that it’ll be extra profit. The fact that this comment didn’t get anyone to stop asking me to pay for the manuals is maybe a sign that the lessons aren’t being learned like I thought they were.
C’est la vie Sénégalese