Thursday, 23 April 2009

Krakow – Frankfurt – Singapore – Medan – Banda Aceh – Post 16

Kacper had always wanted to go to Indonesia. He heard of Jogjakarta, and its splendid architecture many times, and ever since, it definitely became a top of his must see list. It was also Andrew, his English friend, who set to Kacper’s mind to believe that Indonesia was so beautiful that could only compare with paradise. Okey, Andrew was born in Indonesia, and he might have been a bit biased, but surely there was something in that far-away country that Kacper had so little knowledge of.

He was therefore very pleasantly surprised, when Clare, his manager in the headquarters told him, Kacper’s first deployment was to be in the Province of Aceh in Indonesia! Kacper was going there to help manage one of the projects, established after the memorable tsunami that hit South-East Asia in 2005.

As Kacper was going to go to Aceh well over a year after the disaster, he realised he was not going to face any horrific scenes, and his project was more trying to help the communities in rebuilding their livelihoods rather than save lives.

He really was excited, and wanted to go as soon as possible. ‘I am going to Indonesia’ he told his older brother on the phone. ‘You can’t imagine, how glad I am’ he carried on, ‘I have always dreamt of going there, and now I will even be able to work in the country!’ he exclaimed.

His excitement was somehow disturbed by reactions of some of the colleagues in his office. ‘Where are they sending you?’ would ask some of the people he talked to in the humanitarian department, ‘Aceh, Banda Aceh!’ he would answer. Whenever he was doing so, people either opened their mouths wide open, or gave him answers like: ‘good luck’, or ‘God, why are they sending a new guy to Aceh?’ Some also tried to give him advice to refuse his deployment. ‘Kacper, just say no, you don’t want this experience, and no one will blame you to refuse, they will understand…’

Kacper didn’t like what he was hearing, so decided to speak to Clare. ‘What is happening Clare?’ he approached her. ‘Why is everyone acting funny, when I tell them that I am going to Aceh?’

Clare invited Kacper for coffee to their office cafeteria, and treated him with a cappuccino that she had already learnt Kacper loved. ‘You need to know that our project in Aceh is not very easy’ she started, ‘… but this is also, why we have decided to send you. I think, you will be the best person to deal with problems, we have’ she told Kacper. ‘But Clare, you do not really know me, I am just starting!’ noticed Kacper a bit nervous that, he was about to get assigned to some kind of Mission Impossible. ‘I think that I am good at judging people’, she said, and added: ‘after interacting with you for some time, I am convinced that they need, you, and not anyone else!’ Kacper smiled. ‘It is very flattering, and okey I will not be asking why me Clare, but at least, please tell me what is happening there?’ She looked at Kacper’s nearly empty cup, and decided rather than asked: ‘you will need another cappuccino…’

Two days later, Kacper arrive to Nowy Sacz, to collect some of his medicines, extra clothes, and say good-bye to his parents, family and friends. Mum seemed especially pleased with Kacper being deployed in Indonesia. ‘Finally, they are sending you to a place, where there is no war!’ she noticed happily. ‘I checked all about Indonesia on the Internet’ she announced proudly, and added that the pictures of the country looked beautiful.

Kacper’s mother was not a person, who used to know much about the world outside Poland, but when he started doing his job, all of the sudden, things changed. She bought herself an atlas, and made sure she knew about ‘all these countries, where you go’.

Mum also learnt how to use the Internet! Although Kacper was more than impressed with her drive to learn new things, the Internet caused some unexpected problems. She was now able to read about catastrophes, kidnappings, or accidents in places where Kacper worked!  This did create some additional stress, as at times of such situations, he needed to calm his mother down, before she decided to call, say, Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Warsaw to convince them arranging a mission to rescue her son (at least Kacper knew, who he inherited from his ‘drama queen’ abilities)!

‘Krakow – Frankfurt – Singapore – Medan – Banda Aceh’ indicated his e-ticket, which he had received from his office in Oxford. ‘This is going to be long, and exhausting’ he thought, kissed his mum, hugged hid dad, and left for Krakow Airport.

Kacper finished a meeting with the last of the coordinators that he was to manage, in his project. He was worried. For a long time in his career, if ever, he has seen that little of motivation among his team, and that much of bitterness, and feeling of being treated unfairly. ‘Gee…’ he thought. ‘It was going to be difficult to make things work here’, he thought.

His project was one of the organisation’s biggest. The budget was massive, amount of activities nearly unachievable, hundreds of people on the payroll. The project alone was bigger than some programmes of other countries, in fact it was bigger than some country programmes.

With so much of resources, so much of technically very difficult and challenging work, pressure from communities, international donors, headquarters and finally media, it was nearly inevitable that things went wrong. Kacper was surprised however that they went wrong so badly.

He was starting his duties in the aftermath of a corruption scandal that involved many people. Lots of staff was dismissed, and those left felt disappointed, unmotivated, not listened to, and very bitter. Once again, Kacper was witnessing idealism, and energy that was shattered, when confronted with a hard reality of the world, the humans created.

Kacper was going to draw a line. He heard too much. Too many bitter words, too many accusations… Although, he thought that it was important, people had a chance to talk, he also knew that he could not drill in the past, instead he needed to concentrate on offering his team real solutions to problems that they had. He also decided to be extremely strict and not allow silly politics to be played between the staff of his office, and staff of the country office. Indeed there was lots of mistrust between those two as well.

Although, things were stressful, Kacper knew that his strength is dealing with such situations. In his nature, Kacper likes making people talk, and he is good at resolving conflicts, even quite complicated ones. Kacper is also good at planning, and actually implementing. He is less of the strategy freak, but give Kacper a broom, and he will be able to clean any mess. 

So he did… Kacper did his best to inject his team with new energy. They drew the line, as suggested by him, and gave themselves another chance. Kacper also concentrated lots of his energy not allow any of this silly talk running around that his team was the worst in the programme, and that they were a bunch of loosers. ‘This is not about competition’ he would explain to his folks. ‘You are the team, and as the team, you can do anything, and certainly I would not like anything less than being the best in the programme.’

Perhaps, it was Kacper’s advantage that people really wanted the change, so they trusted him nearly without any reservation, or perhaps they just all managed to click. Whatever it was, he saw things turning around, and this was happening faster than anyone expected.

A month later, a country director for his programme arrived to his office and said to Kacper. ‘I am told that your project is undergoing some major transformation’, he said very officially. ‘I am glad this is happening, and would like to offer you my full support’ he added. ‘Great’ said Kacper, ‘I would like take the offer’ he continued. ‘I would also like to suggest that this team, really knows that you, and the Country Office appreciate their work’ he kept on. ‘They really need it, and please, please do something, whatever gesture you might want to make, but do something that they feel recognised by you’ demanded Kacper nearly desparately. 

The next day, a car from the head office came. The driver brought a letter addressed to all staff. It was an invitation for a party, and all personnel from Kacper’s office were invited with their families. ‘This is a good start’ Kacper thought. Things were moving forward.

Months passed, and the indicators and statistics for his office looked better and better. They were not under-spending anymore, which made the donors happy. They managed to work out all major differences with the communities where they worked, and agreed how to ensure that no more delays happened, and if they did, how they would deal with problems. Support services pulled themselves together, and project teams ensured they were on top of their plans! Kacper liked that people cared for one another – professionally and personally, and made this extra step to make things happen.

As things were on the way up, Kacper started having more time to explore more of the province and more of the country, and even neighbouring Malaysia, Singapore, and eventually Australia. Who he met, what he saw and what it led to will be a part of future stories...


PS.  Kacper is following the news on elections in South Africa.  


  1. I suspect we might have worked for the same organisation... but I cannot recollect a Polish person when I was there. I was in Nias in 06-07.

  2. :) Kacper left Aceh in May 2007 :) We must have missed each other.