Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Thinking of your friends - Post 14

Anita, one of Kacper’s best friends was preparing for her trip to New York. Kacper was excited for her, as he knew, she loved that city, and above all, she was going to do things that she enjoyed and she was so good at. Anita was supposed to be discussing with top UN officials about so called UN Integrated Missions. In some countries, UN run such missions, meaning that their operation would be a mix consisted of military and humanitarian projects. As you can easily imagine, military and humanitarian affairs often may have contradicting aims, and sometimes, even despite best intentions, more harm than good is done to populations that expect help and protection.

Anita was born in Berlin of parents of two nationalities – a German mother, and an American father. Kacper considered Anita to be one of the most amazing human beings he knows. She was a very attractive woman, and super intelligent as well. What always struck and attracted Kacper to Anita was her genuine modesty. She was one of these people that always was very friendly to everyone around, and tried to make sure that all felt comfortable in her company. ‘She just has no ego’, Kacper often described her.

Anita was relatively young (she was younger than Kacper), but despite her age, she already was well known among people doing advocacy work in many places around the globe. Whenever Kacper mentioned Anita’s name, people tended to reply: ‘Ah, Anita – this young, incredibly sharp girl that you have in your organisation…’ Kacper would always smile proudly, as if it was his own sister they were talking about. ‘Yes, this is our Anita’ he kept on confirming, when people asked.

Kacper first met Anita a few years ago, in Oxford. They both participated in a workshop for global humanitarian officers of their organisation. Similarly to Kacper, she was one of the ‘globals’, with the difference of Anita specialising in advocacy work, and Kacper in project management. The very workshop lasted 3 days, and as there were many other participants, at that time, they did not have much chance of interaction.

They met six months later in Bangladesh. Anita came to the country a few weeks after Kacper. They both arrived with a task of supporting the programme for the victims of the devastating cyclone that hit the country in 2007.

‘Bangladesh’ thought Kacper for a while. ‘That was a stressful mission’ he recalled. Kacper remembers that although he liked working in Bangladesh, and definitely loved the country, he also found the experience extremely difficult and challenging from a professional point of view.

They were dealing with an aftermath of a massive disaster, which affected the whole area of southern Bangladesh. Just travelling from one project location in the eastern part of the intervention to another one in the western side could take as much as three days. Kacper was responsible for a multi-million budget. The budget’s contributors were governments of Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and foundations from the UK, Hong Kong, United States, Germany, and even Poland. Each of the donors with different standards, legal and financial requirements and expectations… a nightmare!

The programme consisted of four projects, in different districts. Each project included water, sanitation, health education, livelihoods and shelter components. The operations were largely implemented through local organisations, in coordination with many, many institutions both national and international.

Kacper was managing work of many people – international and national staff members – and although they were all extremely nice and professional, they were very strong individuals in the same time – not always ready to make compromises and listen to what their colleagues had to say.

Adding that Bangladesh is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and that some of the team members he managed were involved in serious car accidents (including death of a person) – and you can easily imagine, why Kacper was slowly but surely becoming absolutely insane.

Already before travelling to Bangladesh, he had had reservations to go. ‘Listen Clare’ he addressed his boss ‘…I do not have enough experience to run such a big programme. I will not manage!’ he added desperately. Clare just smiled and answered: ‘Listen Kacper, you need to go, we have nobody else to send, and after all, I am sure you will do just fine!’

Eight weeks into the intervention, on Christmas Eve day, Kacper was sitting alone in the office, trying to work on yet another paper addressed to one of the governments, to fund some additional activities. He was literally crying in front of his computer. He could not stop working, as the document was supposed to be submitted to the donor, right after Christmas, and he was still far from being ready. If this was not enough, there were 2 additional equally important documents he needed to finish the following day. ‘I am so stupid’ he thought angrily about himself, and swore the day, he took the responsibility of this job on himself.

Anita arrived to the country just in a right time to save Kacper. Nearly from the day of her arrival, she managed to help him to get a healthy perspective to all the troubles, and managed to show Kacper that it is he, who created much of the problems, in his own mind, and that they were not necessary as bad.

She did not need much time to understand how Kacper worked, and what his weaknesses and strengths were. As Anita’s selfless interest was always to genuinely help people, and make things work, she extended much of her attention to Kacper. She however did it in a way that Kacper would often not even notice that Anita was actually helping him. She was always very subtle and tactful.

‘Kacper, sweetyhearty’ she used to address him. ‘Perhaps instead of worrying about things not working, you could just accept it… you know as much as I do that in this bloody work of ours, there are always things that go wrong’ she tried to comfort him over a beer in the evening. At other occasions, she said things like: ‘Okey, you might have messed up here and there, but perhaps, you should also see how many things have worked, and how bad this place would look without you…?’

Anita realised very quickly that Kacper suffers from what he referred to himself as, POST COMMUNISM SYNDROME, which sometimes, in more stressful situations, manifested itself with low self-confidence of Kacper. She dealt with that fantastically as well. At meetings, full of various people, she would publicly underline the qualities of the programme their organisation was implementing, and ensured mentioning, it was the programme’s manager (Kacper’s) and the team’s professionalism, which made the real difference.

Kacper often wondered, whether she knew how important all these remarks were to him, and how much he needed them, especially from someone as formidable as Anita was – at times which he found very difficult. He certainly appreciated all of Anita’s efforts, and loved her for that dearly.

Later, they had an opportunity to work together in Ethiopia too. Although Kacper with the luggage of his Bangladeshi experience was much less vulnerable, and was way more confident about his own abilities, Anita always perfectly spotted situations, where he needed support, and provided it to him tirelessly.

Their relationship was obviously much more than just professional. They might have worked together, but they also spent their free time together. They shared their most personal dilemmas and discussed things that made them happy. They teased, and cared for one another the way, real friends do. Kacper had no secrets that Anita would not know about, and he felt that she shared much of hers with him as well.

Once, they even went for holidays together! After working in Bangladesh for several months, they set off for a trip from Dhaka to Kolkata in a bus. It certainly was one of the nicer trips he experienced in his life.

As Kacper was preparing to go bed, after a tiring and extremely hot day in Abeche, he again thought about Anita’s new task in New York. He also wondered, how useful her work would be for his deployment in Chad, where UN was operating one of their integrated missions. ‘Good luck Anita!’ he thought to himself, with his closed eyes, he was about to fall asleep…

PS. Kacper is watching the news on the UN Anti-Racism Conference

1 comment:

  1. You are a strong man and take things so positive. It was pleasure working with you in B'desh and it remins me of a great successful response you have managed.

    All I have to say is keep up the good spirit and keep smiling. Best wishes