Kashmir and the Humanitarian Homo

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Asia » India » Jammu & Kashmir » Srinagar
January 21st 2013
Published: January 21st 2013EDIT THIS ENTRY

That chocolate and everything else that I ate yesterday ended up as a huge cowpat-like turd in the work squat toilet this morning. Sorry to be so graphic, but I was gutted to discover than in spite of all my best efforts my body was not able to produce a solid. If things aren’t back to normal by Wednesday I’m going for some tests.

Bowel movements aside, today was an interesting one. This morning I handed in my ‘Reflective Report’ to Mustafa, ahead of my mid placement review on Friday. There were a couple of slightly controversial things in there, but believe me I had taken into consideration cultural context, local norms etc. etc. etc. and toned down what I actually wanted to say massively. So, what I’d <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">compromised on contained the following:

Within ‘Professional Challenges’:

<!---->· <!---->Balancing the need to build and sustain effective relationships with colleagues against the need to speak about important and possibly sensitive/controversial issues, all the while factoring in local context, cultural sensitivity and local professional norms and expectations.

<!---->· <!---->Moving from my position as a manager in the UK to a trainee in Kashmir, from being the person who ‘calls the shots’ to being the person who tries to appropriately and effectively influence the shots! Having to work hard to sensitively yet effectively assert myself as someone with something to contribute: feeling frustrated because, understandably and through no fault of their own, colleagues are largely unaware of my experiences and achievements in the UK and sometimes – I feel – focus too heavily on my lack of familiarity with the local context.

And as one of the points under ‘What I’ve Learned About Myself’:

<!---->· <!---->That whilst I am generally able to balance the need to speak out about important issues against the need to maintain positive relationships and not ‘burn my bridges’ this is something that at times frustrates me enormously. I feel that I have furthered my ability to consider local context and norms and local capacity and to ‘pick my battles’, speaking out when things really matter. However, this is a skill that I constantly need to hone and develop. My experiences here have definitely confirmed my belief that strong professional relationships are the foundations of being able to challenge and be challenged by colleagues.

I think that given my experience with Mustafa, that’s all pretty restrained, diplomatic and fair. After all, I can’t just say <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">nothing: I believe that we all have a responsibility to appropriately challenge and accept challenges from colleagues, even if they do make us feel uncomfortable. However, as soon as I presented Mustafa with the report this morning he was eager to start looking through, clearly nervous about what I may have written. Seriously, he was like a child getting his school report, and it’s supposed to be about me! ‘So this report is to remain confidential between yourself, Jabbar, Karyn (the trainee manager in London) and me,’ I reminded him casually, inadvertently spurring him to look even more frantically through it. I wanted to make sure that he doesn’t try to manipulate what I’ve written by talking about it to colleagues in order to make me look bad, which I wouldn’t put past him given the fact that he seems to be in some kind of defensive overdrive at the moment.

Within the hour Mustafa was in my office kissing my arse, in a way that I imagine he thought was subtle and casual but was actually shameless and embarrassing: ‘Do you want to come out for lunch Paul? Don’t forget that my car is here if you need to go anywhere at any time Paul? Let me go on for three hours about how hard I’ve been working, Paul!’ Oh grow a backbone for god’s sake! He even brought up the incident in Jammu, the one where he had spoken about me to Rahim and Mansi: I think he thought he was cleverly weaving it into the conversation to reiterate <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">again how he hadn’t been bitching about me but rather reiterating what I had said, ‘for their development’. From my point of view it looked like a clumsy attempt to convince me once again that he was ‘the good guy’. Does this man think I’m thick or what?!

The highlight of the day was completing the evaluation of Yateem Institute orphanage with the children and the assistance of Rahim. I can think of no other way to say this without sounding like an egotistical twat so I’m just going to say it: I rocked! All that time and effort spent building relationships with the children and staff paid off: not only were we <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">allowed to do the activity, we were positively <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">welcomed! Although it’s only been about six or seven months, it feels like a long time since I’ve worked directly with children and I’d forgotten how much I miss it. When I’m working with kids I’m at my best, totally at home like a fish in water. I can feel myself firing on all pistons and thrive on the buzz between me and the kids. Rahim was an absolute star too, acting as co-facilitator and translator, and hopefully – having had little experience working directly with children – gaining something from the experience too.

It’s hard to explain the process without going into pages and pages of detail, but basically we selected 15 volunteer children from across all ages and took them to a separate room to jointly complete a group questionnaire. To ensure confidentiality, each child was given a bag of chick peas and would respond to the questions translated by Rahim by placing zero to four chick peas into a bucket in the centre of the circle in which they were sitting: 0 = Defintiely No, 1 = Not Really, 2 = Mostly, 3 = Definitely Yes. We had local translations and face pictures to help clarify what the responses meant and even if the answer was ‘Definitely No’ they would mimic putting a chick pea into the sound-proofed bucket so that no-one would know their response. The questions we asked we based on the quality standards of care that Rahim and I have been working on, phrased in a way understandable to children and designed to find out what they thought about various aspects of their life in the orphanage. Before we started we made a group agreement to ensure that everyone felt comfortable with what was going on and to outline how we would work together. The whole process went really well.

As a result, having now taken the total number of chick peas for each response and divided by 15 to get the average answer, I have a picture of what is going well at the orphanage and which things could be developed further. Of course, every method has its flaws and you’ll never get 100% accuracy, but I think a fair picture has been painted. Having spent a considerable amount of time putting in the ground work with the wardens and managers at Yateem Institute (who have been amazingly open minded and great to work with), I’m confident that the feedback I’ll give them will help them to reflect on and hopefully improve the support that they give to the children. I’ve also worked hard to ensure – through sensitisation of staff and by assuring as much confidentiality as possible for the kids – that there will be no negative comeback for those that took part. At the end of the day, if even just one thing improves in the lives of those children then it will have been worth doing. Of course, this is just the tip of the Kashmir orphans iceberg, but it’s a start.


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