My name is Jose and in May 2018 I finished my Service period that took place in Mkushi, Zambia where I worked with a team from my school (CICD where I spend 6 months before joining the program DNS Mkushi), workers from DAPP Zambia, members of local communities and local government. I would like to share with you a part of my experience and hopefully this can be of use to you.
The purpose of this document is to share my experience as a guide for new development instructors and help them to do a good job and have a good experience in their preparation period and during the project they choose.
Have your goals clear. Although it is possible that your initial goal changes or is modified or adapted, in my opinion it is very important to never lose sight of your goal, although it sounds obvious, it is important to remember it or to remind you from time to time.
Be prepared to work. During these periods you will have to do work that you may not have done before, some heavier than others but in the end work as well. It is a part of the program that you have to do, you have to find a way to enjoy what you do because otherwise the time will be long and tough.
You also have to know your limits and be honest with yourself and with others, remember that your physical and mental health is first so if you feel a lot of pressure or feel exhausted do not stay stuck but do something about it.
Have an open mind. During this time you will live in communities and you have to know that people are different, there are different religious beliefs, sexual preferences, diets and many other things.
In my experience it is very important to know how to be tolerant and respectful of the beliefs and customs of others and never judge or impose ideas or beliefs on others.
Usually the coexistence is very good but as everywhere there are conflicts from time to time and I believe that the best thing to solve things is dialogue, honesty and a sense of commitment towards the community, remember that we do not live alone and you have to act thinking of others.
Have patience. This is very important and surely throughout this period you acquire a little more patience every day. This applies for the preparation period and during the project. At CICD you have to have patience, no one is perfect and it takes time and effort to get used to the community lifestyle.
During the Service period this also serves quite well, it may sound like a cliche or lie when you may hear a lot the famous "African time" but during this period you will see this is the way things work, it can take a very long time to make things happen...and you will have to learn to work with this .
Learn how to communicate. By living in an international community the language barrier is present and during my time here and in the project I have witnessed several conflicts caused by the lack of understanding, this can happen between the members of the team or with the communities with whom works, both in the project and in the school.
I think it is very important to know how to express yourself and do it in an appropriate way with the objective of transmitting the message clearly and achieving the objectives without having silly problems that can cause a misunderstanding due to poor communication.
It is also important to communicate things in a timely manner, integrate as many people as possible and share ideas and feelings with colleagues and friends.
Adjustment period. When my team and I arrived at our project in Zambia, the person in charge of the DIs said that the adjustment period is on average 6 weeks, I thought it was a joke or exaggeration but the truth is that they did not lie or exaggerate, at first It was difficult to adapt to climate and diet but not only that, to understand how things work with different communities, the local government, where and how to get resources and apply them correctly, among other things also takes time.
At this time there are also doubts about what the communities need and what is best for the people, plan A, plan B, plan C, and maybe even the alphabet will be returned. Clearly during this time there is a lot of frustration and stress but you also learn a lot and if you allow yourself you can enjoy it a lot and, when appropriate, take it with humor. In my case it helped me a lot to take things with humor and to interact a lot with the local people, they have a lot to teach us.
During the learning period. During the preparation period it is very important that when you know which project you are going to join and where you are going to work, you should begin to investigate about the community in which you are going to live, customs, diet, language and dialects, local government programs, current situation and basic needs of the country and be in contact for at least 2 months before going to the project with the project leader and local people if possible, this can make the adjustment period less and thus take more time and develop more programs.
Building your team. It is a little innocent to think that the team will always agree on everything and there will only be good times, there will be several disagreements and bad times as well. What I believe serves to make coexistence the best possible is to have an open and honest communication. Build trust among the members as you will be together for a long time and it is necessary to take care of each other. Always respect others and reach agreements whenever there is a difference of opinion. Be open to dialogue and always be honest.
Understand that it is a team and that there is no hierarchy as such. The division of tasks and planning are great tools to achieve the different objectives.
Taking care of yourself. It is always important to have a good diet and consume enough water and more during the project where usually people lose weight and take care to have energy and the truth is that this is very important. Working with the heat and sun so characteristic in Africa is really heavy and you need to stay hydrated all the time.
In addition to this, it is also very important to know how to manage time and have personal time and space, after spending almost 24/7 with many people you need to have your space and time to reflect, read, rest, essentially what you need to relax.
Enjoy, learn everyday and have fun. I think that in the end, with another perspective, I have learned many things and I have also learned a lot about myself. There are much more good times than bad, the experience of working with so many people from different countries is very good, the love and appreciation of the People from the communities you work with are beautiful and if you give yourself the opportunity you make many new friendships.