Friday, September 13, 2013

Teaching, Doing For, and Past Experience

I am writing this blog entry on Friday, the thirteenth.  In the US that conjures up ideas of superstitions, scary movies, and bad luck.  Here, not so much. 

OK, time for a little trivia from Wikipedia!  Friday the Thirteenth wasn’t considered unlucky until the 19th century.  The first reference in English was in 1869.  Before that, Friday was often considered unlucky and so was 13, but they weren’t put together.  In Latin America, Tuesday the Thirteenth is considered unlucky, not Friday.  In Italy it was Friday the Seventeenth! 

Maybe most of this has missed Africa because the cultures here have tended to be more oral and to pay less attention to days and dates – seasons are more important.  (That’s my personal, undocumented theory!)  Other superstitions certainly exist here… Certainly, once any superstition exists, it is easy to find “evidence” to support it.  Anything unlucky happen to you today?!?

Friday, the Thirteenth and a variety of other recent activities had my brain running to one of its favorite tracks:  considering the line between teaching/training and doing for.  As a teacher I was always been aware of where that line so that I could encourage (and even insist sometimes) that students think for themselves, develop their own skills, and build their own self confidence. 

Now, I am looking at the same line in very different ways.  First, I am working with adults and am not formally their teacher.  I am here to advise.  Unfortunately, some people think that means I will do things for them.  Should I be the one to organize the agenda for meetings and lead the discussion?  How much influence should I have on the decisions about what activities and plans?  I want some say, obviously.  I am here to advise and must bring in my views/ways of doing things, but where’s the line?

And, given the fact that I am the one with strong computer skills, it has been natural that I “help” there (i.e., type reports, organize information in tables, etc.)  This aspect is clearer.  It is in our plan to have me teach computer skills to the teams I work with – as soon as we can be in the same place long enough to have time to do it.  I don’t mind doing the computer work (i.e., bending the line much further toward doing for than teaching/training) as we continue to work to develop my colleagues’ skills to do it on their own, even more so in these difficult times in CAR. 

Recently, my thoughts are turning more to background and experience as I think about teaching vs. doing for.  In particular, I am thinking, particularly, of financial accounting and maintenance. 

We come from a culture where stores, contractors, and most everyone else automatically give us a receipt for purchases and work.  While people’s abilities to organize and process financial information vary widely in the US, people are aware of the basic components. 

I now live in a cash-based economy (that also includes barter).  I can get a receipt, sometimes, if I ask (or if I provide one and they only have to sign it).  Larger stores do give them, but those kinds of stores are in larger cities, such as Yaound√©.  People don’t have the habit of keeping track of money they have, spend, earn, etc. 

Another aspect of this culture currently is the idea that some people should be exempt from paying – it seems to be a perk of being in a position of power.  A powerful person may stay in a guest house and expect not to pay.  The State Education Department can organize a trip to visit the schools of our Village School Program and expect us to pay.  (Fortunately, we had someone negotiate to change that expectation since our leadership team in currently involved in teacher training and not available to go.  The officials agreed to go on their own and not expect us to pay.  Good!  It wasn’t in the budget!)  Another example is the former rebels/now military in CAR who aren’t paid their salaries and feel that they have the right to extort the money out of local people (having them pay extra “taxes” to sell in markets, setting up extra tolls to drive on the roads, taking cattle or crops, looting…). 

Now, imagine, in the climate I just described, trying to teach leaders within the church to be fiscally responsible and keep accurate records.  Some people have developed the habit of spending money they get however they want without paying any attention to the budget.  They created a budget because it was required, but don’t see any connection between that and what they do with the money.  As missionaries we are now trying to help them better understand the connection between planning and the budget.  Not easy for many to see.  It is not that they want to steal the money (well, mostly not that).  They want to carry out the mission of the program, but they have no experience or training in ways to do it. 

So we ask leaders to create plans and budgets and they do.  Then later we ask them to show how they plan to spend the next installment of money that’s coming and, more often than not, they don’t look at the plans or budgets.  We also ask them to keep complete financial records with receipts, etc.  They do, but records are incomplete, or, receipts are all jammed into a box/bag that takes hours to sort through and understand.  I know, there are lots of people in the US who also lack organizational and financial accounting skills, but here it is much more wide-spread.

Still, “the show must go on.”  We need to run program activities and at the same time try to train more and more people in the ways of planning, budgeting, accounting, and reporting – and particularly in the ways that these are related and actually beneficial for the program!  I currently think that in order to have all these things happen, those who are able (like me, as adviser) have to have a more obvious role in leading – tending further toward “doing for” than I would like.  At the same time, I want to talk, explain, show, and lead in such a way that little by little I am pulling out and those I work with are picking up the necessary skills.  In CAR, especially, it is critical that programs continue – need are dire! 

The other area I have been thinking about is maintenance – of houses, cars, equipment, everything.  Again, I know that there are varying levels of skill among those in the US in this area, but the general expectation is that things will be maintained – especially for public or company “stuff.”  Here, that expectation generally doesn’t exist.  One of my 

current theories is that people are so busy trying to survive that they don’t pay attention to longer-term concerns.  For example, there aren’t enough cars, buses, and trucks, so owners/drivers overload those that exist.  While more people and stuff get where they want to go, it wreaks havoc on the vehicles that are also poorly maintained.  People need money now. Other people need to get somewhere now.  So, why not overloaded trucks, cars, and motorcycles???  (These pictures are courtesy of the internet, but I have seen some that are similar…)

Most people here also don’t have the habit of maintaining their houses either.  Here’s a picture taken under the kitchen sink in my guest house.  I had the handyman come to fix several things, including the leak that is being caught in the bucket lid under this sink.  His comment was, “We don’t need to do anything about that, it doesn’t leak much.”  I continue to insist so said he will bring someone back “soon” to look at it.  (Yes, I could probably take the time to figure out where the drip is coming from and what might be done to fix it, but it is actually the handyman’s job – don’t want to do it for him!)

Visitors to the guest house are always impressed with the house.  It is the size, but also the fact that it is maintained.  Others could do the same with their houses, but it is harder – more people live in most houses and there is less money to use for up-keep. 

Finances, maintenance, well, and education, in general, all mean making investments (that may be costly) in the short- term that will yield long-term benefits.  Ah, yes, delaying instant gratification – many young people (and adults) in the US have problems with this.  Subsistence living makes this even harder, as does lack of experience and habit.  But, we must work for development and long-term gain. 

Let’s teach without “doing for.”


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