Written by Eliza
One of the many things my mom told me before I left to join 2Seeds in Tanzania was to be patient. Life and everything in it this year would feel and move a little bit differently than what I am used to. And as any good twenty something would do, I sighed in exasperation and replied, “I know mom,” because you know, at twenty-two years old I knew everything. But I was wrong, of course.
While Hailey and I have had time to adjust and learn a lot, we have tried to have constant patience not only with our surroundings but also with each other and ourselves. There is still a question we find ourselves faced with everyday. How do we know when we are pushing forward, maybe to fast and maybe with less patience, vs when we are moving too slow?
In August when we first arrived, a year felt like such a long time. There were days when we had what felt like too much time on our hands and we had no idea how we were going to fill it all. Now, as this second quarter comes to an end we are beginning to feel pinched for time. We created our goals for this quarter (November-January) under the belief that we had three whole months to accomplish them and that would be more than enough time. What we did not realize in October when we were planning was the speed we could reasonable work at while still including our partners.
Take for example the creation of our new solar dryer. The idea to include drying fruits and veggies for personal consumption and for sale was born before Hailey and I arrived on the ground. The designing and construction of said dryer happened within a month after our arrival. By mid October, this machine was sitting peacefully against the wall in our house. These initial steps happened fast, because it was within our ability to make it happen. We had the supplies, we found the knowledge, and we knew the right people. But perhaps these steps happened too fast. Should we have planned more for the actual detailed process of solar drying? Yes. Could we have involved our partners more in the planning process? Yes.
Another example is the creation of our financial model and system for calculating and distributing profits to each group member every month. As Hailey and I both lack any serious extensive business experience apart from lemonade stands and garage sales, we did not initially know the best way to distribute individual profits. We came into the situation with two options.
On the one hand, we could easily learn how to calculate the profits and revenues through the Internet and experts easily available to us. We could then act as teachers and go through those steps with our partners after our Swahili and our cohesion as a group had both improved. By taking this road, our partners would, over time, begin to keep their own records and calculate their own profits.
On the other hand, however; we could learn the information together with our partners. No one would be the teacher and no one would anyone have all the answers. So rather than figuring out the calculations first and then teaching, we would all be students. It would take a bit longer and we would have to muddle through difficult language barriers, navigate tough situations, and make more mistakes, but would that build more ownership in the project?
When this particular example showed its ugly head we were up to our ears in a number of other problems that significantly affected the path we chose. The first quarter (August- October) as some of you may remember was quite difficult for us. Our partners were not showing up to meetings or cooking sessions on time. It did not feel like we had any local buy-in or support in the community. In general, we were concerned with the impact we could possibly have in Tabora. A discussion with our chairwoman, Mama Mwaliko opened our eyes to some of the realities behind the absences and lack of motivation; our partners had not received their profits since Ashley and Jamie left in July. This project was not a priority for them as they had a number of other daily obligations that required their attention. If our project was to stay afloat, we had to distribute the profits ASAP.
So we chose the former path, which allowed us to calculate the profits faster and show our partners why this project was important. By taking this path, we are now moving towards sharing and teaching these responsibilities of calculating and recording all sales, revenues, and profits with our partners. In this instance, had we taken the later path, which might have taken longer with more mistakes blocking our path, we may have found ourselves with a deteriorating project.
Perhaps, when looking at the finances, in this instance, with these conditions, it was necessary for us to move faster and act as teachers, but the question remains: When should we move slower and accept that mistakes will happen and when should we move swiftly to grow and improve? We are here to learn together, to live together, and to grow together with our partners. When I think about this question, I cannot help but think about our pre-departure curriculum. When we discussed how to be a leader we read this passage:
Go to the people:
live with them, learn from them
start with what they know
build with what they have,
But of the best leaders,
when the job is done,
the task accomplished,
the people will say:
“we have done it ourselves.”
In our project sites, no one elected us as leaders, we are not experts in our fields, but yet we are tasked with making decisions, with leading our projects. During our pre-departure curriculum, we discussed the importance of leading from behind, how important it is to instill that ownership and confidence from the beginning and how detrimental it can be to lead from the front. While one path may lead us towards progress, progress for the sake of progress is not what we are working towards.
We must face each day with patience and understand that things may not be able to happen as fast as we want them too, nor should they. A natural, organic process may take time, but it will last longer. This being said we can still find ways to move swiftly with purpose. We must lead from behind, but we must not be so far behind that we aren’t moving forward. We must learn to lead and to be lead. There is a time and a place in which the resources available to us will allow us to lead and to move faster, but there are also times when our knowledge is limited and we must realize that it is not our time to lead.