Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ghana Time

Project Mango: COMPLETE! I have located a street market about 5 minutes from where I’m staying selling lots of fresh fruit and avocados!

Number of mosquito bites= 1

I spent a year working at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) in between graduation and starting med school. It is no overstatement to say that my experience at IHI has uniquely transformed my trajectory in the field of medicine. But that’s not all. Some general skills that I learned at IHI are common among any formal work experience: punctuality, facilitating meetings, setting deadlines and working within them, and being extremely detail oriented in order to deliver high quality work that represents you and your team well. These highlighted general work skills really fall in line with my naturally type A personality. Everything at work is sequential, logical and orderly. I love it! As I’ve come to realize in launching my project this summer in Ghana, the rest of the world does not necessarily operate in the same way.

Global health work can be a little tricky. Developing countries have their own unique set of challenges…challenges that we outsiders are not accustomed to. However, given the tenuous relationship between developed and developing countries in history (colonization, imperialism, etc.), it is important for outsiders, including lowly students like me doing research here, to be respectful of the people and culture of developing countries. As an outsider, our role is to be facilitators and no more than that. We cannot impose ourselves or our ideas on others. We surely don’t enjoy it when another country tells us what to do. And as health care reform has illustrated, we Americans can’t even take it when the ideas are homegrown! In order to maximize the potential for realization and sustainability of the solutions generated to combat the challenges that developing countries face, these solutions must be local and ownership must be in the hands of the developing country. Just look how successful Jerry Sternin was in Vietnam in battling malnutrition in children (articles here and here).

Understanding this, the first step I’ve taken to working in Ghana and being respectful of those around me is adapting to the work culture here. I’ll be the first to admit that, this has not always been easy. One thing that has been particularly difficult for me to adjust to is starting each day with a very fuzzy agenda or even idea of what is going to happen. I’ve had to become a strong advocate for my work as I shuttle from one meeting to the next—meetings that run on Ghana time (almost never start on time). I’ve also become the central processor of my work as I synthesize what was decided during meeting 1, meeting 2, and meeting 10, internally negotiate the conflicts between the decisions, and gently introduce the new resolution to my colleagues and supervisors. Things moved at lightning speed when I was working and trying to function at a different pace has left me sometimes feeling like a fish out of water splashing around making an inconvenient mess for the people and country that already have their hands full.

Could I have done more pre-work before arriving in Ghana to have avoided this? I don’t think so. The synergistic energy of an in-person meeting complete with handshakes and smiles are irreplaceable. And when the pieces do organically fall into place, it’s magical and exciting.

My dad says this is good for me. I need to learn how to work on Ghana time because I’m apparently too high strung and hyper to begin with!

No comments:

Post a Comment