Wednesday, June 27, 2012

maybe development work should be more like making good wine

I was hoping that coming to Timor would help me to write. Lately I find it hard. Hard to write without feeling I’ve said it before.

I’m doing interviews and sometimes I feel like I can almost finish their sentences, and this makes me worry. Am I not listening anymore? Am I just assuming that I know what they mean to say?

To me, when you say “of course it’s a priority” followed by “we don’t have the money for it”  what I hear is:  We have money, not a lot, and we’d rather spend it on something else. i.e. it’s not our priority.

Which is fair enough, and it actually often justifies even more for the aid industry to step in, because usually infrastructure takes precedent over education and social services. Focus tends to be on grand-scale poverty reduction projects without any thought to addressing inequalities within the society, to ensuring participation of women and minorities. Not if we are not there to fund it. 

It does in the third world. It does also in my world. So who am I to judge.

If only I could get the UN to increase spending in education in Europe and the US so that not only the rich can afford decent schooling. It seems like every politician thinks education is the cherry on top, when really, it’s the main meal. If things carry on like this, where is equality and the middle class going to be?  Where are all our gains going to go?  When the shit hits the fan they are worried about the banks, not the people that will go homeless as a result of the bank’s actions. That is just collateral damage.  

It’s not that I can’t see anymore. I still can. I still know how important a lot of what I (we) do is.  It’s just been the same format for a little too long. Even though I am freelance, I have been working under the  same structure  for three years now, longer than I’ve been with any firm before. I feel it’s time for a change. It’s time to start taking stock.

Over  the last three years I’ve flown across the continents to analyze best practices and lessons learned with all types of organizations and in all types of scenarios.  An amazing experience and a privilege. Maybe it’s time to put that knowledge to use.  But I feel like there are pieces of the puzzle still missing. So maybe there is another step. Maybe, like with good wine, I have to let the grapes macerate, age. And maybe this is where the current career ladder structure also gets it wrong. It comes across as a race, and a race implies you can’t get off, even if you don’t know which way you are headed. Maybe we need to start thinking about the need to think both fast and slow. Maybe we need to understand that to be really effective   and creative we need not only exposure to play  and variety, ( see recent Sandberg article for more details on this)  but also time, time for reflection, time for the dust to settle, for the crap to sink leaving clearer and fuller bodied ideas above.

Now a days it’s all about numbers.  How much you can do. Who have you met. What grade you are at. How fast did you get there. It reminds me a bit of those Europe in a week tours, where you get to tick off all the main sites, but really, don’t get to experience any of it.

Maybe we need to start thinking about the quality, not just the quantity of our years as professionals.  And maybe that means less, but better.

I’m just thinking out loud here……

Saturday, June 23, 2012

just call me cool

In a helicopter in Timor. Just call me cool, double O cool.  

will write back soon. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Melinda is in a jail in Libya

I’m not going to say we are close friends, but she’s had dinner at ours a couple of times, and we’ve been over to theirs. They lived down the block on Hooikade and our nannies were both Cambodian, so our kids often played together. There was a mutual standing invitation to each other’s kid birthday parties, and they usually ate at least half of the potato dumplings dipped in mango sauce.

Geoff must be worried sick.

From what I know she doesn’t have to travel much for work, so it won’t be long before their daughter, who must be about to turn 3 now, starts asking for her mother.

I’m guilt ridden because I have agreed to be away from my kids 20 days. Five days over my usual cut off limit. She has a minimum arbitrary and unilateral deadline of 45 days. As a mother each one of them  weighs on me too.

It won’t be long before her daughter starts demanding what is rightfully hers: The womb that made her. The warm  body that  held her and nurtured her. That same body has now been taken for ransom to make a political statement.

Dear government of Libya, that body is not yours to play with. A small little girl had already called dibs on it.

And yes, I’m trying to humanize the story. I’m trying to put a face on it, because that face is all I can see. I wouldn’t want to be the father trying to explain this situation to a three year old.

Both the ICC and the Australian government have immediately sent delegations, rightly so, (and thank you). The other two ICC staff have refused to leave and remain with her, (one hundred times thank you). Unfortunately this had the opposite of the desired effect. From house arrest she was moved to jail.  Some war lords trying to stake their ground and highlight that they would not be intimidated by big powers. An innocent family is paying the price.  

I never talk about politics here. I talk about the human side of aid work. About the impact of what we do to our families.  The two things sometimes become intertwined. My mother is worried sick, I think because this has made her understand that we are not untouchable, even if what we stand for should be. Even if –in theory- we have the backing of all 193 nations that make the UN.

Melinda is a international defense lawyer. Over the last few years I’ve come to know a few of them. They defend the most evil men in the world.  The scum of the scum. The government of Libya could not have been under any misunderstanding when they agreed to the visit that she was there to defend HIS best interest, not those of the country. That is her job.

Melinda, and those in her profession, shake hands with the devil, but they do it for a core principle of any civilized society: that everyone deserves a fair trial, no matter how apparent the evidence is against you. That you have a right to a lawyer, to be heard, to tell your side of the story. She stands for something else too: that we are all equal under the law, and that is at the core of democracy and human rights. It is the core behind the rule of law: if you want safeguards for the innocent, if you want protections for yourself, then everyone  has to be entitled to them.

I think journalists have become lazy. Coverage of the UN has become superficial and populistic (see the recent film “U.N. and me” for an embarrassingly clear example. While it touches on some serious issues, it does so in such an unprofessional and superficial manner that renders any discussion that could stem around it useless.) Misleading misinformation. Half truths.

They never take the time to explain fully, because it’s easier to poke holes at this big beast. It sells better. Choosing to forget that a half truth is nothing but a dressed up lie.

They never take the time to mention, for example,  that those UN Peacekeepers that have abused or raped their victims were never UN staff, were never recruited by the UN, but rather “donated” by  their national government directly into the mission. Or  to explain that when it is said that none of them have been tried for their crimes to date, that this is not up to the UN, but up to the country where they came from. I think it makes a difference.

I don’t want to get distracted. I am writing this to ask anyone who reads this to write about Melinda and the other staff with her. Post about it, tweet, share this, put pressure on your government … do something, because there is a lot at stake here, and yeah, I want Melinda home safe.

Increasingly as aidworkers we are loosing the protection we had from being perceived as neutral. This is because the UN, as an entity, is not. Even if we are.

This is because the UN –as a political entity- does not exists: the UN does not have a government, it does not have a police force, it does not call the shots. It has structures of management ruled by the minimum standards that 193 nations can agree to, and is often overruled by the Security Council. The UN can’t move a chip –on the political front- without it’s member states or at least the big five approving it. So as far as I am concerned, the security council members should also be involved with this.

It’s like the CEO of a company or the head of government, if you call the shots at the end of the day you are responsible. You put Melinda there, you get her out.

And if you are not willing to show that you are serious about protecting us, then the whole deck of cards may very soon come tumbling down. Also, it is not right for you to ask us, and our families, to be collateral damage to political games. If you don’t believe this is important enough to fight for, you shouldn’t be sending us there in the first place.  We are civilians, professionals, not soldiers or martyrs. We are willing to face the risks, but only if you are willing to stand behind us. There are plenty of places were we can help without putting ourselves at risk. If you want staff based in countries like Somalia, you should be ready to do whatever it takes to ensure our safety there. You – the governments that make the decisions, the governments members to the UN- are responsible for us. And there is no such thing as moral immunity.

go to this article to see what is really behind this arrest (spoiler, a total disregard for the rule of law and international law).
The Full story behind the Arrest of ICC four member team

Monday, June 11, 2012

June family self portrait

lazy afternoons lying in the grass lay ahead....


This project started in January 2011, mainly because I was never in any of the family photos. 
I take one portrait of the whole family, myself included, once a month. 

Wherever we are, whatever we are doing. 

It was meant to last  for the duration of 2011, but I'm enjoying it so much that it has carried on.  Every family should do this. 

To see previous months click on the links below:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

dear Estee lauder

Dear Esteel Lauder,

No woman looks like this, except for maybe Barbie, and I'm pretty sure she does not need foundation, so unless Barbie IS your target market, please tone down the photoshop.

a human being who wants to raise children with realistic expectations