Over the course of fieldwork there were many areas where I changed in both personal and professional ways. In addition to that, I learned much about the career path that I want to follow in the future.
3 Personal Things learned:
- Personally, I learned how much stress I can take and how I handle exceedingly high amounts of it. When working in country, tensions are always running high as everyone scrambles to get as much work done before we have to leave. There were obviously some moments when we had downtime and were able to relax, but most of the time everyone was working hard towards a common goal.
- I also learned how welcoming of a culture Sierra Leone has. I was expecting more pushback from locals to work with foreigners who wanted to come in and change everything, but they were all happy to welcome us in. Many were excited to hear what we had to say. I like to think I am a person with no bias but I went into this work with some preconceived notions that were immediately proven wrong. I learned that those kinds of judgements can only be made through personal experiences.
- I also believe that I grew in my ability to understand how some people think. Spending 20 days straight without any separation with people allows you to see who they really are. I think this experience has given me a greater insight into how people perceive how I act towards them and how their actions show what they are thinking. I might be wrong but who knows.
3 Professional Things I Learned
- Professionally, there were many ways in which I needed to grow in order to contribute to the Ukweli venture. I think the most important professional growth was learning to pivot. Problems can arise that affect the core structure of projects and being able to turn and take the project in a different direction than originally thought is extremely important. When we were told that our marketing license was on hold and would only be processed after three months, we were all devastated. We were able to pivot though, and start a community mobilization effort until we are ready to launch.
- Networking is an extremely important asset when working in a foreign country. Building connections with important people quickly is a valued skill that can allow a venture to grow. While working with community health officers and community health workers, creating well founded relationships is extremely important.
- My final professional growth is that I learned to work in a hierarchical society. The culture in Sierra Leone values people in positions of power much more than others. Without approval from a superior, most people can’t actually do anything. Coordinating communication between the people we were working with and their superiors proved to be a difficult task, but was an important skill to learn.
3 Lessons I Learned
- I learned that in Sierra Leonian culture, time is seen in the same way as we see it. People there take their time with everything, their conversations, their organizing, even their walking. It was often commented that us “apatows” walked way too fast. Their concept of time is more based in doing things right and enjoying the time while the American mindset frames time as something that the most amount of things need to be shoved into.
- Sierra Leone has an extremely physically touchy culture. Walking through the market, people all around us would touch us and shake our hands even though they were complete strangers. Often a handshake wouldn’t end until the end of a conversation with someone. It took some getting used to as the US is a puritan based society and still carries that in its culture now.
- I learned a lot about how deeply the belief in traditional healers are. Some of the people who worked at World Hope International believed in some of the methods of the healers. This was a strange thing to find out. As I asked more I found out some of the healers methods were based in fact, like certain herbs have properties that can help with headaches and stomach aches and stuff like that. There were other methods that were a little bit more gory that I won’t go into detail about but they are not based in as much fact.