Where would we be without the ability to work remotely? Those of you who know me well, know I have taken full advantage of online networking and have done a significant amount of my professional work remotely, using Teams and Zoom, to my clients’ complete satisfaction. I’m a big fan!
Going forward, I do hope this way of working continues, to save time, reduce pollution and traffic congestion on our roads, and to save the money spent on those non-essential face-to-face meetings of the pre-COVID era. The fact is: a great many meetings can be successfully done remotely.
That said, sometimes there really is no substitute for being in the same place at the same time. I have recently returned from Africa as part of my work for The mudhouse Children’s Foundation, having had that belief reinforced momentously. Here are just a few of the experiences I had.
For context, I am a trustee of a very small charity doing important work to help the Maasai tribes of Northern Tanzania. The region is North of the Ngorongoro crater, which some may have visited on Safaris.
Our mission is to help introduce education to those tribes who live too far (over two hours’ walk) from a government school. By finding a willing sponsor here, we can send just one child from that village and the education they receive spreads throughout the community. The whole community benefits and they are more grateful than I can explain (or than you can imagine, unless you have been face to face with these people). There is much, much more to say about this but it is not the main point of this piece.
This was our first trip for two years (I, personally, have not been for two and a half years – a substantial part of a young child’s life). The need to be there, on the ground, in the same space as the people we help and as those who enable that all to happen, was demonstrated to us in some amazing ways.
First a young child already under sponsorship and performing brilliantly in school, suffered a trauma I won’t detail here but because of which, they remained at home and didn’t return to school. By being on the ground in the same space as those who could enable the child to return to school, which the child wanted greatly, we were able to achieve exactly that, and they are now back where they want to be and already justifying that work.
Also being sponsored by a generous UK citizen, is a girl with a badly deformed hand. She also excels at school and is incredibly resourceful with what she has at the end of her left arm. Surgery would transform the hand and of course, her potential. While we were there we arranged for the girl to travel to a hospital, where once a year, surgeons fly in from overseas to carry out pro bono work on children whose parents are too poor to afford such treatment. This amazing little girl has now had an operation and is already in recovery and rehabilitation.
Finally, we have a sponsored child who is deaf and has – to our knowledge – never spoken nor made any sound from their mouth. One of us on this trip is a retired teacher of the deaf and, using long established techniques, helped this child use their voice for the first time and form words, and also to learn sign language for the first time. All the children were taught sign language to help their friend, which they took on board enthusiastically. Again, the potential this opens for this third sponsored child is huge.
Yet another aspect of our work is to raise funds here in the UK to end the practice of cooking on open fires on the floor of the mudhouse (a practice of necessity due to a lack of resources for any alternative but which causes respiratory tract problems and sadly many children suffering burns). Instead we have raised funds here in the UK, for installing a small stove and chimney to take the smoke away. The benefits include a smoke free mudhouse and a much safer environment for the children. We were very pleased when reports came in that the fires are found to be more efficient, cooking and boiling much more quickly and using substantially less wood. This helps the forests and the women who gather firewood.
Whilst inspecting the installed stoves shown to us by proud owners, however, it became apparent that they weren’t all performing as they should and that simple maintenance and care was not being carried out as needed. This could never have been spotted without physically seeing the mudhouses and the stoves. Additional training on use and care has now been set up and soon all the little stoves will be doing their jobs beautifully.
What did I take away from this trip? Firstly, I can’t help but be reminded that sometimes complex problems are best solved with a simple solution! Replacing open fires with stoves and chimneys has had a huge impact on the communities we help.
Although this is a principle I live and breathe in my work back home, seeing a simple solution actually make a meaningful difference to someone’s quality of life gives this concept a whole new level. The temptation to reinvent the wheel is often very strong in business, but the wheel was one of our greatest inventions, after all!
And of course, my main takeaway is that being face to face with the children we are sponsoring, and seeing their progress, is a humbling reminder of the power education has, to change lives for kids and their communities. The potential that offers them in their lives is genuinely priceless. Being physically present gave us a much deeper connection with the tangible results of what we seek to achieve as a charity.
Sometimes there really is no substitute for being face to face.