As the project coordinator, I am the official representative of MSF in the field. I like this part of the job as it gets me out in the community, gives me a better perspective and allows me to develop a deeper understanding of the context. It also means that I spend a lot of time going to meetings, receiving visitors and reading letters addressed to “Monsieur le Coordinateur du Project Dubie”
Over the past few weeks, I have met with a pretty large variety of people for a number of reasons. I was invited to an official meeting with the territorial administrator – the federal government representative for the region – about why we’re closing and who will replace us.
A courtesy visit to the customary village chief to discuss the image of MSF in the community. The first birthday party of the son of the Director of the Dubie hospital. A meeting with the local police commandant to explain again why MSF is leaving and to ask how he thinks the community will react in the coming weeks.
Discussions on road conditions and 2010 programming with the coordinator of Concern Worldwide, the other international NGO present in Dubie. Meetings with the UNHAS (United Nations Humanitarian Air Service) flight coordinator on the possibility to have their plane land again in Dubie.
“Journée de L’Ensignement”
My latest event was an official invitation to come celebrate “Teachers Day” with the Catholic Sisters who run the secondary school in Dubie. It was scheduled for April 30th and a quick check on the internet shows International Teachers Day on October 5th…but who am I to question!? Gathering at 7:30 am, procession at 9:00 and then some music and theater, with refreshments served afterwards!
OK. It was scheduled for a Friday and my To-Do list is getting longer every day, but this is the sort of thing that you just need to make time for. After my morning team meeting and getting everyone started for the day, I arrived just before things were getting going.
There was a bunch of desk arranged in a U-shape with 15 wooden chairs up front for the distinguished guests. I found the chair with “MSFH PC Dubie” on it and settled in for the show.
It started with a procession of the various classes. Some marched by, saluting and arms swinging as if they were soldiers. Others stopped to sing or dance in unison. One class sang the national anthem.
There were a few poems and some dancing, but it was the theater skits that were my favorites. They were quite well done and had themes that absolutely reminded of where, in fact, I was!
The first skit was about teen pregnancy and had “stay in school” as its main message. A girl dropped out of school, starting hanging around with the guys in the market, got pregnant and died during childbirth. A pretty direct message to the young girls watching - MOST women in this region have their first child when they are only 15 or 16 years old…but it was nice to see the school AND the church supporting this message.
The second skit was about corruption and how it doesn’t do anyone any good. A $10 bride was paid to a teacher to get good grades on a test. For the next dozen scenes, this same $10 bribe passed hands to get a son out of trouble with the police, to get a new job, to bribe a soccer referee…and eventually returned to the original person.
The final skit was about a teacher who asked a girl to marry him. As is customary here, the man needs the approval of the father before the marriage can take place. However, since the teacher had not been paid for the past 3 months, the father refused! The message? Teachers are undervalued and suffer because of their non-functioning government. A message to finish off the “Teachers day” celebrations I thought!
Afterwards, I was invited by the Sister’s for refreshments and shared some pretty toxic homemade mango wine with the village chief and the commandant of the police. After a few quick sips, a piece of cake and discussions on the upcoming end of the rainy season and the progress of our closure plans, I headed back across the street to my office and another hectic Friday. It was a nice way to start my day and a pretty good insight into some of the cultural issues faced by the Dubie population today.