January 11, 2012 by David Aday
We returned from our seventh annual project week in the Dominican Republic on Saturday, January 7th, 2012. We had met our quota of hugs on Friday night; we had expressed appreciation to the cadre of fellow travelers and professionals. We looked at one another with comfortable and knowing smiles. What needed saying could wait. We lived it; talking about it would be nice but not entirely necessary. But I can never leave well enough alone.
First, to the entire SOMOS team: No team before you has been better prepared, has come to the week’s work as grounded, has worked as hard to understand what we know and what we don’t know in order to advance an agreed-upon model and method. For the first time, we were able to converse fluently in the language of the approach, and that allowed efficiency and coherence across a dizzying variety of events, questions, concerns, and issues.
We lived the mission.
I recall with mixed emotions a moment several years ago when issues arose during our time in the Dominican Republic and were met with confusion and uncertainty. Experienced members of the team sought to move towards resolution by referring to the project’s “model.” Newer – and some more critically thoughtful – team members were uncertain what constituted the model and how that provided any basis for resolution. We have come a long way from there.
Taylor Hurst and Kevin Salinas served us well as co-leaders, allowing space and offering encouragement for others to step up to organize, manage, and lead diverse and complicated pieces of our collective efforts. Among those who stepped forward from early in the semester are Joanna Weeks and Lindsay Schleifer. Alternately encouraging, chiding, insisting, and leading by example, Jo and Lindsay championed the motto: Get it done. They were – and are – brilliant.
Amalhyn Shek, quiet, dedicated, wise; she understands the approach in her bones. With no notice whatever, she can and does step into any situation to provide insight and guidance. She grounds us all, not succumbing to momentary flights of self-congratulation or giving in to the frequent frustrations or discouragement.
Rebecca Silverstein is our fountain of energy, determination, joy—and new ideas. She persisted in her pursuit of Engineers Without Borders with little or no encouragement from me. I thought it was premature. I worried that we would find ourselves doing the bidding of that NGO rather than engaging the community in bottom up efforts to understand the problem and to find viable solutions. Her precociousness and persistence made possible discussions with the community and others about short, intermediate, and longer-term strategies that were convincing if not compelling.
Jeff Rhodes and Kaveh Sadeghian shared an adventure that I would wish for each of you. It was an adventure of discovery that was more routinely a part of our experiences in the early years of the project—venturing into unknown areas to meet and learn directly from residents who showed and told us things that we did not know, had not heard previously. They saw back reaches of the river and cañada that we had not seen before—or had not seen for some time. They saw the country home of the Dominican Republic’s president’s wife. They met people whose family have owned property in the community for 200 years and who may be willing to allow the community to use the property for a center. And they learned basics of GIS mapping from my able and experienced colleague, Carrie Dolan.
Carrie, MPH and experienced international development professional, added measurably (pun intended) to our efforts and prospects in data collection. She will play a crucial role in helping us to transform conceptual visions into operational and empirically defined outcomes. If she wasn’t before, I think she’s hooked, and I appreciate more than I can say the opportunities that she brings to the future of the project.
Kaveh took on a role that is not typical for one so accomplished in leadership. He spent less time on this trip articulating a vision for the future, helping to shape policy and practice—and more time collecting and counting money. He stepped in where the project had an acute need: collecting money from 23 people to pay daily for bus transportation to and from the community and for groceries used by women at the school to prepare our lunches. It is a thankless and nettlesome task, and he did it with efficiency, effectiveness—and grace. It is a tribute to his dedication—to the project and to leadership.
Jeff and August Anderson proved to be exceptional additions to our base of language skills. I heard rave reviews from medical providers about both—their fluency and their graciousness in working as translators both in and beyond the clinic. Both share another quality that has enormous value for the project: incisiveness. Each demonstrated the ability to understand quickly and precisely complicated matters, and to work from that perceptiveness towards solutions that both resolved problems and advanced core pieces of our model and method.
Mel Alim, alternately serious, methodical, and whimsical, is a steady source of energy and compassion—ready always to laugh at herself and remind us all not to take ourselves too seriously. She is learning the hard and abstract concepts and methods of organizing, becoming a trained observer of process. She will make very significant contributions to our implementation efforts in the coming months and years.
Melanie Rogers was ready at a moment’s notice to contribute language skills and thoughtful questions about what we’re doing and why. Whenever I looked, Melanie was busy: engaged completely in whatever work needed to be done and, always, looking out for the needs of others.
We missed Galley Saleh and Bruce Pfirrmann. We thought about them and know that they were cheering us on. We will torture them endlessly with the stories that need to be told, assuring them and ourselves that we never really were apart and that our work together goes on, not missing a single beat.
Thank you all.