Christina’s notes from the field: Building Relationships

In the last weeks of the program.  The attachments that we have built as a group will make ending the program difficult.  I’ve been building relationships in the camp since the start and it feels like a shame to have to end them, after so much progress has been made in building trust and communication with the community and the adolescents.  I sometimes am reminded of the contrast in my interactions with participants and the community from when I first arrived to now.  In my first meetings when I arrived the leaders made a lot of demands and critiques of the project and the tone was more angry and tense.  Now I feel like the people I’m encountering, though the same people, are completely different.  People are so much more playful with me, loud, expressive, gentle and caring.  I remember my Arab interpreter Dai who was usually waiting outside the door of the car when I arrived to aggressively demand for a job.  Now he’s one of the most amusing assistants I have.  I think one of the greatest gifts that I get to experience in these projects is being able to see people open up, and feel at ease around me, to feel even comfortable with making jokes with me.  That feels like an honor, to be joked with. 

It relates to another subject – of how the refugees interact with humanitarian aid workers and the organizations that work in the camp.  Often there isn’t much time spent with the refugees.  I’ve seen animosity and anger grow in the refugee population against organizations and those working in the camp.  One humanitarian aid worker told me the only word he needed to know in Tamacheck – the language of the Touareg – was KalaKala means ‘no’.  Sometimes aid workers don’t really have the refugee’s best interests in mind, but sometimes relationships are strained because organizations just aren’t able to offer what the refugees need and without much communication this is taken as an offense by the refugees.  It all comes back to communication.  The refugees presented a hard, and almost angry, front to me in my first meetings. But in time, I think they’ve come to understand that I’m working in their best interests.  And through spending time together our communication has become easier and easier.  If more time was invested in building relationships between aid workers and the refugees I think these strained relationships wouldn’t be so pronounced.  

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