I was waiting in the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. The words in the picture above were emblazoned in large script across a wall within the terminal. I was two days in a two-week journey. I would have to go much farther to reach the intended destination, with two more airplane trips before reaching our place in Zambia.
I reached my destination. And the proverb proved true. I managed quite well because I didn’t travel alone.
Perhaps the most difficult part of doing non-profit work abroad is working with other people, whether that be with other expatriates or nationals. I think it’s harder than language acquisition, cultural understanding, or raising funds.
I never lived in Africa, but I like the quote. I did live in Honduras a number of years. Building relationship with the locals who helped me in my work was probably the most important thing I ever accomplished.
When the ladies who started off with a broom or a cleaning rag realized they were a valued part of a team, the work began to take a life of its own. It wasn’t dependent on the crazed zeal of a white woman – me! – from the States who wanted to feed and educate their children. The staff began to see that it was their choices and work that was changing the community around them.
I know that everyone tired of hearing me preach and screech about the importance of el equipo, the team. Somehow, someway, during the years I was there, we changed the dynamic from boss and underlings to a group of ladies who had taken ownership of the ministry.
Now, I have some perspective on my time in Honduras. I can see that teamwork both between persons differing cultures as well as those within the national culture is hard but fruitful work. Even short-term trips require lots of teamwork on everyone’s part for a successful trip.
Traveling far can mean traveling home, too. That’s where I am in my personal journey. I hope I can remember that I want to travel far, not fast; with others, not alone.
This post is linked to Velvet Ashes, a website devoted to encouragement for women serving overseas.