The Hardest Job You’ll Ever Love
The title is a quote from new friend, Thomas, who was referring to the peace corps. However, it fits my experience working at an NGO in Cambodia. While I’m not certain that this work is actually harder than previous jobs, it definitely seems harder because so many of the obstacles are unexpected. Everything here is different – the way villagers think, work, do business, etc. Therefore, it’s difficult to anticipate problems and solve them ahead of time. Most obstacles are surprises. Never before have my problem-solving skills been so thoroughly tested, challenged and worked.
The last 10 days felt like something out of Amazing Race. Frenzied whirlwind mad dashes to the finish line. Unfortunately, it was just one finish line in a series of many. I know I’ll be back in the place and space – trying to muster all of my energy and resources to make something happen. I hope that each time I’ll handle the situation with a little more grace, a little more patience and a little more empathy.
So, shall we dive into the events of the last 10 days? I think you’ll enjoy the ride.
Thursday – Deadline is missed. Have to have an uncomfortable meeting with the customer admitting our mistakes and taking responsibility. Never a fun thing to do. Realize that the missed deadline is a much bigger issue than I had first thought. Wheels start spinning and I start spiralling.
Friday – I bring Saloth, the operations director, to meet with the customer. Knowing that we’re in hot water, Saloth and I assure the customer that we will go to Takeo as soon as possible to get the train back on the tracks. Hire a project officer and ask him to accompany us to Takeo. He will freelance for one week as we don’t have enough time to fully prepare his contract and insurance.
Saturday – Saloth, Sokchea (the Project Officer) and I take the 7 am bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. While I’m on the bus, receive a phone call that the original order has been increased to almost 6-times the original quantity. Arrive in Takeo around 4 pm. Immediately go to see the weavers and mark their progress. Have to start making some tough decisions regarding who is capable of working on this order. Begin to work on a time-line.
Sunday – Host a meeting for weavers interested in working with us. 30 people show up. After outlining our standards and expectations, all 30 leave and say they cannot work under the agreement. Shocked, we begin to question our standard operating procedures. After a half hour, 4 weavers return and would like the chance to see if they can work up to our standards. Realize we do not have the resources or manpower to complete the order for the customer.
Monday – Taxi to Phnom Penh to meet with the CEO to discuss the realities of the situation. Devastated and utterly embarrassed, have to admit to the customer that we are not yet able to fulfill the order. Another uncomfortable conversation ensues. Go to see Goel, a fellow NGO in Cambodia who weaves cotton, where I learn that it typically takes a weaver 2-3 months to fully transition from silk to cotton. Feel relieved that we aren’t the only NGO who has experienced these problems. Am buoyed up by Mr. Han’s kind words and advice. There’s a reason patience is a virtue; it’s incredibly hard.
Tuesday – Head back to Siem Reap. Spend 6 hours on the bus thinking about Mr. Han’s words and how to re-structure our project. Want to make sure the weavers have ample time to practice weaving cotton, but also know that we have deadlines in our sights.
Wednesday – Receive a call from the customer that Goel might be interested in working with us to complete the order I had to back out of on Monday. Start assessing capacity and capabilities. Due to the quick-turnaround, Saloth and I get the okay to fly to Phnom Penh (a 30 minute flight versus a 6 hour bus ride). The whole day is spent gathering information to meet with Goel.
Thursday – 8:15 am departure from Siem Reap. Arrive in Phnom Penh, stop for breakfast then head to Goel. Awesome work session with lots of notes jotted, time-lines scribbled and plans formulated. Once our plan is finalized, we split to have lunch. After lunch both Goel + CFI meet with the customer to bring up new concerns and also share how we will work together to accomplish the order. Late afternoon, we receive the go-ahead. Tons of phone calls and logistics questions are worked through. Am able to enjoy the evening – Joellen and I eat dinner on the riverside, then meet Conor for bowling as he happens to be spending the weekend in PP.
Friday – 7 am taxi to Takeo to get my team on board. Meet with Goel’s field team to make sure we are all on the same page. 10:30 am, leave Takeo and head towards the airport. 12 noon, stop to eat lunch. 1 pm, run a few last errands in Phnom Penh then head to the airport. Arrive in Siem Reap at 2:40 and head back to the office to report to the CEO. Am utterly exhausted and decide to take Monday off so that I can enjoy a three day weekend.