“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” - African proverb
I was recently at a sad but beautiful event celebrating the life of someone who had met their untimely passing. Talking to people at the small intimate reception that followed got me thinking. I mulled over the circumstances of that passing as well as challenges shared by many gathered in that small group, made up mainly of development professionals, many of whom are working outside of their home countries, on the African continent and beyond.
As development and other sector professionals in the diaspora, it is a wonderful achievement to land that dream assignment in another country if one is that way inclined. Or you could simply be among the many members of the diaspora who have made the decision to live and work outside of their home countries for whatever reason. After the initial excitement of the offer and the opportunity to serve in another country, learning, sharing and flexing your professional muscle as you interact with others and widen and expand your own unique skill-set, the real work starts. Moving alone, or with the family? The insanity of administration: Visas, permits, school-finding, home-finding, car or driver searches, transporting pets between countries, help to look after the children…the list goes on. How to handle the challenges of commuting personal relationships or a partner or spouse who is moves with you but is frustrated at the prospect of not being able to work for legal reasons - permits not allowing this and the like. One starts to wonder whether it was the best idea to take up the offer in the first place. After all, it has been said that moving can be one of the most stressful and traumatic events in life.
Just before you pull all your hair out, someone reaches out, and you realise you have a lot more support despite the difficulties. Sanity prevails and eventually, you land in your new station. The pace intensifies and after an almost non-existent on-boarding, you hit the ground running. There are meetings to attend, networks to be formed, trips and missions to undertake. New in town, new on the job…settling in period- what is that? You barely have time to catch your breath and deliverables mercilessly pile up! The children in their new schools, the spouses, the partners and extended family or other members of your household simply have to get with the programme. Or do they?
All of this got me thinking: while there are a few fora out there to help you get to know others in your new locality, many of those seem to be more for social events and networking. What about the professional who has to travel and does not have a trusted person to pick up the kids at school? What happens when the trains or buses are on strike or the driver cannot get out of his area to come and transport your children because of protestors blockading all routes. At least the kids may have a live-in helper to stay with them while you are away on mission, but how do dilemmas like this get resolved? It is great if you already have an established network of friends or even family to provide support, but it can be daunting and harrowing if you do not. If not the children, your challenge could be finding a reliable pet-sitter. Or what happens if your children, spouse or partner fall ill while you are away on mission and the situation is so severe that they cannot access required medical attention without assistance.
What networks can we form outside of our employer organisations that look after, not only the social aspect of our settling into our new environments, but also these practical elements? Playgroups, a “buddy-system” for families, be it a family of two or ten? What could work as a reliable system of checking in and looking out for each other as folks far away from home facing human issues? The answers are not all here, not by a long shot. Let us kick-start some innovative sustainable initiatives.
To share your ideas on how a buddy-system in the diaspora could work or how this support system could be established, please insert your comments below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com