Tricks and Treats – On Challenges and Overcoming the Ones Faced during the Field Trip

Arriving in an unfamiliar country is always an exciting, but a challenging, experience. For the U R IN: Team, the arrival to Dar es Salaam was no different. While amazed by the beautiful and fragrant tropical fruits, the colorful and vibrant kangas, the impressive dance and music culture, and most of all, the welcoming smiles and friendly hugs, there were plenty of challenges to overcome in order to make the best out of the field trip. The aim of this blog post is to share bits and pieces of what were the main challenges faced by our team, and how did we deal with them.

Environmental Challenges

Looking from a broader perspective, the biggest challenges were probably the heat and the humidity of the air. Not only because the temperatures would have been extremely high (the average was actually 29 degrees Celsius), but because the combination of constant heat and humidity worked as a powerful energy drainer. The heat ended up intensifying other challenges and made our hectic schedule even more exhausting. However, some advantages of being in a group with so many motivated and cheerful ladies are that you can always laugh about challenges and make fun of how sweaty everyone is. This humor and peer support made the whole experience much lighter.

img_20180226_182743.jpgAnother challenge faced was inconvenient and uncomfortable forms of transportation in the city of Dar es Salaam. As most big developing cities, Dar is quite spread out, which meant that we had to travel long distances almost every day. Despite recent improvements in public transportation, such as the new bus rapid transit (BRT) line, traffic in Dar is still quite intense. When not taking a private car, the options included different forms of transportation: bajajs (or tuktuks), ferry, taxis, and sometimes daladalas (small buses). In general, the transportation processes were quite exhausting, but to make the best out of them, the time was used for doing mood-meters and keyword exercises, catching up on everyone’s general health, and practicing the lyrics of one of Tanzania´s favorite singers: Céline Dion!  

Challenges Encountered in Workshops

From a more narrow perspective, we face multiple challenges when carrying out workshops. They varied from unexpected issues, such as low attendance rates and lack of punctuality, to expected ones, such as problems related to translation.  Luckily, the first workshop was a lesson learned for us all, and we were able to set better guidelines and structures for the next ones.

For instance after the first workshop, it was clear that there was a need to plan the activities for a shorter period of time since some stakeholders weren’t punctual at all. Likewise, attendance was quite volatile and often some participants were leaving the activities during the workshop and coming back much later. When collecting data from the workshops, multiple members of our team needed to pay a lot of attention to and take notes on different groups of participants to make sure who was really participating and who was not.

indexAs expected, the need for translation was also proven to turn out as a challenge. The translation processes slowed down all activities and there was always a lot of information that got lost in action. However, an unexpected side effect of it was that it also compromised the facilitation process. Often, participants would engage in heated and time-consuming discussions or deviate the topic to aspects that were not relevant in regard of the workshop, and by doing so, they disrupted the dynamics of the activities. Interfering in these situations was complicated as the facilitator wasn’t able to understand the language. To deal with the issues, it was very important to go through the activities in advance and communicated well with the translator. One more important lesson learned from these experiences was that when planning a workshop, it is important to keep the structure as flexible as possible so that it is easy to make adjustments according unplanned developments if needed.   

Another interesting aspect learned from the workshops was that when conducting one at the facilities of someone else, it is important to meet the hosts in advance in case there are any formalities or practicalities to be followed. During the field trip, two of our workshops were conducted at the office of local authorities. The first time we were there, the activities were already about to start when the translator informed us that the authorities would start the event with a small speech. The same happened when wrapping up the session – they were the authorities saying the final word. In addition, the physical arrangements of the workshops might not be as expected. The team planned to have a more traditional, a classroom like set-up with a wall where the information could have been displayed. However, once the team arrived on site, the participants decided to take all the chairs out and form a big circle in the garden. When thinking about details like this in advance, the interaction with and between the participants could be improved.

To conclude, there will always be challenges when working in such a multicultural environment, and some of them cannot be foreseen or avoided. However, they always teach important lessons and inspire to improve. It is important to keep in mind that despite any challenges, good humor, hard teamwork, and good doses of flexibility help in overcoming difficulties.

After all, the field trip was a success the team managed to collect important data, get a good overview on the current situation in Dar, and now once back in Finland, continue the project in full speed.


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