Gathering our international staff together from time to time is important to us. We currently have staff in Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, Djibouti, Egypt, and a small footprint in Cuba and Nepal as well. The overarching objective of our work does not vary: to build up the country through building up the people of that country, training them, increasing their capacity, so that the nationals themselves can better the situation of their people in a sustainable, reproducing, multiplying manner. But the form of our work varies from country to country. One of the highlights of the Global Forum was hearing country reports, to better understand and appreciate what our teammates are doing around the world.
In Indonesia, for example, our staff trains local villagers in mango production and preparation for market through dehydrating strips of mangos that would otherwise fall to the ground and rot, unused. The dried strips of mangos are packaged and sold nationally and internationally. Local staff are earning double what they used to, and are learning marketable skills. In Egypt our staff works with expectant and young mothers, preparing them for labor and childbirth, training them in hygiene and child care. In Laos our staff trains Laotian doctors in laparoscopic and other techniques, as well as training in English and leadership management skills. In Djibouti our staff has moved from teaching English at the University of Djibouti to launching an international school for both nationals and expatriates. In Vietnam our resident team served in the English departments of two different universities and also worked with young people in our Tea Talk context, including the “Let’s Chat” and “Let’s Share” programs. We also had a number of short-term volunteer teams come to bring expertise in the areas of medicine, business, education, veterinary, and social work.
It was, without exaggeration, inspirational to hear the stories of transformation taking place in the lives of individuals, communities, and nations through the efforts of our resident staff and volunteers!
This Forum also marked a time of leadership transition, both recent and upcoming. We honored Roderick Beidler, at right above, who passed the torch to new President and CEO K. “Doug” Erdmann last May after leading our work for many years. Our global staff met Craig Slater (pictured with wife Kris a couple of photos below), the new Deputy Director for REI-Vietnam, who will succeed current Director of REI-Vietnam, Brian Teel, at left above, in the next few months. We celebrated Presley and Mary McFadden, at right below, and their family, as they prepare to move to Singapore. Presley has been Resident Team Leader in Vietnam for the past several years, and will be succeeded in that role by Randy Vernon, who will be moving with his wife Jill (below left) to Hanoi in September.
The theme of this year’s Forum was “Advance!” Several of our sessions addressed different aspects of advancing our work. Doug illustrated this in one of his messages with a story about an international boating competition. The winning team asks one simple question: “What will make the boat go faster?” In our context, one thing that helps us “go faster” is understanding and working with our strengths. In one of our multi-hour sessions, REI board member Gail Flanders Jones led us through an analysis of individual and team strengths, so that we might work more effectively as individuals and with our local team.
We also explored in some depth our vision statement and the concept of holism, one of the prime tenets in our work (“bringing professional help and personal hope” has long been one of our taglines). We seek to improve the quality of life on every level. What does that look like in the countries where we work? How can we advance that? We did a SWOT analysis of our work in different countries to help us understand where we stand and how to better move forward. (“SWOT” stands for “Strengths - Weaknesses - Opportunities - Threats,” and is a widely used business tool.) We also looked at elements of branding, fundraising and security issues.
We also spent many hours around the table, connecting or reconnecting, comparing notes on what we have done and what we are learning, and simply enjoying one another’s company. The result was not only a good week of work, but a week of refreshment.
It was a good week. Now we are looking forward to seeing what the next few years will bring before we gather together for our next Global Forum, as we continue to build people to build their nation!