Edward, from Uganda, is an Integrated Prevention Treatment Care and Support Supervisor currently working with Hargeisa General Hospital in Somaliland.

What is your work background? 

Before joining Progressio Somaliland in March 2010, I volunteered with VSO in Nigeria for two years and I was attached to a DFID funded programme, entitled Strengthening Nigeria’s response to HIV & AIDS, as Gender Advocacy and Policy Adviser for Benue State.  While in Nigeria I provided technical assistance to the State AIDS Control Agency and Local Action Committee on AIDS. 

From 2006 to 2007 I worked for Action Africa Help International in Mid-western Uganda as Senior HIV and AIDS Counselor and Programme Coordinator/ Focal person for the Great Lakes HIV Initiative Support Project respectively; between 2005 to 2006 I worked with Hoima District Local Government Community Services attached to the Department of Rehabilitation/Disability in Uganda as a Community Based Rehabilitation Worker. In this role I worked with a number of disabled people organisations, Person with Disabilities/ Persons with Special Needs and other vulnerable groups, their families and the community. 

After my University College that is in 2003 I served as a Community Social Worker /Volunteer for Reproductive Health Uganda, the former Family Planning Association of Uganda and Meeting Point a local NGO for people living with HIV in Midwestern Uganda.

What inspired you to become a Development Worker with Progressio?

I was inspired by many things such as:

  • Progressio conditions and terms of service which are similar  to those of VSO  (who I had two years’ previous good experience with); 
  • My work experiences as a development work outside my own country also gave me courage and my desire to share new skills and experiences;
  • I also saw Progressio as an organisation which would enhance and advance my career development;   
  • The philosophy of living simply, in solidarity and sustainably, especially towards being useful to humanity; 
  • I also saw this placement as a good opportunity since it was going to enhance my work experience in working in a post conflict and harsh environment;
  • And lastly, I was inspired by what I used to read from the Progressio website and the development worker experiences from different countries as a development worker and those I knew before I joined Progressio.

What made the biggest impact on you on arriving in Somaliland? Is living in your country of placement as you expected it to be?

What struck me most was the desert like environment with too much heat, the chewing culture of a green leaf commonly known as “khat”, the situation I had not seen before where Somalis on same days, like Thursday which is the official day for chewing, every street corner of the town is dotted with small huts where you will see many men chewing from as early as seven in the morning and you wonder what time they have for work and their families. The culture of working half day and the style of dress was something of a shock. Outside Hargeisa I was struck by the road infrastructure as my work involves moving out to the field to supervise the Progressio supported Integrated Prevention Treatment Care and Support sites. 

Life in Somaliland is very different and interesting because I am now living among people of a different culture and religion, in a post-conflict area where I have to be accompanied by the Special Police Unit anytime I am travelling out of Hargeisa (the capital city of Somaliland). Still interestingly after work you are confined to your villa/ house, there are no churches/chapels or recreational places. This is really a learning experience for me and for the time since I have been in this placement I feel like I am at home because I adopted to the culture of the Somalis and I now have many friends to talk to both the Somalis and expatriate community that are very close. As development workers we have tried to make our life comfortable whereby every weekend there are some get together and barbecues that keep us together and entertained.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

My supervisory role and the appreciation I get from my colleagues at the workplace and those in health facilities/sites that are supported by Progressio. The staff are really appreciative and they take my advice, I have enjoyed my work with regards to staff capacity building through mentoring, coaching, training, support, and supervision. The interactions and the team work spirit of the staff and their open attitude to learning which has helped me to achieve my placement objective. The staff gusto to share and willingness to learn is really fascinating and indeed motivational. 

What has been the most exciting moment so far?

The most exciting moments as a development worker with the support of other development workers working on the same project we have tried our level best to strengthen and build the capacity of staff in partner organisations through training, mentoring, coaching and supervision to upgrade their knowledge and skills. It is also worth noting that staff at the Integrated Prevention Treatment Care and Support Centre have improved greatly both personally and professionally. They are now able to do some things that they were not able to do before with minimal supervision and support.

And the biggest lesson?

The way of thinking and perception of the people here is very different, and as a development worker I have learnt to work with people with low educational capacity, taking things one step at a time.  Secondly working in such an environment you need patience, humility and to be open-minded. It is critical to first understand the culture of the people and/or the partner organisation as this will help you to integrate into the system. People are very friendly - both men and women. The biggest lesson is to be humble and not to criticise anyone for anything otherwise you may be rejected or fail to perform.

What is the biggest change you have witnessed since starting your placement?

The human resource capacity has been strengthened and the quality of service delivery/provision among staff has also significantly improved with regards to prevention care and support for people living with HIV. The uptake and access of these services is drastically increasing.

If you could change one thing, what would that be?

The socio-economic and cultural factors that pre-dispose Somalis/Somalilanders to HIV. While there is much to do, there is a conducive environment to promote change. In the second phase of my project I proposed activities that aim to strengthen our advocacy initiatives targeting the relevant ministries, government and religious or faith based institutions that are committed to the prevention of the epidemic, and we also need to support partners and mobilise communities to openly speak about HIV and AIDS so as to address the issues raised above. Also based on the many challenges the country is facing I would advocate for the need for action to increase or vibrantly engage the media and the relevant stakeholders to discuss HIV and support partners to intensify campaigns to inform the population of the dangers and the pre-disposing factors of HIV. 

I would also support the work of the partners on awareness raising and information giving, and upgrade the knowledge and skills of the health staff through building the staff capacity and intensifying training on HIV and AIDS prevention, care and support intervention, supporting partners in developing new strategies on how best to address HIV and AIDS stigma and discrimination. And at facility level I would continue ensuring that the process of further awareness-raising on HIV and AIDS is undertaken before counselling so that it is fully effective, providing the current project with a solid technical support from which to work for effective integration of prevention to care and support services.

What strikes you most about Progressio’s Development Worker model?  

The aspect of placing the development worker with a counterpart in a partner organisation to build their capacity and give technical support to the running of the organisation is very critical to future growth of the organisation. Development workers don’t only share skills and experiences, they also learn. The development worker model is critical in changing people’s lives and minds through skill-share, mentoring, coaching and advocacy. The model is also very cost-effective; I see it as a value for money approach. The development worker is not a consultant who will train for a few days/weeks then leave. The development worker provides day in day out technical support to partner, follows up on that support and ensures the change is sustainable and has a ripple effect. 

The development worker model does not only involve skill-sharing, but also provides a learning ground for a development worker. It is actually a two-way process whereby the development worker shares their skills and knowledge with a partner organisation and/or with various communities and actors, and in return they also acquire and develop new skills and knowledge. 

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming a development worker?

For those intending to become a development worker, patience and tolerance should be part of your priority virtues. You also need to understand the culture of the people and the working systems of the partners. It is also good to be prepared to give your best with an open mind for new knowledge and most importantly valuing each and every person as important. 

Secondly, it is good to listen and have the will to learn from others, development workers do not come into a country knowing all the answers but work alongside their local colleagues to bring out and strengthen the capacity of their counterparts and the partner organisation. Progressio believes that this solidarity approach contributes to sustainable development, local ownership, leadership and innovation. 

Thirdly, you need to be skilled and a committed professional who is willing to transfer skills, knowledge, share experiences and best practices with a view of building and strengthening the capacity of partner organisations and the communities they work with. 

Lastly, your commitment to poverty reduction, working in solidarity and respect for cultures and adopting new ways of learning is very critical in development work. 

Where do you see yourself once your placement has ended? 

I see myself becoming a leader or senior manager with another reputable international organisation. Progressio has developed me both professionally and personally.  I am very much different and experienced many things not only in the thematic area I am working on; I have also benefited a lot from my fellow development workers and programme staff. 

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Development work is interesting and exciting. No question about that it. Working with Progressio will gives you a unique experience both personally and professionally. Try it! You will never be the same again.