John, from Uganda, is currently working as a Governance and Project Management Adviser, alongside the General Assistance and Volunteers Organisation (GAVO), in Somaliland.

What is your work background?

I have held various advocacy and organisational development advisory positions, in both local and international organisations, in Africa and Asia. This included working alongside the National Association of Women Organisations and the Coalition for Health Promotion and Social Development (both in Uganda), the Legal Resources Foundation (in Zambia) and VSO (in Cambodia). In Nepal, I worked again with VSO, with the Capacity Building Working Group of the Association of International NGOs in Nepal and with Action Aid International.

What inspired you to become a Development Worker with Progressio?

My inspiration was altruism, including wanting to serve and contribute to development. I was further inspired by the desire to share knowledge, values and skills. I strongly believe in capacity building and that is one of the things that this placement with Progressio offered me.

What is your first memory of arriving in Somaliland? 

I would say it is better than any of those other ‘first time’ things people usually speak about and very memorable. This is an extract from my diary about day one on the way from the airport to the Ambassador Hotel, and later to downtown Hargeisa:

“On that sunny afternoon through the dusty roads and beautiful scenery, I was fascinated by the calm and peace in the country and it is contrary to what those outside this region perceive.” 

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I enjoy working as part of an organisation and team that is impact driven, in an area where opportunities have been greatly affected by civil war and strife. I enjoy mentoring and coaching the team at GAVO and seeing them build capacity and being able to handle assignments, even with minimal supervision when I am away. 

What has been the most exciting moment so far?

Socially, it has been interesting and surprising to have colleagues organise a surprise birthday party for me in an environment where I least expected it. However, being able to meet all my deadlines cannot go unmentioned. 

And the biggest lesson?

I have learned that there has been an improvement in the levels of good will, commitment and enthusiasm from the communities and local leaders through working with Progressio’s local partner organisations, especially GAVO. This work needs to continue in order to build trust in an open and transparent manner by improving reporting, with the objective of increasing accountability and public participation in local decision-making processes.

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

I have witnessed positive organisational capacity development in planning, implementation and reporting, and improved information sharing and networking.  

What is the biggest development challenge facing Somaliland?

Some of the challenges that are apparent in Somaliland include the predominant clan system, coupled with the lack of international recognition. These challenges have posed a threat to several opportunities, such as funding, security, and membership and representation at the international level.

The civil war in Somalia resulted in the enormous destruction of schools, businesses, ministries, hospitals and homes. In more general terms, the collapse of these ‘hard’ societal systems still limits the ability of the country to develop the social and economic institutions it needs.

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

I would change the attitudes and perceptions of the community on women, specifically those stemming from traditional beliefs and cultural norms dominated by clan leaders and elders. This would in essence empower women who are marginalised.

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

Progressio’s approach of placing Development Workers to live and work in cultures other than their own can be fascinating and very rewarding. It’s one of the very few careers that give people such an opportunity to experience a range of countries, all with different cultures, values and religions. I find myself constantly inspired by the contribution I am making by sharing my professional skills and feel rewarded when I notice the resourcefulness of the people with whom I am working.

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

I would advise them to go for it and be ready to totally integrate into any society, community or country in which they are placed. Integration is key to development work. In addition, the Development Worker should be willing to create impact through learning and sharing their knowledge and experiences.  

Where do you see yourself once your placement has ended? And in what ways is this placement with Progressio assisting you to get there?

I see myself in a position taking on more challenging responsibilities. Progressio has given me an opportunity to participate in international election observation in Somaliland. I was also recommended to participate in the training on individual safety and security. I am inspired to continue to make a difference.