Friday, May 4, 2012

Leadership Conference for ...the Government???

The title sounds funny and can imply a condescending tone if you don't know the details so do read my report and then we talk, 'k? It's certainly not a "white people trying to tell Africans how to run their country" type of thing, more like a beginning of a healthy 2-way conversation.
Leadership Conference III
Government Sector in Lomé

          “The African spirit of community and family is the foundation of development. This is 
                    something the West could learn from us, Africans.”
(Dr. Chris Ampadu)

During the 2012 Togo Field Service Mercy Ships organized three conferences each to a different audience. After two successful conferences upcountry; one for Community Leaders and one for Church Leaders, this third conference in the capital city focused more on governmental employees and the top tribal leaders of the greater Lomé area, who are recognized by the government and can represent 10,000 or more people each.

The Leadership Conference was opened by Mr Agagah who represented the Ministry of Community Development. He expressed his gratitude towards Mercy Ships for organizing the conference and helping the Togolese government and the vision of the President that is to “see a change in Togo”. He also acknowledged with delight the presence of all the tribal leaders from the different communities.

During the two day conference (10-11 April) participants gathered in the ENAM building provided by the government. The main speaker for the event was Dr. Chris Ampadu again, whose presentation was slightly adjusted from the last two times to better deliver the message to this audience.

His main message remained the same: presenting a different picture of Africa to the audience, a continent that is capable of sustaining itself and its people if the decision makers are willing to adjust their word views and see the “cup half full”. He emphasized the importance of partnership. “If you do something today, Togo will be transformed. If you wait for the USA or France, nothing will change. They come in for a short time and then they leave you. But we at Mercy Ships are committed to Africa and can offer you a lasting partnership”.

A tribal leader commented on Chris’ first segment by bringing up emigration as a major hindrance; they send their university students to the West for quality education and they never return to become the doctors, engineers, lawyers…etc Togo so desperately needs. Chris was quick to turn their arguments around by emphasizing that “Our Africa is alive and full of hope. God works through people, leaders like you. The hope I am talking about is YOU!” He did an excellent job by bringing in God from time to time to prove his point while being respectful towards the many Muslims and Animists who not only attended the conference, but were nodding their heads repeatedly and were taking notes eagerly.

When Chris mentioned the tribal competitions (“my tribe is superior to yours”) knowing smiles were seen on the faces of the tribal leaders who were sitting side-by-side in the first row.

Talking to government people about economical challenges provoked heated discussions that continued throughout both days and gave an opportunity to tribal leaders and other government employees to sit around one table and exchange their views and ideas.

The second day started with a spontaneous feedback session with generally very positive comments like “We’ve already learnt so much”, “last night I was telling my family and colleagues what new ideas I learnt here”, “thank you Mercy Ships for investing into our future, “as a young man finally I heard those ideas spoken out to all that I’ve been thinking for a long time”, “now we know development is not a chance, it’s a choice.”

Later on Chris was teaching the participants how to do a community assessment. It was a step-by-step exercise with real life examples and pictures projected onto the big screen. After the conference, we heard many people mentioning this part as the highlight of the two day gathering; something tangible that made everything more real and helped to sink in.

The biggest question is always: What can I do? Chris again was sowing seeds of “Love in Action”. Practical applications of demonstrating love to the people around themselves is a powerful tool to start community development, may it be large or small scale. He finished his lecture by calling the participants “Agents of Change” just like he did with the small community leaders and church leaders before, demonstrating that position is secondary to the inner power any person can have over their own community.

We registered 240 participants altogether (151 on Day 1 and 240 on Day 2) and they received eleven hours of teaching sessions from Dr. Chris Ampadu.

The most animated part was the last Q & A session. The feedback we received demonstrated loud and clear why it is crucial to organize a conference for the government people. They said: “This conference really helps us to understand more our role and how to help our community.” “We are grateful to Mercy Ships for organizing this conference and we hope that the change will come to reality in the communities. You will surely see the difference when you return”

It was agreed by all that they can and want to play a role in the change of their communities.

The final part of the conference is always the loudest and most cheerful; the distribution of certificates. Signed by Franck Gouhizoun, Off Ship Projects Manager on behalf of Mercy Ships and Dr. Chris Ampadu on behalf of Samaritan Strategy tribal leaders came forward one by one to receive their certificates from Chris and .Danny Saleh, one of the sponsors of this conference. 

Report written by Réka Borsiczky (April, 2012. Lomé)

With Danny Saleh, one of the major donors for this conference
Now that all 3 of the major conferences are behind us I can evaluate them better. Let me start by saying these are MY VIEWS only and they don't necessarily represent the views or plans of Mercy Ships!

The first was for Small Community Leaders, followed by one for Church Leaders (Pastors mainly) and this for members of the government. I think we can expect the greatest impact from the first one. Those people often have only little power, little money, little opportunities, but I am confident that they WILL make a difference. As for the government people... this is more than just my general skeptical myself when it comes to governments... The majority of the audience were from the older generation where traditions are important, where everybody knows the corporate ladder you need to climb first in order to get to a certain position and sadly once you get there often there is the abuse of power for personal gains... These old people in power are the decision makers, but as such often not motivated themselves to initiate a change - for obvious reasons. 

My hope is in the younger generation though, the future leaders who are not in power yet, but have the potential to get there some day. They can and  - I believe - will make a change. Sadly, this will not happen tomorrow or even in the very near future...  So, the potential is there and great seeds were sown ... but maybe not for the best audience. :(

It will be interesting to see the results in a few weeks when we go upcountry again to have a short follow-up meeting with each group. I am very curious to see the results!

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