Friday, 13 March 2009

Mental State

"Bolt's ability to stay relaxed is the key to his success..."

Taken from a feature entitled 'Anatomy of a Speed Demon' in today's issue of 'Sport' about Usain Bolt, the tall, muscular, long-legged guy who runs very fast even under extreme pressure.

That is what separates the good from the great in almost any sport or endeavour, the ability to stay relaxed. Fighting in particular.

Btw, Amir Khan takes on Marco Antonio Barrera tomorrow. I hope he doesn't get knocked out. Success lies not in this world and definitely not with one whose bottom gets planted on the earth.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Work with (understand) the community you are to serve

This was one of the key points drilled at the Shelter Training Course I attended last weekend. A quote I happened to stumble upon today to demonstrate the point:

"Jabe Blumenthal liked to ask program manager candidates [during interview] to design a house. Sometimes the candidate would go to the white board and draw a square.

This is about the worst possible thing to do, in Blumenthal's estimation. A house can be anything. You never build a house without asking who's paying for it and how much money, space, and time are available...

... One of Blumenthal's collegues, Joel Spolsky, took to interrupting the square-drawers. 'Actually, you fogot to ask this,' he'd say, as they were putting the finishing touches on their floor plan, 'but this is a house for a family of forty-eight-foot-tall blind giraffes'."

(Source: How Would You Move Mount Fuji?, Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle, How the World's Smartest Companies Select the Most Creative Thinkers)

Monday, 9 March 2009

Shelter Training Course

Attended this 2-day course the previous weekend organised by Engineers Without Borders UK. Found it very beneficial. Left me with a greater appreciation of how complex disaster relief and development (and people!) can be. A good mix of theory and hands-on workshops.

Sessions included:

  • The right things to the right people: an insight into the difficulty of identifying aid recipients and distributing aid. The session included role play. Participants were split into two groups; the distributors and recipients of aid. Recipients were of varying need depending on who they were (head of household, elderly person etc), how many people depended on them (number of children etc) and the extent to which their house had been damaged (not at all, partially or completely). Distributors had to prioritize recipients and distribute aid without it all descending into chaos.
  • Transitional Shelter Construction: constructed shelter given a few planks of wood, a hammer, nails, a plastic sheet and some rope.
  • Tents: put up a few different kinds of tents commonly used in relief camps.
  • Camp Planning: planned a camp site given a map and a disaster scenario.
  • Reconstruction roleplay: participants were assigned the role of differing NGO consultants (construction management, infrastructure, environment & sustainability etc) in small groups and had to work together with local representatives and government to agree on a reconstruction solution following a natural disaster.

Some thoughts/quotes:

  • When sending clothes as aid or re-building houses, the intention may be good, but is it culturally/environmentally appropriate? Is it what the people want?
  • At what point is the disaster over? How/when to ask "squatters" to leave houses/properties that they do not own?
  • Individuals are affected. Important to bear this in mind when making grand decisions (as an an engineer) as to what to do.
  • Self-help: People don't sit around waiting for you (the aid agency) to arrive.
  • Whatever you do should be driven by the community, so you know it's what they want.
  • Don't underestimate the traditional modes of construction, refined over generations. Don't think you're the only expert going in.
  • Getting people (those affected) to understand (and agree) why a certain approach is best is always a challenge.
  • Most (alot of) people go and stay with a friend or relative or in any empty building they can find, not in a refugee camp necessarily. These people also need help, maybe more so, and should not be ignored. Got to work out the total number of people affected and in need of aid.
  • You can't throw something off the back of a truck and think you've done international aid.
  • People get cranky (dangerous even) if they think they are getting something sub-standard to what others are getting. Got to keep it fair/equitable.
  • You (the aid agency) are not a parallel government. You're not here to take over. You are supporting. Where you are working they will also have laws, building guidelines etc.
  • Self-settled camps: Cities evolve over time, hundreds of years, not over days/weeks. Rushing it and leaving it completely to people could leave the "town plan" in quite a mess.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Another Friday Another Problem?

Every Friday I help set up for the congregational prayer at college. Something unexpected occurs every week. It is something we have come to expect. Today was no different. So, as I am walking in, I say to one of the managers, "Another Friday Another Problem". He responds,

"Another Friday Another Opportunity".

Indeed, in problem is opportunity. And all praise is due to Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

"Life is about survival and reproduction"...

... or, rather, overcoming greed, envy and the desires of this world?

"... When researchers ask people whether they would rather be relatively richer than their peers even if that means they are absolutely worse off, the answer is yes.

(Would you rather earn $100,000 when all your friends earn $50,000, or $150,000 when everybody else earns $300,000?)..."

(Source: The Economist, December 20th 2008, from an article entitled "Why we are, as we are" about Darwinism)

If feminism were a woman...

If feminism were a woman, she would be as ugly as a man.

"I see many parents, particularly mothers with small children, often frustrated in their desire to accomplish a lot because all they seem to do is meet the needs of little children all day. Remember, frustration is a function of our expectations, and our expectations are often a reflection of the social mirror rather than our own values and priorities."

(Source: 'The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People')

Importance, purpose and belonging. That is what each and every person seems to crave. Some find it in a gang. Others find it in an ideology. Few even settle for an imaginary friend.