A few days ago, our project leader, Matlabe Teba, informed me that the Ministry of Education and Training was postponing the opening day of school and requiring teachers to attend ministry training for a new curriculum instead. The result was that no teachers or students would be in the villages until January 28.
Talk about a gut punch. I was facing a huge setback to our work in Lesotho and possibly a disaster in the making for our organization. With extensive plans already in place, plane tickets purchased, hotels paid for, equipment shipped, leaves taken from work, meetings scheduled, anticipation and expectations high, and two volunteers poised to leave in just a few days, I had a huge decision to make and a lot of weight on my shoulders.
The way I saw it, we had three basic options. We could go as scheduled, postpone the trip, or cancel all together. All had drawbacks and potential to do varying degrees of harm to the project. It was a matter of which risks I was willing to accept, who would benefit, and who would be harmed.
While I was frantically exploring the consequences of each option and brainstorming alternatives to try to salvage the situation, L2L team members jumped in to help.
Sherrie contacted South African Airways to find out what it would cost to change or cancel plane tickets. She found out that the airline charges $250 per person to change a ticket.
All of our volunteers were already stretched pretty thin financially after paying over $2000 each to get shots, purchase their ticket, pay for hotel and other travel expenses. They couldn't afford this extra fee. L2L could try to pick up the fees, we were looking at at least $1500 in fees, and we are stretched pretty thin financially this year, too. Postponing the trip was not a viable option.
Sherrie also found out that, if we canceled in advance, the airline would refund all but $300 of the ticket price. This was a surprise, and made the cancellation option look a little less painful. Cancelling the trip now meant the volunteers would get most of their money back, but it was unlikely any of us would have the money to try to go again for quite some time. That would leave a lot of things hanging in the wind, and could stall the project if funders and volunteers lost faith in us.
At this point, I was pinning my hopes on the kids of Ketane wanting computer lessons badly enough that they would come even when school was closed. But I literally had hours to make a decision before the first volunteer was scheduled to fly, and the word I was getting from Matlabe didn't sound good.
Tensions grew high and I was pressing Matlabe pretty hard to give me an answer or at least his best guess. Emails went back and forth with him asking for more time and me explaining we didn't have time. Matlabe doesn't like guessing and prefers to get a consensus from others before making important decisions. This was putting him way out of his comfort zone.
Although Matlabe had just returned from Namibia and wasn't in the village, he started contacting teachers by phone to see if they would come for computer training put on by L2L volunteers, even if school was officially closed. He contacted school board members to find out whether or not we could use the school before the official start of the school year. And he scheduled a meeting with the parents to find out if their children could come to school, even if school wasn't officially open and even if the teachers were away at ministry training.
Word arrived the next day from Matlabe that the teachers were on board and so was the school board. He wouldn't be able to meet with the parents for several more days when he returned to the village, but he was hopeful that they would go along with the new plan given the teachers support.
So, I made my decision to go on with our trip as scheduled.
There is still some risk that there will be complications due to the Ministry change, but I'm hopefully we can deal with those.
Not only was disaster averted, but the outcome reinforces how much our work means to Matlabe, the the teachers, and the school board. That they would buck the Ministry is a pretty big deal. And I'm confident the parents and students will display similar support.
My blood pressure is returning to normal, and I'm resuming normal preparations for my trip, leaving instructions for my husband how to water the houseplants and access our NFL football online subscription while I'm gone.
This has been another reminder of the perils of working in developing nations, of the satisfaction that comes from having a team that can surmount such obstacles, and the true appreciation the people of Ketane have for our help.
Exhausted, but happy,