Sophia's Peace Work

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Anatomy of a Project Gone Sour

For the past few months I've been working with another Iraqi Environmental NGO (that's non-governmental organization) to bring them and a few staff from the Iraqi Ministry of Education to the U.S. in the summer for trainings in environmental education. I was able to set up a series of invitations for training at several excellant programs for a small group of Iraqis (5 to 6 people). We were trying to target folks from the NGO, a representative from the College of Education (University of Baghdad), a representative from the Curriculum Development Committee at the Ministry, and a representative from the Teacher Training Institute. We also wanted to bring someone from the Ministry of Environment.

Almost six months ago, I went to see the Iraq Project Manager (maybe that's not exactly the correct title but it's something like that) for UNESCO and he told me that they were very interested in the project and that they just needed to see if they had the funding for it. I checked back with him on several occasions and always he told me,

"Yes, we think we can support this ... we just need to have our funding confirmed ... it will happen ... we just need until February (or early-March or mid-March) to confirm that we have the funds."

As you need time to get Iraqis a visa to the U.S., I got more nervous as time went on, but I kept telling the Iraqis (and this was my mistake, I guess) ... "it looks good, it is just a matter of time."

Then I met with them on my last day before leaving for the U.S. I was very nervous ... I was getting to a do or die point for the project. The project manager told me again, "yes we want to fund this ... but we need just two more weeks to finalize the funding. I'm sure it will really be done in two weeks. And ... we also want to talk to our contacts at the Iraqi Ministry of Education ... to confirm that they support the project."

I sighed (quietly) but it still meant that I had just enough time. I was slightly worried by this issue of them talking to their contacts at the Ministry. I didn't know who they meant or if the Iraqi NGO I was working with, who I depended upon for all communication with the Ministry, had made sure that all the right folks at the Ministry were fully informed and supportive of the project. She had indicated that it was supported and so I was still pretty confident that UNESCO would end up funding the project.

At this last meeting, I also was introduced to a new person (let's call him Samir) who has joined the Iraqi Project at UNESCO. Samir is Jordanian and he is actually interested in Environmental Education. He even gave me a book he had written on the subject of Environmental Education in Developing Countries (Note: I found some useful information in it, but it was a dry read at best ... more of a published thesis).

So I went to the U.S. still feeling positive and actually visited some of the training centers I was intending to bring the Iraqis too with the goal of discussing the details of the trip with the trainers.

Then, after two weeks, I contacted the Project Manager at UNESCO. I got no response. So I wrote to Samir, who had also given me his contact information. He responded right away ... and this is what he said.

Dear Sophia,

Thank you for your email-messages. In fact, the Project Manager has left UNESCO to work for the World Bank. Right now I haven’t his contact info in Washington.

As for EE project in Iraq, you proposed a project under the title: “Environmental Education Capacity Building for Iraq”. I studied the proposal, and according to yesterday meeting with the Iraqi MoE planning Directors, I recommend the following:

Instead of doing this project right now, I suggest you prepare a project proposal aims at keeping the school environment clean, healthy, and tidy. Perhaps, the project will entitled: “School Environment Award”. The main project proposed activity may include an annual environmental competition between Iraqi schools. Can we do this.

Yours, Samir

Wow. After all that time and effort, we were blown out of the water and told to do a project on keeping schools clean and tidy (which actually should be the responsibility of the Ministry, I may point out). I've been trying to figure out who these Iraqi MoE Planning Directors are ever since. My inquiries haven't gotten anywere. The Iraqi NGO hasn't been able to enlighten me yet. In my subsequent messages to Samir, I couldn't hide my disappointment and he actually took me to task for trying to force the Iraqis to do what I wanted. He wrote me:

Do not show us that you have your agenda, and we UNESCO are the donors. Do not show us you want to do what you want to do, no matter what is the real situation in Iraqi schools, and what are the real needs in Iraq.

That's was a real blow ... and then I thought ... well, he doesn't know me, he doesn't know all the work I've done in Iraq or the work we put into communicating and working with the Ministry on this project ... he's new here, he doesn't know the history of my conversations with UNESCO and he making some assumptions about me ... probably all he sees is a pushy American woman ... still it was a blow.

I tried to patch it up with him and give him the history behind what I had been doing and tell him who we had been working with ... but I never heard back from him and when I was in Washington, D.C. I met with an organization that has done alot of work with the Ministry of Education and they had very little good to say about working with UNESCO. They weren't surprised when I told them what had happened.

At this point, I have encouraged the Iraqi NGO to write directly to Samir themselves. It seems obvious to me that my continued involvement will only make matters worse. The training facilities have all told me that they would be willing to extend the invitations for next year. I wonder if I have the energy to try again?


  • He's a man, you're a woman. He's expressing his dominance and demanding that you go take care of children in a culture (UNESCO?) where women's roles are limited.

    It sounds like it's not about being pushy, or being American. It's about daring to have a say. Who knows, you might someday infect his chattel-women.

    I have no idea how to fight back against that situation - but perhaps the comment will help.

    By Blogger Shunra, at April 29, 2006 12:34 AM  

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