Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Diversity Amongst Colleagues

I work for an unusual organisation. An organisation that takes great pride in its remit. An organisation that commands great respect around the world and excels itself on its commitment to excellency, both in its standards and its applications.

I've been with them for 18 years. I've covered various roles, from pushing forward identification of previously unknown servicemens remains to seeing an honoured commemoration, being a PA to the senior directors, working in the Desk Top Publishing department producing advertising literature and information leaflets through to what I'm doing today - working in the sector that deals primarily with our furthest countries.

We take care of our staff and through day to day contact with our British managers overseas and locally engaged managers we effectively pull off a comraderie and supportive network that is so sorely lacking in today's multi-national organisations.

It's like a big family. I witnessed this first hand last year when I had the opportunity to travel on business to Egypt for a horticultural training conference. With an office in Heliopolis, it seemed more prudent to send the British staff over there to facilitate a training programme primarily for the Arab staff. With a group of men from Ghana, Gambia, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Sudan the mixture of personalities and local dialects was extensive. The young men from Gambia had never even set foot out of their village and there they were being thrust on a plane, flying business class and being set up in a five star hotel in the outskirts of Cairo. I witnessed their complete wonder and amazement at this and saw them struggle to use a knife and fork. At one point one of them was completely overwhelmed with the lift and it took a few attempts to show him how to use it only for me to simplify it by telling him that level 5 meant sleep, level G meant food and going out - he did not need to press any other buttons - those were the floors he needed and one of us would always be there waiting for him so he didn't get lost.

To see Egyptians and Israelies laughing and joking together was heartening. To hear them joking about the owernship of the Sinai desert and the modern problems going on made me realise that although the problems are globally transmitted via the media, the average man on the street just wants it all to end. We're constantly brainwashed into thinking that all muslim men are out to blow us up, but my experience of them was that they were extremely decent. At times when they spoke Arabic in my presence they apologised for their rudeness and spoke English. At various parts of our trips in the less desirable areas, they guided me to the safer parts. In the Khan el Khalili market one of them even dressed down the trader who tried to pull one over on me for taking advantage of the fact I was a Western woman clearly out of her depth being haggled by four at a time!

But today, the whole ethos of who I work for was laid down with staggering compassion. We have a cemetery in Gaza and various cemeteries in Israel. The Israeli staff have every right to have issues with the Gaza staff because that's where their politics lead them. But this week our site in Gaza was bombed. The Head Gardener lost his house and our staff are left without food because the stocks they had have now run out. Somehow a journalist has managed to get into the site and take photos of the devastation and this afternoon we received a call from the DA in Israel to say that the Israeli staff had asked whether we could authorise payment through our accounts to provide their colleagues in Gaza with food and supplies and sweets for the children. Our guy in Jerusalem is going shopping today for the goods to be taken over the border on Thursday.

It's days like this I'm proud to work with men like that. Men who see beyond the politics and see the humanity and suffering of their colleagues and do everything they can to help.

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