a blog about the cultural experiences my husband and I have because of our work abroad...what's delightful and beautiful about different countries and cultures...what we have learned from living and working in countries other than our home country...and how those experiences have changed us

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Stephen's recent work & travels

Stephen and I have just returned from a two week holiday in Singapore. With its efficient mass transit, beautiful gardens, wonderfully air-conditioned, quiet hotel rooms, and less than 3-hour flight from Yangon, Singapore makes for a lovely retreat city for us.

This trip was primarily about rest and rejuvenation. Stephen took walks and bike rides along the coast line and in gardens. Finding good spaces to get exercise in Yangon is a challenge. I bought some new art materials and did a few sketches and journaled but mostly I just rested.

I had minor surgery at the beginning of the trip which means I was healing for the remainder. I developed a cough during the final two weeks of my school semester that I spent the whole following two weeks trying to recover from and am still not well despite two courses of antibiotics! So resting was about all I could manage.

When last I published, I had just started my new job at MIS. Since then I’ve been busier than I’ve ever been and had neither the time nor the energy to write a decent post. (I've spent over 8 hours writing this one!) Stephen has been busy with his job too. We’ve done a lot. So now, somewhat rested with some extra time and no work commitments, I will touch on a some highlights from these last few months.

Stephen has traveled for work a lot in this year. In July he flew to New Delhi, India where he attended a conference for NCDs at the regional office for the World Health Organization (WHO). During one of the meeting days, Stephen facilitated his small breakaway group. Though some people questioned his style at the beginning, in the end he was able to generate a new health priority and a step wise plan that worked for all 7 health priorities. His contribution efficiently and satisfactorily wrapped up the meeting when all small groups came together to share their work. This prompted a number of people to seek him out after the meeting concluded to make contact for working together in the future or just to compare notes.

At the end of September, he traveled to Hue, Vietnam for a Greater Mekong Countries Regional Public Health Conference. Stephen met with program managers for projects similar to his from Bangladesh and Laos, plus the European Union (EU) monitor who overseas 8 such projects worldwide. Stephen was accompanied by a few of his staff. They commented at how clean and orderly Vietnam felt compared to their home, Yangon. They noticed the sidewalks and the streets. It was an opportunity to learn for all of them. About how other countries are doing things. Stephen said some of the other countries are doing sophisticated activities and that it would be good for his project to try to move in that direction.

During October Stephen went to Chiang Mai, Thailand for a training on social protection programs. Social Security in the US is an example of a social protection program. Stephen met people from all over the world. Some of the countries represent were: Yemen, Somaliland, Bangladesh, Timor-Leste, Kenya, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and Myanmar of course, with Stephen there. Stephen facilitated his group of 4 for a debate on a feeding program for children. He said it was in good fun and people enjoyed themselves. Outside the meetings Stephen talked with a number of different people and learned about what others are doing in many different countries around the world. Including the challenges they face. Like violence in Yemen has destroyed some social transfer programs and how they are trying to prevent further erosion of social benefits for people there. Or that Cape Town is actually safer than most places in South Africa.

In November, Stephen flew to the middle east to United Arab Emirates (UAE) where he attended the first global forum of NCD alliances. It was an invitation only event with 200 participants representing 48 countries. The forum was in Sharjah, one of the Emirates. To get to Sharjah, Stephen flew in and out of Dubai, another Emirate.

Dubai is the Vegas of the middle east. An over the top city in the desert.

Dubai has the tallest building in the world. It was featured in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.

Stephen brought back for me a number of treats containing dates and some Turkish Delight.

In December, Stephen flew to Geneva, Switzerland for a dialog meeting on NCDs at WHO headquarters. This meeting was focused on how civil society can work better together to address the enormous global burden of disease from NCDs. From Geneva he brought me chocolate. :)

In between all of this travel, Stephen has steadily and successfully managed his project and his staff, built partnership relationships, and influenced the direction of what will become national policy on NCDs. Just before we left for our holiday break, the EU monitor came to Yangon to do an evaluation of the project here, one of eight projects worldwide, as I mentioned above. Over the course of his 4-day visit he assessed the work Stephen has done and submitted a report stating that Stephen’s work has made this project one of the two best managed projects under his oversight.

I used to be able travel with Stephen. This year my job at MIS didn’t allow me to travel with him. But at the end of October I had a week break from school and we both took time off from work and had a holiday break on the beach in Langkawi, Malaysia. A new country for both of us.

Each way, we had a short layover in Kuala Lumpur and sat in what is now my favorite Starbucks in the world. :)

You can’t believe how popular Starbucks is in Asia! In both Bangkok, Thailand, and Singapore every Starbucks is full to the brim and finding an empty seat is nearly impossible. But in Kuala Lumpur, the coffee shop we found was expansive with few customers. Perfect. :)

Our beach holiday at The Danna was wonderful but it was the calm before the storm for me. In the next post I will write what my work has been like these past few months.

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