A real adventure: read about a WWF staff member’s secondment in Myanmar.

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Full Name:   Tehani Pestalozzi

Location:  Yangon, Myanmar (currently seconded for 6 months)

Current Title: Public Sector Partnerships Coordinator

Educational Background:  Master’s in Development Studies

Tell us about your current mission in Myanmar? What have you been working on?

I’ve been seconded from WWF International to help with the start-up of a brand new office in Myanmar. Myanmar has abundant natural resources which, for much of it, are still untouched. As the country opens up, it’s essential that these resources are safeguarded to ensure long-term prosperity and sustainability.

Of course, everyone and their brother are rushing into the country. Now that most sanctions on Myanmar have been lifted, there is a huge flood of ODA (Official Development Assitance) coming into the country. My job, while here, is to start building relationships with the various public sector finance institutions – such as the European Union, Asian Development Bank, JICA, etc. – to see where we can collaborate on projects, where they can integrate more environmentally-friendly practices into their portfolio, and where WWF can advise them on environmental issues.

What has been the biggest challenge living and working in Myanmar?

THE INTERNET! It’s very slow here, and very expensive. So when we have important calls (on skype!) we take a taxi across town to the one luxury hotel that has a good connection. There are hundreds of others just like us sitting in the lobby with their headphones on!

It’s also a huge challenge pulling together an office “from scratch”. It’s crazy how many small details – a fridge, a calendar of public holidays, cell phones for staff – are needed to make an office work. And in a new country, it just takes that much more effort for us clumsy foreigners to get these things done. We’ve finally recruited some excellent local staff, so things are much smoother now.

That being said, it’s a wonderful experience being in such a fast-changing city and getting to live and work side-by-side with some of the friendliest, kindest, most capable people I have ever met.

Has there been any moments to celebrate success? Do tell.

Nothing earth-shattering… it’s the little things. Like when you tell a teenage boy you work for WWF and he gets very excited about it and offers to volunteer. Or you’re able to finally get a meeting with an organization whose ignored you for months. Or for instance today, when we finally got faster (but not fast) internet at the office.

Store by the road selling all kinds of dried fish and seafood… you’ll note a family of four on the motor bike on the right!

 Take us through a typical day at WWF. What drives you nuts and what makes you smile.

My day in Myanmar usually starts quite early – around 7:30 – with e-mails and breakfast at home, since the internet at my apartment is much faster than at the office. Sometimes a colleague will join me.

We then usually hop in a taxi and head across town to the office around 9 AM, and work on things that require no internet—it’s actually a quite productive way to work if you’re organized. We often order lunch or go out to a local restaurant, but sometimes we bring lunch and share it together—the expats are the ones who win on this deal, since the local staff bring great curries and make fresh coriander salad or green tea salad to go with it.

Sometimes we have meetings with other organizations, so we zip (or crawl, depending on traffic) across town. But often, we have calls with other WWF offices, so we head back downtown either to a hotel or to my apartment where the internet is better. Even after two months, scheduling calls is still confusing, as Myanmar’s time zone is half an hour off from most of the rest of the world.

What advice would you give to others wanting to work in Myanmar?

Do it! It’s fun, exciting, challenging, dynamic, interesting, crazy. A real adventure. Of course there are challenges, but what you gain is worth ten times the annoyances.

I’ve had to slow down, change my expectations of how things are done, and revert to “old-school” technology for certain things, like real-world social networking. The way to get things done here is to take the time to get to know people, talk with them, share a smile or a meal. And they’ll be willing to help you with whatever you need.

Visiting my friend, Khine Khine Swe (far right)’s family.

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