Jarmila Kabatova - Caritas development projects manager

Jarmila Kabatova

My guest on One on One today is Jarmila Kabatova, head of several development aid programs at the Catholic charity organization Caritas. Now 26, Jarmila joined the organization in her second year at university where she studied sociology and economics. She now supervises development programmes in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, where Caritas runs hospitals and long distance adoption programmes. Her work takes her to developing countries several times a year and I began by asking her to recall her first trips and impressions:

"It was really adventurous. We literally lived with the people. We were always wearing the local dresses, we were always eating the local food and we even stayed in local mud houses. I remember one crazy night at one of the village libraries which we built when I could hear and smell and almost touch all the little animals which were flying and scurrying around us. So it was very adventurous, but nowadays - both fortunately and unfortunately - my travels are more organized in the sense that I spend more time in the office checking the accounting and doing strategic planning for the whole project. So today I do not have so much time to spend in the village though I always go and meet the people and the children."

How do you choose the children you are going to help?

"The way it works is that you bring the community together - the mothers, the fathers - usually the mothers, they are more active - and you tell them to choose twenty, thirty, fifty or a hundred children from among the poorest ones. And then they give you a list. They discuss it among themselves and you can be sure that the selection will be good and that it will not create any jealousy in the community."

Are there any memories that stick in your mind from these trips? They must be very different obviously from your life here.

"That's true. At first what really struck me is how hospitable, how friendly the people were. Wherever we went people were smiling at us, they would bring us small gifts - a piece of pineapple or sugarcane. And you knew that those people were very poor. They did not have their own sugarcane field but went and bought that piece of sugarcane with maybe the last coin they had in their pocket."

It must be very difficult, emotionally, to go there, see so much suffering and only be able to help some of them. How do you deal with that?

"Yes. That is always a problem. We have just completed the construction of a hospital in a Ugandan village and we have started running it together with the local diocese. Thousands of people come to the hospital and some of them cannot pay. So the doctors have to decide whether to treat them or turn them away. Of course, this may seem very cruel. But if you in the post of manager and you do not have the financial resources then you can close the hospital next month and you will not be able to help anyone. So you really have to make such cruel decisions - but our aim is to sustain institutions -hospitals, schools, so that these institutions can sustain and continue helping more and more people."

What is communication like with the locals?

Jarmila Kabatova
"That is a very interesting topic because communication requires that you know the local mentality. There are many misunderstandings caused by cultural differences. For example I recall one - I wrote to our partner organization saying that I had repeatedly requested some documents from them. A couple of weeks later my director received a letter from the bishop of that particular diocese saying that his employee Mrs. Jarmila Kabatova had sent a very rude letter to the director of the local Caritas. He called me and I said - what's happened? I am not aware of any mistake. And the mistake was in the wording of the sentence - "I have repeatedly requested". That was considered very rude because it reminded the local people of the times when Uganda was a colony and they said that they will never accept this kind of communication and that we really should think about what our intentions in Uganda are because if we continue to communicate in this fashion they will not cooperate with us at all. So this simple sentence caused enormous problems but of course we explained to them that in our world this sentence does not carry such connotations that it is merely an urgent reminder of business that needs to be taken care of. So the misunderstanding was cleared up and all was well. But such things inevitably happen as a result of different mentalities and cultures."

What about communication with the simple folk - the village folk?

"If you adjust, if you get used to their ways, then there is no problem. There are things you must learn to accept. For instance if you set a meeting with the village folk for 2pm you should expect to start the meeting at 6pm - because they will not appear at the set time. They will start trickling in very slowly, much later. Time is not an issue in Uganda. That is one thing we are struggling to cope with - the sense of time in Uganda..."

What about India?

"India - the Indians are more precise. They are very hard-working and very ambitious. Even the village people aim quite high. We fill in questionnaires about the children who are beneficiaries of our support project and if you read through them you will find that these children say they want to be a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher or even a politician. They are very ambitious in life."

What are your expectations of the future?

"Working for Caritas Prague, working for the child-sponsorship programme fulfills my expectations of how useful I can be in my job. I really see the results - the impact - of the programme. I firmly believe that education is the main factor of development. Of course, there are many types of development programmes, even on the macro-economic level, helping governments, helping to build an infrastructure, building factories. But history has shown that these programmes failed because the way to develop a country is to change the attitude of the people. And you can only do that through education."