Facilitator training in the Democratic Republic of Congo

ALA has been delivering action Learning facilitator training for Heineken International in Amsterdam and Vienna over the past two years. More than 60 facilitators (or learning coaches, as Heineken prefers to call them) from all over the world have been trained. The effort is part of a First Line Manager (FLM) Development Programme aimed at 6000 FLMs worldwide.

There has been a more recent demand for training to be delivered in French speaking Africa, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at the Bralima brewery in Kinshasa.  Bralima was founded in 1923 and is now owned by Heineken International. The brewery produces a wide variety of beers and soft drinks including the local beer ‘Primus’.

To meet the demand for training in French ALA has recently recruited Sybille von de Fenn to work alongside me. German by birth, Sibylle has lived in France for 30 years.  She and I were due to travel to Kinshasa together to deliver training to 12 in-country prospective learning coaches.  Unfortunately Sibylle was taken ill the week before we were due to travel and so I went alone and worked with half the original group.  I wish Sibylle a speedy and full recovery and hope to have the opportunity to work with her in the future.

Organising travel to DRC turned out to be quite an administrative overhead. My visa application had to be delivered three times to the embassy before it was accepted.  The visa and my passport eventually arrived at my house the day I was due to leave: my bag was packed as the courier made his delivery.

I finally arrived in Kinshasa at 9:30am on a Sunday night.  Waiting at passport control, it sounded like there was a riot going on in the terminal building. The riot however, was just uninhibited, good-natured African banter in the baggage area.  There were cases, people, packages the size of small cars all battling for space on the ancient baggage belt.

I was met by the Bralima Protocol (his role is to take care of visiting workers) and taken back to the Bralima guesthouse via a long dark highway.  Bustling, dimly lit and dusty communities lined the road.  There were zebra crossings here and there but their purpose went unacknowledged and drivers and pedestrians alike navigated the road as best they could.  The guesthouse was reached via a series of deeply pot-holed roads (one pothole was big enough to swallow a truck) and is located right across the road from the Bralima brewery.

Yvonne Tshilemb, the HR Director, called me on the Protocol’s phone to welcome me to Kinshasa and make sure everything was going according to plan.  Serge Kabangala (Bralima’s Training and Development Manager) met me when I arrived at the guesthouse and made sure I was comfortable.

Monday was taken up with planning the training, preparing the training room and testing the technology.

On Tuesday we began the training proper with six participants from all over the country.  They were well-prepared, inquisitive, professional and a real pleasure to work with.  For those who haven’t experienced the ALA facilitator training, it is an intense experience for participants and trainers alike.  As participants realise that this is not the usual chalk-and-talk training and that they have the opportunity to work at a much deeper level than usual, they begin to open up to the process, themselves and each other.

This was the first time we have delivered the programme in French.  Sibylle professionally translated the materials and I translated some peripheral texts. These translated materials provided a solid foundation for the training.  On the first morning, previous participants joined us for a short exercise and a question and answer session – how had they been using their training, what did they value about it, how did they set up their sets and so on. It gave the current participants an appetite for the training and was much more powerful and real than if I had answered the questions from a ‘this is what usually happens’ point of view.

Evenings at the guesthouse were very slow with little social interaction despite there being quite a few visiting foreign workers at the brewery.  Although the evening meal was set at one large table, the times people arrived to eat varied so I ate either alone or with one, or perhaps two other people.

On the second night of the training, all the participants, together with some other guests went out to dinner in the centre of Kinshasa.  Because I was driven everywhere, and usually at night, I gained little understanding of the geography of the city.  So, if I’d had to walk back to the guesthouse, I would have been well and truly lost.  Central Kinshasa, around the Ministry of Transport (which looks like a very large Senate House for those who know that part of the University of London on Malet Street) was deserted and many buildings were in darkness, unlike central London for example where office blocks leave their lights on all night.

After an excellent dinner of capitaine (a fish from the Congo river), the course participants (minus Anita, the only woman in our training group) took me to hear some Congolese music.  And we danced! The men had various moves, which went with the music.  One seemed to me to be a slow salute and another mimicked the rocking of a baby.

The next day was our final day together.  We were a little behind and had to work hard to make sure we covered everything we needed to.  Part way through the morning the Protocol came into the training room and asked for my passport and suitcase.  It turned out that he needed to take these to the airport before 2.00pm to check them in: my flight did not leave until 9:55pm. Not wanting to interrupt the training, I chose to go back to the guesthouse at lunchtime and pack.  I then watched all my personal identity documents and luggage disappear into the dusty Kinshasa traffic.  I complained about the check-in system being complicated and inconvenient.  I was gently reminded that quite a few things in DRC were complicated and inconvenient and I reflected quietly that perhaps baggage check-in is one of the less important things to worry about in a country that is plagued by war and that has lost 5.4 million people since 1998.

Back at the airport, later that day, I was reunited with my passport just before boarding my overnight flight but I had no idea whether my suitcase had made the flight or not.  The rows of UN-badged land cruisers reminded me once again that DRC is a country at war and that if my suitcase did get lost, well, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

The next morning, I waited at Heathrow baggage reclaim and the suitcase did eventually turn up though it was slightly the worse for wear.  It looked like it had been dragged along the same dusty highway between Kinshasa and the airport.

Current plans are that I will return to Kinshasa in February to work with the remaining six prospective coaches. I have just received an email from Jean-Claude who is based in the east of the country.  Fighting is taking place 200 kilometres from where he is, and work and life are disrupted once again.


2 thoughts on “Facilitator training in the Democratic Republic of Congo”

  1. What an evocative account, John! It sounds like a powerful learning experience for everyone – including yourself. Looking forward to seeing your new dance moves sometime…

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