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From PA to DO: transitions and transformations

When you apply for a position, one that you feel meant for, there’s always a riot of emotion. Anxiety, vulnerability, hunger, anticipation. The emotions knot your stomach and induces stuttering in interviews. You know you were meant for this. You just hope you can make them realize it, too.

So much to my surprise I found that my sleepless nights and crossed fingers paid off. I was in Ghana, and in the position I was most hoping for. The Director of Operations (D.O.) is responsible for the health and wellbeing of the staff; has a hand in daily logistics; is responsible for organization finances on the ground; leads site visits; oversees the site manager, senior program manager, and program associates as they go about their work in Ghana; builds necessary relationships in the community; is the primary contact between Expo’s leadership and Ghana’s Department of Education, contributes to the vision of and target goals of the organization; hires and orients incoming staff, engages in regional travel when necessary….

Yes, by the end of my orientation I was a little overwhelmed. Training commenced and I soon found my rhythm running my biweekly Peer to Peer tutoring program and shadowing the outgoing D.O. a few days a week. Working with my students in the role of a Program Associate gave me inspiration and context for my transition to D.O. I was able to witness the struggles of my students and build relationships and collaborate with teachers to exchange material and advice on students. I blinked, and now here I am at the end of the term.

I’m stepping into the role of D.O. armed with several key advantages. My first advantage is the foundation on which I stand. I am now able to move forward because my predecessor gave me materials, information, and knowledge to ensure all I have to do is focus on the future. We are a young and growing organization, and I’m lucky to begin my position armed with a solid organizational platform to compliment my previous experience in West Africa.

Second, my team. My staff is a group of kick-ass change makers that don’t take “no” for an answer. They are a group of truly talented people with diverse professional and cultural backgrounds. I know they are equal to any and all surprises, obstacles, and joys associated with working in the education field. I am prepared to shamelessly draw on their energy and enthusiasm to design and implement new programs.

My third advantage (and final, but only for the purposes of this blog post) is my environment. Ghana might present itself riddled with challenges but it’s all a ruse. Yes, the power regularly cuts. Yes, transportation and traffic can be a total bear, making you miss appointments and not get home until late at night. Yes, the internet can just… not work. For no reason. But there’s also the light that enters a student’s eyes when they finally grasp a difficult concept. There’s the daily creative interchange between Twi and English Languages. There’s the inspiring presence of teachers and Ghanaian volunteers working to support and guide our students. There’s the random outbreak of song and dance when you see a Ghanaian friend in an unexpected place. My environment buoys me despite the inherent challenges of my position.

Anxiety, vulnerability, hunger, anticipation. The emotions that ruled me when I hit “apply” from my kitchen table in the U.S. still sit with me as I step into a pair of very large shoes. Now, my anxiety fuels me to excel. The vulnerability just means I’m pushing comfort levels. My hunger to make this organization stronger, to see our programs change lives keeps me at a proposal longer than normal. And the anticipation of seeing where we will go together, how we will move forward, fuels each supervision I lead with staff members.

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