Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Farewell to Pierre Johannessen

Pierre Soheil Johannessen walks into the conference room of Habitat Bangladesh dressed in a Big Bangs t-shirt - the community-based basketball charity that two Frenchmen, a Bangladeshi and himself founded. He is here to discuss the last 12 months he as spent in Dhaka, Bangladesh as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development (AYAD) working in the National Office of Habitat for Humanity International Bangladesh (HFHIB).

Pierre had no preconceived ideas on Bangladesh before arriving in September 2007. He reflects that he was "not in the mind-frame" for coming to Bangladesh, and, frankly, does not look in the mind-frame to be leaving. the work completed, the experiences had, and most importantly, the relationships made, are hard to leave behind.

Arriving in the country two months before Cyclone Sidr struck southern Bangladesh, Pierre also witnessed HFHIB commencing its first Disaster Response project in Bhuapur Tagail which built 122 transitional shelters for families who lost their homes in the September 2007 floods.

Thousands of families lost their homes in the destruction of Cyclone Sidr in southern Bangladesh, and Pierre was thrown into the deep end and was fortunate enough to join the disaster assessment team in Patuakhali. The trip brought about a swell of emotions for the young Australian. The vast destruction and desperation in the faces of people play over in his head as a constant reminder that his work as a Resource Development Associate at Habitat "concerns families, not just dollars and cents." He comments that he is impressed at what Habitat has done and continues to do in Patuakhali. "We have not abandoned the community. We are still there. We are rebuilding the houses." While mentioning his experience on the assessment trip Pierre said, "I took lots of photos and one of the
most appealing photos that I have taken is the photo that is featured in the Habitat Bangladesh 2008 calendar. This image will remain in my heart for years to come."

Pierre has had a significant impact on the Resource Development and Public Relations Department of HFHIB. Introducing accountability, new internal and external communication methods, policies and procedures, improved efficiency, and marketing techniques, were just a few outcomes achieved by Pierre.

Where Pierre differs from other AYADs, work is only one facet that makes up his experience in Bangladesh. Basketball, a lifetime passion, could not be put aside while in Bangladesh. From coaching school teams, to meeting other 'ballers', Pierre began to spend most of his time after office hours on a basketball court somewhere in Dhaka. It was on one of these courts that the Big Bangs was born. An organization that has run tournaments, entered and sponsored competitions, organized skills training workshops, run basketball camps at orphanages in and around Dhaka, and, handed out food packages and played ball with street kids in Old Dhaka.

Pierre has enjoyed his time in Bangladesh, contributing significantly to Habitat Bangladesh, playing basketball and eating Shingaras (a typical Bangladeshi snack). He came with no conceived ideas on Bangladesh and leaves with what he calls a "priceless experience". Pierre articulates his experience at HFHIB as "awesome", his favorite word. Travelling from Dhaka to Tangail, to Mirzaganj to Savar, Pierre has met with and interviewed families, taken pictures, and written stories and articles about Habitat. He emphasises that these were the most enjoyable parts of his assignment.

Despite Pierre commenting that he has experienced more personal development rather than career development, his contribution has had a positive effect on HFHIB and has encouraged the organization to raise its profile in Bangladesh and increase its confidence in engaging future international volunteers to its programs.

Pierre's final words to future volunteers - "be part of the community". A statement that certainly rings true for this Australian.

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