A profoundly simple perspective for dealing with life’s events and espoused by nearly all Macedonians is, “Toa e toa” (it is what it is). Sometimes, there is no need to put any effort into analyzing something, but simply see it for what it is and choose what you, as a concerned individual can and want to do about it. Then, there is nothing to it but to do it. Toa e toa.
This is a wonderful culture in which material possessions do not define a person, nor is motivation to improve oneself a priority because social relatedness is paramount and your connectedness with others, and caring interactions are the priorities of each day. Additionally, personal responsibility is paramount and there is little projection of responsibility by individuals for events / activities for which the individuals can and should handle themselves. Despite this, I am sometimes simply amazed at what appears to be a lack of awareness, or caring among the staff where I work. I am hoping that this is merely a reflection of the less obvious self-conflicts in the broader culture around us, but it might be the universal human reaction when feeling that there is too much work / responsibilities and too few staff to handle it all, because this NGO does appear to me to be under staffed.
The other day, when I noticed the beneficiaries sitting around working individually in our Daily Center, I decided to go out and see what might be happening at the pavilion on this beautiful day. I found one of our beneficiaries sitting there all alone. Not just all alone, but all alone and doing absolutely nothing. I knew in an instant why he was not doing anything. He must have been brought there by his brother, as usual, because he cannot maneuver his wheelchair independently. Perhaps no one had been informed that he was there, or perhaps someone was inside preparing something for him to do.
I walked around the pavilion so I could face him and he smiled in his customary way of greeting others as he is non-verbal. I asked him if anyone was with him and he wagged his finger in a negative gesture while shaking his head side to side. I asked him where everyone was and he pointed toward the Agency’s building. I asked him if he would like something to do and he smiled and nodded his head affirmatively up and down. I then went inside to see whether the staff was aware that he was outside and if they might already have something in mind for him. I was told that they were aware that he was outside, but hey were planning, “nothing” because “he isn’t interested in anything.” Feeling that it was important to get him engaged in something, I took several pieces of paper and a pencil out to him. Among the pieces of paper I included a worksheet I had made previously for other beneficiaries who wanted to learn the Latin alphabet. It was a simple spreadsheet sort of grid with the alphabet across the top and rows of squares below for completion by copying the letters that were at the top of the page. He smiled when I gave the paper and the worksheet to him and set about immediately to begin writing with the pencil.
Later, when I had a break in my work inside, I went out to see how he was doing with the worksheet. I was doubly surprised to find that not only had he worked diligently, but another event had occurred. Although he had not done the alphabet exercise, he had used the grid on the worksheet to repeatedly write his name and address; all in the Cyrillic alphabet. I read each line aloud in Macedonian as he traced the words with his finger and he laughed and gave me a thumbs up gesture. I gave him a verbal “Браво!” (Bravo!) and he immediately began to write again. The other surprise I had come upon was several other beneficiaries gathered around the table. They were not interacting with him, preferring to chat among themselves and/or work on their individual craft projects, but keeping him company never-the-less.
Later, when discussing this with the staff, I tried to discuss individual goals, program goals and ways to act on each teachable moment when they occur in the best interests of each beneficiary. However, they seemed to shrug it off as they answered me with, “Тоа е тоа” (It is what it is), a commonly used term with many implied meanings and this time they seemed to be implying that there is not much point in doing anything about it.
In an unexpected turn of events, when I went into the Crafts and Activities Room the next day, I found a therapist working 1:1 with this beneficiary. She was calling out nouns and he was pointing to pictures representing the nouns.
This continued for a while and eventually the therapist maneuvered him in his wheelchair out to the pavilion and other beneficiaries gathered around and this time all engaged in open conversations, including some directed toward this beneficiary. I joined with the therapist in modeling for the other beneficiaries to verbally congratulate the beneficiary when he made correct choices in the exercise. They picked up on the modeling and chimed in with verbal support.
The struggle to discuss individual and program needs / goals, and to model ‘best practices’ will be an ongoing one. I must continually remind myself, “One step at a time.” Fortunately, има време (we have time / there is plenty of time).
Тоа е тоа!