Shaking hands with the cleaner? That’s just not done! 15 June 2015

Interview with Cecilia Becker (Siera Leone), David Thomas Gomes (Bangladesh) and Fikri Yanda (Indonesia), Intensive Course Educational Leadership 2015

It is Fikri’s first visit to the Netherlands, but for Cecilia and David it is familiar ground. The three participants of the intensive course ‘Educational leadership’ each have a leading role in education and their visit to Driestar Christian University is to help them grow in these roles. We spoke with each other on the Thursday morning of the second week of the course. “The course lives up to its name: it is very intensive; little sleep, lots of work…”

“The course is very realistic,” says David. “It is very useful for me in my role as leader. There is a lot of theory, but we can always relate it to leadership practice. The teachers of the course are clearly very experienced and also have experience in working with international groups.”

Fikri: “I learned in particular about how I can structure my work well. And everything is so well organised here!” David laughs. “Yes, that is typical Dutch…” “Are you sure?” Cecilia replies. “Have you seen everything?” No, they have not, because the three participants’ stay in the Netherlands is too short. And they work long days on this course, while often having to work on assignments and prepare presentations in the evenings, not to mention their responsibilities for their own work, which still continues even while they are here. 


Fikri tells us about exchanging messages with his students about the Netherlands. “Still our friends from the past,” he jokes. There are no longer many Dutch people in Indonesia, but some Indonesians do have Dutch ancestors. “Let the past be the past, but we can learn from the experience. Our relationship with the Dutch sometimes makes it easier to understand them.”
Cecilia: “When colonial masters and the people start to understand and appreciate each other’s cultures and use the advantages of colonization, it can lead to something good. Many African countries are now in chaos, disease and other problems which we can’t handle. Which situation would be better: independence or dominion? It’s a real dilemma!” 

Train the trainer

Cecilia is a coordinator for an educational project of the Evangelical Fellowship in Sierra Leone. They train trainers who train teachers in the country. To train the trainers, the organisation uses edu4change (, a programme run by Driestar Christian University and Woord en Daad. Dutch lecturers travel to Sierra Leone to supervise and coach the training. “Our teachers have already learned a lot from it. The way they deal with the children is very different now! In our culture, when a teacher finds a child sleeping in his class he will shout at the child to wake them up. But it is better to ask yourself why the child is sleeping: maybe this child is hungry because she didn’t eat before coming to school, or she worked very hard before coming to school or she was beaten by her guardian that morning. It helps to speak to the parents to get to know the child. That understanding has definitely changed the practice in our schools!” 

Acting professionally

“In Bangladesh I never trained to become a leader, but I believe I need a theoretic basis and good training to help me progress in my role from a practical point of view,” says David. “When I’m back in my own context, I will set to work with my team. I want to deal with problems more professionally. We have also spoken about these things during this course and about our shared experiences as leaders. Which leadership values can we add to our own context? It won’t always be easy: an eye opener for yourself here in the Netherlands can’t necessarily be used in your work at home because it doesn’t fit your culture. The challenge is to find the right mix in it.”
Fikri is muslim, but thinks many of the Christian values discussed during this course can be used in Indonesia. “Islamic values are often similar to Christian and Dutch values. However, it is difficult to apply them to the leadership practice, because in our countries not all leaders are good leaders. Therefore you must start with being a good leader to yourself. Only then you can be a good leader to others, and I believe this is the same in all cultures.” They all agree, it is something you need to learn through practice. Integrity, for instance, is an obvious leadership value, but it takes practice to apply this to your own context. 


Leadership styles obviously differ per culture. The authoritative distance, for instance. “We heard that the Dutch prime minister goes to work on a bicycle!” Cecilia laughs, as if she still cannot believe it. “I’m impressed with all the bicycles here anyway, but such an important minister riding a bike - in our country we can’t imagine that. When our prime minister leaves his house or office, all of us stay put and the traffic turns into a traffic jam, because we are only allowed to move again once he’s arrived at his destination! Leaders would not be taken seriously if they behaved like normal people.”
“I do learn from it, though,” says Fikri. “Don’t raise yourself above others! I’d like to be equal to my people. Of course there are situations when you do need to raise above them, like when people have made mistakes. But usually it’s best not to position yourself too ‘high’.” Cecilia: “But it is important that you are recognised as a leader. In the Netherlands that appears to be possible even when you ride a bicycle, but in our country it definitely isn’t.” David agrees: “It would cause some surprise if I spoke with my cleaner, or just gave him a handshake even; in that relationship it is inappropriate to descend from the level expected of you as a leader.” 


To conclude, Fikri just wanted to say that he was impressed with the acceptance of him as a Muslim. “I learned a lot from the devotions, about Christian values and about Christian faith. A lot of aspects are the same in the Koran…” Cecilia: “But there is one important difference. I hope you can learn to accept Jesus Christ not only as a prophet, but also as the Son of God. You’ll need that before you go back to Indonesia on Saturday!”

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