Last edited by EileenLaurie
Tue, 11 Nov 2008 20:59 CET [diff]


This reports deals with the organisational and political problems that the Babels coordinating team faced in Malmö which hopefully should give some insights of what should be avoided in the future. Since the report is about learning together from practice, you are invited to read it, draw your own conclusions and share them on the electronic forum. Enjoy!

Report by Julie, Rod and Grazie


One of Babels' conditions of involvement in Malmö ESF was, as usual, that Babels volunteers should be provided accommodation free of charge. The approach of the ESF was to favour solidarity accommodation and to look for collective solution ONLY if necessary (youth hostels, etc.), which is both financially and politically ethical. Each Social Forum is different and at times the ESF has been fully responsible for accommodation like in London ESF and at times it shared the responsibility with Babels (Athens and Porto Alegre).
In Babels-ESF meeting in Malmö in May, we were told that the ESF would take responsibility over accommodation and they had actually started securing a number of places like the Caravans. Fine, since this means that we would not have to deal with such enormous logistical aspect, particularly when at that point we did not know how many people would join the totally new Swedish coordination. However, as the Babels coordinating team knew that it still had the responsibility of making sure interpreters would actually be lodged and that it would certainly helped at some point... At that time we really did not imagine that we would end up dealing with the accommodation of 2/3 of the interpreters at the last minute.

I((Julie)) freshly arrived a week before the ESF. The situation was that there was theoretically no lack of accommodation since the ESF database was full of offers but the Babels team in Malmö was so understaffed that nobody (from Babels) so far had assessed progress in terms of the allocation of these offers to interpreters, something that is of course necessary in order to stop fire in case of problem. We decided that I would then concentrate on this. I liaised with Annie, volunteer from the ESF office, and asked her to update me on the way accommodation was handled. This is how her and Emma, another volunteer from the ESF office, had been proceeding in previous couples of weeks:

Solidarity accommodation, dealt with by Annie (for the whole ESF accommodation needs, including Babels) involved the following:

- to look for individual homestay offers
- to store them in the ESF accommodation database
- to allocate interpreters to their accommodation
- inform host through the ESF database
- inform the the delegate or interpreter through the Babels database. Each selected interpreter’s file was updated with the info on information and a message was automatically sent to him/her

Collective accommodation, dealt with by Emma, volunteer for the ESF office, (for the whole ESF accommodation needs, including Babels) involved the following:

- to find cheap or free collective solutions
- to make sure that Anders (the only one of the NOC entrusted with a credit card) to go, pay for it when it was not free, and collect the keys
- to inform interpreters or the delegate of their accommodation

Then we tried to assess the situation, pretty tough given the need to look at two databases that were constantly updated!

J-5: Saturday 13 September: Assessing the situation

Collective accommodation:

All interpreters arriving before Wednesday 17th of September were sent to the Church or the Camping. Apparently the Church was not comfortable since apart from the 2 double bedrooms, there was a big room where approximately 10 people were expected to sleep together! We had made very clear in May the specific requirements of interpreters' accommodation. As for the camping, it was apparently comfortable but interpreters had to leave on the day the forum started because the caravans were reserved for ESF delegates. Apparently someone from the ESF office (who it was, I don’t know) booked the caravans for too many days and they thought they could easily fill them with Babels interpreters!

This resolved the accommodation for approximately 30 interpreters, although they had to take the bus or the train on their own expense since Babels was still waiting for the travel cards we had requested to the ESF organisers long time in advance. What about all the rest of the interpreters? There were approximately 350 interpreters coming, and 250 in need of accommodation!


Assessing the situation for homestay was much more difficult and it took us 3 days. We had to access the Babels database, to make sure the recently selected interpreters were there (which was not always the case since at the end of the process, the information about newly selected interpreters and their transport arrangements were uploaded on a googledoc and not always in the database), then check who had accommodation and who had not. After a very long process of tidying up the database, we arrived at the figure of 1/3 of the interpreters being accommodated.

This was surprising given that there were theoretically enough offers of solidarity accommodation in the ESF database, approximately 500. So, Why so few? Because of...

- the delays of and the speeding up of the selection process in the two first weeks of September (see selection report)
- the lengthy process of checking first with the host whether s/he was still willing to accommodate (some had offered accommodation months ago)
- some hosts were not willing to host someone for more than 4 days which made it difficult to find accommodation for interpreters who were staying for a week

So, after 3 days attempting to figure out the situation, we arrived at the figure of 180 interpreters in need of accommodation and only 3 days before interpreters’ arrival (most of them arrived on Wednesday the 17th).

Drastic change of methodology

Annie and I had to call (rather than email) the potential hosts and update a google document at the ESF office
Rodrigo (Babels volunteer) had to welcome interpreters on the day (or night) of arrival at the Babels office to inform them of their accommodation (if known!) or to allocate accommodation to them (if unknown) by accessing the google document updated by Annie and I. As for interpreters who were supposed to stay in collective accommodation, the big problem was that Rodrigo did not know the exact number of beds and the conditions there, so interpreters were sent totally blindly to a place noone knew how to find, which bus or train to get.

J-4: Sunday 14 September: Implementation of the plan:

The plan seems to be working. The few interpreters who arrive are sent to the camping or the Church by Rodrigo. But, the few interpreters who arrived very late in the evening, picked up by Sophie (and her mum) who give them a lift to the camping, could not get hold of the person supposed to give them the keys! They finally slept in the Church.

J-3: Monday 15 September: down to hell

The day starts with good and bad pieces of news.

The bad piece of news: Sophie finds a hostel with vacancies and informs Francisco (the guy of the budget who became THE guy anyone had to liaise with for anything since weeks before the ESF, he suddenly took on board absolutely everything). She is prevented from making any booking and threatened that if she does, the money will be taken from the Babels budget. Very tricky since Sophie is a member of staff of the ESF office with legal liability to the Babels budget over which she has absolutely no view nor control. The Babels budget included accommodation costs for approximately 100 interpreters (95000 swedish crowns, i.e. 9500 euros) since the ESF was the one supposed to be dealing with finding solidary accommodation!

The good piece of news: We hear about a day care centre in the city centre that has rooms and proper facilities for 15 people which should sort out the problem for the people arriving that day. But the problem is that to send interpreters there, you need basic things like an address, a key, mattresses and bed sheets, not so simple as you will see below. This solution was not so ideal in the end (see below).

Babels Office and ESF Office: frantic morning:

As people arrive at the Babels office, Rodrigo sees the number of homestay offers decreasing and still no news about the day care centre. I find myself in the ESF office where the atmosphere is absolutely frantic, where I have a terrible time at finding Anders (the guy of the credit card) and Francisco in order to have the necessary information to send the interpreters to the school. Plus, we need to call hosts but there is no landline in the office and Annie' mobile and mine provided by the ESF run out of credit. Annie and Emma (both ESF office volunteers for accommodation) are about to give up since they have been working very hard and cannot cope anymore with the pressure since they are asked impossible things, like finding accommodations for hundreds of interpreters :-).

Emma offers me 4 collective solutions and says that if Babels does not accept them, she won't look for others. I just want to remind here that Emma was a volunteer and was placed under incredible amount of pressure she decided she would not keep coping with. So her attitude was really to inform me of the situation and to let me sort it out with Annie because she could just not cope with it anymore. The problem is that these solutions ARE NOT solutions: 4 schools for 18 people in each, sleeping in a common room on mattresses and bed sheets (in the same room!) to be provided by Francisco. I manage to find Anders and he FINALLY gives me the info about the school but informs me that I have to see with Francisco for the mattresses and bed sheets! I FINALLY grab Francisco in the corridors (his phone had been switched off all day!).

Meeting with Francisco at 6pm

We sit down and I explain to him that we need 15 mattresses and bed sheets for the school plus hundreds of accommodation solutions (for the day after, i.e. Wednesday); that Babels cannot accept the 4 schools since there are very far and interpreters cannot be more than 4 or maximum 6 per room. I tell him that we can count on 50 homestay offers but that we need to book hostels for the rest ASAP (around 50), otherwise there will be no more vacancies! He asks me to give absolutely exact figure of how many interpreters come. This is an example of his incapacity to trust us and his need to control every single detail while not seeing the wall that is going to fall on him, on us, and on everybody! He tells me that he will make sure there are mattresses and bed sheets in the school (the appropriate one located in the city centre) and find a solution for the hundreds of beds needed for the day after, without any further detail. At that point, I thought that he was either superman, a guy unaware of his limits, or a liar (figure out). He also promised us phone cards (just for coordinators in charge of accommodation, to phone hosts), not so difficult for the guy who has full control over the Babels 185,000 euros budget. The only thing he managed to do was to provide the mattresses and the bed sheets in the school, but interpreters complained that they were very dirty and stinky, that the site was quite dirty and that they had to do a major cleaning. New mattresses were very needed since interpreters cannot make new ones with their little hands:-).

I want to make clear that in any project, it is very difficult to have exact figures because the work is decentralised into different people's hands. Although generally we select people until the day before the Forum starts, in Malmö the selection process was even more complicated (see selection report) more so given that people were still being selected in the last days of before the Forum would start. In any case, Annie and I had spent an entire day to assess the situation and make sure we would not require more accommodation than needed.

While I was negotiating with whom one could call the King of the ESF, Rodrigo had managed to send interpreters to their accommodation, which Annie was providing to him via the googledoc one by one as she would eventually find them. And still no phone cards to make things quicker. And the situation worsened. During the night, people arrived by surprise (it seems that the Babels database and the googledoc Annie and I were working with was not always updated! and on the top of that, that interpreters who had not been selected showed up) and it was not possible to send them to any solidarity offer. They stayed on mattresses at the several flats were Babels volunteers were sleeping!

A letter by Malmö Babels team was sent to the NOC threatening to pull out if they didn't provide us with a solution (see Esf08AccommodationReportAppendix1)

J-2: Tuesday 16 September: Pulling out?

An email by Lina (NOC) reaches us (see Esf08AccommodationReportAppendix2) calling for solidarity, for working together and offers unviable solutions like mass accommodation of 18 people together, or allocating interpreters to homestay even though the offers come one by one, very little by little and entail the risk of finding ourselves without enough beds!

As a response, we decide to schedule a meeting with the NOC around 11am. Lina comes as a representative and we sit and explain to her that all Babels coordinators have terrible lack of sleep and feel very angry about
- the fact that the responsibility over the logistics of accommodation shifted from the ESF office to Babels
- the fact that we were not given the means to work. Francisco never provided us the phone cards, nor the transport cards that had been promised weeks ago! And when he found a room for accommodating interpreters collectively, he would not provide us or provide us at the very last minute, the basic things like the address, the keys, mattresses and bedsheets.
- the fact that there was terrible lack of trust towards us and that we were not allowed to take action in the solutions we found (forbidden to buy ourselves the stuff we needed, such as bedsheets, mattresses, covers, and to book the 50 beds found when the person we were depending on was obviously not delivering)

We ask for the bloody travel cards, the bloody phone cards and refuse to deal with the logistics of homestay and demanded immediate booking of around 50 beds, in order to be able to deal with the planning of interpretation. She informs us that she will pass this on to the NOC meeting at 12 and inform us of its decision.

In the meantime, it seems that Annie is given help and a team of volunteers is now permanently confirming solidarity accommodation. Of course, this is great for saving money (solidarity is free whereas hotels have to be padi) , but logistically it involves that volunteers like Annie and Rodrigo are under terrible stress given the huge logistics it involves right before the ESF, given the bad atmosphere it creates between Babels coordinating team and the interpreters who arrive and can't believe the mess they are witnessing. A key conflict between Babels and the NOC at that point was that Babels would favour booking a hotel because there was money for it and the NOC would reject doing this since the team of volunteers helping Annie managed to confirm an important number of solidarity accommodation offers.

We receive an email a couple of hours later with a proposal for agreement (see Esf08AccommodationReportAppendix3) basically ignoring all our requests!
In the meantime, we hear by interpreters sleeping in the school that there would be space for a total of 20 more mattresses and bed sheets. But since everything we ask to Anders and Francisco is never delivered, we simply demand to be empowered to get the job done! Hence our non-negotiable proposal as a response to the NOC proposal (for text in full, see Esf08AccommodationReportAppendix4):

1. To be entrusted with an ESF credit card to book and pay for the
necessary accommodation, ink cartridges, bus tickets, and telephone
communications to arrange accommodation for the volunteers arriving
today and tomorrow. A member of the finance group IN THE BOARD can
monitor costs, but we will not accept ANY interference. The member of
the finance group IN THE BOARD will tell us when we are reaching our
budgetary limit.
2. To be given full control of the budget allocated to Babels. To pay
for accommodation, we will use the global Babels budget (accommodation
and travel budget).
3. We will continue to favour solidarity accommodation and any other
free, or low-cost solution, within the standards exposed in our previous
exchanges. If a house or school does not have mattresses and bedsheets,
we will not send interpreters. Solutions must be ready-made, we cannot
waste more time to hunt for mattresses.

We receive a phone call and we meet in the evening (another day gone without planning interpretation!). They finally seem to understand after REPEATED explanations, that shifting the logistics of accommodation on Babels is jeopardising the whole planning of interpreting of the ESF and that reluctance to book 50 beds is avarice rather than cautious spending, and it's putting us under a terrible stress and terrible situation towards the interpreters we have embarked in the project.

But we are explained that the credit card is in the name of Anders and has a threshold of 5,000 euros spending a week! which means that it is not possible to entrust us with the credit card, nor it is possible that Anders buy the 30 mattresses we need in the school, book and pay the 50 beds missing for the day after!

It was 6.40 pm and we needed someone to buy the mattresses and the bedsheets in IKRA for the day care centre before it closes (at 7pm!). We state clearly that they sort it out NOW or we don't even start planning interpretation. The tension is arising... One member of the NOC (Susanne) has no other choice than advancing the money by using her own personal credit card to go with Sophie’s mother by car. As for the booking, Anders asks us to make a booking with a possibility of payment after the ESF (not easy to find anyone willing to trust the ESF!) and he commits to go, first hour in the morning, to the Bank in order to increase the threshold of the credit card, and to come back with cash for Babels to buy the bloody phone and transport cards, as well as other things like ink, etc. We agree but demand that a Babels member (Greg) would go with him. Just to give you an idea of the level of trust after so many broken promises.

While we were negotiating this, the interpreters waiting upstairs to be sent to their accomodation started to get angry at Rodrigo who had to borrow Anders' phone to call the hosts and make sure that he could send the interpreters there. Simply because we were not given basic phone cards!

J-1: Wednesday 17 September: Still the mess

While a team starts working on booth planning (see BoothPlanningReport), Sophie finds a hostel with the necessary number of beds, and with payment option after the ESF (we cannot believe it) and the ESF office tells us that a booking made by the ESF was not used and could be given to Babels interpreters. And fortunately so, because Anders reappears only at 5pm with the transport cards and ESF-Lina at 7pm with phone cards. Better late than never. They apparently could not or did not want to give cash to Babels that was negotiated the evening before.

Having finally some hostels option available, Rodrigo decides to fill them and keep only the very central and hand solidarity accommodation offers for those interpreters willing to be around the Forum. Thus, not all solidarity accommodation are used. There was only 3 and 4 overbooked beds in the Klavinge hostel given that 4 people preferred to opt for centrical solidarity accommodation.

But the logistics of the hostels is not so easy either. Interpreters have to take the keys of the hostel in Klavinge (in the way to Lund) within a certain time frame, which is impossible for most of them. Rodrigo has to call the hostel and after some fights and louder words they accept to wait until 11 pm. As for the other hostel in the city centre, the distribution of the keys goes smoothly, Angela is charged that night of welcoming interpreters when they arrive to the hostel. The chaos is terrible as more people than expected arrive during the night and Angela has no other solution than placing them in the same bed!!! The next day, the interpreters in question complain that nobody stayed in the office over the night to welcome them. Basically, the coordinators needed to sleep after such amount of stress and believed that everything was planned. But apparently the Babels database and google docs on which we were relying to plan everything before going to bed, were clearly not updated properly (not surprising given the amount of stress and time pressure on all fronts!).

And while after all this mess, the situation on the accommodation front is resolved on the Wednesday, problems continue as many interpreters had to advance the money for local transport given the absence of travel cards until the first day of the Forum, besides having complaints about being put under very bad conditions.


Organisational problems to be avoided in the future
1) late selection process
While the number of solidarity accommodation offers was pretty good (around 500), they were not allocated in a straightforward way to interpreters since most of the interpreters were selected very late. This required to email hosts to make sure they were still willing to accommodate interpreters, and sometimes there would be none or very late responses. This meant that most of the interpreters were not informed of where they were staying even when they arrived in the middle of the night.

2) unreliable files in Babels
Since everything got so frantic in the last days, the information on the Babels database and the googledoc on who was coming when was nor reliable thus making it very difficult to plan accommodation properly
3) logistical means missing
While there was money on the Babels budget, we had no payment capacity. We were thus totally dependent on 2 unreliable people (Anders and Francisco) to get basic things such as phone cards, the address of the accommodation, the keys, mattresses and bedsheets, apart from the missing travel cards!!!
4) not following and assessing the situation
Sharing or not sharing accommodation issues with the Organizing Committee Babels must follow and assess the situation that is, it is our duty to double check how things are going. We cannot keep putting the interpreters and ourselves under this conditions.
5) Not planning last minute problems
Not planning local transportation in advance leads to problems with other logistic issues, such as advancing money which is not secured in the budget, being far away, etc. Even if accommodation was supposed to be close from venues and interpreters would walk, a certain amount of prevention is always needed. Every thing depends on another or other things - accommodation and reimbursement depends directely on selection, reception if needed, and local transportation on accommodation and so on, that's why the process has to be 'uniform'.
Besides, we have to plan in advance alternative solutions regarding complaints about accommodation, bad conditions, people having to move from one host to another, etc. For future forums, this should be part of the organizational plan and space should be left for other options or alternatives, otherwise Babels has to inform interpreters about the situation in advance.

In any case, rather than dismissing solidarity accommodation, we should be careful with it and not count only on it, ensuring that it remains the priority ONLY under specific conditions (example: imposing a quota of hostel/solidarity, and making sure that the hostels in question are booked early in the process), allocating solidarity accommodation first until 2 weeks before the Social Forum, and filling the hostels with the people selected at the end, etc.).

Political problems
Babels and the NOC had totally different approaches to the issue of money spending. Babels has been organising Social Forum for a while now and an expertise has evolved in terms of not overspending the budget allocated to us. But the NOC was apparently so scared of spending a penny here and a penny there (the fact that the credit card threshold was 5,000 euros a week is revealing!) that it would prevent us from booking 100 beds for 1/3 of the interpreters just to make sure we would use the solidarity accommodation offers available. Rather than nasty people, I really believe that they were not up to the job! They showed unprecedented incapacity to listen to the reasonable argument we put forward in terms of balancing budget saving and smooth logistics. Their policy of avarice put us under terrible stress, time pressure, unfriendly situations with some of the volunteers we had involved in this project. And they still surely do not realise that it is a miracle that boothplanning was ready the first day of the Social Forum. I also believe that their lack of trust is very unfair on Babels given the huge logistics we dealt with in this project: accommodation, transport and reimbursement claims (on the latter, we are still committed since we have a responsibility towards the non-yet-reimbursed interpreters). This is not new. The same has happen quite often in the past. The relation with Organizing Committees is based on the lack of trust even when they say they do, they don't care about interpretation even when they say they do. Babels has to keep repeating the same things - and trying to prove our budget is cheaper than market-oriented solutions - struggling for basic things and being put under bad conditions.

Since the report is about learning together from practice, you are invited to draw your own conclusions and share them on the electronic forum.

Accommodation and Logistics (Ali Ottoman)
Like other interpreters, those of the TR/KT booth had problems reaching the different seminar sites in time, and when they did reach them, they found that the seminars started quite late, if they started at all. Many had to spend a long time in trains or buses to reach distant accommodation. Others had to sleep in churches or other common premises in promiscuous conditions. Many volunteers complained about the distance between the seminar sites and that there was not time to reach the places where the meals were distributed between the seminars, especially in the evenings, so that many ended up going to the restaurant and paying their meals from their pockets.

There are no comments on this page.
Valid XHTML :: Valid CSS: :: Powered by WikkaWiki