February this year: one of the most hectic periods of my life. At work, I was responsible for the Making Solar Bankable event in Amsterdam; a major event with almost 500 participants to find capital for solar projects in emerging markets. But I also had my usual business trips, and 15 appraisal sessions with my team members. In the meantime, I tried to play my role as family man with a wife, a daughter (13) and a son (12). I wouldn’t have want to miss any of these moments, although I wish I could have done it with less coffee and more energy!
“Let’s not call this leave a vitality leave, this is an INSPIRATION leave!”
Luckily, after this busy time, I could take two months off as part of FMO’s ‘vitality program’. FMO has a wonderful program allowing employees who have been servicing for at least 7 years to be eligible for a vitality leave, where you can take two months leave with 70 percent of your salary paid. What a luxury to be able to make use of this in such a hectic time in my life! I should note here that ‘vitality’ is not really the right wording here, as for me it was all about leaving for inspiration, and had nothing to do with being vital. Although, it seemed like that..
Unfortunately, I started my days off being ill for the first time in 10 years. Far from inspirational but luckily my cold went by quickly. And then it really started. I just filled my life with nothing more than being around the house: making pizza' s with the kids, drinking wine with the neighbours -who seemed to have vitality for life-, and talking with my wife! One of the ultimate highlights was a discussion over coffee about music and life with a pub owner on his terrace at 8 am on Tuesday morning, who would usually have time for something like that?
“Tank you teachu, we will study har and do our homewor more and more, may we go now?”
Part 2: Teaching English to children age 10-12 at Bamboo Shoot School in Phnom Penh
After some time at home I wanted to do something different. It was completely out of my comfort zone but (yes) inspiring! Working without involvement of money, just people. I was teaching English to small personalities in uniform who constantly provided me with feedback, verbally and non-verbally. These children have often experienced difficult parts of life already at a very early age but showed happiness and eagerness. One of my favourite moments was at the end of each day when they pledged all with their hands folded in rhyme and with open dark eyes “tank you teachu, we will study har and do our homewor more and more, may we go now?” It was just a small disappointing moment every next day, when they showed up again and only a small minority had finalised their homework. It made me realize that kids are kids everywhere!
The final part of my journey was the holiday with my wife and children in Vietnam. How great to see them back and go on adventure, travelling from North to South by boat, train and plane. My girl and boy hardly talked the first overwhelming day in Hanoi. Later my son compared it as he was in the middle of an old James Bond film while my daughter associated it with a middle ages story about a flood of motorcycles. They really liked the adventure of crossing the street, the food, the people and even the crawling in the scaring Cu Chi tunnel complex with its sad history.
“Getting the ability to step aside from regular life and be able to experience new touching practices is an ever-lasting treasure”
Time flies, and so “suddenly” I had to go back to work. The first day in the office was a warm bath, welcomed by garlands and balloons (thank you Mariette!) and recognizing that Marina did an excellent job as interim manager. It was followed by the overwhelming flow of information soon afterwards. It took a while to be in the same spirit as before but soon I began to appreciate the whole circus again with new transactions, Know Your Client requirements, Credit Reviews and Watch List Meetings. In the middle of that flow I received a message from my dear fellow teacher Rebecca in Phnom Penh. “Dear Aart”, she wrote, “It was with such a fantastic experience. After Vietnam I went back to Phnom Penh. As soon as the children saw me they asked about “teacher Aart” and the greatest and the sweetest part was they remembered the DO RE MI song (from the old Sound of Music movie I taught them) and were singing it among themselves. So I decided to sing it again with them: here’s a video”. Although I was just a tiny piece of the chain of teachers and volunteers around the school for a very short period of time, this little message touched my heart. Maybe that is what this leave is about. As a manager I know it is a hell of a job to organize people’s replacement. But getting the ability to step aside from regular life and be able to experience new touching practices is an ever-lasting treasure! In particular, for people with some workaholic characteristics, including myself, the benefits of such leaves are priceless. I am grateful to the company that they allowed me to leave. But let’s not call this leave a vitality leave, this is an INSPIRATION leave!