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Although it got off to a rocky start, soon I had to ride in the trunk so all of our members could fit in the car!

Although it got off to a rocky start, soon I had to ride in the trunk so all of our members could fit in the car!

It’s no secret that when I first arrived as volunteer coordinator in May of 2011, my personality and the Zulu culture clashed. Badly.

The hardest lessons I have learned over the last 28 months have been about how to alter my conduct when working in another culture. It was particularly hard, as a young woman, to gain respect in a patriarchal atmosphere that holds experience, masculinity and age in high regard.

I had none of these things going for me.

And so for my first few months I fumbled along trying to make my mark as a coordinator. Mostly this consisted of attempts to work as hard and as much as possible. All I got was called “active.”

Then came a blessing in disguise – as my contract got extended I gained the opportunity to facilitate one of our weekly support groups in a community called Ezwenelisha – which means ‘a new world’ – and oh boy was it ever.

Fun with pedicures!

Fun with pedicures!

I was stoked for my first meeting with the weekly group, whose numbers had dwindled as the result of local politics and employment. Myself and the volunteers readied our plans, packed up the car, and headed to the group’s meeting point.

No one showed up. How anticlimactic!

However, bolstered by my fellow coordinator and local South African Nokwethemba, over the next two years the group grew and evolved. Nokwethemba busily recruited members of our 10 Families and home based care programmes, we made exciting and interactive plans like teaching about snake bites and performing pedicures on the members.

Slowly but surely I gained the respect of the group, and I found that once I relaxed and really started to bond with the community I started gaining, not the respect I thought I wanted, but the camaraderie of the communities, locals and even our staff.

IMG_1810

Our last meeting, with Monique, who will now be taking over the facilitation of the group.

It was with a heavy heart that I spent my last morning on project with my Ezwenelisha Support Group. We had gone through so much together; domestic disputes and violence, stigma around HIV status, visits to the beach, St Lucia and Crocodile Centre, the death of both my grandfathers, one of our members and many, many of the group’s friends and relatives.

This group of incredible men and women taught me about loving and grieving. They taught me that it was okay to ask questions at any and be unsure, and to lean on others for support. However, most of all, the group taught me about respect – how it’s earned, how to show it and how important it can be.

I owe a lot of my growth over the last two years to this group, and how through them I learned about relationships, respect, and most of all, how to just relax.

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