Four months in and now the work begins!

I am tasked here in Munsieville with developing a sustainable model of change for “shack safety” or as I like to say home safety  because these shacks are people’s homes.  After 4 months of listening, learning, assessing and partnering the volunteers from the community have now been trained.  A small number to start with, 15 in all.  This is the beginning of the wave of activity to follow in the next 3-4 months.

So why has it taken so long to initiate.  Well to quote Matt Damon from the movie Blood Diamonds:    “TIA”    “This is Africa”!    This has become a code phrase for myself and some of my colleagues here on the ground whenever we may feel a sense of frustration.  TIA always brings a smile to our faces and we laugh.

The advise I was given by Paul Brooks before I started , “Sit under the Mango Tree and listen, observe”  was the best advise.  Four months into the assignment I am still ensuring I listen and observe.  There are so many factors affecting the rate of work, potential change progress and issues that people face day to day.

Building trust is pivotal.  Equally pivotal is that you take on this venture for the right reasons and with an open heart to truly understand and learn.  It is not just about what skill sets you can provide or give but what learnings you also take away.  If you are here to just do work and maintain the lifestyle you are accustomed to at home you will not be successful and are missing the greatest output:  personal growth and the gift of giving and receiving of and for ones true spirit.

Normally, at work at GSK, I will make a to do list every morning and prioritize.  The list is usually extensive and between meetings I endeavour to accomplish all my goals for the day.  Usually I do, but there are days when some things on the list go on the top of the next days list.   Here in South Africa the phrase  “African Time”  really exists and one must adapt.  I call it a good day when I have accomplished one to two items on my list.  I wonder how I will adapt when I head home and back to work. It will take me awhile to readjust my expectations and others expectations of me.

Let me then share with you my excitement of actually accomplishing the Home Health and Safety training for these community volunteers.  I have been working with the Paraffin Safety Association of South Africa since July.  In particular with Joe Baleka, who is so dedicated and passionate to ensure that the communities exposed and utilizing paraffin are well educated in terms of safety.   As Joe and I got to know each other his organization was going through a massive change and due to circumstance we had to continually postpone any training. His funding was being pulled. Two weeks ago I met with him to find out that the association is disbanding all together and that as of November he will be out of a job.  But that did not deter him from ensuring that the plans we had now be speaking about for months would come to fruition sooner than later.  So last week 3 full days of training were held for these volunteers who were comprised of Mamas (ladies), the youth and the staff of the Thoughtful Path.  Everyone was so engaged and it was very rewarding to see them learn and participate fully in this training.  It is their passion for change and improving their lives that will progress changes in their community.   They are now trainers and next week they will be getting certificates as trainers.  The intent is that they train others, young and old, in their community and in fact go door to door to ensure training is given and understood.  They will also be able to participate in future health fairs.  Community members driving change in their community is far more powerful than outsiders trying to drive change.   I was very touched when one of the Mamas came up to me to thank me and she said, “Thank you Daphne.  Do you know how important this is for us, we have never had this type of training.”   It has taken four months but the ship is now pulling away from the port and my hope is that these volunteers have a smooth sail as they progress training in their community.


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