Arden’s October Trip to Zimbabwe

Dear Friends,

Due to the recent Zimbabwean elections (and the turmoil that has historically accompanied voting) neither Liz nor I have traveled to Africa since January of 2012.  After such a long time, I was a bit worried about how much may have changed.  Would the children talk openly with me or would I feel like a stranger?  I tried to prepare Kayley, a colleague who was traveling with me, by telling her stories of past trips, but wondered if it would be the same.  Liz made us extensive lists – people to see, questions to ask, feedback to give children.  We had lofty goals, daily schedules, and a massive to do list.

And then we stepped off the plane.  And all our goals became loose guideposts. Nothing was linear from that point on.

Vitalis, our Zim Director, greeted us with smiling eyes saying, “Munotendei!” (translation: You are very welcome here).

The stress melted away as I slipped into the car and heard his belly laugh each time he stopped the vehicle to greet familiar faces.

When I lived in Zimbabwe I was in the habit of launching into work the moment I rose in the morning. I’d have asked five questions within moments of seeing someone. They would smile until I took a breath, and then say, “Good morning, Arden.”  I’d answer with a perfunctory, “Morning,” and continue my barrage of questions.  On my next breath the person would ask, “How did you sleep?”

“Fine” never worked. It is not like America.  I was actually expected to answer. Not with one word, but with something real. People really wanted to know how I was doing. They had time for my answer.

And nothing would happen until the conversation wound its way into a personal connection.

So on my most recent trip, I was reminded regularly of the importance of connection.

I had to re-learn how to slow down, how to appreciate the person right in front of me, how to listen and be listened to.  I stopped judging the worth of each day by what got checked off the to do list, and started noticing how I felt about conversations I had.

Home visits became less about filling out family surveys we had prepared in advance and more about informal conversations with children and their guardians. It was also clear that families wanted to know about you, the sponsors and donors – who you are and how life is treating you.

As a result, the goals for our 2014 fiscal year did not arise from formal meetings in a conference room or from the many Excel charts I carted around. Rather, they emerged from personal conversations with families and teachers.  It was through connections and the sharing of concerns and gratitude that we assessed what is working and where we can improve our programming.   We highlight some of our 2014 plans in this newsletter and hope that you will continue this journey with us.

~Arden

 

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