Learning Journey: Healing by writing, healing by talking

Learning Journey: Healing by writing, healing by talking

Date: June 15, 2019
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“Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.” Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy’s words concur with my mind as I write this learning script. The slight gap between my mind and McCarthy is that I have no visible scar for where I hurt most, neither does Gender Links after a long dry spell of limited funds.

I dedicate this learning journey to my twin boys whom I lost unexpectedly on this day (20 June). This day redefined family, love, dedication and hope for me.

I have always considered myself a strong individual, I rarely cry, I rarely give up on what I have set to do (except running!). I am also a spontaneous person – I drag my feet in any form of planning hence I have always scored low in my evaluations on this (thank you Mme Colleen). I am spontaneous as it brings all the drama; yes I am sort of a drama queen. It also brings out all the creativity in me. Please do not try this at Gender Links you will collapse! Of course as I write I have learned to compromise between who I am and what my role as a manager, a leader and an activist demand. Yes, I have learned to plan for today, tomorrow and the future. It actually does work for me now.

Here is how it works for me. I manage six country managers. Half of them are also drama queens/kings. Having a mind-set of a drama queen – I can predict how they may cause drama. I am ready to dialogue with them if I have all my planning in good shape. Sometime it takes daily planning if there are critical activities being implemented in country. I have learned over the past year how much knowledge of being a leader I have gained from my team.

It is important for me to keep a motivated Governance team. It is equally important for me to understand all programming so that my team also understands. If there is one team member who does not understand programme, statutory and financial deliverables, I make that member my special project. My team consists of brand ambassadors of GL in SADC countries – hence I have personally learned a lot from them about their countries’ political navigation and context.

What does one do when the team leader crumbles suddenly in grief? That was myself last year when I was heartbroken at the loss of my twin boys at full term. That morning I was trying to be strong although I could not feel the babies moving in my belly. I drove myself to hospital and four hours later, it was all over – they were already gone. I do not know how labour pains feel like as my heartache exceeded those. I refused to sleepover at the hospital and was taken home the same day. I will not erase this day in my mind; it is still so vivid that one can catch me staring into blank space. I have no scar yet I am still healing. I do not know if I will ever have any children in future – I just trust God. I heal a lot through writing and talking.

I manage the GL’s Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) programme. As an advocate for women’s health in particular, I usually encourage women to access SRHR services, as it will save their lives. How did I overlook my own situation and loose two human beings at the same time? It still baffles me. I have learned that in infertility, miscarriage and stillbirths are rarely spoken about in the SRHR sector. I also know that patriarchy has dug its claws deeply to many unfortunate women who have been stereotyped by society for not having children.

During the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women this year, boom I saw a bus with such a graphic anti-abortion advert. I felt shivers on my spine as someone passed me verbally supporting the advert message. It dawned to me that SRHR work is not a straight jacket – it is a balance of body, mind and soul. Here I am without any children yet I advocate for safe abortion – this a crossroad when the sky is overcast. Thousands of young women and even older women die daily from unsafe abortion. Thousands of women have sleepless nights from infertility or related issues. I urge GL to convene staff informal discussions about such challenges in our programming.

I am thankful for the continuous love from my family and GL colleagues that has strengthened me in these trying times. It is a reminder to me that despite all challenges, we face as individuals, humanity and empathy still exists amongst us. I thank in Mme Colleen and Debra Mukuku in particular who have held my hand in this journey and pulled me up when I wanted to quit.

I have learned that not all who are hurting are with scars. Not all organisations who have face financial trouble have thrown in the towel. With a paltry bank balance, GL was still vibrant. The financial scars of 2017 were not showing in 2018. They are hidden reminders of how we should prepare for the future such circumstances. Definitely, a hidden scar can make you speak out – Gender Links did make plenty of noise about regional and women’s rights organisations funding. It heals to speak out and prepares you for the future – one-step at a time.

I will be a better planner to be more effective in my work and my personal life. I have learned that focusing on what matters gives you the most satisfaction. Above all, I know that GL can change women’s lives for the better. This starts with each staff member giving their 100% to change lives. I am my work and my work is me.

Sifisosami Dube is the Head of Governance and Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights at Gender Links


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