Learning Journey: A strong spirit in a challenged body

Date: July 15, 2016
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“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” Albert Einstein.

Isaac ZuluMy Centres of Excellence (COE) programme for 2015 was a really exciting one in the sense that almost all the 12 COE workshops were to take place in rural areas where the prevalence of gender based violence (GBV) is very high. The 2014 Sixteen Days of Activism gave me a glimpse of the extent and the effects of GBV in Zambia. Therefore, in 2015 I was geared up to take on this scourge head-on through GL’s local government COE programme. Throughout the year I kept asking myself what I could do to assist in reversing this ugly upward trend of GBV cases in Zambia. What I saw in almost all of the 11 councils that I visited provoked a ‘holy anger’ in me; the anger to ensure that injustice is not perpetrated in our communities.

Apart from performing my oversight role as Country Manager, my roles include conducting COE workshops in councils; this is what I enjoy the most. The local government Centres of Excellence programme, in particular, has received several accolades from various sectors of society due to the richness of its content. It, therefore, provides a holistic approach to the issue of gender and equality. There have been several testimonies and confessions from people who had a very narrow view of what GL does. As a manager, I have always bragged and said “GL is indeed a small organisation that believes in creating large giant footprints”. Truly, a lot of people are still amazed at the amount of work that an office run by only two people can do.

The biggest mistake I made during the period under review was to assume that Zambians in all the councils that GL worked with knew everything about the Anti-GBV Act No. 1 of 2011, the content thereof and its operationalisation. Now I believe that ‘assumption is the mother of all mistakes.’ The knowledge gap concerning GBV is phenomenal. It was disheartening to note that in certain instances the majority of the participants did not really understand what constitutes GBV. If people cannot define or describe a criminal offence such as defilement of a child, how can they really be part of the solution to this scourge?! My mistake made me realise how huge the scope of GL’s work is. I am now left with the task of building a business case of GBV so that campaigns and sensitisation work are supported not only by donors, but also corporate organisations in Zambia. After all, GBV is a serious cross-cutting issue that needs urgent redress.

Interactions with several leaders from both rural and urban councils has created a very good learning platform for me. Having been privileged to travel to all the ten provinces of Zambia has deepened my understanding of Zambia’s cultural diversity; at least I have been to all provincial headquarters. The prevalence of GBV and its drivers are similar across the provinces.

The Zambia Police Victim Support Unit (VSU) has contributed immensely to my learning, especially on GBV. Among participants in our COE stage four and five workshops is an officer from the Zambia Police VSU in each district to which we go. These officers have always been handy when it comes to learning lessons on GBV during our workshops. My interaction with officers from Zambia Police VSU has greatly contributed to my learning. I am now a proud ‘owner’ of this superb knowledge about the extent, effects, and response to GBV. Through the support of the Zambia Police, I have amassed an amazing level of knowledge about GBV so much that I now speak against GBV with boldness and clarity. I remember once, at a council in Luapula Province, I was mistaken for a lawyer.

GL can do a lot by continuing to invest in its most important resource – its employees. In order to carry out the kind of work that GL does requires highly motivated employees. The work undertaken by GL in Zambia requires empathy, compassion and dedication and this can only come from a work force that is highly enthused. It is understandable that in view of the current funding constraints, employees might have to work under difficult conditions at times.

During the year under review, I had renewed vigour and a very strong desire to work. My target was to ensure that by 31 December 2015, 44 (i.e. 43%) of the 103 councils in Zambia would beome fully fledged COEs. On 3rd December 2015, however, the unexpected happened! I was with Naomi, our GL Zambia volunteer, conducting a COE workshop with Isoka District Council when I was hit by a strange sickness that usurped all my energy at once while I was right in front of over 20 people. After realising that I was about to fall down due to body weakness, I requested my audience to allow me to make my power-point presentations while seated but that still did not help. I, therefore, requested for a recess of five minutes so that I could rush outside and get some fresh air. I felt extremely weak, feverish and my abdomen got swollen. This was happening right in front of the workshop participants! Indeed, my spirit was willing to carry on with the workshop facilitation, but my body was seriously challenged with what I came to learn was a hernia of the abdomen.

I tried to encourage myself but by the time it was 12.00 noon I was experiencing such excruciating pain that one of the participants, a nurse by profession, made arrangements for me to be rushed to the local district hospital for an urgent surgical operation. At the hospital, I was made to lie down on a bed in the Out-Patient Department (OPD) and that is where I started crying like a baby due to increased pain. Now at the age of 52 years, I could not remember when I last cried. If my memory serves me correctly, it was in October 1987 when my uncle died on a hospital operation bed that I cried hysterically. I remember one of the onlookers at the hospital commenting, “For a big man to cry like this then it must be very painful”.

Realising that the pain was becoming more and more severe, the nurse quickly put me in a wheel chair and rushed me to the admissions ward to wait my turn for a surgical operation on my abdomen. Since the hospital had only one theatre for operations, I was made to wait for over four hours in the ward before going into the operating theatre. Finally my turn came at around 17.30 hours and I was carried on a stretcher to the theatre. I am told the operation did not take long. I couldn’t remember a thing; all I saw was a bandage on my belly covering the wound. Miraculously, I stayed in the hospital for only two days. On Saturday, 5th December my young brother came to Isoka and rushed me to Chongwe, east of Lusaka, where I stay.

Despite ending the year with an illness far away from home, 2015 has been a memorable year with lots of valuable lessons necessary in GL’s quest to emancipate innumerable victims of GBV.

Written by Sangulukani Isaac Zulu, GL Country Manager, Botswana