Learning Journey: There is always a light at the end of the tunnel

Date: July 13, 2016
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“When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.” Henry J Kaiser

A ntoloIt has been another year of so many things, working hard, learning new things, taking charge, changing people’s lives, disappointments and of course difficult times. But beyond everything and of all those things, one thing made me smile and look at life in a very different way. It was the early morning of the 23rd July when I arrived at work and checked my emails and there popped up an email from Mme Colleen “Wishing you a super birthday Mme Ntolo, you are one of those staff whom GL can surely take pride in, a never-say-no kind of person, a learner, a performer, and so much else, great spirit and soul. We love and cherish you! I still want you for my PA in my next life! Be abundantly blessed!! I looked at my computer for a very long time and did not say a thing, but the smile on my face said it all and from that day I have never been as happy and I appreciated myself even more.

I work as a programme officer in the Lesotho office, a very small office of two people and we do our work perfectly. As a programme officer my biggest deliverables are monitoring and evaluation, keeping good track of our work, facilitating all the tools in order for GL to see the impact it has on the people we work with and this is important for me as the implementer. There is nothing so fulfilling as seeing people that I know who have been touched and lives changed, a good story to tell about our work at GL.

We spent most of our time in the field and that has helped to shape my ability to realise where my strengths lie. I take my job seriously as I have grown so much due to the nature of the work I am doing. A lot happened last year and one thing was the EPInfo programme, it is a system which we use to record or upload all our activities, it is such a wonderful system that there has never been a day on which it has let us down. Amazing results and reports are being drawn from it and I was able to share some of the results with the councils and they were so excited about it. It felt so good that people are able to engage and appreciate the work we do.

In GL we are always learning new things which has helped me grow as a young woman in the development of my career. We successfully held our two districts summits and the national summit where people from councils and local organisations show-cased their work and how they are aligning their work with the SADC gender protocol targets.  We were faced with angry participants because they were not paid when they submitted their case studies which had previously been the practice.  This was an oversight which almost cost us good partnerships because we should have informed them in advance, but we decided not to tell them as we were scared that they would not apply for the summit. After the summit, when they were given transport reimbursements, they learnt that they were not getting money for the case studies and that was where problems started. It was a big challenge dealing with angry people, but I had to apply myself and use all my people skills to defuse the situation. I have learnt from that incident that it is very important to treat people the way that you would expect them to treat you.  It helped that they knew me as this changed everything and I would like to thank GL for this new me.

In September, country programme staff attended a repeat entrepreneurship M&E training session and this was an amazing experience.  It equipped us to work with partners on the ground, working with entrepreneurs was such a life changing experience and I was able learn so much about the programme. I assisted people in filling in the Gender Index empowerment and re-writing their “I stories” and there were times when I wanted to cry when those women poured out their hearts and shared their experiences with me. They had such hope in GL when they shared their stories that I realised how those women value GL’s work and have so much trust in us as an organisation. The look in their faces when they were sharing their stories said it did not matter whether I was going to judge them but they were excited that at least they were sharing their stories and there was somebody who was listening.

Collecting the 20 changing lives stories from those women was a challenging task, but very important for both GL and those women. Their willingness to share their stories and to tell the world what GL has done for them was phenomenal. I felt so connected and attached to the women when they were sharing their stories, even though it was so difficult to sit down with each of them.

Through this journey I have learned so many things that have shaped me personally and professionally. The skills and knowledge gained through this is amazing. I believe we can do more as an organisation if we work on quality rather than quantity. When I was collecting the drivers of change I realised that some of the women had potential and they could be called drivers of change; it was just that the timing was not good for them. I also learnt that if people were given at least a year or so to go and work on the ground and then we came back and did drivers of change, we would have more in-depth pieces to write, but it was a learning curve.

Although most of the things went very well and we were able to do our work very well, it was also a very difficult time for our Lesotho office as we did not get the EU funding and this could lead to the closing down of the Lesotho operation. This was a real eye opener and I learnt that life could change at any time.

Written by Ntolo Lekau, Programme Officer, Gender Links, Lesotho