Learning Journey: Colleen Lowe Morna

Date: March 27, 2011
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Colleen Lowe Morna

As I sit down to reflect on what I have learnt in recent years, what comes to mind most immediately are the massive strides we have taken in our understanding and design of Monitoring and Evaluation tools. Technically, maybe, that is where my greatest learning has been. But M and E has not been my most memorable or enjoyable learning. For that, I turn to my three days at Kadoma Ranch Hotel with 75 women councilors from different parts of Zimbabwe gathered for GL’s training of trainer’s workshop in February 2010.

As you climb up the work ladder, you get more and more removed from work on the ground. Now I spend most of my time writing funding proposals, reports, and conducting dozens of job interviews and figuring out how to do M and E. The somewhat precarious political situation in Zimbabwe called for more direct intervention than usual, down to being at this workshop in a location where the tyranny of cell phones and E Mails could not find me.

I had tried to take a back seat by involving partners in all the different sessions. But when one of our partners could not make it, I had to conduct a half day training workshop on key gender concepts in my rusty Shona. As I walked to the front of the room, I suggested we begin with a rousing rendition of a song for a female struggle icon. Mbuya Nehanda kufa vachi shereketa got us all up and dancing.

I joked that one of the stereotypes in the room was that white people could not speak Shona to which we roared with laughter. The glamorous Pat Ndlovu from Beit Bridge ran with the theme, sharing examples of how people often described her as a sex worker because of her blond curls and glamorous looks. In addition to that, she happens to be one of the hardest working councilors in the border town. Pretty soon we had crafted a new song: “Ndokunaka” (this is what it means to be beautiful!) Women councilors in all shapes and forms showed off their figures and pronounced themselves beautiful.

During the group work on gender mainstreaming, we dissected the case of Loveness Ndoendepi (where shall I go?) The participants picked up on the double meaning of the name as they named one after the other government ministry that needed to make a difference to the life of a young woman who became pregnant and HIV positive following sexual assault.

During the break, two women from Chipinge, my place of birth, came and asked for advice about a water problem. I linked them up to the Secretary General of the Urban Council Association of Zimbabwe Francis Duri who put his cell phone on speaker phone in a call to UNICEF that provided up to date information on when they might expect water.

As I opened the text to Carolyn Moser’s definition of practical and strategic gender needs the words on the page took on a new meaning. The hard line between the two faded into grey as story upon story wove between every day needs and the yearning for self realisation.

On a practical note, and in a rather memorable example of gender budgeting, one participant suggested that we forgo our tea and put the money towards a party on the final day when we strategically took over the hotel disco and danced the night away. But as part of a negotiated deal during the workshop – and in a show of commitment that would put our more literate workshop participants to shame – every participant at this workshop turned in GL’s fat pack of M and E forms (data base details, score cards and quizzes) before they left.

In my parting comments I urged the women to go and “paradza” (destroy) instead of “paradzira” (spread) the word. Talk about learning from mistakes! I was corrected with such good humour that this is one mistake I will never make again!

Colleen Lowe Morna, Executive Director of Gender Links

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