Boarding schools in crisis…my personal story

I had a conversation with my mother today that just brought back the motivation I had lost in the past couple of weeks. She brought back memories of a decision she once made about my education. Back in 2001 she decided, due to financial constraints to remove me from the boarding school where I had been since 1998. After I passed my O’Levels, I wanted to go further with A’ Level, but my single mother of four children sat me down to share how much she was struggling with the decision to remove me from boarding school, but the truth was that she just could not afford it anymore. For me, this was not a complicated decision at all, I told her that I can attend school anywhere and I will still do well, even the local school in our small town.  I remember her being so worried about that at the time. At the tender age of 16, I already knew that I was dedicated enough to study in any environment and make it.

I attended my A’ Levels at Mvurwi High school in Zimbabwe, which was pioneering A’ Levels that year. They had no library, no books, and a few experienced teachers to teach Advanced Level. This was the school my mother could afford because it was close to home and there would be no need for transport costs or monthly groceries and pocket money as I would have needed in boarding school. I went to this school and still passed with flying colours. My mother worried about what people would say and whether the quality of education would still be good enough for me to have a future. Our stream was the first A’ Level stream in 2001 and I am happy to say that we had good results, even with no library and books. I remember we used to have one book for History and another for Literature that we shared amongst ourselves. We used to share notes that our teachers were able to source from other schools. Our best student had 14 points and I got 13 points. This meant that we had more than enough points to get into the university.

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My local school Mvurwi High

 Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…Zechariah 4:10

I went on from that local school to be awarded the Zimbabwean Presidential Scholarship to study in South Africa for my Bachelors’ degree in Social Work. Later, I went on to get scholarships to study in Ireland and Hong Kong. I have become a beacon of hope in my community, to motivate other students and parents that they can dream big and they can succeed no matter the circumstances. Hearing my mother tell me that she was at a meeting where people in our local town discussed me as an example to advise other parents to not be afraid to remove their kids from boarding schools and allow them to attend local schools blew my mind (our town is that small, everyone knows what the other is up to, so when someone’s kids graduate or go overseas, everyone knows).

Getting this feedback is the essence of my educational experience and I honestly believe that stories and examples like these are the foundations that build legacies (there is an idea forming here).

At the moment, boarding schools in Zimbabwe are struggling to provide water and basic needs for students and a lot of parents are paying huge amounts of school fees, yet their children are going without basic needs.

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Image from iwpr.net

The economic situation in the country is dire and parents are facing the same tough decision that my mother faced years ago, to remove their children from prestigious boarding schools to local schools.

I realized today that I might think and feel that I am invisible, but the world sees me. I am a light in someone else’s life and that light can be used to fuel a young person’s dreams. I remembered 16-year-old me telling my mother not to worry, that I did not mind leaving boarding school. I can imagine the relief she felt as a parent at the time and also after watching me doing well in spite of it all. Hard work, dedication and a sense of purpose will always be rewarded. I have seen this in my lifetime and it shall forever be true.  To God be all the glory and honour!

I hope this encourages someone.

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Confronting my ageism…

ageism
/ˈeɪdʒɪz(ə)m/
noun
  1. stereotyping, prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age. “ageism in recruitment is an increasing problem”

I am going to start with a few questions for you.

  • Is it always important for you to only hang out with people your own age?
  • Do you only consider dating in a certain age range and never step out of that range?
  • Do you only accept the views of people in your own age range and view others on the outside of that range to be “uninformed” about your experiences?

If you have answered yes to one or both of these questions, you might be an ageist. Well, that might be a strong statement, so let me rephrase. You might have practiced ageism knowingly or unknowingly.  I recently had to admit that about myself and it was only after taking some time to reflect on it and research on what ageism is all about that I realised just how limiting this mindset can be. The extreme forms of ageism can lead to people being overlooked for job opportunities or being discriminated against in society. However, I am going to describe my own experience with ageism, from how I have come to understand it.

The first time I came face to face with my own prejudice related to age was a little while back when I went on the GPS Gateway Camp . This was the first time I admitted to having stereotyped people according to their age and I felt really ashamed to have done this. The funny thing is as I was busy making stereotypes about people based on their age, it did not occur to me that I was also making those same stereotypes about myself (judging myself as old).

Here is how it happened:

So, we arrived at the camp on the first day and it was a Monday afternoon. I registered as an individual camper which meant that I would be part of a team of people who will be meeting each other for the very first time, unlike those who registered as a group. So, you know how it goes when you have to make introductions… The conversation went like this:

“Hey, how are you? My name is ….and I am from (insert country of origin),  how old are you?”

I was fine answering the first part of the question, but the last part I found myself feeling oddly uncomfortable. For some reason, I felt uneasy answering the question about my age. The reason being that the people in my team looked really young. I immediately thought, OMG, I am in the wrong team. I am in my early 30s and most of the people in the camp looked like they were teenagers. My reaction was so immediate and sort of subconscious. I  had judged them based on their appearance and made the conclusion that they were young and therefore, I was in the wrong group/the wrong camp.

In hindsight, I am happy to know how wrong I was to have made that judgement because even though the people in my team were much younger, it was the right group for me. Their energy levels and stories made me reflect back on my days as a young adult and also gave me an opportunity to feel like an older sister. 

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These days I am learning to work on my prejudices. I am willing to befriend people outside of my age range and I honestly think that has widened my network a whole lot. I am finding that younger or older people also have a lot they can show and teach me. Even people ten years younger or older than me.  I also realised the importance of having a teachable spirit and not judging a book by its cover.  Funny story…none of the people in my team believed me when I told them my real age, so it goes to show that age is really just a number.

Have you confronted your ageism and in what instances? Drop me a message below, you know that I always love to hear from you.

 

 

 

Using art as storytelling -Art Women Hong Kong

I attended the Art Women event at the Social Room last Thursday and I was so inspired by the work the ladies are doing that I just had to share.

Art Women is a group of female asylum seekers with a passion for arts & crafts who came together to use their art as a way to deal with the experiences of being refugees and the trauma that came as a result of their experiences back in their home countries. Today, the group consists of women from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, Egypt and Sri Lanka.

At the event, Clarisse, the founder of Art Women, spoke about her experiences with depression and how she started crocheting as a way of expressing herself. From there, she started making dresses, bags and jewellery. She also started learning English here in Hong Kong since she could only speak French when she arrived.

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 Photo credit: Pitshu

She later joined with a group of other refugee women and together they are Art Women, and now they use their craft to spread awareness about the situation in their home countries while showcasing the beauty of African fabrics and vibrant colours.  They also prepared amazing food from Africa, the menu included plantain, sweet potato fries and a variety of other amazing Central African delicacies.

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Photo credit: Pitshu

 

It is not easy to be a refugee in Hong Kong, because they are not allowed to work. One of the ladies who was a nurse back home in the DRC now has a way to pass the hours in her days instead of sitting at home doing nothing. She stays so busy making several crafts, jackets and dresses that she said she and the ladies were running like a small factory. I hope this means they are getting lots of orders because their stuff is really amazing.

I was so inspired by the work these ladies are doing and by how they have managed to turn their traumatic stories into something beautiful. Their garments are so full of life and tell of the story of Africa that is so inspiring. What I learned from these women on this day is that where there is a will, there is always a way. The resilient spirit of African women to rise above all obstacles and strive to make something of their lives is something that should be celebrated.

You can check out Art Women and their merchandise on their website HERE.

 

 

Three ways to beat the trap of comparison…

Image result for comparison is the thief of joy quote

We live in a world where there is stiff competition in every aspect of our lives. There is always someone who is doing the things we want to do and from our limited perspective, they look like they are doing it better than us.  So often, we fall into the trap of comparing ourselves with our peers. We are always on a clock that is socially constructed and we compare ourselves with each other based on this social timeline. It is a mental trap because it is the thought in our heads whenever we see someone else doing what we wish we could be doing, and it can be toxic if uncontrolled. It can turn into jealousy, low self-esteem, self-hate and even depression.

In the world of academia, this often leads to a phenomenon called imposter syndrome:

impostor syndrome
noun
noun: imposter syndrome
  1. the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.
    “people suffering from impostor syndrome may be at increased risk of anxiety”

When I was in grad school, I got caught up in the cycle of comparison and it often made me feel like an imposter.  Even now post-PhD, I find myself looking at my peers and it looks like they are doing better than I am doing. I even caught myself comparing myself with students who are just beginning their academic journey and feeling like they were better off because they seem to have more support than I ever did. The truth is this comparison is not helpful or productive, but it is also human nature. So, I don’t beat myself up about it. However, I do want to view myself in a way that is actually beneficial and not detrimental to my mental health, and comparing myself with others is not the way to do it.

Here are three of the ways to beat the comparison trap:

  • To celebrate others.

I want to try this instead of comparing myself with anyone. When you celebrate others, you are saying that “we all have different talents and it’s this person’s turn to shine so I am going to celebrate them without looking at my own circumstance.”  That reframes the narrative. I believe we all want to be surrounded by people who celebrate us and not compete with us. If one of us has a victory, we are all winning.

  •  Limiting social media

Social media is the best place to fall into the comparison trap, particularly Instagram where everyone is portraying their best lives and Twitter, where everyone is self-promoting. Limiting your time on these platforms might be one of the ways to stay grounded in your own reality and not allowing people (often strangers) to dictate how your life should look, where you should be and how you should be living.  If scrolling on social media for hours on end leaves you feeling drained, you are probably falling into the comparison trap. I recently looked at the type of people I follow because I realised this was also important. What is your timeline feeding you? Are you following people who live realistic lives, who post motivating stuff or it is the opposite? Some people feed off the “glamorous” lives posted on social media, but how real is it really?

  • Seeing myself the way God sees me,

That means that there is no way I can think of myself as less than capable. The word of God tells me that I am created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and that I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). God sees me as an amazing and talented individual, so that is who I am. It is all about FAITH and you can believe that too. The next time I am tempted to compare myself with someone else, I just have to remind myself that I am capable of doing all that I set my mind to. This may not be my time, but in due season, I will shine as I am meant to shine.

I only wrote about three ways but I am sure there are many more ways to stop comparing ourselves with others. Let me know some of the ways that work for you down below.

Happy Monday!!

Back to where it all started…

The image of that morning after stands out everytime I try and think of what happened. It has been over seven years since the switch went off. When I try and imagine how I started building the walls, that image of me lying down on the floor; worn out, defeated, depleted, comes to mind. I remember what was going on in my mind was “How could this happen to me? To us?” I cried my first and last tears over the relationship that had ended in such a crazy way. The attempted suicide, the manipulation, the blood on my floor and walls where it splattered, the pieces of glass all around the room when I came back from the hospital. That was the day I picked up the first brick and started building the wall that has now become so thick on my heart.

You cannot break down the walls until you know what materials were used to build it.

So, I am going back to where it all started. I refused to give it any other thought after I cried about it that morning after. I hardened my heart and told myself to be strong and move forward. My strength just continued over time and became yet another set of bricks and cement to add to the wall. It soon became impenetrable and in my defence, I was protecting myself. No one has been allowed to enter since, not completely anyway.

But Jesus is knocking down the walls. I’m going back to where it all started so that I can get back to being vulnerable, softer, trusting.

Don’t be too afraid of pain that you numb yourself completely, because that shuts out all the other feelings. You cannot experience joy without pain!

I have high standards and I know my worth!

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Keep your standards high and your expectations low

This is the lesson of the week!! It is only Monday, but this day has made me think about my standards and what I value most in life. These are lessons I will keep learning as I grow older and experience life. I think what I have been building over the years through personal and intellectual development allows me to say yes or no to certain things.  I really want to stress that in the search for an identity, your place in the world, career or whatever it is, it is very very important to know what you will be willing to stand for and what is a NO NO!!

I am realising that in the process of looking for what is next and in making a transition we are often tempted to take the easy way out. We get impatient and we don’t want to struggle. We want the path of least resistance and this is human nature. But, I learnt today that anything that makes me lower my standards or go against my values is not worth it. Anything that requires me to sell my soul to the devil in order to say I have made it to the other side is definitely not worth it.

If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything! ~Alexander Hamilton

My standards remain high because I know what I am worth! There are people out there who are just waiting for the opportunity to tell you that you are not good enough or that you need them to become anything in life.

I have low expectations of this world, such that I am pleasantly surprised when I meet really good and kind people. The world we live in has become such a terrible place, with individuals who are preying on people’s desperation to exploit them for their own benefit. There is no amount of money that is enough to make you lose your value. There are people who might look at me as a person of colour (POC) and judge my worth as less, that is the world we live in. However, if you know the value of what you bring to the table, racism or discrimination must not discourage or bring you down. There will be a handful of people willing to hire you based on your merit and not the colour of your skin, you just have to keep going until you find them. Unfortunately, being black and African in a world that accepts the one narrative of Africa as an impoverished and aid-dependent continent often means that when people meet us, they first want to offer us the bare minimum and we are expected to be grateful.  I don’t know about you, but I am not willing to sell myself short just because someone in a position of power and privilege feels I am only worth as much as they decide I am worth. It is disrespectful to what I stand for as an individual and my core beliefs.

My personal identity, if you have been following this blog you would know that it is first and foremost, that I am a child of God. Everything else is secondary. This identity makes it impossible for me to be tossed around by individuals in this world who seek to take advantage of me and offer me less than what I deserve as a daughter of a King.

I have been reminded to stay vigilant and watchful! Never settle for anything just because it is available.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour~1 Peter 5:8

Today I choose gratitude and happiness!

It is amazing how much of a mindset shift can occur when you change your perspective. A change of perspective simply means looking at an issue in a different way, choosing to believe that there is more than one way to understand something. A different perspective!! I want to take this moment to thank each and every person who reached out to comment on my post yesterday, you can read it HERE if you missed it. I got  so encouraged to think in a different way and I am honestly happy to have shared my experience because sharing it showed that there is strength in community. So here is how my day went today:

Today I chose gratitude as a new perspective. Instead of looking at all the things that are not going so great, I chose to be grateful for being here today. As I write this I thank the  Lord for this stage of my life which I am now beginning to see as a period of learning and growth. I choose in this moment to focus on what is going well and not what is on standstill. In this period of waiting and resting, help me to

“turn this pity party into a cycle of praise” ~Pastor Judah Smith

Today I came across my happiness activity journal and I realised that I hadn’t written in it since February this year.

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I really love how it allows me to reflect on what made me happy this week and what made me unhappy. It doesn’t just end there, it then asks me to think about what I will choose to focus on to be happier next week, and has space to share an inspiring quote for the week as well as lessons for that week.

Today I said to myself, no type of schedule (busy or not) should keep me from keeping track of my happiness, although all the evidence points to the fact that I had in fact allowed the craziness of the past few months and my current circumstances, to steal that away from me. I chose to continue writing in my happiness activity journal and just doing that shifted my mood a great deal.

Today I got out of bed and did something useful with my time. I think movement is good. I just wish I was the exercise type, but sadly that is furthest from my mind. I did take a walk and got caught in the rain with my friend. Hong Kong weather has this weird impromptu rain around this time of the year,  that only lasts a few minutes and then it is back to being hot and humid again. When it started raining, we didn’t have umbrellas because when we left home it was not showing any signs of rain. Me and my friend Abi didn’t even bother running for cover, it felt so good getting soaked for a bit, we even held hands and started singing. The rain felt oddly therapeutic, I just hope we both don’t catch a cold. Those are the rare moments of joy that cannot be captured except in our memories.  Who would even have the time to think of taking out their cellphone to take a rain selfie? You would be surprised with the way we humans love our selfies these days. If people can take selfies at a funeral, then anything can happen.

Today was a good day.  This blog reached the 200 followers milestone today.

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See what happens when you count your blessings, you see more and more of them in the least expected places. I am so glad to be able to share this space with all of the people who read and take the time to interact with me. You all make it worth while.

 

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