March 3, 2009

The extent of our blessings

Sometimes I get frustrated with our pre-school headmistress, Ncediwe. She’s on the right in this picture. She’s a fine teacher and has been working in Itipini for ages. She genuinely cares for the children and on most days does a great job teaching.

My frustration is not with her as a teacher but as headmistress. We turn to her when we have questions about the pre-school, like about the schedule or which teacher is responsible for which part of the day. She seems a bit clueless at times about some of the bigger picture issues involved in running the pre-school.

I was letting myself get pretty frustrated with this situation and at one point thought to myself, “Doesn’t she know anything about leadership?” And that’s when I realized she probably doesn’t.

When I was growing up, I had numerous role models and examples of good (and not-so-good) leaders. I assumed there would come a time in my life when I would be in a position of leadership and began to look for what I admired in people in positions of leadership. Lots of people supported me in this and helped me develop as a leader. I even led several sessions at a summer camp on leadership development for high-school students.

I realize now that Ncediwe probably had none of those opportunities. I doubt anyone saw her when she was young and said, “That girl is going to be a leader someday and I want her to be a good one.” She probably didn’t have a lot of great examples of leadership when she was growing up. When I find myself facing difficult decisions, I often think to my role models and ask myself what they would do. That is probably a foreign concept to Ncediwe.

(Even if she had been taught about leadership when she was younger, I often find myself questioning the kind of leadership exercised around here but that is all for another post.)

It is a cliche that when you go work in the developing world, you learn how blessed you are. It’s a cliche because it is true but even at this stage of my time here I am continuing to realize the true extent of my blessings.

That’s important because one of the Bible passages that is at the core of my beliefs about mission is Genesis 12:1-3, where God blesses Abraham not so Abraham can bless himself but so that all the nations of the world can be blessed. My blessings are to build up others. In order to do that, I guess I need to know more about just how blessed I am.

And so, with Genesis 12 and Ralph Nader’s view that “the function of leadership is not to produce followers but to produce more leaders” in mind, I am - slowly and tentatively - figuring out how sharing ideas about leadership works in a different cultural context.