25 September 2012

Why do people harm those they love and how does the survivor move on to be an inspiring leader?

In the spring, I attended a 5 day leadership course run by CMS .  Out of all the development I have undertaken over the years, this was the best course I have attended – enabling me to reflect on my 3 decades of leading (in corporate life; my own business and a charity).  I sometimes see them as the ‘3 peaks’ I have scaled – as I continue to balance the opportunities and challenges of anti-FGM work in running 28 Too Many. 

 One of the themes of this course I enjoyed was using life stories as an approach to authentic leadership development.  Authentic leaders ‘breath’ their leadership; are motivated by contrition and are ‘originals’ whose actions are based on personal values (Shamir, B. and G. Eilam).

Authentic leaders tend to be leaders at their ‘core’, having realised a high level of self clarity that leads their goals to come from their passions and beliefs.  For leaders, ‘life stories’ become a source of self knowledge that leads to developing a ‘cause’.  Leadership often comes out of struggle and experience, leading to authentication of the leader.

 My own ‘path’ to running an anti-FGM charity came from wanting to add something back to society which led to volunteering overseas, where I met a girl who survived childhood FGM and rape, leading to obstructed labour – and her being a mother at 11 years old (see our main website for more details on this story). 

 As 28 Too Many sets out its strategy for ending FGM across Africa, I was interested in an article called ‘Strategy is the Story’. It talks of leaders needing to be good story tellers, quoting Stevie Spring, CEO of Future Plc, stating she ‘is not really the CEO but its Chief Story Teller’!  Most organisations’ histories tell like a story, showing the choices made in setting the strategy; identifying how the resources will be used; and how the organisation will show a ‘competitive’ advantage in achieving its goals.  For us at 28 Too Many, we hope our story from 2005-now, provides inspiration for people joining, volunteering or funding our charity. 

 Below we share another story of a leader who I met in Durban, South Africa this year, who has used her childhood experiences to stand up for other vulnerable girls. Here’s her story:

 “The years with her aunt were full of chaos and torture. She was made to sleep in the store cupboard and woken with cold water every morning; her Aunt beat her with wire brooms and fed her rotten food from the dustbins.  She loved school but was made to walk her younger cousin to a different school far away every day, so that she was only in school herself for 2 hours out of every 8 hour school day. When she got to 11 years of age, her aunt told her as she was a girl she didn’t need to go to school anymore.  Instead she proposed Consola to get married to a man who used to sell newspapers.  Consola had not even hit puberty yet.  So, Consola prayed that God would spare and rescue her, and she wrote God a letter.  If he would rescue her, then she would give her life to serve other vulnerable girls in her community. God did rescue her.  It happened that her father wrote a letter to a friend who was an official at a certain school asking for his daughter to be enrolled, which meant Consola was accepted into a good secondary school without exams, despite having only a basic ability to read, write, add and subtract. Up until then she had been begging for school fees at the town offices, and been refused, and was constantly accused of being a prostitute.

 Later, her Aunt found out where she was schooling and bribed a few of the teachers so that one day as she arrived at school she was beckoned into a private room where her Aunt was waiting.  The teachers locked the door and she was beaten by all three teachers and her Aunt for 8 hours.  At the end she was in a horrific state.  She knew she had to leave. Her only hope was to make it to where her parents were.  She avoided the police who also had been bribed by her Aunt and were looking for her. She managed to make it to the far distant city ofMwanza.

 On the bus she met a man who claimed to be a resident of Mwanza, a seemingly trustworthy man who promised to accommodate her in his house where he was living with his family, but all that was a lie. Instead he took her to a motel where he produced a condom, assuring her that she wouldn’t get HIV if she slept with him. She refused and prayed for protection. He attempted to force her but when she screamed he pushed her outside the room. Miraculously she made it back to the boat station on to Kagera and the man was arrested. She was with her parents only a short time before she was admitted to hospital where she was a patient for six months, to recover from all her injuries.

 Since then she had a living desire to help other girls facing the same trauma. Upon joining University in 2005 she started supporting vulnerable girls that were denied rights to education. She supported them with school fees and other small school facilities using part of the allowance given to her for meals and stationary.  To date, Consola holds a BA in Sociology and an MA in Social Work.  She has dedicated her qualifications, time and energies to work for vulnerable girls and marginalized young women inTanzania. In May 2010 Consola organised committed individuals to register an NGO “New Hopefor Girls Organization” with the aim to officialise NGO activities and reach a large number of vulnerable groups of underprivileged girls and marginalized young women inTanzania.”

So what’s your story?  Journaling and art can be ways to reflect on your life story, and see what it’s telling you!  All our volunteers have a ‘story’ that brought them to 28 Too Many!  If you feel you want to be part of the 28 Too Many story, we are keen to hear from you. Alternatively, you can donate via Paypal on our website to enable us to hear the stories of others, so they can become future authentic leaders.