Thursday, March 30, 2006

Blogging about blogging

Throughout this week I have been getting into this blogging thing. I have been finding things to write about and I jot ideas down in my notebook or in a file in my head titled "things to blog about." I have to admit, at first I wasn't that into blogging. It isn't that I don't like to reflect or write about my thoughts. I write in journals, I have been writing them since I was 10 years old, and I keep all of them. It's really great to go back and read those old diaries to see how much and how little I have changed since I was 10. (Many times I wish I could go back. But, growing up is inevitable and it is fun.)

So I get the journaling thing, but for some reason, typing in this little white box about the WOW programme hasn't been a creative lift. The sessions this week have given me more to write about then previous sessions though. I am not sure why. I don't think that the presenters have been greater or more enthusiatic, probably I am more open to writing about this experience from my voice than I previously was. I am not completely there yet--but I am opening up little by little. Being that next week is the end of the programme--well it's a pity that it didn't happen sooner. In the next few days I will blog a lot I think. I already have "blogs in waiting" (blogs I have started and am yet to finish).

Why someone like me is in SA

The other day someone asked me what I am doing in South Africa. This question comes up at least 3 times week, so I thought it would be useful o put it on my blog. My first reason is because I am in a serious relationship with my gorgeous partner Tatenda, who loves being in Africa. My second reason is that I see many opportunities in South Africa for someone like me who sees the world the way I do. I see the world as a global community. The developmental and cosmopolitan characteristics of South Africa are very appealing to someone like me. Who is someone like me?

I am what they call a "Jamaican-American." Many people ask me why do people in America say they are "African-American" or "Chinese-American," why don't they just say they are American? Well a short answer to this is that America is made up of foreigners. The only indigenous people there are "Native Americans" or I think the politically correct term these days are "American-Indians." Everyone else came by a large or small boat and for us recent migrants-- an airplane. My parents migrated in the late 70s right after my older brother was born and a few years before my younger brother and I were born. Growing up with sort of a dual identity -Jamaican and American - I saw the world in various ways. When I would go to Jamaica every year for 2-3 months during school holiday I would hear how America is taking over the world and is the new imperialist. Then when I would go back to Philadelphia (the city where I grew up) people would ask me if Jamaicans use cars and if I have a monkey for a pet (very familiar to what they would ask Africans). I realized at a young age that the world is full of people looking at the same things differently--it's all about perspective. I also realised that we really don’t know much about one another. One of the philosophies I hold is, difficult as it may be, understanding each other is not impossible… it just takes communication. When I went to university, while my father was encouraging to be an engineer or a medical practitioner (professions with obvious usefulness), I have always been interested in Communications. I think it goes back to my 1st grade (I was age 6) teacher telling my parents that I may have to repeat the grade because I wasn't "developing as fast as the other students." What she was saying was that I talked differently to the other children, I had a twang. Like many children who grow up bilingual, at home mommy and daddy talk in their tongue and then you go to school you are in a foreign situation and you have to speak something else.

I didn't repeat 1st grade, because my parents refused. My accent was not hindering my development; it just made it a bit difficult for the American teachers to understand. Jamaicans speak "patois" (pronounced pa-twa). It's basically broken English with a bit of French, Spanish and African languages mixed together. Anyway, communicating has always been an interest to me. I love to watch how people interact and talk with each other, and I like to examine the similarities and differences between and within cultures. During my first year of university, I took a Sociology course, and all I could say to myself was, "this stuff makes so much sense." So I decided to get two degrees in Communication and Sociology and that leads me to South Africa. I did a study abroad programme during undergrad in 2002 dealing with human rights. That programme had 80 students from all over the world and it basically changed my life (this was also the time I met Tatenda). I decided South Africa is interesting and exciting- and I kept coming back. After I graduated in 2004, I came here to do my Masters in Development Studies at Wits (an interdisciplinary degree that can combine all of my interests).

Finally this brings me up to date to the World of Work programme. As much as I am learning a lot about what the world out there entails, I am having the most fun getting to know my colleagues- they are from all over Africa (I am the only non-African) with vast knowledge and passion to go out there and make a difference. You can meet them at our team blog:

Someone like me believes that having multiple perceptions of the world we live in is vital and considering the ideas of others is critical.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I am always selling something...

I have never really been afraid of talking in front of people-especially if it's an informal setting. The only time I am nervous though is in a formal or academic environment and if I am unprepared or not passionate about what I am saying. The last presentation I gave was two weeks ago at the Wits Graduate School for a conference hosted by the Language School. I was presenting a shorter version to my research report I submitted in February this year.

Now I am passionate about what my research was on: news media's coverage of women's health in the realm of HIV/AIDS and broadly about media's imperative function in (social and human) development. Still during the writing process (editing and revising) this enthusiasm was almost drained out. Presenting the paper helped me realise why I chose to write on the topic in the first place. I genuinely believed in what I was saying and qualified my ideas with my own research, background studies and literature.

That experience told me that passion is so vital to being persuasive and to be an effective presenter. Nevertheless without being thoroughly prepared (knowing the topic and being ready for critical questions) the passion can come across as being simply fanatical without any merit.

In the Wow session yesterday- we discussed the importance of presenting in the world of work. If there was one thing that stuck with me, it would be the idea that we are always presenting. We are presenting by the way we walk into a room, by the things we say in casual conversations, even by the way we dress. I am always selling something. Presentations are all about persuading others to buy into what you are selling: whether it be ideas and opinions (as in my presentation of my research), or actions and decisions (maybe in a board meeting) or my skills (as in an interview).

Presenting involves making a deliberate decision to be persuasive. This entails being “presentation-fit” as the presenters from Connemara put it.

Monday, March 27, 2006

A challenge: Access to information technology

I just had another thought on the last blog I wrote about soft and hard empowerment. I thought of blogging as powerful and potential tool for women to communicate (soft empowerment- expression) about issues that we face daily. The challenge is access to the internet (hard empowerment-technology and economics). The young women that I want to reach are the ones without regular access to internet or even knowledge of how to use a computer. This gives me a project: how to bring more internet access to seemingly unreachable young women so that they can share their experiences and ideas to each other.

Empowerment: Soft vs Hard

I met a young woman over the weekend who is very passionate about "soft empowerment" for young women. The more we talked the more we realized we had visions in common. When she asked me what I was interested in, I responded, "broadly development of women." I could see the confusion on her face. What does "development of women" mean?

I have met people who focus on "hard empowerment", in terms of providing economic opportunities and I also have talked with people who concentrate on social issues like HIV/AIDS, sex, and power relations between men and women, like this young lady I met. Which one am I? Soft or Hard? I think I am more inclined to focus on the social aspects of life but I also believe that the hard economic empowerment is vital. If women are relying on men to "provide" for them this is indisputably related to her ability to have soft empowerment. This makes me think of the ability to negotiate safe sex between men and women--the power relations between the two. All the same, you can have economic empowerment for women and still be way behind in providing gender equality in social structures (in the home for instance). So I believe that these soft and hard aspects of empowerment are intertwined. I want to understand more about both hard and soft issues of women's empowerment. Experience is a must.

As we conversed more she encouragingly stated that right now in South Africa, it is a good time to be a young woman. There are opportunities out there, it's just about finding which space will be the best fit for me.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The 9-5 trap

"When you are care about something it is a 9-5 job. When you care for something it is a way of life" - Peter Metcalfe (Director, Foundation for the Development of Africa)

This quote I think I agree with. It is talking about a passion. Throughout last week and I am pretty confident that the remaining 3 weeks of this programme, the presenters will tell us to find our passion and live our dreams. Not to be cynical but most people I see going to work everyday see their job as a 9-5. They have to pay bills, children's school fees and save for a new home or the occasional "holiday." I have to be honest: I DON'T WANT A 9-5. That's why I have been in school to this day. I was educating myself and exposing myself to profound ideas to figure out what I am passionate about. But now, even though I hate it, the reality is that I do need a job. I do need to make some money because money is a necessity that will assist in fulfilling some of my passions. I don't want to fall in the trap though. The trap I believe is the "9-5." I want to care about something and make it a way of life. Presently, I care about empowering young women across the globe, I want us to learn about each other (communication) so that we can give each other options to the box of life we find ourselves in (social change). To sum up a passion of mind: "communication for social change"

I am still working on this...

Going solo or sticking with the team

I got a response to my last blog about EQ that I found really interesting. Having a high EQ, or being relatively self-aware does not necessarily make you easy to work with but it is a important aid for one to understand the effect you have on others and to understand the emotional needs of others. This brings me to my blog for today about being a team player or being solo. I am not sure which one I am. I think it depends on the day and the task at hand. Last week I heard two presentations that basically advocated for the opposite approach: SOLO vs TEAM. One presenter stated that no one is really a team player. I am not sure if he was implying that human beings by nature are intrinsically self-seeking beings looking out for their own interests, but this is what I think when I look at the social problems in our world. Does anyone really care about the other?

Anyway, the other presenter said that team playing is pertinent in the business world and a good team player is a connector and a communicator. I like the collaboration that can exist in good team work. You hear thoughts/ideas from people that connect to yours and the result is magical. But this doesn't always happen. What makes a good team? I have a thought: Teams are successful when everyone in that team has something to lose. This means that everyone in the team is concerned about the outcome of the teamwork and will thus put much effort into the work. I guess this relates to having the same objective and shared goals as a team.

I have solo dreams but I know it is important for me to meet people that can facilitate in me accomplishing my goals. I am still not sure if I am a solo person or team person.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

what's the use of a high EQ?

Ok. I am a little behind on this blogging thing. I am now on day four of the World of Work Programme at Wits and I must say it is intense and draining. At the same time, I am soaking up all of the vital information from each seminar. I will start from the second day on emotional intelligence. I feel that I am in tune with myself emotionally or should I say "self-aware."

When you are outside of your comfort zones, whether it be your home, community or country, you suddenly get a sense of how the (rest of the) world sees you and then you start to ask yourself "how do I see me"? It was a question I have asked myself over and over again. From the most obvious (gender) to the most nuanced. From that point I have noticed that how I see myself is displayed consciously and subconsciously in my interactions with others. I can use the example, if I want others to see my as approachable and accessible I have to see myself that way. It's work in progress. This relates to what Shameen Naidu said about taking care of and understanding yourself first before you try to help others. Self awareness is imperative to social awareness and social skills.

The questionnaire that measures our emotional intelligence says that I have an EQ of 140, which is a high average. This gives me confidence that I can use this as an asset in whichever environment I become a part of: whether it is at a non-profit or ngo, corporate world or government.

Nevertheless, I have a question: is having a high EQ an essential component to being successful or does it just make you easier to work with?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

World of work requirement: RESILIENCE

The first day of the World of Work (WOW) programme was very inspiring. I wanted to be a part of this programme because I feel that I have been stuck in the books for too long and now I ready to become professionally equipped to bring forth my ideas and plans for social change for girls and women worldwide. Tina Thompson, of Business Woman's Association of South Africa (BWSA), was simply great. While giving us the reality check about the world of work, (the fact that your boss may be harder than any professor you ever had), she stressed the importance of passion and enthusiasm for what you do as imperative to great achievement. Her 15 tools to build RESILIENCE are notes that I see myself referring to for a long time to come. Michelle Buthelezi, also of BWSA, said that personal integrity should never be compromised, particularly for money.

As a woman trying to work to empower other women, it was significant for me that the first two presenters of this programme were women and also mothers. As someone who wants to be a mother myself as well as a viable businesswoman, intertwining these desires and roles as a woman is sometimes discouraged in the professional setting. It seemed unintentional but Both Thompson and Buthelezi spoke about the challenges and realities of being a mother as well as a woman who has her own aspirations to be successful. It brought it real aspects of professional and personal ambitions that we try to balance daily. Thank you both:-)