~Written By Elizabeth Johnstone
During our recent trip to Malawi in June, and since our return to Canada, we have been reflecting a lot as to our objectives and goals for WHI. Malawi was great in reminding us that values need to be the driving force, rather than “completing our goals” being the only way to measure success. Our mission as an organization is about equipping, encouraging and empowering our partners: when WHI is talking about individuals and relationships, achieving goals cannot be the end-all in measuring success.
Inevitably, before leaving for Malawi the question frequently posed to me was, “what will you be doing?” In this question, I interpret that doing meant what action, what tasks would I be accomplishing? What would I be leaving behind in Thukuta that they wouldn’t otherwise have? Shortly after arriving in Malawi, we received a good amount of disappointing news from the director of WHEAMS (Rodrick). Immediately, voices from back home hounded in my head: “Have we met our goals?” “What results can we show?” “How about “true” measures of success?”
Yes. I was discouraged from what I deemed as a “lack of progress.”
Over breakfast the next day, Amelia and I regrouped to remind ourselves what is the main WHI’s mission in Malawi, and our relationship with Rodrick was all about. We were thankful for the “bad news” arriving close to the beginning of the trip, as we were able to focus the rest of the trip on how can we equip WHEAMS to move forward in a consistent and beneficial manner. Our trip’s focus really became about networking with others and discovering other human resources that exist in Malawi that WHEAMS could tap into. I personally had to make a switch from thinking about measuring our impact in terms of results. I had to remember that frequently in Africa, Malawi being no exception, progress takes time.
I am more aware now than ever that I am a product of my culture. It took a trip to Malawi to feel a deep sense of rest and peace. During this trip I reflected on my own life and relationships: I cannot measure my self worth simply by setting goals for myself and for others. Somehow, in the last few years, I have begun to measure myself, my self worth according to what I have accomplished or not accomplished, and judging myself accordingly. I have managed to get myself so tightly wound that I needed both medical and personal counsel to figure out how to bring back a balance to my life. To create that balance I assumed there must be things that I should do to feel better, and things that I should stop doing to remove stress.
My wise personal counsel told me that measuring your life by the goals you set for yourself will always lead to disappointment. The key is to measure your life according to values you have set. When you are struggling, turning back to your values will ground you, either encouraging you to keep on in the direction you are heading or gently bring you back and turn you around. However, this world view can be counter North-American Culture, where success is built upon accomplishment and physical achievements.
WHI realized that our initiatives in Malawi must first be about working on relationships; listening, seeking to understand, reworking our assumptions and allowing individuals to self-express their strengths and areas in which those strengths can grow. It is in relationship that we can equip and encourage WHEAMS. Of course, we could move forward without considering the relational aspects, and attempt to measure our success by visual structures we have built; but then… have we really met our objectives of equipping, encouraging and empowering?
No. It is far better to move forward slowly and mindfully, than to move fast and cause damage. If we hope to make an impact on individual lives and communities, keeping true to our values of equipping, encouraging and empowering will be the guiding post.
Elizabeth Johnstone is the Eastern Canadian Director, and co-founder of WHI/CCC. Currently, she works as a High School Counsellor on the South Shore of Montreal. Her views expressed on this blog are not those of her employer.