Thursday, 31 August 2017

Bangladesh revisited

 The last time I travelled to Bangladesh was December 2015..... 

Of all the trips it was hardest.

Culture shock, despair at the poverty, frustration at the lack of basic health care, anger at the level of wilful ignorance in the West, fear of the scale of human disaster and a preoccupation with my own inadequacy were left behind on previous trips. They were replaced by a love of the people, their shiny, warm smiles, generosity and hospitality.

A mantra helped me transition from furious to helpful. It “discovered me” as I stood at the banks of a river alongside a community of people who had lost everything in heavy floods: “You can’t fix it all but you can do something and something is better than nothing”.

2015 wasn't hard because of any of that though. The shock wasn’t new.  

It was practically hard. The advent of terrorism in modern form meant I was vulnerable in ways I hadn’t been. My visit meant diverting good people trying to do important work to keeping me safe. Add in a couple of natural disasters it became clear that a planned visit for November 2017 was going to create more problems than it solved and the plan was ditched.

On a train station guarded by police for our protection - 2015

Short of collaring friends and families for money I was running out of ideas to help.

Enter stage left (which means I didn’t see them coming) Beyond Limits, their staff, the people they support, the families of people they support and the families of the Directors.

Staff and people supported at a briefing on where the money goes

Read the blurb about Beyond Limits you’ll learn it’s an organisation that supports people who’ve been failed by the system. It supports them to have an extra-ordinary life. Just to be clear, the organisation helps people whose life might otherwise be spent in “long stay” hospital on account of somehow or other not quite fitting in. The organisation helps people find belief, hope and faith in themselves. It offers them space to discover who they are and to live that without apology or reservation. 

The kind of values that drive the work (whether in a formal values statement or not) are belief in people as people, willingness to commit to others, preparedness to take the tough road, the ability to celebrate success, belief in family and tenacity, tenacity, tenacity.

So, here’s how it goes.

In 2015 Beyond Limits staff, people supported and families got behind fundraising efforts to support a donation to an orphanage for girls. (I ought to say that none of the trip costs were ever fundraised, if you travelled – you paid). They did tonnes of things, a jumble sale, a sponsored walk, a painting auction, a cake sale, a ball and so on.  One member of staff even collared her husband in to fleecing his builder colleagues on pay day. But! Most humbling was the degree to which people who had had shit lives got behind people on the other side of the world whom they were worried might face shit lives if they didn’t help. Consequently the Beyond Limits community helped  me to raise funds take to donate in 2015. Job done.

                                                                                                    Heather, trying on a sari

Or so I thought?

·      Who knew that when you’ve learned the importance & power of tenacity the hard way, you recognise when it’s needed and put your shoulder behind what could have been a cursory effort more tenaciously than most?

·      Who knew that when you’ve had to exercise tenacity, stay brave and keep believing in your own life believing in belief stays with you. So you get behind and stay behind a cause even when “the trip is over”?

·      Who knew when you say “community matters” you mean it – no matter how big the distance between parts of it?

·      Who knew that when we say family matters family get behind us because we matter and so what matters to us matters?

After December 2015 Beyond Limits got in touch to say people supported had raised more money and how would they get the money to people in Bangladesh?

Then they got in touch again to say they had more money and could I hurry up and sort it out…….Please…..

Doreen got in touch to say her family were arranging (as best I understand it) a “Party in the Park”. They raised an inordinate amount of money split between a number of Charities of which YPSA (see below) is one.

YPSA is a non-profit social development organisation in Bangladesh that helps an enormous range of people including people with disabilities, sex workers and their children; communities impacted by natural disasters and orphaned children. Their reach is immense and their impact unquestionable. They are the recipients of numerous international awards and despite gruelling work at home they find time to contribute their learning to the global stage.

I’ve been lucky to visit them twice and fortunate too that their Chief Executive MdArifur Rahman understood and wanted to help support a connection between two sets of people fighting to live in ways most of us take for granted. He held his hand out to make a connection and give people value from across the other side world. He navigated a political quagmire to produce the permissions Beyond Limits needed to transfer the money safely to good use.

In systems in which Beyond Limits and YPSA do their work there’s a lot of hyperbole about values.

Everyone knows what to say but the lived evidence is sometimes lacking. The Beyond Limits and YPSA communities teach us a lot.

Lets go back and hear the messages in this story:

a)    Every life has value
b)   It’s possible to commit to people like family no matter the geographical distance.
c)    There’s dignity and equality in giving.  There is dignity and equality in receiving.
d)   Communities matter. Some communities are BIG. They scan the globe.
e)    People who’ve learned tenacity have deep wells to draw from.
f)     When we make space for people to have a life they’ll do more than exceed our expectations.
g)    Sometimes the greatest gifts come from unforeseen directions.
h)   Family is everything

Thank you to:

·      The people Beyond Limits supports, their families and staff
·      Doreen and Maxine
·      Doreen’s family in Carlisle for adding your voice, efforts and confidence
·      MdArifur Rahman who knit the ties and found a way to get the money from a group of people who needed to give it to children who needed to have it.

A group of children at one of YPSAs schools

Small boy with cerebral palsy getting physio, his mum, the therapist  and the equipment available to help him & others

Tonight I am reminded that the world made beautiful for having such beautiful people in it. I am so grateful to be part of this community.

 User led organisation for people with disabilities supported by YPSA

 Self styled wheelchair and the man who created & uses it

Thanks so much for your humanity and tenacity.

Judith North


Monday, 14 September 2015

Communities Connecting

Despite having worked to get people who live in hospital out I have stayed pretty clear of public commentary and the rights and wrongs of the misuse of hospitals in providing support to people with leaning disabilities and / or mental health needs experiencing distress. That’s because regardless of what side of the fence we’re are on the debate is too vitriolic and swapping one form of hate, vitriol and dogma for another hardly seems to me the way to get a healthy debate going with those with the power and influence to change things.

So, as with much else, I do what I can. I try to notice, understand and respect all opinions, even when it’s hard to stomach, and to make my own sense of what it all means. Politics, policy and their implications for real people; it’s all too hard for me to get my head around.

I fundamentally learned the importance of “doing what you can, doing something or doing anything” in 2011. I was visiting a group of women living on the banks of one of the biggest rivers in Bangladesh. They were working with a Charity and learning to come together, save together and lead their communities to change their fortunes.  I’m not clear what really propelled me to Bangladesh that first time, but I do know that one of the things I was interested in was how people living in extreme poverty and the worst of circumstances empowered themselves. They had to have something to teach me, teach us.

Living on the banks of those big rivers in Bangladesh is for the poorest of the poor. The rivers flash flood. It happens in minutes. Water from the mountains pours down in seconds. There’s no warning and the floods wipe out whole communities. The women I visited there had experienced a recent flood of huge magnitude.  The people who met me as I arrived were unlike every other group I had visited. They were quiet, sombre and fearful. I was looking at collective post-traumatic shock.

The women walked me down to the water’s edge, taking it in turns to tell me (although I didn’t understand their words, I got it well enough) about the ferocity of the water and the people they had lost. I lifted my eye to see the residue of their human effort. Sandbags were scattered; thrown over the banks by human hands in a last desperate act to stay the force of a ferocious flood that would rob them of their children, homes and livelihoods. They could do so little, in the face of so much.

I braced myself hard trying not to cry. How do you cry for people who are not crying for themselves? I was hopeless in the face of the devastation around me. I lost all sense of why I was there and lost all hope that there was anything that I could do to impact on pain of this intensity and that’s when it came to me. You can do what you can.

Cut to 2015 and I find myself gearing up for another trip. It will be my 4th. Much more clearly focused now my efforts are honed on raising money for an orphanage that I have visited before and have confidence in. The orphanage exists hand to mouth and has been close to closure due to lack of funds. Over 830 otherwise abandoned girls have made their way through it’s doors. I can connect to that. I can do something about that ……. An institution without which the girl’s lives would be unthinkable – violated by the worst abuses and deprivations.

Setting fundraising targets is an arbitrary business. When you set a target what can you possibly know of who will step forward to help and how? Somehow it rolls out. There’s no grand plan. Kind people just seem to step out of the woodwork offering imaginative ways to help.

So it was with Beyond Limits. A “chewing the cud” conversation with Doreen and Max over dinner went something like “wouldn’t it be great to get some of the people Beyond Limits supports involved in your fundraising efforts?”.  Yep, it would. “Do you think we could get a Carl’s Small Spark to help us?”.

Carl Poll was a gifted man who worked tirelessly in his lifetime to ensure people with learning disabilities and mental health needs were respected and celebrated for their gifts and talents. He also had a strong connection to India and what he could learn from the poor there. A fund set up in his memory offers small grants to support people to connect to their communities. We made an application and were gifted £200. The deal was to fund the expenses of people who couldn't afford to help otherwise to come together with their community to raise funds for Happy Homes.

And so my story comes full circle.

On Saturday 12th September I found myself standing amongst the hugest pile of bric a brac I have ever set eyes on, drowning under the weight of a cake stall that would have fed an army, sweating at the cooker in the kitchen of a salvation army hall as we pumped out buckets of lentil curry and rice for stream of people that looked like they may never stop. Whatever community is we were in the thick of it and at its heart and the engine, the architects, the spirit were people who were discharged from Winterbourne View.

Steve, my husband, had come to help. During the day I glanced out often from the steam of the kitchen to see him bent over the bric a brac immersed in conversation with other stallholders, laughing, enjoying the hubbub. It was really clear to see. Beyond Limits were doing something incredible. The organisers were doing something incredible. The day passed in a blur, the crowds died off. We started to pack away donating all remaining food to the local homelessness hostel and all remaining clothes to the Salvation Army. Steve and I sat with Doreen and Max to count the takings, recounting our favorite moments from the day.

Somewhere in the counting Steve remarked on the incredible lengths that the staff and people Beyond Limits had gone to. I said “the people that helped today Steve, they were discharged from Winterbourne View you know” and that’s when I saw it. The magnitude of what they had done. His face was pure puzzlement, pure disbelief. It was too hard to compute. He could make no sense of it because today was just ordinary or maybe extraordinary. The organisers glowed in their kindness and effort. How on earth could they be people who’d needed to live in a place like that and how on earth could they be giving back with so much generosity and vibrancy if they had?

Somewhere amidst the rights and wrongs, the policy and politics, the polemics, the vitriol and “resettlement” is a quiet simplicity. Living life as an equal is about giving back. Giving back ennobles people. Empathy for others shows no mercy. On Saturday people who have been treated appallingly by the system showed us the depth of their humility and forgiveness. Two groups of women who’ve faced the worst horrors imaginable held their hands out over thousands of miles and touched in recognition that out of the worst pain grows the deepest learning, greatest kindness and real meaning. A group of women who came from an institution claimed their freedom and gave security and life to a group of girls on the other side of the world. Not bad for a Saturday morning’s work.

Thank you so much to the organisers, Beyond Limits, Carl’s Small Sparks, Actionaid Uk and Actionaid Bangladesh for your support.

Judith North
September 2015

Monday, 14 April 2014

Life under an alternative parachute - March 8th to 18th - Ojay California.
Some 226 days beyond feeling consumed by “organisation” I made my way to Heathrow to finally action the first idea that went on the “what I will do” list that I wrote when I believed that life beyond “organisation” would be my own. As chronology has it, the first idea was the last in a series intended as kind of closure exercise. As life has it, the story never goes the way it's supposed to. 
Funny that. 
Kate and I drove from LA in a beetle down the pacific high road, we stopped at Malibu beach, forgot the time and stood mesmerised by the beach and the people and the life we unconsciously occupied. I think we thought we were on holiday. 

Hours later we rolled into a beautiful complex in a Californian wine vally. The smell of blossom was pungent and the mass of people with whom we were to spend the next 10 days was tidal. Full of nothing but trepidation I moved my feet and pulled my case up a hill that was to become well worn with  footsteps, thoughts, fear - all paced out inch by inch carefully each of 10 days in silence.

It’s been ages since I visited this blog.  What I notice  today  is how quickly an old reality becomes a new one and new ones become a habit. Life in Ojay had a predictability to it that was comforting and terrifying in equal measure. Imagine a whole community apparently suffuse with willingness, kindness, energy, courage... It’s hard to believe and so I didn’t. Instead of immersing myself in what I paid to learn I  immersed myself in myself... spiralling in self defeating circles.

You’d think pushing yourself way beyond your comfort zone for 14 hours a day would work right?  Out of my comfort zone, out of my comfort zone, out of my comfort zone, in my head, in my head, in my head.  All that effort and something in me stood by celebrating my imperviousness and I think it was probably me. Honest. All that money, all that way, all those people, all that effort and I got my thrill from resisting. 

Cue a conversation with Kate. “I am holding the lid on tight here Kate, I am not sure that’s what I am supposed to be doing”. Kate suggested I go talk to Bob. “Bob’s good”. (Bob achieved that qualification the night before for having the audacity to tell Kate something about herself she didn’t want to see. Having raged a fair bit she could see no good reason why she should keep that to herself and so she packed me off for my fair share and, unsurprisingly I got it from Bob all barrels blazing). (Cue Bob) “What are you here for, what brought you here? ........I didn’t know. He told me to think on it overnight. I asked if I could look him out in the morning. He said no. Got to admit it, the truth hurts. 

We promised the school we wouldn’t publish the curriculum, so you’ll have to take my word for all of this “discomfort stuff”, it makes running a marathon and jumping out of planes look like nursery school. A buffet of experience, a unique opportunity, an incredible group of people, a stunning teacher, a gorgeous friend and at day ten I was still dancing round the learning buffet too afraid to let go and really join the party, too hung up to part with my perception of things, too self conscious to notice that no one else cared.

Not such a happy ending to a long awaited event right?

 I left with a hacking chest cold, a roaring temperature and a head that sounded on the inside like the roar of the engines in the plane that flew me home. No peace.

I rejected the invitation to connect with people from all over the world to continue the learning - hanging on tight to the belief that I could do it on my own. Pah! Who needs a globe full of people when I’ve got me??? What a schmuck.  

Just under a month later Kate and I have fallen into a modest rhythm of mutual support, twice or three times a week, just practicing what we were taught. It’s not global, but it’s a start..... Actually that’s not true.....

Until this week I kept on keeping on - imagining an epiphany and experiencing the same old reserve. Then on Sunday a break through. On Sunday I actually needed the work. I didn’t just want it I needed it. I reached back out for the books & made my way through them painstakingly looking for what I had missed or forgotten to remember. An inferno of thoughts commanded me, diminishing everything to an anxious puddle of nothing, going nowhere but round and round and then I found it. The penny dropped.

It’s a curious thing need. There was something they kept repeating in Ojai...... “The work works you”. I pretty much took it as a strap line, something that rolls off the tongue so you don’t have to connect with it too much, but here I found myself using what I had learned (or was Kate using it for me) and something started to shift. 

Pity this is writing and not a film... there would be lights and music and cameras now were it not just me talking to myself in prose. 

Anyhow here’s what I learned, what I keep coming back to and what I want to share. 

I have felt the disappointment of being on development courses with people who don’t really want to develop. This time for all I wanted to challenge myself, I never really gave myself to the learning. I was one of the ones who didn’t really give myself to it and so I didn’t get it. Makes simple sense right?

Maybe I went all the way to Ojai to learn that there’s nothing to be gained from holding back, that learning means what it says it is and it doesn’t come all at once. You have to wait and work for it, wait and work, wait and work. It comes when it is ready. 

Maybe I went all that way to learn that journeying with expectation usually brings you out somewhere than other than where you expected to be & that it’s not what you went for but what you take home that matters. 

Or maybe I just went all that way to learn to be with myself. It’s nice to meet me and we are getting to know each other quite nicely for the time being perhaps...

Friday, 29 November 2013

Letter to Gen

I am sorry it has taken me so long to write to you. Its been a bit of a journey since you left and it has taken me since you died to work out that I needed to carry on and that I needed to write to you. You understand it in writing, I know that so why have I continued to talk to you in my head where you can’t hear or understand me?

I think I just won the competition for the longest processing delay in the Universe. You can award me the prize. You’ll like that.  It’s been 2017 days or 5 years, 9 months, 7 days. (I know you think that’s hilarious). I am the one that’s supposed to be good at processing right? I sometimes couldn’t even remember to give you a day or an hour. Your patience is 2017 times bigger than mine. It always was. I miss you.

This week we are in Australia. We’ve just finished four delivery days. Its been tough to keep you with me all the way, not because I don’t love you being here, but because I do. The world is brighter. How can I explain? It’s like the feeling on your skin when the sun warms up slowly and adjusts it temperature to just the right level, its the way you feel when you are in a room on your own and we go away, its like music and light and dancing and postcodes and being with Grace the horse, when she is cantering. It’s special. It’s the best. I miss you.

We’re on the other side of the world, can you believe that? The work is the same and the people all have accents. You love it and we talk about it at lunch time. So much is the same, the ummmm game works and I hear your delight and the tinkle of your laughter as you watch them stuck in the land of no rules. They know you know something they don’t know. You know they  won’t be as brave as you and just ask. “you know something I don’t know.... what is it......”? Nothing changes. Only distance. It feels as though your brightness is harder to find. I miss you when it fades. I miss you more when you shine brilliantly. 

This time James helped me. No one replaces you but he did a great job. Even telling you that makes the hair stand up on my arms. He was brave and brilliant and you spun and sang in the sunlight he cast. He worked with so much courage and placed so much trust in us to help him navigate his story safely. We talked about it all the way home, you told me that you thought you loved him. I know you did, another beautiful mind another beautiful soul warmed slightly by the generosity of your teaching. You asked me if I had noticed the many subtleties of how incredibly clever he is, you asked whether I think they noticed and as always I said I hope so. I really hope so. I always hope so. My hope is never as radiant as yours. I miss it. I am less without it, without you. 

You don’t know this bit. This bit of the story goes beyond you. This is the reason for my letter. I have told everyone but I have not told you. I failed you...... and it hurts. 

I have learned to tell it. The story of my ultimate failure to read the obvious. “She”, “me” who knew so much but understood so little. 

This week James made his I pad play the Doctor who theme tune as he handed out badges to welcome people to understanding him - you - us - people. You walked beside us.  We’d sent the group backwards and forwards in time to sort things out for him in a way that made sense, you loved it and ..... we / I nearly got it right. 

The tune finished too soon and I rushed to make it better. I tapped the i pad to replay. You knew he needed it to be just as it was. You called out to me to stop, but I didn’t, couldn't, wouldn’t and it was too much for him. He faltered completely at a loss because the I pad was his and mine was the ultimate violation. You recognise that right? A heartbeat too slow to understand the significance of my action or in your case a heart beat too slow to recognise the significance of inaction. Same mistake... different year, different person, different outcome.. same story.

So, history repeats itself. My understanding coming on the synchophated beat, a heart beat away from doing the right thing and what he / you needed most. 

I am sorry I didn’t come. I am sorry I replied to your text with texts. I am sorry for your loss. You paid the ultimate price. I learned the ultimate lesson and despite the cost of the mistake I continue to make it. You, as always, continue to walk beside me in trust and faith and confidence that I will find my way and will translate you to them..... them to them. 

Yup, we are in Australia this week. We are back out there now, telling it like it needs to be told and I hold you tight. You gave me you to carry with me. I do the best job I can. It’s not enough, but right now it’s the best I can do and still stay standing.  They love you as much as they always did, I love you as much as I always did. I miss you, they love you... nothing so much has changed. Lets go.... the break is over and it’s time to get back to it.....I am not crying. Promise........


Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Bangladesh, the women and leadership

Work on developing a leadership course is picking up a pace. I met with the University and as soon as the days deliver enough hours to write it, it looks like there will be a choice for those who choose to study. Half a Masters or an undergraduate qualification. So that's massively exciting.

I am busy working on the work coming in, working on moving and working on the future and I find myself buzzing about electrified with the thought that maybe questions like "what do future leaders in social care need to look like", "how do we develop them" and "how do we make the conversation global" are going to get an airing?

I was lost in thought about who we might invite to contribute, what modules there might be and had only half an eye to packing up the house (as we are moving).

In a bedside table I found a card. Tucked under the wing of the envelope was a bit of paper. It's been  lost to me for months. I wrote about it weeks ago in the blog about the women in Bangladesh. As the paper fluttered to the floor if felt like they were calling to me. A sharp reminder to exit my reverie and remember that this stuff is real, not organisational, and it holds people's lives, livelihood and well-being in it.

The 30 or maybe 50 women we met somewhere way up in the North of Bangladesh called across time to me today. They form groups to generate work to generate income to feed their families. They say the "top qualities" of "great leaders are":

Positive attitude
Good humour
Time management

They should know. Their lives depend on it. Maybe we should just build the modules around that? 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Life under a purple parachute - Sept 3rd & Sept 11th 2013.

Sept 3rd

Well, it’s day two on location in a new life and I find myself back in Wales waiting for a meeting to start. In Starbucks with time to think. Yup, don’t let that pass you by, I seem to have some time to think.

I was going to write a labouring analogy between jumping from a salaried job on Friday and jumping from a plane on Saturday but I have abandoned that after a conversation today to make a call out for thought contributions. 

So, try this instead. A different analogy. 

Imagine the human services context as a landscape. Got it?

Think about all the stuff that’s going on in that context and then design your landscape to match. Keep it in your head, I don’t need to hear it. One analogy is as good as another.

Right now look out across your landscape to our current leaders. Give them a physical space and presence and imagine them into a form if it helps. Can you see them? Hopefully they look vibrant and strong?

Think about the current policy context and then re-imagine the landscape and those leaders in 10 years time. What form do they take now? If they are still good, strong and thriving then this thinking is a bit “previous”. If they are a little wilted  go back to re-imagine the original landscape you created. 

How many green shoots did you see in your imagination? You can see them now of course but were they there before? Is there a gardener? Who’s tending the shoots?

Sept 11th

What preoccupied me last week was how current leaders, in which I belatedly include myself, are going about developing future leaders in human services? 

I like to over-egg everything. It irritates some but it helps me to see complicated issues clearly. Oversimplification is not of course reality, but there’s a little enjoyment in parody if not a smattering of truth.

I started imagining three roads to the future. 

One builds a road out of money. The money is everything. Those that succeed are those most willing and able to make cuts, tackle efficiency, focus on hours of delivery and maximise output from minimum input. Those able to do that best are the fittest and they survive. Some on the road fall by the wayside. They are the ones who get weary of walking, they’ve forgotten where or why they were going . The journey is the purpose. Winning is for winnings sake. 

The second road comes from the past. People on the road hold tight to the principles we grew up with. They get to be angry. They protest. They survive by being all things to all people. They do what they used to and to do what they have to now. There is less and less time to do what they want to or what they believe is right. They spin more and more plates. They make cuts. They measure everything. They stay focused on people, on systems, on money, on value, on compliance on everything and anything. They hold what matters tight to their chest and run to keep up with those on road one. Progress is slow. There’s detritus on the road it’s hard to see where they are going and busyness becomes the purpose. 

Both roads seem painfully familiar but do they really, I mean really, require leadership? 

Last week I started a conversation about what road 3 might look like. The conversation uncovered more questions than answers. 

Here are some:

Are we clear about what we are leading toward now? Can we see the road to take us there? Are we absolutely clear about what the new skills of future leaders need to be? Are roads one and two actually the only options? Is there another way? What will it take to create the new cadre of transformational future leaders. 

They’ll need courage. They’ll need creativity. They’ll need enterprise. They’ll need to be let loose from “history” to create new direction. They’ll need energy. They’ll need some space on the bench.  

Amidst all of the questions about road three my co-traveller gave me five certainties. 

They’ve been occupying my thinking.

  1. “Current leaders need to make space for new leaders to emerge”. How do you make that happen? Our current leaders are as dependent on organisation as the next woman.
  2. “Road 3 isn’t really just, only or even about organisational leadership”. What form of leadership is it then and how do we develop it?
  3. “Unlike the past policy won’t be the driver”. Sure, so what will and why are so many of our best thinkers still shackled to the alter of policy direction? How do we crowbar them free?
  4. “The skills, principles approaches and service models that have served us in the past are not right for the future”. Right about that! We’re going to have to let some stuff go and make some tough choices. How do we choose? How do we let go? What takes it’s place?
  5. “We won’t see the transformational change opportunities or create the new cadre of strong leaders we want on our horizon if we only tend our own organisational gardens”. Sure, the world’s a big place. Why don’t we go see what we can find?

I am interested in your thoughts and I’d love to hear your ideas. The thinking is contributing to an evolving leadership programme. 

Comments and thoughts to:

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Leadership, Bangladesh, Women and the Imam

One day, the time before last, when we were in Bangladesh we were really lucky to share a meeting space with a group of women who were, in turn, meeting with the Imam. The Imam wanted to borrow money and the women were considering his request. They decided not to agree but to ask the women who contribute to the community fund first. It looked like a pretty momentous decision. When he left the meeting after "not today" they all raised simultaneously from the floor, a thousand colours merging in unison to form a kaleidoscope of human butterflies. When they dust settled and the surge of adrenalin it took for them to say "no" seeped away we were given the space to ask questions. Always a tough one. What do I know of what it take to find the courage and imagination to haul up the anchor of poverty, steer toward a life and find the strength to lead and speak out amongst all that?  Not much I can tell you about that but our visitor status and, worse, the colour of our skin means I am often asked for the benefit of my "opinion".

I had nothing to give that came anywhere near what they'd just done, or were doing. So I asked a question. They were leading their community.If I took them to meet women in the UK and asked them to define what leadership is what would they say? Kate grabbed a bit of paper and scribbled what they said. I have been looking for it all morning. I will post it when I find it. It says what you'd expect. Courage, inspiration, humility, self confidence, self awareness, compassion. That's not the punch-line of the story.

No, the punch-line is not that the women's definition was so breathtakingly inspiring. It is that knowing they have never been to school & had only just learned to write, for an infinitesimal fraction of a second, I  was afraid the question might be too difficult.

Leadership isn't defined or understood by organisations, status or job role, it's defined by doing it. Even though I believe that with every ounce of who I am, even though I could see the evidence of it before me with my own two eyes, even though these women were doing it  against odds I felt an atomic sliver of doubt. As I recollect it is crystal clear that the singeing flames of doubt had no right of place on the edge of my consciousness that day. They taught me a big lesson.