the act of reflection is a human struggle


by Nosipho Twala (G@W Associate)

It is a Monday morning in April. The trees are blowing in the gentle wind, the sun is beaming bright. I am ushered through to the Zambian National Union of Teachers headquarters. Leah holds my hand as we walk past groups of teachers who have come to the headquarters for different reasons. She introduces me to her colleagues. We move from office to office greeting and shaking hands with everyone. A group of teachers arrive and request to speak to the organiser. I am taken to the boardroom while Leah and Simon talk to the teachers group.

There is a still silence in the boardroom in stark contrast to the buzzing sounds I have just left in the reception area. The caterer is setting up the table. She greets me with a warm smile and offers me a cup of coffee. I gladly accept, the alluring smell of coffee could not allow me to say no.

Members of the change team start arriving. Herbert, from Southern province arrives first. There is laughter and jubilation as others arrive, all happy to see each other.

I put the Tai Chi music on and we start doing the exercises, everyone in sync. You can tell they have been practising. When we are about to finish Tai Chi two people peep through the door, say hi, looking at Leah, Joe and Samuel. They say, “These are the exercises Leah made us do in that other workshop”.

We sit around the table about to start our check-in when the door opens once more. This time teachers are looking for Samuel. I sigh and think to myself, is this meeting ever going to start. Was it a mistake to hold the meeting in the union office? Is it possible for the change team to be present if there are so many disturbances? Joe picks up on my anxiety and explains that early mornings are always buzzing in ZNUT, but today it is more so because of the many different trainings taking place.

After ten minutes of waiting Samuel joins us. He draws on his humour to apologise for the interruptions. He tells us that the teachers he went to assist are members of the SRGBV reference group in Lusaka and had come to report a case of SRGBV in their school.

During the check-in everyone shares how they are feeling at this mentoring meeting. All share from the heart.

I then ask them to share how they, and ZNUT are keeping the SRGBV initiative alive. They look at each other and respond as if in a choir. “Actually we did not do much because of the cholera outbreak”. I learn that schools and public gatherings were suspended for a few months as a prevention measure, following a cholera outbreak.

It is only when I start asking questions about the cholera outbreak and how the union responded to this crisis that they start to reflect on their role as the change team and reference group. They begin mapping and reflecting on their different interventions in dealing with the cholera crisis. They tell me that they had not seen it necessary to share this with me because these actions had not been part of their change plans. They intervened because they had to respond to the crisis. After an hour of reflecting, they are surprized to realise that the crisis served as a catalyst because it cultivated urgency and allowed them to openly and willingly work as a team as well as do things differently, in order to create a clean and safe learning environment free of cholera and SRGBV.

Through these reflections the change team was also surprised to realise that they had made contributions in dealing with SRGBV. Through this exercise the change team begins to see the importance of reflection in making their work visible.

I realise that many of us struggle with reflection, especially self-reflection because it requires soul searching. Often as activists we overlook the fact that reflection helps us understand where we are in our own practise. Being conscious of what we do and the manner in which we do it, is a struggle which makes reflection difficult.

I used to think that reflection was gendered with women being more uncomfortable to reflect on their strengths and successes because they were socialised to be seen and not heard and that this blocks women from “blowing their own trumpets”, or praising themselves. But through this process I realise that reflection is a general human struggle.

Reflection after an action allows us to learn from our experience and has huge benefits in increasing self-awareness. We learn from reflection on our own uncertainties and mistakes. Reflection is important because it helps us uncover “what we know, but do not know that we know” as well as “what we do not know and want to know”.

When I walk out of the office on the second day, there are smiles of glee and satisfaction. The buzzing sound of conversations and laughter had filled the silent room that I first walked into. I could tell by the vibrant energy in the room and smiles on people’s faces that the meeting was a great success. As a facilitator I was touched to see the team reflecting on their practise and impact. One of the change team members said “we want SRGBV programmes to remain in our books for a long time. It must form part of ZNUT even when we are no longer there. It must be part of our DNA.” It was evident that the team was working together and trying their best to do more with less. They say part of the reason they are hands-on is to be able to monitor and check if members are reporting incidents of SRGBV. The team developed hypotheses that they are going to test. Indeed the initiative allowed the change team’s passion to ignite the flame in teacher’s lives. The mentorship meeting surfaced questions never asked before and inspired Joe to write a poem about nature and crocodiles.

I loved the fact that as change agents, they were now aware that change starts with them, that they should become the change they would love to see in others. Because it is hypocritical to expect others to become the change you are not. This initiative has touched their hearts and all of them are passionate about seeing the change and becoming the change. The big question for them was how to use their passion and the passion of provincial change teams to sustain the initiative to fight SRGBV.

Holding the meeting in the ZNUT headquarters, helped me understand the change team’s context, their day to day realities and challenges. Most of the change team members are directors. My assumptions had been that director’s deal with administration and delegation. I was surprised to see change team members running around, consulting with others in their teams in order to assist members who came to the office for help. I got an opportunity to feel and experience the culture in the office.

When I mirrored my assumptions on their roles as directors back to them, Samuel said that the SRGBV initiative had changed their understanding of leadership. “We had to adapt and change because this is not a project but an initiative. It will not disappear next year. It will help us get our respect and dignity back as teachers. Thanks for the initiative because today we can gladly roll our sleeves and work hard to support, mentor and build members confidence”.

To know more about the initiative:

The views, opinions and words written in the article are solely those of the author. The article reflects the author’s journey, view point and progress in their own words.

More to explorer

Feminist School

Empowering changemakers for gender justice and social transformation: a recap of the Feminist School journey

Co-created by the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) and Gender at Work, Feminist School was first structured to provide a unique virtual space for young feminist activists from across the world who were interested in deepening their understanding of feminist practices, principles, and approaches via experiential learning to advance gender equality in and through education in their communities.

Gender Equality & Inclusion Conversation Guide

For Gender at Work, the approach we take to gender equality and inclusion work typically focuses on longer-term action learning processes. We value reflective space and aim to create an opportunity for people to work together and to learn from each other over time, and typically tailor our support to meet specific needs.