Friday, 31 July 2009

New blog set up

Most of my blog postings will now be housed on my new website, so go to the new blog and share with me. My latest posting is related to the frustrations of sticky labels on fruit. Is it just me or do other people find this silly? Check out my blog at

Sunday, 19 July 2009


Robben Island Prison

The word reconciliation pops up a lot in South Africa. When we were at Robben Island yesterday there was a clear message that many people have moved on and want to learn from the past injustices of apartheid rather than dwell on it. I continue to be in awe of those who believed that people should be treated fairly and who stood firm, yet peacefully (mostly) for the cause. Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela and others were imprisoned. Conditions were harsh and they were treated differently according to race.

In the evening we were treated to wonderful hospitality from my NZ friend Tim Barnett, who is now running the World Aids Foundation, based in Cape Town. He introduced our group to Father Mike Lapsley, a New Zealander who stood firm against apartheid. As a result he was sent a parcel bomb, which blew off his hands and removed sight in one eye. He now runs the Institute for Healing Memories in Cape Town and is the NZ Consul there.

I am a firm believer in the power of leadership to make a difference. There is something persistent about these men and women who knew that something was deeply wrong with the apartheid system and found ways to deliver that message. Leadership is courageous, persistent and forgiving. Each of these people had a strong sense of who they were and how we should function as a humane society.

Friday, 17 July 2009

No hope no reason to be here

View from Table Mountain

I came to Cape Town full of hope that there were things I could do to support teachers here. At times it is easy to be despondent and then others where you know the work you do is relevant. This was demonstrated to me when I went to a meeting of national speakers here in Cape Town. I went along to one of their meetings with my friend Anney. As a member of the National Speakers' Association of New Zealand I wanted to see what they did at their meetings here. I am not going to go into the details of the meeting, except to say there were two interesting speakers who gave us a different perspective on Cape Town! What was special was the conversation we were able to have with people in the breaks and the insight we were able to gain from others.

David Grier was one of these special people. He gave me a copy of his book, which is just about to be launched. "Hope in Thyme" is the story of his journey to run around the coast of South Africa, approx 3500 km in 80 days. The money raised was to provide operations to fix cleft palettes. He is one example of people who care about their country and want to make a difference to others. His book is truly magnificent - amazing photos and journey. I would like to share a quote from the forward of his book:

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

The people I work with stretch my capacities and at the same time are generous in their time and commitment. This afternoon I had a cup of tea in the women teachers' quarters at The Ark. Each teacher has their own small space and has made this into their home. Our welcome was warm and we sat around and chatted as we would do with any other friends. While the environment was very different from our own, the interactions were comfortable and warm. They shared what they had, even giving us sun glasses to wear tomorrow on our visit to Robben Island.

This is a place of hope and the teachers we work with are committed. Otherwise there would be no point in us being here. While the way forward can sometimes be unclear I believe that strong relationships are key. These cross cultures and countries. They are the principles of life that make a difference.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

The face of Cape Town people

Over the last week I have been privileged to meet a wide range of people from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. Their stories of growing up in Cape Town have had a profound effect on me. Most of them just get on with life and are not bitter about any negative things that happened to them in the past. There are lessons to be learnt from this.

Earlier in the week we gave out food in a squatter camp. My heart went out to the children and the difficult conditions that they live in. Many of them in the camp we visited do not go to school, have no books or toys, no electricity and no sanitation. There is much to be done. Yet relationships are key, just as anywhere. You can see a wonderful example of this in the photo below. The family we gave the food to immediately started cutting it up and sharing it with others in the community. They had an abundance mentality and considered others as well as themselves.

These people had little, but they worked together. In another part of the camp it was all in for self. Two different reactions. This is no different from what I think might happen in my own community. There are some people that are willing to share and others who consider only themselves. This is the same (if not more so) for the wealthy in this world. All I can do is reflect on what I can do to help others and realise that I am not able to make a difference to many people. However, if I let this be a barrier, nothing changes. One small ripple can have profound effects, even if it is only in the lives of one or two people. What can I do to get to the root cause, to help people at a significant level? I have few answers. South Africa is teaching me many things and giving me many lessons in life. I treasure the opportunity and value the many extraordinary people I am meeting from many walks of life.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The African Experience

Next week I am off to South Africa to do some voluntary work in The Ark Christian School. I am going as part of a team from the Rata Teachers' Support. Several months ago we got together in Cambridge to plan what we would do over there. We have a team going to Cape Town and a new group going to Ghana.

We will be working with teachers and leaders to build their teaching skills. This will include working with the teachers from The Ark and running a conference for local teachers. Developing an understanding of needs for learners in the 21st century is as important in South Africa as anywhere. How can we support teachers to build student skills in literacy and numeracy while also building their ability to think critically and creatively?

Why am I going?
We all have a role in supporting others. Organisational psychologist Wilf Jarvis, describes one level above self actualisation in Maslow's hierarchy of needs. He talks about the importance of self transcendence - the willingness to think beyond your own needs and to help others. This is something I want to get better at - to practice empathic leadership. I am very conscious on this trip that my main role will be listening to what The Ark teachers want, how they view the world and how they see us supporting them. I know so little of their world so it is a good chance to practice active listening and ask inquiring questions!

In a past life I was a teacher and principal. I was (and still am) constantly talking about the needs of learning for the future and what competencies students might need in order to thrive. In particular, risk taking stands out as important in this journey. Teachers talk about the need for their students to take risks but very rarely take any risks themselves, let alone expect it of their students. Teaching is a risk averse profession, so I guess when I left it I took a risk! This trip to South Africa is about me giving to others and growing from the experience. Stepping out of your comfort zone is the best way to grow so that is what I am going to do and if it encourages even one other person to get uncomfortable - that's great too!

Initial Thinking
In preparation for my trip I have been reading many books, exploring the internet, talking to those who have been to the Ark previously and thinking a lot about how I may be able to contribute. The following TED Talk by Patrick Awuah provided me with some insight. Although Patrick is from Ghana I believe there are many common ideas for South Africa and indeed for the world. Check it out for yourself.

Patrick says. "We must believe that these kids are smart...If we give them skills to engage the real world that magic will happen." This requires strong leadership that is based in sound ethical behaviour and a vision for the future.

If one small pebble makes a ripple in the water, doesn't that make a difference? I believe so. I don't think that is niave - I think that is hope.

So over the next three weeks join me on the journey.