In mid-November The DEPOT facilitation team ran a two-day GIZ – supported workshop to build the capacity of directors of the hospitals in Kwale County. It was designed to help them play their roles better, adding value to the hospital management below them, to the county management team, and to other stakeholders in and beyond the community.
As with the earlier leadership programs mounted by the team for the County Health Management Teams, the directors were helped to identify processes they could improve, along with having their leadership skills and attitudes built, and all in support of improving the quality of health service delivery in their facilities.
Again as in the previous events, the first session had the participants tell stories of transformative moment in their lives, ones that made them proud. So many powerful and inspirational stories were heard, and below we highlight some of them.
But what was the purpose? Why did we take time to have them share such moments? It was to have the directors appreciate, as we did the managers before, that they have overcome serious challenges in the past, transforming their own situations and making a significant difference in their environments. If they have been able to be so influential before, why not again?
Having shared their stories of what made them proud the next step was to explain the strengths they brought to bear that enabled them to succeed against all odds. Given the prevailing culture of modesty, this – as always – proved to be quite a struggle! But eventually, with much insisting, we heard about their determination, their resilience, and many other laudable attributes.
Before each one told their story they were thrown a ball of string to catch. And as they concluded they tossed the ball to another participant, having wound the string around a finger before doing so. In this way a networked pattern accumulated between them – itself the topic of subsequent discussion.
We heard about surviving the death of a father at an early age, as a result of which this director had to work while also studying, eventually doing well enough to feed his whole family; about getting polio, despite which this one, with support from his father, gained an education and later a job, more recently earning a top award for his work in civil society; about this one’s mother teaching him how to help in the rice field, and how, despite her own lack of education she launched him into education, where now he is the proud holder of a Master’s degree; about the Madrasa taught boy and later farmer, who went on to build a business, having always been the one selected for leadership in his village, as he was identified as being a person who looked to the future and to helping others; and about the one whose father taught him sound values, who also had to work while still studying, eventually also educating his younger brother, and later being the one who challenged a full Cabinet Minister over the election result in their constituency.
There was the man who in Class 4 could somehow write but not read, as a result of which his teacher told him he was just “sleeping” and that of course he could read. He surprised himself by finding that he indeed this was the case, as a result of which he developed such a passion for reading that he now promotes a culture of reading all over the county, having meanwhile organized the building of Kwale’s first library.
Another learned from her father, who was the village chairman, so that in class she would argue with his teachers if she felt they were not doing what they should. There was no money at home, but she trained as a housekeeper and managed to enter politics, also being appointed to Kwale’s YMCA Committee.
A story familiar from previous such sessions was about playing so much at secondary school that this one failed their exams in form one. ‘Failure challenged me,’ he said. The next story was from a young woman director who works in the community, and was the only one who could persuade people to go to the hospital if they were sick. She was offered lessons to drive a motorbike, and was the only woman who persisted and passed – all the others having given up.
A lady revealed that she wanted to become a doctor, but that her family found it so hard to handle the fees. On one occasion the fees were only paid two hours into a three-hour exam, leaving her only an hour in which to complete it. Despite this, while others failed she managed to pass.
‘In 2008 I was an untrained teacher, only 23-years old,’ we heard from one, ‘teaching students who were aged between 18 and 20. I was so nervous, but my leadership allowed others to see what was in me.’
Another lady has been coping with her husband’s ill health following the stroke he suffered in 2013. She has had to handle the costs of treatment in India, and also the Ksh. 9,000 for each session of dialysis.
Someone else missed university by just one point. She worked for ministers as a secretary, and then asked herself: ‘If I can manage for my boss, why not for myself?’ She studied at Kenya Methodist University, has been pursuing her MBA at Strathmore, and will soon embark on her PhD.
A man originally from Taita told us he has been working with young people in a community where the chewing of khat was common, with all its accompanying challenges. He managed to get a football team going, with participation linked to giving up on the narcotic. Now the team has become very successful in its league.
A lady was a mother when she passed form four, when her husband also left her. It was a dangerous age when she could easily have got lost. But she returned home, and was helped to study further, entering politics this year. ‘If the spoon is broken, don’t stop cooking,’ she was told, and stop she did not.
What do all these stories have in common, we asked? The willingness to take risks, we heard; courage; and creative problem solving. And what did the string that we had thrown to each other signify? Networking came to mind immediately, with everyone being linked together. ‘We each have our strengths, but with unity, with coordination, and by sharing information we can take on bigger challenges and overcome them,’ concluded one. So true. Sounds like building a win-win culture.
* Mike Eldon, the author of this article, is the founder, chairman and lead consultant of THE DEPOT (The Dan Eldon Place Of Tomorrow), a management consultancy that focuses on leadership, strategy, team building, performance management and coaching.
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