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Kenya: Engineers Without Borders Canada Retreat

Nov 22 – 26, 2018: Nakuru, Kenya – 2018 had a lot of surprises for my journeys. All my works culminated into various fellowships and programs. After the African Women Writers RegionalResidency in Uganda, I was selected to be one of 6 writers working on their debut novel with Mawazo Africa Writing Institute. My work with Digital Grassroots, borne out of the 2017 Internet Governance Forum, saw me selected as a 2019 Internet Freedom Festival (IFF Community Development) Fellow focusing on the Next Net theme. The biggest excitement was also joining Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB-ISF) family as a Kumvana fellow, where I will get to develop my leadership skills as a social entrepreneur of SAFIGI Outreach Foundation.

The EWB-ISF retreat which took place at Ziwa Bush Lodge connected the 2019 EWB Kumvana fellows with EWB long term fellows from Canada based in ventures across East and Southern Africa. This was my first ever retreat in my life and a very much needed break from a very intense year of leading two non-profits, working at the University of Zambia in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, being a freelance journalist, and futile attempts at work life balance.

Day one took us from an Airbnb in Nairobi on a four hour drive to Nakuru. The scenic road took us along the great rift valley, zebras, arts, and grazing sheep and cattle. On location, the small villas were only a door away from the bushes, with chirpy birds filling the night and early morning air with music. More than the beauty of the serene place, the old and new EWB fellows created a robust atmosphere of openness, sharing, and camaraderie.

The second day of the retreat gave me the opportunity to present the concept of Safety Education to EWB fellows and staff, in a game I titled ‘Spot the Imposter!’ My session had three parts, the first being the ‘Spot the Imposter’, the second part was called ‘Are you Sabotaging your own Success’ and the conclusion was ‘Entrepreneur Safety Daycare.’

The first part and introduction game of ‘Spot the Imposter’ was to address inferiority complex, confidence, and imposter syndrome which affects our ability to present our project. In this part, we talked about Humble Brag Stigma, and analyzing how we feel and talk about our accomplishments.

The second part was themed ‘Are you sabotaging your own success?’ and included practical exercises I created on how to recognize weaknesses in our leadership and personality traits that can affect our performance in our spaces and how to deal with that. This was accomplished in pairs.

The conclusion part was called ‘Social Entrepreneur Daycare.’ In this part, I talked briefly about Safety First for Girls’ (SAFIGI) Safety Report. This allowed participants to recognize the role of their personal safety in becoming good leaders and creating an inclusive and safe space within their organization.

My session was followed by great food at lunch time and preceded by a game of ‘build a giraffe with paper’ in which the team I was in won third place with the only human giraffe in the game. Thereafter another fellow, Jellyfish, led us through the session titled ‘How to Ask Good Questions’.

In this practical session, we teamed up with five fellows to come out of a dark room (on paper) by only asking yes/no questions. I was the synthesizer in the game and cost my team five questions by asking a question when I was the only one not supposed to. We still got out of the room with no questions left and four minutes on the clock.

The team building exercises at the EWB retreat offered unique perspectives from Canadian fellows and East African fellows. This came together in a ‘Night of Inspiration’ that featured singing, dancing, poetry, synchronized swimming, chocolate and a bonfire. The night went late into the wee hours of the morning.

The final day of the retreat closed with an ‘Empathy Walk’ in the road and a surprise birthday cake. The retreat helped me understand my potential as a young African leader. Prior to the retreat, I had been drowning in work trying to do damage control on all my work that was going out of control with deadlines, errors, and demands.

At the retreat, I decided not to work and I did not for seventy percent of the time. I had failed to complete so many tasks I had promised to do, a first for me. I have never wanted to be unreliable or fail to deliver my work and suddenly it was happening because I thought I could do everything. But I can’t. I do not have the capacity to and this was affecting my output. I came with this to the retreat and got time to reflect about my health as a young leader trying to change many things about my world.

One of the most important elements of this retreat is that I learned is that it is okay to fail forward. And even if we fail, when we are surrounded by the right people, they will love us anyway. I am very excited for the new friendships I have made, the wisdom I have learned, and from henceforth, I will live in the moment – because that is the only moment that is true. Thank you EWB-ISF CA!

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