“Are you ready for Christmas yet?”
This is the question that seems to fill the pre-Christmas small talk. This question is usually followed with the litany of work, appointments, events and social obligations that must be fulfilled leading up to the holidays. This storyline has begun to worry me. My concern being that this advent time of year that is meant for reflection is being taken over by everything but that. However, I was reminded this past week that it is also true that all the events surrounding Christmas present many opportunities for reflection, gratitude and much needed pause in the busy cycle of our lives from my vantage point in the Western world. In that state of gratitude and reflection, as we zoom out of the endless clutter of everyday routines and busyness and zoom in to the things that matter most to us, our humanity comes back into focus and brilliant, magical moments of connection occur. One of those moments happened for me at the annual Partnership Night for The Peoples Foundation of Sierra Leone (TPFSL). As a Board member for this Foundation, I am one of the hosts of this event.
On the evening of our Partnership Night, we shared with donors, friends and all interested in partnering with us who and what TPFSL is. We shared that we exist to Ignite Leadership and Social Change in Sierra Leone and that we raise funds for scholarships there, in our quest to shift the less than 5% statistic for postsecondary enrolment. We shared our year in review and the impact we are having with 19 students funded for scholarships and the 250 youth engaged in community development programs. Another Board member shared her motivation for being part of this work – her own story as a full scholarship recipient here in Canada, who was given the gift of education that allowed her to defy the narrative of a challenging personal history, in the same way that we hope for our TPFSL students in Sierra Leone.
In the conversations that ensued after what we shared, my moment happened. One guest said they had found the night deeply moving and that the connection between our Board member’s story and the students in Sierra Leone surfaced the reminder that we are all people in need, no matter where in the world we find ourselves. And there it was, a brilliant moment. You see, a year previously, we had spent time as a Board talking about how we wanted partners to experience us. We talked about defying the ‘poor Africa’ narrative by creating experiences that are educational and informative to reflect our mission and to remind all we connect with that we are all equal – givers and receivers of gifts. See we all sometimes give and other times receive and when we remember this as we give to those in need, and pause long enough to see our humanity as we do, there is something for us there to. Our human needs for love, belonging, connection and the basics for survival and development have no colour. The narrative of Africa and the developing world, dominated as it is by media coverage and humanitarian agencies has consciously and unconsciously coloured the narrative of those in need in the world. We at TPFSL acknowledge that though global inequality is real and some are more in need than others, we want to share a fuller story of humanity in our fundraising. As our founder Christina Bucholtz says in this video we also shared, black and white is only a contrast. For me, black and white, and every other shade and hue is meant to contrast and enrich our humanity, not segregate and alienate us from one another. That is why experiencing the warmth of that moment was so important to me. It whispered the reminder that our ideal of creating conscious human connection in everyday moments and shifting dominant narratives, is possible. I’ll be holding on to these brilliant moments, at Christmas, and all year through…