• Born to Follow

    August 12th 2016. Frederick Schwarzmaier blogs from Mzimba, Malawi and our partnership with Girl Rising Malawi.

    “Next, you join the what?” asked one facilitator of the participants to check whether they understood the exercise. “The group,” somebody responded. The facilitator would repeatedly ask the same question until the participants revealed all steps of the exercise. We would constantly pick up these kind of fill-in-the-blank questions while running our program in Mzimba, a remote town located in the northwest of Malawi. Instead, the facilitator could have asked the question in open ways. In the way he asked, he limited the way to find an answer, leaving no room for discovery and creative thinking. In the Mzimba district, children are raised with such phrasings. Adults make even the smallest decisions for their juniors, habitually imposing onto them what is right or wrong, often paraphrasing a book written thirty-five hundred years ago; they are limited in their perspective and trapped in a perpetual, cultural legacy. This legacy seems to rub off in people’s personality traits. In simple games that we played, where participants had to make their own decisions, they postponed their move until somebody else acted whom they could follow or imitate. So is it that these kids were born to follow?

    Undeniably, following is important, but what if there is nobody to lead? Or even worse, somebody leading who is not qualified to lead? The above example from Mzimba shows, it needs more gritty young leaders. Leaders, who know their rights, practice integrity, stand up for equality, perpetuate social responsibility, challenge outdated social structures, don’t mind starting over with lessons learned and persevere when they fail. It ideally raises a new generation whose individuals switch between leading and following at different points of time for more dynamic, diverse and equal interactions. In order to cater for this, we need to equip societies with the right knowledge and methodology. Leadership is not born or rises like a phoenix from the ashes but develops in response to following the leading actions of fellow beings. With our ideas, we wanted to set an example in Mzimba.

    Our approach to Self-Directed Learning was entirely new to the participants. Instead of dictating the only right way, we gave the participants space to test different approaches to find an answer, invited them to be creative and work collectively. Simply speaking, we started with a problem and then gradually progressed to the solution in a way participants could explore. One participant vividly described the CAC method with a metaphor. “You don’t get the fried fish on a plate but you get the knowledge how to catch a fish and prepare it,” he said in front of the group. They got the message. It was just a matter of a couple of days until the youngsters started to vividly express their ideas and challenge different cases. Despite their fashion, they finally spoke up.

    In Mzimba, we also encountered participants claiming that specific superstitious practices (in this case that a herbal string which when attached around a woman’s waist would prevent her from pregnancy) as fact based and safe – in front of a large group of kids and teenagers. Not limited to but because of the previously stated inclination of children to follow, we feared that the children would believe these superstitious beliefs. It is only in such instances that we deviate from our approach and dictate factual knowledge – the truth. Although we are all promoters of Self-Directed Learning, we need to acknowledge that every methodology has its limitations.

    For the third time I had the privilege to travel with Coaches Across Continents to underprivileged communities across Africa, listen to the people’s stories and tackle their concerns. Every encounter with people as well as with other members of Coaches Across Continents enriched the scope of my mind. I gained the opportunity to do something bigger than myself and find ways to help others while learning and growing in my own development. These experiences ignite an inner urge to challenge almost everything. With every trip, I keep asking myself “why” and “what if” more often. I become more self-aware. At the end of the day, I do not want to be defined by what I did not know or did not do.