20 years ago this week, I officially became a US Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya. One of the things I remember most about my time there was sitting and listening for hours on end to women who gathered to socialize and to run income-generating projects. In the beginning, I struggled to understand all that was said as I learned more and more Swahili and the local dialect (Kiembu, which is very close to Kikuyu). But I learned a lot just by watching their faces and observing their interactions.
They took the time to share with one another, to listen to one another and of course to share a meal! These women had many stories to tell and taught me so much about this thing we call “development.” They had their own views of what was working in their communities, and what improvements they wanted to see. They had ideas about what they could do and were always interested in learning what other women’s groups were doing.
They were not in a rush, but that did not mean they weren’t eager to learn and to increase the opportunities for their children and themselves. When I sometimes expressed frustration to my colleagues about the slow pace of progress with some of the groups we were working with, they told me “haraka, haraka, aina baraka!” (hurry, hurry, has no blessing!). They taught me to slow down, to be patient, to listen, to work at their pace . Those lessons seem even harder to apply in today’s world with amazing technologies that allow us to communicate faster and instantaneously with people around the world–and which create expectations of fast results.
When was the last time you just sat and listened?
By Dayna Brown, Listening Program Director, CDA