Something amazing happened to me during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. Despite the challenges and quarantine measures put into place to mitigate the spread of the virus, the pandemic period also brought people together in surprising ways.
At the Estate where I lived, I met a neighbor who told me her name was Eva. She admired the work I was doing to advance access to education for children in our community. We became fast friends. Eva was the one who introduced me to a group that would change my life: Global Peace Women. Eva was a part of the Global Peace Women Leadership Academy and promised to introduce me to the President of the organization, Dr. Soonok Kang. Soon after, I was interviewed and accepted as a participant in GPWLA.
My name is Wairimu Mwangi, and I am from Nairobi, Kenya. I am the founder of the Literature Africa Foundation. When joining GPWLA, I was looking for three things; to sharpen my leadership skills, go on a self-reflective journey to reconnect with my ‘why’ I was still on this leadership journey, and learn new skills. I can easily say that all three of my expectations were met. However, what I did not anticipate was the all-around exponential growth that being in the academy has given me to date. It has proved to me that at no point can a human being claim to have learned enough; there is always a new skill we can share with or learn from others.
GPWLA was about learning, unlearning, receiving feedback, and growing from that. I gained project proposal writing skills and had the opportunity to create and implement my service project: My Body, My Health, My Life; Dandora - Kenya, Teen mothers’ mentorship, menstrual hygiene and mental health education project from start to finish. The things I previously overlooked during project implementation, for example, conducting pre-project and post-project surveys, now gained meaning to me, and I understood their necessity. I learned how to make and perform presentations, conduct monitoring and evaluation processes, and issue reports to donors.
The experience boosted my self-confidence, and I became better equipped to share my story and the work of my organization, the Literature Africa Foundation, with other potential partners and donors. At GPWLA, I found a supportive team, and Dr. Kang encouraged me to embrace my inherent values as a woman leader.
Other remarkable lessons I have learned include:
The learning journey at GPWLA was self-paced, and my eagerness to learn had to be my driving force. I had to adapt to a high work ethic, including being available to learn at odd hours due to different time zones. I had to work on my project proposal and submit it for review while acting on feedback received. Successfully implementing my service project without close supervision was a great and fulfilling win.
Openness to feedback:
It would have been easy for me to feel down when I shared my project proposal for review and got feedback that I needed to improve it. But this was not the case. I am better at drawing project proposals and managing budgets because I learned from working on the constructive feedback I got from the academy.
When it was time for me to make a presentation about my service project, I was anxious about my presentation skills, but Dr. Kang encouraged me to go for it. Receiving feedback and actively listening to other GPWLA participants making presentations about their projects was also eye-opening.
Above all, joining GPWLA allowed me to interact with the GPW team, which has continued to grow my career as a community development practitioner. It has also allowed me to learn different topics from GPW webinars. I am most grateful to the GPWLA for giving me this opportunity to experience a positive trajectory in my leadership journey. I recommend this program to any leader looking for experiential learning, especially in implementing service projects.