"A boat doesn't go forward if each one is rowing their own way," says a Swahili proverb, but in Tanzania in the first of week of January it was clear that ASEC was in a forward motion as staff members from 10 countries in Africa gathered by the emerald waters of the Indian Ocean in Dar es Salaam. Many of them were very new to the organization, strangers to each other, a little nervous, and unsure what to expect from this week-long series of professional development workshops. They were joined by the ASEC Executive Director, two staff members from the U.S. who were both facilitating and participating, two Board directors from the U.S. as facilitators, a Board Director representing East Africa, a facilitator from Kenya, a U.S. staff member who facilitated and interacted electronically from Scranton, and a presenter from the Global Sisters Report who did the same from Israel. With such representation from the Global North and South, West and East, real and virtual, ASEC was truly evolving into a world class organization, a global sisterhood.
Throughout a week of work, play, reflection and prayer, the staff began to develop a deeper understanding of ASEC’s mission. They reviewed the 2020 draft strategic plan, to whose development a number of them had already contributed, provided feedback on the strategic directions that will drive the mission forward, embraced it enthusiastically as the path to the future success of ASEC, challenged themselves to see their own role in its implementation, and made individual commitments to making the future emerge in whatever ways will be of most benefit the sisters they serve. They learned about ASEC’s governance, its organizational structure, how they will function within it, their part in making ASEC programs successful, how to make their voices heard, and much more.
The beachside environment created a relaxed atmosphere; buffet meals where a different grouping assembled at each table for every meal ensured that people got to know each other; teambuilding exercises encouraged creative, non-linear thinking, co-operation over competition, and collaboration, and generated much laughter; all helped to break barriers and ease tensions and anxieties. A climate of mutual trust and interpersonal respect was established. Real connections were made. As the week progressed, the sense of shared mission, the conviction that we are all part of a one organization, the understanding that when we work collaboratively our impact expands exponentially, became palpable. A group of individuals was developing into a cohesive team in that short space of time. A new and vibrant identity, exuding energy, was being formed.
The Tanzania Catholic Association of Sisters (TCAS), and its President, Sister Gaspara Kashamba, offered ASEC and all the visitors a warm welcome. She praised the work of ASEC in educating women religious in Africa, and drew attention to the dynamic created by the collaboration of international and local efforts to benefit hundreds of thousands of people in Africa. We were grateful for this support for the goals of ASEC and the conferences of sisters are mutual, and the partnership is integral to achieving them. It enriches all of us – ASEC, the conferences, and the sisters who benefit from this collaboration
I left Dar es Salaam with a sense of reassurance about and confidence in ASEC’s future. The collective energy generated by collaboration and team efforts is guaranteed to move the mission forward. “A snowflake is one of God’s most fragile creations, but look what they can do when they stick together!” (Author unknown).
It was a great privilege to participate in that experience of vitality.