Thursday, February 7, 2008

The courage and wisdom of the world's women

In the past few days, I have been deeply touched by the courage and wisdom of two remarkable women I know in different parts of the world. Their stories are as different as the challenges they face, yet both are showing up fully to do what needs to be done.

My friend Joyce Oneko is a remarkable woman leader who is at this moment waking up every morning to the daunting realities of life in Kenya. She is working to try to bring food and basic supplies to the 'displaced persons' living at Mathare Camp near the slums of Nairobi; she is helping to plan a complex effort to transport 1,200 women and children out of camps and back to their ancestral homes; and she is personally sheltering women from ethnic violence in her home.

In a long report she just broadcast to her friends in the U.S. and Europe, she describes "Everyday of the week, I keep thinking we will wake up and find all this has disappeared and we are back to normal again. There are such horrific stories that sometimes it is like we are in a movie theatre, watching horror movies. ... How do I stay sane, and how do I stay the course? "

I know Joyce and I know that she WILL stay the course. It is what Joyce has always done day in and day out in the face of incredible challenges long before this particular nightmare began in Kenya. She stays the course and she does it with a lovely smile, with keen intelligence and with a deep understanding of the heart of the people and the land of her beloved country.

On another continent, my good friend Janet Pinto in Mumbai, India is living out another kind of feminine story of 'staying the course'. She is providing full time care to her elderly mother who has experienced a series of serious health problem over the past year. Janet has stepped away from her work in the world as an organizational development consultant; she has declined numerous invitations to travel internationally and to participate in global leadership opportunities; and she has focused her attention on providing consistant and loving care for her mum 24 hours a day.

Janet and I talk every Friday, and she tells me about the challenges and joys of this kind of commitment. "Sometimes, I feel like I am disappearing," she says. "Yet, this is the kind of sacrifice my mum made for me when I was little and this is what I will do for her."

I don't think that Janet thinks of herself as courageous or bold at this moment. I know from my conversations with her that she has begun to feel quite 'invisible' to the rest of the world, just as millions of women on every continent feel invisible as they commit themselves day in and day out to the details of caring for dependent loved ones. Our diverse cultures seem to share in failing to acknowledge this powerful form of leadership which requires great stamina, patience, self-sacrifice and compassion.

To Joyce and Janet: I am honored and blessed to know both of you. You and your loved ones are in my prayers.

To all the women of the world: Your unique leadership contributions are seen and valued. You are NOT invisible as you 'stay the course'.


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