First Time Ever
John Hester, professional leadership trainer and motivational speaker, came to one of our presentations a year ago. He liked what he heard. He was captivated by what he saw. He not only determined that he wanted to sponsor one of our students, but that he wanted to come to Kenya with us. How his outstanding professional skills would translate into something meaningful for those on the bottom economic rung was unknown. He just knew he felt a strong call to come, and Brent and I felt it was right. We knew that somehow John’s warm heart and amazing skills would gel into something good. But what happened far exceeded our expectations.
John had been a worldwide trainer for Nike, Honda, and Microsoft. He’d worked for Blanchard Company, of the One Minute Manager. He’d offered conferences from Hong Kong to Amsterdam. No one could be more qualified as a trainer and motivator. But how, he wondered, was he to bring those skills to people that struggle with the demanding challenges of life in abject poverty, in the district that has been determined to be the poorest in Kenya?
How I love seeing people rise to meet such challenges. I see it over and over in our work here! Each person arrives with his own set of skills, his own unique anxiety, his own overwhelming culture shock. It starts out a jumbled mess of needs and talents that Brent and I are trying to sort and match. But we are soon reminded that God can do what we can’t. Pieces fall into place. The best things come from unexpected places. People discover things they never knew about themselves. Necessity forces them to think in ways they never have, to see life through entirely different eyes. We have learned to just sit back and watch the magic occur.
And so it did last Friday. In a world without postal service, our local director, Joseph Mwengea, had sent out invitations to 30 educational leaders via cell phone (yes, there are cell phones in the bush). Principals, deputies (vice principals), head teachers, and district educational officers were invited to come to our newly completed high school library (it’s beautiful!) for a day-long conference facilitated by John. I don’t know who was more nervous, Joseph or John. Would people really come? Of course there had never been such a conference offered. Would these educators deem it worth the trials of traveling to this remote library, not to mention leaving their schools for a day?
What was John to teach? Listening for Understanding. Building Character for Effective Leadership. Responding to Daily Challenges. Building Trust. Giving Praise and Recognition. In this British trained system that is based on shame tactics, such topics are unheard of. Could John adapt these topics to the level of experience and understanding of these humble people? And how do you make copies of the materials you want to pass out when there is no electricity? No copy machine?
I watched John and Joseph brainstorm. It was the first “event” sponsored by Kenya Keys. Joseph wanted us to shine, to become known as an organization that was focused not just on school building, but on people building. The morning of the conference Joseph, all 6.5 feet of him, was hovering over John like a nervous mother hen. “Relax,” said John. “Just let me do my job. I feel peaceful about everything.” And his peace translated into an amazing power of presence. One by one the educators came. Some had walked miles and miles over rough dirt paths. Some arrived hours late because of challenges at their schools. But they came. Soon the room was packed to overflowing. They listened with rapt attention. They broke up in small groups to discuss their challenges, to practice communication skills. Certainly their most pressing challenges were very different than the ones John had encountered in his other conferences: lack of water, animals (especially elephants) wreaking havoc, impossible distances to be traversed to school, theft of supplies, illiterate parents that tried to keep their kids from school… the list went on and on. The energy built as they shared. Furiously they took notes, not wanting to miss a word of what John said. Joseph began to strut around like proud peacock. There was no doubt that things were going well. John had reached his stride, figured out how to talk their language, get into their world.
When it was over and the earnest, determined educators left to begin their journeys home, many of them said they had never experienced such a day. Oh, to be exposed to new ideas! To rub shoulders with colleagues! To draw on someone’s professional expertise! These are luxuries we take so for granted in our western world. “Please return,” they begged John. “Come and train on a regional level. Train people to act as trainers themselves so this message can spread.”
“Which is more thirsty?” I ask myself. “Is it the dry, red, sunbaked soil, or is it the minds of these humble people?” It doesn’t matter if it is a small child in class one (first grade) or a principal at a high school, the thirst for learning never ceases to amaze me.
Thank you John, for sharing yourself. I know you return to your professional world a changed person.