Monday, December 22, 2014

What makes you go on?

Something Inside So Strong is a 1987 single written and recorded by Labi Siffre inspired by a documentary on Apartheid South Africa in which he saw white soldiers filmed shooting at black civilians in the street. More than 10 cover versions of the song have been done to date with the song popular carrying a political and sociological thread as does much of Siffre’s lyrics and poetry. It won an Award for best song musically and lyrically, and has been used in Amnesty International campaigns, television advertisements as well as Alice Walker's film against female genital mutilation. What magnifies the message in the song is the fact that Labi shot the music video from the exact prison cell where Nelson Mandela spent 27 years behind bars giving it a stronger and deeper meaning and perspective. As one listens to each word in this song and places themselves in that prison cell and imagines the clock ticking in seconds, minutes and hours, as days turn to months and years to decades, one cannot resist to stop, reflect and imagine that there could be no better way to justify why Mandela managed to survive behind bars for so long. There was indeed something inside him stronger which the prison cell could not enclose, crush or break, and it was bubbling under even though the outer man was slowly ageing and dying. Being in a prison cell is not always physically being behind bars. Sometimes it is a mental state in which one is seemingly free but instead bound and constrained by their view of what they can achieve in life. We all have something inside us so strong and it is this that drives us to wake up everyday and do the things we do, even though we may feel like not getting up sometimes. That which is inside us pushing us to still aspire, dream, hope and push on. To still try again after failing and hope for a better day and different result. What barriers have been built in your path and what prison cell are you sitting in today? Do not despair if you do not yet see light at the end of that tunnel. Just remember that you have something inside you so strong which will sustain you until you see that light someday. As a new year dawns in just over a week, let that which is inside you drive you to do more in the coming year. Here is wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy new year. Sing along to Labi's song below and know that you are going to do it anyway.

The higher you build your barriers the taller I become
The farther you take my rights away the faster I will run
You can deny me, you can decide to turn your face away
No matter 'cause there's

Something inside so strong
I know that I can make it
Though you're doing me wrong so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone
Oh, no, something inside so strong
there's something inside so strong

The more you refuse to hear my voice the louder I will sing
You hide behind walls of Jericho, your lies will come tumbling
Deny my place in time, you squander wealth that's mine
My light will shine so brightly, it will blind you
Brothers and sisters
When they insist we're just good not enough
When we know better
Just look 'em in the eyes and say
I'm gonna do it anyway


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Rafts and yachts, just life

I met a man who had massive, luxurious, beautiful yacht I had never seen before and I could not help but marvel. I stopped to stare and enjoy its beauty and as I admired and envied him to have such a yacht, he told me to come sit next to him and he began to tell me a story. "I was born and given a raft. I did not even know what a raft was, how it works or what I was supposed to do with it, but with time I realized I was surrounded by people who knew all answers to these questions and they taught me some raft lessons. They helped me to find branches which I could use to move the raft forward and showed me how steering the raft could work well for me. I was taught that I could not remain in that same raft with time as the length of my journey was unknown and so were the waters to be charted with the possibility of pirates being clearly apparent. I was told it may be a short or very prolonged trip I was taking, and the seas could be as calm as a cradled child or as vicious and unrelenting as a runaway hurricane, so I had to make the most of the journey by preparing for the worst while enjoying the best.

I had to improve on my raft if I was to become better poised to enjoy my ride. Indeed as I rowed I started to see other people slowly emerge from the shadows with all sorts of boats, dinghies, cruise ships, yachts you name it. I wondered how I would get to where they were with this underdeveloped, ugly little raft I had. I had no idea the stories I would hear from those I came across. Some had been born into owning massive luxurious boats, others once had big boats but lost them along the way and started rebuilding new ones. Others still had started off with a raft like me and developed it to a cruise ship, an ice breaker and even aircraft carriers. So I began the journey on the raft and started to learn the skills needed to maneuver the seas while building a bigger boat. I ran aground quite often, crushing into icebergs which seemed harmless from the surface, losing everything in the process, only to get up, get over it and get going. Do not see this yacht here only, but see the story behind this yacht as well. It has not come easy, nor cheap.

The story of this yacht is a story of gain and loss, failure and victory. It is a story of despair and hope, joy and pain, groaning and laughter. The one thing I have held onto no matter what I have lost, is hope. Without hope I would not be where I am today" A tear trickled down his wrinkled cheek as he said this reminding me of the wisdom in his words. "You will see people with all sorts of boats as you journey along young man, but keep your eyes on your boat and your course, while acknowledging the achievements of others. When u admire my yacht, also admire with it my courage, strength, vision and hardwork. Oh yes remember my opportunity costs, that which I gave up to have this yacht. Do not wish their boats were yours nor hate the fact that they have better boats than you. Their story is probably more painful than yours and maybe they are better qualified to handle the boat they own than you are. Be content with your raft at any point in time, and never lose sight of the kind of boat you want for yourself in the future. Who knows, one day you could just be the owner of this yacht if you master your vision well enough. Everyone gets a raft or yacht of some sort to start off with. Develop your own raft and preserve your yacht the best way you can. It is within your hands to do it".

Image credit

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Return on child investment (ROCI)

Investing in children is something many people are aware of and always talk about. Children are our future and need nurturing, education and development in all areas to become future leaders and custodians of our world. On a trip to Uganda Kampala in October this year, I came across Lloyd Lamm a Regional Banking Executive in Pennsylvania. As we spoke during a networking event, I got to find out from Lloyd about an organization called Ready Nation formed in the USA to strengthen business and economies through better policies and investments in children and the youth. The organization is spreading out of the USA and he was a Keynote speaker at a summit that week with business leaders and politicians aimed at educating them and creating awareness on the importance of developing children to keep a nation strong into the future. Ready Nation focusses on early childhood development and also addresses transition from school to work while protecting high educational standards, child health, nutrition, welfare and other child related activities. The organization has until recently been America focused but has now moved into Peru, Netherlands and Uganda. Lloyd showed passion and purpose as he spoke about this voluntary work he does outside his paid job and also being his first time in Africa. His passion was confirmed by his assertions that the feedback he got from the audience had been overwhelming as they warmed up to the cause for which this organization stands and the need to set up programs and policies that enhance the rights of children. Early investments in child education yield a return that far exceeds the return on most public projects that are considered economic with studies showing that given early child care and education programs, every dollar yields a return on investment to society at large of between $7 to $17. Doctor Christine Hajek, a neuropsychologist with UPMC Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh says it is easier to build strong children than try and repair broken ones.

Except from The Children's forum
What is the impacts on children who participate in high quality early care and education (ECE) programs?
• Improved academic, social-emotional, and character development
• Improved grade promotion and high school graduation rates
• Improved employment rates
• Higher salaries
• Reduced criminal activity
• Less likely to rely on the welfare system
What can be expected for at-risk children who don’t receive high quality early care and education programs?
• 25% more likely to drop out of school
• 40% more likely to become a teen parent
• 50% more likely to be placed in special education
• 60% more likely to never attend college
• 70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime

When you are passionate and purposeful about something it becomes apparent and shows to those you engage with. It is then easy for others to get excited and passionate as well. Let us invest in this profitable area of our societies for which there are great long term benefits. Great lesson on passion and purpose from Lloyd. Will you be passionate and purposeful about something today?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Iron, fire and masterpieces

My paternal grandfather was a woodworker and blacksmith and made farm implements for many people in the community. Most holidays, I went to the farm and would be amazed at how he took iron and shaped it into a plough, hoe or axe, or took a piece of wood and shaped it into a yoke or a mortar and pestle. I realize nowadays that we never took pictures of all this artwork that he worked on at the farm as this was decades ago before taking a picture did not mean taking out your phone and now all that remains are memories. On many days he got up very early in the morning and left for the farm forest with an axe only to return with a block of wood. He would have already seen the final product as he chose the tree to cut. He also knew the type of wood that would produce a masterpiece and he knew how to work on it to get his product. In Africa, the art of wood, stone and metal is quite popular and has been commercialized with overseas markets being quite fond of the handmade artwork from Africa. What pains me in hindsight, is the amount of art that is buried in the graves of Africa because it was not handed down nor immortalized as is done with artworks in developed nations. As a note, the picture below that says "Home" shows a piece made from iron which I crafted while doing metal work in my teen years. I guess I had a bit of my grandpa in me though the quality may not be as good and I never got to pursue the trade. It has become one of the most priceless items I possess given the work I put into it. The issue of succession planning is not an inbuilt concept in many
communities and most times, good businesses go to the grave with the founder and inventions are not taken seriously as they fade with the inventor. However, going back to my grandpa, he used a specialized heating device which created a mini furnace to soften the iron so that it would be easy to bend and shape to anything he wanted. It came out of the "furnace" red hot and he would then hammer it until it conformed to his desired shape. While I was watching, I had no idea what he had in mind sometimes, but he knew exactly what the outcome would be. Sometimes life is like a block of wood or iron and you are the one to work on it. It is within your mind and hands to determine what it is you want to create out of your life. People may not get it initially while you go out into the world to find raw material for use to create your own masterpiece. Not everyone knows what you are doing, planning to do or where you are going, but you know exactly what you have in mind. Sometimes for you to get that exact shape and end result you want, there has to be a lot of heat and heavy pounding. Only after a lot of hard work, shaping, heating and sweating do people start marveling and seeing what it is you were trying to achieve. Some may even start suggesting creative ways to complete the work. So continue toiling with passion and purpose. Pound that iron until you get the desired masterpiece at the end. Iron never gives in easily without heat, and so make sure you have got enough fire power to shape your world.