National Sponsorship Coordinator SOS Children's Villages in Botswana
photo: © Stefan Lechner Photography
With trust, stronger relationships are built
A few weekends before my departure to Austria, I went out for a drink and walk around the shopping mall with my little friend. There was a lot of laughter in what was shared. A lot of reminiscing about her new baby and about how time was limited now that we have to make time for family, work and school.
While we talked and laughed, I recognised how we had both grown and developed, and how strong our relationship had become. This took me back 15 years to when I first met Mpho*.
You see, I met her 15 years ago when I started working as a Youth leader in SOS Children’s Village Tlokweng. I had recently left my teaching profession to continue doing what I loved: working with young people.
Should I stay or should I …?
My first few weeks at my new workplace made me think twice about my recent change of career. I encountered some challenges I had not expected. One challenge in particular made me think twice.
I was in my little house in the youth compound and the children were playing outside as usual. Suddenly I heard a shower of insults and sounds of stones hitting the roof of the house. For a minute there I froze and did not know what to do. I had mixed emotions of fear and so many questions were running through my head. I finally silenced all the questions and gathered the courage to go and see what exactly was causing all the commotion outside. To my surprise there was a young woman by the gate of the compound, hurling insults and screaming.
As I opened the door to go outside, I was nearly knocked down by another young woman running towards where the insults were coming from. Before I could even see who it was, she had quickly grabbed the other young woman who was insulting her. The young person who was causing all the ruckus was Mpho and now she was being brutally beaten by an older girl by the name of Peo from the youth house.
Luckily, just nearby the youth house there were some boys who were playing soccer. When they noticed that Mpho was getting a serious beating, they quickly came to her rescue by pulling Peo off her. Instead of Mpho being grateful and relieved, she continued insulting Peo while the boys escorted her back to her house in the village.
That day, I chose not to pursue the girls to find out what was going on because tempers were still high and I was bemused as well. The following morning I called the young women to find out what was going on. At that moment, I realised that Mpho was harbouring so much anger and this caused her to overreact in different situations. Mpho had a very strong personality: she was loud and spoke her mind. Many in the village feared her, not only children, but some of the elders also avoided her or dealt with her as if they are walking on eggshells.
After this encounter with Mpho, I felt that the best way to deal with her was to avoid her. I knew that in a few weeks she would join me to stay in the youth house. A few months with Mpho in the youth house were a tug of war. She was always getting into fights with other girls in the village. Mpho’s older sister and the village father were the only people who could get through to her. I remember that, at one point, Mpho annoyed me so much that I ended up telling the Village Director that I was going to stop trying to help her. Things got a bit worse when Mpho’s older sister moved away to attend a vocational training school a few kilometres from the village.
Leadership and guidance
I then decided to get more involved in Mpho’s life. I figured it would not hurt to try, to lead and guide her here and there. I started to make small advances such as inviting her to get involved in more sporting activities. I also invited her and the other girls on outings and to go shopping for the house. At times my advances were rudely turned down but I kept on, difficult as it sometimes was. There was a point when I was even accused of favouritism towards Mpho. Some people even thought that I was doing all this because I was scared of her, not knowing that I was just trying to win Mpho’s trust.
I wanted her to know that I cared, although I realised that some reality and tough love worked better, especially as she wanted everything to be done her way. I remember one point in particular when I had to bluntly tell her that she should stop calling me ‘Ausi Parthy’. In my country when you attach the word ‘ausi’ to a person’s name, it is mainly to show respect. With Mpho, the respect was not there to start with, so I figured that it would be better if she dropped the ‘ausi’ and just called me by my name.
The importance of trust
Over time, my relationship with Mpho grew stronger and she began to trust me a bit. I was able to correct and guide her in dealing with communication and interpersonal relations with other children and elders. Once the trust was there, my advances were welcomed and embraced by her. Slowly she learnt how to interact with other people. She even stopped getting into fights and was more involved in physical activities. Mpho started to change even more when she began going to church. Today as I speak, Mpho is married and has a child she adores. She is leading an independent life and living her dream. At times when we are not busy with work or school, we meet up for a walk around the shopping mall or for ice cream.
There is a saying that goes, “People’s paths cross for a season, a reason or a lifetime.” I feel I came into Mpho’s life not only for the reason of providing support and guiding her, but also to help her to grow and develop. In return, she did the same for me. She helped me develop not only professionally but personally as well. Our relationship has taught us valuable life lessons.
Parthenope started working for SOS Children’s Villages Botswana as a Youth Leader in 2004. In 2011, she was promoted to Sponsorship Coordinator, which was very different and involved less direct work with young people. However, Parthenope enjoys reading and compiling the different letters about the different children. It gives her great satisfaction to get a letter from a sponsor appreciating the work they do.
At home, Parthenope is the go-to person among her four siblings when they need someone to talk to. Playing this role can sometimes be difficult but, with time, she is learning to still be that person for her siblings while also finding out more about herself.
Parthenope lives in Tlokweng with her husband. She loves her country, where a person has respect for the next person, and where people treat others the way they want to be treated. Growing up in an environment like this taught her to cherish these values. Parthenope also loves to dance and spend some time alone to just chill and rest.