Alex’s World

Africa – from the mouths of babes

Africa – from the mouths of babes

I was going to write something about the amazingly incredible time my family spent in East Africa over the summer holidays, but there was so much to say I didn’t know where to start (yes, writer’s block happens to editors too!). Then I saw the notes my 13 year old daughter had made for a presentation to her youth group about our time at the Kenyan orphanage, and I realised she had said it all. She had captured the gift that was this Christmas adventure in the way only a child can – and she got away with using ‘heaps’ as an adjective.

By Ella

Over the Christmas holidays, my mum, my brother and I went on a trip to Africa. And it was the best thing I’ve ever done. The people lived in what they could find. Wherever you went, there was some cardboard and a worn away blanket; wherever you went, there was someone’s home. We went to work at an orphanage in Kandara, north of Nairobi, in rural Kenya.

When we arrived at the orphanage, we were greeted by two people, the security guard and a five-year-old boy called Newton. Then loads of little kids came running down, singing and chanting. They would wait at our door every morning to play. We did activities with them like craft, cricket and making Christmas decorations. We taught the younger kids ‘Ring a Ring a Rosy’ and they taught us nursery songs in their own language. No one knew what anyone was saying, but everyone enjoyed it. I remember watching a girl my age smile from ear to ear at the art she had made. These kids were like a massive family; they all had each other’s backs.

They had two sections, the baby unit where children from birth to four years were, and all kids older than the age of four were in another section. These kids were the happiest people I’ve ever seen. They had nothing, but at the same time they had everything. We sit here and complain that we don’t have the material things that we want, like a blue iPhone or a pair of Vans, but what we don’t realise is, the stuff we own doesn’t have anything to do with being a good person and being happy with our lives. We dread the thought of school, when these kids are excited to wake up, put their uniform on and go to school because they feel so privileged to be able to attend school when so many kids can’t.

I learnt so much going to Africa. I knew that buying loads of school shoes, books, stationery and toys for the kids would help them, but in the end, they were the ones that helped me. I know it sounds heaps cheesy but it’s true.

The experience made me realise how lucky we are. How lucky we all are. We are so privileged to be raised here and to have food, education and homes to live in. God has given us these privileges, and with those privileges comes a responsibility to look after those who are less fortunate.

Making a difference to other people’s lives is the greatest accomplishment of all. I remember thinking before we went to Africa “What can I do? I’m only a kid,” but we can do a lot more than we think. We are the next generation, and we have the power to make a change. I know that’s really deep but mission trips and donating money and clothes actually does make a big difference to someone.

Work/life balance – learning not to work so hard at it

Work life balance – learning not to work so hard at it

This year I’ve committed to practising work/life balance.  Yes, yes, I did think I’d made that commitment for each of the seven years since I set up a business working from home, but it turned out I’d only made a commitment to worrying about it.  In my defence, this commitment was backed up by a comprehensive action plan, where I attempted to work full time as a book coach and editor, as well as working full time as a mum and award winning homemaker, settle two families into a new blended household, run a not-for-profit organisation for over 800 women entrepreneurs, and be at the gym before dawn at least three days per week.

Needless to say I now have a lot more grey hair, am carrying a few extra kilos and the floor is littered with dropped juggling balls.

I knew I was doing it wrong, but couldn’t put my finger on just which part of my goal-based, outcome-oriented action plan needed tweaking. Go figure.

Then my kids and I went to East Africa last December, and it all seemed to fall into place.  Of course it’s pretty easy to get everything on your to-do list done each day when you are on the adventure of a lifetime, have a personal driver and all meals and accommodation are presented ready to go and then cleaned up afterwards, by persons other than yourself.

 But somewhere in there, somewhere in three weeks of no school, work or internet, the penny dropped. I just had to stop trying so hard, and do what was actually important instead of what was physically possible.
Even writing this kind of crazy pie in the sky ideal is pretty hard for a manic overachiever who has spent so many years pushing to overcome adversity, to rebuild, to be successful, to provide opportunities for a family that sat at the bottom of the social heap.  There’s pretty powerful motivation in leaving a toxic marriage and living beyond a tsunami, but I was running so fast to overcome the deep dark past, aiming for higher and higher goals, that I didn’t realise I’d long passed the finish line and was not showing any signs of slowing down.  I’d swapped being a harried single mother for a harried business woman and called it progress.
I’m lucky enough along the way to have built a business doing what I love, and I certainly won’t be stopping that. Helping people write books that make a difference, is work I truly believe in.  It makes tiny little ripples in the big puddle of life, and I am grateful every day for being a part of the change I want to see in the world. That said, balancing my work against the greater goal of making a difference in the lives of my extended family, is easier said than done.
Loving your business and having great ideas for making it bigger and better is both a blessing and a curse.  This year, what is possible will be assessed against what serves my life goals. I suspect many of my business achievements are ever so shiny and clever, but not necessary.
So here I stand, on the threshold of something new.  In all honesty I don’t know how I’m going to pull this off, this slower version of me that stops and smells the roses.  But I remember standing in my living room ten years ago, surrounded by piles of other people’s ironing while my babies slept, having no idea how I was going to build the new life I wanted but knowing without a doubt that I would do it anyway. So I feel some small comfort in knowing I can do absolutely anything I set my mind to, I can even do nothing once in a while.  Oh, maybe that last bit was over the top.  Maybe I’ll leave doing nothing till I’ve had a bit of practice at the slow thing.