Children: Whose Responsibility?

A couple days ago the official Twitter handle of Prime Minister Andrew Holness tweeted that ‘Social responsibility means you should have the children you can afford to give the best life.’

I saw it this afternoon thanks to a colleague who retweeted it. The tweet reminded me of a conversation I had with a few people some time ago regarding my views on child bearing, child caring and this business of responsibility.

Yes, having and caring for children is in fact a social responsibility, but not just the social responsibility of parents; I believe extended families, the community and the state all have roles to play. It is for this reason that I believe, for example, that children should have free access to education – tuition, books, etc; healthcare should be free for all children and pregnant folks; communities should have fully functional entertainment and social development centres; and safe, green and play spaces should be available and accessible to children. It is also the responsibility of the community, the state and parents to ensure that children are protected from harm, including the nasty and disgusting abusive people dem outta road.

Once someone decides that they want to give birth to a child, caring for, supporting that child, and giving that child the best life possible cannot be their responsibility alone. After all, having children benefits the whole society. Therefore, raising skilled, educated, healthy, productive children who respect the dignity in humanity ought to be the social responsibility of parents/family, community and state. We cannot reasonably expect that parents alone should bear this ‘burden’.

Affordability of children is not something prospective parents alone should consider. The state and the community have roles too. We have a responsibility to ensure that if someone decides to have a child, we are creating the best possible environment for that child to thrive. It is our children who will manage families, communities and the state later on in life. How can they just be the responsibility of parents? Come on now!

And this habit we have of beating down on people who are affected by poverty every time we raise the issue of childcare needs to stop. Minimum wage already a beat down pon dem.

We need to be careful that we don’t suggest that people affected by poverty should avoid having children.

Sometimes pregnancies are unplanned, all when family planning and contraceptive use ‘up like 7’. We cannot continue to pretend that we live in a world where anything but abstaining from sex or tubectomy or vasectomy is foolproof where contraceptive use is concerned. So if someone affected by poverty should use the free condoms made available by the government and NGOs and ‘get ketch’ say on two or three occasions, what should we say to them? Are we going to insist they have a vasectomy or a tubectomy?

And even when abortion becomes legal, are we going to insist that they get an abortion?

The state needs to do a better job at ensuring that every child born into this country has a good chance of contributing to our development. Prospective parents also have that responsibility. And so does the community. Children are the responsibility of parents, the community and the state. And if you disagree, that’s fine. But consider who will be making decisions about families, communities and the state in a decade or two.

A love letter to my mentors

The first time I heard the term ‘unplanned mentor’ was actually just a couple years ago. Strange, but true.

At the time, it was Imani Duncan Price who was articulating her mentorship relationship with Omar Davies, and the impact it had on her professional development.

I didn’t ever have mentors – planned or unplanned. I did have a few folks on whom I relied for professional advice of sorts, people whom I admired because of their work and professional ethic, but never had I ever had mentors.

Until

13416797_10206312079393181_6643712433019870475_oI began to engage and claim Taitu Heron and Nadeen Spence as my own.

I met Taitu Heron in a job interview in 2013 (though I didn’t remember her name until after I engaged her as part of a documentary project later that year).

I knew (of) Nadeen for some time, several years actually. I engaged her for the first time in a professional capacity in 2014.

13268517_542650139272321_5912347877832929410_oAs time progressed, these women became important to me and begun to impact my professional life.

But it wasn’t until late 2015 that I started to claim them as (unplanned) mentors – Taitu at first and later, Nadeen.

In 2016 we got even closer and their impact began to transcend the professional; it became personal too.

13268161_544148355789166_2574838199413314601_oI love them dearly, not just in the way I love people because they are human beings, but in a way that a niece loves her favourite aunt, or a daughter loves her mom, or a girl loves her best friend, or a Latoya loves her Note4.

And they love me too, I have no doubt.

10288775_514254875445181_8390274212784013329_nThey see the beauty and beast in me and they nurture the beauty and tame the beast when it’s not appropriate for me to be beast-like.

They are my guiding light, and the three of us make one lovely family.

We do have conflicts from time-to-time, and I will occasionally (or more than that these days) tell them two bloodcarts, but that changes nothing. I’m not even sure our conflicts can last more than an hour – our spirits and our energies just won’t allow it.

We never hold grudges or keep record of wrongs. We just live and fuck shit up!

I love you Tai. And I love you Nadz. And I will be eternally grateful for the bosom of your love, the illumination of your guidance, and the safety of your homes.

Love,

Latty

Finding Common Ground: Where #EvilSpirts and #GoodSpirits Converge

Yesterday I attended the #EvilSpirits forum that was put on by Wayne West and the team at the JSSACHAR Foundation.

The forum was quite interesting and indeed spirited, but not very confrontational in my opinion, which was a pleasant surprise.

It was a truth-stretching space, stretched so much that one would wonder if it was really just a satirical set.

The audience was treated to several presentations focused on the evil powers of international aid agencies that are sexualising our children through Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) and the Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) curriculum. We were also advised that Appropriate Sex Education (ASE) is what we need, which takes a more biblical, moral, and ethical approach to sex education.

We were told that

  • CSE can mean anything and everything including porn;
  • CSE promotes sexual freedom and promiscuity;
  • CSE promotes early sexual activity;
  • CSE promotes the LGBT agenda;
  • CSE threatens children’s health;
  • CSE promotes abortion as a right;
  • CSE promotes diverse sexual orientation;
  • CSE promotes high risk sex behaviour such as anal intercourse;
  • CSE disrespects parents;
  • CSE disregards religious values;
  • the HFLE promotes homosexuals as superior to heterosexuals;
  • the HFLE is anti-development and anti-ethical;
  • removing the ‘buggery law’ will lead to sexual anarchy;
  • there should be no sexual rights for children.

We were also told that

  • ASE for children must include abstinence;
  • ASE should encourage persons to save sex for marriage;
  • ASE insists that there should be no sexual activity for children;
  • ASE promotes a biological (and not a sociological) view of gender;
  • ASE protects and promotes the rights of parents.

And we were advised that

  • parents should be wary of international bodies & aid agencies such as UNICEF, UNFPA & UNESCO promoting and attempting to institutionalise CSE;
  • the highest authority of morality is the church.

But that’s not really why I’m writing…

I am writing because I want us to start thinking about the way forward in a very practical, conciliatory way.

How can Sexual and Reproductive Health & Rights (SRHR) advocates and health practitioners who understand the real world and people of faith who are more preoccupied with the Bible world, reach a point of common understanding for the benefit and welfare of all?

Where can we find common ground?

On what issues do we agree in principle?

What are some possible starting points?

Following the forum I was a part of a group of about six people who were engaged in dialogue about church, Christianity, SRHR, and sexuality. It wasn’t hostile. Views were allowed to contend, even though  for some time there appeared to be no common ground. Truth be told, I was really there for the fun at first, but then I recognised the value of the dialogue.

As folks shared their views including some of my young advocate friends (on whose faces I could see the pain and struggle), I realised in that moment just how draining advocacy work can be in religious spaces, and I felt their pain.

But alas there was hope!

I asked Carol Richards (I think that’s her name) who was leading the charge for Christian folks in the dialogue, whether, in her opinion there was such a thing as marital rape – because I know Wayne West et al believe there really should be no such thing… To my surprise she said of course a man can rape his wife, of course a man can abuse his wife, and it’s wrong!

She got me there. It was our common ground. And the energies shifted. We were high-fiving and sh!t!

Of course we ventured into sexuality stuff, and as she spoke about the goodness of her sanctified husband’s sexual prowess, I spoke about the goodness of my wife’s. At one point she said but the Bible says woman mustn’t love woman, and I exclaimed ‘but it nice!’ We all had a good laugh – no hate, no judgement, no ridicule, no name-calling, just real refreshing dialogue and debate.

As we departed she asked us all where we were from – I quickly exclaimed with hand in the air: J-FLAG! She then asked the others if they were from J-FLAG too. My colleague who was there said yes and the other persons shared their respective affiliations. She then suggested she must be a magnet for our spirit, lol! Mi tell ar shi ah goodaz.

So although she was there and would be considered a Wayne West et al supporter, she was also very conciliatory and practical in her exchanges with us. And we need more of this on both sides. We have to be willing to shift a little to the middle, and it doesn’t mean we are ‘giving up our rights’.

This little post-event conversation taught me a lot and I hope J-FLAG, WMW Jamaica and other civil society organisations can arrange for people like her to engage in more dialogues of this nature. We need to move (all of us – both sides) if what we want is, in fact, a just, safe and equitable society for all.

 

 

The Social Justice Ten

Nadeen is at it again. Brilliant piece on politics and social justice representation

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So a question people tend to ask me often when they hear me declare my intention to vote, if of course who are you going to vote for.  That would be easy to understand if I voted along family lines, but I don’t.  I am the voter who loses all sense of what else is happening around her, who wants to catch each new item, each breaking story and who engages everyone she meets in conversations about the latest political hot topic.  Exhausting, so for this election my friend Latoya Nugent and myself have been bitten by the same bug, we want to delve some more into the political history and culture, into the voting behaviour and into the manifesto.  Having done that we still had not come up with a formula to figure out who to vote for.  But then after all we hit it, we came up with a…

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Calling It For The Women

I had to reblog this.

Very interesting piece.

#WomenVoteJA

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So I am about ready to declare some of the seats in this election.  I am particularly focused on the seats being contested by women.  Both the PNP and the JLP have fielded candidates in this 2016 general elections, the NDM has not fielded a full slate of candidates but they have put forward one woman and from assessing the names of the other candidates outside of the NDM it would appear that there is one other woman.     The PNP has 13 women in their slate of candidates, while the JLP has put forward eleven(11) women as candidates.

Getting more women on the ballot has been the focus of a number of women throughout Jamaica.  The formation of the 51% Coalition just over four years ago, following the National Policy of Gender Equality (NPGE) established a focus of the need for greater attention to be paid to the candidate selection…

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Get It Right MOE

The Guidance and Counselling Unit ensures that the school facilities which are in place are effectively utilised for the total development of the individual student[…]

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photo credit: Jamaica Gleaner

I read with concern the comments uttered by the President of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association regarding how Guidance Counsellors are expected to treat with students who identify as lesbian or gay. In his esteemed thinking and understanding of Jamaican legislation Norman Allen declared that we could not reasonably expect Guidance Counsellors to provide counselling, care, and support for students who identify as [lesbian or] gay.

Buggery Law.png

Excerpt from the Offences Against the Person Act 1864

As justification, he cited the existence of the Offences Against the Person Act (where the ‘Buggery Law’ is located), which prohibits anal sex between males, AND between males and females. The Act, among other things also prohibits any form of (sexual) intimacy between males.

Side note:  the Act is completely silent on sexual behaviour between females.

By his analysis, if for example, a female heterosexual student shares with a guidance counsellor that she is engaging in anal sex with her boyfriend, then that Guidance Counsellor should not provide counselling, care, and support for the student. Again, by his analysis, if a student (perpetrator) was guilty of assaulting another student, then the perpetrator should not receive counselling, care, or support from the school’s Guidance Counsellor.

His logic baffles me at best.

Perhaps the time has come for the Ministry of Education to proactively engage all categories of school staff, especially Guidance Counsellors on a Sexuality 101 sensitisation within the context our legal framework. And include a reminder in all of this that the wellbeing of our children must be their (our) priority, in keeping with this excerpt from the Ministry of Education’s website:

The Guidance and Counselling Unit ensures that the school facilities which are in place are effectively utilised for the total development of the individual student, to enable him or her to lead a more fulfilling life. The unit develops services and programmes for the personal/social, educational, and career development of all students. In addition, the unit coordinates the training and development of counsellors in schools and is responsible for several programmes including the HIV/AIDS Programme in Schools, the Programme for Alternative Student Support, the Safe Schools Programme and the Health and Family Life Education in Schools.

I am (insert curse word) tired!

Earlier this month news surfaced about a number of incidents of attacks – verbal and otherwise – against members of the LGBT community. There was one particular report that suggested incidents against women in the LGBT community have intensified. Subsequent to that I was asked whether I believed men in the LGBT community were disproportionately affected by homophobic violence and discrimination, and before allowing me to respond, the questioner put forward her view that based on her knowledge, she believed men were more affected than women.

I flatly responded by saying no; that is actually not the case. I continued by sharing that before getting involved in advocacy about two years ago, I used to think that our intolerance as a society for homosexuality, was largely and primarily actioned against men. I used to also think, and believe that the only piece of legislation that had an anti-same-sex component was the Offences Against the Person Act, commonly known as the ‘buggery law’, never mind this piece of legislation also speaks to murder, abortion, aggravated assault, and many other offences against the person.

The first time I challenged my (old) thinking about how men and women were affected by homophobia was in an interview I conducted with Javed, who was at the time a member of staff at J-FLAG. His response to a similar question as the one referenced above got me thinking, and thinking, and thinking some more. I did my own little research and the more I explored this issue of actioning homophobia, the more I got involved with the work J-FLAG was doing, the more I became an advocate who was also learning feminism, the more I realised, what I believe today: that men and women are affected differently by homophobia, and this difference is not, and should not be, in my opinion, a manifestation of portions – greater or lesser. It is just different. What happens, however, is that many of the visible (and I mean media visible) and common (everyday) forms of homophobia that affect the LGBT population is actioned against men. The incidents don’t even need to be reported for them to become headline news.

Let’s take homelessness, for example. Very few women actually live on the street because of the circumstances around their SOGI status. Some women who are displaced as a result of their SOGI status are able to stay with friends until they ‘get back on their feet’, because familial support seems to be greater for our women than our men, of course, excluding women who become pregnant ‘too early’. So although men and women could possibly be equally (I don’t know) affected by displacement, the worst manifestation of that – which is living on the street – affects men more than it does women. And people who ‘sofa surf’ are not visible to Jane public, but people who live on the street are visible to many of us, including our media entities and our police service. Let’s take another example, non-sexual physical violence. When reports of these incidents make the news, the victim/survivor is oftentimes a man. And it doesn’t make the news because the incident was reported to the police, it makes the news because a mob was involved, or at least a small crowd.

For those reasons, and many others, an impression is created that men are disproportionately affected by homophobic violence and discrimination. But it is a myth, in my opinion. It is my work in particular with WE-Change, for example, that led me to realise just how messed up our society is in how it treats with lesbians and bisexual women, and even worse-so, how it treats with transgender women who are at greater risk than many women for being abused, or contracting HIV and other STIs. It is my work with WE-Change that made me realise just how disturbingly discriminatory our legislative framework is against LBT women. LBT women in same-sex domestic partnerships have no form of spousal rights – rights that are afforded ‘even’ to heterosexual cis-gender couples in visiting relationships. I can speak boldly and in an evidence-based manner about that now, but not a year or two ago. And even though I can speak boldly and in an evidence-based manner about that today, there is still a lot about what I, or anyone else in this context for that matter, can speak boldly and in an evidence-based manner about. Nobody can talk, in a bold, evidence-based manner about mothers who are submitting their girl child to forced penetrative sex with older men in an attempt to ‘cure’ their homosexuality. Nobody can talk, in a bold, evidence-based manner about all sorts of ‘corrective’ sexual violence that lesbians experience. Nobody can talk, in a bold, evidence-based manner about how LBT women are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence and intimate partner violence. Nobody can talk, in a bold, evidence-based manner about how LBT women are disproportionately affected by street harassment. Nobody can talk, in a bold, evidence-based manner about a lot of things related to how homophobic violence and discrimination are actioned against the LBT women’s community living in Jamaica.

I like to talk, preferably boldly, and in an evidence-based manner, and primarily with the ‘right’ people if change is what I want to effect. And in this country, like in many others, if you don’t speak boldly and in an evidence-based manner, your advocacy is as effective as it is useless. A lot of what we have been saying when we talk about how LBT women living in Jamaica are affected by homophobia has been lacking in evidence. And I don’t mean evidence that equals to or amounts to five, or eight, or twelve women talking in living rooms about the traumatic experiences of their LBT sisters, friends, and colleagues. I mean evidence that can make use of anecdotes and personal experiences yes, but in Jamaica, in this political culture, in this victim-blaming place we call home, we need to find innovative and creative ways of talking boldly and in an evidence-based manner, with the little we have. And it will take long, it will take a very long time because underreporting is a dirty little disease, and I don’t mean underreporting to family, friends, colleagues, pastors and counsellors, I mean underreporting to rights organisations and government entities charged with protecting (technically some of) the rights of each of us.

So while I sit whether at my home, which is in a gated community that has a few watchmen and a watchwoman because I make myself able, even amidst my poverty to afford it, so I may feel safe enough to place a no discrimination sticker on my door; or while I sit at J-FLAG’s office where everyone has to be buzzed in to enter the office in an effort to reduce the possibility of being threatened or attacked by LGBT or non-LGBT persons; or while I dine at restaurants that are branded as LGBT friendly or have security cameras so I may minimise the possibility of being attacked, and in the event that I am attacked or anything happens to me, there will be evidence (I hope); or while I ride in the seat of a chartered cab to avoid frequent street harassment; or even while partying up a storm at a soca event where I can boldly wear a ‘some people are gay, get over it t-shirt without being overtaken by anxiety, to think about the creative and effective ways in which I must utilise my skills and abilities to challenge the status quo of homophobia, including self-loathing, and patriarchal homophobia, I will not talk as much as you with mere anger and disgust because I am busy in all these spaces trying to plot my moves on the graph of change, until I am able to speak boldly, and in an evidence-based manner about what I started out knowing anecdotally. All the while being proactive, to reduce the number of times we need to be reactive. And all I can use are my skills. I don’t have many, but I try to capitalise on the few I have. I am also fully aware of the skills I don’t have, including those much touted soft skills. And I make myself okay with that, even though I was recently advised at the #CWSDC2015 that in advocacy, likeability and respect are perhaps equally important. But I make what I do have, work, and work the best possible way I think I can make it work…

Yes, I know I have been blabbing for about 1000 words or so, maybe not making much sense to you (yet). But that blabbing was my preamble for making two simple and probably unimportant (to you) points in this post.

  1. I am not your kind of perfect.
  2. I am not trained, equipped, or even have the capacity to play the role of a Crisis Intervention/Support Officer.

I am sick and tired of people (advocates included) expecting that everyone who is involved in any form of social justice advocacy work, must, as a prerequisite, have social work training or even the inclination. Everything in social justice advocacy is not about reactive advocacy, in my opinion. It is not all about responding to, or reacting to crisis on the ground, always being present and visible on the ground. Always willing to be there on the ground, even when the folks who you are trying to support are (literally) spitting in your face because they don’t believe you are doing enough for them in that moment. And always going back, on the ground no matter how many times you are called, the day of the week you are called, the time of the day you are called, just always, always being there, being present, being on the ground. That is not all advocacy is about. And someone’s (read my) incapacity to be a Crisis Intervention/Support Officer should not preclude them from supporting the advocacy movement in the ways they know how to, and believe me, if you are literate, you will know that there are several ways that one can advocate. In fact, we need these several ways, these several methods, if we intend to fast-track our way into an enabling and inclusive environment called Jamaica. I am sick and tired of people who continue to create this impression that advocacy is only about doing crisis work. And I am equally sick and tired of people trying to guilt me for making decisions about how I live my life and where I live my life, to ensure that my dad, or my mom, or my sisters, or my aunt, or more importantly my nephew and partner do not have to worry all the time about my safety, about my mental and emotional safety, about my physical and social safety, about my professional and financial safety.

Nobody knows how much I struggle almost every day to do the work I do and try to do it well. You see ‘high life’ and ‘affluence’. What the hell do you know about affluence? What the hell do you know about middle class? I am poor. Yes. Poor. There are many categories of poor my friend. I used to teach Sociology, so I think I understand social class and status. And oh yes, the variables are changing, and the ‘qualifications’ are changing, but my dear, my life is no representation of this middleclass business I hear people (read you) ascribing to me. And even if I had the resources and capital and access that I believe are typically associated with middleclass status, so what? Am I not allowed to advocate because I am not homeless? Or was never raped? Or was never hungry for more than two consecutive days? Or avoid unchartered public transportation? Or is it that I should not be allowed to label my work as advocacy because I am not a Crisis Offer? Or maybe I should not say I am an advocate because I don’t use every platform I access to be angry and cuss eternally while doing very little about patriarchal homophobia? And the newest one….Am I not allowed to be a social justice advocate because my partner and I are going through the worst darn possible patch of our relationship because I messed up and she messed up?

Let me talk about this newest one…

It seems as if in writing about the challenges experienced by LBT women in that report I referenced in my opening paragraph, the eloquent ghost-writer who also spoke about the grave underreporting of homophobic incidents, suggestively linked my ‘affluent’ living and this darn bloody rough patch I am experiencing with my partner to this underreporting. The stimulating and refreshing piece was brought to my attention by a friend of mine via email. The preamble to the email was that the public brawl between my partner and I on Twitter a couple weeks ago (something we are still trying to navigate but making peace as we go along) has resulted in a loss of trust and perhaps respect for both of us and the work that we do. And that one of the organisations with which we are affiliated will now be incapacitated in some shape or form, and lesbians and bisexual women will now be concerned about reaching out to the organisation for support.  The trust has been broken I hear. Because clearly, my partner and I are not allowed any rough patches. And if we are even allowed rough patches, these can only be accessed in private. And then when we come into the public sphere we what, pretend? Of course! Pretend like we are always on top of the world. Pretend that everything about us, between us, is perfect, that I don’t mess up? That she doesn’t mess up? And we are somehow an ideal couple from Mars?

Sorry to burst your bubble. I messed up, real badly. And my partner was justifiably mad at me for messing up and it got ugly. It got really ugly, especially on Twitter. And in my real world, that is ok, and ought to be ok, in my opinion. We are real people, with real feelings, with real issues, with real hearts, with real pain. And we hurt when we hurt each other. We don’t hurt each other a lot, but we do, sometimes. And it doesn’t make us any less competent to do our work. It doesn’t make us any less of advocates. It doesn’t make us any less human. And we fix it. Always, we fix it. Because we acknowledge privately and publicly that what we did was messed (you can tell I desire a different word) all the way up. I am not saying or suggesting that everything that happens in the private domain should, or must, or will happen in the public domain, because god knows, if our sex life was public, many of my colleagues, especially the close ones, would probably have heart failure. What I am saying is that we are not by nature – individually or as a unit – hypocrites. And so as a couple that shares a lot publicly, especially the silly spontaneous stuff, when we do mess up and get really angry at each other, sometimes, sometimes, social media becomes our coping mechanism, our ranting agency. And for that, don’t crucify us. We love our work (well I love mine most days), and we love each other. We try our best when we are at our best, and we try to cope when we are at our worst. If this means that some so-called trust in us and the organisations with which we are affiliated will somehow be lost, then maybe the holders of that trust aren’t so sincere, and real, and honest, and human after all.

I am not a leader. But I try to be a good worker most days. And it is my partner, more than everyone else (well, maybe there’s a tie with Jaevion) and everything else, that, by her very existence and belief in me, inspires me daily to be the best worker, advocate, colleague, sister, daughter, niece, aunt, and partner I can be.

If anybody’s trust or belief in me and the work I do is rooted in an idealistic perception of Latoya McFee Nugent, then I am unaffected by your loss of trust and belief in me.

Please forgive the absence of pictures in this post, and the incomplete arguments, I was really just ranting and not speaking boldly, in an evidence-based manner.

Peace

Thank You J-FLAG

NTCG Logo June 2008

I don’t have a lot of experience working with Civil Society Organisations; the closest I came to having any sort of experience with CSOs was four months at my dad’s church – I designed and implemented a short training programme for point persons in the church to provide more youth friendly services for the youth population of that church and neighbouring communities.

ln vtdi

I have spent most of my professional life teaching and going to school.

So when I landed at J-FLAG all I had was several years of teaching experience and a few letters behind my name. Honestly, a part of me was doubtful about the impact I could have because it seemed like a world of work in a world that was largely unknown to me. But with much support and drive in the 16 months I have been there, I have learnt, done, and grown more than I ever did in my life prior to J-FLAG; well, with the exception of 2010 when I was teaching full time, enrolled part-time in a PGDip programme, and enrolled full time in an MSc programme (which I had to hide for the most part for policy reasons, shhhh).

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I was able to learn, do, and grow exponentially in my time at J-FLAG also because of a sort of uncodified philosophy of the organisation: ‘we’ll show you the sea, we’ll dump you in there regardless of whether you can swim, but you gotta figure out the rest’. That’s kinda how the organisation works, which is why it tremendously builds the capacity of those who are largely intrinsically motivated and are passionate about their work.

I will be perpetually grateful to J-FLAG for its impact on my personal and professional development and I don’t care if anyone has a problem with me writing about this every day. Thank you, and Happy Belated 16!

Peace.