Emeli sits with a huge smile as we begin our staff meeting. I have just returned to Zambia after a few months away, and am eager to catch up with our Zambia staff women. Emeli doesn’t know much English. She always has someone else write and read for her. She’s a mom of 4 grown children and a grandmother. For years, decades even, Emeli has survived by making fritters, fried dough enjoyed for breakfast in the compound. She’s famous for those fritters, and they sure are good.
But Emeli doesn’t have a college degree. She doesn’t have nonprofit management experience, or any management experience beyond the home (though that experience is pretty mighty!). Some might have said along the way that Emeli will always only be known for her fritters.
As we open our meeting, I fearfully ask for feedback. I know it is good and healthy and all that jazz, but I also know how these meetings go. With a myriad of cultural differences and misunderstandings between us and between continents when I’m away, it’s almost expected that something big surfaces when I come back. Not beyond repair by any means, but something worthy of much attention.
Upon asking this question, Emeli’s face shifts. I can tell she has an answer to contribute, and she begins speaking in Nyanja soon after. She says many words I ashamedly still don’t understand after 5+ years of this, but she is also communicating in a way that I can. She’s smiling the largest smile, her eyes squinted at the corners and full of sparkle.
Elina translates what Emeli says, and simply states, “She says that she loves her job. Very much.”
I sit there, and let that sink in.
Emeli, a woman in her fifties, is helping to run an international nonprofit. Emeli doesn’t have a college degree, or even speak English. Emeli has only ever made fritters.
But given the wings, Emeli will fly. Not could or might or should be able to.
Culture and injustice may have kept Emeli from gaining the education or experience, or even the language. But ain’t nothing stopping Emeli from soaring when she’s got her wings on, when she is able to live out her full capacity on a team that believes in her, pushes her, encourages her, and wants to see her do her best.
And it goes beyond our 4 walls. Emeli casually shares that one-day she decided to build a grocery stand outside her house, and now it is very successful. A woman with no prior business training, no understanding of profit or entrepreneurship, is crushing it in every way imaginable.
As I walk through the compound for the long trek home, dirt roads lined with women sitting idly waiting for the day to pass, unable to earn an income or do much else, I see Emelis everywhere.
I see shoulders ready for their wings. I see brilliant minds not yet exercised because of the hardships of life they’ve had to endure along the way. I see so much potential in this compound of poverty and abuse and injustice and hunger and lots of terrible things. I see women who are ready to fly, ready to soar above it all and show the world what they’ve been capable of all along.
Will you believe this with us? Will you help us continue to encourage, foster, and showcase the potential of vulnerable women in Zambia? The capability is absolutely there.