Here's my reflection for the week in a story. Here is a story about the moment I learnt a very valuable lesson.
Here is an exercise in choice, which one of these stories do you like best?
I had the fortune of going to the Scotch College or the King's School equivalent of San Salvador city. The school was so prestigious that not only was it selective entry- but you had to pass a psychiatric evaluation to get in because the pressure to perform was so intense- more so because I was only 11 years old.
I'm not the brightest of people, I'm certainly not an idiot. I just have the kind of intelligence and beauty that moves so I don't perform well in tests and exams. Looking at my exam scores it's obvious that universities have given me degrees just to get rid of me. I know my shit though, I just don't do well in exams.
My intelligence moves- that's why it doesn't sit still for a photograph.
I remember the day I had to sit the entrance tests, there were three: Spanish, mathematics and social sciences and then you had the infamous psych evaluation.
By the grace of god, I believed in a god at the time, I ended up in a classroom where my dad's Aunty was the teacher.
My Aunty Mercedes was the exam invigilator!!!! You know what happened right? Well if not let me tell you...
She gave me the answers, I remember she taught me to mark the correct answer for what an isosceles triangle was, also what the past participle of a certain verb was, the formula to calculate the circumference of a circle- remember I was 11 years old, a lot of these things I never encountered again until I was at university.
The exams were hard, in fact I probably couldn't pass the test now 21 years later.
There was even a question which had a completely made up language and you had to somehow show which words in this made up language were verbs, adverbs, nouns and adjectives. THE LANGUAGE DIDNT EXIST!! (I could do it now though because I'm hella smart but I was fucking 11 years old.)
I got in to the school (it would be miracle if I hadn't) and I was so proud. I was now a student at the most prestigious school in the country. There were swimming pools and diving boards, four soccer pitches, Olympic running tracks, it even had two churches. Two.
I remember we would play tennis in the corner of the campus where the courts were. The border of the campus was enclosed by a big cyclone fence. On the other side of the fence was a massive shantytown. El Salvador is not renowned amongst the nations for being the world's richest country.
So there I was in my posh school and there they were- all those people who probably couldn't afford an education, and if they could they probably couldn't afford mine.
The poverty was so dire that I remember we would sometimes lose our tennis balls over the cyclone fence and the poor shoeless kids on the other side would sell us out tennis balls back for ten bucks a pop. If necessity is the mother of invention, these kids were on to a good business.
I remember standing there, looking over the fence and thinking- why? Why am I here and why are they there? How did I win the genetic lottery that allowed me to be born in a house that was not wealthy in the slightest but was at least capable of giving me the best education it could.
In fact, why was I born my father's son who was born of his father who also had a daughter called Mercedes; Mercedes the one who ended up being a teacher at this school who would then give me the answers to my entrance exams which allowed me to get a reduced fee scholarship?
And why did I have to pay for the tennis balls sold to me by kids who should have been at school like me but weren't? Why were they shoeless and standing in rubbish?
I lost my faith in god early that year. If there was a god then he clearly didn't care about us all equally. Here was my school with two churches but there they were with no shoes. How could we let this happen? All of us. How? Standing at that fence I learnt a lesson that still resonates today.
If we don't fight for a better world for all of us, there won't be any world left for any of us.
34 percent of Salvadorans live below the poverty line, their life expectancy is 72 years. Only 81% of people have access to regular clean water and the GNI is $3,201 per capita.
There's an organisation that's working with the poorest kids to teach them literacy skills, they take donations you should donate or at least like their Facebook page here: https://m.facebook.com/ConTextosSV?_rdr
Because if we don't create a better world for all of us, there won't be any world left for any of us.
11 year old me realised that the way we live is unsustainable- 31 year old me now wants to make a difference. I hope 11 year old me would be proud of 31 year old me.
I think the story 11 year old me has to share about poverty and inequality is a lot more interesting than the story 31 years old me would share about facts and statistics.
I am finding the fellowship so incredibly rewarding. Not just because I get to share with people who are some of the brightest people I've ever met but because I'm challenging my own assumptions.
Before the fellowship I thought that all I had to do create change was to show you the facts and have a rational discussion about what to do to Create change. All that needs to happen is that you need to be made aware of the issue right?
Well- not quite. Stories are so powerful I knew this, I know this, but I always sought to remove that from my work. What's love got to do with changing the world? Or fear, or loss, sadness, despair, hope or joy?
A great deal- I think I knew this logically, but I chose not to accept it emotionally. I know it probably seems really self evident to someone who campaigns on social issues professionally but for me, story telling is incredibly personal and the personal for me is incredibly vulnerable.
I don't do vulnerability well, it's a protection mechanism. If I'm not vulnerable I cannot be hurt and if I cannot be hurt I will not be disappointed. No disappointment means no failure.
But if I'm not vulnerable I miss an opportunity of connecting with others in a meaningful way and then I'm the one who ends up losing.
Sure my work won't require me to share personal stories and anecdotes every day all the time. I know this- but the reading this week has really struck an amazing chord. It's reinforcing the power of story as a tool to create change. The more I'm exposed to this idea the more comfortable I become with it.
What am I going to do differently?
I feel like I've been waiting for so long for permission, permission by someone to go ahead and make change. I feel like I have a million stories inside of me and the passion of a thousand suns but all I need is someone to tell me that I can now go ahead and follow my passion. I feel like I need someone to validate my ideas because otherwise they're not worthy.
Maybe I'm that person.
This week's reading has confirmed that no one is going to come up and tap me on the shoulder and tell me to go forth and be a change maker. Why would they?
If stories can change the world, or a cause, or a mind then maybe just maybe I don't need permission.
I've been thinking of an idea for a long time in starting an organisation to democratise the law. The law belongs to all of us so then why is it so hard to understand? The organisation would have a commercial arm that charges people for services which would fund an information sharing arm. The information sharing arm would produce resources like posters to inform people, particularly young people what their rights are under the law.
Well- I'm starting that organisation today. I have a minimum viable product, I'm going to put it into the world and test it and see what happens.
I've got a million stories inside of me- a bit pointless if they're never shared, right?