We are in the stunning 5 star corporate training facility of Gas Natural in Puente Nuevo, just outside of Avila, an hour from Madrid. I have worked on leadership programs twice before here at beautiful place however a pilot leadership program for children has never been seen before... ]
Day 3 of Basket Talent Camp
I am extremely fortunate to be part of a pilot program leadership journey for girls aged 8-11 and every day I am blogging about it.
Today the girls were treated to something really quite extraordinary and life impacting.
Cheija Abdalahe (superior degree in women and leadership) came and told of her story living and growing up in the Western Sahara desert that has been a Spanish Colony.
The room was set out lecture style and she invited everyone to sit on the floor in a circle just like they would in their community. She said that sitting all together creates greater intimacy and it is connecting to sit on the earth.
I absolutely loved this and could witness straight away what impact this had. What it did was to dissolve all barriers of here is the speaker and here are the ones listening. It was a cosy and warm gathering of sharing. Already a wonderful learning and inspiration for me because I am fascinated by intimacy and circle gatherings as this is how our ancestors and our native people always gathered and connected.
She started by saying that it is a society where women lead because the men were out fighting a war.
She lived in Western Sahara which is a Spanish Colony and so it was dependent on donations from Spain. They grew up speaking Spanish and Arabic and some French.
The women made their homes out of mud bricks that they would build into a hut with a door and two windows. If it ever rained, these huts would melt down and get destroyed.
She said that in her community the women do everything so they are natural and great leaders. And if anyone has any doubt about a women's power to just consider that it is the women who bring life into this world. Whether you choose to bear children or not just this fact and this possibility makes us women magnificent. Here here I say!
One of the questions the girls had for Cheija was how do they get water. When she was young they would dig for water for days until eventually they'd find some and drink that. But sometimes they would dig and dig and dig for days and not find any water at all. Her generation have all grown up with teeth problems and health problems due to drinking this infected water. Eventually it was outlawed to dig and drink the water and every home instead was allocated a metal container which would get filled up with drinking water which was full of chlorine and this would kill the little bugs in it that could be seen at the bottom of the containers.
The children that grew up on this type of water were much healthier than here generation and did not suffer the same conditions that she did. However the water often ran out and there would be no delivery.
She underlined to the girls that water is white gold, it is the most precious commodity in the WHOLE WORLD and without it we human beings would not survive.
Likewise with food there was not so much food around, they had to rely on donations and again she underlined that they just ate what was available. There was no room for being picky about food and saying I don't like this food or that food. She said that the hardest thing about growing up was the hunger and the starvation. As a school child she would go from 12 noon till 9pm without food and feel very hungry a lot of the time especially when the young body needed a lot of food to grown during the ages of 9-11 which is the age range that this group are exactly.
It made me really appreciate food even more than I already do. She said she can never see food being wasted and asked the girls not to ever waste food because there is always some child of their age somewhere in the world that is going hungry.
This made such a huge impact on me because I grew up as a kid watching Live Aid on TV and all the starvation in Africa but today I actually met someone who experienced that in their life. It was so humbling. I wanted to share this blog just to expand that awareness and gratitude of everything that we have today.
A girl asked about GPS satellite navigation and how do they find their way. Cheija responded that they use the stars. That you can find your way by knowing the stars. I just melted when I heard this and found it just wonderful.
She talked about the family having a goat whom she adored like a pet and she looked after her with much love. They shared a lot of their lives together and the goat very generously gave milk which was such a commodity.
She spoke of education and that in the desert there is no choice about it, you either study or you study, there is no way out otherwise. There were no schools where she was so she along with a lorry full of other young children were taken off to boarding school for 3-9 months at a time without seeing their parents. Phone calls were about one a month with great effort and she said this was extremely difficult. On top of that at school they went very hungry and one day there was absolutely nothing to eat at all but some old bread that was rock hard and a few months old. So they poured hot water over it and ate it nevertheless.
She is one of 9 children and her mother was traumatically married off to someone she didn't know. She suffered so much as a result that she never forced her children into arranged marriage.
For the past 10 years Cheija has lived and studied in Madrid and is interested in being a voice for world change and women in leadership.
And what about play? Did they ever get bored?
Never, they as children would always play just like children do everywhere. They'd play at neighbours homes and be brought back to their home asleep carried in arms. They'd play with the sand (being as there was plenty of it) and enjoy burying their feet into it and then taking it out and that would be a house which they'd then decorate with any bits lying around. That would be a long and wonderful game.
They didn't have any games or toys so they would make their own. They made dolls from bones and rags and today she did a workshop to get everyone to make a similar doll, only not made of bones as they are too sharp!
The girls enjoyed this activity very much and I, as a doll maker even more! I do believe everyone everyone no matter what age of background should make at least one doll because it's the most creative, amazing fun thing ever that draws on any resource that is readily available.
They didn't have a fridge until the 90s so to keep drink or water cool they'd wrap it up in much cloth and keep it wet and this would keep the drinks cool. And very strangely with watermelon, the way to keep them cool is to actually cut them and put them in the sun! She doesn't know why this is but it works and cut watermelon can always be seen around the place.
Despite all the hardship that she has experienced growing up she said that if she had to do it all again she would choose exactly the same life and circumstances because her experiences have made her who she is. This made me reflect on my own life too and I am also in agreement.
She also said that the human being is designed to survive and where she is from people do survive. I was astounded by this incredible example of human resourcefulness. She said that even if she was put in freezing cold Alaska she would find a way to survive.
She said her childhood was extremely happy and even when they got a tiny black and white TV in the 90s and saw how other people in the world lived for the first time, she still didn't regret where she was and how they lived.
About the heat, in the Sahara it's so hot that some day she put a frying pan out in the sun and then broke an egg into it and it fried!!!
Upon being lucky enough to listen to such an extraordinary life experience I really believe that Cheija has a powerful role in leadership with heart and creating empathy, awareness and gratitude. She is such an inspiring woman who's gentleness, kindness and humility radiates such reverence and gratitude for all things. I honestly feel that her story (and if you're lucky enough to meet her even netter) is attitude changing and life affirming.
I am left, after just day 3 feeling more grateful and inspired than I knew possible.