Emily Blackledge, Vice President of International Programs, learned a new lesson about listening and her role in Africa on her latest visit to Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and Rwanda.

Emily Blackledge, Vice President of International Programs, learned a new lesson about listening and her role in Africa on her latest visit to Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and Rwanda.

I love landing in Africa. The flights can be long and boring, but landing is always the best part! Back to friends and faces, smells and places that I love. But I was nervous this time – more so than normal. I had never left my little guy for 12 days. I hadn’t been to two active war zones as a mother. I hadn’t spent time with children in orphanages and known what it feels like to love a little face like theirs. So as I landed late on a Wednesday night in Entebbe Uganda, I was filled with excitement and adrenaline, but I was just a tad anxious. What would this world do to me this time?

I was in and out of four countries in 9 days. I’ve never moved that fast through my time on the continent. But maternity leave set me back a whole year. My intent with this time was to see and experience all of the plans and programs we’ve implemented over the course of the last 18 months and see what was working – and what wasn’t. And within 24 hours, I was bumping along dusty roads to hear and see the difference education can make in the lives of the men and women and children we work with. My job is to listen. To take in what is being said from my coworkers in Africa, to listen to the pastors and leaders – students in our Academy program – as they articulate what their dreams and desires are for their future and that of their children. 

In the listening I was reminded of 2 powerful truths. First, these men and women, leading their communities, churches, and families have dreams and plans. They have ambition just like you and me. And they understand the value of education. They know that the first thing they want or need to fulfill their vision is an understanding of how to achieve their dreams. They want to learn about budgeting, or running an elementary school. They want to know how to be effective teachers, or administer the best medicine. My job is to listen to what they want to learn and then scour the world over for the best course materials and tools to help them learn how to do for themselves.

Second, I was continuously humbled by the ingenuity of their dreams – and their dedication to getting them fulfilled. I stood next to our Country Director in South Sudan who starts each of his classes with a role call and an instruction for each student of where to hide if the planes come dropping bombs while in class. I laughed alongside our Director in Congo as he talked about the 8 hour bus ride that ensued after his 8 hour boat ride to visit one of the classes out in the most war torn region of Congo. His description of how he got a full night’s sleep was simply ingenious! These men and women are smart, driven, and have so much to offer their world – my world – our world.

The truth is, when we listen to those around us, in our homes, in our classrooms, in our social groups, we can hear such beautiful things. We can experience how they see the world and that can make us better or teach us something new. Listening is my new favorite hobby because I’m addicted to what I discover about the world – and its not just true in Africa. My little guy has some pretty amazing ideas too. 

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