Gratitude #2 -United Nations, New York (II) by Mary Ajayi, 2015
First day at the UN and it began to hit me. This is the life we’ve prayed and hoped for, and we didn’t even know it’d come this soon.
In 2013 when Ebenezar Wikina introduced me to UN Volunteers and I began to create awareness about the International Days, one of our wishes was that we’d someday work at the UN. We were in awe of the UN and considered it the greatest platform yet for development work.
2016. And I was talking in a conference hall at the UN. The United Nations.
So, when Mawuli kept talking that we prepare our speech ahead, I was worried. My close friends know how I can procrastinate. I practically shift things till the last minute, most times.
So, there’s Mawuli sounding the warning, there’s procrastination taking over, there’s the worry that this speech is not “any kain speech” anywhere.
Then there’s the jitters about talking to a big room full of people about my life and WORK, and no one to turn to and say in Ibadan accent, “Bo’o laa’se se kinii baii?
Two days to the big day, I was with Consolata and Dorothy. They’d gone to print their speech and wanted me to record them while they practiced. Eh! I shut up, found the recorder on my phone, looked at the time on my phone screen and signaled for Consolata to begin. Then I mentally told myself, “If na vigil you go do, you must write this speech today”.
There’s a lot to say but Juliet prefers the closet thank yous and compliments so I’ll tone down a bit. I met Juliet through Tee Jay, at a tough time those involved in weren’t sure they’d survive.
Juliet practically jumped into the ocean to rescue and shelter. And I didn’t meet her face to face till New York. Let me just say here that social media is a great tool for life-changing connections. Use it.
Now, Juliet (to be referred to as Mama from hereon) came from Canada to hear me talk. Let me repeat. She left her work (and she’s really busy) to hear a lady she’s never met talk.
Can we pause a bit to meditate on support across spaces and silent mentoring? Or how to simply get a girl flying because you’re cheering on from the sides and saying, “You make me proud,” even though you’re only just meeting?
The night before the speech, Mama was with me at the UN Plaza going over my draft and giving amazing feedback. She’d read and say, “Yes. I like how you expressed this…how you put this first…why don’t you talk further on this?”
The next day, I’m at the UN and there’s she’s there again, right at the front, smiling at me.
I sat and listened to my sisters talk about their background, work, life, lessons. Then it was my turn.
I looked at the audience, greeted, and began to talk about platforms and possibilities and how these are steppingstones for advancement and liberation. I referred to the UN Volunteering system, TEDx, Global Shapers Community and Moremi Initiatives as steppingstones for my advancement and liberation.
I mentioned my work through the UNV, my participation in three TEDx events, my work with Global Shapers Community Ibadan, and Moremi’s award of a year-long fellowship.
I told the audience, “Perhaps, these sound like just titles, but as a girl who grew thinking she wasn’t good enough, and while others can take the lead at things, she cannot, because she wasn’t smart, not so diligent, not able, and well, she wouldn’t even finish if she started, these are platforms which have become steppingstones to liberation for me.
I think we grow up into different things, in our societies. For some, it is that leadership has a male face and girls have no right to it; for some it is that girls are never good enough, not able to handle some form of leadership.
For some others, it is that though they may be good, they may have something to give, no one would be willing to invest in them because of gender, background, or colour. But platforms, as stepping stones, become liberation points.
They prove that individuals, especially women, can make worthwhile contributions. For me, I used to be part of the not-good-enoughs till I came across these platforms.
Although I am not sure why I thought myself not good enough, that negative mental hold was broken as these platforms were placed before me. With freedom came confidence and the liberating knowledge that whatever I do, matters.”
I spoke a bit about Purple Stories and our work on breaking the culture of silence surrounding mental health and creating safe space for recovery and support.
I talked about other stuff that I can’t mention now (this post is already long enough 🙂 ) and I wrapped up by telling them that platforms were what I needed to evolve and they keep creating avenues for further growth and that really, we’re nothing without platforms. When we provide platforms, we can watch out for amazing opportunities.
1. My ‘talk’ (and I couldn’t read everything as I had limited time but only handpicked the key points) has been published on wholewomannetwork.org Click on the link to read it.
2. I’ll also share my lessons from the UN experience subsequently to conclude the #gratitude stories (United Nations, New York).
Thank you for reading,
Mary Ajayi (Follow me on Facebook Here)