The Rug and the Bug: a little story about young women and leadership

I am sitting on a purple squared rug inside a belt tent surrounded by a group of young women who became Generators at the beginning of the year. We are in Pertwood at our campsite in Wiltshire. Thanks to Greenboard, who have supported Global Generation’s work with young people for more then three years now, this camp will be a first step of a project that will continue in London as a jam-making enterprise in which these young women will take the lead.

Vero (our community chef) and Sara (our intern) are with me and together we designed the framework and the activities for the weekend.

We really wanted to give a new fresh angle, exploring the role of women in the past and present and reflecting on how we can contribute personally to a better future.

Mother Nature is our guide and it is everywhere around us. We can hear the birds outside the tent and the wind moving the leaves.

We can see spiders in the grass and smell wildflowers. We can feel the city as something very far away.

We have aims we ‘d like to achieve through this experience: trying to be different, embracing silence, taking time for appreciation and gratitude.  We would like to take our generators on a journey of discovery, reflection, and inspiration.

What do Nature, silence and past have to do with a new leadership programme?

As Bayo Akomolafe says:


Leadership is a gift. Leading is not about taking unilateral action – leading is not even about being the first, or being certain, or being influential, or being knowledgeable. When we begin to see leadership as what the whole is doing, not what one man in the centre of the circle is bringing about, we are on the verge of acknowledging the paradigm-shifting truth that leadership is not even a human thing at all. I do not mean to imply that hierarchy is somehow unnatural or not our ‘true nature. ‘Nature’ is often marshalled as grounds to demonize other performances, and legitimize one’s own perspectives. But ‘nature’ is its own deconstruction. The nonhuman world is replete with examples of hierarchical models and highly regimented societies. From queen ants and pecking orders to competition over resources and alpha males. However, ‘nature’ is also the fungus Armillaria, which is the largest organism on the planet, and yet is composed of individual hyphae that collectively form a mycelium. Their entanglement is so ‘clear’ that it is disturbingly easy to switch between the ‘individual’ hyphae and the ‘collective’ mycelium in one’s analysis of how ‘they’ act together.
 

We have to always find new ways of being leaders.

So we start our journey by thinking about women that are examples of leadership for us. Courage, passion, vision, creativity are some of the value that are already emerging. Then we go for a walk .We walk up and down the hills with no human sounds around. We draw on the top to relax our legs and look at the horizon and see the invisible through the landscape. What does it mean for us to be here?

In smaller groups, we cook, we collect kindling for fire, we seed the wildflower patch.

Then we eat. The fire warms up our faces - the same orange soul around which many conversations have taken place for thousands of years.

We can’t see the sunset or the stars as I was hoping but Sara, who is leading a Joanna Macy inspired exercise, makes me forget about the stars in the sky. I can see stars coming out the young peoples mouths.

We have fears and sorrows as women but also hopes and dreams.

Stars are dancing in my blood.

Then, after a deep sleep (the warmest night ever since my first camp years ago) we go for a silent walk.

Nature is our blanket and our history book.

Step by step we arrive to a stone circle. And we write in our journals, inspired by what Garda Lerner says about the past that I can see written in the land

 

Understanding where we come from, free us to be able to envision creative possibilities that weren’t within our reach before. Knowing our history helps one to see how society has been constructed by human beings, and once we are truly cognizant of this, then we can start to see new creative potential that arise from a place of wholeness in ourselves.

 

After breakfast, Vero takes us around the camp foraging for food and taking our mind back to the beginning with our ancestors and what we used to do when we didn't have shops, when we didn't have fridges. A very simple thing: we looked for food around us. Nature is our guide and our resource.

 

Now is time to think about what we want to take back to London. The drawing we created yesterday becomes a postcard to the future. What can I do as a woman when I will be back in London? Is there something I learnt by being with Nature?

The future scares me; I don’t know what will happen to me, what the world has in store for me, or what is in store for the world. But as I sit here, looking at the view I feel a sense of serenity. I might not know what the future holds for me, but Pertwood has taught me that I shouldn’t be afraid instead I should grasp every opportunity I got. Pertwood has allowed me to understand that I am an independent young woman who can break down barriers and defy expectation, in a way I couldn’t before. I feel that before I was told to be an independent young woman, but now I am able to discover it for myself. Thank you Pertwood! I feel confident going into the future and the unknown; I see it now as an adventure rather than a challenge (that’s not to say there won’t be challenges). It sounds cliche, but looking at the beautiful view has made me realise the bigger picture and all of the amazing opportunities outside of my comfort zone. Nature is beautiful and has allowed me to realise all of the above. I will appreciate nature more. CAITILIN (15 y. o)

 

I ask myself:  What does leadership mean to me?

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The purple rug I was sitting on in the tent had a long story. It was part of a youth project. A few years ago, generator Lily successfully put up a cinema in the old skip garden and I was with her and her father when we bought the furniture to create the space.

 

The purple rug was one of the many we bought together. But those rugs didn’t really align with the atmosphere and ethos of the skip garden. They were made far away with strong chemical colours. But Lily really liked them and the cinema was her idea. I couldn’t say no.

At that point, I was still quite new at GG, working in the kitchen and in the youth programmes at the same time. I thought it wasn’t a problem and I didn’t invite her to reflect about her choice.

Time has passed and now I am here, sitting on one of those rugs, leading another camp.

And yes, I still have the same questions. When should I be strict? Am I saying enough when young people scream about spiders in the tents? Shall I choose to explicitly say to young people that they can survive without burgers?

When is it the right time to discuss about the equality of men and women? Is it ok for me to introduce young people to the idea that the universe story is a story that involves all religions and everyone? When should I say no?

I am looking at the purple rug. The same purple rug is holding the space now for a new group of young people. And it makes a difference in this white plain tent. It invites us into meditation and reflection. It welcomes us all and it achieves another meaning now.

Leadership maybe always changes its nature. It is not a fixed definition. It is always in a context, in a particular time in history. We become leaders. We aren’t born leaders. Our young women can become leaders despite the screaming in the night (“there is a spider in my tent!!”), despite the desire of having their telephones back as soon as the taxi arrives.

We leave Pertwood behind. Some of the girls say goodbye to nature.

We are on a train to London Waterloo.

I open one of the young people’s journals and I find this:

I have been able to see so many beautiful and breath-taking nature landscapes. I’ve realised that standing on a hill looking down in patches of beautifully crafted and patterned grass is not all there is to see, but when you magnify and ‘intimately’ and personally experience being in that piece of land you notice it is not just there as visual satisfaction but there as a means of life and beauty.

Maedeh (15 y.o.)