It amazes me how much more I get in return whenever I give something. I can almost see you rolling your eyes and getting ready to scroll past, but just hear me out. Just to be clear, this is not another one of those there’s-more-joy-in-giving posts that aim to shame people into being more generous. This is just a story about my experience with generosity, and if you find it inspiring, great! Here goes:
I recently moved to Cape Town for school. Unlike most people, I moved out here way earlier in order to get settled in the city and get to know people – and hopefully find a job – before school starts. Coincidentally, the CMS Africa Summit just happened to be in Cape Town this year, and lucky for me, I was awarded a sponsored ticket! Anyone who knows me knows I love a good freebie, so there was no way I was going to let this one pass. What people may not know about me is how much I love volunteering. One of my mentors drilled it in me to volunteer whenever I could, explaining how volunteering was a great way to meet new people, but more on that another time.
When I finally felt a little more settled, I reached out to Oduor Jagero, the organiser of the CMS Africa Summit, to see if he needed an extra hand. I’ve had some experience planning similar events [read WordCamp Harare 2018] so I know how taxing it can be. Just as I thought (and hoped!) he needed the help. So there I was, donating an hour or so of my time to send out emails and update lists. I didn’t think much of it, except that I was enjoying myself. At some point, I was supposed to have a meeting with Oduor, so I tried scheduling one. “We’ll be touring the co-working spaces tomorrow,” was his reply. “Can I come?” I asked. “You should,” came the command.
I got myself ready for this tour, expecting a small group of other volunteers such as myself to show up. Boy, was I in for a surprise! The first person we picked up happened to be a very cheerful lady named Mo. She was carrying a huge WordPress bag, and when we got to talking, she told me she worked for Matt Mullenweg for some three years. Yes, that Matt. Now she works as an Events Wrangler at Automattic, a position I’ve apired to but never had the guts to pursue. To say I was excited is a sad understatement. But the surprise was just about to get better…
We arrived at our first stop – CodeSpace Academy. Not only was I impressed by the splendour of the building (one of the tour guides, explained that the building was once some kind of castle) but I suddenly found myself in the company of C-level executives and other people with jaw-dropping profiles. If I’d been excited before, now I was downright intimidated. I was way out of my league, no degree, no position, no title. I must admit I wanted to shrink into the shadows, call as little attention to myself as possible. I found myself fidgeting with my bag, crossing and uncrossing my arms all while trying to come up with something intelligent to contribute to the conversation. Get a grip of yourself Tapiwa! You’re in the room. Be present. It took a while, but this mental pep talk eventually brought me to my senses and I started listening.
CodeSpace basically teaches people how to code, using a method they call blended learning. Now, to be clear, I’ve encountered a few organisations with similar models back home, such as ZimboPy and Muzinda Hub, so the actual concept wasn’t all that new to me. What I truly loved was how CodeSpace has managed to keep growing, even with very little funding (which they are absolutely grateful for). There are many reasons as to why that is, but having lived in Zimbabwe all my life and experiencing first hand what a rotten economy can do to great ideas, it was refreshing to see the possibilities of what all the companies back home could become if the economy were healthier. That gave me so much hope, and if you’re reading this from Zimbabwe I know hope may be the last thing you need right now. I totally understand, and I wish I could give you more. But for now, hope is all I have.
As we made our way to the next stop – Workshop 17 – I found myself feeling more at ease. The biggest reason for this was perhaps the fact that all these accomplished people were actually listening to me when I spoke. I didn’t realize it at first because I was stumbling over my words, eager to appear very knowledgeable and intelligent. When I slowed down and listened more, I not only calmed myself enough to actually understand the conversations that were taking place, but I also found that I could think more clearly and speak more articulately. And what’s more, I could just be myself. I kid you not when the nerves disappeared, I opened myself up to learn so much. I felt free to be me, free to be young, free to be educated. I felt good. By the time we got to our last stop – Cape Town Office – I felt elated. This was a good day, in every sense of the word.
I’m in bed as I write this, and I still feel elated. A little generosity on my part resulted in a lot of good things coming my way. You might be wondering: What exactly did I give? The answer is time. I offered a helping hand expecting nothing in return, save for a Kenyan colleague with the same love for content management systems as myself. What did I get in return? A free tour of some amazing co-working places in Cape Town, hope for the businesses in my country, valuable connections, a wealth of knowledge and an unbelievable yummy gingerbread shake (shout out to Jerry’s!). In other words, I gained another piece of the world.