I cannot believe my Bush fellowship is already ending, its been an incredible journey of learning and growth for me as I think back about the time I began to now. It truly is worth investing in my leadership in a way that I have not had too before. When I started this journey I knew what I wanted to do and it was about community and continues to be so for me but it was hard to phantom that it was also a journey about me and deepening my experiences as a leader. I could not think about myself in times when I know that community is so central to where I go and what I do. However, in through this journey I realized it was important to understand what it meant to fully invest in my leadership skills in a more profound and clearer way than I have understood previously. It took time to fully give myself permission to invest in me, though I knew it was important it was in the practice that it was lacking. As I participated in different leadership coaching and retreats, the practice became easier and less "selfish". It allowed me to reflect more deeply and open myself up to me and the skills that I had attained and continue to refine over the years as a leader. I not only can see it in how I felt but in how I moved visibly in relationship to others around me. I am still at awed about how this now friend of mine shared with me when she invited me into space with her to share my spiritual wisdom and powers. She said, "you have a big presence (meaning energy) in the room and it is there way ahead of you, you just need to claim it." I have for a long time learned to make my physical presence small and learned to listen deeply because of the work that I do. It was so vitally important that as a cisgender male identified person doing gender based violence work, that I know the power and privilege that I had in the presence of those most impacted in my community. I learned to give space rather than take up space. I learned that following the most impacted in my community meant I needed to ensure those folks have a platform and container to strategize and work, that I follow and put in my work when it was my time. I learned that there was a time and place for my leadership and that in those spaces it was not mine to own and/or lead. However, because my energy as my friend puts it is "huge" as much as I make myself invisible, I still had an impact on folks in the space. In learning and practicing this over the course of the last half year since I fully tuned into this piece of how I show up in spaces. I learned that it was ok to at times share my thoughts and yes there is a time and place for my leadership but those most impacted also needed me to help co-conspire with them and co-plan with them. They needed me to show up fully so they can be successful in their endeavors and as leaders too. It was about navigating and negotiating those places, spaces and times - it was not about me just be visible but invisible. This was the biggest impact of this journey for me was and still is learning to fully be in my leadership and show up ready to engage and co-conspire. I am still practicing this action and getting used to what it truly means and looks like for me to live in my leadership and full presence as a leader.
The most recent trip that I had to Vietnam to observe and learn from the Hmong folks there was truly another feet for me in my learning about how my community has thrived and lived. Most of my journeys to visit Hmong folks in Southeast Asia has been about the people and our history or about gender practices and how change can come about. I did not pay much particular attention the physical environment and/or its relationship to the people. This time around somehow I saw this piece, the land and its relationship to Hmong folks and vice versa. I paid particularly attention to how Hmong folks shaped the environment and how the environment shaped Hmong peoples' lives. The way that women worked on the fields; how houses were built in the high mountains; how Hmong folks showed the beauty of their villages for themselves; how they sustained the land; how the land sustained them, and so on. It was truly powerful for me to take notice about this relationship of people and land. It opened my eyes to understand how it shaped gender practices and show how balance can be achieved and maintained. It was beautiful. It was real and it was obviously without pain and sacrifices too. Hmong folks learned to work the land they lived on by moving with it and also by shaping the land. Once they settled in a place they tend to stay there for generations and then travel miles to their farm land to tend to the soil to grow crops, mainly rice. The places where rice could not grow they grew corn instead. Growing rice did not look the same in all places. Some grew it rice in the mountain sides without paddies others who had access to water made rice terraces for paddies and flooded the terraces when it was time to plant rice. In these places where rice terraces looked like steps in Northern Vietnam, close to the border of Vietnam and China, Hmong folks' rice terraces became a symbol of who Hmong people are and their culture. The beauty lies in the simplistic nature of who Hmong folks are but in the intrinsic skills they had to shape the land to harvest rice. The fields were beautiful but the work was hard and straining. As outsiders and identifying with the ancestry of the folks, it was both important to acknowledge the beauty and also the work that the people put into creating and maintaining the fields. They had food to eat but were financially poor and when nearby cities increased with tourists they could not generate revenue off the land but instead only sell it to mostly Vietnamese people who had the capital to use the land to build hotels and resorts for the tourists. This displaced the people and pushed them out of their original settlement areas. Some stayed behind but I can see how they have been enclosed in and their land cut up smaller and smaller every year as tourism increased. For those that lived further away they were able to sell parts of their land and keep the remainder of it. This is what it looked like to also understand how the environment shaped the lives of Hmong people; as much as they worked the land the land could also push them out too.
In relationship to my leadership, I continue to think about what it means to have liberation for Hmong folks and others. What it means to build systems and institutions that honor people where they are at and does not displaced them. It meant learning from the Hmong folks there on how they have maintained survival for many generations too. They learned to help each other and learned to work in communal ways even if they disagree. For example, we visited two villages that lived side by side, one village believed in Christianity and the other still in the believed in the traditional beliefs - both learned to live side by side with each other and navigated the differences. I am still continuing to process this learning experience because also I saw the diversity in Hmong folks for the first time.
Probably the last thing that I want to mention is the continuous question from the monthly Bush entries about how I think of impact as a leader. It was shared early on with me about how I could show what I do as a leader in a more visible and profound way than just behind the doors. I continue to think and put into practice how I can make bigger impact and in a way that is faster too. Change as a I have said it - for some it may be too late; for others it may never come so it has to be now and today. It means that the impact cannot just be for a few and I could not be everywhere, so it is about duplication and duplication for me is about being in relationship with others. Building and organizing other folks as I have done previously but ensuring that we are recruiting more folks and folding them into the scheme of things too. Getting them to have a similar worldview as us and moving with them. It is about debating the strategies vs spending so much time on the differences of the activities that we do to achieve the goal through the strategy. I learned that there will be many activities under the strategy and to decipher the difference is to have clarity and focus on where energy is best spent, which is on the strategy conversation rather than the activities debate. If bigger impact is to be had openness to activities is important and supporting those different activities of the strategy is crucial. It is when our strategies differ than I must spend time having constructive dialogue with folks about getting on the similar strategy. This is something that I am learning towards the end of the fellowship in reference to impact too. I continue to reflect on how we move more folks and fold more folks into the movement without spending so much time getting everyone in a "right place or spot" but rather supporting folks being in different places so long as they and I or we are on the similar target.
Lastly, the fellowship taught me so much more that I could not probably notice or see because of the trajectory that I am moving but what's helped is giving time for reflection and willingness to be uncomfortable to see what comes up. This is a practice that I will still continue to give time, space and energy too moving forward.