“Creativity is both my favorite word and value. I strongly believe in thinking outside the box if we want to make things happen.”
Women Embracing Life and Leadership Series – WELLS
WELLS is a monthly series showcasing professional and personal diversity in women as they share their stories of successes, challenges and how they are creating a work-life balance, or lack thereof. These stories will educate, inspire and uplift readers.
We started off Black History Month with WILDE Ambassador and United Vision Program Director, Ms. Mallah Tabot.
I am the Program Director of United Vision (UV), a youth-led organization that puts young people at the forefront of gender equality and sexual education among their peers. I believe that the knowledge gaps in these areas are depressingly wide, and what better group of people can champion this cause than young people themselves?
How long have you been working as the Program Director for United Vision?
I’ve been at the helm of my organization since 2010 in various capacities, but also have worked and consulted for similar national and international organizations since then. I strive to make my work as flexible as possible so I don’t only get the job satisfaction but also attain personal development.
How would you describe yourself and your organization/company/field?
Creativity is both my favorite word and value. I strongly believe in thinking outside the box if we want to make things happen. That’s what my team and I are all about. We are young, fun and super creative and we work hard to translate this energy into our everyday work. And again, if you have to create a connection with the young people you are serving, you have to be like them.
Currently UV is developing its flagship program on sexual education for young people by young people because let’s face it- sex is a sensitive topic in our socio-cultural environment, and comprehensive sexual education is missing from our educational curriculum. Additionally, most parents do not discuss sexuality with their children and the children resort to the internet for pornography as opposed to educative sexual information. When these young people don’t receive vital education about their own bodies from the right sources, they tend to make wrong decisions which often result to unplanned pregnancies, STIs/HIV, unsafe abortion, and more.
Our mantra is “Open, honest Sexuality Education” and our peer to peer approach has been proven to be one of the most effective strategies to address this issue.
What is a major challenge you encountered while building your organization and how did you overcome that experience?
I think generally when any project was an idea or at its infant stage, very few people believed in its potential or ‘raison d’etre.’ People questioned my judgement for choosing to pursue this path as opposed to finding something more “stable”-a full time job where my financial security is guaranteed. I dealt with that often and without a clear sense of purpose, I would have checked out long ago.
Moreover I started assuming leadership roles within UV from my very early 20s, and as a young woman it was hard. You have to make all these strategic calls and connections in a sub environment dominated by men. We had to deal with not being taken seriously or being courted 9 out of 10 times. I think it was even more hectic given that our area of expertise is sexual health. Men didn’t take us seriously, but assumed we would be comfortable listening to their sexual fantasies towards us and other women. Unfortunately that’s the unhealthy world we sometimes have to exist in as women and we dealt with it strategically and we are succeeding. The pressure also continues to diminish as I gain more confidence and skills in my area of work and I continue facing such situations with strength as I grow older.
Other serious challenges showed up such as building my personal capacity to raise funds and run our programs and convincing outsiders to have a vested interest in what we do. Everyday remains a challenge, but I’m happy that with time they feel less and less like challenges and more like opportunities for personal and organizational growth.
In your opinion does creating a work-life balance exist? If yes, how to you attain it?
I’m not quite sure what a work-life balance means in my case but I try to have as much me time as possible. It’s definitely never 50-50. Sometimes work is so overwhelming that it’s 80 and that’s okay, and sometimes real life takes over and it’s really beautiful, and that’s okay too. But usually my work and life schedule are in conformity as one always feels like the other. Finding and pursuing a development-related career which I am passionate about has giving new meaning to this work-life balance concept for me. I love what I do and couldn’t ask for more.
Who/What inspires you to thrive?
It’s my passion for sexual education and facilitating capacity development in this area. I could do it for no fee at all. Waking up to this reality each morning brings me to the realization that I’m a better version of myself every single day.
Secondly, surrounding myself with the right people has contributed to my personal growth. People who love me, make me feel valued, support my work and are not uncomfortable telling me how fabulous I am each day or what I should be doing better. I also stay away from toxic relationships. This approach in life keeps me covered.
Growing my program is what keeps me waking up at night and jotting down new ideas. I’m working on developing new models for our interventions. I am also looking forward to being a strong social entrepreneur in this coming year.
For more on Mallah and the United Vision organization please visit uvcameroon.org