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The Tutu Fellows relish the time to connect with one another beyond the obvious connections through sector-related and work orientated opportunities and collaborations. While these are powerful ways for the network to deepen our impact across the continent and sharpen our understanding and nuances of each country, it is the building of relationships that glue the Fellows together.

Friday 29th June was a powerful and much-needed time for Fellows to connect, reflect and communicate about our experiences during the Covid 19 pandemic. It was led by 2006 Tutu Fellow Judy Malan, who facilitated a session to enable us to reflect on how we have responded to lockdown, both personally and as a leader. She touched on the different emotions we might have been processing, those of fear, hope and optimism as well as natural patterns we might default too - pessimist, optimist or realist.

Focusing our attention on the Stockdale Paradox, and the merits of acknowledging your own situation while trying to balance both optimism and realism, is a useful tool to be able to navigate and survive these trying times as leaders. Taking us through the five mind traps - Identity, Simple Stories, Rightness, Agreement and Control - set the scene for our group sessions, where we were able to check in with each other and share which mind trap resonated most.

I personally found the experience in my small group very cathartic. One of the members shared how a previous devastating experience had built resilience to tackle this crisis, and how her community had greater understanding of her experience, now confronted with lockdown themselves. Another posed the question of how we might emerge from lockdown now that we have assimilated to a new way of living, not wanting to disrupt this new normal. I found that after acknowledging deep fear of the unknown and coming to terms with not being in control, that I was able to immerse myself deeper into my spiritual practice and mine some underlying questions that needed confronting, hence surrendering to new elements of my identity.

But the experience shared by 2016 Fellow Peter Ajak opened up an entirely different perspective on lock down and the things we have been contemplating during COVID-19, such as loss, privilege, access, courage, confinement, time frames, family and so much more. Peter is a man deeply admired by the Tutu Fellows and was detained and imprisoned in South Sudan for two years. He was pardoned and released on the presidential decree on the 2nd January 2020. Seeing this mans tear-streaked face on screen, hearing his voice crack with emotion as he shared first-hand his encounters in solitary confinement and what he endured during those years of injustice was deeply moving. The toll of the physical and psychological trauma is inconceivable, when imagining the loss of not experiencing your child’s entrance into the world, your fellow inmates being executed, and the time lost with family and friends that can never be regained. To endure all this, only to come out of prison and be confronted by COVID-19, and the death of several family members due to coronavirus, leaves one speechless.

Words fall short in describing this moment, time stood still, a silence enveloped the space, our tears merged from a myriad of different countries across the continent, and every ounce of love oozed out from the depth of our soul’s to comfort hold and surround Peter and his wife!

It was Judy’s soothing voice, like a healing balm that gently brought the session to a close. I am sure I speak for all participants when I express my gratitude to Judy and Jackie for facilitating a deeply engaging session, creating the space for authentic sharing, and to Peter Ajak for his vulnerability and courage. I continue to process the session, sitting with the discomfort and acknowledging the mixed feelings that arise, but better equipped to deal with them. May we continue to journey together and draw on each other for support during these extremely trying times. I am grateful to be on the road with each of you.

Yours in the journey, Tracey

AFLI note: This is a personal account from 2007 Tutu Fellow Tracey Webster of a Zoom meeting arranged by AFLI for the Fellowship to reflect on the personal impact of COVID-19 and to look ahead. Tracey is the CEO of the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust and a former CEO of AFLI.