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After completing my first week of work at Sonke Gender Justice, the differences between the work culture here versus in the United States are clear; really, they were clear after the second day. Aside from the fact that the pace is much slower and the pressure is eased, I noticed something else. Something new and refreshing, which I welcomed with open arms. I saw (and continue to see) that at Sonke, people don’t just work — they learn.

There is a constant desire to improve based on new information being discussed. In just my first week, I was involved in two different trainings which took place over multiple days, one surrounding HIV and AIDS and another which discussed power dynamics and gender. My entire unit was invited and encouraged to attend these trainings, which emphasize the importance the organization places on using knowledge as a tool for continued growth. At the training regarding gender and power, members of the unit and I were sitting around in a circle discussing the aspects of our own lives and cultures that were rooted in sexism. From discussing childhood games to female genital mutilation and virginity tests done on young women before marriage, the staff highlighted these sources of inequality in an open discussion, each person learning from the next. I felt as though I was back in a classroom, in the best possible way.

Fundamentally, this strategy makes sense, especially when thinking about my unit. I shouldn’t be surprised that the Community Education and Mobilization team prioritizes educating one another — but I was. I can’t say that I have experience in NGO work or in corporate America, but as far as I know, it doesn’t seem that American companies adopt such an environment of constant education. There seems to be a tacit rule in the States that an employee should be all-knowing, which leads to individual façades of all-knowingness (as this quality can never be actualized). This, of course, isn’t true of every American workplace. I do, however, think it is especially be true of a lot of Duke’s students, many of whom do end up working high-level jobs in American organizations and companies. Because we have been over-achievers all our lives, we struggle to accept that there are things — many things — which we get wrong or just don’t know. Though we hold ourselves up to high standards, we rarely admit our yearning to do better publicly. We hide it using the all-too-common guise of “effortless perfection.” Sonke has been a shining, refreshing example of a work space that encourages the acknowledgment and correction of ignorance. It’s shown me that education within an organization leads to innovation which eventually leads to flourishment. It can only ever create to positive change.

This humility within Sonke — the general acceptance that there is room to learn and improve — lends a sense of warmth and safety to the office. While I could be consistently on-edge and nervous about my performance, I’m not. I feel as though I have a support system, though I only met my co-workers a week ago. I’m lucky to be in this environment where I consider my role to be more like a student than like an employee; just like my coworkers, I’m constantly learning and improving. Like Sonke itself, I hope to keep growing with the education I receive every day, whether in the office or within communities. This new perspective has shown me that it’s okay not to know all the answers; it’s good even. It keeps things interesting.