Refute of Impersonal Professionalism
Celebrating Women's History Month by writing a new kind of history
For the sake of so-called professionalism, we often don’t discuss how we are a family-run organization. I work with my mother, Ann, and my sister, Sara, here in the U.S. Three times a week we have a group call with our colleagues, Regina and Difna, in Kenya. Given the time difference, these calls are early in the morning in the U.S. and toward the end of their day in Kenya. One of our own small children will often interrupt, demanding to being picked up. Regina will be on a matatu or public bus on the way home from work and you can often hear the sliding of the van door open and close. Difna’s neighbors own some remarkably loud and confused roosters. Needless to say, none of us have mastered the mute button.
Professionalism, or at least the kind of western office professionalism, requires the constant minimizing of your personal life. It requires a level of sanitized uniformity where logic always supersedes love, profit over personhood. It has taken us a while to realize, but professionalism, at least in the way it is understood here in the U.S., isn’t for us. And I don't think it was created for the inclusion of women.
Our strength as an organization has always been the inclusion of our personal lives. Difna and Regina know me as a daughter and as a sister and as a colleague. When we have group meetings with the women who craft the packaging, there is no question that babies and small children will be present. We often sit under the shade of a tree. Come to think of it, sitting under a tree probably isn’t all that professional either.
Ajiri Tea Company and the Ajiri Foundation are built on relationships. To do this, one has to be open. How can we better assist the women who make the packaging if we don’t know about their lives and some of their financial challenges? And how can we expect a child to tell us their problems at home or at school if they only know us as one-dimensional authority figures? If we can envision a new kind of company—one that gives all of its profits away—then we can envision a new kind of company culture—one that puts our very humanness in the forefront.
Difna shares with all of our students that she is an orphan. She tells them each of her struggles, her grief. She presents her hardship openly and empathizes with our students deeply. Regina is one of 10 children. Many of her brothers and sisters and even her aging parents have all helped Ajiri scholars. When a scholar is in an unsafe home-life situation, they have found refuge at Regina’s parents’ rural home or her sister’s house.
This level of involvement may not be "professional," but it is profoundly personal. A lot of problems can be solved with money. But our students aren’t problems to be solved. They are children yearning to be understood. Your donations and your orders are the shade and predictability of an avocado tree under which we all can gather.
Kate, Regina, Sara, Difna, and Ann
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