Though I am passionate about serving the needs of communities in Colorado, one of the most important lessons I learned about leadership took place at the Police Hospital in Accra, Ghana during my semester abroad Fall 2011. October 24 was a day that pushed me to my limits and taught me the value of compassion, which is a lesson I’ve used countless times since in my various leadership roles. This is also the day that community service became cemented in my future agenda, wherever I land.
Mr. Okyere had been a patient in the Male Ward since my first day. On October 24 I watched in frustration as my charge died of a completely preventable, treatable disease: Tuberculosis. His breathing was severely diminished this morning and I remember the feeling when I learned this hospital didn’t have a single breathing device. I took his hand and sat down next to him, hoping his wife would come in time to say goodbye. She didn’t, and Mr. Okyere died holding my hand. The nurses chastised me for holding his hand as he slipped away and for the tears I shed once he was gone. Needless death is a fact of life they learned long ago.
I know it isn’t healthy to think of life in terms of what is fair, since life seems far from egalitarian. Love and compassion, luckily, are not allocated socio-economically or geographically, but are boundless if we permit ourselves to feel them. Staying with Mr. Okyere was tough. That scene haunts me to this day but I wouldn’t change my actions if I could. The feeling I had holding his hand was that of the bigger picture, the bond of humanity. Mr. Okyere affirmed my zeal to help people. I do not know what the future holds for me, but I know that I am prepared to serve my community and make a difference simply because I’ve learned to care.
Since returning from Ghana, I lead by example: with love, compassion, and understanding. I have had to make plenty of hard decisions in my leadership roles, but I have found that even the hardest line is softened when its origins are noble. I believe I’m a more effective leader because I care about the people I work with, the communities I seek to serve, and the missions I work for. I care because I’ve experienced the horror of a situation that failed to support a man the way he deserved in his dying moments.
Look for Cecelia's blog again next month!