Sustaining our creative communities through connection

As part of IAM’s #CommunitiesofCare reflection, we asked ourselves “how do we reformulate who we are as a creative community, holding onto the best parts of who we are as we work remotely?” Two IAM staff tackled this question, reflecting on how they are continuing to work collaboratively without in-person connection, and how they are keeping that creativity alive. Issues around connection, disconnection and reconnection are important not just to our work lives at this time of crisis, but are also questions we should ask ourselves as we move to reconstruct our “normal”.

Ecclesia de Lange, IAM Director:

The current pandemic has abruptly called us to a halt with an invitation to consider our ways of being, doing and engaging.  This has not been an easy process to embrace as it has been accompanied by uncertainty into the unknown future. I’ve thought about three steps that have helped me to connect with my colleagues where we are and to keep that creative spark alive in our work, while giving ourselves the grace to be in the moment. Perhaps they can be of help to others: 

Acknowledging where we are 

I have found it helpful to acknowledge where we find ourselves as an organisation in the current pandemic. It has been 25 years since the organisation’s inception, and we have been part of the growth and expansion of IAM’s footprint in the region. Over the last three years we have found new creative momentum and energy for our work and team, which were suddenly stopped by elements out of our control. When the SA President announced that a nationwide lockdown would be implemented from 26 March, we were able to make quick and clear decisions. Within a few days, the IAM team was equipped to work remotely to at least be able to connect during this period.  

Creating space to adjust

The next stage for us was to give one another the space and time to adjust to a “new normal” of working from home. In some ways this is an ongoing process as we all differ in how we respond to crisis in confined spaces (our family units and needs vary). Again this process was and still is accompanied with uncertainty, anxiety, depression, moments of madness and many questions – how will we cope, how will my family adjust, how productive will we be, the sustainability of the organisation, how will we complete contracted activities, where and how can we assist, what will the future look like…? This process is paradoxical and unprecedented – embracing our feelings and questions in some way grounds us in the reality of now, and in other ways giving ourselves or surrendering to this process is letting go of what we know and how we work and settling into a space of free-falling. Our weekly team check-in meeting has offered a safety net, as well as a space where we can reconnect to our voice and express where we find ourselves, share ideas, concerns, and hopes.  

Engage in a process of a renewal and resilience

In acknowledging that we do not have control over the outcome or timing of the lockdown, we have the opportunity to reflect, reevaluate and reshape our work within communities and the region – to think out of the box, to identify our resources, what we are good at, what we need to develop, what are the things that keep us stuck and how can we connect collectively and collaboratively in meaningful ways going forward.  Embracing this process has challenged and renewed our faith and resilience. We look forward to seeing how we will emerge from the transformation that this process will bring.

Thuli Mjwara, IAM Process Coordinator:

Be open to change

In a time of COVID-19, face-to-face engagements have been replaced with Zoom meetings and more reliance on technology to keep in touch. The severe inequalities which are the aftermaths of Apartheid are highlighted by those who are facing the harsh realities of running out of food, sharing cramped living space, and the anxiety of surviving to the end of the month. The need for organisations to adapt is challenging – the harsh reality of delivering on outputs as agreed on in donor contracts increases anxiety for staff who now have to work remotely without the necessary resources. Outreach activities focusing on sensitisation are being remodeled and reallocated to provide support in the form of food parcels and funds to cover data costs to reach out to those needing online counseling and support. This is coupled with providing countless educational resources in every language to create awareness about how to reduce risks of infections. 

So, the question remains, how does one remain productive whilst facing a global pandemic?

Connecting as a source of motivation

People respond to and deal with stress in a variety of ways. Some dive headfirst into work (like Shakespeare who wrote King Lear whilst in self-isolation from the plague), whilst others melt into tears or sink into an abyss of depression. As humans, social interaction and relationships are important, yet I believe working remotely does not mean that one remains lonely. Reflecting on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, once we know we have a roof over our heads, food for our bellies, (and, if updated, this includes data and internet access on our technological gizmos), then relationships are the next needs. Constant check-ins with teammates and fellow activists and students are important to help raise one’s spirit and motivation. Being able to have a 15-45 minute video call does wonders for me as I listen to others’ stories of how they are surviving, and I am able to debrief my experiences. I had a Zoom session with classmates recently and it was such a relief to hear that we were all struggling with academic work and that it is fine to not aspire to ‘Shakespearian levels’ of productivity as we are facing this global pandemic. As we were listening to each other share our anxieties and emotional stress, we reached consensus: our own wellness takes first priority.

Lessons in self care

Patience with myself and others is a skill that I am sharpening during self-isolation. Importantly, I am accepting what I can do and cannot do. I have learnt not to push myself to a mental breakdown, and I am working on my wellness and establishing boundaries between work and social times. I switch off my laptop at the end of a working day so that I am not tempted to respond to the emails flooding in; I spend time with family and don’t work on weekends, even if I feel bored. Balance is very important and this period has given to us all as an opportunity to redefine what we can and cannot achieve. Be open to the change.

Be open to change, that is what this period is calling out to us. It is time to rebuild our connections and relationships and distance ourselves from those that cause more harm than good. Reconnect from a place of kindness, care and love. That is how a community of care can survive, that is how we will survive the social isolation by reconnecting from a position of kindness, care and love.

We’d love to hear any thoughts you have on connection and maintaining creative communities during this challenging time. You can click here to send us a note, or engage with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.