Empowerment – a trendy word, isn’t it? What’s actually behind it in everyday life? Back in 1985 James C. Scott, professor at Yale University pointed out ‘power inevitably generates resistance, accommodation and strategic compliance as regular components of the politics of everyday life’. What is essential to me is what you do with power. I came to learn about it the hard away. And I am grateful for that.
I was looking for a babysitter for my baby upon her first anniversary. Had a long list and a short list of candidates, interviewed several. At the back of my mind there was a name – a lady I knew since I was 5 years old. She used to be a caregiver in a kinder garden, two kids of her own, lived with an abusive and violent husband. She left their home once but returned upon his persistence only to live worse beatings. I followed her news only through common acquaintances.
I gave her a call. A shadow of the lively person I remembered from my childhood came to see me. We had tee in a coffee house and talked. I asked her whether she is ready to go back to work with kids (she had other jobs in the meantime). She told me she has to consult with her husband. Fine, if you have to, was my answer. She gave me a call the next day to confirm that she is coming as of next week. I took time off to let her and my baby adjust to each other, meaning I was constantly around for 3 months. I offered to pay her twice the market price for her services, in the name of ‘the best for my kid’ and out of pity for her situation. She could have rented a flat and started divorce procedures. Her two daughters , adults now, have left the house as teenagers and now even live abroad, as far as possible from the horror they lived in. One of them is disabled for life as a result of that life.
This empowerment mission of mine ended badly. I have not imagined the extent of harm her soul and mind have undergone.
My baby, who never cried during her first year of life, started shouting and biting. We also became very tense in her presence. She was constantly challenging me as a mother and wife – on the account I was still a ‘five year old girl’ she knew from past. Deceiving is how she avoided and prevented violence in her house so she started applying this tactics with us. Needless to mention the impact this had on my kid. She wanted us to accommodate to and comply with her strategies… I was extremely furious at first, then I realized that she cannot be saved if she does not want to. If I think she lives in hell and she thinks she lives in heaven, I cannot change that. It’s a choice she made. I am powerless if she is powerless.
In was on the forth day after I restarted work that I ended our experience paying her in full and compensating for early dismissal. The bright thing about this experience is that now five women in need found employment with me. And they are happy about it. They change their lives and the lives of their kids. I am happy to have them around me and my kid. Each of them teaches me every day about loyalty, generosity, kindness. That unfortunate experience has not stopped me from sharing and empowering. The only constant I am looking for is awareness of power they have and willingness to do good, to themselves and others.
In December 2009, Marina Sturdza was attacked in Bucharest by two kids, 9 and 10 years old, when she was returning from a charity event where she managed to raise 100, 000 Euro for children in need. In her post-attack interview, she said she was not at all discouraged by the acts of the two street kids. On the contrary, she said, it shows how much still remains to be done. Clear cut lesson learned, Princess!