Doreen Nyamwija shares lessons learned through working at the Iona Centres, Scotland
Iona is a very special place, but we all know it is the people who make the place even more special. It amazes me how wonderful people are; I have learned so much from being on Iona. Sometimes you think, 'Well, I have been here for a few years now', but every single day is a new opportunity for learning. With different tourists, new staff and new guests every week, there is so much to learn and hold onto.
This year, I have worked with one of the most amazing people I have ever met (to date of course) and one amongst many. It was not always easy but a learning curve. As soon as the first group of volunteers arrived, I learnt that one of them had Asperger's syndrome. I did not know much about what this meant, but he was amazing. He told me everything I needed to know about his experience of living with the condition.
One day, when we were both working, he told me how he liked things done in a certain way and that routine and order were very important to him. I understood this and made sure he always had proper instructions. I also told him to ask me as many questions as he needed to whenever he did not understand something.
Later, he upset some volunteers who could not understand why he always wanted things done his way, sometimes changing around things if they were not done quite the way he wanted. I understood him and understood them but did not know how to make sure they understood and got on with each other.
I tried to explain to the other volunteers, and I tried to explain to him. I used examples that I thought would be quite simple to understand, saying, 'When you are walking in a group, as we do on a [weekly] pilgrimage, some people are used to walking very fast, others not as fast, but when it is supposed to be a walk for the whole group, both parties must make an effort to get to a compromise so that they are not too slow or too fast!'
I also said, 'Because we are a team, sometimes someone else may set the beakers in different colours when you would prefer them to match. When this is done, do not change them, but when you are the one setting the table, next time, you can match them as you would like. For teamwork to happen, there has to be compromise. We sometimes have to let people do what they like, even when it is not what we would prefer.'
I was not sure whether any of this would actually work, but surprisingly, it did, and by the end of our time together, we had built a team. It was not that they started liking what the others were doing, but there was a higher level of acceptance and compromise.
The biggest learning curve for me and the other volunteers came when it was time to say goodbye to the volunteer with Asperger's syndrome. He told us how we had given him a chance to work with us despite the differences and difficulties he felt that he had caused. He said that he had not often had opportunities to do this and that this had been the best part of his life.
Doreen Nyamwija holds a business degree in entrepreneurship and for four years worked as the head housekeeper for the MacLeod Centre on the Isle of Iona, Scotland. She has established a charity providing accessible toilets for schools across Uganda, and she is currently working to build an accessible bed and breakfast for locals and visitors in Uganda, where she lives with her husband and their two children. To find out more about her B&B project and how to support it, visit the website here or email her at Nyamwijadoreen@gmail.com.
This piece is an excerpt from Doreen's book Never Give Up: My Life Story from Uganda to Iona (Cloister House Press, 2017).
Doreen's piece 'Servant Leadership in Community' was published on Foreshadow in May 2021.