– Wadeisor Rukato
A Conversation with Sharon Tshipa.
Suppressing a giggle, Sharon begins her self-introduction; “I always laugh when I’m interviewed! This is actually awkward, because when you are behind the scenes all the time, every time you are asked to be the subject it’s like…” at this point Sharon stops speaking and continues to laugh lightly. Her energy is bright and natural. She mentions that she is often ‘accused’ of being a laugher, something that is more than clear as we prepare to begin our conversation.
I met Sharon Tshipa when she came to Beijing as one of 100 delegates that were selected for the inaugural Yenching Global Symposium (YGS). What I knew at the time was that Sharon is a Media Practitioner, Writer and Social Entrepreneur based in Gaborone, Botswana. What I didn’t know was how incredibly driven, engaged (Sharon literally does everything!) and inspiring she is. As the second feature in the African Excellence Series focusing on the YGS, this write-up will give you initial insights into who Sharon is and what she is passionate about.
Wadeisor Rukato (WR): Please introduce yourself; what would you want the readers of the article to see in an introductory paragraph about you?
Now while Sharon could have dived into a tedious listing off of her resume, she instead chose to describe the person she is. Below are four of the ways that she described herself. We shall call this “Sharon 101”:
- I laugh even in very serious situations; I think I’m just a laugher.
- I mostly cry when I’m watching series or videos.
- I am kind and tolerant, but I struggle with patience (a little bit).
- I hate queuing.
When I asked her what her reasons for applying for the Yenching Global Symposium were, Sharon stressed how the opportunity specifically stood out in terms of what she could learn. The Symposium was also relevant to both her personal and professional aspirations. “You can’t just go to China and return with a few pictures,” she said, before describing how the Symposium was an important opportunity to share her experiences and expertise, meet new people and build strong networks with individuals who can add value to her work. “I’ve realized that when you talk to people, you get to understand how they think about the things that you think about,” she said, before continuing on to describe how the sharing of ideas among different people is incredibly important for the process of problem-solving.
WR: Were you able to have the kinds of meaningful engagements you had anticipated?
Sharon Tshipa (ST): Yes I did. For example, I spoke to Curwyn Mapaling, one of the delegates from South Africa, who is into health related issues. When I left home I was organising a workshop for the Botswana Society for Human Development (BSHD), the NGO I co-founded, with the intention of focusing on mental health, mental illnesses, and intellectual disabilities. These themes are closely related to what Curwyn does. I invited him to speak at the workshop and he said he would consider it and also refer us to a friend who can help. So now I have a potential speaker for my workshop, which is something I didn’t have before coming to the Symposium.
“I like being practical about the things I do, I don’t like just attending things and not seeing tangible results and outcomes”. Sharon then went on to mention conversations she had with Rebecca Peters (a YGS delegate from the United States of America) and Mona Selah (a YGS delegate from Egypt), describing the very practical collaboration projects that she has brainstormed with each of them.
WR: In four words, describe your first impressions of China, or Beijing?
ST: My impressions are probably biased because of how excited I was about travelling to China. That said, my five words or first impressions are: 1) Clean, extremely clean. 2) Beautiful; the city has excellent infrastructure. 3) Peaceful; for some reason I felt safe here, which isn’t a feeling one gets when they travel to a lot of other places. Strangely, it almost felt like being in Botswana. 4) People are super friendly, and the Yenching Scholars oh my word! They are polite, patient and really helpful. Sometimes I would make requests feeling like I may be pushing the boundaries of what is reasonable, but the kind and accommodating responses I got really humbled me! The Yenching Scholars definitely went the extra mile when it came to being hospitable and helpful. All of these factors tie into the theme of the Symposium “China meets the world, the world comes to China”.
WR: What are your perceptions of China’s relations with Botswana?
ST: I would describe China’s current relations with Botswana as good. There was a time when public complaints were made against poor quality infrastructure development and increasing competition for business opportunities between Chinese immigrants and locals. All those issues have, however, since been resolved. China has relations with at least 50 African countries, and given the outcomes of last year’s Forum for China-Africa Cooperation Summit (FOCAC) where China pledged $60 billion toward Africa’s development, it is clear that China-Africa relations are not getting any weaker.
WR: In wrapping up, where do you see yourself in the next five years?
ST: I have an NGO and I would like to see it extremely stable and doing very well. In the near future, I am also interested in attaining my Ph.D. and entering academia as a lecturer. If I was to describe the person I want to be when I die, I would want to be a lecturer, a published writer, and a very successful social entrepreneur!
Read here to find out more about the work that Sharon is doing through her NGO, the Botswana Society for Human Development. Sharon also has short stories published in Brittle Paper, Deyu African, StoryMondo, The African Street Writer, The Kalahari Review, and Running Out of Ink online publications. Click here to read “as little ones do”, her short story that won the 2013 Kola Magazine Award in Nigeria.