Dr. Mary M. Hlalele (KILP 1), Technical Advisor in Maternal and Child Health, Johannesburg, South Africa.
This article was originally published in the January 2006 issue of the KFLA Newsletter.
Dr. Mary Hlalele is part of a team of health and development professionals providing support and direction to district health care providers serving disadvantaged populations. She promotes collaborations between health professionals and community members to ensure services are delivered within a community-specific context.
Reflects Mary, ”I have a long-standing commitment to community-based health care development programs in which health professionals and community members work collaboratively to promote social equity as a means of improving the well-being of citizens.”
Despite the breadth of her official engagements in health care, serving in leadership positions in small district hospitals, national associations, as well as international organizations, Mary adheres to the same principles and values that she upholds when dealing with family, neighbors, and friends.
She explains, ”Assuming the role of leader simply defines and recognizes me, at home or at work, as someone who may see a problem, a need, or an opportunity, and then does something about it. The essence is in the doing: making something good happen, somehow improving the situation, or improving the circumstance.”
She adds: ”I believe that my leadership capability and impact is determined and influenced more directly by the environment within which I am operating, and less so by the title the job gives me.”
Mary points to her assistance with placing Operation Crossroads Africa volunteers in the rural area of ha Ntlama in Lesotho as an example of how she has helped make a difference. Initially, she worked with community members to identify and prioritize local needs in preparation for receiving their volunteers. She then helped oversee the volunteers’ efforts in conducting educational sessions on HIV/AIDS, in assisting in local clinics, in teaching English to local youth, and other roles.
Mary recounts, ”At this stage, five years after the first group of OCA volunteers stayed in the village, the community members no longer need assistance with updating their priority areas, hence, I’ve significantly reduced my visits to the village. Follow-up meetings and workshops with the community members have shown a far stronger sense of unity among the people than was ever the case before. Most importantly,” she says, ”lifelong friendships have been established between the volunteers and community members. This is a good demonstration of the fact that leadership is interchangeable with followership.”