• Jenna Allen


Image: Na Kim

I’m lucky enough to work with some of the most unbelievable people I’ve ever met. A group of strong, brilliant, impassioned individuals, who are entirely committed to changing the world. Men and women who have sacrificed so much to be at the forefront of transforming South African civil society. Who left the countries they grew up in to be here.  Who raise children (sometimes alone) all while being constantly engaged in issues of equality, justice, the law and democracy (and so, so much more, every single day). Who work seven days a week, and anywhere between 10 and twenty hours a day. Who gave up the big bucks to work for an NGO. Who have battled poverty, inequality and the most difficult of circumstances to be here. Several of them have lived through South Africa’s darkest days, and yet, many years down the line, remain hopeful and dedicated. And many of them are still young, and despite living through some of the most difficult experiences imaginable, are forever resilient and feel obligated to play a role in this much-needed change. They are a group of people who defy what society would classify as regular, because each and every day, they wake up in the morning and decide to continue fighting, no matter what. And at the end of the day, they come together and talk about how fucked up the world is over a drink, because that’s what families do. They survive, together.

When I was first diagnosed, after considering what my family and friends would say, my mind quickly turned to how my new work family would react. I had only been there for a few months, and had a long way to go in proving myself.

A woman who has become like a second, third, fourth (I’ve lost count at this point) mother to me assured me that I would beat this, and that she would remain by my side. I’m difficult at the best of times and through it all, she’s put up with me constantly pushing back and being defiant. And continues to, to this very day.

A woman, with whom I had had very little interaction with at that point, very nearly brought me to tears (and I generally do not cry) by listening intently as I told her how terrified I was, and has spent endless hours almost every day talking me through my experience, and sharing parts of her own life with me.

A man who was like an enigma to me immediately opened up and shared a series of incredibly powerful stories with me, and has relentlessly showered with me with admiration and adoration, without even realising that the feeling is entirely mutual.And then there are the others. The one who distracts me with his musings on sporting philosophy over a slice of cake. The one who sees the bright side to everything and has the ability to make anyone smile. The one who has rediscovered a passion for writing, change and advocacy. The one who, despite being of a different generation to me assures me that I’m teaching her things she didn’t even think to consider at my age, and listens to me as I discuss my outlook on life and death. The one who helps me literally scale mountains and always find new adventures for us to embark on. The one who has shared his own story of a loss of control over his own physicality and continues to inspire me with his seemingly easy ability to adapt. The ones who smile at me each time I walk through the door, which regularly sets my day in positive motion. The one who reminds me that the journey to finding the love of your life is often a series of comical and hilarious coincidences, and puts up with me even when I’m moody and we have a six-hour drive ahead of us. The one who has become like another sister to me, has shared intimate details of her own experience of living with cancer, and who continuously reminds me that there is life amidst all of this. And the list goes on and on and on.

If you know anything about any of them, and the work that we do, you’ll know that every single person who is a collective gem to society. You’ll also know that we frequently celebrate Fat Kid Friday, enjoy an occasional phuza, spend a lot of our time reading, writing and debating race, intersectionality, justice and equality,  and take lots of selfies on our work trips. Not only are we actively trying to fight inequality and ensure the complete access of rights to all, we’re also able to laugh, smile and enjoy much of our time together.

They have taught me so much about the world, about the law and about right, wrong, and everything between. About learning to (try and connect) with people whose lives are so entirely different from my own. About commonality, shared experiences, love, literature, parenting, integrity and happiness.

And this is part of why I know everything is going to be okay, because no matter what happens, I have an extra 30-something people in my corner. I may not be close to all of them, and we may not all know a lot about each other, but I know that I’ll always have their support, and because of that, I’ve been able to experience the joy of unexpected luck.