Blessing Lulwama Masola is an award-winning social worker who is passionate about mental health and recently scooped a ZimTrade Social Impact 2022 award.
“Surprisingly, I’m an introvert who mostly keeps to herself socially,” Blessing told The Weight She Carries. “But I have a big heart for working with people and having a positive impact on them.”
Blessing is also a businesswoman who describes herself as a lover of nature and a bookworm. We reached out to Blessing to find out about her social impact, books and her foundation.
Tell us more about your passion on mental health. What drives you?
My passion for mental health is founded on my social work and psychology background, and it was fuelled in 2016-17 when I worked at a substance abuse rehabilitation centre in South Africa. At this point I came to understand that some people who use substances don’t just use them for pleasure and fun, but they have serious issues that they either want to cope with or escape from. From then on, I was so interested in finding out and learning more on understanding what fuels people’s behaviours and decisions, and I wanted to share my findings with everyone and help people to cope with life’s challenges and joys in a positive way.
What drives me is that mental health has somewhat been an unwalked road, or taboo, especially in the African context. I just want to normalize conversations around mental health in Africa, bring an understanding and walk the taboo path. When people appreciate, understand or have an ‘aha’ moment after a conversation or interaction with me, I just want to share more or do more in spreading awareness about mental health issues.
Tell us about your books Home Away From Home and Dealing With Grief.
So earlier this year, I took part in the ZimTrade Eagle’s Nest Incubators Program, and one of our tasks was to take our businesses or initiatives up a notch.
I have always been a bookworm, and some books have had a huge impact on me, and I thought it would be a great way to reach people far and wide. I choose to start writing the booklets when I realized there are a lot of unspoken (taboo) issues, especially in the African context.
Home Away From Home looks at migration of students, workers and families and the impact this has on the migrants. Mostly, people are only financially prepared for travel but never emotionally prepared for what could be ahead of them. I have been an international student, and the first part of Home Away From Home talks about my journey and experiences to better prepare students who are considering studying away from home.
Dealing With Grief also touches on a lot of sensitive issues looking at grief in the African context and how some practices continue to affect individuals and families long after the burial is done. I talk about how the boy child is not allowed to grieve, sitting on the mattress, taking away the deceased’s property, leaving the family with nothing and also taking children from one relative to another to be raised by these relatives.
How do your books relate to your personal life?
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been an international student, and nothing could have prepared me for the journey ahead of me. No one spoke to me about being homesick or not having enough money for a decent meal. No one shared their experiences with me of how different cultures could have an effect on my mental health and how trying to fit in could potentially cause more harm. I went to university blindly, probably thinking that it would be a walk in the park, but reality hit hard.
Home Away From Home: The Student’s Companion is my journey, experiences and perspectives on how prospective students can prepare mentally, socially and financially to minimize their mental health being compromised.
Dealing With Grief: An African Perspective is based on the fact that [for] as long as I can remember, I have witnessed and experienced the death of close friends and family. And for my closest family, some of the African practices have had a direct impact on me. Not a lot of people talk about these practices, and they continue to have an effect on the surviving family members. It’s a booklet filled with unspoken issues, and I try to bring to light how these practices that we have normalized as Africans actually go on and give birth to a lot of mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety, panic attacks, addiction and suicide.
I’ve experienced some aspects I talk about in both booklets, and instead of keeping the experiences to myself, I choose to speak out about them in writing so that we can normalize having conversations about these taboos and break the stigmas associated with them.
Tell us more about the Blessing Foundation.
Blessing Foundation – just the thought of how far we’ve come makes me smile. The idea came to me during the hard COVID lockdown. I was part of a group where I’d organize weekly talk shows, and from there, people would relate so much with the topics discussed, and they’d want to come to my inbox to share their experiences.
So during this time, I was back home from South Africa, having completed my studies, and I was unemployed (I had worked in a few organizations in Zimbabwe).
When more and more people were approaching me, I just thought, “You know what? This is actually an initiative that could work, where I have seminars or talks for groups of people and also offer counselling services for those in need.”
I did this for a while from my mobile phone then people started opening up to the idea of coming to my house to talk face to face. And then as the demand and the name grew, I got a central place open for counselling sessions. Blessing Foundation is driven by both my passion and the people. There is so much need to talk about, a lot of issues from childhood trauma right up to the retiring age, and the foundation is the voice for such conversations and a healing platform for those who pursue our one-on-one sessions too.
How do you balance work life and family, considering your busy schedule?
Balancing my work life, family and personal life is very vital to me as I know that I cannot pour from an empty cup. I make sure I take as much time to rest, do what I enjoy and spend with family as much as possible. I also take a lot of personal life by spending time in nature or sightseeing. I find this extremely rejuvenating.
My practice is both online and face-to-face, so sometimes to maintain the balance, I go off-line for a certain period and limit my social media use. I’ve taught myself not to be afraid to say, “No. Right now I’m not able to do this and that. I can refer you to so-and-so.”
When I started, and before the name grew, I took every client that came my way, but my personal and family life suffered. But right now I prioritize myself as well, as I am human too, and my mental health is just as important.
What is your advice to women especially those going through mental health issues?
My advice to women going through mental health issues is that even [though] the world is teaching us to be strong, imbokodo, we are human, and we are not exempt from issues that hurt us to the core. Let us not mask our experiences and emotions, fearing that we will be seen as weak. But there is so much strength in admitting where we are weak, where we are pained and where we need help, and it takes a lot of courage to stand up and talk to someone about what we go through.
As women, we take care of everyone else but hide our own needs behind our makeup. I encourage us to get out there, take off the mask and admit where we need help and talk to someone if we have to. We cannot pour from empty cups. Let us support each other as women and be each others’ genuine sister’s keeper.