Last weekend was not just marked by a farewell to Nelson Mandela in my circles, but also another great leader. When going up to Ballycastle to volunteer with a youth group in Corrymeela, I was told that there would be a farewell for our community leader, Inderjit. After two years of being the leader (CEO) of the community, Inderjit proposed new structural changes to the way the organisation was ran, and they were accepted. However, just as he said in his speech, Inderjit was the kind of person who was not there to hang on to power, but knew when to step down. Given that some of his suggestions were acknowledged, he mentioned he was not fired, he did not resign or retire, but was simply moving on.
This decision had a great impact on me. When I first arrived in Corrymeela I was coming from a very small organisation, a different culture, where I worked in a very small group. I knew everything from financial accounts, history, the lives of those who built the organisation who were and still are like my family, all their projects and visions for the future. When I arrived in Corrymeela I came into a very large organisation, a complex system, with so many people that it was hard to even get to remember the names of the volunteers I lived and worked with, not to mention staff, community members and associates. However, few days after I arrived I was in the queue to get lunch and an elderly man who looked of Indian origin had come to talk to me. He asked about my life, how I came there, how I was doing, and said it was a pleasure to have me there. When I said I was still adjusting he gave me a hug and said I was the kind of person that would do well in Corrymeela. When I sat down to have my lunch I asked who the man was, thinking he was a visitor, or a group member. I was told he was the leader of the Community. I was so surprised of how much attention this man had paid to me, and how he talked to me, considering I was just a volunteer for a few months there. Also, waiting for everyone else to get lunch and staying at the back of the queue.
As I stayed on in Corrymeela, I realised Inderjit was a very wise man. I did adjust quickly, and I fit so well in Corrymeela that after a few years, I felt ready to become a community member and work alongside other dedicated members to work for social change in an active and passionate way.
Inderjit is what I call a great leader, perhaps more spiritual than technical. His warmth and positivity help you become more calm, and not stress so much about things. He is humble, and supportive. He knew the volunteers working on the ground, and cleaned dishes with us, gave us lifts to Corrymeela and back, supported us, regularly asked how we were feeling, and cared for us. There are so many community members I never met, or do not know, and yet the person at the very top was so concerned with our wellbeing and our thoughts and opinions. He supported me with my studies and my research. My sister always said that other than the markers, probably no one else will read your thesis, and she was right. Now, apart for those, I have two other people that read it for sure. One was my super friend Mylene who also took the time to proofread, and the other was Inderjit. His support for the volunteers could also be seen in the way his farewell card was written. There were a lot of messages in there, from so many people, however, those in the queue were complaining that the volunteers were writing “biographies”. We might have written more, and that was because we got so close to him and had so much to say.
I will miss Inderjit terribly. His inspiring words, our long conversations, his humility; his calm and loving nature, his amazing hugs that energised me and made me feel at peace, his leadership style, kind nature, and so much more. Given that there is no spiritual leader at this point here, I can’t help but think a void will be created. For sure, his leadership and personality will be hard to replace, though as in any organisation, change is necessary, and in some cases vital. Inderjit was the first non-white leader of Corrymeela, to date all the permanent roles for the leader were filled by great people, though all white, male, protestants. I feel safe to say some of us, and me in particular, are waiting for the leadership of a woman.
In Corrymeela you are confronted with many challenges. Being there is a very hard process, though no matter what you go through, goodbyes are always the worst. They’re so heartbreaking that you’ll be shattered for months. This is why it is so hard for people to let go. By leaving, Inderjit made a powerful statement. We always say “Corrymeela begins when you leave”. So many people want to stay on though, and I feel sometimes that by doing that as volunteers, we take away this amazing opportunity from other people. There are also other examples of not letting go, and not making space for new people, and this should be a lesson we all should learn from. Sometimes, the best thing we can do for this community, our community, is to take a step back and leave space for new voices and new faces. I will admit that one reason why I wanted to stay in Northern Ireland so much was because I wanted to step up and be more involved in Corrymeela. However, last Sunday, and Inderjit, taught me that leaving the place will be heartbreaking though I must let Corrymeela begin. Then I will be able to help much more than I am now, and be able to contribute in a better way.