“Welcome to Charlotte. Is it clean for you?" This was the warm greeting as I was ushered to the next available toilet stall, all as I navigated my carry-on luggage and handbag through the restroom. A soft spoken voice, warmed by a tinge of a French accent, was asking me (and all the women that entered the toilet) if the toilet stall which was about to be used, was clean enough. Her hands well secured in white gloves, a pink bow in her natural, well secured strands of hair and her shoes, clean and neat, her feet were securely planted on the floor of the toilet that was her work-space at Concourse “D” of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina. In her hands was a roll of toilet paper with which she diligently wiped each toilet seat clean, after use by every single one of her “guests”. Who was this incredibly caring woman? It piqued my curiosity as I was caught up using the “girls room”. Listening to her every interaction with a “God bless you” after every departing user and a “thank you very much ma'am” after any reciprocating kind user offered her a tip. My curiosity got the better of me, while I was washing my hands, as she came by each used sink and wiped it dry with a smile on her humble face all this time. Knowing that I was not going to leave without giving her a compliment and engaging a conversation, I waited for a slower moment (which she was actually using to do some extra tidying up) and I asked her “may I take a photo with you?” This young woman was excited by my request and immediately stood beside me with a huge warm smile on her face. What is your name? I asked, to which she responded in her elegant tone of voice – “My name is Francine”
I want to introduce you to my new friend Francine. This is no ordinary woman and by far she is the most joyous woman as she does her work with loads of pride. As my usual curious thoughts got wrapped up in what motivated this woman, I wondered if she ever had any hard days. And then I asked her a few more questions and I almost instantly understood her joy of service came from a far deeper place. My new friend Francine is from the Democratic Republic of Congo and had been living in the USA for two years. Before coming to America, she lived for 12 years in South Africa. Francine is also a mother and her caring and commitment was not masked. Francine was by no means ashamed of her work, nor was she weary of my interest in her.
My presence in her work-space, coupled with seeing Francine in her selflessness of service to human beings from all around the world, was simply humbling. Meeting Francine was almost the topping on the cake for me, as I was returning from a retreat where Vital Voices and Johnson and Johnson had honoured me and 99 of my global peers as the VV100. In their esteem our cohort of female global women leaders and advocates, were doing exceptional work in our countries to create social impact that was reaching the wider world and they wanted to recognize us publicly and coach us with other accomplished women leaders and peers like Alyse Nelson, Tina Brown, Kathleen Matthews, Suaad Allami, Lynn Seth, Lauren Seroyer, Hafsat Abiola, Sandra Peterson, Kah Walla, Elsa Dsilva and Priti Patkar. Being one of those 100 women was by no means a small accomplishment for me and as a leader and advocate for women and girls breast health, it was also very heart warming to see the pink ribbon bow, so neatly tied and visible in Francine’s hair; symbolic of the advocacy for breast cancer awareness which is my daily work at Ms. Brafit, my social enterprise. My presence now seemed so minuscule as I watched Francine interact with every single guest to her chambers. Her passion, mission and humility to a similar mission of serving humanity, was done with such confidence. How could I ever ignore what this gentle and noble woman was doing? Especially akin to my global peers, she had transcended borders and language barriers to make a difference in the world. Francine was again a gentle reminder of how so many of us refuse to do the work that seems demeaning and beneath us, whilst this amazing young, warm hearted woman had not only taken up the mantle for her selflessness and humane caring soul but was not content if the toilet which her guest was about to use was not clean enough for use. All the while, I probably would never have noticed if it was clean “enough”. She never even gave anyone a chance to notice if it was even imaginarily dirty, as she briskly made it seem as if no one was there before.
Francine brought me to a humbling space again as I made my way towards my departure gate and in my usually relentless manner of getting the bigger picture (literally this time), I turned around and felt that I had to go back to visit Francine one more time. This time, I wanted to take a photo of her without me in it. One more shot that exemplified her humility in her space, which was traversed by so many and that so many of us would scorn, condemn and disregard as being a place to be happy or a job for anyone to be this enthusiastic with every single new person that came in. I grew up when the “village” raised the child and in my humble community of Barataria in Trinidad, there were many women who helped shape me. One such was a very respected midwife who had delivered many of the babies in our community - we called her Mom Scott. She said to me “treat your job kindly and it will treat you kindly” and in my tender teenage years preceding my working career, it remained embedded and still to this day in my 40’s it remains so relevant. This time I had a woman as a visual testimony before me and she had a name. Her name is Francine and I will never be the same after meeting her. I'm thankful to Vital Voices and the vision of Madeline Albright and Hillary Clinton, for every single opportunity that I have, for amplifying the women who impact my life from around the world. As a VV100 Woman, it is also my duty to raise other women.