African Leadership Academy & Overall Takeaways

“As is anything, African Leadership Academy (ALA) was not perfect, I wouldn’t even call it a wonderfully fun experience, but it definitely ranks as top 5 on the most valuable experiences of this trip. They kept us busy with activity after activity all intertwined with lessons of leadership. Our first task lived in Constitution Hill, a looming center with high ceilings and tall doors filled with art and beautiful windows to reassure the population of the government’s transparency. In this building issues of human rights are addressed and dealt with by the leaders and people of South Africa. We met Nolu here, an inspiring woman, who runs a Saturday program driven by her passion for education, especially educating students from low income areas about the constitution and their rights. Her initial problem being a lack of funds for herself and for the program as a whole. Our task – the most demanding one we had encountered as of yet – was to create a solution, or at least the foundations for one. Throughout this process the teachers of ALA emphasized the vitality of failure, and how we need to push this failure forward. Failure definitely stared us straight in the eye many a time. Either in the form of a poorly designed parachute used to protect an egg from cracking as it was launched to the ground from incredible height, building a stable spaghetti tower in order to support a marshmallow, or in creating an effective solution to Nolu’s business problem. Oh, how we failed time and time again. But of course, just as ALA wisely said, failure was essential to this trip. Through this failure I got to really know, respect, and love my peers. I saw them cultivate pure passion and determination in order to find the solution to any problem obstructing our path. Simultaneously many emotional breakdowns, frustrations, and even moments of dry heaving over the toilet from stress occurred. I think that’s why I’m tearing up on the plane as I write this — at ALA we needed each other, and I think I’ll still need them the moment I step back into Canada. The memory of my peers and our countless failures at ALA is one I hope never to forget.” –Halina

“Greetings everyone! As I’m writing this we’re on our final flight together as a group and let me tell you, it’s very emotional and I’m pretty sure everyone is pretending that we don’t have to leave each other in a few hours. As a group we experienced so much together, built so many new skills, and have new friendships that’ll last forever. So we started off in Cape Town, one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen, the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other (it was my first time seeing mountains!). During our time in Cape Town we went to the top of Table Mountain, which overlooked the entire city, took a tour of Robben Island, where Don and I became friends over shared motion sickness, had a walking tour of the city, met with a group of teenagers that live there who attempted to teach us Xhosa but proved to be rather difficult, and continually failed to be up in time for breakfast. After our stay in Cape Town we anxiously made our way to Kwanokathula where we stayed with our host families and learned more about Xhosa culture. I think I can speak for everyone when I say that this transition was not easy, bucket showers and portions that were way too big to finish and of course the dreaded language barrier between us and the families, but it made us appreciate things more, such as hot showers, wifi, and family. During our stay in Kwanokathula we painted two crèches, which was such a fun time, mostly because we got to play with lots of babies, and we went and played sports with students at their local holiday program. Leaving was very emotional, all of our moms were there to wave goodbye as we drove off and we had to say goodbye to one of our leaders, Vusi. The next few days consisted of long drives and very cold mornings and nights (the coldest it got was 24° which was not okay for this Florida girl), but we made it up to Drakensburg where we hiked, abseiling, and zip-lined, and went paint balling. After our short stay in  Drakensburg we went to Kruger National Park, which was one of the highlights of the trip for me. We immediately went on an evening game drive and had a few more during our stay and it was such an incredible experience seeing so many animals in their natural habitat just living their lives. Seeing a giraffe and elephant cross the road is definitely something else. The final destination of our trip was Johannesburg to use our new leadership skills at the African Leadership Academy and try help and solve a problem in the community, which proved to be very difficult but not impossible. I could go on and on about everything we’ve done in South Africa, and trust me, I want to, but there are so little words to explain all the experiences we’ve had. This trip has taught us so much and we will be forever grateful for this opportunity given to us.  But of course I would like to thank our fantastic group leaders Katie and Carly for all that they’ve done for us, from being a shoulder to cry on, to having good laughs, and for just being our friends more than anything, this trip wouldn’t have been the same without them. Thank you to my group members for letting me be myself and giving me so many friendships that’ll last an incredibly long time, there’s no other people I would have wanted to go on this journey on. Thank you South Africa for the memories, they will be forever cherished.” –April

“I keep finding myself without words, or relying on all the old ones and it feels inadequate because I need a whole new vocabulary to describe the depth and majesty of this mad dilemma we call Africa. The hills (not even hills but full bodied mountains) those electric, eccentric, magic bodies- I don’t have the words for it, for them. I lost the poem in which I attempted to explain some of these incredible feelings, but now I have more noteworthy experiences with which to catalog and chronologize my trip to South Africa. Playing ball on the front porch with my younger sister, my beautiful mother, and a bouquet of yellow flowers on a birthday banquet table; these are some of the memories I hold most dear. The heartbreaking beauty of small town camaraderie in the township of Kwanokathula reminded me of my own home, and gave me a sense of belonging in a place I never expected to belong. This, more than anything else, the overwhelming kindness of strangers, is what I hold most dear about the whole experience, and what makes me hope to come back to South Africa someday soon. Whether it was a woman who had known me for not even ten minutes insisting on carrying my things or a small child dancing with me to the beat of hidden drums, my experience in South Africa has affected me deeply and I wouldn’t have traded it, or the incredible organization who helped me get there, for the world! I believe it has truly and meaningfully changed my life, and motivated me to be more invested in my education and my future as a whole. Understanding that some people have so little, and yet remain so resilient, beautiful, and unfailingly kind has shown me how innate goodness can remain in the world, no matter the circumstances. With these things always in mind I truly believe that with education, empathy, and understanding, going to South Africa has allowed me to understand that anyone could change the world, even you or me!” –Zoe