In what ways has South Africa Challenge changed your outlook on life or world view?
There are too many ways to list.
The main way it changed me and my outlook on life is that the experience humbled me more than I could ever imagine. I thought I knew it all – I wanted to save the world and I was confident I knew how. Being thrown into a context so different to my own made me realise how useless I really am. Which was great! It forced me to really carefully analyse myself, my skills, and my limitations; to figure out how I could best do something meaningful in the two weeks I was out in South Africa and for the rest of my life.
I feel like this challenge put me on a more effective and realistic path to enabling social change. It made me more aware of the limitations of typical charity or aid missions, and inspired me to dedicate my life to finding sustainable solutions, based on solid research, which aim to empower others and solve problems from the ground up.
On reflection, what did you learn about yourself, others, or South Africa?
First and foremost, I have learnt that books can only teach you so much. South Africa has such a heart-breaking past, which has led to a really complicated contemporary context. Whilst I have studied slavery, colonialism, and South Africa in depth; nothing can compare to seeing first-hand how such an important history of discrimination, oppression and violence has left visible scars in terms of opportunities and relations between races. Nevertheless, I also witnessed in a way I hadn’t before how powerful people can be. Within this difficult context, a government which has failed to uplift South Africa after Apartheid has caused the need for an incredible energy to emerge: so many South Africans I have met are taking change into their own hands and dedicating their lives to removing barriers and paving the way for a better future. This energy was so infectious and inspiring!
How do you think South Africa Challenge will influence what you do in your future? Or how has it already influenced you since returning?
After participating in the 2015 South Africa Challenge, I pursued a master’s degree in Human Rights and Cultural Diversity – with the aim of understanding the legal context within which to enable effective change. The SAC programme also inspired my choice of dissertation, which answered the question of whether the South African government is doing enough to protect women from sexual violence (the answer of which, simply put, is not at all). I wouldn’t have been able to do so well on my dissertation, and wouldn’t have had as broad of an understanding of practical human rights issues, if it hadn’t been for my first-hand experience in South Africa.
Coming back at Team Leader in 2017 was an incredible experience which helped me develop practical leadership and programme management skills that I would have never got from a graduate office job. Thanks to the skills, energy and drive I built through this role, I landed a brilliant job as the administrator of a successful charity which is doing amazing work to protect asylum seekers and migrants in London – the perfect stepping stone toward achieving my life’s goal of setting up my own social enterprise.
I believe in South Africa Challenge and it’s potential to change lives so much that I have stepped up to coordinate the 2018 Programme. I am excited for this experience and for the plethora of skills I will develop, which will undoubtedly have an impact on where I end up in the future. But what I am most excited about, is that every year I meet an incredible cohort of young leaders who inspire and motivate me, and with whom I know I will work with again in the future!
What would you say to future participants?
Do it. This is such an incredible experience, and such a brilliant network to be a part of.
It changes everyone in a different way, but it has positively changed everyone that has come through it.