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Reflection on the 2011 Young Women’s Leadership Workshop in South Africa by Reni Calister ’11

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I was not expecting to be greeted by the words of Margaret Mead ’23 when I entered the African Leadership Academy; yet, there they were, on the wall beneath an enormous photo of one of the academy’s founders. Mead’s statement serves as an inspiration for the academy and its students. The school’s mission is to transform Africa into a prosperous continent by developing and supporting its future leaders; a dedicated student body and outstanding faculty set out to achieve this end. Every student enrolled at the ALA must greet any unfamiliar face they encounter on campus with a formal greeting. When I walked through the doors, a young lady smiled warmly, looked directly into my eyes, and said, “Hello, my name is Miranda Nyathi, and I am from South Africa.”

In a small classroom where every chair, pencil, and piece of paper are paid for by individual and corporate donations, I came face to face with the next generation of African leaders. The 15 young women that I met at the ALA sat in a circle, representing five high schools and 10 African countries, and showed me that leadership skills are useless without a cause where they can be applied. When I asked if they had any projects they wished to work on, each young woman replied with a detailed, prepared course of action for a project in her community. One student described a financial plan to start a center for battered women; another wanted to lead courses on entrepreneurship for single mothers.

The students that I met on March 14 were the most socially aware teenagers I have ever encountered. If I came back from South Africa with anything productive, it’s a word to American teens: Put down your cell phones and pick up a newspaper.

- Reni Calister ’11

 

Reni was one of six students selected to travel to South Africa to attend the Barnard’s Third Annual Global Symposium and assist with a leadership workshop for high school students from around Johannesburg.