SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION DRIVEN BY SOUTH AFRICA’S EMERGING, SERVANT LEADERS

 

SAWIP inspires, develops and supports annual teams of interns and its whole alumni body to bring about community development through social projects amongst the most disadvantaged and marginalised South Africans.

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Finding hope in a story

by William Clayton
William Clayton
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on Wednesday, 24 June 2015
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Our Team Managers will be able to attest that it takes a great deal of patience and a certain amount of scorn to get a group of fifteen young South Africans from Johannesburg to Washington DC, but we have finally made it, we have arrived and now the real work starts.

 

Reflecting on a very busy first week I am reminded yet again what an amazing opportunity SAWIP is. However there has been this nagging feeling in my gut for the past week as well. During one of our sessions I found myself having a crisis of faith in this programme. We were discussing the challenges and opportunities facing the South African education sector and I started wondering what the value of these conversations were if they never leave Washington DC. The team comprises of some of the most talented individuals I have ever met and the solutions that we have come up with were phenomenal but what is the value of talent and good ideas if they never get implemented? There are a wealth of opportunities for young people in our country to participate in leadership programmes however what become of these conversations which we have in behind closed doors? And if we are to take up the baton regarding these issues are we all doomed to become politicians upon our return?

 

These questions plagued me for quite some time and the answers came from a seemingly unlikely place. I was sitting in our host parents’ house with one of my fellow SAWIPpers and we were discussing a variety of things ranging from land reform to Washington cuisine. As the night progressed we started to share more of our own stories, about our families, our history and our very different backgrounds. The SAWIPper in question and I were as different as chalk and cheese on the surface however the more I listened to his own personal story the more I realized that my perceptions of certain issues had been framed from my own personal narrative but listening to his story that narrative was challenged. Often when our personal narratives are challenged we go into fight or flight mode however I believe that by sharing his own personal story (building a relationship) rather than trying to debate my narrative I was more receptive to change and in that moment I realized the wealth and value of this programme.

 

By sharing each other’s stories with we are able to challenge each other’s narratives and regardless of what each SAWIPper does when we return to South Africa that change remains. The impact is thus not limited to what you become but rather how you disseminate that changed narrative amongst the people who share your story; and in realizing that I came to the conclusion that this programme might just be one the most valuable assets South Africa has.

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The Rubicon

by Kgosietsile Tsintsing
Kgosietsile Tsintsing
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on Wednesday, 24 June 2015
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It has been over week since I have arrived in the United States of America. The United States has treated me well thus far; the trip has exceeded expectation. I have come with a mind-set of learning - I was fortunate to have a session  with David Lovins who I met through Lee Schinder, my host mother for the summer. David, being a life coach, afforded me the opportunity to benefit from his advice and life experiences and to guide me in the right direction. The conversation for the first hour was based on getting to know one other then the next two hours was solely based on coaching. I am unable to pinpoint certain aspect of the session that I felt were important because I feel that every word that was uttered by David was valuable. As an individual I am responsible for my own success and the journey of success is a process that requires patience and consist of continuous action.

Firstly, I learnt about the importance of making a list of tasks that need to be completed in order of priority. This simple action has the ability change the way time is managed more effectively. The key is not to get overwhelmed when there is a long list of tasks to be completed. This process is fundamental in changing one’s behaviour and can encourage greater efficiency due to increased confidence when completed tasks are ticked off the list.

Secondly, paying attention to detail every little decision that is made is important because it slowly builds momentum, which becomes habit. David emphasised that I should pay meticulous attention to the finer detail because the cumulative effective would lead to exponential development. The small decisions are what David called critical areas that could make an individual or subsequently hurt a person. Few examples of critical areas are procrastination, not being honest and over-promising then under-delivering.

Thirdly, making good decisions that will contribute positively to my success, I should always remove myself from a situation by viewing it from a bird’s eye view. Before I make a final decision, I should think of how I would advise my younger brother, Khumo, on how to approach the situation. This was the game charger, I realised that if I focus on this each time I will constantly make the right decisions.

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Who holds the pen?

by Wayde Groep
Wayde Groep
Wayde Groep is currently a BSc Human Life Sciences student at Stellenbosch Unive
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on Wednesday, 24 June 2015
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The Washington Post, The New York Times, and any major publication in the US at the moment is filled with a very similar story line to the ones we were exposed to but a few weeks ago in South Africa. Of course this story much like the one back home have those both pro and against the issue we are confronted with. One thing is however certain, we need to ask ourselves who holds the pen.


The issue I am referring to is that of the Confederate Flag hanging in South Carolina. The flag has received somewhat of an unprecedented media coverage and many connections with Dylann Roof the young man who killed 9 individuals at a church in Charleston last week. Of particular relevance is him seen wearing both the Apartheid South African flag (a symbol of a prejudicial admininistration that plagued our nation for many years) and the old Rhodesia.


I have read many stories shared by members of the community and it is clear. There is still a lot of work to be done. This article on CNN (http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/21/us/charleston-shooting-race-wounds-exposed/) particularly touched me with the candidness of the lived experiences of residents within the community. It is a profound juxtaposition to see the pride of staying in a town that is as beautiful as Charleston and the fear, pain and sadness of being reminded through this tragic brutal killing of a history that was never to be repeated.


#RhodesMustFall & #TakeItDown

The use of social media in creating much needed awareness about shared experiences globally in relation to symbols that relate to some form of oppression speaks volumes of the way global barriers have been broken with a new found connectedness. What is of particular significance in these two cases is the momentum and influence young people have and more over the power they believe they have. This will inevitably help influence the way a society like the US progresses into the future. I must be honest when I add, I am not particularly convinced that young people in America are as politically engaged as we are back home and this could be because of a number of different reasons. I do believe it is often our consciousness of issues that help to activate our level of engagement as citizens in any country.


The dilemma the US is currently faced with is not very different to that of the one we face back home especially related to politics. Political game changers will become all the more evident with the upcoming elections in the US next year. With a voter population changing and the need to be able to appeal to this changing demographic it will be particularly interesting to see where politicians are positioning themselves on this issue and many other more controversial ones and how public they are about it.


I believe the answer to helping changing the story we tell is through solidarity and acceptance. One cannot simply sit back when the worlds we find ourselves in still bleeds, mourns and pains as a result of injustice, intolerance, segregation and hatred. We hold the pen as young people. We are the ones that will influence the history told 10, 20, 30 years from now.


It was Mandela that once said,

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

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On the shoulders of Africa's Warriors

by Lehlohonolo Moche
Lehlohonolo Moche
Lehlohonolo is a third year Industrial and Systems Engineering student at the Un
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on Tuesday, 23 June 2015
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Making the Connections

by Lutho Vika
Lutho Vika
Lutho is currently completing a master’s degree specializing in Economic Develop
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on Monday, 22 June 2015
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On my very first day to work in Washington, DC I took the Metro (for my South African friends, it’s like the Gautrain). While waiting for the Metro to arrive a man approached me, Jabulile and Mulanga-fellow SAWIPers. He politely introduced himself and told us he is originally from Botswana and that somehow he had recognized that we were also from Africa...which we, of course, confirmed to be true.  He seemed so excited to see us that he started to speak to us in seTswana until he realized I had no idea what he was saying, although Mulanga and Jabulile seemed to catch on just fine. Our conversation continued even after the Metro arrived and I ended up taking a seat next to him on the train. In our conversation I learned that he worked for the Embassy of the Republic of Botswana, he had written a book and that he was passionate about education. After overhearing a little bit of our conversation, a lady sitting next to us who was also working in Washington soon joined our conversation telling us a little about herself and the educational organization for which she works. As our interests were similiar, they exchanged business cards and asked me if I had one (which I didn’t).  It all happened so fast! Just like that, I realized a network was created and I almost missed it by being underprepared. I share this story with you because it was an important lesson for me: you never know where and when you will meet someone who could possibly open the door to a new opportunity for you and so you have to always be prepared.


When I went home after work and reflected on the day’s events, I came back to that moment. I realized that I needed to be better prepared for moments like that because they were sure to come and I didn’t want to mess them up. For one, I needed to have a business card (which I can now proudly say I have!). More importantly, however, I think it is important to know yourself. You should know your passions, interests and to where you would like to be some day. For me, it has now become crucial to learn how to clearly articulate these things about myself to someone else in a concise and enthusiastic manner.  Slowly but surely, as I continue to meet and mingle with new people, I hope to move closer to achieving this goal.

 

Being prepared in this sense can go a long way in making good first impressions and building networks which could potentially develop into long lasting relationships.

 

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Over the seas

by Mulanga Sinyosi
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on Monday, 22 June 2015
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American Food and fun

by Nehna Daya Singh
Nehna Daya Singh
Nehna is an Honours student in the field of English Literature at the University
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on Monday, 22 June 2015
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1 week in Capitol Hill and I feel almost settled! I have let go of my traditional Indian food and embraced the culture of food around me. I have had tacos, baked potatoes, gazpacho, bagels, pasta, pizza, subway and a hot dog. The tacos and pasta were among my favourites!


But now I miss my Indian dhar’s, veggies, curries, rice and rothli. So it’s time to explore the eastern food culture in DC. I found some Thai places and Indian places that I hope to try out this week. A colleague at my work placement also said she would bring me some Indian lentils which I cannot wait to cook!


I had great fun this weekend exploring the library of congress, the building of the Supreme Court, the Nationals park stadium and China town.

 

The art work and architecture of the library of congress is so far the most intriguing. The building is beautifully designed and the interior is equally aesthetic, if not more. The symbolism in the design adds to the value of the building and truly reflects the greatness of Jefferson’s personal library collection.


Interior of Library of Congress

 

I also got my Library of Congress readers card, so I can now go into the private reading room where I hope to do some work on my mini-thesis.

The Supreme Court is built of marble. This was one of the hottest places I have been to. I found the grand entrance door to be especially interesting. It has a story of symbols engraved on it.

 

Supreme Court Door

The next stop was the Nationals Park Stadium where I experienced a vibrancy of music and festivities.


Music outside Nationals Park Stadium

 

I bought a nationals cap that I proudly wore throughout the game and waved it when my team won. I also enjoyed my first American veggie dog at the game  After the game the team stopped off at China Town to do some exploring. It was a relaxing afternoon filled with food and fun.

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THE SUN, SACRIFICE AND SUCCESS

by Nadia Gava
Nadia Gava
For a small girl, Nadia has a big mouth and big opinions. She enjoys the occasio
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on Monday, 22 June 2015
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Imagine this: you’re working abroad (in Washington D.C. nonetheless) and you’re dying of the heat and humidity; you’re constantly surrounded by the most tantilising of American cuisine BUT…you can’t have a gulp of water to quench your thirst or dig into that burger or nachos, UNLESS…the sun has not yet risen or has already set.

One of our team members, Ebrahim Shaikh (and this blog is definitely dedicated to him), is currently not imagining this situation, but living it, seeing as he is fasting for Ramadan. Now, I’m not religious, so I’ve never needed to fast – in my culture withholding food is called a diet and I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for Ebrahim (even though he makes it look really simple). I have so much admiration and respect for the way in which he is handling the situation! In South Africa (where he would usually be fasting) the sun sets a lot earlier and rises a lot later at this time of year than it does here in D.C. (and trust me, when the sun does rise in D.C. it is with an intense fury that will burn you to infinity if you loiter in its unforgiving rays for more than 10 minutes), thus there is an even higher level of difficulty to fasting this year. I’m sure Ebrahim could easily think of a reason that would exempt him from fasting at this time (e.g. physical strain placed on the body by not drinking any fluids in this heat), but he is strong in his belief and does not seek any reason to complain or attract pity – whenever we go out to have a bite or a drink, Ebrahim would come along (think how difficult that must be). I guess it all comes down to making tough sacrifices for something you believe in.

Most people will be able to share a story of sacrifice, not necessarily religious, but we’ve all given up something at some stage, because we kept our eyes on the greater goal (although, giving up your social life during exams to achieve good results seems like a very small and insignificant sacrifice compared to giving up food and drink during the day for a whole month to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad according to Islamic belief). The point is this: all of us will need to make sacrifices in life to get to where we want to be or to achieve a certain goal – some sacrifices will be more difficult or last longer than others, but in the end we need to distinguish between what we want and what we need.

I’m sure every SAWIP team member can share something they have sacrificed in their SAWIP journey in order to participate and contribute fully to this program. So what have my own sacrifices been?
(Please note: these aren’t only due to SAWIP, but other factors in my life along with SAWIP) My academics have been placed under quite a bit of strain, seeing as time one would usually spend on preparation for the next day or on an assignment now goes into a SAWIP session or writing a blog or compiling a report or searching for possible funders. During selection camp (which is already a relatively stressful experience) I had to get up at 04:00 every morning to study for a Contract Law test that took place the day after Selection camp finished (needless to say, not my best test results yet). The second sacrifice has been on a more personal level and it involves my relationships with the important people in my life such as friends and family who I was not able to see as often as I normally would. I can admit that a lot of people have been neglected by me and for that I am sorry to them.

Naturally, these sacrifices were difficult, but when one has a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity such as SAWIP, everything else becomes secondary. This program has given me so much – from the application process to where I now sit in my office in Washington D.C. gaining work exposure and experience at the US African Development Foundation that I gladly give up a few things for it!

So as the sun of my SAWIP experience is almost at midday level, I relish in knowing that short term sacrifice results in long term reward! And I am feasting on the opportunities, knowledge and experiences I am gaining every day!

Happy Ramadan, Ebrahim.

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Let's get Organised

by Safa Naraghi
Safa Naraghi
Safa Naraghi is currently completing his final year of a BSc in Mechanical Engin
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on Monday, 22 June 2015
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Power and oppression has been the topic of the week. There are many forms of oppression that sometimes manifest themselves under an invisible cloak. Engaging with the NSL and WIP teams on this topic brought to light many of these invisible oppressive actions.

 

For instance, I wasn’t aware of the concept of cisgenderism (I know, I struggled with the word for some time too). As defined by the infallible search engine Google, cisgenderism is a prejudice similar to racism and sexism. It denies, ignores, denigrates, or stigmatizes non-cisgender forms of expression, sexual activity, behaviour, relationship, or community. Cisgenderism exists in everyone I believe - transgender individuals as well as cisgender individuals alike. This is because almost everyone is brought up in a predominately cisgender society that has little or no positive recognition of non-cisgender behaviour, identity and/or experience. Of course I understood the concept of cisgenderism immediately, as I believe that I have subconsciously expressed it in some way or another. However, I can only see how it can be oppressive once I empathise with someone who is not cisgender. This is the nature of invisible oppression; it stems less from ignorance but rather from a lack of empathy.

 

On the other hand there are also many visible oppressions. These are the oppressive issues that we find many of a countries population rebelling against. Closely related to the concept of “rebellion” is a SAWIP session we had with Mr Martin Tremble (better known to me as dad. Mr Tremble and his family are hosting me for the summer). Mr Tremble came to speak to us on organising. So I got to the session ready with thoughts of my messy room and scattered university notes. I was set to employ some organisational change in my life. I soon found out that this was a very different type of organising.

 

Mr Tremble works for an organisation called the IAF. The main aim of the organisation is to create a new capacity for leadership development, citizen-led action and relationships across the lines that often divide communities. This is what organising is all about. It is simply about empowering a community to unite behind a single goal that is important to them. Using the methodology of organising, communities can persuade governments and big business to do right on a variety of issues. These issues could range from service delivery to housing and pollution of the environment.

 

Mr Tremble spoke of organising in an American context. However what was interesting to me, and what the team quickly caught on to, was how it applies to the South African context. One instance of this is that we live in a country with politicians that are not persuaded by the same techniques that American politicians are. For example, an American politician is very concerned about his/her image in the public eye; therefore public embarrassment is a very useful tool for organisers. However, in South Africa, one does not get the feel that the politicians worry too much about their public image (evidence of this haunts us on our Facebook timelines everyday).

 

It is up to us to critically think of ways that organising could be efficiently employed in a South African context. We need formal education in the art of organising. Similarly to the Americans, we need associations that are primarily geared toward training community organisers so as to get people in behind a single cause and achieve this goal in a peaceful efficient manner.

 

More power needs to be given to the people. This can only be achieved if we stand as one united body. We need to get organised.

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Lessons from Across the Sea

by Lutho Vika
Lutho Vika
Lutho is currently completing a master’s degree specializing in Economic Develop
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on Monday, 22 June 2015
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I suppose, like most of my team mates, I have been looking forward to the Washington DC component of the SAWIP program for a while now. For me though, I think the excitement was somewhat more heightened as it would be my first time out of the country! Prior to the trip I spent many afternoons wondering what it would be like. Would it be like what I saw on TV? Would I cope with the adjustment of being in a different country for five weeks? Would I find it as incredible as the alumni have in the previous years?

I have been here for week now and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here so far (the humidity is another story though).

There are many things I have noted based on my experiences from being this side of the sea…even though it has been a short period of time. I will share just two that have really struck me.

First, Americans are not afraid of hard work! From the people I have encountered, I have seen a culture of hard work that has really left an impression on me. I have been fortune enough to be offered a work placement opportunity at Freedom House, an organization that seeks to support the expansion of freedom around the world. Here, I have been exposed to high impact individuals who work incredibly hard to ensure that their missions are achieved. Through sitting in on meetings, reading some of the reports and talking to the staff in the organisation, I have found that people here take their work seriously and throw themselves whole heartedly even to seemingly mundane tasks. This has caused me reflect deeply on my work ethic and look for ways in which I can improve and be more productive.

Besides my colleagues at Freedom House, the people I have had conversations with share that they have two or more jobs! Perhaps it might be that the labour laws aren’t as protective as in South Africa? Even so, I think that the spirit of hard work I have seen from the Americans I have met is one I will take with me back home. There is a lot to been done to develop South Africa and few people willing to put up their hands and avail themselves. My attitude, thanks this Washington DC experience, is to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

 

Second, Americans are patriotic. In my host family's neighbourhood, every second house has the American flag on their front porch. On my way to work I am also greeted by the American flag…You will never forget where you are! At first I thought it was a bit strange but I have now come to think that there is something beautiful about it. In my view, America, like every other country is not perfect. Despite this, its people continue to support it, continue to wave their flags up high. This, I believe does something. It creates unity and a sense of pride in the people of America. This is a culture that is definitely needed in South Africa. Yes, we face some challenges but we have come a long way (which is something to be proud of) and there is still some way to go but it would be a better journey if we did it together.  So yes, when I get home, I am totally getting a South African flag to hang outside our house!

 

To conclude, about a week ago, I came to America as a wide eyed-girl from a small town in the Eastern Cape. Now, I feel like I have been here for a month! I am having fun, I am learning, I am growing.  For these things, I am truly grateful.

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Overheard on the Metro

by Ebrahim Shaikh
Ebrahim Shaikh
Ebrahim Shaikh is a Law Student at the University of Cape Town. He spends a larg
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on Monday, 22 June 2015
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After a particularly eventful Sunday of Baseball watching and Chinatown traversing, our team parted ways to our host families homes for the night. As I rode the bus back 'home' I could not help but overhear a particularly loud conversation between the driver and a passenger.


The topics ranged from politics to food, but what stood out was a comment made by the passenger,"The corruption in this city is sickening". I smirked when I heard that, mostly because I could have closed my eyes, transported myself to a lunch-time Cafe in the Cape Town CBD and have heard identical sentiments from a number of people.


Our problems are not that different. Perhaps the context in South African and the U.S differs, but we face similar issues - race, corruption, the economy, employment and immigration issues. What stands out is that Americans engage extensively on these issues, especially in Congress where I work, but the effect of this engagement on American politics is questionable. Conversely South Africans don't tend to engage as much as we do complain. The effect of this, when it manifests itself in the form of strike-action, protests and the like, is that some change can be expected.


American politics also has a veneer of accountability. Any member of public can enter the Capitol, Senate or House buildings and set up a meeting with their Congressman - this is in part due to the somewhat constituency based electoral system of the country. In stark contrast, South African Parliament buildings are ringed by high-fences and strict access-control. Gaining access to a Member of Parliament (MP) is near impossible unless you are someone influential, and since MP's are chosen on a list basis rather than by constituency, one cannot hold a particular MP hailing from ones area accountable.


Despite the appearance of accountability in Congress, and the appearance of non-accountability in Parliament, it seems that accountability is merely a concept that is paid lip-service to by politicians of both states. In America lobby-groups rule, in South Africa the political elite rule. This raises questions as to whether the democratic system has been twisted into an unrecognizable form - whether 'power to the people' is just a distraction used by those who wield power to retain their power.

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An exceptional tour

by Jabulile Mpanza
Jabulile Mpanza
Jabulile is currently studying towards a master’s degree in Economic Development
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on Monday, 22 June 2015
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Week 1 in DC !

by Faith Pienaar
Faith Pienaar
Faith Pienaar is qualified winemaker and viticulturist. She is currently pursui
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on Monday, 22 June 2015
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This blog entry represents bits and pieces of a long email that I sent to family and friends back in South Africa who flooded me with questions of my experience in DC thus far.  After surviving the 16 hour flight, I first sent this email to my mother who wanted to know that I was okay, settled in and safe.  Like all mothers , she wanted to know about how I am dealing with the weather, my work placement, the people in DC and my host family.

 

1. Weather

 

South Africans who have been to Washington before often compare the heat and humidity to that of the Kwa-Zulu Natal. Friends, this is not true. DC humidity is not at all like in Natal, in fact it is far more humid here and I sympathize daily with my male team mates who have to endure the heat in collared shirts and suits. I have come to appreciate (and love) the effects on indoor air conditioning. Washington also experiences a bit if rain in the summer. The occasional thunderstorm is much like those in the north of South Africa; striking lightening and usually at the end of a very warm day.

 

2. The vibe and heartbeat of Washington DC.

 

DC reminds me a lot of Johannesburg in the sense that feels like most people are on a purpose lead mission and everyone has a place to be. It especially feels that way in the city center. I have experienced this fast paced energy from the quick entries and exits on and off the metro (public train system) during peak hours. DC is not only a professional environment but also a city that is significant in American society, it home to the Washington monument and the White House .A good friend of mine, Greg Ricks, took myself and Wayde to parts of the city that are very different from the one I just described. We visit Howard University, a historically black institution that played an important role in American history and the civil rights movement.


I am hoping to experience and understand more of the city and this society during my professional work exposure .

 

It is incredibly exciting to be here after months of preparation. With the lead up to the US presidential elections in 2016, my work place and home are unique and insightful environments in which ordinary Americans are having conversations about the future. I am looking forward to my time of personal growth and development in a city that has a so much to offer!

 

My host mother Joyce and I

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First time international Travel Bleeps

by Mulanga Sinyosi
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on Monday, 22 June 2015
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Hello, DC!

by Wayde Groep
Wayde Groep
Wayde Groep is currently a BSc Human Life Sciences student at Stellenbosch Unive
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on Monday, 22 June 2015
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A week ago we arrived on American Soil. It has been a whirlwind of excitement, challenge and many emotions.

 

In the last few blogs I have reflected a lot on a variety of issues that have impacted me significantly as we prepared as a team for the Washington DC component of the program. This blog is just an update of the first week. I will highlight key issues that I think are relevant in the next few blogs.

 

This week in particular has been an interesting one. It is not my first time to the USA. I have been here before and on arrival day it brought back memories to a personal goal I set for myself a few years ago when I went back to South Africa. With a phrase inseparable from the legendary Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) I was confident when I said "I'll be back."

 

I never knew why, when or how, but I knew I would come back again. And so this portion of my SAWIP chapter begins.

 

The past week has been good. I have come to terms with the humidity and even though I had initial struggles with my sleeping patterns, I have managed to successful make use of the metro and circulator.

 

Two significant events in the past week have been the AME shooting in Charleston (see my next blog) and how the media has responded to the Rachel Dolezel incident.

 

My job placement and professional work exposure at John Snow Inc. has also already impacted my understanding of how working cultures and environments contribute to the success of an organization. I am afforded the opportunity to continuously challenge myself and you are expected to navigate a fast paced working environment as efficiently and effectively as possible.

 

So for now, I am trying to remember to keep right if I choose to not move on the escalator, I ask for the check and not the bill and most importantly I suggest to people that they need not try to pronounce my surname.

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Land of the free and home of the brave?

by Alwin Mabuza
Alwin Mabuza
Alwin Mabuza, recipient of the Jacko Maree Scholarship, is pursuing a Bachelor o
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on Sunday, 21 June 2015
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I am generally a very quiet individual, yet one of the things South African culture has given me is the courage to stretch my comfort zone and speak to strangers that I come across. In South Africa I have noticed that it is mostly rude and unusual to walk, sit or be next to someone and not at least greet them.

Before we came to Washington the most predominant exposure we as a team have had to Americans is through media such as news, YouTube, hit singles and especially Hollywood blockbusters. In these forms of media I have found Americans (please pardon my gross generalizations) to be portrayed as very vocal, extroverted and generally “out there”.

This stereotype substantially faded when I started meeting Americans on the streets of Washington and especially on the Metro. I would greet every person and either get one word responses or just none at all. There would be no spontaneous dialogue about how “things” are going, not even an exchange of a name. A whole metro trip from Forrest Glen to Metro Center and the score on the conversation tally would be a big zero.

I am wondering if it is possible to sue the government for false advertising, since the national anthem states that America is the land of the free and the home of the brave, when their citizens are seemingly not free enough to loosen up and engage on the metro or brave enough to strike up a conversation with a random stranger sitting on the bench.

I must however be fair and state that I have met some great Americans who are very willing to have a wonderful conversation and know more about me as a person. So not all hope is lost. America might be very brave on the war lines but until they are brave enough on the metro, I will continue to be that awkward South African who greets everyone they meet.

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Symbiosis

by Safa Naraghi
Safa Naraghi
Safa Naraghi is currently completing his final year of a BSc in Mechanical Engin
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on Sunday, 21 June 2015
Experience 0 Comment

The SAWIP trip to DC is not the purpose of the program, however it is an integral part of what the program is. One of the main parts of the trip to DC is the work exposure element of the program.

 

What was I expecting from this work exposure experience? Well, I really didn’t know what to expect. All I knew what that it was happening. That really made me anxious. After this first week at my work placement however, I see why this is where I need to be right now.

 

I am placed at a company called Symbion. The name of the company is derived from the word Symbiosis, which will be clear a little later. They specialize is developing electrical infrastructure in places where it is difficult to conduct such operations. They stated off in Iraq during the war when electrical infrastructure was really needed. It is a really great feat to do what they do. I mean, they risk a lot working in those environments. However, it isn’t just the mitigation of that risk that makes the company great in my eyes. It is the principles behind how they mitigate these risks.

 

The company is really interesting because, how I see it, they derive their competitive advantage from two bases. The first of these is the experience they have in the field of developing infrastructure in war zones and remote/impoverished areas. The second, and also what attracts me the most, is their strategy on how to best approach building this infrastructure in the safest way possible.

 

The company employs minimal staff from outside the country. This means that the people in the community are less hostile to the project as they are invested in it. However, it also means that there could be up to 200 new jobs created for a single project. Of course the work that Symbion does is somewhat specialized, for this reason they train all of these workers in becoming technically competent. In many of these countries, these skills that they teach are held by very few of the population. For example, just last year Symbion trained the 1st lineswoman in Tanzania. Through this example and others it is clear to see that the company has a strong focus on changing the substandard living and poor social circumstances that surrounding communities experience, which I think is absolutely amazing.

 

Of course these strategies are more organizationally intensive, however they also benefit Symbion immensely. For example, training staff from the local community is cheaper and, as mentioned above, integrates the community into the project. It almost resembles two organisms that are mutually beneficial to each other and working toward a single goal. In essence it is Symbiosis between the communities and Symbion.

 

Symbions’ main focus is Africa now. Mainly Tanzania, Nigeria, Malawi, Kenya and Rwanda. For the past week I have been learning about the company, how they conduct business in these areas. They are currently building a sports park in Tanzania as a community-building project and I have been helping on a few aspects of the park. I've also just started working on a proposal for an electrical construction bid in Malawi this week. I'm concentrated on the environmental and social effects of the project.

 

I really love what they do. It's such an inspiring experience to witness and learn from the merger of social entrepreneurship and traditional business practice. I really do feel my heart lies in using my abilities to create instruments that will meaningfully impact the lives of people that are disadvantaged. That really makes Symbion the perfect place for me.

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The Good Doctor

by Alwin Mabuza
Alwin Mabuza
Alwin Mabuza, recipient of the Jacko Maree Scholarship, is pursuing a Bachelor o
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on Sunday, 21 June 2015
Experience 0 Comment

On 02 May 2015 the team had a very stimulating and informative curriculum session with Dr. Thiven Reddy a professor of political science at the University of Cape Town. His herculean task for the day was to narrate, unpack and explore the entire scope of South African political history in 5 hours. As daunting as that is, he managed to do a fairly good job.


On that particular day the good doctor made a very accurate prediction; he predicted that when the team arrived in the USA we would be bombarded with questions about South Africa on the topics of race, socio-economic issues and politics. The good doctor had it spot on, that has exactly been my USA experience thus far.


I do not mind all the questions about South African politics, demographics and the like, and frankly I’m prepared and willing to answer and comment on all of these and much more. I would, however, also like to know more about the people of America. Not just their politics and social issues but their personal narratives and experiences in this country.


Another element the good doctor was correct about were the parallels that can be drawn between South Africa and the United States. He mentioned that race is at the forefront of US and SA society at the moment and a good understanding of this has helped me better relate with my USA peers. This experience has stressed the importance of history and helped me acknowledge that every nation (yes, even America) is a product of history.


Once again SAWIP has proved to associate itself with experts who can equip any team to handle even the most gripping questions of some very enthusiastic and well-meaning AmericansSmile.

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Identity

by Ebrahim Shaikh
Ebrahim Shaikh
Ebrahim Shaikh is a Law Student at the University of Cape Town. He spends a larg
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on Saturday, 20 June 2015
Experience 0 Comment

In South Africa I am identified as an Indian South African. My family is very much rooted in our historical origins of Surat in Gujarat, India. Our food is Surti (typical of the town/region of Surat) and my interactions with other South Africans is founded upon the premise of an identity based on my race and culture. This phenomenon- the idea that race is an inherent part of our identity - is one most South Africans can identify with.

 

I have so-far spent a week in Washington D.C and a similarity that one finds to South Africa is that they too identify people on grounds of race. The recent Charleston shooting just reinforces the racial divide that exists here. My identity however has shifted despite the fact that I am still Indian. I am mostly referred to as being South African, which carries different connotations to that of being Indian. Furthermore when attempting to ascertain my race I am usually confused for being Mexican or Arab.

 

What this confusion means is that my perception of how I am perceived has fundamentally shifted to the extent that my interactions with Americans is formed on the basis of me identifying as South African rather than a specific race. What this has taught me is that identity in itself is a fluid concept, but that it is also an important idea that we use as a focal point for building interactions and character/personality formation.

 

When people ask me where I am from I feel proud to say South Africa - I want the same feeling when I go back to South Africa. This feeling, some call it patriotism, is a necessary element should we wish to retain young professionals, build capacity or organize civil society around a cause. We are obsessed with race, and rightly so, but the time comes when we have to accept that our overarching identity is South African, and without it we will do a disservice to the fallen men and women who fought so valiantly for our democracy, our constitution and our freedom.

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Give me a mirror so I may reflect

by Safa Naraghi
Safa Naraghi
Safa Naraghi is currently completing his final year of a BSc in Mechanical Engin
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on Saturday, 20 June 2015
Reflection 1 Comment

Since the SAWIP 2015 teams arrival in Washington DC a few days ago, I have been reflecting heavily on how blessed I am be here, to be doing what I am doing, to be meeting the people I am meeting and to engage with the wonderful souls that are my SAWIP team and team managers.

 

It all started with an application I spent about two weeks completing a few months ago. It is funny to think how that led to one phone call that changed my life and to this incredible trip to Washington. It really baffles me how a small act like that has impacted me so immensely. But do you know what’s really scary? I can’t help it but wonder how many of these small actions have I missed out on doing that could have changed my life like this. Are my eyes really open?

 

What consoles me though is that SAWIP is a program like no other. Honestly, I wouldn’t swop this experience for any other I have ever had. Coming from engineering background that I do come from I would honestly never have been exposed and enlightened like this. I look around me in class and it is clear to my how I am different. I have never had a sense of purpose as I do now, and that’s an amazing feeling. It’s almost like feeling absolutely free.

 

I often think back to what I would have spent my time on this year if I didn’t get onto SAWIP. After not making the team in 2014, I was heavily disappointed. Mostly because I was never accustomed to not getting the things I applied for. Which is egotistical to some extent, I know. But it’s true. I know its cliché but I honestly think it was meant to be. You see, that feeling of disappointment came from a source that has no place for in my life. It has no place in a grown mans life. As one of my good friend once told me Ego Must Fall. I can admit that 2014 was not as great as I expected it to be, but looking back, it is the exact contrast I needed to this year. We are all flawed I think. We can never be perfect. All we can really do it recognise our flaws and consciously work at them in our day-to-day lives. The past two years have been an eye-opener to these flaws of mine and I am eternally grateful for that.

 

My SAWIP team. I absolutely adore every single one of you. At a session we had last night, I briefly reflected on the months we have spent together in SA. Never have I met a bunch of people so genuine and loving. You are all true from your soul and so special. I think the greatest blessing of them all is that I get to share this experience with you.

 

So what does it really mean to be a SAWIPer? Well, I guess it’s different for everyone. I am slowly getting a full picture of what it means to me and I look forward to completing more of that picture over the next few weeks in DC.

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