The ‘DC phase’ of the seven month SAWIP journey has always been heralded as the most exciting component of the program. Travelling to the United States of America for five weeks, escaping the South African winter to enjoy the summer, being welcomed into host family homes, having high level work exposure, meeting amazing people across the generations in Washington DC and being exposed to endless stimulating experiences is something worth writing home about.
Being out of familiar comfort zones in a demanding environment like Washington DC challenges the team dynamics and at the same time affords opportunities for real reflection, development, clarification of purpose and the chance to thrive.
The richness of the curriculum this summer kept the team and team managers energized and the high calibre of speakers such Senator Richard Green Lugar, a US senator who was at the forefront of the anti-apartheid sanctions in the US, and Senator John Lewis, one of the last prominent members of the US Civil Rights Movement were a constant inspiration.
The Team were entranced by the passionate and personal sharing by Congressman Lewis of the importance of leadership which upholds the rights of others.
Other highlights included a discussion with aides in the White House and touring the home of anti-slavery activist Frederick Douglass in Anacostia.
Of course, special moments such as watching the 4th of July fireworks display from the Abraham Lincoln Memorial; watching a baseball game where the Washington Nationals won, and, touring some of the Smithsonian museums made the experience even richer.
There was no time for fatigue to set in as the curriculum offered each team member so many chances to learn diverse skills and develop a network of contacts. Their challenge was to balance working hard at their professional placements, engaging meaningfully at every curriculum session and event whilst squeezing in time to explore DC on a personal level.
A highlight for the team managers was the consistent level of enthusiasm and engagement, displayed not only by the team but also by the management team, who constantly worked to organise events with no slip-ups whilst remaining supportive and encouraging.
An overall high point for SAWIP management during our time in Washington was watching the team successfully handle the curved balls that came their way. As student leaders in South Africa, a hallmark of their ability to lead is their ability to find their feet and excel in high stress environments outside of what they know and are comfortable in.
The management feels both grateful and proud to have been given the chance to facilitate this growth and be given the opportunity to observe as the full team grew in their leadership as well as their team effectiveness.