One of the three pillars of SAWIP is a professional work exposure held over six weeks in Washington D.C. in the United States of America (US). The SAWIP team of 2017 recently returned to South Africa having been away from 10 June to 24 July 2017. Some of our work placements included organisations like the World Bank, the American Friends Service Committee, John Snow Inc., C-Span, the Faith and Politics Institute, the World Affairs Council, the United States Congress, Freedom House, Urban Alliance and the Catholic University of America, amongst others. These professional environments have allowed us to be exposed to work in line with our growing professional interests. Excited by the chance to engage in meaningful and impactful work, we have grasped at every opportunity and have grown immensely from the experience as a result.
Our learning didn’t stop at our work placements though; the team continued its leadership development curriculum through sessions with US-based facilitators and visits to important US historical sites. In our sessions, we were truly honoured to have exceptionally accomplished facilitators to discuss a myriad of topics and themes aimed at broadening our knowledge base, considering other types of approaches to social problems through the lens of the US experience and applying what we learned to South Africa’s own profile of socio-economic challenges. The team was fortunate to interact with speakers of the highest calibre, all of whom are contributing immensely to their chosen fields of work. As all the speakers I am sure themselves would attest, the team took every opportunity to draw as much learning from these sessions as we could, making sure to ask pointed questions and determined to draw parallels with South Africa to further illuminate some of the issues we face at home.
We visited important historical sites like Capitol Hill, the Library of Congress, the African-American History Museum, and toured the United Nations building while we were in New York City. In one of many poignant moments of remembrance, the team visited the US Supreme Court to take a picture in front of that august building in memory of Mikhail Hendricks, one of the 2017 team members who passed away weeks before we travelled to D.C. We knew that Mikhail, a law student and a passionate advocate of constitutionalism, was excited to see that exalted centre of constitutional law. We made an especial commitment to carry on and draw as much from this experience as possible in his honour.
We also learned so much from meeting people in our daily interactions over the course of the six weeks. Our greatest interactions were with our host families who provided us with more than a place to stay. Without their incredible generosity none of our experiences would have been possible. I know that the whole team feels a deep affection for our families across the ocean and they have singly kindled our enduring affection for the United States.
Through the eyes of Americans of all hues we learned a great deal about what it means to live in the US and grapple with the myriad of challenges and vexed history of the country despite its relative wealth and power. Living, as we do, in a society grappling with the consequences of its own difficult history we, from the outset, were determined to draw lessons from the US experience to take back home to South Africa. We are in SAWIP by virtue of our own self-set mission to improve the state of our country and uplift our people; SAWIP’s primary purpose is to help propel us, hopeful future leaders of South Africa, towards this end.
Naturally then the next step in the program is the Community Engagement Project. The project will be conducted at the Leadership College in Manenberg and Seshegong Secondary School in Johannesburg in an interactive series of workshops that are aimed at four specific areas, namely, Post-Secondary School Preparation, Constitutional Advocacy and Active Citizenship, Personal Leadership and assisted learner development of solutions to the challenges faced by our communities. We will undoubtedly draw from our intensive D.C. learning experience to make this project as impactful as possible. The project represents one important step in our special purpose to be a part of the upliftment of our fellow South Africans. We have, as young servant leaders, taken many such steps over the course of our lives thus far. We intend to take many more in our future lives of public service. As we continue that journey, we will cherish the memories afforded to us by our Washington D.C. experiences and all the people that made it happen.