By learning about life in Tanzania, our 2011 Next Generation Leaders learned even more about themselves
With each summer comes one of Grand Circle Foundation's most rewarding annual events: the Next Generation Leaders Program, begun by Harriet Lewis in 2007. No longer satisfied by simply awarding scholarships, Harriet wanted to create a more lasting impact on the lives of promising college-bound seniors. "Academic excellence lays the foundation for success," explains Harriet, "but there are so many other experiences that I consider valuable, like community service, professional employment, and, of course, international travel." Nominated by our Community Advisory Group partners, our 2011 Next Generation Leaders—Fabiola Moquete, Erick Magra, Cuong Nguyen, Argenis De Los Santos, Elena Mendez, Martin Casiano, and Julie Lam—recently completed a program that offered all of these experiences—and many more.
At the beginning of the summer, the young leaders arrived at Grand Circle Travel for a seven-week paid internship, which featured focused skills development, leadership training sessions, and outdoor team-building events. The culmination of this personal journey was a nine-day excursion to Tanzania, where their newfound skills were put to the test in an environment half a world away from their comfort zones.
Every group of Next Generation Leaders embarks on a similar trip, the goal of which, according to Harriet, is to "level the playing field" for these students, who have all faced challenges growing up in inner city Boston neighborhoods. "When the Next Generation Leaders arrive at college, and others speak of studying abroad or traveling this summer, being able to say, 'I went to Africa,' may change how these students are perceived by others," says Harriet.
While Tanzania is most famous as a safari destination, Harriet loves the country even more for its wonderful people—a sentiment that the Next Generation Leaders now share. The focus of their trip was not on wildlife (though they did experience thrilling game drives) but on learning about local culture. At a Maasai village supported by the Foundation's Day in the Life initiative, the students pitched in with daily chores, including starting a fire with sticks, carrying wood on their heads, thatching a roof, and plastering walls with cow's dung—all of which provided a revealing glimpse of what it takes to survive in rural Tanzania.
The real highlight of the trip, however, was the day they spent at the Bashay Primary School in Karatu, which the Foundation has been supporting since 2001. The team designed a community service project to benefit the school, and canvassed their coworkers to raise $2650 to support it. By building a chicken coop to house 50 hens, they hoped to provide the school with both a sustainable source of income and sustenance for the children. On the day of the event, the group received a warm welcome from the entire village of Karatu—including Justine Basso, Principal of the Bashay School, who shared his gratitude in a heartfelt speech. "On behalf of all teachers, the school board, and students," said Mr. Basso, "may I take this opportunity to convey my sincere thanks and appreciation to Grand Circle Foundation and the Next Generation Leaders. We will always remember you for your kind hearts."
Jan Byrnes, Project Manager for Grand Circle Foundation, accompanied the Next Generation Leaders on their journey—and cited the day at Bashay as her most memorable highlight. "They worked really hard," Jan says. "To construct the fence for the coop, they had to use pickaxes and shovels to dig a full foot into the ground. The red clay earth was rock-hard, and they dug in the heat of the day. But no one complained—they were tired, hot, sweaty, and thrilled." Exhausted though they were, the team then served lunch to more than 700 students. "They all felt a huge sense of accomplishment at the end of the day," says Jan.
Maury Peterson, Vice President of Grand Circle Foundation, also joined the group in Tanzania. "The group was consistently up for taking risks and getting out of their comfort zones," says Maury. "They drank cow's blood with the Maasai, bartered at a local food market in Swahili, asked locals for directions, and visited a local dance hall in a run-down area with no electricity." Even more important, according to Maury, was the way each participant worked to strengthen their leadership skills. "At the beginning of each day, the designated leaders chaired a morning meeting to review the day's agenda and each person's roles and goals," says Maury. "In the evenings, the team shared their achievements and gave each other feedback."
The daily feedback exercises posed unique challenges for each student, depending on their individual strengths—which resulted in a few tense meetings that ultimately became the most rewarding. "Some struggled with openly giving constructive feedback, and others struggled to accept it gracefully," Maury says. "As a result, they all grew a lot over the course of the trip, and they now have some tangible tools they can use in college to improve their performance."
The Next Generation Leaders certainly seem to agree. "I learned that I am willing and able to adapt to a new environment," says Martin. "I also learned that I am able to be away from home." Elena, too, is ready to embrace the risks that come with college: "You have to take risks. You can't stay in the same spot," she says. "You have to move forward and try something new, even if it might not work."
We wish the best to our 2011 Next Generation Leaders, who have demonstrated that they possess the skills to succeed not only in college, but in every aspect of their lives.
Featured in our August 2011 E-Newsletter. Read the full issue here.