I am writing you all from the Johannesburg airport after spending 14 days working with the HOPE South Africa team (Delores, Tshidi, Phumuzile and Elroy) and I am leaving South Africa 100% completely exhausted, exhilarated and excited about the future- for both HOPE South Africa and the country itself. Even though I have spent 4 of the past 8 years of my life in Southern Africa and I know what to expect when I step off the plane, every time I prepare to visit this amazing place, I get really excited and develop this almost romantic ignorance of what I might expect to see and experience during my trip.
I get excited about seeing the amazing mountains, animals, topography, sunsets, wine and interacting with some of the most hospitable people in the world. And then I land. And on the route from the modern airport to the safe hotel it hits me- POW- as I pass the reminders of a country desperately trying to move forward from a past filled with inequity, racism, classism, poverty and apartheid. Its both inspiring and jaw-dropping to see how far South Africa has come and has yet to go to resolve all these issues from its past. Being a lover of learning the history of all places I visit (both in the US and abroad), I can’t help but fall in love with comparing both the inspiring and tragic aspects of the US and South Africa, their history of entrepreneurship, inequality, riches, land of opportunity, working to close the HUGE gap between the haves and have-nots, etc. Beyond the US and South Africa, these trends can be found in most corners of the globe and each community HOPE works. There are so many complexities that it makes me appreciate the work that the HOPE staff does on a daily basis. Fascinating!
HOPE operates two offices in South Africa in the cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town. Like each HOPE market in the US, there are some programmatic techniques that stand the test of time no matter where you are geographically, and there are some nuances to each region which ensures each HOPE program to be unique.
I spent my first week in Johannesburg with the entire HOPE team and we had several action-packed days filled with reflecting on the 2011 activities and 2012 strat planning. I included a few pix of the team and me at the wipe-board frantically taking notes on all the great ideas. The South Africa team is prepared like no other time in its 4 year history to grow the program like never before. In 2011 they cemented their reporting structure, created some very strategic alliances with key stakeholders that provide programming and volunteering and grew HOPEs brand awareness.
HOPE South Africa provides BOOF programming to both youth and adults. They partner with city municipalities very similar to how the HOPE Centers do in the States, and with schools, after-school programs and a variety of community-based organizations that range from faith-based to public health to economic development. 2012 will be a year of going deep with current partners and strategically adding new partners as the political landscape continues to change in South Africa.
My second week was spent in Cape Town (one of the most beautiful cities in the world) with Elroy Fortune, HOPE BOOF Program Manager for the Western Cape Province (City of Cape Town and surrounding areas). Wow…we had a ton of partner meetings and discussions about 2012. The second week really was a toughy as the long days of meetings and wine tasting caught up to me.
During the course of my two weeks I also had the opportunity to meet up with HOPE Atlanta BOOF Program Manager, Tara Dennis, as she and her friends were visiting SA on holiday. Tara had the opportunity to meet a few HOPE SA board members, HOPE staff and visit the HOPE Johannesburg office. I also met up with former BOOF Washington DC Program Manager who works at a school in Johannesburg and where we provide BOOF programming.
I also had the opportunity to volunteer at the African Leadership Academy as a panelist providing feedback to high school students from all over Africa that are preparing for scholarship interviews with US universities. Yes, I used the HOPE interview rubric for scoring presentation skills :). My final day I was able to visit with Teach South Africa (a source of HOPE Corps Volunteers and my old job) and see a bunch of old friends.
On my last night, I had the best send off EVER. The Johannesburg team and I attended the holiday party at the office complex where the HOPE office is located. See pic with the holiday party ‘hats’ below. It was fun to sit back and laugh and enjoy sun-downers (happy hour) with the HOPE family.
Thank you SA HOPE team for being such great hosts. I know we put in a lot of long days reflecting and planning, and I know the past two weeks of intense discussions and planning will pay of HUGE in 2012!
As we all work to close out the year and plan for 2012, I ask that you reflect on all the great work you have done and put those learning’s into your self and staff evaluations, 2012 strategic planning and your life outside of HOPE.