Leaders in Profile: Putting Values into Action in East Africa
1/12/2012 12:00 AM ,
“Liberating the leader in every student” speaks to both the challenges and opportunities that lie at the heart of The Student Leadership Challenge. Like any challenge or opportunity we encounter, the action we take starts from deeply held values that trigger a desire to make a change. While taking that first step is often the most difficult part, it’s important to remember that all successes start that way. And we all have the capacity to listen to what’s in our hearts, tap into the conviction of our values, and take action.
One person who did just that is Erna Grasz. A participant in The Student Leadership Challenge’s inaugural Certified Facilitator Training Program, she stepped up with a dream, like so many participants do, of taking the power of The Five Practices of Exemplary Student Leadership™ to a group of students and teachers she was compelled to help.
While trekking on safari through Tanzania and Kenya in late 2005, Erna and her husband met several people from local villages who were working hard to develop solutions to their community’s persistent problems, including lack of access to such basic resources as food and water, and to education. One woman in particular was building a school—brick-by-brick, stone-by-stone—that would provide a place of education for the children of a local village. Time and again, Erna was struck by the power of that generous act: building a school and unleashing its potential to transform a community from the inside out, by educating the village’s future leaders.
Having grown up in a single-parent home in extreme economic times, Erna experienced first-hand the positive impact that the generosity of others can have on a child. So when she returned to the U.S., she tapped into her core values of generosity and education, and began to find ways to support development in those countries she had visited. Starting small at first, Erna listened carefully when teachers at a primary school in Tanzania told her they had a single math textbook for one hundred students. Plus, kids were learning as they sat on rocks and dirt.
“When we listen carefully and find out what people really need, we can respond in the best way possible,” Erna said. So, she began by raising funds for textbooks and desks. That success led to many more. And, ultimately, Erna founded the Asante Africa Foundation www.asanteafrica.org, a California-based nonprofit dedicated to building collaborations within Tanzania and Kenya that deliver quality education to the countries’ youth by providing funding for schools, advanced teacher training, and educational resources.
Erna observed that for many youth in East Africa, looking beyond every day survival is not a reality. But thanks to generous funders and supporters, she has been able to create a program that offers leadership and life skills training that empowers students to make informed decisions, turn dreams into reality, reduce family struggles and help communities become self-sustaining.
“We strive to help these young people realize their potential to be leaders, to build strong communities, to take their future into their own hands,” Erna said. “At the Leadership Academy, students develop new skills they can use to empower themselves and pay it forward.”
Throughout their week-long experience, students—many of whom have never slept in a bed before or seen a cell phone—participate in a series of educational workshops that cover a wide-range of topics, from time management and study skills to financial literacy and gender roles. Incorporating a variety of development and assessment tools of The Student Leadership Challenge, they also engage in exercises and role-plays that help them gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a leader, their own personal values, and the important role values play in gaining credibility and earning the trust.
Students also explore the crucial role vision plays in successful leadership and take part in a Dream Mapping exercise that helps them explore and share with others their own personal dreams—for themselves, their families, their communities. As one young woman said, “I did not know I was worthy of having a dream of my own. Now I do and my “personal best story” showed me that I am already a leader. I have to get started NOW.”
The Five Practices provide a solid foundation upon which to build a wide range of skill-building and learning initiatives and to address some of the unique issues and challenges confronting youth in these communities, including body maturation, HIV, substance abuse, and physical and gender abuse, including female genital mutilation (FGM). For one young man, learning about the effects of FGM has made a real difference in the action he will take. “Now that I have learned how bad FGM is for our girls I have to go back and help be the voice to try and stop this,” he said.
“I now know that difficulties will come. They can stop me or I can learn from then and I can move past them,” said another.
“I am going to go home and share this knowledge with my younger siblings and practice being a leader in my family,” another student promised.
Erna Grasz is a woman who listened to her heart and took action. She was a catalyst who saw from her very first step that a small action can make a big difference. “Each of us is blessed with talents, skills, and gifts that can be shared,” says Erna. “With all we have, I believe each and every one of us can make a difference.” And with Asante Africa and the Leadership Academy, Erna has created an opportunity to ignite that same spark in each of the teachers and students she reaches. Based on the experiences of participants so far, the flame has been lit.
To learn more about Asante Africa Foundation, visit www.asanteafrica.org.
Beth High is President of HighRoad Consulting, a leadership development company, where she focuses on the challenges of leading effectively in the virtual environment. She also is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge Workshop® and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Category: Success Stories