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South Africa Changemakers
USD students work to promote education equality in South Africa

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Changemaker Students

“The USD Changemakers trip to South Africa this past June put into a very vibrant context all of the concepts and theories I had learned in my political science and IR classes throughout my four years of undergraduate study.”

- Emma Dunn ‘12

Last summer, seven USD students traveled to the Limpopo Province of South Africa, to the village of Makuleke. They set out to address educational disparities in the region, under the guidance of Professor J. Michael Williams, JD, PhD, and local non-profit Sharing to Learn.

Makuleke is home to three primary schools and one high school. According to Williams, all the schools lack basic supplies such as paper and pencils. Facilities like bathrooms, computer labs and sports fields are either nonexistent or inadequate.

“The high school is where the disparities are really noticeable,” Williams said. “Only a very small percentage of the students at this high school pass the matriculation exam, and many of the students complained that their teachers were not present in the classroom and that they did not have textbooks.“

The USD students, adopting the name South Africa Changemakers, made a quick trip to a private high school 45 minutes away. They were astounded by the comparison. The availability of a few basic necessities made a huge difference for those students, whose facilities and test scores were both markedly better than in Makuleke.

Makuleke Student

“What made the meeting so special is that it was an idea that came about through a partnership with the USD and the Makuleke students and it was not something that we imposed on them. I believe this is a great model and it is a good start to promoting sustainable and meaningful projects in the future.”

- Professor J. Michael Williams, JD, PhD

The Changemakers decided to take action. They began to build connections with the village; visiting the library, reading to children and gathering as much information as possible about the community. At that time, they met The Equalizers, a local group of seven concerned high school students.

“As we learned more about the lives of the students and their educational limitations (in terms of their high school), we started to brainstorm with them on ways that the USD students might be able to help improve educational matters in the village,” Williams said.

Daily conferences between the Changemakers and the Equalizers inspired the students to work together and host a community meeting.

“In a matter of 36 hours, we made announcements in the community about the meeting, where I would provide a brief lecture on United States Civil Rights and South African Civil Rights, and the Equalizers would introduce themselves,” Williams said.

Changemaker students

“Serving abroad has both inspired and enhanced my experiences as a graduate and a traveler.”

- Nadalie Malsam ‘12

One hundred people attended the meeting, and the Equalizers recruited an additional seven members, doubling their ranks. For Changemaker Nadalie Malsam ‘12, this was a huge success.

“It confirmed the notion that the most productive and rewarding service work develops from a system that relies on the community's capacity to help themselves, and the organic production of ideas through collaborative discussions and projects,” Malsam said.

Plans are in place for another trip this summer. Williams said it is his goal to continue making trips once or twice annually, so that more students can take advantage of this exceptional educational program. According to Emma Dunn ’12, it was the perfect capstone to her studies in international relations.

“The USD Changemakers trip to South Africa this past June put into a very vibrant context all of the concepts and theories I had learned in my political science and IR classes throughout my four years of undergraduate study,” Dunn said.

- Anne Malinoski ‘11