The Questions with No Answers

I have just finished with high school. I stand here on the brink if my future, looking out to what lies ahead, and I feel like I’m standing out on the sea shore, looking out to the vast blue ocean. It is exciting.

The thing about me is I have always been ambitious. Since I was in Grade 1, I wanted to be president; the 8 year-old me wanted to study at Cambridge University; and I’ve just dreamed and dreamed of traveling and exploring the world.
This is where the plot thickens, things get complicated, and I start developing those questions with no answers.

One of my most recent dreams has been to study in the USA, at a very specific Liberal Arts College. So I went for it – wrote my SATs, spent hours developing my essay and I sent in my application. Then, the 12th of December comes and I download the decision letter, with my fingers super tightly crossed (it is a very elite college and hard to get into), and before me I see the words, “We regret to deny your application.” Rejection.

I am no stranger to rejection, but that didn’t make it sting any less. After picturing my future a certain way, it is incredibly hard to imagine it another way. But I had to.
Also, my biggest fear in life is being ordinary. And going to the USA would have been my chance to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Anyhoo, there I am, dreams falling apart, going through slight depression when I get a phone call, a few days later at about 7pm. It’s someone from The Allan Gray Orbis Foundation (very cool fellowship for South African students). I hear the words, “Congratulations, you have been selected to be an Allan Gray fellow.”

Everything can change in an ordinary instant.

So, here I am. I can imagine a profound future for myself again.
My mom said to me that I was rejected from the US college for a reason, because Allan Gray is going to be better for my future.
Then I began to wonder. Is there some external force in the universe that worked its magic? Do we have a predestined path (was mine to stay in South Africa)? Was it just a random coincidence? Do we each only have one true path in our lives? Or was this just one out of many possibilities?

Sorry to leave you hanging, but these are the questions with no answers….

I like to think it was, as my mom says, meant to be. I like to think that there is a fantastic path for me. All I know for certain is whether it’s predetermined or a series of coincidences, I’m going to turn whatever comes my way into an opportunity for magnificence.

The 2014 Girls 20 Summit.

Yes, August has passed and all of the delegates from around the world that I met are back in their home countries. However, the 10 days I spent in Sydney are still inspiring me every day and so I feel I need to share some of that inspiration.

A Bit of Background
Girls 20 is a Canadian organisation set up as a platform for young women from around the world to have their voices heard on the issues of economic development and gender equality. It is a shadow conference of the G20, and one girl is chosen as a representative from each of the G20 countries, and the summit is held in the G20 host country every year.  A communiqué we draw up is presented to the actual G20 leaders.
So, this year was Australia and I was the chosen representative for South Africa – quite exciting!

Meeting the Other Delegates
Getting off the plane, I was quite nervous to meet the other girls from around the world, as many I had read about were already in university and doing incredible things!
My expectations were completely off. The second I met them in the airport, it felt as if I had known them all my life – we were sisters, bound together by a common purpose to change the world!
One of the major highlights of the summit was the friends I made. I miss them dearly, but I have some comfort in knowing that they are just a flight away, and one day I’ll be able to visit them in India, Italy, Argentina or England (and the list goes on).

Taking it all in
Sydney is an absolutely stunning city, and walking along the clean streets, surrounded by the magnificent architecture was surreal. Especially as we were always on our way to the Canadian Consulate, or a cocktail party or to the events at the Sydney Opera House.
Besides the stunning surroundings, there was a lot of information to take in. We had workshops to equip us for success, on topics ranging from drafting a communications plan, to effective advocacy and finding our calling in the world. It was all aimed to help us focus our post-summit plan, and our message to the G20 leaders.

Kicking off the Summit
Then, both quickly and slowly, we arrived in the Sydney Opera House for the actual ‘Girls 20 Summit’ which was open to the public and different organisations. This was again a huge learning experience as we heard from experts and leaders from big corporates, UN Women, and even agricultural organisations. This was when my head began to fill with ideas – connecting women to employment through technology, encouraging male involvement in women empowerment, destigmaising mental illness….
So much potential! After the brainwaves and discussions, we were ready to enact our bit of change.

Developing the Communiqué
The next day was one of the longest, most challenging days of my life. It was also one of the most rewarding. It was time for us delegates to step up, and take everything we had learnt over the past week and bring it together in one document – all in under 12 hours.
Progress at first was slightly glacial, as I don’t think we realised the intensity of what needed to be done, but luckily our moderator Jen tried to guide us. Just as we thought we were making progress, difference of opinion arose about women-only workplaces and whether we should be promoting this. We discussed the matter for a good 2 hours, eventually making a perfect compromise. This issue was not the only obstacle, but we managed to overcome the hurdles and produce a communiqué that represented everyone’s views. I was especially happy that a clause specifically targeted the challenges women face with farming.

Moving Forward
The day after our work was done, we all started to go back to our home countries. The summit was over. At the time, I was extremely sad. So much emotion, learning and eye-opening had taking place in one week, and it would be over just as quickly as it started.

It has been a few months now, and although I miss being surrounded by such great people and constant motivation, I know that I am a part of a global community now and I am more ready than ever to make them ripples of change.
As for my post-summit initiative, as soon as I get my future life sorted out (I just finished high school, I have no idea where I’m going next year), I’ll let you know.
But just know that something is coming.
With me, you always have to know that.
Peace out, and power to the women!

Here is a video I made about my experiences:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6p9fWfVieWI

Here is a video Girls 20 made, that almost brought me to tears:

http://m.facebook.com/l.php?d=AQEapHFhBZ-rd6h5m0nwFEU4rki-u1fBGa_AX17VBleaiG9Go97RaXpwvyUVuWJ2_cUdew&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.girls20.org%2Fvideos&h=PAQH__jYi&s=1&enc=AZOJdkoQdi-6KOeP9Rzhd-cbdXDvB91PY_vu39X2pvJJNOI0M8dpBJ0_B17jZkTTvA-iJG5GpbfMZSklCnyWSOioTyhJQ7rloHh7wecLk0zMDw

And visit the Girls 20 website for more! The next summit is going to be held in Turkey.
http://www.girls20.org

image

Guess who’s back.

I have not posted on my wonderful blog since May. I cannot believe I have committed such a deadly sin, but when I tell you what I’ve been up to , you may understand:
I represented South Africa at the global Girls 20 Summit in Sydney.
I was finishing up with the most important exams in my life up until now.
I was working a job, earning money.
I spent a week in Mpumalanga doing community work.

While I am no fan of excuses, the good news is I have lots to blog about, and now that I have a bit more time and self-discipline I am going to.
So, SWEEPING DECLARATION:
I promise to blog at least once a week. And I have a lot of exciting things planned: about my adventures, my perspective changes and other things I am interested in.

Moral of the story: don’t give up on me, exciting and things lie ahead!

#BringBackOurGirls

Gender equality has been a consistent struggle for women globally, right from the Suffragette movement, through first wave feminist to Malala Yousafsai of today. The thing is, it’s getting tricker. The movement is no longer about white, middle-class housewives trying to be free from oppression from their husband. With women empowerment n the 21st century, questions of cultural relevance and religion are always in constant debate.

 

This is one of the main reasons that extremist organisations make me so angry: they misrepresent what religions truly stand for. For example, and what this post is specifically about, Islam: it is a religion based on love which pursuit of knowledge, yet organisations like the Boko Haraam stop girls from going to school “in the name of Islam” – it’s so twisted.

 

When I first heard that the girls had been abducted, the first thing I thought is that it could have happened to me. We do not choose our circumstances. I am lucky enough to go to an all girls’ school safely, but I could have just as easily been born into a country threatened by a terrorist organisation.

 

Education is a right to all – regardless of race, religion or social status. We can’t just let these girls be oppressed for trying to fulfill a basic right. In January I read ‘I Am Malala’ and it was really shocking how the Taliban had very similar ideologies to the Boko Haraam. It’s the 21st century and people still believe that women do not deserve equal rights – this is saddening.

 

Subsequently, I’ve watched a snippet of that video that the Boko Haraam leader put out, and I think that the girls are being used as political weapons as well as symbols of backward beliefs. The group has given Goodluck Jonathan an offer of releasing the girls on the condition that currently imprisoned Boko Haraam members are released. Since when is it okay to let almost 200 young humans act as bargaining agents?

I feel like global diplomatic action needs to be escalated.

 

What has been inspiring, however, is the social action taken by civilians, specifically in my direct community. I’ve seen my own school explode with passion regarding the issue – tweeting #BringBackOurGirls intensively, as well as making posters. We’ve also attracted a lot of media attention!

As well as this, the G(irls) 20 Summit delegation that I’m a part of has taken social awareness action on Facebook. Angie Motshekga, South Africa’s minister of Basic Education, has also be quite action (as she told us when she visited our school on Friday) as she has created a petition… Sign it! http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/ancwl-bringbackourgirls-safely-now

 

So, I hope these girls are okay. I hope they get rescued soon. As for the rest of us: why not take a few moments to be grateful that we live in a free society, and let’s use that to help those not as lucky.

Istanbul

On the way to the Galata Tower

On the way to the Galata Tower

“How was Turkey?”

Upon my return from the Eurasian Schools Debating Championships, this question has made its way into every single encounter I have. My response is always the same: the usual, seemingly-meaningless-but-actually-so-true ‘amazings’ and ‘interestings.’
Then it occurred to me that the essence of discovery – the wondrous journey of falling in love with an abstract city – isn’t easily explained. Thus, I will post a list of my best memories, and in them you can hopefully get a glimpse at the sort of emotions I’m talking about.

– My First Stroll in Istanbul: on the night we arrived, we took a walk through the cobble-stone streets of the city. In the cold evening, I sipped on delicious Sahlep and was awe-stuck by the magnificently ancient architecture that persisted to be viewed ie the Blue Mosque at night, ancient Egyptian relics.

– The Drones Debate: I got passionate during this debate, I was completely absorbed by the twists we threw at the Chinese team we were against. We were arguing that drones are good because they kill terrorists, and that’s a good thing.

– The Night of the Long Conversations: I stayed up until 5am talking to people I’ve never met before in a hotel room. Some were from Cape Town, some from Turkey. Topics ranged from feminism to school and teenage norms, the situation allowing for complete honesty which was refreshing.

– Dancing: at the Break Night Party, I let it all out with some of my best friends at a fancy restaurant/club. They played my favourite songs.

– The Blue Mosque: we got special permission to enter the flawless building while Friday prayers were taking place. The architecture was profound in a way of being beautiful for beauty’s sake, rather than to flaunt it.

– Your Song: up some stairs in an covert room off of Istiklal Street, we had a karaoke night, and I sung, making eyes at a handsome Romanian man.

I am grateful for these moments. I am grateful for the people who filled them. And I have no uncertainty that in a few years I shall look back on the trip and realise that it had a part to play in shaping me and my perspective.

I did what I love in an awe-inspiring city, surrounded by fascinating people. Need I go into more detail?

All I shall say is:
I miss you, Istanbul. I miss our coaches (Lunga and Michael), their humor, the debaters, and I miss the self-autonomy of doing exactly what I wanted, and defining myself as whoever I pleased.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela: father of our nation (18 July 1918 − 5 December 2013)

The media has been exploding. Normally, that would irk me. However, I feel that Nelson Mandela’s death is such a colossal event that it deserves all the coverage it is getting. He was the father of the nation we know today. So, I’m going to add my voice to the many others, as a young South African.

 

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela

 

Humans tend to believe that it takes more than one person to change the world; that just one person can’t make a difference. However, I argue that our Nelson Mandela defied such a rule. He was one man. He created great change. He was a beacon of hope for South Africans who had become acclimatised to oppression under Apartheid. Without his gentleness, our nation would never have transitioned to democracy so smoothly. Some feared civil war, yet peace was found. I may not have been alive to see this at play, yet STILL in South Africa – I can see the impact that this one man had on lives of ordinary people. He shaped the country I live in today.

 

It is a tragedy that our Tata is no longer with us – a hero has fallen. Yet, I think that with being melancholy, we need to celebrate the life that Madiba had, and that was quite a life indeed. In his 95 years, he experienced oppression from the hateful National Party, became the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, he persevered through 27 years in prison and then went on to become the first black president of South Africa. What still flabbergasts me is that through all of this, he had unwavering humility and courage.

 

If you look at politics, it is very seldom that a leader comes about who is truly great enough to see the potential of a nation, beyond selfish intent and current hindrances. The leaders of South Africa today seem to have lost this humility. Extreme views claim that now our country is going to deteriorate without our father Madiba watching over us. I, however, challenge that. I believe that we can still follow the beacon of light which Mandela illuminated – it is up to us, seemingly ordinary citizens, to realise the power we hold in our country. If we do this, we can continue to create ripples of change.

 

So, here’s to the life of a man whose soul shall always be superior. May our Madiba rest in peace, as his life created peace for so many others. I hope that among all of the upset, this momentous occasion can be a reminder of the greatness of a man who was the key to the democratic South Africa in which I now reside – a man whose selflessness and optimism touched the lives of millions.

We love you, Tata.

Imagine All The People… Did some research

The whole Global Warming and Climate Change movement has become a bit cliched. The media has blown it entirely out of proportion, causing people who don’t even know the facts or the science behind it all to either be completely for or against it. There’s no moderation. That’s why we need to educate people, and realise that we should go green and respect our planet, not because an apocalypse might happen otherwise, but because it’ll prolong our existence here.

 

Recently, when I was at a workshop at the South African Institute of International Affairs, I came across a programme, called the Environmental Sustainability Project which is basically like a research paper for the youth to do, looking at and linking three different aspects of the environment in relation to going green. I, having quite a ‘change the world’ mentality, was immediately interested, and in doing the research, I’ve learnt and discovered so much more than I could have imagined.

 

My paper focuses on Climate Change, how we need to develop sustainably to mitigate it, and furthermore looking at how women’s role in agricultural production is integral for that. Sounds boring to some of you? I actually would have thought so too. BUT – how everything links to each other is incredible. Women make up more than half of the farmers in Africa, and often get given a huge workload because their husbands have to become migrant workers. These women then have to do the farming, household chores and look after the children. The scary thing: tonnes of farming policy makers stereotype farmers to be men, detrimenting these poor women further. So helping them farm sustainably would protect the environment (linking to Climate Change), and make sure their children – our future generations – know how to do the same.

 

(Warning: slight feminist rant ahead)

The most amazing part of it all is that women are actually extremely important, in so many aspects. If we educate them, they will be able to get jobs, having children later on. According the the UN, girls in developing countries who receive seven years of schooling have more choices in life: marrying an average of four years later and having 2.2 fewer children. They also are raising our future generation, and if we educate them, they can educate their children about things like being green.

 

I say, half of the world’s problems are caused by men (petrol companies, industry) and the other half can be solved by focusing on women (education, overpopulation and resource limitations).

 

So I guess what whoever is reading this can gather from the above, is not only are women important ;), but by me, just one teenage girl, looking into issues and doing some research, I’ve generated pretty good (if I do say so myself) solutions to the world’s problems – at least some of them. Point is, If ALL people, ALL ages, ALL classes, did a bit more research into Earth’s issues, rather than just taking the media’s word for it, we’d have a lot more informed, passionate, conscious people and a lot more solutions.

 

If that was at all inspirational, and you’re feeling like you want to get some research and reading done, here are a few cool places to start:

5 Reasons You Should Care About Girls’ Education – http://www.unfoundation.org/blog/5-reasons.html

Seeds of Change (an awesome initiative involving African women in agriculture) – http://www.globalfundforwomen.org/impact/food-security

Women’s Environment & Development Organisation’s take on sustainable development – http://www.wedo.org/category/themes/sustainable-development-themes

Injustice: the detention of child migrants

Image

interviewing the boys

We think that brutal human rights violations are far away from us, like all the way in the Middle East or in central Africa. Their stories are in the news occasionally, amongst multitudes of political banter. Scenarios of torture and murder are too intimidating to tackle, so we keep to our own world.

 

In our society, it seems like these stories don’t even have a human face. The terror of Kony 2012, as well as the brutal murder of Anene Boysen have been forgotten about because the media deems them as less important, because they don’t sell enough newspapers.

 

Sometime in September last year I received a phone call from my editor at the Children’s News Agency about a campaign that would alter my perspective of rights violations forever. The campaign is called ‘End Immigration Detention of Child Migrants,’ and aims to stop the arrests of children seeking refuge in countries without the correct paperwork.

 

I got the opportunity to interview two boys from the Democratic Republic of Congo who had been detained entering South Africa. They’re my age, yet they had to flee the DRC to escape being forced to join the rebel group as a child soldier. They were arrested as soon as they reached the border and taken to Lindela, a detention centre where, according to them, there is an infestation of lice and confined spaces which made them contemplate suicide.

 

Luckily, Lawyers for Human Rights came to their rescue and they were saved from being deported back to the DRC. Meeting these boys was eye-opening, and what got me the most was the fact that after they had been treated so terribly, they were hopeful about South Africa – what a lesson of positivity and resilience to learn. These boys got their happy ending.

 

Last Friday, I spoke about this experience at a Lawyers for Human Rights event where they screened a short film about child detention, and it really impacted me, because these children are just like me, some are as young as five, yet they have no concept of freedom. It was great to address the audience there and really make them think about the issues, and inspire them to actively fight against human rights violations.

 

There are many children still in these situations, and still millions of people around the world experiencing human rights violations every day. I say it is time to do something, whether it’s as simple as writing meaningful stories, reading them with a conscience or even getting involved with organisations in your community.

Here is the full article which was published in the City Press, followed by the link to information about the global campaign:

Article – http://www.childrensnewsagency.org/articles/entry/inside-lindela-the-childrens-stories

Campaign – http://endchilddetention.org/