countries

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Africa | South Africa

Kamhlushwa / Humans Living Passions – Community Enrichment from Within

meet the extraordinary Imagine Scholars

   Imagine Scholar is a unique after-school program in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province, reaching out to the most ambitious children in the local schools. Together, students and facilitators create a nourishing environment emphasizing personal growth, the finding and fostering of passions and the upholding of core moral values.

Although Imagine Scholar has a record of outstanding academic achievements (like students attending the Yale-Program, the African Leadership Academy or United World Colleges), the main focus of the community enrichment program is character-building aimed at the empowerment of leaders; one day these leaders will be the vanguard of social and economic enrichment in their community and even today many of the students engage in charitable activities, business contests and science projects. As founder Corey Johnson puts it: “I’m incredibly proud of all the huge successes, but the real goal is to create good people. I’d be more proud if they become good mothers, fathers or coworkers, just good people; because that’s what the world needs.”

Imagine Scholar’s dynamic approach to education takes student-centric methods to the next level: students are involved in all crucial decision-making processes from schedules to subjects and the selection of new aspirants. The vision is to have (former) Imagine Scholars run the entire program by themselves within the next years. Think tanks, TED-talks, creative and critical thinking exercises, communal reading sessions, communication classes, academics, chess and meditation are some dimensions of the holistic framework. Volunteers help with the day to day schedule and function as mentors.

If you would like to make a donation to support this inspiring project or volunteer on the ground, stop by here: http://imaginescholar.org/

I was humbled to live and work with these extraordinary humans, who take pride in being a bit "weird," but let me not keep you any longer from getting to know them yourself! Maybe you can't meet everybody in one day, so come back here, whenever you feel like it!

I fell in love with astronomy and decided to be an astrophysicist. It’s not only about the job, it’s the passion I have and I’m willing to help others and spread the science behind and the beauty of it.

Glen   To be honest, when I started here, I wasn’t focused that much on my passion, but on my academics. I was introduced to online learning and found many passions, such as astronomy and chess. Also I’m now more willing to help others instead of just looking at my own self and academics. Before Imagine Scholar, my dream was being a doctor, but I fell in love with astronomy and decided to be an astrophysicist. It’s not only about the job, it’s the passion I have and I’m willing to help others and spread the science behind and the beauty of it. I was part of the space balloon project, which involves science of the air and sending a balloon to space. It has a computer, which is programmed by us to take pictures as it goes up. I think our team work was very good. We worked a lot on research before launch day, and when the day came, we applied our theory practically. I also learned to never give up. Even though we didn’t find our balloon, I still have the spirit to try next year; because I know, where there is a will, there is a way. I think Imagine Scholar played a huge role in me becoming the top student at my school, because I’m not just an individual, but I learned from other people and I was motivated to believe in myself. Therefore I had the dedication and was able to put in the hard work.

 

Gladys   When I was young, I saw how much my mom suffered when she was sick. So, I told myself: "one day I wanna be the first doctor to cure HIV, Aids." Later I went to Tongo hospital, to do a job shadowing; when I felt the smell, I was like “oh no, do I really want to do this?” And as time goes on, I was like “nah, I’m afraid of blood, I can’t take this.” Then I wanted to do geology as a volcanologist.” By 2015 I told myself “I wanna be a teacher” and that’s what I’m studying now, doing my UNISA online course.

our target is to work with local primary schools. I’m doing it because when I grew up, I didn’t get the privilege to learn English

The program “Teach a Child to Read” I’m running with Noncedo and Sandiso. Our target is to work with local primary schools. I’m doing it because when I grew up, I didn’t get the privilege to learn English, someone who can teach me, or books from a library. If you start reading while you are young, it’s gonna be easy for you to explore more and your mind will think of things that happen outside of where you are. At home I read and spend a lot of time with my little brother chatting, singing, laughing. I also go to church. That’s where I act drama, sing, do poems, teach young kids at Sunday school. Maybe on Saturdays I go out to Malelane with my friends and most Mondays I spend my time at the orphanage and its private school, helping with anything. If I have to clean the house, I do that, I do laundry, I look after the kids or I play with them.

Nomcebo   Originally I dreamed about being a doctor, because it was something that I heard people saying, like “being a doctor is cool, you get to earn a lot of money.” At Imagine Scholar I fell in love with accounting, so I decided in grade 9 that I want to look into it. And then there is my passion to sew: I started sewing when I was about six. So, I always got into trouble with my mom for cutting clothes that I didn’t use anymore and changing them to something I wanted to wear. I started drawing because I was tired of getting into trouble. One day, Megan saw my sketchbook and made me realize how passionate I am about fashion design. We went to one of the shops in Nelspruit, where they sell fabrics. It was challenging, because I had to get instructions from Youtube videos. But it was fun, because I learned that I can use math in fashion design; I have to take measurements and do calculations and all that.

I didn’t really know about my passion until someone helped me to realize it. So, I thought it would be good, if I lid open the eyes of other people in the community

My idea of passion was my motivation to partake in a program that trains women to sew their own clothes; I didn’t really know about my passion until someone helped me to realize it. So, I thought it would be good, if I lid open the eyes of other people in the community, because I don’t think they are aware of their passions. I discovered that they have skills and talents, but they don’t know how to use them. I thought that using my passion to inspire them would be a good way of showing them that they can start their own passion projects and maybe use them to earn money. After Imagine Scholar I walk all the way home and that is part of my exercise. I do dishes, read books, do homework; I also love writing short stories and I draw things apart from fashion design. Besides that I hang out with my sisters. We talk about things that we sometimes agree and sometimes don’t agree on. So it’s fun. I also watch television and I like to sit alone and think, think about anything excluding academics. 

Phila   When I started Imagine Scholar, it was very hard. I was introduced to many things that I didn’t have at my high school, like the library and the computers. I struggled with reading books and using the internet and connecting with people from different countries. But then Imagine Scholar became a family. Before I came here, I wanted to be a mechanical engineer. But I realized that the interest was more in the science of mechanics and electronics. I also love computer programming. I practice my skills online and facilitators help me. This is a place where I get to develop myself. It provides me with resources that I don’t get at school and I can explore my passions, like writing poems. I see my role as a person who shares information and helps other students with academic challenges and their personal lives.

two reasons why I love reading: one is self-development and the other is fun. I get to leave the place that I am in, you know, go to another country or another religion or custom and really get involved in those characters and their stories

Imagine Scholar has four whys. They focus on leaving your comfort zone, developing your extraordinary self, being empowered to inspire the world and doing the right thing. These whys have spoken to me and I also believe in self-development and growth as a person. I’m here from Tuesday until Saturday. On other days I explore my science passion by doing experiments at home. I also love cooking, I watch science shows on TV and read a lot of books. There are two reasons why I love reading: one is self-development and the other is fun. I get to leave the place that I am in, you know, go to another country or another religion or custom and really get involved in those characters and their stories and whatnot. It also helps my vocabulary, yes, to become a better writer and it helps us with our applications and academics.

I see myself as a friend and someone who seeks growth by exploring whatever he can

Chawe   When I came here, the other students were very welcoming to me and also the facilitators treated me as one of them. And, as time went on, this became my second family and a home. Ever since I was young, I wanted to be a cardiologist; but, being exposed to so many different passions and interests here at Imagine Scholar, I became aware that there’s more. I discovered different things, such as poetry, filming, and engineering. For now my aspirations are filming and electrical and chemical engineering. At Imagine Scholar I’m a student, but that role has evolved, because now I see myself as a friend and someone who seeks growth by exploring whatever he can, whether it’s learning how to speak Russian, being part of the F1 challenge or hosting a recycling workshop. During school breaks I usually play chess or read a novel. I’m into fiction and science fiction. On Sundays I go to church and when I’m at home I do a lot of reading and studying, and just spend time with my siblings. 

Imagine Scholar is a place where I get to be myself

Allan   In the year 2015 there was a selection-program for Imagine Scholar; that’s where I first heard about it. I started to attend the selection program in 2015, made it to the top 20 and then to the top 10 of Imagine Scholar. To me, Imagine Scholar is a place where I get to be myself, a place where I get to communicate with other people and learn from them in the same way they learn from me. My dream is to become a great leader and to be a doctor. One of the skills that I get from Imagine Scholar is critical thinking, which I feel should play a huge role in terms of me becoming a doctor. Outside of Imagine Scholar I go to my normal school. Each and every day we have seven hours of school. After school and during breaks I usually play chess with my peers, which helps me to learn and I’m enjoying it. I also spend time with my family and play with my nephew.

because I was passionate, I was able to persevere

Muzi   At Imagine Scholar there are always people who listen to what I want to say. So, I feel very good, like in a favorite place where I get to express myself the way I want. Before I started Imagine Scholar I wanted to be a teacher and at some point a nature conservationist. But then there was a year when Corey started a business club, which helped me to realize my passion for business; that is why I am aspiring to grow up and start a lot of businesses, so that I can build more orphanage homes, because that’s one of my dreams. In 2015, we went to Johannesburg to partake in a competition called the Kidpreneur-Challenge, where youngsters like us compete and promote their business; ours made 4th place, so it was one of the best. It was very hard to start a business. But, because I was passionate, I was able to persevere. I was able to stand and just push and here I am now – I own small businesses and hopefully I am going to own bigger ones in the future. I do not really have a life outside of Imagine Scholar, because I’m in grade 12 now (chuckles). So, if I’m not at Imagine Scholar, I’m at school and if I’m not at school, I’m at home. I use most of my time for studying. However, when I get time, I go to church or play chess with my friends. 

At school everything was about competing, whereas at Imagine Scholar it’s like family and trying to improve one another, helping one another.

Queen   When I started Imagine Scholar it was just a building; we used to attend three days a week. As time passed, we had more students and more classes. So we ended up with six days a week. Now we have people coming in to explore their passions, whereas back then it was more about academics. At school everything was about competing, whereas at Imagine Scholar it’s like family and trying to improve one another, helping one another. I thought I would be competing with the most successful students in the community, but instead I could just be myself and interact with people. I wanted to be a pilot, but I realized that I’m not really passionate about flying. I’m more interested in health and mindfulness and community service. That’s also my motivation for working at the hospital. I just went there one day and realized that they don’t have enough nurses. I thought that maybe I could help. At first it was a bit overwhelming, because I never went to school for that. I really enjoy speaking to patients and embracing empathy. I feel more alive when there’s music. So, I thought that Zumba would be a good idea for me. At home it got a bit boring, because I was on my own and in the end I decided to introduce it to the other students.

I realized that it’s not about Imagine Scholar; it’s about being here and being happy about yourself as well as being willing to grow.

Andile   Imagine Scholar is a family; we support, learn from, grow with and get inspired by each other. We’re exposed to different opportunities, like the Yale program as well as the African Leadership Academy and the UWC. I realized that it’s not about Imagine Scholar; it’s about being here and being happy about yourself as well as being willing to grow. When I came here, I was very shy and my goal was to step outside my comfort zone, be confident and not shy to present ideas; we’re exposed to new opportunities that require us to have communication and critical thinking skills. My goal is to learn how to question other people, speak spontaneously in front of people and gain confidence. I am passionate about art, which includes working with my hands and drawing portraits and landscapes. During the December holidays 2016 I used to watch this program where they use recycling to make beautiful art pieces. I was inspired to do a recycling project around my community. I invited primary school students and we managed to make art pieces, recycle plastic bottles and do a Mignon art day under the theme of happiness. They transformed what made them happy, expressed what happiness feels like to them, what they are passionate about and things they cannot go a day without looking at. I was very inspired by them and want to do more projects like that.

 

Samkelisiwe   When I started Imagine Scholar I was really nervous; meeting new people who I didn’t know was frightening, because I wasn’t really good at communication. At the same time, I was ready to learn more about what Imagine Scholar was all about. Now, being a part of it, I’m actually happy. I found a family with the students and I just love being here. I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, but I didn’t know specifically what kind of doctor. When I became an Imagine Scholar, they helped me realize my passion for children; I love children, I love spending time with them, and so I decided to focus on pediatrics.

one particular lesson I came out with, is that it is important for you to know what is happening around you and in other countries

Traveling alone to the US for the Yale program was scary, because I had to figure it all out by myself. But it was really fun and a new experience that I enjoyed. I met new people, which I had to engage with and though that was scary for me, I was challenged to come out of my comfort zone, to learn to interact and be participative, which I liked a lot. I learned much from these people, but one particular lesson I came out with, is that it is important for you to know what is happening around you and in other countries. My youth blog, called “Activist in Action” has the aim to inspire other youths out there to make a change in their communities. When they read about what other people do all over the world, they hopefully want to take a stand and help improve the communities they live in.

Enky   This is my fifth year at Imagine Scholar. At first it was a surreal experience, because the environment was all new and I was used to the way we learned in our school. We had to incorporate everything new that we learned in our lives and I started seeing my life developing from there; I developed emotionally, mentally and physically and that’s when I actually discovered my passion for health and nutrition and I started venturing into this. I grew as a person, outside of and at Imagine Scholar. I got a lot of praise for achieving the maximum of 7 distinctions on my grade 12 marks, but I still can’t believe it myself.

It was unbelievable to be accepted and from then on I just could see my dream of going overseas and studying there becoming real.

I got the Mastercard Foundation full scholarship for studying at a university in the US. Before the interview I was a bit nervous, but it went well and so I was very hopeful. It was unbelievable to be accepted and from then on I just could see my dream of going overseas and studying there becoming real. I want to further my studies in the dietetics field and I feel very excited about going overseas. Sure, I’m scared of leaving my family behind and I’m very close to my little brother. But I’ve been with my family my whole life and so I see this as a chance to grow as a person and a woman and just being independent. I want to make my family proud; it’s not as if I’m not coming back. I’m gonna come back and improve their lives, so I’m going there for them too. It encourages me.

Tandzile   In 2011 we were the second group of Imagine Scholars. We had competitions like who reads the most and we had awards. By now you do things because you want to, because you are inspired or it’s an interest or you see yourself growing from doing those things. It has really grown – the students and the facilitators too. I was chosen by my school teacher to go for an interview. I didn’t know what the interview was. When you come in at Imagine Scholar now, you know exactly what you’re coming to do. You have the chance to look at it before being a part of Imagine Scholar. For me it wasn’t like that. Everyone was confused, including the facilitators.

you don’t have to follow everyone’s path, but one that leads you to where you really want to be.

I’ve always wanted a straight forward life, where I’ll be high school, university, then go to work. When I came here I learned that there is no need for me to do things, because I wanna please someone else. I should be doing things because I want to. Imagine Scholar has shaped me in that way. I completed my metric in 2014, but up to now I haven’t gone to school, because I’m not really comfortable leaving my family behind; but with Imagine Scholar I have the option of learning from home and that has really worked for me. They made me realize that you don’t have to follow everyone’s path, but one that leads you to where you really want to be. Today, I’ll be heading out early to have a class with the students who might be joining us. We go to their schools, getting to know them and familiarize them with Imagine Scholar before coming in for interviews.

 

 

 

 

And here is what founder Corey Johnson has to say about these remarkable students and the story behind Imagine Scholar:

 

Corey   I ended up in South Africa by happenstance. I met someone and they offered to send me here for three months and that became seven years now. I was living in an orphanage and met a kid who was just incredibly motivated and it lit a spark where I said: “this kid is doing everything right but nobody is working with him.” The initial challenge was mostly that I had no idea what I was doing. My background is in business and any time you come into a new industry there is a lot of learning, but I think that was also an advantage. I didn’t come in with all the answers, so there was much listening and we really built the program with the students. The first successes weren’t the huge things happening recently; it was just watching students start to believe in the concept and take ownership in the process. I think at Imagine Scholar everybody is going through the process together – all of the facilitators and students are growing. I have to challenge myself daily and that’s a big credit for the students. They are pushing themselves so hard, they are a reminder of what growth looks like. The progress of the students is very individual. We aren’t just a general curriculum; it really is 70 individual stories. The biggest growth, I would say though, is in taking ownership and agency in your life. It’s watching them say: “Here’s my goals, here’s what I have to do,” and then actually doing it. Imagine Scholar is a student-led program and I know that’s said a lot. But our students set the rules, decide how many classes they have, select the new students and that all works into Imagine Scholar’s long term vision. The biggest single difference is how much the students are invested. You know, this really is their program. We’re seven years in now; in three years our entire staff will be university graduates from the program.

 

Imagine Scholar is a student-led program and I know that’s said a lot. But our students set the rules, decide how many classes they have, select the new students and that all works into Imagine Scholar’s long term vision. The biggest single difference is how much the students are invested. You know, this really is their program. We’re seven years in now; in three years our entire staff will be university graduates from the program.

So often we look at this world as competitive and you’re supposed to stand out. To be successful here, you have to make other people bigger.

When I think of character, the first thing is, you have to be hard working. It is an incredible grind to give up 25 hours a week on top of normal school, to read two books a month, to write all these essays. The other thing is you have to be a good person. You have to be somebody who uses your ability and intellect to build other people up. So often we look at this world as competitive and you’re supposed to stand out. To be successful here, you have to make other people bigger. The future vision of Imagine Scholar has always been a long approach. We always said: “how do you change a community in thirty years?” It’s my believe that by then we’ll have had hundreds of kids come through this program. These are going to be the doctors, principals, business people, and the social entrepreneurs. All the things that we wanna do to help this community, we want them to come from the students. I’m excited about students coming back and taking my job. This isn’t an education program, this is a community enrichment program.