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LEAP’s primary goal is to deconstruct stereotypes by connecting two diverse local partners and a global partner. LEAP students from each contingent of the program reflected on stereotypes, their causes, and how the program helps combat stereotypes on a local and global scale.
Students broadly categorized stereotypes and their effects negatively. Paul Ntege is a member of LEAP to L.E.A.D. Uganda*, one of LEAP’s global partners whose primary goal is to encourage literacy in the region. Ntege noted, “Largely, stereotypes have negative effects. Stereotypes specifically dealing with our human nature; personality, culture, way of life, geographical location, among others have… devastating effects on the individual portrayed.”
Ntege specifically addressed stereotypes about Africa, in particular that “‘Africa is a dark continent’… a common stereotype among the West about Africa and Africans especially as perpetuated by the Western media. Africa is depicted as a place of misery, suffering and abject poverty.”
The root cause of the stereotypes referenced by Ntege is misinformation spread by the media. He said, “Photos of malnourished kids are a common scene on western television [channels] such as CNN,” and added that these depictions have a goal rooted in fundraising for the continent: “Albeit this is a way of ‘attracting’ donors to [give money] to [African causes], it should also be understood that better methods of fundraising for the cause of poverty in Africa do exist,” he said, and mentioned one alternative method is selling African art in Western stores and donating the proceeds to African charities.
Students from LEAP came to the conclusion that another root cause of stereotypes is ignorance. Kyra Conciatori, from Darien High School, talked about divides between not only fellow citizens of the United States, but citizens in neighboring communities: “Just 10 minutes away from our town of Darien, there are kids in Norwalk who know nothing about us. And we know nothing about them,” she emphasized.
Sanyu Shammy, from L.E.A.D. Uganda, noted, “One way to overcome the negative stereotypes is to contradict them in direct interactions with the people around us.”
Her poignant words are topical in the United States. A common thread in the reflections of Darien and Norwalk students was that their interactions with one another through LEAP helped them combat the misguided perceptions they had before they participated in the program.
Kim Duhart, from Norwalk, said, “Since we talked about stereotypes [in LEAP], I get to know the person first before I judge them on what I see or hear about the type of person they are.”
More specifically, students focused on the stereotypes stemming from the socioeconomic and racial divide between their two communities.
Jaquon Lambert said, “I realized I was stereotyping [the Darien students]. I thought they thought they were better than us because they are from a richer and better place, but then I realized that they all had problems and were mostly just like us.”
Conciatori discussed her initial nervousness when going for the first time to Brien McMahon High School: “I was slightly intimidated by the diverse ethnicity that is nonexistent back at Darien High School… we weren’t sure how they would perceive us and whether or not they would respect us.”
After the two groups interacted and discussed stereotypes together, though, these nerves subsided. Conciatori said, “Slowly, as the group warmed to the topic, confessions emerged. Many of the Brien McMahon students had expected us Darien students to feel and act superior and better. However, they all agreed that this had not been the case at all. They were shocked to hear that we had actually been very nervous to meet them! We talked more about stereotypes, and how they affect our daily lives. It was amazing to hear how our lives were so similar and yet, on the first day of meeting them, we had thought ourselves so different.”
*Note that LEAP to L.E.A.D. Uganda is different from LEAP to Lead Uganda. LEAP to L.E.A.D. Uganda is our former partnership with L.E.A.D. Uganda, a nonprofit that is now known as the African Dream Initiative. LEAP to Lead Uganda is our LEAP group in Uganda that is currently learning the LEAP leadership curriculum.
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