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Darien and Norwalk CT – Over the course of the last two years, diverse LEAP students from Darien and Norwalk designed and launched a unique peer to peer initiative with youth in Kampala, Uganda. The initiative is based on a shared vision to bring together students from diverse backgrounds, define common goals and work together to attain them. The result has been a multi-faceted effort focused on leadership development, health, education, and micro-enterprise, which is as dynamic as those students who run it.
Spearheading the current effort are 8 local leaders who have built a team of 50 students, including three Ugandan youth who now share leadership roles with these young visionaries.
Earlier this spring, Jimmy Lubega, a Ugandan student from L.E.A.D. Uganda, came to Darien to meet the team he had been working with for two years. Their goal was to further develop their commitment to reduce the achievement gap in Norwalk, Darien and Kampala and collaborate as a team to develop sustainable solutions that would empower each student to reach his potential.
“The visit was a tremendous success,” says DHS sophomore Cate Connery, who joined the team last year. “We learned a lot about each other and were able to see clearly how each of us, regardless of whether we are from Norwalk or Darien, take our culture for granted. While our backgrounds are so different, we really do share the same vision for meeting the needs in our prospective communities.”
To meet their objectives, the team subdivided into different LEAPs, each with a commitment to impact the achievement gap in a variety of ways. Taylor McDonald and Patrick Wright launched an online magazine called LEAP Magazine which serves as a platform for young people around the globe to discuss issues that weaken their communities and develop solutions. Micheal and Stephencanon created the first LEAP to LEAD training program run by young adults in Kampala, Uganda, and empowered the students to either take a leadership role in the team’s ongoing commitment to build and expand programs that develop leadership, education, and now health, or initiate their own vision for change. Thirdly, closer to home, Izzy Lee and Samantha Stine designed the Back-on-Track tutoring program, which collaborates with Norwalk Grassroots Tennis—a program designed to develop accountable, confident leaders through reading and writing programs. Eight Darien honor students and 8 Norwalk students are involved in this initiative.
The program in Uganda provides once-rescued child soldiers and quarry workers the opportunity to collaborate with diverse US students to acquire the tools to pass on what they’ve learned to others who have not been as fortunate as they have been. Darien and Norwalk students are coaching Ugandan facilitators – in their mid 20’s – on how to effectively lead their peers, see a vision to fruition and become young entrepreneurs. The expanded and restated common goals are being realized – to improve health, education and leadership – in all three communities.
The program originated with Holly Gordon, a Darien senior, who in 2011 began to work with the Carver Center and Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk to establish working partnerships with diverse, like-minded neighbors rather than perpetuate the traditional model of outreach between affluent and non affluent communities. “One idea led to another, and before we knew it, students here had established a venue that would provide all of us with opportunities to shine. Everybody has something to offer community if given the chance. One of our goals is to bolster everyone’s confidence in a judgment free zone; and when this happens we collaborate with creativity and realize everyone’s potential. It is so exciting!
The various LEAP initiatives stemming from this one idea have mobilized more than 50 students in our communities. The online magazine and Facebook page developed by the Connecticut and Ugandan partners involves more than 120 young people. “Every stage of LEAP is designed to test my confidence in my ability to connect with diverse partners, conquer my fears, believe in myself, and make a difference to my world,” says Holly Gordon.
“All of the members of this LEAP team have shown a tremendous amount of leadership, collaboration and ingenuity. They have developed accountability, independence and a commitment to change. It is a win-win for all involved, and successfully prepares the students to be culturally competent leaders and entrepreneurs. “ Calahan explains.
“During the process of implementing their solutions, LEAP members are trained to broaden perspective and develop business acumen as they make something from nothing with people they don’t know. Our world needs leaders who are self aware, work with their diverse neighbors as equals, put fear aside and are resilient enough to succeed at their vision, both here in the US and across the globe.” Calahan said.
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