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Darien, CT —What do diverse kids from Fairfield County Connecticut and the Kibera slum in Nairobi have in common? At first glance, you might say very little. But LEAP students from both communities didn’t have to dig too deep to find that they face some of the same issues and are passionate about finding solutions to them.
LEAP trains culturally competent leaders and entrepreneurs in diverse teams from two local and one global community. LEAP to Kibera is comprised of students from Stamford, New Canaan and Kibera who have committed to two significant initiatives to change their world—together.
The LEAP program originated as collaboration between the Boys and Girls Club in Stamford, the New Canaan YMCA and FAFU student center in Kibera, Kenya. During the first 6 months together, the team identified two common issues in both Kenya and Fairfield County: first, a surge in bullying that elicits insecurity, self abuse and fear of attending school; and second, a need to focus on environmental issues such as how to transform garbage to energy in order to foster healthier lives.
In June 2010, students from Stamford traveled to Kibera to meet their partners in person and further galvanize their mission for change. Two and a half years later, the high school students continue to meet weekly, have connected 75 people around their vision and worked hard to break down cultural barriers of distrust in order to build a partnership of equals. Today, still committed to develop successful programs to meet their goals, these LEAP students have inspired 3 NGO’s, Africa AHEAD, Peepoople and Ubuntu, to share needed expertise in associative partnerships.
The teams were in agreement that the garbage-laden river and streets in Kibera needed to be cleaned up and were taught that the hand-out of money would have a limited effect without buy-in from the community, strong personal connections and empowerment. LEAP aims to empower people in a community to make collaborative change rather than raise funds to donate to the cause.
“Normal outreach teaches us that we, as the more affluent community, can solve problems with money. LEAP, however, teaches students that real change comes as a result of our personal connections, a commitment to a vision and respectful, weekly conversations. Together, we can re-define the power of 1.” says Lauren Calahan. “LEAP asks students to name their stereotypes, break down cultural barriers and learn how to be vulnerable with each other. Facing the bullying issue will strengthen kids’ confidence, and make them more effective members of the community. Then, as leaders, they can lead their team to tackle issues like waste management, energy and real-life problems.”
LEAP trains students to connect with experts to reach their goals. The students research and inspire professionals around the world to develop the necessary associative partnerships to fulfill their mission. The LEAP to Kibera team established their first partnership with an innovative Swedish company called Peepoople. They negotiated an agreement to train the LEAP community to build a business that will simultaneously transform sanitary behavior of thousands of slum dwellers, generate income and transform the human waste on the streets to fertilizer that will healthfully grow the food they need. Their second partnership is being developed with Africa AHEAD to provide the needed materials to train the facilitators in Kibera to identify the sanitation issues that spread disease and affect a cultural change in behavior throughout the community. In return for their materials, Africa AHEAD wants to share the LEAP to Lead leadership curriculum with their communities to offer further impact throughout the world. The third NGO to offer support, Ubuntu, has developed successful health programs in South Africa, and invited the LEAP team to meet with them to use components of their model as a prototype for success in Kibera. The LEAP with Peepoople team is committed to develop health clubs in Kibera, first with 50 students, and then, once established, scale the programs to 12,000 students in the slum. In the mean time, all their knowledge will be shared with still more LEAP teams in Uganda, Sierra Leone, India and across the globe.
Calahan reminds us, “These are high schoolers, normal teens from every walk of life, who want to see how much of a mark they can make. They simply need all of us to believe in them, foster long term, diverse partnerships and point them in the right direction.”
Closer to home, their commitment to understand why people bully and how to remain confident in the face of adversity has led them to write five skits, which were performed on May 24th, Diversity Day, at Dolan Middle School. The team chose topics that negatively impact communities in the US as well as in Kibera – topics like physical and verbal aggression, suicide, cyber bullying, clique and gang behavior and anorexia. The LEAP students from Stamford, Norwalk, Darien and New Canaan performed these skits and used their leadership skills to lead the Dolan students in break-out conversations to demonstrate the power of diverse perspectives as a way to build confidence and identity. The day turned out to be a great success—Dolan Middle School’s principal, Charmaine Tourse, exclaimed, “Today was wonderful! LEAP received rave reviews!”
Will Cuoco, New Canaan High School, describes his experience: “When I first came to LEAP I was very uncomfortable. It was the first time I had ever interacted with people from a very different background. As time in LEAP went on, I realized that it was the initial discomfort that make the connections that much more meaningful. Some of the best ideas came from discussions we had among those of us who had very different perspectives.
To successfully make an impact, the students had to invest a lot of hard work to ask the right questions, test their assumptions and assess the issues at hand. Three years later, this once “shy to get started” groups of local teens have successfully integrated into one diverse group.
LEAP trains students to lead themselves and their peers with peer to peer coaching and teaching. Whether they are in their weekly project groups, or teaching the same leadership class they once took, they learn to humbly and effectively inspire others to reach their potential. The team has elicited such trust in others that they have been invited to train students and teachers on how to implement the LEAP program into their leadership mission.
Chrismide J. Chery, Stamford, CT writes: “Many people think that the world can change as easy as a blink of an eye, but it doesn’t work like that. What can is LEAP. LEAP can change the world as easy as a blink of an eye. LEAP teaches leadership and any word that ends with the word ‘ship’. Everyone put together in LEAP can make a difference, starting next year, next month, Hey! You can even start today. We’ve started small, grown bigger in our projects, and successfully gotten through it all. In LEAP there is no such thing as backing down when we’re so close to reaching that goal—that’s life changing success. Even if we’ve just started a goal, the hard work and tiredness will all pay off once you see that what you’ve done has made a change. There’s no wrong or right idea because the wrong idea may be the right idea for a community who can change their way.
As a peer to peer partnership between local affluent, non-affluent and global communities, LEAP exists to empower each student to create his or her own vision for change and provides him with the knowledge and skills to create a team of like-minded students to make such a dream work. Local LEAP partners meet weekly, and then utilize channels of tele-communications to connect with partners across the country or globally. Through structured communications and analytical thinking, LEAP teams identify issues and design solutions to these challenges as young entrepreneurs.
During the process of implementing their solutions, LEAP members are trained to use ingenuity, develop business acumen and collaborate to make something from nothing with people they don’t know. “Our world needs leaders who, like Chrismide and Will, will test themselves as leaders, work with next door, put fear aside, and commit to succeed at their vision, both here in the US and across the globe.” Calahan said.
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