The second year of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation’s Fellowship Programme, Year Equip, focuses (among other things) on Candidate Allan Gray Fellows’ interaction with each other. As a way of forging a sense of community among the second year group an event called Connect is arranged every year. During a Connect weekend Candidate Allan Gray Fellows have to come up with ways to engage a specific community. This year’s Connect engaged the Villiersdorp community, particularly the children of Eilandsrivier Primary School. What follows is Candidate Allan Gray Fellow Jasmine Jacob’s personal account of the experience.
With hearts warm and spirits light we watched the children of Eilandsriver Primary School reluctantly wave their goodbyes as their bus made its way back to Villiersdorp. We stood there hoping they were leaving changed; that we had in some way managed to educate, inspire and help 25 of Villiersdorp’s finest realise their potential for greatness. Strangely though, they wouldn’t be the only ones leaving changed. For as we stood there waving goodbye we were no longer separate individuals but a community.
Through Connect we aim to give expression to a Foundation Pillar called the Spirit of Significance. The Foundation defines it as “a weight of personality that comes from living a life of passion and integrity; a recognition that personal satisfaction comes from empowering oneself in order to serve others.” I liked the prospect of putting this ideal into practice. But on our arrival at the Back2Basics campsite on the 4th of April I couldn’t suppress the feelings of apprehension about the weekend that lay ahead. How was I going to work with 60 Candidate Allan Gray Fellows and, more importantly, how were we going to work together as a group?
Now you may wonder what could possibly cause such anxiety. Well, consider this: what is likely to happen when you put a group of strong-willed, opinionated intellectuals together? Disagreements. And, like all things related to the Fellowship, the disagreements would not be ordinary.
The gathering of the Candidate Allan Gray Fellows (all with different personalities) on that first night of Connect was like the coming together of the different pieces of a puzzle. It was inevitable that some pieces would have trouble finding their place. But as the sun began to set, each piece found its place and together we started forming a clearer picture.
Sitting among a group of Candidate Allan Gray Fellows and hearing the ideas that emerge will often inspire feelings of admiration, even when those ideas run counter to your own. Soon enough heads were nodding agreement in the wooden confines of our campsite. The revolving arguments and conflict dissipated and my apprehension was replaced by admiration.
We all agreed that often in life we give so much attention to beating the closest competitor that we lose focus of the task at hand. There was a risk of that happening, but as we realised our individual weaknesses and strengths we were each able to identify our niche. Within a year, it seemed, we had all found our identity or, as the Foundation would put it, we had found our grounding. And so, covered with blankets with cups of steaming coffee in our hands, we focused on the task at hand: making an impact on the children of Villiersdorp.
We decided to split into two teams and host separate events for the children. Our collective ideas resulted in a beautifully sketched tree adorned with paper cut-out leaves. Each leaf contained the vision of one of Villiersdorp’s 25 future change agents. Their smiles rewarded our hard work and motivated us to spend the following day making plans to keep our legacy going.
As hard as we worked that weekend we also made time to play. We relived Apoorv’s legendary selection camp dance and sang a capella in the moonlight. There was comfort in simply being together that wasn’t there before. Perhaps it had more to do with the cold than our individual efforts, but we had somehow become a community. Connect allowed us to work alongside a community in need. Little did we know that working towards a common cause has a way of leaving everyone changed.
This video provides more insight into the event: