Africa School Teaches Ethical Leadership
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
We're going to hear now about leadership in Africa. One commonly held view is that the continent suffers from a shortage of solid leadership. To address that issue, a handful of social entrepreneurs created a secondary school that emphasizes ethical leadership as the key to Africa's future. The school in Johannesburg, South Africa turned out its first graduates this summer. Kyle G. Brown was there.
Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible)
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KYLE G. BROWN: Robed graduates from more than 30 African nations walked down the aisle to the stage to collect their degrees and shake hands with the founders of the African Leadership Academy. A few mothers wipe away tears, as their loved ones move one step closer to beginning their careers as young leaders, as they're called here.
Most graduates will now study abroad. More than 90 offers of admission arrived from universities in Europe and North America, including from Oxford, Princeton and MIT.
Nineteen-year-old Congolese graduate Joseph Munyanbanza is taking a gap year before he decides where he'll go to university. The academy's rolling lawns are a world away from the refugee camp in Uganda that has been his home since he was six years old.
Mr. JOSEPH MUNYANBANZA: Up to now, I lived there. Like when I go back for holidays, Im going. I'm there. My parents, my sister, are in the camp, because life is still hard where I come from.
BROWN: He had fled there with his older brother to escape civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, then Zaire. As a young boy, he read by the fire to augment his makeshift education.
Mr. MUNYANBANZA: Teachers, they are not good, I think, because they don't have anything, no incentive. They don't get proper payment. The infrastructure is not favoring, population is too high. So it's a combination of many things (unintelligible) most of them being orphans, others having single parent.
BROWN: Munyanbanza helped younger children, first tutoring, then building a school in the camp. His work earned him a place at the academy, and like most students there, a scholarship. It's the only way he could attend. Tuition is $25,000 a year, beyond the reach of the African majority that lives on less than $2 a day.
Alumni must return to work in Africa after university for at least a decade. Otherwise the scholarship becomes a repayable loan.
Mr. EDWARD NDOPU: I think it only makes sense that we return and that we ensure that the glittering education we receive abroad translates into development for our peoples.
BROWN: Edward Ndopu's single mother relocated to South Africa from Namibia so he could study at the academy. His project there was to launch a global campaign to provide education to children with disabilities. Ndopu was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy as a baby.
Mr. NDOPU: And I recognize that there is a sense of urgency in terms of what I want to accomplish.
Mr. FRED SWANIKER (African Leadership Academy): That's what we're looking for. We're looking for people who have demonstrated through their actions that when they see a need in their society, they don't just sit back and accept the status quo. They act.
BROWN: ALA co-founder Fred Swaniker says that drive can be more important than academic performance, when the academy selects some 100 students every year. The school is supported by donations from more than 850 individuals and organizations from 25 countries. Swaniker wants more donors to turn their attention to long-term education.
Mr. SWANIKER: You can invest in feeding kids for six months. But after those six months, they're hungry again. That cycle will never stop. So the investment that we're asking people to make in these leaders is to stop these problems once and for all.
BROWN: The academy aims to fill what is being called Africa's leadership gap by creating 6,000 leaders over the next 50 years.
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BROWN: As the inaugural graduate class celebrates, the list of candidates for the class of 2012 is already growing. Donations continue to rise. And the Academy's 50-year target may not be so farfetched after all.
FOR NPR News, I'm Kyle G. Brown.
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