A Celebration of Service

Ambassador Gaspard congratulating a student while participating in awarding students their graduation certificates
Ambassador Gaspard congratulating a student while participating in awarding students their graduation certificates

Last Friday, Ambassador Gaspard and Consul General Rowan attended the 2014 City Year South Africa graduation, the culmination of a year of volunteer service, civic engagement, and leadership development. The theme for this year’s graduation was “It’s in your hands.”  Ambassador Gaspard had the honor of delivering the keynote address, reminding the graduates that, “Nelson Mandela called for this type of service, and you honor him and you honor this country by standing up to serve.”

The 90 graduates or so “Service Leaders” are between 18 – 25 and have spent the past year working in teams as tutors, mentors, and role models to children in nine primary schools in Gauteng, mainly in grades four to seven.  City Year South Africa emphasizes developing “civic knowledge and skills, and equipping young people with the tools to be active, responsible participants in our society.”  While Service Leaders spend some time in class with students, the main component of the work is the City Year Children’s Club, an after-school program focusing on literacy, numeracy, and life orientation.  The goal is to improve learners’ academic performance and self-esteem, keeping the student on track to complete matric.  In addition to the work in schools, Service Leaders undergo leadership development training, with added training in business management, environmental management, computer skills, and career development.

Ambassador Gaspard delivering the keynote address during the graduation ceremony on November 21
Ambassador Gaspard delivering the keynote address during the graduation ceremony on November 21

City Year was founded in Boston in 1988 by two Harvard Law School roommates, Alan Khazei and Michael Brown, who felt strongly that young people in service could be a powerful resource for addressing America’s most pressing issues.  In 2001, President Bill Clinton brought a delegation of City Year Service Leaders and staff to Cape Town to participate in a conference and to meet Former President Nelson Mandela.  Mandela was immediately supportive of creating City Year’s first international site, launching the effort in 2005 with 110 Service Leaders in Johannesburg.  Since then, more than 1,500 Service Leaders have graduated from the program, having spent more than a million hours serving the children and communities in Gauteng.