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Le Jardin Academy High School Service Learning Trip to South Africa

Ganap village is a long way away from Kailua, Hawaii. Located in the Kalahari Desert region of Northern Cape province, South Africa, Ganap is the home to people from the Tswana tribe. It is also the site of Maduo Intermediate School, where six Le Jardin Academy high school students and Head of School D.J. Condon spent three weeks last summer engaged in service learning, teaching English to the Tswana village kids. The experience was immensely challenging, immensely rewarding, left the group feeling transformed.


The genesis of this service trip began through Condon’s association with Mark Ulfers, Head of School at the American School of Paris. Aligning with LJA’s new strategic plan that emphasized a balance of global and local perspectives, Condon decided to invite six LJA high school students to join the group of 38 students and chaperones from the American School of Paris in Kalahari.

After a 30-hour journey to get to South Africa, the group immediately got started gathering resources and planning lessons. The group was welcomed with a lively dance performance by some of the villagers and the two weeks that followed were extraordinary.

“We learned as much as we taught,” said Head of School D.J. Condon. “We learned about Tswana culture, about the lives of our students, what they liked and disliked, what was important to them, what they hoped for, and somewhere along the way, we learned how to effectively teach them. We taught them vocabulary, sentence structure, reading comprehension. In the process we also learned about our own motivations, our strengths and weaknesses, our own paths forward.”

Inside classroom, their goal was to make the activities both fun and instructive. They played games like Jeopardy, wrote in journals, discussed the words of Nelson Mandela, practiced reading skills, and wrote and delivered speeches. Grant Schaefer, one of the Le Jardin students, taught Tswana Grade 8 and 9 students about Martin Luther King’s speech, “I Have a Dream,” and then guided them through writing and then delivering their own individual dream speeches.

On the weekends when the group had some time off, they did field trips including touring a lion rescue center; visiting the largest man-made hole on the planet, and exploring the first DeBeers diamond mine.

“During our excursions we talked and shared our thoughts on our own intercultural dynamics, about working toward a common goal with other people whose values may not be exactly the same as our own,” adds Condon. “We learned about the importance of team play in the face of significant challenge. We learned about ourselves.”

The morning of their last day at the school, the atmosphere was both festive and sad. As they prepared to board the bus, the students and their families clustered around the bus at the school gates. As the bus began to pull away, several of the village mothers began dancing and singing, thanking the group and wishing them well.

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