Tag Archive for: empowerment

“Imagine Scholar is a place where I become who I want to be, where I don’t have to pretend to fit in. Spending a day at Imagine Scholar means I get to explore my deep interests, which grow and enrich my life with authentic happiness.” Given Sandamela, Grade 10

Founded in 2009 and set in the rural Nkomazi region of South Africa, Imagine Scholar is an after-school mentorship program that exists to catalyse young leaders’ potential. With the belief that a student’s ability to succeed should not be determined by the situation they were born in to, Grade 9-12 Scholars sit in the driver’s seat of their own development, taking the reins for their own personal, professional, and academic achievement – all with a sense of humour.

Pioneering 21st century education

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive”. This quote from Howard Thurman encapsulates Imagine Scholar’s ethos.

Academic standards and averages are not enough to cultivate the robust and empathetic leaders we need to solve 21st Century challenges. Instead of celebrating conformity, we instigate quirkiness and individuality.

Instead of prescribing information for Scholars to memorise and regurgitate, we give students a toolkit to understand the reaches of their cognitive ability and let them explore. The result? Scholars evolve to be critical and tactile – taking note of issues they see in the world and designing solutions. Instead of reading a book about organic farming, a Scholar will build a farm. Instead of dreaming about a future career in tech, a Scholar will code an app that is useful to his or her peers. Scholars tinker, test, and model their way to understanding their world.

Our program challenges students to go beyond theorising and to become ripple-makers. We facilitate instead of tell, guide instead of force, and see ourselves as the scaffolding for a students’ progression. Imagine Scholar is a 21st Century tool kit to the curious learner.

Innovative Curriculum 

Being a Scholar is no easy task. Students attend Imagine Scholar for approximately 25 hours per week, on top of traditional school. Our curriculum is divided into multiple segments, each positioned to equip students with a diverse set of skills to tackle real-world problems:

  • Think Tank is a three-year journey into cognitive self-awareness. Students explore with creativity, abstraction, bias, and behaviour, examining topics like psychology, cognitive science, heuristics, and even behavioural economics.
  • Ommm (Open Minded Meaning Makers) Lab is grounded in storytelling and imbuing Scholars with confidence to create meaning. Oracy, linguistics, discourse, and communication styles provide fodder for learning in this class.
  • Learning Zone is a meta-learning workspace that allows young leaders to sharpen their academic and scientific learning skills. Learning Zone encourages Scholars to design, test, analyse, and re-create.

Imagine Scholar’s innovative curriculum pushes the boundaries of education in our community and has yielded incredible results from numerous groundbreaking acceptances to international universities, to students building award-winning electric vehicles, launching chess tournaments, and improving literacy in our community.

Inclusive Culture

Our distinctive organisational culture is the glue that holds our program together, and the secret sauce for our success. At Imagine Scholar, a sense of openness to emotional and intellectual vulnerability is the norm; our culture allows students to have a safe space to blue-sky think, try, and fail without fear of ridicule.

Our culture begins with our rigorous application process. The sheer rigor of the process means that hundreds of students wane, leaving only those who truly want to be here. From there, our mature students take the reins, choosing our final cohort of 10 based on character interviews. This not only to allow our students, who have worked hard to create a culture they love ensure its longevity, but also to give new Grade 9s an immediate sense of inclusion.

Inclusive culture, innovative curriculum, and a dedication to pioneering a new style of education are the ingredients that make up Imagine Scholar. We are constantly learning, growing, and evolving, always looking for the next best way to inspire and empower the young leaders of tomorrow.

Find out more about Imagine Scholar and connect with them via their Eco Atlas page.

Dumisile Mqadi and I sat on the rooftop terrace of Happy Hippo, the funky eco-friendly backpackers in downtown Durban.   Dumi has been working for Happy Hippo and its sister lodge, Hippo Hide, for more than 6 years. She started off as a cleaning lady, but that was only the beginning.   “One day, I walked past Michelle Brooks’ office while I was carrying the laundry. Michelle came to me and asked me if I wanted to try and work downstairs at reception. I thought she was joking, so I said “No”, giggling. She told me I should try it out for a month and see how it was; I didn’t believe her, but I saw my name on the schedule for the next month and I saw that I had been put down as a receptionist for some days, and others as a cleaner. I just wanted to quit; I was scared and shy, I wanted to stay at home; I didn’t know what to say. I felt I was not educated enough, I was just a cleaning lady.”

Dumi's contagious smile breaks through her shyness ©David Peter Harris

Dumi’s contagious smile breaks through her shyness ©David Peter Harris

“I did eventually go, and my first shift as a receptionist was at Hippo Hide – I had a night shift, and as all first days I wasn’t too sure about how things worked, and there was nobody to tell me how I was doing. In the morning, Mike (Brooks) came and welcomed me to my new job. He told me he trusted me and he didn’t want to hang around because he knew I would be shy to help people in front of him. After two months, Michelle asked me if she could put me reception full time, but I said I wanted to go back to work as a cleaning lady. I was still very scared and I thought I belonged to that job only. My colleagues in the office were amazing because they treated me as equal and wanted to assist me and help me with any requests, so I chose to stay instead. I owe it to them where I am now; they helped me stick to it and grow confidence.”

“I am not going to lie; I am still very shy and scared. I still feel like I am new here and not educated to do this; our teamwork helps me overcome my insecurities.”   “Any tips to empowerment I would like to share? We all come from different families, but respect is universal. When you’re unsure, ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, I can’t stress that enough. Be humble and accept being lead and not leading sometime. If you want to do something, you have to fight for it, you can’t sit around but work for a better future.”

“I am so proud of what I have done; I wish I could do more now”. Dumi is planning to further her education, and she is pondering whether to study Tourism or Education. “I always thank Michelle and Mike for seeing the potential in me.”   “Deep rivers run quiet”, says Haruki Murakami, and Dumi is a reminder that the humble choices we make every day build up to a better self and a better community.

Catch a lovely sunset from The Globe - rooftop bar at Happy Hippo accommodation, ©David Peter Harris

Catch a lovely sunset from The Globe – rooftop bar at Happy Hippo accommodation, ©David Peter Harris



 New knowledge and ability through tummies and trash


The concept of community participation is one that enjoys much support in theory and far less in reality. Apart from awe at power and celebrity, online petitions and taxes, I mean. At some point, one realises that society, an apartheid legacy and the economy are just not going to cut it if you’re investigating or investing in living consciously. Going greener isn’t simple. Investing in equality isn’t easy. And yet, some people do both anyway, and in one part of the Western Cape they have a name for this.


Welcome to Greyton Transition Town, an ideology in action that belies the faded tourist billboard that welcomes you to leafy rural suburbia, its many gift shops and art galleries and its many more economically challenged citizens, mostly only seen milling about near the local shops. As a person of relative privilege in or visiting South Africa, how do you address the apathy and disempowerment that a legacy of colonialism, apartheid and economic disadvantage incurs, though? Marshall starts with the stomach, and makes his way to the trash can.


He and Transition Town partner, Nicola, are actively addressing the realities that surround them. Nicola is an animal sanctuary owner, fundraiser, events coordinator and go-to person for the movement which takes its inspiration from a similar project in Totnes, United Kingdom. Together, they run garden and feeding schemes at local schools, teaching children and teens self-sufficiency and healthy eating habits through a process called permaculture. Permaculture is an organic gardening practise that uses various natural laws to extract abundance from the earth without compromising its ability to feed future generations. The focus on permaculture encouraged them to approach local farmers, who now use no chemicals on parts of their fields, and sell directly to residents at a local market, increasing their profit margins and reducing the amount of packaging and the impact of the cold chain in the process.   The new knowledge these youngsters develop also gives them new work and career opportunities, as Marshall is often contacted by bodies seeking exactly their expertise.

Recognising that there was also an opportunity in and need for recycling they organised an independent recycler to collect trash regularly, and started a swap shop to encourage locals to bring in recyclable goods. The citizen recyclers are paid in clothes, food, shoes and other necessities given by larger chains and supportive charities, empowering those with less cash and changing the way locals view trash. Speaking of which, The Transition Town movement also birthed the Trash to Treasure Festival, which rehabilitated an old dumpsite with a clean-up and a new orchard and threw a big party to bring attention to the potential in our waste and the waste of our potential. It’s clear to see that these collective efforts are not a waste of time.

Their headquarters, The Eco Lodge, is a repurposed municipal building that now hosts and accommodates community gatherings for people at every level of the LSM ladder, from school tours to mini-conferences, and if you’re lucky, you may get a vegan meal from Ruwayda, Marshall’s loving wife. If you’re not, you could visit Pure Café, a plant-based eatery that specialises in the most mouth-watering desserts that are completely animal-free (vegan).



Whether you remember it as a transition town or simply those guys giving kids in Genadendal a chance, this is a great example of the power of intention, action and its knock-on effect in building a more inclusive and empowered community.


TIP : to get the full experience, get your hands dirty and add your story to the bigger picture.

(Read more about Greyton Transition Town and get all their contact details on their Eco Atlas page.)