Living Differently

Posted Jun 26, 2012 by 4 Comments

On the day I arrived at World Changers with my bags in hand, I was filled with a mixed sense of excitement and anxiety. Waving goodbye to my teammates, I wondered if students arriving here for a World Changers program don’t feel some of those same emotions.

Like them, I know this experience will be worthwhile, but I also know it will require me to go outside of my comfort zone and experience some transformation.

World Changers Academy is a unique graduated leadership program designed to equip unemployed young people in Kwazulu-Natal with skills to succeed. The idea was born out of a desire to get at the root causes of many of the perils of life in the townships of this province like poverty, HIV/AIDS and crime.

When I learned that the life skills program is at the heart of World Changers’ mission, I knew it would be a good place for me to start.

A New Kind of Cycle

I rose early with the life skills staff and tagged along as they dispersed throughout the city to teach courses in community centers, churches and schools. As we bumped along a dirt road in the back seat of a 15-passenger taxi van, I looked out across the poverty-stricken township in the valley below us and thought to myself, “This definitely isn’t the tourist route.”

We were an hour into our trip and on our second taxi ride of the morning. Since life skills participants are unemployed, World Changers goes to great lengths to meet people in the communities where they live so they don’t have to spend money on transportation.

World Changers staff facilitates small group discussions during a life skills session on conflict management.

Life skills courses address HIV/AIDS along with a wide range of other topics that threaten the future of this generation. Participants learn about subjects like goal-setting, healthy relationships and healing of the past. Through volunteer work experience after completing the course, participants gain job skills and build relationships with potential employers.

Some participants will even go on to become World Changers staff members. In this way, World Changers is breaking the cycle of poverty and disease with a new kind of cycle of employment and hope.

The life skills staff currently teaches in roughly 25 different communities around the province during the course of a year, and they continue to expand their reach. Just this week the staff met with an organization in Durban offering space for a first-ever life skills course in the city.

Just Scratching the Surface

The rural community center was filled with about 50 people when I arrived alongside the head of the life skills department, Phindile Ngcobo, and two other staff members. As I watched Phindile facilitate a lively discussion on conflict management, I realized I am just beginning to scratch the surface of the injustices of life in the townships.

I looked at the faces of the students in the life skills course I visited and caught a few of their English phrases amidst all the Zulu.

“I am still angry about the abuse in my past and lose my temper quickly.”

“Sometimes we think that stealing is the only way to make money so we can survive.”

The World Changers life skills staff reconnects on campus after spending the day teaching in the community.

As I listened to participants express some of the points of conflict in their lives, I was sobered by the magnitude of challenges facing them. These aren’t problems that can be solved by individuals trying harder.

I want a quick fix for the masses of people dying of AIDS in this province and I want a quick fix to the unemployment that leaves so many others feeling hopeless about their future.

World Changers addresses the root causes of poverty and HIV and crime, instead of the symptoms. It’s not a quick fix and it’s not for the faint of heart. But World Changers is there anyway, walking alongside men and women who are willing to go through the hard work of transformation. And transformation is happening.


The class I visited was a week shy of graduation and beginning to look ahead to the two-week volunteering project they will take on next.

“Ten years from now, what will you be doing?” Phindile asked the life skills students as she wrapped up class that day. “Will you still be here, or will you take what you have learned and implement it, and be living differently?”

As they begin to implement what they have learned, I’m wondering what implementation looks like in my life, too. In light of these injustices, how will I begin living differently?

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Next Steps
    • Think about some of the visible problems in your community. What might be the root causes and how can you address them? How can you join others who might already be addressing them?
    • Pray for the life skills staff at World Changers. They rise early, travel far and wide, and give everything they’ve got to the students in their classes. Pray for them to be rested and energetic as they arrive to facilitate their classes.
    • Do you own a business or are you in a hiring position? What would it look like to partner with organizations like World Changers in your community to provide internship or work experience to underprivileged people in your area who are eager to work?
    Next Steps

About the Author: Jen Gunnels is a 2012 summer intern. She graduated in 2005 from Indiana University, where she studied journalism, political science and IU basketball. She loves sports, country music and the state fair and after feeling a stirring in her heart to leave her cubicle and go write, she is doing just that!

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  1. Chas said... 


    June 26th, 2012 at 10:44 am  

    This is excellent, Jen! It’s great to read about the things you’re seeing and hearing. Can’t wait for your next article, and even more excited to hear all about it when you get back!

    • Merrill Mead-Fox said... 


      June 26th, 2012 at 3:40 pm  

      Thank you for this moving article, Jen. This graduated leadership program sounds like a wonderful idea, and you write beautifully about it! David and I are very proud of you for all that you are doing to communicate about these important issues.

  2. Dave Rod said... 


    June 27th, 2012 at 8:38 pm  

    I love that organization Jen! If you see Joe White please give him my greetings! Dave Rodriguez

  3. Barry Rodriguez said... 


    June 28th, 2012 at 9:32 am  

    Awesome, Jen! World Changers is such a cool organization. I can’t wait to read more about your experiences with them!

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