A South African Perspective: Get Ahead College Graduate Amanda Charles, Shares Her Experience

Amanda Charles is a 3rd year BSc Human Molecular Biology (extended) student at the University of Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. She matriculated from Get Ahead College in 2011 with a bachelor pass. She is currently 20 years old.

Before I reflect on my experiences and the huge influence the GAP school had on me, I would like to give some background information on myself and who I was before I started at Get Ahead College. I was born in Queenstown, South Africa and lived with both my parents and my two older siblings. From a very young age, I believe my family groomed me into an intellectual, outspoken, and confident girl. I was not the ‘ordinary’ child who played outside and rode bicycles with other kids. In fact while other kids played outside, I was watching CNN, BBC News, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Discovery Channel, etc.- I was fed with knowledge. Conversations at the dinner table were not those of how our day was or how school was, but instead, involved debates about that day’s newspaper front page story, the news headlines, and what was happening in the world. Our dinner table was our ocean of knowledge, and everyone had a fishing rod, fishing for information.

In contrast to what was happening at home, school was something completely different. I went to a very conservative school. By this time I knew I had potential, but the environment I found myself in didn’t want to unleash it. However, in 2007, due to a change in schools, I was enrolled in the Queenstown Get Ahead Project School (QGAP). Immediately I knew I was home. I was welcomed with warm hands by both teachers and students, as if they had known me for years, and almost immediately our minds were in sync. This school had a different goal in mind- to harvest whatever potential you had, to the benefit of the school, but most importantly, to the benefit OF THE LEARNER. This school wasn’t grooming me for matric and a million distinctions, but was instead grooming me for life!

The relationship we had with our teachers at QGAP was amazing- they studied their learners and accommodated everyone! The channel of communication and the open door policy groomed us into strong-willed, open-minded individuals.

For me more than anything else, I had found a place where I could be myself- where I could challenge people and their way of thinking, ask questions, and speak my mind. Uniqueness and individualism were embraced!

At the age of 15, I started working at a supermarket, something that time and time again was applauded by my teachers. The support I got from the school in terms of my debating and sporting events was amazing! Like any other teenager, I got into my fair share of trouble, but the way that the school handled those mishaps, changing them into life lessons, showed how much they wanted me to grow as a person.

The teacher’s efforts to help us engage with the outside world and with people from different parts of the world, really made me the knowledgeable young woman I am today.

Finally, I was taught IT WAS OKAY TO BE DIFFERENT, in fact it was an advantage that could and would work for me in the future. And indeed it has. Coming into university, I immediately stood out amongst the masses of 18 year olds. I am the youngest to sit on my Residence Committee and I’m able to hold conversations with people of all ages. At University, I’ve been active in discussing with the Senior Management of the institution and speaking with confidence to address issues of racism and inequality, and have an influence on implemented policies.

I have finally accepted my uniqueness and it works for me in the outside world- something QGAP taught me from the beginning. QGAP produces students that stand out in the crowd, not only because of academics, but because of their unique skills. I still have a long way to go in changing the world (my mission in life) but I move forward with confidence. I am a humanitarian. I still have a dream of having a school, starting up an organisation similar to The Leacock Foundation, becoming a motivational speaker, working specifically with young adults, and working in the development of youth in my country so that every single young adult realizes their potential.

I want to help young people build their bridge to success and fulfill their dreams- all visions that I doubt I would have, if I hadn’t entered those gates at QGAP.

Posted in Education, Global Perspectives, Leadership, South Africa, Youth Empowerment.