Lauren Bradeen traveled to South Africa with 11 girls and 3 teachers from Branksome Hall in 2008. The Queenstown Get Ahead Project School was a remarkable experience for her. She graduated from The University of Western Ontario in 2013 and is now working in marketing at Scotiabank.
In 2008, 14 of us traveled to South Africa where we toured Cape Town for a week before travelling to Queenstown to volunteer at the Queenstown Get Ahead Project School. I taught leadership to a grade nine class with three of my peers. We focused on smart goal-setting, inspiring leaders, and determination. We lead the students in many games to exemplify the importance of believing in yourself and of teamwork. Though my peers and I went into the process as teachers, I believe we learned more from our students than we could ever share with them. Our students were appreciative, inspired, and most importantly they found happiness in the little things each day. They appreciated the amazing education they were getting from QGAP and they were touched by our friendship. I really learned that despite the distance between us and the different daily struggles we may have faced, we were really all very similar.
We had the opportunity to go beyond the classroom and take part in day trips and dinners with a select group of girls. One night we all went for dinner and ended up in a dance circle where we taught them the ‘Soulja Boy’ dance. I believe that was the same night where we all huddled on a picnic bench to take a photo before breaking it and all falling on top of each other. It was obviously so hilarious to all of us as we rolled on the floor in laughter, but maybe not as funny to our teachers watching over us worried. The girls were so strong and they really put life in perspective for me. Despite what they had been through and what they had overcome, they had an unparalleled sense of positivity, optimism and strength, which is something I strive to match every day. When I catch myself losing sight of this I remind myself of the stories of bravery and hope I heard from these girls and how far they have come since then.
Six years later and I still keep in contact with as many of my students as I can. I’m so proud and humbled that I had some small impact on their lives and that I’m able to call them my friends. So many of them are truly shining and succeeding whether they’re at College or University or working. I truly believe that as Branksome gave me the structure and the guidance I needed to succeed, QGap was there for them in an even more important way. Every student that went to QGap was given the opportunity to feel smart and important, which is something that is often taken for granted.