Had a great day today with a rich cultural experience of South Africa. We started the day out gathering for a quick bite of breakfast at the hotel, then piled into our van and headed back to the IBM building, about a 10-minute drive away.
We were invited to speak at the Future of the African Daughter project (FOTAD), which is a girl-child development project that changes the life of the ordinary girl from the township and rural areas. The project is for African girls aged 12 – 19 years and provides them practical and meaningful assistance, guidance and skills. The mission of FOTAD is to create a community of brilliant, independent and self-assured young women, to help them become leaders of tomorrow and meaningful participants in the South African economy. FOTAD aims to guide and motivate the girls to take responsibility for their future successes by focusing on the following areas:
- Maths and Science excellence
- Leadership Training
- Lifeskills Training
We were asked to talk with the girls about our experiences as IBM executives, where we were from, what we do at IBM, and how we reached our executive positions. Each of us shared our stories for about 5 minutes and during our talks, the girls were extremely attentive. You could tell they are all very eager to learn how to achieve their dreams. When we told them things like how IBM is a global company and has employees all over the world…or how long we had worked at IBM (most of us have been at IBM longer than double their ages!), they reacted with enthusiastic cries of “ooooohhhhh!!!” Then we opened it up for questions and answers. What struck me was that as each girl got up, she gave a short testimonial about how she had come to be at the school. One girl talked about how her mom said that if she wanted to go to the school, she would have to wake herself up in the morning on her own. The desire for this girl to attend the school, and the opportunity she knew it would give her, inspired her to get herself up every morning and get to the school on time. Another girl talked about how her friends made fun of her, but she still came to the school every week. Each of the girls talked about how they struggled with their school test scores before attending the school, but after being at the school their test scores went way up. And as they talked about their dreams of what they wanted to be when they grew up, they all had aspirations of becoming mechanical engineers, pilots, electrical engineers, and doctors. Their hunger for knowledge and success was incredibly inspiring. Look at the faces on these beautiful kids:
Here is a photo of the the team and the kids after we spoke to them:
After the school, we headed over to the Apartheid museum, which was about 30 minutes away. We spent about two hours walking through the museum, looking at photos, videos, and replicas of the history of apartheid. It was a very moving experience and definitely filled in some gaps I had in my knowledge of the deep history of apartheid in South Africa. I love this sign right outside the museum:
We spent the rest of the afternoon touring around Soweto, a city outside of Johannesburg that used to be home to blacks only. We stopped for a brief lunch in downtown Soweto, toured the house where Nelson Mandela lived for many years, then drove through different parts of Johannesburg to get a feel for the various parts of the city, some incredibly opulent and some incredibly destitute.
We the headed back to the hotel where we spent the rest of the evening putting the finishing touches on our opening project presentation, which is planned for Monday morning with the Mayor of Cape Town and her executive staff. In all, a fantastic day.