People of RCN

Dorothy Dix (RCN 1996-1998)

2021-03-04T13:13:32+01:00March 4th, 2021|

Making Ideals Reality: Creating Better Futures For Children In My Home Community

Dorothy Dix (UWC Red Cross Nordic, 1996-1998) was born into poverty in Zimbabwe. She relied on handouts throughout her childhood but after showing potential at a local school in Zimbabwe, she was given the opportunity to study at UWC Red Cross Nordic at age 16.

Speaking of her experience at UWC, Dorothy says “UWC helped me to escape the challenges and poverty of my upbringing in Zimbabwe while simultaneously instilling the values of empathy, responsibility, and lifelong action.” After graduating from the University of Reading, she founded Creating Better Futures, a charity helping orphans and vulnerable children in her home communities in Zimbabwe. Dorothy’s leadership has lifted 5,000 children and their communities out of poverty by providing education, health, feeding and development programmes. In 2020, the charity also jumped in to protect children from COVID-19 by installing sanitation infrastructure and helping communities pushed into poverty by the lockdown. Dorothy wrote to us to share her story of how UWC got her to where she is today and what keeps her drawn to the work she does helping communities like the one she came from in Zimbabwe:

As a child I could never have expected to end up anywhere like UWC. I was born into poverty in rural Zimbabwe. I was raised by a single Mum who, despite making huge sacrifices and working extremely long hours, struggled to pay my school fees. It was only a combination of her hard work and an international sponsor that enabled me to attend school, even before UWC came along.

This wasn’t the only thing I received from Mum. I shared her work ethic and the value she placed on education. This allowed me to work hard for a scholarship to attend UWC. At the age of 16, I received a life-changing opportunity to attend UWC Red Cross Nordic in Norway.

When I arrived – it was a total culture shock. Growing up in Zimbabwe I had never seen snow.
But the atmosphere at UWC, and the brilliant friends I made, helped me to settle into this entirely different climate, country, and culture. And it was UWC’s emphasis on individual action and social change that inspired me to think about my place in the world, and how I could make a difference back home.

I wanted to make things better for people in my community. Growing up in Zimbabwe I always knew that things could be better. I had personally experienced that through a stranger’s kindness. They unleashed my potential when contributing to my education. Why couldn’t others do the same for young people in my community?

My UWC education played a key role in making this vision a reality. Two values stood out: a sense of idealism and personal challenge. I adopted these values to set out my idealistic vision for my charity – one where every child in rural Zimbabwe would grow up to achieve their potential and every community would be free from poverty. And thus, Creating Better Futures was born.

I found a real purpose in the sense of personal challenge required to deliver this change. I believed if I could just change one child’s life, my life would be complete. I looked back on my experiences at UWC – moving thousands of miles from home to study, having the opportunity to speak at the United Nations – as proof that this change was possible. I knew ideals could become reality.

My mission to give back to my home country of Zimbabwe was grounded in the core UWC values: compassion and service.  By attending UWC I was fortunate to receive one of the most rounded education’s on the planet. Unfortunately, many of my close friends back home didn’t have this opportunity. Our paths quickly diverted. Some continued with school, whilst others couldn’t afford their fees for college. I wanted everyone to have the same opportunity I had.

But of course it has not all been easy, the conditions in the communities we work alongside are a significant challenge. Last year it was estimated that 70% of Zimbabwean children were living in poverty. These conditions don’t just impact their daily lives, they also limit what they can hope to achieve over a lifetime. Our mission is to deliver programmes that enable people to overcome these conditions.

So what keeps me going through these challenges? Belief. Belief that things can be better. Belief in myself, and my dedicated team, to play a role in making a difference.

We also know the costs of inaction. People misunderstand poverty. Living in poverty doesn’t just mean you don’t have much money, or limited access to resources. Poverty conditions everything you do. There have been children who have dropped out of school, not because they wanted to – but because it was the best thing they could do to save money. I am driven to give these people the best opportunities.

And then of course there is the inspiration I gain from the enthusiasm and kindness of the young people we help. During the pandemic I received several reports of sponsored children in ZImbabwe who, with schools closed, had taken on extra care responsibilities for housebound elderley relatives. To think that these children, who often have very little themselves, still make huge sacrifices for others, is hugely inspiring.

Finally, I was asked to comment on why, amidst the many causes in need of our help, we should continue to support education and empowering youth. My answer is simple: empowering young people gives them their lives back. Everything is possible for a healthy, happy and financially secure young person. I was so fortunate to receive the support I did as a girl. Every child deserves the same opportunities I was fortunate enough to have been given by supporters of UWC.

Thanks to UWC International for letting us use this story. It was originatly published as an UWC Impact Story

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Anna Sene (RCN ’18-’20)

2021-02-04T11:13:29+01:00February 4th, 2021|

Zooming In

Leaving Norway during the pandemic left me filled with uncertainties. First, I had to go to France to get my US VISA since the border closures prevented me from going home to Senegal. With God’s grace, it was granted to me, and now, about 5 month later, I can assert that Macalester College in Saint Paul Minnesota is my new home for the next four years of undergraduate life.

2020 being similar to no other year, my college experience described in one word would be Zoom. From classes to events, meeting people, and building connections, life has never been more virtual. Nevertheless, I am grateful for how my first semester at College has turned out.

I applied and got into a civic engagement group on campus called Lives of Commitment. Joining them gave me the opportunity to volunteer at a kid’s homework center, Skyline. Every Tuesday and Thursday, I help one or two kids with their homework from 2 to 3 p.m. I learnt a lot about patience, kindness, and compassion working with kids on problems that are easy for me but a real struggle for them.

Alongside my work at skyline, I also applied and got into the Student Academic Affairs Committee of the college. Here I meet with other students and staff members to discuss and find solutions to issues and concerns that impact student life at Macalester.

In addition, I have been journaling for the College Archives for a semester, as part of a project that seeks to represent more voices from minorities or groups that are often discriminated against. I wrote from a standpoint of a Black Muslim woman, Senegalese, and first generation student. I also wrote a couple of articles published in the College weekly newspaper.

This semester, I will join the Admission office as an International Student Ambassador for Macalester. I hope to interact with prospect students and help them get to know the college better.

My time at RCN has certainly helped me a lot to get all these beautiful opportunities. I still have a lot to learn and discover here at Mac and could not be more excited. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or just want to talk.

Anna Sene (RCN 2020)

In People of UWCRCN you find stories of alumni or other members of our community. Here are the laterst.

Dorothy Dix (RCN 1996-1998)

March 4th, 2021|

Making Ideals Reality: Creating Better Futures For Children In My Home Community Dorothy Dix (UWC Red Cross Nordic, 1996-1998) was born into poverty in Zimbabwe. She relied on [...]

Anna Sene (RCN ’18-’20)

February 4th, 2021|

Zooming In Leaving Norway during the pandemic left me filled with uncertainties. First, I had to go to France to get my US VISA since the border closures [...]

Antonia Reininger (RCN ’16)

January 21st, 2021|

Working for Climate Neutrality Almost exactly one year ago today, the new Austrian coalition government took up its work, including one Minister responsible for the broad portfolio of Climate [...]

Simon Sizwe Mayson (RCN’07)

November 24th, 2020|

Simon Mayson and Chann de Villiers on the main stairwell in Troyeville House.(Photo: Chris Collingridge) Being awarded the scholarship to attend Red Cross United World College in [...]

Antonia Reininger (RCN ’16)

2021-01-21T11:08:51+01:00January 21st, 2021|

Working for Climate Neutrality

Almost exactly one year ago today, the new Austrian coalition government took up its work, including one Minister responsible for the broad portfolio of Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology. Widely labelled the “Super-Ministry” it is tasked with ensuring Austrian climate neutrality by 2040 – in other words, the transition to a decarbonised society and economy and thus climate-friendly future.

At that time, I was part of an agenda-setting initiative calling for more effective climate action from the government in Austria. This happened during my gap-year, after which I had planned to continue studying law. But with this new Minister I saw the opportunity for real change and so I considered myself incredibly lucky when I got the chance to join her cabinet, where I now work on climate and energy affairs as Junior Advisor to the Minister.

There is so much to do: in order to realise the goals of becoming climate neutral by 2040 and to use exclusively green electricity by 2030, we need to expand public transport as well as bike- and pedestrian infrastructure, overhaul the support scheme for renewables, improve energy efficiency, green the heating systems and realise an eco-social reform of the taxation system, attaching a price on climate-harming activities while reducing the tax burden on other factors such as labour. We also push the climate agenda in EU discussions and make meaningful contributions on the international level. In light of the effects of COVID-19, it is now essential that we build back better and greener, instead of going back to old and inadequate systems.

Had I not attended RCN, climate action might nonetheless have become an important part of my life. But RCN has given me two essential things which I’m convinced made a crucial difference. One aspect is the fact that RCN has brought the global effects of the climate crisis closer to home by giving faces to some of the countries that will be most affected by the crisis and reminding me time and time again of the urgency to address it. The other one being the courage to step up and give my best to make a positive impact, because what people of RCN have always shown me is that what matters in the end is the ability to see that something has to change and the willingness to contribute, to take responsibility. Just recently, talking to my co-year John, who is now working in the renewables-sector, has been another striking example of the many brilliant minds that are doing their best to make a peaceful and sustainable future work – inspiring me yet another time to keep my efforts going and convincing me that it is possible to realise the UWC mission. In this spirit I would like to encourage everyone to sit down with a cup of tea (keeping up a good RCN tradition) and read through the portraits of these wonderful people of RCN – there is so much to learn and inspiration to find when delving into this microcosm of stories, thoughts and experiences of this selection of dedicated, special humans.

If you’re working in the field of climate action or energy, hope to do so in the future or just share your thoughts, I’d be more than happy to hear from you!

Antonia Reininger (RCN 16)

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Simon Sizwe Mayson (RCN’07)

2020-11-24T15:02:35+01:00November 24th, 2020|

Simon Mayson and Chann de Villiers on the main stairwell in Troyeville House.(Photo: Chris Collingridge)

Being awarded the scholarship to attend Red Cross United World College in 2005 blew on the changemaker fire sparking within me, and it continues to burn today. At UWC I was immersed in a microcosm of the world and granted considerable freedom to initiate and lead projects at only 17 years old. Furthermore, the experiential learning opportunities I had at college enabled me to put the fire to good use.

Though many UWCers continue studying abroad after the International Baccalaureate, I decided to return to my homeland, South Africa, and ‘relearn’ it following this UWC experience. And, while many first year students around me were floundering in their newfound freedoms, UWC enabled me to initiate projects that harnessed the changemaker potential of hundreds of University of Cape Town volunteers.

Fast forward through several years of ‘adulting’ and I’m working with other changemakers to enable a wellbeing economy in an area we’re calling ‘Makers Valley’, in a downtrodden part of inner city Johannesburg. In partnership with the US Consulate, British Council, Engineers Without Borders, Nando’s and local NGOs and developers, we mainly support creative and social entrepreneurs (changemakers) with seed funding, space and community. The aim is to enable the neighbourhood, like UWC a microcosm of the world (or at least Africa), as the city’s ‘”heart of social and creative enterprise”. But in our aims to grow collective wellbeing in the world’s most unequal country, in the last two years Makers Valley partners have worked on a wide range of projects from the establishment of a fledgling community currency and swap shops, food parcels during the COVID-19 lockdown, edible gardens, youth employment and entrepreneurship expos, safety and security initiatives, and more.

The latest project is the Troyeville House, a set of buildings dating to the gold rush that founded Joburg, and in surprisingly good nick. The property consists of an 11-bed mansion and gardens, chapel, hall, sanctuary, coach house converted into flats, and vacant land we’re planning to showcase tiny houses on. We are seeing a diverse group of changemakers joining the community as long- and short-term residents, as well as undertaking work for the greater good in the neighbourhood and beyond.

I’m currently doing a lot of introspection as part of the action research PhD thesis I’m writing, and I frequently think of my time at Red Cross Nordic in relation to my current work. As we set up and grow the Troyeville House as a Changemakers Residence, I sometimes wonder if I’m secretly trying to live my UWC experience in perpetuity!

We would love to welcome visitors and residents from the extended UWC family! Please get in touch with Chann and Simon through the website  🙂

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