LEAP Spotlight: Meet Karen Kirsch & Sammy Mulaja
People Change People.
Karen Kirsch Page “K2”, Teach with Africa Faculty-in-Residence
Karen Page – or K2, as she is known at LEAP, is a Teach with Africa Faculty in Residence member. She spends a shorter period of time onsite compared to other fellows, leading workshops in the community and at LEAP Schools.
“South Africa is a country that is moving in the right direction and is forward thinking in many ways. But because LEAP kids were born in the 90s, around the time that apartheid ended, this is the first generation that is directly free from apartheid. As a result, there are huge challenges and struggles in the area of education.”
K2 returned to South Africa in 2011, after working at LEAP in 2009 and 2010. Of the experience, she says, “Part of what brings me back is LEAP’s receptiveness to implementing modern technologies, so the kids can broaden and further develop their communication skills. But also, LEAP is successful in science and math, and they are attracting very focused students, who don’t all fit in those two academic categories. A media arts education can lead to careers in journalism, broadcasting, filmmaking, advertising, marketing, web and graphic design, software development, engineering, and many other strong, high-paying fields. I value LEAP’s openness to exploring and embracing these fields.”
K2 appreciates Teach with Africa for allowing her to have an impact on underserved communities in South Africa. She describes LEAP founder, John Gilmour, as a visionary educator, who after hearing about the programs K2 developed in multimedia arts, approached K2 with a passionate desire to see those skills developed in the LEAP community. She has achieved much success in her workshops. Students, who initially did not know how to click a mouse, conclude by producing a full-page newsletter, with graphics. K2 runs these workshops with a certain amount of free open source programs because LEAP lacks the funds for software, such as an Adobe package, which for K2 would be a dream to teach LEAP students.
An interesting observation K2 has made is that in South African culture, singing and music are everywhere. In the U.S., music rarely happens outside a music classroom, and children are often told to stop humming in other classes. Americans tend to see music and art as confined to particular periods of the school day and rarely merging with other subjects. She appreciates that at LEAP she can let music and art create a synergy with technology and as a result of this she brings these ideas into San Francisco classrooms to make her class projects there more original. “It’s great to capture and archive musical moments as they come up in the school. Also, LEAP sends students into Cape Town and Johannesburg to record, or help a craft collective design a newsletter, providing students with further ways to reach out to the community and demonstrate leadership skills.”
“People are starting to observe that LEAP really is a model program and government institutions and representatives are already impressed with the graduation rates and overall curriculum.”
Sammy Mulaja, Coordinator, LEAP Learning Centre
Sammy Mulaja, a Congolese refugee, is Coordinator of LEAP’s Learning Centre. He teaches in local primary schools—LEAP feeder schools—and tutors students during LEAP’s Saturday school. He also acts as Project Manager for the Kalkfotein Project, a Learning Centre initiative that seeks funding to build a medical clinic in the Kalkfontein township; presently the community doesn’t even have a day clinic.
Sammy began working at LEAP when it opened in 2004, developing a partnership between LEAP and the primary schools by holding afternoon classes for learners in the local townships. The LEAP Learning Centre doesn’t have a physical space–tutors, such as Sammy, are the Learning Centre!
According to Sammy, the Learning Centre’s greatest strength is providing education to the community. His mission is to transform the community through education, while also encouraging the LEAP students to be active in this effort.
“LEAP is a good space for refugees from other countries,” he remarks. He sees the tutors’ values — responsibility, accountability, integrity, and respect — reflected at LEAP.
Sammy is thrilled with the relationship between LEAP and Teach with Africa and envisions “a big collaboration” to include more visits by TWA fellows to the local townships. He feels it is critical that TWA fellows experience the schools from which the LEAP students hail, and that those students in the primary schools gain exposure to the gifts the Teach with Africa fellows bring. Sammy appreciates that this year’s fellows participated more in the local community than in past years, and he is excited for the contribution future fellowship teams will make to this work.
Sammy’s passion for the Learning Centre is contagious. He enthusiastically tackles the unique operational strengths and financial challenges present in each community project he oversees and operates through the Learning Centre. Three such projects are: Books for Africa, started in 2008 as a collaborative effort with a
U. S. Rotary Club, distributes books from U.S. locations to LEAP and local libraries; LEAP Student Association Support Program, identifying graduated LEAP students who are in distance learning teacher-training programs for tutoring support in engineering, science, and math, subjects in which Learning Centre tutors hold higher education degrees; and the Langa Computer Studies Facility, a community program that fills a gap for underserved children and is where students from township high schools go after school to learn about computers.