To celebrate Civic Engagement Month, we are highlighting our many inspiring alumni from our Study of U.S. Institutes (SUSI) for Global Student Leaders program. Through partnerships with U.S. universities and a series of interactive classroom activities, community-based projects, and site visits to U.S. cities of all sizes, SUSI students experience an in-depth investigation into program themes and enhance their understanding of American values.
Kudzaishe Masendeke of Zimbabwe participated in the 2023 SUSI for Global Student Leaders on Civic Engagement with Meridian’s partner, Foundation for International Understanding Through Students (FIUTS) at the University of Washington, Seattle.
How would you define “Civic Engagement “?
Civic Engagement refers to the participation of individuals in addressing issues that concern their community. It aims to promote the quality of life and end challenges that concern people in their community. This involves volunteering, teamwork, donating, and generally, participating in community activities.
This month’s theme is civic engagement. How has participating in SUSI transformed the way you view civic engagement in your community and around the world?
I love to describe my SUSI experience as an eye-opener or mind-altering to ideas. The program transformed my way of life and vision. You realize that there is so much you can do from all the site visits, project planning, and classes, which has made me appreciate the importance of diversity and other cultures. I understand that every individual has a role to play in making their community better despite their income or background. I would have never known how to tackle some of my community challenges if I had not witnessed and experienced how other communities were handling similar issues. Through the SUSI experience and our networking sessions, I now have mentors, friendships, and colleagues that I’m very appreciative of their support throughout my community project.
Since returning from the SUSI program, how have you been civically engaged in your community? How have the skills you learned during your SUSI program impacted these activities?
Since my return, I have been raising awareness against the issues of child marriages and teenage pregnancy by implementing a project for the girl child. I surveyed alongside others that volunteered to help, and we found out that most girls in my community between the age of thirteen and eighteen are getting pregnant and dropping out of school because of poverty. To put an end to this, we designed a project that teaches them to eliminate difficult situations and circumstances that prevent them from following their dreams by encouraging them to work with what they have.
The project name is Sununguka Ndakaterera in my native Shona language which means, “Feel free I’m listening,” because I believe it is the listening ear to the young girls’ problems. It is a project that suits to improve unity and camaraderie by helping each other out of poverty and the problems that distract the participants from pursuing their education. During weekends, we have training classes on sustainable projects that help them to become entrepreneurs of small businesses such as poultry, makeup, manicure, and hairdressing. This has proven to help girls buy themselves necessities as they continue their education. We also host workshops where we discuss ways to tackle particular challenges that hinder girls in our community.
Every skill I learned during the SUSI program was like a brick building a foundation for successful projects. I’m so excited to share with everyone how far we have grown. I am sincerely thankful to the SUSI program team for tutoring us on project planning which was the birth and nurturing of my community project. I learned most of the information and skills that I needed to know about leadership, and this has helped me lead the large work team of the project. All the work from our public speaking lessons has helped in boosting my confidence and being able to face the crowd. During the program, we also learned the importance of networking, which is something that has reinforced my ability to create partnerships and collaborations with others working towards the same goal. It was vital that I understood my leadership style, as this sharpened my understanding of the team that I’m working with individually. I must say it has been a bit overwhelming being at the center of the process, but I’m really loving the output of the hard work of the SUNDA team.
SUNDA project has impacted more than 100 girls, and we continue seeing new faces joining the group when we have our project workshops. We have around 55 girls/students, including young mothers attending the training for sustainable projects during weekends. The snowball effect of the SUNDA project has immense potential to keep growing to other parts of the community, and we hope to continue impacting as many girls as we can to end issues of child marriages and teenage pregnancy.
Based on what you learned throughout the SUSI program, what advice would you give the next generation about being active in civic engagement?
My advice to the next generation will be if you have an idea start now! We are young and full of advanced ideas. The future belongs to the youth; hence they should know that they have so much knowledge and energy and influence them to shape their community. The youth shape politics, the economy, and even policies. All this can happen if they encourage each other to participate and work together.