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Reflections from South Africa
Mark Friedman

March 16, 2023

Yesterday was our first full day in Kabokweni. We arrived at the Entokozweni Primary School just before sunset the day before. About 60 students who live near the school were waiting to greet us in song and dance. What a welcome! Then we met the host mothers before heading to Nomsa Bhiya's place. Nomsa has a huge property with a pool and her house is where we will spend our late afternoons and evenings. The Nduna, the chief's right hand person, came to Nomsa's house to welcome us and join us for dinner.
We worked at the Entokozweni Primary School yesterday morning. It was great to watch as Athenian students connected and played with the students here. There was so much joy and discovery. As one Athenian student ran by with 20 students she said, “'I have never felt so connected to the world in my life.” I teared up several times that morning, it was so beautiful.
In the afternoon we walked a few blocks to the Moses Sihlangu orphanage. We had lunch there. Then, when the Moses Sihlangu children returned after school, we worked with them to plant over 600 vegetables in their garden. Buying the seedlings was one of the things our fundraising will pay for here. The group worked so hard and a project that they thought would take two and a half hours was completed in 40 minutes, leaving time to play soccer and hang out in the shade.
Then it was back to Nomsa's house for a dip in the pool and a dinner with barbecued chicken, pap, corn on the cob, potatoes, cooked vegetables, and a beet salad. For dessert we had fruit with custard and finished off Anna’s birthday cake.
What a day! We return to Entokozweni Primary School tomorrow morning and are taking the children from the orphanage to a music school in the afternoon.
Student Spotlight:
Victoria González Esquivel ’23

February 28, 2023

Victoria González Esquivel ’23 started as a ninth grader at Athenian in the fall of 2019. She was still discovering all that Athenian had to offer when COVID hit. For Victoria, getting involved in Athenian’s Round Square Program that spring–albeit virtually–was a silver lining of quarantine, expanding her world and perspective at a time when many teenagers felt their world shrinking.

Within a month of quarantine, the Round Square consortium of schools, of which Athenian is a founding member, initiated virtual meetings every other week. Instead of international exchanges, conferences, and service trips, students from school’s around the world connected online to share their experience of COVID, discuss current geopolitical events, and more. Intrigued, Victoria decided to give it a try and  she was immediately hooked. “The opportunity to connect with peers from around the world at a time of such isolation was amazing. We talked about the pandemic, economics and social injustices in our home countries..it really is what piqued my interest in international issues and inspired my passion for creating global change.”

By the fall of tenth grade, Victoria was so invested in her new passion that Mark Friedman, the Round Square Coordinator, recommended her for the Youth Ambassador Program, an internship program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Victoria was accepted into the program. As a native Spanish speaker, Victoria's area of focus was South America. “I was excited for the opportunity to both further my passion for global change and connecting with others. It was a lot of fun being able to meet students virtually from Ecuador and Colombia, teaching each other about different traditions and discuss issues that the Latino community faces on a global scale,” said Victoria. 

During her time as an intern (she received the rare honor of being accepted two years in a row), Victoria traveled with the program to Chile and Argentina, meeting in person with different ambassadors and developing proposals with her peers in the program. They focused on issues such as mass immigration, water contamination and distribution, health, and education. “It was amazing to be part of this experience, utilizing my native language to analyze the relations between different countries and study their historical impact on economy and culture with professionals in the field,” reflected Victoria. She added, “I also have my host family to thank for making my experience so welcoming and wonderful.”

Because of her Youth Ambassador Internship, Victoria was selected for a scholarship to study Global Health and Humanitarian Action in Geneva, Switzerland, where she and a cohort of interns from around the U.S learned from global leaders and policy makers. Victoria was able to meet leaders in the UNHCR, Red Cross Federation, SOS Méditerranée, and World Health Organization. “I had never been involved in global health before. This experience exposed me to something new and imperative for international development and I had the opportunity to first learn from real-world experts and then apply those skills,” said Victoria.

The culminating project in Geneva was to identify a global public health issue, and create a sustainable and implementation-ready project . Victoria hopes to see her project–a drug and alcohol education and resource program for teenagers–get implemented, but even if it doesn’t, the process of co-creating a solution to a real-world problem was exhilarating. 

Victoria is quick to point out that her Round Square and internship experiences were richer because of the Athenian curriculum. In eleventh grade, she was able to pick courses that fit with her growing interest and that deepened her worldview. She took International Relations, the Political Novel, and Introduction to Philosophy. “Taking these classes all at once helped me connect ideas and informed how I went about my internship projects. Philosophy gave me an awareness of why humans act the way they do, Political Novel gave me an understanding of global political theory and systems, and International Relations brought it all to life.” Victoria notes the Iran Nuclear Deal simulation project in her International Relations class taught by Lea Hartog was an experience that solidified her understanding of the complexities of global affairs and was a highlight of her Athenian experience. 

Coming full circle, Victoria attended the International Round Square Conference in the U.K this fall along with a cohort of Athenian students and faculty. It was a great start to her senior year. Victoria looks forward to continuing her understanding of international relations in college so that she can make real change in the world with others.

Athenian alum Holden Leslie-Bole ’14 Contributes the Field of Climate Change Research