My Brilliant Career: Travelling to teach the continent

04 March 2012 - 02:15 By Margaret Harris

Lesego Mookapele travelled through South Africa and five other African countries to unite the youth of the continent under the banner of her tiny organisation, One Path Africa. She told Margaret Harris how the seven-month road trip, during which she reached Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, involved community development programmes

What made you decide to take a year off work and travel into Africa between March and October 2011?

I have always had a passion to empower young people and unite Africans, wanting to go out there and make a difference and create a universal dialogue where young people can stand up and make a difference. I also love travelling and learning new things. I aspire to grow and learn wherever I am.

Tell me about some of your experiences during this trip?

It was an amazing journey: all the people I met and their way of life was inspiring. The worst were the bus rides and hitchhiking to other countries, and having to eat food I had never seen before. I was travelling with my best friend, [and co-founder, in 2009, of One Path Africa] Tumi Zikhona Jonas, who has the same passion, and this made the work more fulfilling. But some places were frightening.

What were some of the greatest challenges you faced?

Because we were struggling to get funds, we spent a lot of time in truly rural parts of South Africa, reaching out to village communities to provide support for other young people in a language that is understood by the average young person, through entertainment - including mime and dance - sports events and a proper English tea.

What were some of the high points of the trip?

The will to survive in many households; Heroes Acre in Zimbabwe, visiting the Victoria Falls and flying over Mount Kilimanjaro. Every day was a new lesson on how beautiful Africa is and the need for development.

Would you advise other young people to do a trip like this one?

I would definitely encourage anyone who can, to take a trip into the unknown to learn about other people's lives and to gain new perspectives.

What advice would you give them?

Planning and preparation, both physically and mentally. It can be a psychological nightmare if you are not prepared. Find out what the embassies have to say, and speak to people who have done the trip before.

Would you like to make a similar trip again?

We are planning to travel in Africa again this year, a bigger group of young people for a greater impact.

What would you do differently?

Raise funds or get financial assistance. We could have reached more villages and more young people if we had had the resources and, more importantly, I want video footage to encourage others.

What training do you have?

I completed my diploma in town and regional planning at the University of Johannesburg in 2009. I worked as a town and energy planner at Energy Solutions Africa in Midrand for almost two years, and as part of my diploma requirements, I worked at Buffalo City Municipality and Tshane Town Planning Consultants in the Eastern Cape. I am now part of a non-governmental, non-profit organisation, Activate! and I have done a few development and leadership training courses.

How did your training as a town planner help you in your trip?

The local economic development aspect of my career and the capacity building skills were useful. I also had to exercise my project management abilities so that we could travel through five other African countries, despite the fact that we had such limited resources. I had to plan on the spot and analyse every new situation objectively. I also did an informal study on settlement patterns.

What are some of the challenges facing the people you met during your One Path Africa trip?

Poverty and a lack of information about their rights; governing institutions and a lack of opportunities made available to young people. Having to teach people new skills was always a challenge. Another problem was that we were also labelled "small girls".

What did you want to be when you were a child?

I did not have much information but I wanted to be in the engineering sector.

What inspires you?

Young people making a difference in their corner, their school and their communities, the few good samaritans who help without recognition, the love that people have towards each other.

What is your favourite time of day?

I value the time I sit and reflect on the day that has gone and the day to come.

How has being part of Activate! changed you and your perspective?

I have learned a lot. Being in a project with young people who have strong personalities and leadership skills. I had a few challenges, as I was heading the team building for the facilitators, but I overcame those with understanding. I have been taught to focus my energy and priorities on what is important.