Finding hope in little acts: TPG’s journey to the South Africa PeaceJam conference
Don’t sit back and expect somebody to solve the world’s problems for us.
We can’t all be full-time activists, but there are steps each of us can take to improve society.
That was the message — dare I say challenge — I heard in South Africa last weekend from 1997 Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams.
“It’s everybody’s responsibility to make the world a better place in their own unique way,” Williams told 300 young people who had gathered in Cape Town. She and a delegation from TPG had come to South Africa to help spread a message of hope and peace at the PeaceJam youth leadership conference.
Cape Town is a city filled with natural beauty. There are spectacular mountains, beaches and some of the friendliest people around. Add in some amazing dining, and it should be on any tourist’s must-see list.
But South Africa is also struggling in some communities with crime, gangs, persistent racism and a wealth gap that has lasted long after the end of apartheid in 1994. Sexual violence and rape happen at alarmingly high levels, some of the worst in the world.
That’s where PeaceJam and its message of hope and self-empowerment come in.
PeaceJam is a nonprofit organization that TPG has been working with since 2014. Its mission is to foster young leaders committed to positive change in themselves, their communities and the world.
The organization helps inspire them with messages from Nobel Peace Prize laureates such as Desmond Tutu and Leymah Gbowee, and use their spirit, skills, and wisdom to help create educational programming for youth around the world.
Jody Williams was the laureate picked to participate in this year’s South Africa jam. Williams is a no-nonsense activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work toward banning and clearing land mines around the world.
Many of the 300 kids gathered for the jam were already leaders in their communities seeking advice on how to move forward. Williams wouldn’t offer pat solutions but instead gently pushed the young activists to find their own path.
“What you do at the end of the day (is) think about yourself, be happy” she told them. Ask: “The work I do, how does this have a tiny bit of good to help the world and all of us?”
TPG’s mission is to empower people to travel the world smarter and cheaper. Through their travels, we hope that people will become more knowledgeable about the world and more tolerant of people's differences.
But that isn’t enough. Our founder and CEO, Brian Kelly, preaches that every successful business needs to give back to the community. That’s why each year, TPG funds PeaceJam’s programming in East Timor, Ghana, Guatemala, Liberia and South Africa — and our staff members volunteer at those events.
“The more we travel, the more we meet people and the more we realize we are all the same,” Kelly told the crowd at one PeaceJam lecture. “How do we travel more responsibly, learn more about places?”
Last year, TPG also started to sponsor a small group of student fellows by covering their college tuition. Three of these young women were at the South Africa PeaceJam. Two plan to become teachers and one is studying hospitality and culinary skills.
This was my first trip with PeaceJam and my first time in South Africa. I was simply overwhelmed.
At one point in an emotional, yet inspiring, ceremony, several of the students in attendance stood up before the crowd and shared their stories. The message was: "You are not alone."
One young girl spoke of having to leave a prestigious high school she had fought her way into because she needed to work an extra job. Several girls shared horrific tales of family members who molested or raped them or gang members who beat up their siblings. Others in the auditorium wept as they privately relived their own traumas through these stories.
You might expect this would have left me upset and afraid for what our world has become. But although their stories were troubling, what really impressed me was how the young people found strength in each other. Teens who have seen more trauma in a week than most of us will see in our lives were still optimistic and energized for change.
They believe that they can make a difference. And it’s our job to tap into that passion and energy and help guide them.
For me, the journey was a realization that little things do matter. I’ve become consumed at age 41 with my family and work. I want to give back, but often feel helpless. The problems are so big and my time so short.
Yet that shouldn’t stop me. Even little actions can make a big difference.
Teaching 300 teenagers in South Africa about peace isn’t going to change the world. But these young people met each other for the first time last Friday. By Sunday morning, they were singing and dancing together like the best of friends.
If each of them can affect somebody else, and that person help change a third one, and so on, then change on a large scale starts to happen.
That’s the beauty of PeaceJam.
In 2018 alone, TPG’s sponsorship of the PeaceJam program affected the lives of more than 11,000 teenagers in five developing countries (stay tuned for our upcoming trip to Liberia). TPG has donated more than $400,000 to support PeaceJam and the Nobel laureates’ work with youth.
Join the effort by making a donation here.
To learn more about the PeaceJam organization, check out this video, follow them on social media at @PeaceJam or follow the hashtag #PeaceJam.