This past spring semester (2012) I had the great fortune to be on co-op in Cape Town, South Africa working for TSiBA Education at the Ignition Centre. TSiBA Education is a tuition-free higher education provider that focuses on building future business leaders from South Africa’s pool of talented but poor and disadvantaged young people. The Ignition Centre is a business training and mentoring facility for entrepreneurs from townships, and serves as an additional tool for graduated TSiBA students. The mission of the Ignition Centre is “To be an innovative mentoring community that develops confident entrepreneurs who earn sustainable livelihoods, create jobs and drive economic and social prosperity.” With only three full-time staff in the Centre I was really able to get involved in a variety of projects and tailor the co-op experience to my skills and interests.
During my four months with TSiBA I had the opportunity to work on a variety of short and long term projects. The main project I worked on was the development of training material for a course in business planning and financial management. I also did a lot of marketing for the Centre using social media and blogging, and designed a yearly training calendar. Although these were my two main functions I had a variety of smaller projects and responsibilities during my time with TSiBA including but not limited to assistant teaching, acting as a consultant for members, and reorganizing the shared drive files. This breadth of responsibilities gave me a number of concrete skills and experiences to highlight during interviews for my second co-op.
My favorite part of the experience, though, was getting to know the TSiBA students and immersing myself in the rich culture of South Africa. While on co-op I had the amazing opportunity to go on a wilderness trip with the first year students. This trip was a 5 day leadership camping excursion hosted by Educo Africa in the mountains of Eastern Cape which all TSiBA students are required to participate in during their first year. With no showers, bathrooms, phones, or beds for comfort we were truly thrown into the wild. Our group of 13 students became very close over the course of the week. They shared stories of the challenges they had faced from the stresses of school to neglectful parents to overcoming drug addictions. It was truly one of the most moving and memorable weeks of my life.
My time with TSiBA was incredibly beneficial, not only on a professional level but a personal one as well. The students and staff are energetic, passionate people with so many touching stories and lessons to share. This co-op was a true learning experience, and if I had the opportunity, I would go back in a heartbeat.