South Africa Initiative (SAI) | Graduate School of Education

South Africa Initiative (SAI)

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Launched in the fall of 2001, the Rutgers Graduate School of Education's South Africa Initiative (SAI) bridges cultures, connects educators and provides hope for learners and students from South Africa and the United States.  This interdisciplinary program provides teachers and students on both sides of the world with the opportunity to bridge cultures and exchange information through service learning, training and distance technology that leads to educational gains for students and educators in both countries.

Over the years SAI has provided tons of school books and supplies which have been shared with more than 2,000 learners in South Africa. Special projects such as “Literacy Through Photography” have been conducted by SAI alumni in NJ schools resulting in thousands of dollars of support given directly to South African schools. With help from our partners, major infrastructure improvements have occurred in our partner schools. 

SAI also provides support for doctoral students to conduct dissertation research in South Africa, while also providing access to school environments with enormous societal and educational challenges.  In 2008, SAI received funding from the Research Foundation of University Pennsylvania to conduct a study examining the kinds of developmental and behavioral problems that may exist in students, ages 5 to 6 years, who attended rural schools.

The program’s vision is to improve the quality of the global community and provide access to knowledge, support, and resources that are critical to student achievement. 


The SAI program participants have returned from a successful cultural immersion course in South Africa. The course began with group activities, training in blogging, and lectures by Rutgers educators and SAI alumni. During their time abroad, the participants visited museums, organizations in Johannesburg that work with at-risk youth, and attended lectures at the University of the Free State (UFS) in Bloemfontein, including one by the Rector (president) of UFS, Dr. Jonathan Jansen. The group also visited local organizations in Bloemfontein dedicated to uplifting disadvantaged children and communities affected by poverty. The participants shared their reflections and educational experiences abroad via blogs, which can be viewed below: 

Enrique Noguera

Liza Levitt-Tighe

Marleni Marte

Rasheeda Williams

Maraina Montgomery

Lissette Carrion-Trujillo

Kelley Williams 

The full itinerary for the 2014 Cultural Immersion Course can be found here


Dr. Darren Clarke, founder of SAI, delivered at talk at the University of the Free State Post-Graduate School's Second Semester Workshop Programme on July 29, 2014. The lecture entitled Overcoming challenges to building strategic alliances and collaborative research in the Academy, was aimed at addressing challenges to building international research networks. 


We salute Indira Bailey, SAI '04, for being selected to the Creative Currents Summer Artist Residency Program in Portobelo, Panama.

During this three-week residency, she will explore the oral traditions of the Afro-Latin Panamanian culture, history and spirituality. She will meet and work with local artists in the Portobelo community to discover Congo art, Kuna Indian multicolored "Molas" textiles designs and other folk art elements. 


We salute our friend and SAI partner, Sir Jose Bright, Founder & Executive Director, Teboho Trust, who on 6 January 2014 was knighted into the Knights of the Orthodox Order of Saint John Russian Grant Priory for humanitarian work in Soweto, South Africa for the last 13 years. 

To learn more about Teboho Trust, visit: 


We are pleased to announce a number of exciting activities coming up stateside. Visit our website for future programs:

October 7, 2014 - Academic Symposium - TBA 

October 17, 2014 - An Evening of Reflections, GSE Lecture Hall 

October 24, 2014 - SAI Information Session, 5:30pm - GSE Lecture Hall (Room 124) 

2015 - Joint Leadership-4-Change Summit, Rutgers & University of the Free State

July 12-26, 2015 - 13th Annual SAI Cultural Immersion Program

2016 - International Conference in South Africa - to provide educational leaders/schools practitioners in South Africa a venue to share best practices, informed by current US and SA research experts. 


Components of SAI


Annual Cultural Immersion Graduate Course

This unique two week, 3-credit summer program places American educators and graduate students in South African communities and schools. The major goal of this cultural immersion experience is to provide adult learners with on-going opportunities to directly experience society from a different socio-cultural context. Through lived experiences, service learning and self-reflection learners challenge beliefs and assumptions, and develop critical thinking skills as part of their development of personal and professional competence. The experience is designed to help participants better understand themselves, foster critical and reflective thinking and to better understand others.

Participants also engage in service learning in cultural communities designed to extend cultural awareness, knowledge and skills. Participants develop curricula, innovative programs and classroom interventions that are brought back for dissemination to other educators and students/learners in their own school districts and local communities. Participants in this cultural immersion program in South Africa typically will demonstrate greater personal and professional cultural competencies in their lives and workplace. 

Teacher Exchange Program

Educators from both countries visit the host country to work closely in their classrooms, share best practices in mathematics, science, literacy skills, music, art, and other school-related subjects and receive timely professional development. 

Engaging with Empowerment Projects in the Community 

SAI works closely with our university and corporate partners to provide support for the children and their families of these schools and Teboho Trust, an empowerment project for orphaned and vulnerable learners in Soweto. SAI partners with Infinite Family in the US, in their efforts to provide internet/video mentorship to HIV/AIDS orphans in other empowerment projects like Nkosi's Haven, in Johannesburg.  

Distinguished Lecture Speaker Series

This annual series of stimulating lectures is comprised of colloquia and public activities which bring together the K-30 educational community to discuss educational issues and to promote social justice and educational equity.

Vision Award

Presented annually to an individual (and their school) who has displayed extraordinary vision and dedication in developing an educational program, curriculum project or research contribution in the areas of health and wellness, diversity/ multicultural learning, social justice or global education.



Support for South African Schools and Learners

Over the years SAI has provided tons of school books and supplies which have been shared with more than 2,000 learners in South Africa. Special projects such as “Literacy Through Photography” & Brielle Digital Stories Project” and have been conducted by SAI alumni in NJ schools resulting in thousands of dollars of support given directly to South African schools. With help from our partners, major infrastructure improvements have occurred in our partner schools, including additional classrooms and the first ever photographic darkroom in the Western Cape at Amstelhof Primary School.

Below is a quotation from a learner at Teboho Trust, a youth empowerment project in Soweto that the SAI program visits every year.

"For me, going to school and having a desk, a chair, a book to write on and a a great privilege. Coming to Teboho Trust is an honour. For the time and support that you have invested (in) Teboho Trust, I thank you."

Teacher Professional Development

Educators who participate in the study tour and teacher exchange program gain awareness and appreciation for cultural differences; teachers also share best educational practices in and outside of their classrooms and communities. The experience is transformational for the students and educators alike and success is measured by increased levels of engagement, motivation and retention of teachers. 

Support for Rutgers Students

Each year SAI continues to provide travel support for deserving masters and doctoral students, many of whom are pre-service teachers or young researchers who benefit from the cultural immersion study tour in South Africa. Many report the experience best prepared them to work with diverse groups of students in New Jersey schools.

Curriculum Projects & Research 

Participating students' academic projects have focused on a variety of topics including the development of multicultural competencies, narratives of hope, science and mathematics, aesthetics and culture, the public nature of South African institutions of higher education, special education policy and the development of curriculum materials for teaching about South Africa in US schools. Graduate students conduct research in South African schools which is of mutual benefit. 

One SAI Alum's Experience

Every fall, SAI hosts its "Evening of Reflections" event, at which participants of that year's study tour share their experiences, and  receive recognition for completing the program. SAI Alumna Joylette Williams ('12) gave some remarks about the participants' time at N'kosi's Haven, which we have reprinted below:

"The smell of freshly-baked bread engulfed us as our van climbed the hill, and gave us the opportunity to admire one of the most beautiful views that the countryside had to offer. The residence for women and children was truly a haven. Walls full of murals with inspirational messages welcomed use to brightly-colored sofas and chairs, and our hosts were just as welcoming. The time we spent with netfundis and advisors was a bit strained at first as we attempted to establish how we could make their online communications experiences richer and more fulfilling. What initially took a lot of careful listening and exchanging of classroom management practices and website-building strategies resulted in productive discussions in which we learned more about the mentoring program and its advantages and the netfundis, hopefully, learned from our study and practice within the field of education.

Then came the food! If there is anything that can bring people together from all cultures, languages, ages, and socioeconomic classes, it has to be hunger. I fellowshipped more and learned more about all four of these aspects of the lives of both my SAI family and our hosts than I would have in any other venue by breaking the freshly-baked, hand-made bread, literally, than I would have in any formal setting. My mouth is watering now as I remember how wonderful the meal was, one of many during our travels throughout the country.

I thought my learning experiences in our formal discussion and our incredible meal would be the highlights of my visit to Nkosi’s Haven. I was wrong. When the children came in after school, my heart stopped. Never have I been so inspired by a group of happy, energetic, playful, tenacious children. I must include the tenacity because I paused to remember that many of the children were terminally ill, and many have witnessed the effects of terminal illness and even death in their parents and caregivers. And still, they danced. They played. They laughed. And so did we. The value that I had previously assigned for accomplishments and material possessions in my own life changed that day, and I am truly grateful for the experience to meet and interact with the children and their mothers who reside in Nkosi’s Haven. Dr. Clarke told us that, after we met the children, we would not want to leave. He was right. And I’m ready to go back. Thank you, thank you to all who made this experience possible. I cannot express enough how greatly I appreciate your kindness and generosity. Thank you."

SAI Blogs:


Bloggers Abroad

Check out the accounts, videos and photos of some study tour participants as they traveled through South Africa.

Melissa Stein

Alea Rushmore

Kimberly Porter

Colette Rafferty

Elizabeth Zwierzynski

Lelia Brinkley

Corey O'Connor

Kristine Kowalski

A Great Start To Our Tenth Anniversary Year

Launching the official start of the Graduate School of Education's tenth annual study tour to South Africa, June 16th's kickoff event featured Rutgers Vision of Excellence award to honoree and keynote speaker Phuti Mahanyele, CEO, Shanduka Group.  

The enthusiastic attendees that gathered to celebrate the participants were also addressed by the South Africa Consul General the Honorable George Monyemangene, Rutgers University President Dr. Richard McCormick, Graduate School of Education Dean Dr. Richard De Lisi and SAI Co-Founder and Senior Director of Strategic Alliances and Outreach, Dr. Darren Clarke.

The Vision of Excellence Award was presented to Ms. Mahanyele as an individual who has contributed extraordinarily to education and social progress for learners and communities in South Africa; by providing mentorship and cultivating leadership for the next generation of business professionals. Her leadership in the area of finance and business is quite astounding and she was listed as one of the “Top 50 women in the world to watch in 2008” by the Wall Street Journal.


View photos from the event by clicking here.

Summit Step Squads Take a Step Against Apartheid, Raising $1,000 for SAI!!

The step teams of Summit High School and the Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School (coached by SAI Alumna Dr. Steffany A. Baptiste Henion - SAI '02-'06) hosted a 4-hour step-a-thon to raise awareness of the effects of apartheid on education in South Africa and to raise funds for SAI.

Held at the Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School Auditorium, each team stepped for a full 2 hours, rotating through 7 different routines without rest or water until the program's completion.  Working together over the past few weeks the diverse group of 14 students were able to raise $1,000 for South Africa Initiative.

"The hard work of these students not only enables us to continue our work in the schools of South Africa, but also helps raise awareness in our local communities on the importance of educating responsible global citizens." says Dr. Darren Clarke, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances and Outreach and Co-Director of the South Africa Initiative.

Learn more about the students here.

Alumna's Art Featured at the Drake House
Indira Bailey's ('04) artwork is being featured this month at the Drake House in Plainfield, NJ. A reception hosted by the Historical Society of Plainfield was held to kick off the Black History Month exhibit. The exhibit is open between 2 - 4pm each Sunday until March.

Click here for the full article from PlainfieldView.


Alumna Receives Fulbright-Hays Fellowship to Morocco

Indira Bailey ('04) is the recipient of a second Fulbright-Hays Fellowship, this time to Morocco!  As part of the "East Meets West: Islamic, Judaic & Western Influences in Morocco" program,  Bailey will create a photo journal study and mathematical and geometrical analysis of the decorative arts and history within Moroccan culture by using elements and principles of design.

Departing in the end of June, Bailey will travel all over the country - visiting such cities as Rabat, Casablanca, Fes,  Midelt, Merzoug, and Marrakech as well as the Berber villages in the Sahara Desert and many other historical sites.

"As a teacher and artist, the world is facing challenging times and I want to do my part to help make a difference and learn about global issues," says Bailey. "Understanding the perspectives of people overseas is a critical first step for me, I am excited to represent educators in America and I’m committed to serve in any way that I can."

Bailey is holding a special fundraiser sale of prints and items.  Learn more about her trip and the fundraiser by visiting

SAI Alumna Brings Artistic Lessons Home from South Africa

Scotch Plains, NJ - Taking inspiration from the beaded jewelry and design pieces of South Africa, SAI alumna Indira Bailey (’04) brought the custom home with her to share with artists and educators alike through her South African Beadmaking workshop.  In the workshop Bailey details the history of beadmaking, how it was once used as a currency.   She explains the color schemes and the significance of the beads based on Zulu cultural traditions. 

“I really enjoy working with teachers because they bring the knowledge back to their schools and community,” says Bailey.

All of the supplies and creative-license encouragement needed to create a beaded masterpiece are provided.   Besides educators, Bailey has also presented the workshop to elementary through High School students the general community.

Bailey remarks “Regardless of age, people enjoy the class and their bracelets and I enjoy teaching it.”

Learn more about the South African Beadmaking workshop and other art education classes by visiting

SAI Co-Founder Receives Rutgers Human Dignity Award

Dr. Darren Clarke, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances and Outreach, has been selected by the Rutgers University Committee to Advance Our Common Purposes to receive a 2010-2011 Rutgers Human Dignity Award.

The award recognizes members of the Rutgers community who advance the practices of diversity and social justice. Dr. Clarke was selected because of his creation, operation, and leadership of GSE’s South Africa Initiative, now celebrating its 10th anniversary year of bridging cultures. This interdisciplinary program provides teachers and students in New Jersey and South Africa with the opportunity to support each other and learn about educational opportunities and challenges in another country. 

SAI Alumnus Successfully Defends Dissertation

SAI 2010 Study Tour alumnus Donald Heilman recently announced that he has successfully defended his dissertation, entitled "Learning from Disaster: The Learning Environment of the 2006 Rutgers University Hurricane Katrina Relief Project and How Service Learning Generates Transformative Learning: A Case Study."

Dr. Heilman is also a practicing attorney, having earned his Juris Doctor and Masters in Education, in addition to his Ph.D. He is the director of Rutgers' Office of Student Legal Services in New Brunswick.


Institutions: Public & Private Schools throughout New Jersey


Non-Profit: University of Pretoria; University of the Free State; National Zoological Gardens; Infinite Family; U.S. National Society of Collegiate Scholars

Community-Based Organizations: Teboho Trust Project, Soweto, South Africa