South Africa Initiative

Bridging Cultures & Empowering Individuals

Launched in the fall of 2001, the Rutgers Graduate School of Education’s South Africa Initiative (SAI) facilitates international contact between the United States and South Africa with the goal of empowering students and educators as vital agents and architects of a 21st Century Global Society. We provide experiences for participants to increase their cultural awareness and knowledge, cultural empathy and to better understand their cultural identity while observing and examining the sociopolitical realities of South African communities and schools.

The SAI vision is to develop a true exchange of talents and expertise via in-person contact and through distance-education technology, where students and adult learners from the U.S. and South Africa receive access to knowledge, support, and resources that are critical to cultural understanding and the improvement of teaching & learning.

What’s Happening

SAI 2024 Short Term Educational Program: Education, Culture, and Change

July 17, 2024 – August 4, 2024.

Frequently Asked Questions about Participating in SAI

Culturally-Focused Service Learning

Students enroll in a 3-credit graduate hybrid course which explores the complex social, cultural and educational issues facing South Africa.  The experience includes lectures, readings and online discussions with experts designed to provide a cultural lens for experiencing race and diversity within a socio-political context. The course culminates with two-weeks of cultural immersion in South Africa.  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. Students produce a blog which captures their experience and many produce a post-program activity which incorporates their “new” knowledge and learning.

Course objectives include:

  • increasing cultural awareness and cultural knowledge,
  • challenging personal beliefs and culturally biased assumptions,
  • exploring historical legacies and social conditions that support social inequities,
  • developing a deeper understanding of diversity and cultural similarities,
  • sharpening skills and processes to aid in self-reflective practice, and
  • developing a commitment to social justice advocacy in support of individuals and their communities.



Ajua Kouadio

Shannon Bretz

Melissa Melgar

Antony Farag

Kelly Andrade

Joyce Macaraeg

Alyea Pierce

Darcella Sessomes

Maddi Edwards

Enrique Noguera

Click here for the interactive map that chronicles the sites where the 2017 SAI students engaged in experiential learning and service learning in Johannesburg & Cape Town.

Research & Grants


SAI facilitates bi-national research amongst U.S. and South African scholars.  Over the years, numerous refereed scholarly articles were published in top-tier journals.

In April 2016, an international scholarly volume co-edited by GSE Faculty in Educational Psychology Dr. Saundra Tomlinson-Clarke and Dr. Darren Clarke was published by Routledge. The book entitled Social justice and transformative learning: Culture and identity in the United States & South Africa is viewed as filling a niche in the field, providing practical, tested applications, and fostering the delivery of enhanced capacity to train educators in social justice and transformative learning.

Grants Funded (Darren Clarke as Principal or Co-Principal Investigator)

2011     “Technology Across Borders, Technology Within Borders” – Using the Lessons Learned in
Technology to Enhance Learning Today. Rutgers Center for Global and International Affairs
— Principal Investigator ($600).

2008     Developmental disabilities and behavioral problems among school children in rural South
Africa: Pilot and educational needs assessment research study. Research Foundation of
University of Pennsylvania – Co-Principal Investigator ($13,900).

2004     Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad program (84.021A), U.S. Department of Education,
was conducted in 2004. A 30-day cultural exchange program for 16 US teachers in South
Africa – Principal Investigator – $68,000 (Federal Funds); $28,000 matching funds) totaling

Curriculum Projects & Research 

Participating graduate and doctoral 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.

SAI Distinguished Lecture Series

Each year SAI collaborates with its partners at Rutgers (Africana Studies & Paul Robeson Cultural Center) to bring renowned scholars to Rutgers to address timely and compelling issues in education and society. Former speakers include Dr. Jonathan Jansen, President, University of the Free State, South Africa; Dr. Anthony Lemon, Oxford University; Dr. Enuga Reddy, former Director of the United Nations Center Against Apartheid; Rev. Dr. M. William Howard, former President of NY Theological Seminary & Former Chairman of the Rutgers Board of Governors; Barry Guilder, author of “Songs and Secrets: South Africa from Liberation to Governance”.

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.


SAI Collaboration with Universities in South Africa

We cultivate collaborative research opportunities with University of the Free State (UFS) Faculty of Education and the UFS Post Graduate School, and the University of Cape Town. In addition, we seek grants to support joint and reciprocal programs with universities in South Africa.

SAI Engaging with Empowerment Projects in the University Community & Abroad

SAI works with local and global Nongovernmental agencies (NGOs), university and corporate partners to provide support for the children and their families of rural and township communities. SAI supports local NGOs in the university community, and NGOs in South Africa such as Teboho Trust, an empowerment project for orphaned and vulnerable learners in Soweto. SAI also partners with Infinite Family in the US, in their efforts to provide internet/video mentorship to HIV/AIDS orphans and “on the ground” support for mothers and learners in empowerment projects like Nkosi’s Haven, in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

SAI’s educational program abroad leads to gains for both the students and educators in the participating countries in ways that deepen their learning, enhance their global perspective, and expand their contribution to the education community and society. Many ofthe SAI program alumni, 200+ strong, report that the immersion experience challenged their beliefs about “culturally-different others”, heightened their racial-cultural identity and provided them new ways of thinking and acting in a multicultural society,both personally and professionally.

Support for Schools

Over the years SAI has provided a multitude of school books and supplies which have been shared with over 2,000 learners in South Africa. Extraordinary projects such as “Literacy through Photography” & “Brielle Digital Stories Project” have been conducted by SAI alumni in New Jersey schools which resulted in thousands of dollars of support given directly to South African schools. With assistance from our partners, major infrastructure improvements have occurred in our partner schools, including school furniture, 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 pen…is 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.”

Curriculum Projects & Research 

Participating graduate and doctoral 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.

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.”

Highlighting Alumni

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.

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

Contact Information

For more information on the South Africa Initiative, please contact Dr. Darren Clarke, Senior Director – Strategic Alliances, Online Programs & Outreach, at

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