Youth Radio Dialogues on Ubuntu in South Africa

S4E3: Transcript
Ubuntu & Youth Radio Reporters with Nina Callaghan

Tavia Gilbert: Welcome to Stories of Impact. I’m producer Tavia Gilbert, and in every episode of this podcast, journalist Richard Sergay and I bring you conversation about the newest scientific research on human flourishing, and how those discoveries can be translated into practical tools. 

This season, we’re focusing on conversations about human flourishing, and today we’ll hear a fascinating and inspiring conversation having to do with the flourishing of young South Africans. Today’s episode highlights Richard’s conversation with Nina Callaghan, former Associate Director and current South African Chair of Children’s Radio Foundation. 

Before we get into the conversation, let me give you a little background about Children’s Radio Foundation. Since its founding in 2007, the core of the foundation’s work has been partnering with community radio stations, community-based organizations, and youth, in order to grow and nurture spaces of broadcast and community engagement for young people. The foundation operates with an awareness that young people make up the biggest demographic on the African continent, and in their country of South Africa, but they have very few spaces where they can express themselves, contribute to opinion, and advocate for things that they need in their lives. So, with that awareness, Children’s Radio Foundation creates spaces where young people can be young reporters, and they broadcast radio shows every week that are researched, produced, and hosted by young people themselves.

In a post-apartheid country still suffering the social, psychic, and economic wounds of decades of institutionalised racial segregation, the very act of teaching these youth basic journalism 101, including ethics, consent, and truth-telling, is a powerful healing act. Not only that, the work invites young people to embrace truth-telling about taboo topics like HIV, sexual reproductive health and rights, education, building safer communities, migration, and xenophobia. Through their groundbreaking work, Children’s Radio Foundation is developing young people as critical thinkers and confident communicators, young people who are socially aware and who are active in their own lives and the lives of their communities.

We’ll hear from a number of the young journalists involved in the foundation at the end of the episode — all Black, between the ages of 14 and 20 years old, and from underserved communities, either peri-rural areas (rural areas on the fringes of urban centers) or quite deeply rural areas. These young reporters are tasked with exploring the issue affecting their communities, and then sharing what they come to understand about those issues to a listenership of as many as 600,000 people. These young people’s stories and experiences in their communities reach, as project director and our interviewee Nina Callaghan put it, “intimate spaces in very far-flung areas.” Whatever their backgrounds, through their work with Children’s Radio Foundation, these youth reporters learn first-hand how potent a place community radio is for the convergence of activism, awareness, community news, and information.

So here’s Nina Callaghan herself, talking about the necessity of a foundation that focuses on the voices of young people: 

Nina Callaghan: Young people desperately need to be heard. If young people across the racial spectrum attend a privileged school, or they live in wealthier urban areas, the pathways to being heard and access to information, to platforms to express themselves, are so much more available, than if you’re looking at a community in the Eastern Cape, which is 300 kilometers away from any major urban center.
Tavia Gilbert: And why radio?

Nina Callaghan: Radio is – radio is, it’s life. It’s intimate. It reaches into homes, into cars, into public spaces. It’s immediate, it’s alive in the moment. And people are able to interact with it. Now, with WhatsApp technology and other means of communication and messaging, your voice can be heard on air in an instant, and for free. You don’t have to call in and use up your airtime. Radio is local, you know, it reflects the people around.

When I listen to some of the young people, and ask why do you love it so much? It’s a lot of work, to put together a half an hour to an hour show, and you have school, you have homework, extra classes, chores in your family. And they say, when I’m in front of the mic, I feel alive. It’s the buzz of production. It is the thrill of not knowing what caller is calling in, and what they’re going to say. It’s about being quick on your feet. It’s about working in a team, and the real satisfaction when you’ve had a broadcast that went really well, and you know that you’ve reached people. It’s very satisfying.

Tavia Gilbert: Callaghan herself is a former journalist, and you can hear from the energy in her voice how she lights up about radio. Does she sense that there is something special or different about that medium?

Nina Callaghan: I think so. I think it’s more honest. There’s less setup. There’s less construction. There’s a lot more spontaneous sharing. The microphone – when you’re holding a microphone, you’re speaking into a microphone, it’s almost like a, like a mini confessional. You know, it does something to your process, to your body. It makes you breathe differently, as opposed to cameras and a different eye of awareness. Radio’s really intimate and asks intimate things of you. And I think it’s able to access stories a lot easier. Yeah, and I think that can be really captured on air.

Tavia Gilbert: So let’s start at the beginning. How can young people join this powerful program?

Nina Callaghan: Okay. We researched what were the better community radio stations out there. And when I say better, I mean people who were really invested in their communities, and who were interested in growing youth programming.

So, we pitched the idea of a Young Reporters Network to station managers, and it’s a values proposition. There’s no big money in this for radio stations. What we support the project with is not enough for anyone to pay their bills, or by a long shot, to purchase airtime on radio. 

So, the community radio station and Children’s Radio Foundation enter into an agreement around nurturing young talent and youth development in underserved communities. 

We go into schools, community centers, youth groups, and pitch the idea of a project. And sometimes, the first thing young people understand by this pitch is, I’m going to be famous, I’m going to be a DJ, I’m going to be a local celebrity. And once they come to the second information session, they really understand that it’s really about exploring a community in terms of a system of people working together, of topics and issues coming together, and also the opportunity to really grow skill. 

So we choose about 15 to 20 young reporters from these information sessions. There’s no audition. We’re not into the person who is the most eloquent, who is the most confident. We’re not looking for the bright and shining stars. We’re looking for young people who are curious, about themselves, and the world around them. And we are looking for young people who want to make a difference. So, these are the people who usually end up in the room, and we start off with a foundational training, in ethics, consent, how to report, and also some topic-specific training. And it’s the community radio stations who nurture the technical proficiency of young people.

Tavia Gilbert: What can Callaghan share about the impact of the program has had on the participants themselves?

Nina Callaghan: They become hooked. They’re hooked on the buzz of production, of understanding that they’re making an impact. And they also become role models in their communities, to their peers and to adults. And they do become local celebrities, but not in the same way as the DJs are. They are super cool because they know things, not because they just super cool. 

They become peer educators, you know. Their friends come to them and ask them about a show that they did, or ask for further information. They’re seen as young people who are active in their own lives, which really challenges the dominant idea of who youth are. In South Africa, the dominant narrative in mainstream media is that youth are apathetic, violent, hopeless, diseased. When young people are spoken about, they are spoken about as phenomena, as an extension of some of the social ills that we have in our country.

When young people have the opportunity to represent themselves, you get a very different picture to that dominant portrayal of who young people are. They have the chance to represent themselves, to speak for themselves, and to set their own agenda. They’re not an extension of an adult agenda or having been spoken about. And this is a very powerful emotional act, political act, to be able to represent yourself, to be able to determine how others see you on your own terms, not on somebody else’s.

Tavia Gilbert: Callaghan seems as though she herself is inspired by these young reporters.

Nina Callaghan: Yes, young people inspire me, and they make this job so rewarding and worthwhile. I feel very privileged to be able to spend the kind of time that I do with young people in a training room, to really get to know who they are, to really understand the challenges and the triumphs that they forge in their lives. In our understanding of our country as a place of gross inequality, as a place where youth opportunity is very rare. It’s not a robust national agenda, in a very serious way. 

And then, to meet young people who are motivated, curious, caring, about themselves, about their communities, about their families, about their education, it is incredibly inspiring. Because to have to overcome a great sense of hopelessness, or to reach for something that is not entirely obvious, and the pathways to that thing that you’re reaching for is also not entirely obvious, but they do it anyway. It’s a human triumph, really. It’s something that is incredibly brave. 

And young people need to be supported, so much more. They need to be listened to so much more. They have a wealth of experience and wisdom about their own lives, because they live it. And they live the consequences of adult decisions, whether it’s in the family, whether it’s in on a policy level. You know, young people are the people who experience that the most, and we don’t give them a chance to participate in those decisions, in any meaningful kind of way. So I feel passionate about the work, about creating spaces for young people to participate and to share their lives.

Tavia Gilbert: What are the values that she’s trying to instill in these young folks?

Nina Callaghan: Be curious, question things. Question your environment, question what it is you think you deserve. Question injustice. The values are also around participating, being active. So when you see who you are, and where you are, how do you place yourself in that environment? What do you do? What are one’s responses? 

And in the noble and ideal tradition of, of journalism, we strive to be balanced. We strive to hear many angles of a story, and this is also one of the main tenets of how we want the young people to participate in this project, is that even when that grandmother calls on your show, and she’s furious because, you’re talking about things that she doesn’t agree with, you need to let her speak. You need to give her that platform, too. 

And so, it’s really nurturing a space of diversity, of being able to hold and acknowledge, not just the kinds of things that we want to believe, or that we want to understand in the world, but the things that really exist, and how can we create spaces for that diversity, for that difference? Can we live with it gracefully? Can we hear it gracefully? How does that contribute to a richer and more nuanced conversation? Because heaven knows, we need it, in the whole world, and especially in our country. 

Debate and dialogue often degenerates into very egotistical and fixed positions, and we need a new generation who are more inclusive. I don’t, by any stretch, say that they need to be accepting, but they need to be more inclusive. And the dialogue needs to be more diverse.
Tavia Gilbert: Why is that diversity so important to Children’s Radio Foundation and to South Africa?

Nina Callaghan: I think when we, when we attempt to listen to each other, we begin the journey of understanding the other. We begin to understand how people are constituted. When we really listen, we begin to dismantle our stereotypes about people, about places, about behaviors. And I think we are more likely to be compassionate and to act from a place of care, instead of a place of fear. So when we are more informed and when the space between you and me is shorter to jump, I’m more willing to take the jump, to take the leap. 

And so, I think it’s really important in a country like ours where things like race and, and economic inequality, really is trauma in people’s lives. It’s not just a phenomenon, it’s a trauma, it’s a lived experience of so many people in this country, black people in this country. And so, for us, to be able to try and bridge these divides, by listening to each other, by talking to each other, by really sharing our lives, I think a lot is possible.

Tavia Gilbert: Callaghan is asking these young journalists to participate, which is a request that doesn’t reflect a Western journalistic value to report objectively, as an observer, not a participant. Is there a different perspective of journalism in South Africa?
Nina Callaghan: First of all, I think it’s a great illusion to think that as media makers, one is objective. One needs to be balanced, yes. But I think the idea of objectivity is really a fallacy. We make choices all the time in our media making, and if we’re not aware of those choices, we can produce very dangerous things. And we try to make the young people aware of this. 

And when I talk about participation, it’s not about young people being completely agnostic, because what they’re talking about is their lives, and the issues that affect their lives and other young people in their communities. And we are asking young people to find their position. What is their position? What is it that you are advocating for? So it’s not journalism that’s agnostic. It’s journalism that is trying to navigate an issue, it’s trying to find local solutions to an issue. And by participating, I’m also meaning, to really, yes, acknowledge the problem, but what are the pathways to making it better? 

In a classical sense, it’s not really solutions journalism, because I think solutions journalism is quite forensic in its unpacking of information, and research, and so. But how the young people unpack their stories, is through narrative storytelling. It’s about the story and the opinion of others, to be able to paint a picture of how this issue lives in the world. So, it’s very emotive and that’s also another way of participation. We’re asking, and young people are asking themselves, and their peers, and their community members, to really share. And that’s also about participation. We’re not asking for cold facts, or what happened? What happened and what happened to you is the question.

Tavia Gilbert: Part of Children’s Radio Foundation’s history of working with young journalists included a multi-year relationship with Templeton World Charity Foundation, which funded a special project: Youth Radio Dialogues on Ubuntu, a two-year exploration concerning a most intriguing concept.

Nina Callaghan: Children’s Radio Foundation was really excited to grapple with this project, with the support of the Templeton World Charity Foundation. Ubuntu is not a classic developmental topic, as some of our other themes in the program are. The process of exploring it is not the same, as we are talking about access to education, for instance. 

The exploration of Ubuntu really got the young people excited, because it was asking them to examine something that was known in some way, shape, or form, to them and to their community. And it was asking for a re-examination, a re-interpretation. And the outcomes are not hard outcomes, like some of the other themes are, you know, if you want to understand the impact of a program, you look at a log frame, and you can see this happened. So, many people attended, so many people received a message. You can say so many people attended, so many people received a message, but the process of unpacking Ubuntu was a very personal undertaking in a way that the other themes were not. It asked people to examine the fiber of their lives, in a very different way. It asked them to examine their motivations, and their actions as a human being, in a much bigger understanding of humanity. And that was very exciting.

Tavia Gilbert: How does Callaghan define Ubuntu?

Nina Callaghan: Ubuntu, the classic definition still resonates with me, that “I am because you are.” I am, because of how you affirm or not affirm me. How you reflect or don’t reflect me. I can only exist because I push up, and with somebody and something else. Or else I’m, I’m a random particle, [laughs] which I’m not, which none of us are. And Ubuntu is about that practice of humanity. It’s about the practice of acknowledging that we are in this together, and that we don’t exist without each other. 

Tavia Gilbert: What is the origin of the word Ubuntu, and why is it important to South Africa?

Nina Callaghan: Ubuntu or uMunthu — is a Nguni word, which comes from a language in Southern Africa, and it is a very widely understood concept. It also lives on the rest of the continent in different words, in different understandings. But the basic concept that we are interdependent, and that we need to acknowledge that mystery, almost, is a way that historically traditional societies have practiced and have managed to forge community, and to be prosperous. Ubuntu is described as an African philosophy and an African practice. But I think that we can see its resonance in all kinds of communities across the world.

Tavia Gilbert: Is it a philosophy? A way of life? What exactly is it?

Nina Callaghan: Ubuntu is a guiding principle, and I think it’s the most noble guiding principle, because we’re not only talking about our interactions with each other as human beings, but it extends to how we interact with the earth, how we interact with this living planet, how we are part of greater systems. Yes, it’s a practice of humanity, and it’s a guiding, noble, practice around how we maintain respect, and peace, and how we are prosperous together. It kind of all leaps concepts like capitalism and politics. All of these systems can have Ubuntu applied to them, but Ubuntu as a guiding principle and philosophy, yes, it is, it is a beacon, really, and a call for us to, to live in a certain way.

Tavia Gilbert: Why choose Ubuntu as the focus for a project, when it seems interesting, meaningful, but less defined, or focused than, for example, education, or HIV, or the economy? Why did Callaghan choose Ubuntu as a project mission that was important for the young journalists?

Nina Callaghan: I think the exploration of Ubuntu really had resonance with what we are trying to do with young people, which is also around building character. Which is really understanding one’s motivation in the world, which is understanding where you place yourself, in an environment, and in relation to others. So it really was an incredible tool for young people to understand themselves and their communities better. 

It was exciting to break apart this word that is assumed to be understood by everyone, right. So, yes, there’s a long history and practice of Ubuntu in more traditional communities, but Ubuntu as it lives now—what does that look like? And how do people, different and diverse people, understand this concept? 

It’s also a word that’s now interchangeable and used in advertising, in a market sphere, you know, it’s become a glib word, as well. And it’s also a word that is, that really was at the center of building this rainbow nation. And this idea of the rainbow nation, has crumbled. In 2017, it’s crumbled. Because, I think we have come, and young people have come to a place of understanding that there was a great attempt at reconciliation, but there wasn’t a great attempt at justice, and redress. 

And unpacking a concept like Ubuntu, in this understanding, I thought was very interesting, because we have instances of extreme violence, against each other in this country. We have instances of severe homophobia and xenophobia, incredibly angry, and justifiably so, service delivery protests for the inhumanity, the material inhumanity of people’s lives.

And it was interesting to understand the practice of Ubuntu in this boiling pot of our struggles. It was an attempt to come up for air really. I think, for the young people, to – yeah, to have a big exhale about themselves and about the other. I think it was really needed.

Tavia Gilbert: Did Callaghan have her own experience of learning something new in the Ubuntu project?

Nina Callaghan: The Ubuntu Project was a two-year project, and in the first year, the young people really explored what is Ubuntu, for myself, and for others. And it was a process of having intergenerational conversations, with grandmothers and parents and older people. It was an exploration of what my peers think Ubuntu is or isn’t. And it was a very light, actually, it was a very light discovery, and process of discovery. 

In the second year, we problematized Ubuntu a bit. And we asked, is Ubuntu conditional, in these very extreme situations of our lives in South Africa? In the face of extreme inequality, in the face of racism, how do we practice Ubuntu? Is Ubuntu this plaster that we put over everything in an attempt to just live together, you know? Does Ubuntu kill or enhance a revolutionary idea and spirit? 

And young people really grappled with some of these issues because they’re very real in their lives. Ubuntu didn’t only become about how I interacted with the other, but it also became about self-care, which I thought was really interesting. I had never really understood the concept of Ubuntu relating to my love of self and my care of self. You know, Ubuntu can, and was often, understood as this very self-sacrificing practice. And young people understood in the time that we are in, that a self-sacrificing practice is damaging. It’s damaging to myself as a young person, asking for what I deserve. That interpretation and that discovery of Ubuntu was a very exciting one. 

Tavia Gilbert: What was the main thing Callaghan learned through her teaching in the Ubuntu project?

Nina Callaghan: I think the promises of a new South Africa was very much built on the idea that we can overcome. That we have overcome so much, and that, if we work together, we can, we can achieve greater social and material wealth for all people, that we can provide access and opportunity for all people. And Ubuntu was very central to this idea of that rainbow nation. But I think we haven’t really grappled with a sense of justice in our country. 

That inability to address that, I think is – we’re now seeing the symptoms, and the consequences of that. We’re seeing a rising student movement around free education. We’re seeing very violent service delivery protests. We’re seeing an increased frustration, justified frustration, of people, because of the conditions of their lives, the lack of access to opportunities and to wealth. And I think, as a nation, we’re coming to the awareness that reconciliation is just one part of the story. I’m not sure how we’re going to address the other part of the story, which is justice. For me, that’s what I call it, and how I understand it, and I think how a lot of the younger people understand it too. 

I think it’s very uncomfortable for people who have come through a tradition of non-sectarianism, non-racialism, to be suddenly catapulted into very polarized discussions. And that’s the tone of discussions these days in our country. It’s very much of an idea of you and me, and us, and them, and it’s very disempowering for a lot of people and it’s very, it’s very scary for some people. But I think it’s another moment in our becoming, in our becoming this country that we want to be, in trying to fulfill the kind of promises that were made.

Tavia GIlbert: All of these young journalists have grown up in a post-apartheid South Africa. But the South Africa Callaghan is describing sounds as divisive, in many ways, as the one that preceded it. Is that incorrect?

Nina Callaghan: The South Africa that we live in now is divisive, but it’s always been divisive, because people who did not have access to running water in their homes, many of them still don’t have access to running water in their homes. Many people still have to leave their home to go to the toilet. They have to risk their lives, if they want to go to the toilet. So, yes, material conditions for many people have not changed. The divisions that existed in apartheid that made you different, that made you different from me, still exist. 

And you’re asking people to come to the table of nationhood, with a generosity that is actually, it’s not humanly possible to maintain that generosity all of the time, without fighting for, or advocating strongly for lives to be improved. I mean, you know, access to quality healthcare, or just healthcare, a clinic that is serviced, that has stocked medications, that have trained healthcare workers, who are able to refer you on to further examinations. It’s very rare, it’s very, very rare. To have access to schools, good schools where you have teachers for all of your subjects. That’s not too much to ask, that’s a basic right. 

These are rights we are talking about, they’re not privileges. And so, the rights of people are still daily being undermined. And so, yes, the division, the divisions that separated many people then, still exist today. 

Tavia Gilbert: Anti-apartheid and human rights activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu has spoken many times about the sense of resilience and forgiveness of South Africans. Is that extraordinary commitment to forgiveness and resilience still evident in Callaghan’s mind?

Nina Callaghan: Really, honestly, and this is something that the Archbishop has said himself, we’re surprised this country is not on fire every day. It’s a miracle, it truly is. So people’s sense of resilience and forgiveness, is something that they enact every day. I don’t think it is a grand gesture. It is just the act of getting up and going about your business, and being nice to people, and practicing Ubuntu despite all of the signifiers in your life, that tell you, you are less than. So, absolutely, that sense of resilience and forgiveness, lives as a grace in this country, every day.

Tavia Gilbert: Is Ubuntu, then, ultimately, just a way of surviving?

Nina Callaghan: Not just survival, sanity! Yes, you know, to – to maintain your sense of value, and meaning, and, belonging, you know, people get on with it, and they are resilient, and they find ways, and young people find ways. They find ways, but it does not mean that all of the other extreme challenges and traumas in their lives are not also living alongside that.
Tavia Gilbert: Were there any surprises for Callaghan in the Ubuntu project?

Nina Callaghan: I think maybe young people came to a new, and refreshed understanding of Ubuntu, in that it included themselves, and that it wasn’t this self-sacrificial practice. I think what they were also able to see was the application of Ubuntu in so many areas of their lives. So, they were looking at, does Ubuntu live in my love relationship with my boyfriend? Is he showing me Ubuntu through the way that he treats me? Is there respect living here? Is there good communication living here? 

They found applications of Ubuntu in the health clinic. Is Ubuntu being practiced here, in the ways that we relate to each other as a young client and as a healthcare worker? That I found really exciting for, for young people to take their learning that could have been quite abstract, and to really locate it in a very real place. 

Tavia Gilbert: Did she find anything else she didn’t expect?

Nina Callaghan: I think young people recognized wisdom in their elders, in ways that they had been probably frustrated with, or resentful of. I think they looked at their communities, however dire their situations were, or the situations of the communities were, there was an acknowledgment that they are also assets. That there is also value here, that they are valuable people, that they are valuable stories, that they are valuable strategies to moving forward. Yeah, and it was lovely to hear young people explore issues that was outside of the very, sometimes impersonal boundaries of what makes a topic, you know. Ubuntu was able to live and breathe in so many aspects of life.

Tavia Gilbert: Was Callaghan exploring the topic of Ubuntu for its inherent value, for its own richness, or was she looking for a particular outcome?
Nina Callaghan: One can say that through the Ubuntu Project, and over two years, young people were energized about becoming active citizens. They looked at the accountability and leadership as young people, and these are more of the outcomes that we can talk about. But I think the things that we can’t really talk about is how people’s hearts opened, you can’t measure that. And I think that’s something that happened. 

I think the richness that came from exploring Ubuntu was also rediscovering or discovering the wonder, the wonder that lives in the world, the wonder and the mystery of this idea that we’re connected, even in the mess of the world, we’re connected, and we depend on each other. And that’s a wondrous and awe-inspiring idea to nurture. So for me, that was the richness was very special about the Ubuntu Project. There was no other, kind of, social idea, that really excavated these kinds of discoveries. 

Tavia Gilbert: And did she witness a transformation in the journalists from when they began to when the project was completed?

Nina Callaghan: I think young people are, you know, they make incredible discoveries about so many things, I wouldn’t necessarily just put it down to the exploration of Ubuntu. But I think there might be something lasting in the things that we can’t measure, that lives with young people still. I think it’s that idea of the application of Ubuntu that is like an awareness, you know. So, once you switch it on, you can’t switch it off. [laughs] And I think that is something that still lives with these young people. 

There’s not a message from outside that’s necessarily going to speak to and activate the people who are the intended recipients. So, it means that nobody else can really tell a community what the problems are, and how they should solve them. So the only way that any authentic kind of dialogue, any meaningful engagement, is going to happen is when it happens from within that community, when the voices that are heard and reflected are the voices of that community. And so, I think young people exploring a concept like Ubuntu, they did it in a way that was very real, and that was lived, and that was all around them. 

And while they were, while they were great resonances between places across the country, and across project sites, it was examined in a very hyperlocal way. And I think this is an empowering act, because people participate in the dialogue, and they try and find solutions together, to what is real, to what’s happening. 

Tavia Gilbert: Despite continuing challenges and national wounds that still need to heal, does the Ubuntu Project leave Callaghan with a sense of hope for the future? Is she an optimist?

Nina Callaghan: I’m optimistic because I work with young people, and because young people are innovative, and they’re curious, and they’re thinking of new ways of doing things. And this is what gives me hope. I’m not looking at the signifiers of hope from institutions and politics and policies. I’m enthused and renewed by the ideas of young people. And through this Ubuntu Project, and through the other projects that they do, there was a great sense of innovation and discovery. And that was very hopeful. It was, it was beyond, kind of the loop of my own thoughts. And I was really energized by how young people were engaging.

Tavia Gilbert: We’ve had the pleasure of hearing Nina Callaghan’s pleasure in reporting on the development of the young people she has mentored through the innovative Ubuntu project, and through Children’s Radio Foundation in general. But we haven’t yet heard from any young people. So before we bring to a close this fascinating conversation about the power of young voices to help heal their country and communities, about the unique ability of radio to create intimate and safe space for the development of confident and empowered leaders of tomorrow, about the transformative power of Ubuntu, the conversation would of course not be complete without hearing from these youth reporters themselves, who leave us with their understanding of Ubuntu, and about their role in spreading Ubuntu to their fellow South Africans, and embracing it as their own way of life:

Chloe Johnson: I felt that if nobody else is going to make a difference then I will try. I honestly felt that doing this, being at the radio station, doing topics that are interesting but also informative, and, and somewhere along the line, somebody’s going to listen and it’s going to affect them. The feeling of knowing that you helped somebody, that somebody out there listened to your advice, that it’s helping them—it’s a great feeling.

Neorisha Juarius: I think that actually equipping our people with the necessary tools and information and ways and means, how to get help, so that is also making a difference.

Monique Hansen: Ubuntu, for me, means helping another person, and just being nice and being kind.

Chloe Johnson: Ubuntu is a collaboration of so many things. I think, when you get down to it’s humanity. It might not be, you know, donating $100,000 Rand to some sort of organization, it could just mean that, you know of somebody that is in need of something, and you’re helping them. Sometimes, giving somebody a compliment can change their whole day, and I feel that is Ubuntu, as well. You know, people need that, and people should give it. Even, even a smile, even a smile, you know, it’s all about people.

Monique Hansen: A person is a person because of other people. For me it means I can’t do anything without someone else. Post-apartheid, people are still struggling to get to the point of peace and being kind to one another.

Jabulile Thwale: Ubuntu is like, it’s a spirit of giving, of caring, and sharing with people. Your child is my child.

Aphile Momamdia: The meaning of Ubuntu is to give without expecting. Ubuntu is not only giving, but it’s also about appreciation of the other person, and compassion, and it’s not about material things. I mean, a smile to the next person when you’re walking down the street can change that person’s day. That is sort of Ubuntu. Ubuntu is not about giving something you don’t have, or sacrificing for the other person. It’s not about that, it’s about you giving to the next person. You don’t have to make sacrifices to show Ubuntu.

Thoko Ani Nqwini: Ubuntu is about showing kindness to someone, greeting someone just out of the blue, and then smiling to them. I think it’s a way of living. It just comes out. It’s not something that is made, but it’s something that is there naturally. We have to show it.

Aphile Momamdia: I think Ubuntu should be a way of life. It’s something that you have to grow up with. From a young age, you have to have Ubuntu. And I think Ubuntu is a practice. It’s not really something that, like a religion or anything like that. No. Ubuntu is something that has to be practiced in all religions and cultures.

Jabulile Thwale: Ubuntu has been turned into a philosophy of life. It’s very good when you work together, and to bring joy to someone else’s life. You should help out for your own goodness of your own heart.

Chloe Johnson: You need to change the mindset of the people, and it’s difficult. It’s difficult for us as youth, a handful of us,  to try and make this big dent in all of the nation, but here we are, trying. I feel like we are living proof that Ubuntu exists in, in this world.

Tavia Gilbert: Those youth reporters were Chloe Johnson, Neorisha Juarius, Monique Hansen, Jabulile Thwale, Aphile Momamdia, and Thoko Ani Nqwini. 

Like Callahan, I find these young people’s commitment, to service, to learning and growth — to healing, for themselves and for future generations, very inspiring. And I, for one, will think about my own life in a different way, and how I can share Ubuntu with the people in my own community. 

In our next episode, we’ll be speaking with psychologist Everett Worthington, whose pioneering REACH method has helped thousands of people—including himself—reap the mental and physical benefits of forgiveness:

Ernest Worthington: In my mind, I think all offenses are forgivable. And I think that often it’s very wise to be able to forgive them, because if I hold on to unforgiveness, then the other person doesn’t even know what’s going on in me. But I’m making myself ill. I’m putting myself at cardiovascular risk, at immune system dysfunction risk, at mental health risks, at relationship risk, at spiritual risk, and I’m not hurting them at all. In fact, maybe they hate me so much that they would be glad if they knew I was suffering. So because forgiveness goes on inside of me, I think just from a point of view of what’s good for me, forgiveness is an experience that I would want to pursue.

Tavia Gilbert: We look forward to bringing you that full conversation about the meaning and benefits of forgiveness.

In the meantime, if you liked today’s Story of Impact, we’d be grateful if you’d take a moment to subscribe to the podcast, and to rate and review us wherever you get your podcasts. That support helps us reach new audiences. For more stories and videos, please visit

This has been the Stories of Impact podcast, with Richard Sergay and Tavia Gilbert. This episode written and produced by Talkbox and Tavia Gilbert. Associate producer Katie Flood. Music by Aleksander Filipiak. Mix and master by Kayla Elrod. Executive producer Michele Cobb.

The Stories of Impact podcast is generously supported by Templeton World Charity Foundation.


  • Richard Sergay is an award-winning veteran network television journalist and senior media executive who spent much of his career at ABC News. He reported on major domestic and international stories for World News, Nightline and Good Morning America and ABC Radio. Richard completed a six-year assignment as Bureau Chief and Correspondent based in South Africa covering the end of White rule and Apartheid, as well as the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and the ensuing peace negotiations. After the South Africa assignment, Richard began a new beat for ABC News – the first for any major network --  focused on the digital revolution unfolding in the U.S.
  • Writer and producer of several nonfiction podcasts with a global audience, Tavia Gilbert is the acclaimed narrator of more than 650 full-cast and multi-voice audiobooks, Booklist’s Audiobook Narrator of the Year, and a multi–Audie Award-winner, including for Best Female Narrator. She is also the creator of The Abels, a scripted podcast in collaboration with the BBC. Tavia holds a BFA in Acting from Cornish College of the Arts and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she is in the Writing & Publishing faculty.