Clinton woman Breana Ross has been selected as the 2018 IES Abroad Global Citizen of the Year for her dedicated work with students from high-need townships in South Africa, through the Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation in Cape Town. As the winner of the Global Citizen of the Year Award, Ross will receive a $1,000 cash prize, and the three finalists will each receive a $400 cash prize.
An international jury of IES Abroad employees reviewed the student applications, looking for contributions the students made that affected their local community while abroad; lessons they learned; and plans to continue their impact once they returned from abroad.
Now a senior journalism major at the University of Miami, Ross builds cross-cultural bridges of poetry, storytelling and education through a writing organization she founded during her sophomore year called Written in My Soul, the mission of which is “to teach youth from low socioeconomic backgrounds how to express themselves in a healthy manner through poetry,” she said.
She carried this passion with her to Cape Town, and she discovered an outlet for it through her involvement with SHAWCO, a student-led service organization at the University of Cape Town. Through SHAWCO she was able to teach reading and math to second and third graders in Nyanga and Manenberg, two impoverished townships in South Africa.
“The children I worked with in some of the townships were some of the happiest people I have ever seen, yet they were some of the poorest,” Ross said. “Many of them did not have adequate food, water, shelter or clothing, yet they approached each day with a happiness and zealousness that changed my entire perspective. They did not focus on what they did not have. They focused on being happy in the present moment and showing love the best ways they knew how.”
In addition to working with local youth, Ross found an outlet for her love of journalism by contributing content to the University of Cape Town’s newspaper. Upon her return to the United States, she plans to continue using her journalism skills to give voice to overlooked international issues.
“Using my love for writing and storytelling allowed me to not only reflect on the experiences I was having, but also to share my blogs and stories with an audience both in South Africa and back home in the U.S. to spark meaningful dialogue,” she said. “As a storyteller, I now think of my stories as providing a window into a world different than that of my viewers. I look for stories that tackle social issues ... that Americans may find uncomfortable but South Africans would proudly and comfortably discuss.”
Ross also plans to implement what she learned studying abroad in Cape Town to improve the reach and impact of Written in My Soul.