Delegate Spotlight | CLAD in Change: Chiara and Laura-Jane's Campaign to Assist Women in South Africa
by Zachary Thomas
Chiara Claassens and Laura-Jane Watkins, both law students at the University of the Free State, have applied to attend the 7th Annual Millennium Campus Conference in order to pursue their joint campaign.
Born in South Africa, Chiara had a long and difficult journey finding her passion for global development; by the time she was 13, she had lost both of her parents. “It was a strange feeling being 13 and by definition being an orphan I had never thought such a thing would ever happen to me. This is when I started to see things that I was previously blind to such as poverty, abandonment, diminished health care and so much more in South Africa. I knew although I had lost my parents I was still one of the lucky ones in the sense that I still had family to care for me.” Although difficult, it was her experiences that led her to become who she is now. “It was two years later that I figured out my plan in life and how to achieve it. I was exposed to the legal system in South Africa and saw the good I could do through it. I decided to become a lawyer and help those people who did not have the proper knowledge to help themselves. I further decided to do a business degree with it in order to fully understand the economics of the country as well as other countries in order to broaden my knowledge and skill set.”
Also South African, Laura-Jane was also exposed first-hand to many of the issues she now passionately fights to resolve. “I grew up on a farm in rural central South Africa in a community still characterized by the remains of apartheid, where poverty and privilege walk side by side but rarely hand-in-hand. My environment has indeed made me sensitive to social issues through which I developed my passion to see justice realized for all people in my community and particularly for women.” Because of these childhood experiences, Laura-Jane is very socially engaged, incessantly fighting to generate change. “Sharing a passion for social justice and development I have been involved with various social projects and human rights campaigns.For the past three years I've coached a local high school in debating and critical thinking. I'm currently working as a student research assistant at the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice (IRSJ) on a part-time basis. The institute's work relates the UFS academic mandate on the complexities arising from South Africa's conflicted social context through research in higher education transformation and human reconciliation. As a Student Ambassador for the Talloires Network I also relay this work to the international higher education platform of the Talloires Network through a series of articles.”
Together, these two women have founded a prospective project called CLAD (Conquer Learn, Address Development). It aims to “to clothe young women with empowering knowledge, literacy skills and human rights education.” Laura-Jane and Chiara have established a thorough set of goals to accomplish in order to fulfill their project:
We will achieve this through the fulfillment of our mission:
- to educate young women from the ages 12 and above, who are located in under-resourced and rural areas, on their basic human rights.
- to develop a higher literacy rate among young girls and women.
- to increase the general employment capacity and self-sufficiency of women.
Accomplishing the above will require our Non-Profit Organization to:
- Hold workshops in the respective rural regions with limited access to education and resources.
- To assemble a team of volunteers who will act as mentors and assist the women during this process of learning.
- To collect and distribute reading and writing material.
Both Chiara and Laura-Jane look forward to the conference and hope to connect with students and professionals in order to generate an impact. Chiara shares that “The opportunity to meet and converse with global leaders is something I have always dreamed of. Global development is something that is under-appreciated by many and this conference will help us in getting the word out to those who are unaware and can become more involved. I am definitely looking forward to gaining more knowledge and skills that I can use to help others and that back to South Africa and spread in order to make the world a better place. It is amazing what the knowledge of one person can do once it has been taught to others.” Laura-Jane was a delegate at the Millennium Campus Conference in MCC14 in Boca Raton, Florida. “What I gathered from other delegates shared experiences was personally empowering to say the least. It is remarkable to witness the youth's capacity to make a tangible difference to society and effect change in the world and that in itself is truly inspiring. After the conference I decided to make a conscious decision to make a difference in my local community from personal projects of finding scholarships for young girls to broader projects of empowering young women and girls on a national scale. MCC14 gave me perspective on my own and my community's potential for growth and development through valuing and establishing power-balanced partnerships, some good old-fashioned hard-work and commitment and recognizing one's small acts that make lifetime impacts, I'm looking forward to MCC15 to do that for all delegates like myself who attend.”
Chiara and Laura-Jane are just two of the many amazing delegates already registered for the 7th annual Millennium Campus Conference the United Nations from August 11-15th where they, along with others from around the world, will come together to think, connect, and act to challenge the paradigms that perpetuate inequality and to redefine the world around us. Apply at mcc15.org/delegateapplication to join the movement and promote social change!