Name: Yente Oosthuysen
Title: Regional Director of International Programs
Current Location: South Africa
Favorite South African saying: Hoe klim mens berg? Stappie vir stappie… Hoe ëet mens ‘n olifant? Happie vir happie. (How do you climb a mountain? Step for step. How do you eat an elephant? Bite for bite.)
As a Regional Director of International Programs at Global Leadership Adventures, Yente is responsible for all things Africa: Forming and maintaining relationships with local partners, vetting community service projects, managing the staff who run our programs in the summer months, and monitoring safety all fall under her job description.
She wasn’t always so passionate about community development. In college, she studied human movement (the US equivalent of physical therapy); initially, she had planned to work with high-performance athletes, being a former athlete herself. After breaking her femur in a netball (similar to basketball) accident, Yente found herself in a wheelchair and then crutches for the better part of a year; during this time, she realized that her campus, and her city at large, was not set up to accommodate those with mobility limitations.
“My whole perspective on life changed–I thought, why am I working to make fast people run faster if there’s a whole population in South Africa that can’t walk because they don’t have access to rehabilitation services?” she says.
Soon after, Yente hooked up with Altus Sports, a Pretoria-based NGO, where she worked to set up after school athletics programs in underserved communities. She graduated from the University of Pretoria with a degree in biokinetics. While presenting her thesis on sports as functional therapy in lower economic communities, she was approached by a consultant for UNICEF and professor from the University of Johannesburg about the opportunity to pursue her Master’s Degree in Community Development at the University of Johannesburg. Yente worked with UNICEF for over two years as a project manager reviewing the national curriculum for life orientation in schools, as well as creating a national plan for sport development at grassroots level. Through her work here, Yente worked developed and adapted partnerships with many NGOs and had the chance to see programs in action.
When she happened upon a job posting for GLA on Gumtree (South Africa’s version of Craigs List), she thought it was too good to be true: the company’s values seemed to be in line with hers, and her passion for travel, sustainable volunteerism, and community development made applying for the position a no-brainer. Two years later, she is serving as the Regional Director and excited to see where her work with GLA will take her next!
“Everyone here feels the mission deep in their bones–they are so committed to making it happen. That’s also why I think everyone is open to change: we are always asking ourselves, ‘ Is what we’re doing the most responsible option? The most ethical? If not, what can we do about it?’”
Part of being a Regional Director is identifying locations and projects that might be a good fit for for GLA students. For Yente, this means a good deal of travel–which is not a problem! Having visited 23 countries in her 27 short years on earth, travel is a big part of her life both with and outside of her professional role. “Travel has always been something I’ve been exceptionally passionate about, taking whatever scraps of money I had to make an adventure for myself. Those experiences always stayed with me and have impacted the way I see things,” she says.
This past summer and fall, Morocco was on the docket. After spending almost two months in country meeting with local partners and planning a program for Summer 2020, Yente returned to her home in South Africa but soon felt the itch to go back.
“It’s one of those places that completely captivates you with all five senses. It really is a magical country, and I needed to get my fix,” she says. “I never felt unsafe there–as long as you are respectful to the culture, the culture will respect you. Listen to locals when they give advice on how to dress appropriately and what areas to stay in.”
Yente arranged to stay with a host family and headed out again, spending four weeks in Marrakesh before heading north to explore Chefchaouen, Fez, and other spots that she didn’t get to see on her first visit. However, she still doesn’t feel like she spent enough time, saying “I’ve never had a spiritual connection to a country before. I’ve never felt so content than when I’m in Morocco.” Sight-seeing, spending time with local partners and new friends, taking a cooking class and getting adventurous with the foods she tried. Her favorite dish? An apricot and lamb tajine, a traditional dish baked in a special clay baking pot.
Who might especially enjoy a program in Morocco? Yente feels that students who are big-picture focused, open minded, and have a passion for education will get the most out of this special country in the context of GLA.
“Our local partner really believes in the holistic development of character to bring about leadership,” she explains. “Our main Home Base is actually a yoga retreat: It’s in the mountains, very open, with flowy chiffon curtains, a peaceful terrace. A cool breeze blows over you, you’re staring into the Atlas Mountains and a peacefulness comes over you. It’s well set up for a lot of introspection.”