Tuesday 14 November 2023

The Round Square International Conference 2023 – The New Africa

Round Square schools share a commitment to character education and experiential learning built around six themes – the IDEALS: International Understanding, Democracy, Environmental Stewardship, Adventure, Leadership and Service. Each year, schools from within the network host conferences that bring students together with peers from different countries to share perspectives, debate topical issues, forge friendships, support local communities, and develop international understanding. At the start of Term 4, six students and two teachers from Ivanhoe Grammar School attended the Round Square International Conference (RSIC), hosted by Brookhouse School in Nairobi, Kenya.

Day 1 – Opening Ceremony

The 2023 conference began with an unforgettable opening ceremony at “The Bomas of Kenya”. This picturesque venue served as the perfect backdrop to the opening of the conference with its circular architectural design, reminiscent of traditional Kenyan huts. Kenya’s former first lady, Margaret Gakuo Kenyatta, opened the day with a heartwarming welcome, highlighting the significance of learning from diverse cultures and working together to create a more harmonious world. Throughout the ceremony, the students of Brookhouse School treated the 1200 student delegates from 150 Round Square schools to a variety of artistic performances. The senior students gave an electrifying “Matatus” bus dance performance, a vibrant tribute to Kenya’s bustling public transportation culture which is an integral part of Kenyan cities. Primary students depicted a dramatic performance of the story “I am a Hummingbird” by Professor Wangari Maathai. This remarkable Kenyan is an environmental activist, women’s rights advocate, and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. The first day of this extraordinary trip was truly incredible, setting the stage for a week rich with opportunities for personal growth, learning, and global collaboration.

On the first day, we also met our Baraza groups. Barazas are a key component of Round Square conferences. The word Baraza is from the Swahili language meaning “The coming together of different people”. Barazas are composed of students from mixed school groups and allow students to hold debates and free discussions where everyone’s opinion is valued equally. Throughout the conference the Barazas allowed us to hear from students from different countries and cultures, allowing us to gain different perspectives on topical global issues.

Day 2 – Adventure

Nairobi is unique for being the only capital city in the world to have a National park. Nairobi National Park is not completely enclosed and is completely open on one side. For Adventure Day we visited the park, going on two safaris and camping overnight. We were lucky to see many animals that are very different to those that are common in Australia, such as lions, rhinos, giraffes, a crocodile, hippos, antelope, zebras, and water buffalos. Many of the animals were very close to the bus, and since there were always cars and buses driving through the park the animals were conditioned to ignore us. After our safari drives, there was a Maasai Warrior cultural performance that included costume and dance and encouraged others to join in. We had a small Baraza meeting to reflect on the day and learn a little bit of Swahili. That night we slept in massive tents with new friends from our Baraza groups. As we slept in the game park we could hear wild animals in the distance, safe in the knowledge that our camp area was fenced off and heavily guarded!

Day 3 – Democracy

For Democracy Day students and teachers gathered in the main conference hall at Brookhouse School to hear from a panel of speakers. The speakers were all young Kenyan entrepreneurs and artists who spoke about how they had strived to succeed and had succeeded in their various areas and endeavours – despite the challenges they faced growing up in Kenya. One speaker was a young singer who inspired us with her personal story of succeeding as a musician despite many obstacles. Her story of determination and never giving up was incredibly inspiring. Another speaker was a Kenyan rocket scientist and engineer, who had to work through the challenges of Kenya having very little rocket technology or interest in space, making it truly challenging to become a rocket scientist. The overall message of Democracy Day was that if you are motivated, and working in a field you love, the sky is the limit to what you can achieve.

Democracy Day concluded with yet another unique aspect of a Round Square Conference – spending the night with a family from the Brookhouse School community. This was a highlight of the trip as it allowed us to get a taste of Nairobi home life and deepen the connections we had made with some of the Brookhouse students.

Day 4 – Service

All of us who attended the conference agreed that the service day was our favourite day. We spent a day at a local primary school where we worked in groups alongside schoolchildren to rebuild the floor, repaint the walls and plant trees. The service day was our glimpse into the deep inequality and poverty that we had discussed with some students at Brookhouse the previous night over dinner. Seeing the dramatic contrast between our lavish accommodation and lovely host school was eye-opening. We were split into rotations and my Baraza group and I spent the day sanding down the walls of an old classroom and then repainting the walls. By the end of the day both we and the Kenyan kids were covered from head to toe in dust from the sanding, my legs were covered in paint, but the classroom looked clean, tidy, and welcoming – a good place to learn and a contrast to what we had been greeted with on arrival. At lunch, there was a soccer game, and other Aussie kids and I taught the kids how to do the Nutbush. Within a few minutes, loads of kids were dancing along to Tina Turner. I loved making connections with the primary school kids, who were so cheerful despite their circumstances, and all the adorable handshakes and high fives at the end of the day made the sweat and hard work worthwhile 100 times over.

Day 5 – Closing Ceremony and Departure

Closing day at the RSIC was filled with inspiration, celebration, and reflection, making it a memorable and significant conclusion to an incredible conference. The morning began with a keynote speech from Henry Wanyoike, a remarkable Paralympian and blind marathon runner. His story was a testament to the power of determination and resilience, reminding us that obstacles can be overcome with the right mindset and support. In the evening, the closing ceremony was a culmination of the conference’s shared experiences and learnings. It featured a touching tribute to King Constantine, a key figure in the Round Square community’s history and the embodiment of its values. His dedication to education and character development left an indelible mark on the organisation. To add to the celebratory atmosphere, the Kenya band Sauti Sol took the stage. Their lively performance brought people together and set the perfect tone for the closing ceremony.

The following day our flight left late at night, so we had the opportunity to visit the Giraffe Centre, where we learned about the sanctuary and were able to feed the giraffes. Interacting with these majestic creatures in their natural habitat was a delightful way to connect with Kenya’s wildlife and learn about conservation efforts before getting ready for the long flight back to Melbourne!

The shared values of Round Square Schools are aligned with Ivanhoe’s endeavour to develop people of character. This year’s RSIC allowed us to connect and develop international understanding, self-confidence, and a range of interpersonal skills, through working and connecting with other schools and students in this community. RSIC was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that enabled us to maximise our ability to network with other students all over the world, with many of us making lasting connections that we will continue to treasure in the future. Beyond networking, RSIC provided us with the opportunity to put the Ivanhoe Learner Attributes into practice, in a more meaningful way, that extends beyond the classroom. These experiences that we have had have been extremely fulfilling and have inspired us all to look for similar opportunities in Australia. Overall, we have been able to discover and embrace similarities and differences in culture and nationalities in a way that promotes meaningful and lasting understanding and respect. With this, we encourage others to seize this opportunity to be involved with Round Square events at Ivanhoe in the future.

By Alice, Chris, Jasmin, Lucas, Matt, and Pablo (Year 10 2023)