Claire DesBrisay: Communications Director, Smile Africa

Posted: 28 April 2021

It made me think deeply about where my place is in the world, what I can do to make a difference

Claire DesBrisay is Communications Director for Smile Africa Foundation (SAF) a grassroots NGO that promotes STEM in Africa through volunteer-based initiatives. A former pupil of St. Clement’s School, Canada, she now lives and works in South Africa, a country that she first visited nine years ago on a 6-month exchange to St Cyprian’s School, through both schools’ membership of Round Square.

Claire recalls how the exchange experience “shaped who I am today… The school allowed me to explore all aspects of the local community and organised volunteering opportunities at a local public school and children’s hospital. It was really difficult to see the contrast between the experiences of the rich and poor”. It “made me think deeply about where my place is in the world, what I can do to make a difference, and what I can do to educate other people about these issues.

”At St. Clement’s School, Claire had been encouraged to develop an interest in social issues within an international context and had attended a leadership conference at RS school, Gordonstoun, in Scotland. From there “my abiding memory is the feeling of surprise that despite our different backgrounds, there were many similar values and interests. It helped me put into perspective the reality that even though we have grown up in different places, what we share is a universal humanity.”

“At that time, I was confident only in certain settings such as small groups, among other girls” she says “But the conference put me in a very different environment and encouraged me to debate, socialise and present to much larger and more diverse groups. I had to step outside my comfort zone.”Claire has continued to challenge herself in new environments, not least through her voluntary work, including a role in a prison on a ‘restorative justice’ project. Claire has also worked in Tanzania, where she helped establish micro-businesses and educate the children of families affected by HIV; in Cape Town as a counsellor at a refugee centre; and at the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

Claire continues to be inspired by her Round Square experiences: “Kurt Hahn’s message – ‘there is more in you than you think’ – has stayed with me,” she says. “When you find yourself in a difficult situation, you can get through it.” And to the current generation of students, she has a simple message, “Seize opportunities and don’t be scared to put yourself out there.”

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