ILSSO 2015: “Dear Reader…”

Dear Reader,

I hope that you’ve enjoyed following the journey of 75 state FFA officers through South Africa over these past two weeks. We’ve certainly enjoyed quite the adventure as we criss-crossed what Archbishop Desmond Tutu has dubbed “the rainbow nation.” To you, this blog was a small glimpse into the happenings of the 2015 International Leadership Seminar for State Officers. To some of the ILSSO travelers, the blog was an attempt to capture the emotions or events of the day’s itinerary. To others, it was all that stood between them and some much-needed sleep. To me, an educator, it was an experiment in both engagement and reflection. It allowed me to gauge the defining moments of the students who sacrificed time with new-found friends to indulge their tour leader. In turn, it helped me assess how to continue challenging the assumptions, perspectives, and expectations of these dynamic young leaders. Thanks for being unwilling participants in my exercise.

Having said this, you may feel slightly cheated out of a true summation of our time abroad. Truthfully, though, the beauty and spirit of South Africa could never be captured in any sort of written narrative. Of course, the writings captured throughout the past fourteen days are a small sampling of our experiences. If you really want to understand the intricacies of this amazing nation, you’ll have to invite one of the ILSSO students to conversation. Only when you hear the excitement in their voice and witness the intensity of their expression as they recount our travels will you come close to understanding the essence of South Africa. Trust me, it’s absolutely worth the wait.


Shane Jacques
National FFA Organization

ILSSO 2015: “Dear Freedom…”

imageDear Freedom,

Your presence is hard fought, but worth the trials and tribulations. Years of struggle, involving many different cultures, have validated this point. The long walk towards you during the apartheid era in South Africa was especially clear today, as the 81 of us state officers and staff members gazed upon the lifeless prison walls of Robben Island. Understand that nothing compares to the indescribable feeling of standing outside of the prison cell where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of the 27 years of his incarceration fighting for you. There, we were told about the island’s long history of being a leper colony, a place for mentally and physically ill patients, and a prison; each purpose was riddled with inequality. Throughout these times, Freedom, you were no where to be found. Our tour guide, a political prisoner during apartheid, told of his personal fight in your honor. Why didn’t you answered his call?

Coming from the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” we often forget that you are more than a “perk” of the American population. You are a human necessity. You are wanted by more than just the United States of America; you are longed for by everyone. Coming from the United States, we may not always realize the precious gift of your presence. After this eye-opening experience today, and in retrospect of the past couple weeks, we must now ask ourselves what we can do to help bring you out of hiding. How can we spark the flame of freedom so that future generations know your comforting support? You are for all to enjoy and all to experience.


A Thankful and Free American Citizen

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ILSSO 2015: “Dear Self…”

imageDear Self,

As your time in South Africa draws to a close, it is strange for me to see how much you’ve grown. This trip, from its very beginning, has been something that you knew would cause change. In fact, you “knew” a lot of things. For example, you knew that this would be your first international experience. You knew that you would be exposed to new situations and cultures. But most of all, you knew that this trip would be a highlight of your many experiences in the FFA. However, this prior knowledge is small when compared to what you’ve been taught up to this point. Public interaction and a watchful eye have taught you to never assume one’s intelligence, pride, and pursuit of happiness based on their clothing, race, or even their home. Short hikes and anticipation have taught you that nature’s beauty should never be underestimated or unappreciated. Somewhat unexpectedly, the pure exposure to people – real loving, caring, hardworking people – has taught you that love and passion are alive in the world. Yes it’s true, this trip has taught you an awful lot. With so many lessons learned, it took a lot of “teachers” to get you to this point. Teachers like National FFA staff, volunteer group leaders, tour guides, bus drivers, gracious hosts, financial supporters, and the great people of South Africa have all been gracious and caring. You’ll probably never be able to express how much you appreciate what they’ve done. Be sure to honor their efforts by sharing your experiences with many others. But with all things considered, the best lesson this trip has taught you is this: “appreciate what you know, but look forward to what you’ll learn.”

Learning to do, always,

The first-time traveler

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ILSSO 2015: “Dear Progressive Agriculture…”

Dear Progressive Agriculture,

Where would we be without you? As agriculturalists, the expectation to feed 9 billion people by 2050 lies on our shoulders. We hear this forecast frequently, but we wonder how it will be realized. Today, we visited the Monsanto Research and Development facility where we heard about the many ways you are combating this problem. Whether it be plant breeding, genetically modified crops, a dual hybrid seed planter, or GPS technology, you are there to make the agriculture industry more efficient. This week, we’ve seen similar examples of progression from Bunge’s joint venture with agribusiness Senwes, and a state of the art John Deere parts distribution center. As time marches on, the ideas and technology we have come to know as “progressive” will become outdated, but that is the beauty of the word progressive. It is these positive changes that will undoubtedly be a major solution to the dilemma of feeding the world. So, in turn, we thank you. Thank you for the opportunities you offer to farmers throughout the world. Thank you for always presenting a challenge, even when the challenge itself is clouded by misunderstanding. Last but not least, thank you for the potential careers you provide to future agriculturalists like us. You have inspired so many to take on the exciting challenge that is providing food, fuel, and fiber to our world. Without you, there would be no growth, but we know the future for you is very bright.

With utmost respect,

We who believe in the future of agriculture

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ILSSO 2015: “Dear InJabulo…”

imageDear InJabulo,

You amaze me. I spoke to you for five short minutes today and I instantly saw your integrity, hard work and love. You live in an area that is so stricken with poverty, but so full of hope at the same time. You love your school, your siblings and your community so much; the very things that we take for granted. You do not have to spend every second of your free time with your four month-old sister, but you choose to do so because of your unconditional love for this precious child. Your name in English is “Happiness” and you truly exemplify the definition of that word. Your eyes shine with prospect and your words are spoken with sincerity. Every single one of your actions is mimicked by grace and genuineness. You challenged me today. You challenged me to put myself in your position and discover the true purpose for our meeting. You challenged me to not have pity for the community of Kliptown, but to instead see its potential. Above all, you showed me the value of love and changed my life forever. Thank you. You are beautiful and wonderful in every way and I am more than hopeful for your future.

Impacted Traveler

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ILSSO 2015: “Dear Bus Rides…”

Dear Bus Rides,

While at first you weren’t something I was excited about, I’ve come to appreciate the value you add to the trip. By surrounding myself with amazing people for hours on end, I can now experience this life changing international experience with some of my newest and closest friends. From playing endless rounds of Heads Up to having life chats with someone I’ve just met, all thanks are owed to you. You allow me to catch up on sleep when I need it, and give me time to reflect on my day as a whole. You serve as the medium through which I get to view the breathtaking landscape of a completely foreign land. Everyday, I can’t wait to see who I will sit by and what adventures will come while riding in those comfy plush seats.


A Thankful Rider

ILSSO 2015: “Dear Thinking Beyond What the Eye Sees…”


Dear Thinking Beyond What the Eye Sees,

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been encouraged to appreciate the little things in life. Though it is possible to notice only surface-level views, we should think beyond what the eye can see. With hours spent in the rolling hills of Kruger National Park, it was impossible to even fathom all the majestic creatures that roamed the area. From the enormous, leathery elephants, to the littlest, fuzzy monkey attached to it’s mother’s back, we discovered a new appreciation for the diverse life inhabiting the area in perfect harmony. Not long after, breath taking views filled our eyes at the wondrous Blythe River Canyon. I remember scanning the vast area and thinking about all of the history that this river has seen. These animals and river were placed in this world for a purpose, and we get the opportunity to seize the view. Fortunately, we do not own the world. Instead, we can sit back and enjoy all that has been created for us.


A Wide-eyed Traveler

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ILSSO 2015: “Dear Mr. Kane-Berman…”


Dear Mr. Kane-Berman,

Thank you for inspiring us with the doors of opportunity available in agriculture. As we toured your operation, we learned how a first generation farmer opened a door of opportunity to expand his farm to 42,000 acres of beef cattle, maize, potatoes, sugar beans, and soybeans. The support you provide your employees and your dedication to precision agriculture are key factors in your success, and it is exciting to find someone so dedicated to their country’s growth. These barn doors are a good testament to our experience. The production techniques and South African culture we are learning here are painted across us like the flag on these doors. When we return home, our experiences will open wide like these barn doors, providing us with opportunities to apply what we have learned and share them with others.


An Inspired Agriculturalist

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ILSSO 2015: “Dear Taaiboschbult Feedlot…”

Dear Taaiboschbult Feedlot,

You were astounding and an eye opener. I would have never known what you were like until we got the privilege of visiting you. I know that I was so fascinated to see how similar you were with the feedlots back home. Our homes may be thousands of miles away but our basic principles for providing quality beef for our country are the same with slight variations. My friends and I greatly appreciated your employees taking the time today to teach us about feedlots and how feedlots are operated in South Africa. Thank you for sharing your time and passion for agriculture.


Inquisitive Young Minds

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ILSSO 2015: “Dear Mr. Mare…”

Dear Mr. Mare,

As we approached your residence, the beauty of it set the tone for a captivating experience. Knowing that you are similar to the many of us who care for our own livestock, shows the bond agriculturalists can share even when separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Learning about the Bonsmara cattle breed and their traits was an eye opener. It made me realize how much I take for granted. Thinking about your cattle not having an endless supply of water made me think about not letting the water for my cattle overflow again. Our visit was such a neat opportunity to be a part of and we thank you for your hospitality and driving us around your 6,000 acres of pure perfection.


An Agriculturalist Like You

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