Two Women Visionaries Impact South African Youth

In 2012, Dr. Melanie Brown and Marcia Abrahams founded The Communiversity of South Africa, a community-based educational enterprise designed to prepare unemployed, at-risk youth to enter higher education. Due to their complete dedication, creativity, and focus, the Communiversity is now one of the most successful foundational programs for this large demographic, creating meaningful partnerships and serving as a vital bridge between communities, secondary schools, and colleges.

The Communiversity of South Africa: From the Streets to College in Four Months

South Africa has a 35% overall unemployment rate, with 60% of young people being unemployed. Many have not completed Grade 12. Many students don’t pass the national high school exam that would enable them to qualify for higher education or they drop out during Grades 10 and 11. Unfortunately, of those who do go to college, over 60% drop out before completing their degree.

The Communiversity enables its students to reawaken their passion for learning and growth along with the ability to aim for future success in life. It provides them with a deepening sense of self-awareness to carry them through higher education or training and on to satisfying careers.

The Communiversity curriculum introduces students to a variety of potential careers, along with college-approved academic modules, including English, Engineering, Math, Debating, Computer Skills, and Economics and Finance. To reduce stress and enhance cognitive abilities, students are instructed in the twice-daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique which also helps raise self-esteem and hope, in a population of young people who have mostly experienced failure.

Over 1,800 young people have been through the Communiversity program. In the past three years, following their participation in the high-impact, full-time four-month program, 93% of Communiversity graduates have gained entry into the technical colleges and other local colleges and universities. This is a stunning positive outcome. Of those who enter college from the Communiversity, the vast majority continue on to complete their degree. Because of its success, local colleges now give Communiversity graduates priority acceptance.

About The Founders

Dr. Melanie Brown, the Executive Director of the Communiversity, has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and has been actively involved in projects to uplift South African youth since 1994. Marcia Abrahams, Communiversity’s Director of Development and Training, was born and raised in South Africa, has a background and Master’s degree in Education, and has been involved in management and training in the corporate world. They both live in the US and spend at least 25% of each year at the Communiversity located in Cape Town, South Africa.

Both women had learned the Transcendental Meditation technique during college and had found it to be significantly effective in personal and professional development. When they founded the Communiversity in 2012, they knew they would need a way to reverse the effects of PTSD which poverty and stress often create. Because published research on the TM technique indicates a broad range of benefits–including development of full mental, physical and emotional potential and greater academic achievement—TM instruction and daily group practice became a cornerstone of the curriculum.

Their dedication and passion are obvious to anyone who knows them. Their daily involvement is striking, as they are fully engaged in fundraising, administration, and relationships with students and teachers and community partners.

New Directions

The Communiversity is now established for students in three locations. Because of the success of its program, several more high-risk communities looking for ways to support their youth are seeking to partner with the Communiversity. The next goal is to scale the Communiversity model into more of these communities to provide more young people with this life-changing program, bringing personal fulfillment as well as economic and social benefits to them, their families, and their communities. As expressed by one of the recent graduates:

“I am sitting here with joy, happiness and tears in my eyes. as a proud Communiversity student, knowing that I have achieved so many things during this course. My heart goes out to every single one involved with Communiversity, and all I can say is: ‘Thank you so much for everything that you have done for me. I will never forget this amazing opportunity. I will recommend others to join the Communiversity and be a part of this beautiful journey where they can achieve and accomplish so many things.’”

– Abubaker Samodien (accepted at False Bay TVET College in Human Resource Management)

With sufficient financing, Melanie and Marcia and their team of administrators and faculty could establish the Communiversity in other high-risk areas of the country. With a reputation built on success and the outpouring of gratitude from students and their parents, this would be a blessing for the nation of South Africa.

About the Author

Janet Hoffman is the executive director of TM for Women Professionals, a division of TM for Women in the USA

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