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International Summit Highlights: 2009 South Africa
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In its first discourse on the continent of Africa, the Academy of Achievement held its 2009 International Achievement Summit in the city of Cape Town, South Africa, and in the rugged natural paradise of the Singita Sabi Sand Game Reserve. From July 3 to July 8, 2009 a group of the world's most outstanding graduate students joined an assembly of Academy scholars, achievers and honorees to exchange ideas, learn from each other and from the people of South Africa, and understand firsthand the teachings of South Africa's stirring history.

The Summit Host was the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu. A recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace, Archbishop Tutu was joined by two of Africa's Nobel Laureates for Literature, Nadine Gordimer and Wole Soyinka, as well a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics, Dr. Joseph Stiglitz.

Another of the world's favorite authors, Alexander McCall Smith, joined the Academy in South Africa. The arts were further represented by stage and screen actor Jeremy Irons, a recipient of the Oscar, Emmy and Tony Awards. Grammy-winning musical artists in attendance included concert violinist Joshua Bell, Christian music pioneer Amy Grant and country music legend Vince Gill.

In addition to Archbishop Tutu, the Summit was attended by other heroes of South Africa's victorious struggle against the apartheid regime of racial discrimination: labor leader Cyril Ramaphosa; the Honorable Albie Sachs, Justice of South Africa's Constitutional Court; the Honorable Navanethem Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; as well as former political prisoner and current South African cabinet minister Barbara Hogan. Prominent public figures from the United States included the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero and the Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa.

Legendary explorers of Africa among the attendees included the paleoanthropologist and conservationist Richard Leakey, documentary filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert, and legendary primate researcher Dame Jane Goodall. Outstanding men of medicine attending the Summit included: renowned neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson; the Chief of Surgery of the National Cancer Institute, Steven Rosenberg; and the founder of the international medical charity Partners in Health, Paul Farmer.

Distinguished journalists in attendance included ABC News veteran Sam Donaldson and MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews. Representatives of international business included the founder of South Africa's two largest hotel chains, Sol Kerzner.

The Host Chairman of the 2009 International Achievement Summit was Catherine B. Reynolds, Chairman and CEO of The Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation. This year's Summit was made possible by a generous grant from The Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation.

Early arrivals on Friday, July 3, enjoyed a breathtaking tour of Cape Town before convening at the One&Only hotel for the first seminar of the Summit. After a welcome from the Summit's Host Chairman, Catherine B. Reynolds, Academy members and student delegates heard from one of South Africa's greatest success stories, the founder and chairman of One&Only Resorts, Sol Kerzner.

Two distinguished physicians from the United States took the stage following Mr. Kerzner's remarks. The Chief of Surgery of the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Steven Rosenberg, introduced the founder of Partners in Health (PIH), Dr. Paul Farmer. Dr. Farmer gave a thorough and inspiring presentation of the work of PIH in creating sustainable medical facilities in the poorest communities on earth.

The Saturday morning program opened with an address by one of the heroes of South Africa's struggle against apartheid. Once a political prisoner himself, the Honorable Albie Sachs is now a Justice of South Africa's Constitutional Court. A principal architect of South Africa's democratic constitution, Justice Sachs gave a moving account of his lifelong struggle for the freedom of his country.

Justice Sachs was followed by one of the great literary voices of South Africa, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Nadine Gordimer. The last speaker of the morning was the Honorable Navanethem Pillay. As a young attorney, she had to make her way as a woman of East Indian ancestry in a racially segregated society. After a distinguished career as a civil rights advocate and jurist in South Africa, she now serves as the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Following the morning session, Summit participants traveled to the Western Cape. Here, the group confronted the sobering reality of township life -- cramped makeshift dwellings packed from horizon to horizon, a tragic legacy of the long years of neglect and oppression. In the midst of this struggling community, Academy members and student delegates found an oasis of hope -- the Baphumelele Children's Home, an orphanage that offers a clean, safe refuge for the abandoned children of the district, many of them infected from birth with HIV. Inside the gates of the Children's Home, the children, most of them barely toddlers, sang a heartfelt welcome to their guests.

The Academy heard first from Rosie Mashale, the resolute founder of the Baphumelele School and Children's Home. Cape historian Garth Angus spoke on the history of the orphanage and surrounding community, followed by Dr. Mitch Besser, Medical Director of the service organization Mothers2Mothers. The most emotional moment of the session came when Viwe Mgudlwa described her own experience as a young mother, ostracized by her family and neighbors when she was diagnosed with HIV. Today, she has a healthy child, thanks to the work of Mothers2Mothers. Now an active member of the organization, she described the group's work, teaching mothers in disadvantaged communities to create their own aid networks.

While at Baphumelele, the Academy members and student delegates heard from South African cabinet minister Barbara Hogan. The first South African woman to be convicted of treason, for her principled resistance to the apartheid regime, she has since served as Minister of Health, effecting a complete turnaround in the country's AIDS policy to prevent the further transmission of the virus from mother to child. Before their departure, Academy members presented the children with books, toys, stuffed animals and art supplies.

Only halfway through their first full day in South Africa, the Academy's guests experienced yet another side of this country's remarkable diversity, traveling to the beautiful countryside for a lunch seminar. Here they heard an inspiring speaker from the United States, Dr. Benjamin Carson, who overcame youthful poverty to become the world's most distinguished pediatric neurosurgeon. He was followed by the first African to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Nigerian poet and playwright Wole Soyinka.

Returning to Cape Town, the Summit participants gathered in historic St. George's Cathedral, spiritual home of the struggle for justice and democracy in South Africa. Entering the awe-inspiring interior of the cathedral by candlelight, the group was greeted by the best of South Africa's celebrated children's choirs: the internationally renowned Tygerberg children's choir, the Kenmere Primary School Choir, the Kensington Chorale, the South African Youth Choir and the elite Voices of Angels group. The combined choruses -- nearly 300 voices in all -- gave a spine-tingling demonstration of South Africa's distinctive choral tradition, singing songs of praise from South Africa and the United States.

More musical inspiration followed with the best-selling Christian music artist, Amy Grant, singing "El Shaddai," accompanied by her husband, Vince Gill. Classical violinist Joshua Bell performed as a soloist, playing the transcendent "Meditation" from Massenet's Thaïs, and accompanying South Africa's most promising young opera singer, Golda Schultz, in Schubert's "Ave Maria."

Following these exhilarating performances, the Academy heard a stirring address from the former dean of St. George's Cathedral, the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu. From the same pulpit where he courageously led the struggle for justice in South Africa, Tutu asked the student delegates to tap the power of their own imaginations. "Dream! Dream! Dream!" he exhorted them, urging them to make the most of their talents to create a better world. Concluding a thrilling evening, Archbishop Tutu presented the Gold Medal of the Academy of Achievement to each member of the Class of 2009.

That evening, the group returned to the One&Only for the black-tie Banquet of the Golden Plate. Award-winning actor Jeremy Irons read individual citations lauding the Academy's new honorees, who were presented with the Golden Plate by Desmond Tutu. The long day closed with a performance by South Africa's premier popular singer, "the Princess of Africa," Yvonne Chaka Chaka, and her band. The pulsating rhythms of the band, along with Yvonne Chaka Chaka's improvised musical tributes to the Academy members, had student delegates and Academy members dancing for the rest of the evening.

Sunday morning, the Summit participants traveled to the Singita Sabi Sand Game Reserve, deep in the interior. Here they stayed in beautiful rustic lodges, with flocks of wild monkeys playing in the trees surrounding the open "boma" dining areas. After traditional high tea in this exotic setting, guests took off in a fleet of Range Rovers for a game drive, bouncing across open country to see the brilliant fauna of Africa -- giraffes, lions, rhinos, leopards and elephants -- in their native habitat.

Returning to the Boulders Lodge for a dinner discussion and seminar, the assembly watched an astonishing video presentation by Dereck and Beverly Joubert, a husband-wife team of filmmakers who have spent their lives photographing the world's most dangerous animals at close range in the wild. The Jouberts were followed by a hero of our times, the conservationist, paleoanthropologist and political activist Richard Leakey. When time for questions ran out, Leakey invited the students and guests to join him for an impromptu morning session.

Early Monday morning, Leakey and the Jouberts were joined by Sam Donaldson, Chris Matthews, Joshua Bell, author Alexander McCall Smith and the Academy's student delegates for a freewheeling discussion of issues ranging from the challenges of working with wild animals to the philosophical questions of reconciling scientific knowledge and religious faith. The informal conversation continued for over two hours, in the free-flowing cross-disciplinary exchange that is a hallmark of the Achievement Summit.

The day's formal program began with a friendly discussion of the opportunities for service young people can find in the challenges facing the modern city, with legendary journalist Sam Donaldson and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The morning heated up with an intense discussion between Hardball host Chris Matthews and the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero. As on his popular political discussion program, Matthews pressed his questions vigorously, probing every possible contradiction presented by the defense of civil liberties in a nation divided so closely over so many issues.

After lunch, one of the world's most popular authors, Alexander McCall Smith, charmed the audience, just as he has charmed readers around the world. No stranger to Africa, McCall Smith was born and raised in what is now Zimbabwe. He has set his bestselling tales of The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency in neighboring Botswana. McCall Smith exercised his talents as a raconteur throughout the Summit, reading aloud first drafts of his latest stories, to gales of appreciative laughter.

That afternoon, the legendary primatologist Dame Jane Goodall gave an engrossing account of her lifelong study of chimpanzees in the wild. Like Richard Leakey, she spontaneously offered to continue the conversation with the students the following morning. After dinner, the Academy heard a performance from one of its gifted student delegates, violinist Maya Shankar. She was joined in a duet by none other than Joshua Bell, who then played an ingenious set of variations on "Yankee Doodle." The evening closed with a stirring performance by the Mkhuhlu Shangaan dance troupe, performing the traditional dances of the Shangaan people.

Tuesday morning, Jeremy Irons conducted a spontaneous question and answer session with the students, before Jane Goodall returned to discuss her work more deeply with the student delegates. Later that morning, the group traveled by country roads from the game reserve to the nearby town of Justicia, a rural community whose self-sufficient inhabitants live by raising cattle. Riding over rugged country in open Range Rovers, the Academy members arrived at Justicia's Ntshuxekani Preschool, to be greeted by the school's children, lining the entrance in their gold and green uniforms, singing and waving palm fronds to greet their visitors.

After a warm greeting from the school's Headmistress, Miss Vida Ngonyama, the students offered a charming musical performance. They were entertained in turn by the incomparable team of Amy Grant and Vince Gill. "They've sung for us, let's put a song together and sing for them," Gill said, and led the entire crowd in an improvised song about the Justicia School. The Academy presented the children with a variety of musical equipment -- an electric keyboard, a piano bench, a guitar, music stands, and reams of music -- to enable these talented children to continue their musical efforts. The Academy also made a welcome donation of 40 small mattresses for the children's rest time.

A special guest of the Academy, television journalist Kathleen Matthews, conducted a wide-ranging discussion with some of the Academy's student delegates. Distinguished social entrepreneurs in their own right, many of them are Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation Fellows from New York University and Harvard University. They discussed their own social entrepreneurship projects and described how they were inspired by the stimulating experiences of the week.

Returning to the Boulders Lodge for lunch, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz led an in-depth discussion of the international economic crisis, its origins and ideas for potential remedies. However serious the subject matter, the discussion never became overwhelming, due in part to the ever-present monkeys capering about the open-air lodge.

After a fascinating game drive, the group reconvened at the Singita Ebony Lodge for a final informal dinner discussion. Jeremy Irons read the poem "Ithaka" by the 20th century Greek poet Constantin Cavafy. Implicitly comparing the voyage of Odysseus to the life journey of the student delegates, he lingered on the lines "Hope your road is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery."

Irons also showed a less-known musical side of his talent, picking up a guitar to play a humorous duet with Vince Gill. Amy Grant and Vince Gill took turns singing solo numbers, giving the Academy a preview of songs from their upcoming albums. In a completely unexpected moment, Vince Gill invited his daughter, Jenny Gill, to the stage, where she gave a memorable performance of his song, "Whenever You Come Around." At the end of the evening, Jeremy Irons urged the student delegates to hook up their iPods to the Academy sound system, and as the students took turns playing DJ, the entire group enjoyed a spontaneous dance party for the rest of the evening.

The following morning, Academy members traveled from Singita to Johannesburg and visited Soweto township, cradle of South Africa's freedom struggle, where they toured the Hector Pieterson Museum, commemorating the Soweto uprising, a turning point in the struggle against apartheid. In a few intellectually rigorous and eventful days, the Academy's guests had experienced, learned from, and were inspired by the stunning diversity of South Africa, from crowded cities to pristine wilderness. In firsthand contact with the country's people -- from cabinet ministers to hundreds of schoolchildren -- the student delegates gained invaluable insight into the unfolding history of this dynamic country. In their daily exchanges with the distinguished members of the Academy, they also learned the essential qualities of achievement -- lessons that men and women of all nations can apply to combat disease and poverty, and allow the children of the world to achieve their full potential.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Dr. Paul Farmer, founder of the medical charity Partners in Health, speaks on the opening night of the 2009 Summit.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Summit Host Chairman Catherine B. Reynolds (center) with Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation Fellows from NYU. Clockwise from top: Ben Cokelet, Matt Sisul, Keren Raz, Katherine Otto, Lauren Servin and Magogodi Makhene.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Jeremy Irons helps feed toddlers on the visit to Baphumelele Children's Home.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation Fellow Kate Otto enjoys her visit with the children of Baphumelele orphanage.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka, Africa's first Nobel Laureate for Literature, addresses the Academy.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Dr. Joseph Stiglitz, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics, and his wife Anya, after luncheon at La Residence.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Amy Grant sings "El Shaddai" at St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell performs the stirring "Meditation" by Massenet.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Archbishop Desmond Tutu addresses the Academy of Achievement at St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

The Academy of Achievement's Class of 2009 receive their Gold Medals.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Nobel Prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer receives the Golden Plate award from Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Desmond Tutu presents the Academy's Golden Plate award to Albie Sachs of South Africa's Constitutional Court.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

A leopard suns himself in the Singita Game Reserve during the 2009 International Achievement Summit.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Student delegates enjoy a game drive in Singita. From left to right: Jia Cobb, Maura Sullivan, Aminta Ossom, Michael Koldobskiy and Brad Smith.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

This golden lioness went almost unnoticed, resting in the dry grass.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Dereck and Beverly Joubert made a stunning presentation of their work in an evening session at Boulders Lodge.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey traveled from Kenya to address the International Achievement Summit.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Antonio Villaraigosa, Mayor of Los Angeles, discusses opportunities for public service in America's cities.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Chris Matthews poses a tough question to ACLU Director Anthony Romero.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Alexander McCall Smith, creator of The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency, continually enlivened the Summit with his uniquely humorous perspective.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Dame Jane Goodall meets with the Academy's student delegates for a casual morning session in Singita.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

A musical performance greets the Academy members and students at Ntshuxekani Preschool in Justicia.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Schoolchildren welcome Academy student delegate Elina Tetelbaum.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Antonio Villaraigosa, Mayor of Los Angeles, enjoys his visit to Justicia.

International Achievement Summit in South Africa

Academy members Vince Gill and Amy Grant share the gift of music with the children of Ntshuxekani Preschool.