10 Years On: Gavin Peter Reflects on ALA Then, and Now

ALA’s Cultural Custodian has worn many hats over the past 10 years, meeting various needs as the Academy has grown and expanded, and becoming the ‘go to guy’ for student and staffulty alike. The Decennial, he says, has given him cause to pause and reflect – and proves the perfect time to head off on a soul-searching Sabbatical…

I came to ALA because I wanted to have a greater effect on students across the continent. I never dreamt that I would actually teach the continent.

I came at a time when my mind was not just open, but hungry for knowledge of my continent. I could not have asked for a better opportunity. I had first hand information on Africa’s customs, languages, religions and, most importantly, food. I embraced it all.

I was not just curious about the continent, I was also curious about my new students. The more I could know about them, the better I could teach them. My method was one of full immersion. There was nothing truly familiar, even with my Zimbabwean students. However, I was eager – and the Founders decided to take a chance on me. It is not unusual for me to be the odd one out, and have people take that chance. But I am really glad this group did.

As their trust grew, so did my response. I loved putting my hand up to join a team, be part of anything. It is something so wonderful about ALA, that I still see opportunity for today. This is truly a ‘great smorgasbord of delightful offers’ Academy.

Yes, in the early years it was “want to try being a nurse?” “Want to try being a caretaker?” “Want to try being a internship programme manager?” “Want to try designing a library?” “Want to create a sports programme?”

Today, I still see those same amazing opportunities. “Do you want to go to give advice to a school starting in Slovakia on their community building?” “Do you want to visit an Arts school in Columbia?” “Can you carry Hugh Masekela’s trumpet?” “Can you create an experience of Eid for 80 students to echo their homes?” It goes on and on. It is a daily explosion of blessings, joys, adventures and experiences.

What do I take away? Truthfully, most of what I have in my treasure box are memories. They are selfish ones as they take so much context to share now, that they are actually best enjoyed in quiet pauses and they make me smile. The progress, changes, developments are amazing and beautiful, but actually they are really now just for shock value of what was the past.

The New Normal

Today, however, as we have strived to build a working Academy that is extraordinary, but actually ‘normal’ in the way it functions, those stories are from another time, one we should let slide away. It was crazy and dangerous and mostly unacceptable, but it was normal then.

The true test of the Academy is that the students and staffulty remain generically the same. They are truly inspirational, exciting, interesting, full of potential, hope and dreams.

Staffulty who have a recognisable hungry for knowledge and excitement for teaching and excellence… And students who, I can see, I would want to know as adults; they are challenging, interesting, but also so cool.

As we move into decade number 2, let the stories be about the highs of celebrating successes and the lows of disappointing failures. And in between let there be the rumble, the tussle, the endless dance between brilliance and foolishness that makes this age group, and this continent, so alluring.

ALA is still a place where the exceptional come to find out they are not the exception. They have a community. They have a home. I am lucky to have been able to have stayed so long, so close to all of you. I thank you for letting me in. I thank you for allowing me to use my own methods. I thank you for letting me feel I could be honest.

I am not going away because I am tired of serving Africa or ALA. Everyone has moments when they must retreat into themselves and reflect. I am entering one of those periods. I have no idea what I want to do next, or what role I can play in anyone’s or any place’s future.

I am excited, but I am mostly putting on the brakes to ensure I can see clearly. I like to see myself as a tree. I will stand still for a bit whilst all the things around me continue their busy movement. My connection with ALA is strong and unbreakable. I have no intention of ever leaving. How I will organically fit back into my connection is something for the future. Let me remain there, secure, whilst I take this time.

A luta continua, A luta para a Africa! Pamberi ALA!

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