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USM Voices: From Montagu to Maine, With Love

Here at USM, we have many voices that make up our community. We're pleased to continue USM Voices - an opportunity for students, faculty, staff, alumni and more to share their thoughts about all things USM. Here, Tara Grey Coste writes about the Montagu Project, a collaboration between USM, international organizations and groups in South Africa. If you would like to share a blog post with us for potential publication, please submit your blog idea here.

By Tara Grey Coste, Ph.D., Leadership & Organizational Studies



Boom! Boom! Boom! Ratatata Boom! Boom! Boom!
Boom! Boom! Boom! Ratatata Boom! Boom! Boom!

As the drums call the community into the hall and the choir bursts into a beautiful rendition of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," we are transported to that special place, that place at the end of our time in Montagu, South Africa when everything is good and happy, and the learning has been tremendous.

We forward in this generation
Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom?

We start the week with our veteran American and South African delegates rushing into each other's arms for big, warm hugs that soon everyone, old and new, is drawn into. They are excited to enter the intensity of the Montagu Project programming and share where they are on their journeys.

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Have no fear for atomic energy
'Cause none of them can stop the time

Although the group has had little time to work through traditional group development dynamics, they very rapidly overcome inhibitions in this softly safe space and begin to trust in the beauty and power of the program and the strong legacy they are becoming a part of.

Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
'Cause all I ever have
Redemption songs

Hopes, fears, dreams, and plans for action all emerge, some quietly, some powerfully, as program participants work through the various stages of the curriculum. Ideas to take their lives to the next level bloom as day after day they acquire the tools they will need to succeed.

And the love... The relationships that are developed and sustained this week become essential elements that tie everything else together year-round. You have a question? Ask the question! You need a hand? Take mine! You need someone to talk to in the middle of the night? You have my number... These are the kinds of bonds that prove very hard to break.

This is the power of the Montagu Project, a multi-decade global learning lab supported by a collaboration between the University of Southern Maine, the Rural Arts Development Foundation and RedZebra (a global training company). In partnership with seven South African non-profits and numerous sponsors and supporters based on both sides of the ocean, the project provides fertile ground for personal and professional growth, acquiring global leadership skills, and realizing community development initiatives.

Most years, a group of undergraduate and graduate USM students travel to Montagu, South Africa as part of a Leadership Study Abroad course. During their time there, they work alongside youth and young adults who have been specially selected by their communities as having leadership potential.

A weeklong workshop takes them through an intensive Appreciative Inquiry based curriculum in which they examine their histories, their similarities and differences, and tools for leadership empowerment. Also interwoven throughout the program is the traditional African philosophy of Ubuntu, the belief that "there exists a common bond between us all, and it is through this bond, through our interaction with our fellow human beings, that we discover our own human qualities." (See Lundin & Nelson's 2010 Ubuntu!)

At the end of this experience, program participants go into the community to share what they have learned. The community hall is filled with mothers and grandmothers, sisters and brothers, aunts, friends and other program supporters. They are extremely proud of the learning that has happened and grateful for opportunities not usually found in this close knit rural community.

The harmonies of the choir swell up again...

One Love! What about the one heart? 
One Heart! What about...? 
Let's get together and feel all right!
As it was in the beginning (One Love!)
So shall it be in the end (One Heart!)

The next generation of program participants sits watching in wonder as their older brothers and sisters follow the path of this magical journey. They wait until it is their turn to dream and turn those dreams into reality.











For more information on Leadership Study Abroad in South Africa and the work of the Montagu Project, please visit or contact Leadership and Organizational Studies professor Tara Grey Coste at