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How PeaceJam saves lives: A look at this year’s South Africa conference

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When I joined The Points Guy, I was immediately impressed with the company’s priority of giving back.

From hands-on volunteer events with co-workers to larger-scale relationships with organizations like the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Rainbow Railroad and The PeaceJam Foundation, TPG provides many ways to create positive change however and whenever we can.

Connecting with others has always been my favorite aspect of travel, so I jumped at the opportunity to participate in our partnership with the PeaceJam Foundation, an international youth organization led by 14 Nobel Peace Prize laureates.

TPG and PeaceJam

Co-founders Dawn Engle and Ivan Suvenjieff launched the PeaceJam Foundation in 1996.

PeaceJam is a nonprofit organization with a mission to foster young leaders committed to positive change in themselves, their communities and the world. It does this by connecting young people directly with Nobel Peace Prize laureates who pass on the spirit, skills and wisdom they embody with educational programming for youth around the world.

Since PeaceJam began, more than 1.3 million youths in over 40 countries have participated in the program.

TPG has worked with the program since 2014, and in 2018, TPG created the Global Impact Youth Fellowship Program. It’s designed to provide skills, training and one-on-one mentorship to outstanding PeaceJammers in Ghana, Guatemala, Liberia and South Africa. Participating students also receive university tuition and school supplies throughout their education.

Several TPG staffers serve as mentors to PeaceJam students, meeting with their mentees regularly to provide encouragement and advice.

Each year, PeaceJam hosts conferences in all four countries. The two-day events feature leadership training, group activities and usually a visit from a Nobel laureate.

PeaceJammers from the community come together to hear from the Nobel laureate, village elders and community members to discuss important issues and learn how to be peaceful change-makers in their communities.

PeaceJam South Africa

PeaceJam mentors with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchú Tum. KRISTY TOLLEY/THE POINTS GUY

Each conference is a culmination of the students’ hard work and accomplishments.

“PeaceJam South Africa runs a year-round educational program with youth in schools and community organizations across Cape Town and the Western Cape,” said Lauren Coffaro, PeaceJam Foundation’s director of global programs. “Young people aged 14-18 learn to believe in themselves, be an ally and make positive change in their community through service.”

“During the pandemic, PeaceJam South Africa hosted small-scale workshops and one-day regional events within local restrictions,” explained Coffaro. “When it was clear that our capstone youth leadership conference was ‘a go’ for 2022, our team sprung into action.”

Some of my fellow PeaceJam fellowship mentors and I recently attended the PeaceJam South Africa conference in Cape Town in October. It was PeaceJam South Africa’s first in-person conference since the onset of COVID-19. Over 400 students from Cape Town, as well as the surrounding suburbs and exurbs, attended.

The conference was also an opportunity for fellowship mentors to meet the student they’ve been working with.

“It was incredibly exciting and impactful,” shared McCarthy Lupo, TPG marketing and communications assistant manager and PeaceJam mentor.

“We connect at least twice a month. I know everything from her upcoming university projects to her current favorite TV shows, so it really felt like finally getting to meet a good friend in person for the first time. Meeting her solidified even more that she is not just a face on a screen, but rather a living breathing human whose joy and drive are infectious! It was such a treat.”

PeaceJam student Asemahle Mndita with her TPG mentor McCarthy Lupo. KRISTY TOLLEY/THE POINTS GUY

I didn’t get to personally meet my mentee (she was unable to attend the conference). However, connecting with and learning from these students, and gleaning inspiration from them and Rigoberta Menchú Tum, a leading advocate of Indigenous rights and ethnocultural reconciliation in Guatemala, was an experience I will treasure forever.

These students have often encountered more hardship and trauma than any human being should ever have to endure. Yet, they’ve channeled their history to create a new reality for themselves and their communities.

As part of the PeaceJam curriculum, students work to identify a need in their community and create a project to address that need. Through the process, the students gain critical leadership skills and grow in their knowledge of global citizenship and community engagement.

Students presented their projects during the conference. I was in awe of the confidence and positivity they exuded when sharing their visions for effecting change in their communities.

“While the whole weekend was super impactful, the openness of the students attending was the most moving part for me,” shared Grace Farley, TPG senior public relations manager and PeaceJam mentor.

“Listening to complete strangers open up as if they’ve been friends for years and tell their stories and let their guards down was such a cool thing to watch. All while being so supportive of one another … whenever someone got shy or nervous, the whole room would erupt in support of them.”

PeaceJam student Shalin Arends with TPG mentor Grace Farley. KRISTY TOLLEY/THE POINTS GUY

During a group assembly, student groups presented the projects they created and implemented in their communities. Project presentations included “Alleviating Poverty through Entrepreneurship,” which provides creative ways to earn income and includes plans to build an app for the program.

Students from Soneike High School presented their “Save the Planet” service project. They created the program to help improve food security for their community. Part of the project included establishing a peace garden at their school: The harvest is used to feed students, as well as neighborhoods in the community experiencing food scarcity.

Belgravia High School students shared their “B.I.N.G.O.” mentorship program, a tutor-based program that serves learners in underprivileged communities in and around Cape Town’s Athlone suburb who don’t have access to additional educational support. B.I.N.G.O. stands for bonding, inspiring, nurturing, growing and opportunity. Tutors meet with their students every Friday.

Nobel Peace laureate

Rigoberta Menchú Tum was the featured Nobel laureate for this year’s PeaceJam in South Africa.

She earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her leadership in helping end Guatemala’s 36-year civil war and genocide of 200,000 Guatemalans, including both her parents, two brothers, a sister-in-law and three nieces and nephews. The military destroyed 450 Mayan villages and displaced 1 million refugees during the conflict.

Additionally, Menchú Tum established WINAQ, the first official Indigenous-led political party in Guatemala’s history.

TPG staff members with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchú Tum. KRISTY TOLLEY/THE POINTS GUY

Menchú Tum joined the PeaceJam Foundation in 1996. The students had learned about her through the PeaceJam curriculum, so meeting her in person was a thrill for them. The thunderous welcome they gave her when she entered the auditorium brought me to tears.

She spoke to the assembly each day of the conference, sharing her story, as well as providing both practical and inspirational advice on how to enact peaceful change in their own communities and throughout the world.

Rigoberta Menchú Tum speaks to PeaceJam students. KRISTY TOLLEY/THE POINTS GUY

“Hatred is human poverty,” Menchú Tum explained. “We must help each other. We can help heal the sickness of human nature — intolerance, racism and selfishness — and we must organize our efforts of peace, as a collective.”

The conference concluded with an opportunity to demonstrate one of the pillars of the PeaceJam Foundation, community service.

Mentors and students, along with the kids in Cape Town’s Westlake neighborhood, painted an uplifting mural on the outside wall of an orphanage. Additionally, we met with Mama Lina, who established “Cultivating Good from Root to Fruit,” a community garden that feeds her neighborhood. We planted vegetables and painted tires that lined the garden.


“The Westlake community is formally known as a previously disadvantaged community where the majority of its residents face formidable challenges in all spheres of life — unsafe and unsanitary housing, inadequate access to health care, basic services and reliable affordable public transport, rampant unemployment and an education system in crisis, compounded by the legacy of apartheid geography and spatial inequality,” explained Earl Mentor, PeaceJam program coordinator.

“The community of Westlake is a close-knit community beset by negative social ills,” Mentor continued, “but alive with the possibility of becoming a force for good in Cape Town.”

How to support PeaceJam

If you’re interested in supporting the PeaceJam Foundation, you can sponsor a participating student or school at or by emailing

There are two ways to donate. You can give an unrestricted donation, which permits PeaceJam to use it where funds are most needed. Or, you can specify a project or destination. Just indicate which one you prefer when you fill out the form.

Touring South Africa

We spent a day before and after the conference exploring the Cape Town area.

Our stops included the iconic landmark Table Mountain, as well as Boulders Beach.

Although the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway wasn’t running due to strong winds, we soaked up the stunning views from the visitors center and perused the gift shop.

One of Cape Town’s most visited beaches, Boulders Beach is home to about 3,000 African penguins (it’s one of the world’s only spots where you can get close to them).

Boulders Beach, South Africa. KRISTY TOLLEY/THE POINTS GUY

A boardwalk leads you down to the beach where huge boulders create sections of sandy coves. Most of the penguins that day were resting under the trees lining the boardwalk, but we were able to spy a few.

Related: 4 reasons why you should visit Cape Town, South Africa

Before we flew home, we spent our last morning experiencing a bucket list item for many — a safari.

About two hours from central Cape Town, the 38-square-mile Aquila Private Game Reserve provides guests the opportunity to spot the majestic “Big 5” —  elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and rhino.

We lucked out and saw all five, as well as families of hippos, ostriches, zebras, giraffes and baboons. Our tour included buffet-style breakfast and lunch, with a nice variety of local dishes, fresh fruits and vegetables, and desserts.

Related: Safaris, cities and lots of elephants: How I returned to South Africa this year using points, miles and cash

I fully expect to plan another — and longer — trip to South Africa, and will likely do so through Elsewhere.

Owned by TPG’s sister brand, Lonely Planet, the company pairs travelers directly with local experts in destinations around the world, including parts of Africa. Elsewhere arranged a tour for our TPG and PeaceJam teams during their visit to Ghana.