Jason Torreano began his college career as an undergraduate at the College at Brockport, studying Communications and Journalism. It was at Brockport that Torreano enrolled in the Delta College Program, which required that students participate in a local, national, and international experience while completing their undergraduate degree. In order to complete these requirements Torreano studied in Grahamstown, South Africa at Rhodes University in 2006. While at Rhodes, he began volunteering at a school for street children called Amasango and fell completely in love with Grahamstown. “What began originally as a six month study abroad trip turned into a roughly two year volunteer stint in South Africa” he says. “I loved everything about it. I still do.”
Following this, Torreano enrolled at SUNY Empire State College, in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Program. And at ESC, he was able to wrap his course work and degree program around gaining the knowledge necessary to launch a non-profit organization known as Inkululeko. “Through this graduate program, I was able to build Inkululeko from the ground floor, working in concert with amazing faculty who were experts in their field. I learned and grew through my interactions with faculty who routinely pushed-and praised-me in equal measure. Inkululeko is still a work in progress. I believe we all are works in progress, but we’re stronger because of the excellent foundation SUNY helped lay.”
Literally, inkululeko is Xhosa for “freedom.” But in this case Inkululeko is a non-profit organization dedicated to “providing South African township youth with the skills, support and guidance necessary to apply, attend and succeed in university; challenging the bigotry of low expectations for township youth; and providing sustainable, positive change, student-by-student, generation-by-generation.” In short, Inkululeko is dedicated to providing opportunities through education. They provides tutoring and other enrichment opportunities beyond the students’ regular education. The organization is working to close the economic and social gap South African students face in the wake of apartheid.
“It started with an idea rolling around in my head. That idea: providing opportunity for motivated youth to finish high school and move onto university, or gain skills necessary to pursue a career after graduation,” Torreano told us. “Before we launched Inkululeko, we spent a year meeting with organizations in Grahamstown. Our goal was to ascertain what already existed in the community and to figure out how we could complement with, rather than compete with, existing nonprofits. Inkululeko was born out of this process. We enroll motivated students beginning in grade eight and stay with them through high school.”
His students mostly speak Xhosa as a first language, while others first learned Afrikaans, but all of his students speak English as well. As for himself, Torreano says he speaks some Xhosa, although he’d like to learn more. His colleagues—based in South Africa—are fluent in Xhosa, English and speak some Afrikaans.
Torreano is thrilled to be fulfilling a career that allows him to follow his passions and make the world a better place. And he had some advice for current SUNY students.
“Be open to the vast possibilities that exist for you. What you want to do today, may not be the thing you want to do next year—and here’s the thing: that’s okay.
When I enrolled at SUNY Brockport, I intended to get a degree, and work my way up the market ladder in TV news. I did that for a few years. I was working as an anchor/reporter at a TV station in Buffalo, NY when I decided to make a change. I returned to school, got my MALS degree and began working to build Inkululeko with a group of talented people from around the world.
The support SUNY provided for me to pursue my passion is something I am forever grateful for.”
If anyone is learning about Inkululeko for the first time and feels passionate about what they’re doing, there are numerous ways to get involved. Whether it’s in advising, fundraising, or teaching Inkululeko is always looking for more volunteers. In fact, you can volunteer at Inkululeko in South Africa for a week, a month, or a semester. You can learn more about Inkululeko at www.inkululeko.org, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Or you can email Jason.Torreano@Inkululeko.org, in order to find your way to contribute.
Kay is a student assistant with the SUNY Office of New Media. She is a University at Albany undergraduate working towards a double major in English and East Asian studies with a double minor in communications and film.