Changing a community in South Africa begins with empowering youth

Connecting local Rotary Clubs, businesses and individuals with Imagine Scholar students


Nicholas Drushella and Imagine Scholar

The Nkomazi region of South Africa is one of the most challenging and under-resourced areas in the entire country: 61% of residents live in poverty, merely 6% have any form of higher education and a staggering 47% have HIV/AIDS. In 2009, Kirkland (WA) Rotarian Corey Johnson, was sent to Nkomazi by a private business to identify high-achieving students to receive university bursaries.

After months of research, he concluded simply providing money to these students would not be effective at creating sustainable, impactful change. He proposed they start a program that cultivated motivated secondary school students into socially responsible leaders. After accepting a pilot group, the business that originally funded the venture dropped their support for financial reasons. Despite this enormous setback, they decided they must continue. The students voiced that their region needed hope. Battered by HIV/AIDS, broken political promises, and entrenched poverty, the rural Nkomazi was too far removed for most agencies and organizations to visit. It needed a program that assisted students who were driven, talented and desired change; the very students who would be immensely successful were they simply born somewhere else. They said their region needed Imagine Scholar.

Empowering Youth—Four founding ideals

Entering into its sixth year, Imagine Scholar continues to empower youth operating on the same four ideals it was founded on – building character, enhancing critical thinking, developing effective communication skills and creating community. Imagine Scholar believes that Nkomazi’s most valuable resources are its youth and that sustainable, long-term change will not come overnight. Lasting change will be achieved by individuals who are sincere, thoughtful and believe in creating opportunities for themselves and for others.

 Nicholas Drushella

Nicholas Drushella joined Imagine Scholar in early 2013. He is now the International Development Manager for the organization. After living in South Africa for over a year, he is doing outreach and development work in his hometown of Portland and other parts of Oregon and Washington. He hopes to connect more local Rotary Clubs, businesses and individuals with Imagine Scholar students to create meaningful relationships. Rotary Clubs and individual Rotarians have played a dynamic role in the development and ongoing work of Imagine Scholar. Their insight and encouragement for the students have helped create a vibrant international community of support. Sponsors communicate with students through monthly updates, letters and videos. This year, Imagine Scholar hopes to bring several Rotarians to the program center in South Africa to meet the students.

Nicholas’ work at Imagine Scholar has prompted him to apply for a Rotary Peace Fellowship this year as a representative of his home 5100 district. He hopes to earn his master degree in Peace Studies at the University of Uppsala in Sweden, the University of Queensland in Australia or the University of Bradford in the UK.

Imagine Scholar is a registered 501(c)(3) so all donations are tax-deductible. Please see our website and Facebook page for more details!

Thank you for hosting me at your meeting on January 16th. I very much enjoyed the opportunity to meet and speak with your passionate members. Please contact me at with any questions.

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