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Our research for meaning

Written by Emma Dawson • Online since 11.01.2018 • Filed under Feature • From Sixteen - January to March 2018 page(s) 8-11
Our research for meaning

There is nothing quite like unusual life experiences for achieving personal growth and achieving a clearer understanding of who we are and what is truly important to us. Emma Dawson chats to Klasie Wessels, a leadership coach and the founder of Streetschool, about his coaching philosophy to help students (grade 10, 11 and 12) and adults find the true meaning and purpose in life.

After 25 years, leaving his job – the first and only since he began working – was not an easy decision for Klasie. He took his career in advertising seriously and was committed to his work, his team and his clients. But he found himself asking some tough questions. ‘We were having fun, winning awards and making money, but I kept asking myself, “Is this it?” and “Will I stay in this job until I retire?”,’ he says.

‘Remembering a promise I made to myself when I was at school, I felt compelled to make a change.

My long-time dream of being an explorer was haunting me. For two years I grappled with the idea, trying to fulfil this drive through my sporting events, but it wasn’t enough,’ he recalls.

Finally, Klasie resigned and opened Streetschool, which combines two of his passions – working with people to resolve their challenges, and adventure.’

‘At Street school we specialise in personal development through distinctive practical experiences because we believe that change comes when people discover something for themselves. We are skilled at facilitating this personal growth, which we do through individual and group coaching and mentoring throughout the journey. By combining volunteer work with coaching, we help adults and students find their inner strengths, their dreams and their vision,’ Klasie explains.

Striving to find meaning in life

To add structure to his coaching and mentoring style, Klasie qualified himself as a leadership coach. ‘I’m a certified neuro linguistic practitioner and I studied Logotherapy though the Unisa Centre of Applied Psychology.’ Logotherapy is the work of the renowned Viennese psychiatrist and psychologist, Viktor Frankl, and forms the basis of my work. It is a non-regressive, non-intrusive meaning-centred counselling practice that’s based on Frankl’s belief that people are primarily driven by a ‘striving to find meaning in life’, and that this pursuit is the key enabler in overcoming painful experiences.

After enduring his own deep suffering in the WWII concentration camps, Frankl validated his hallmark conclusion by saying, ‘that life can be meaningful despite suffering’.

So, in other words, the philosophy of Logotherapy is based on the premise that life has meaning under all conditions, that everyone can discover their own unique purpose and avenues to meaning, that we have a defiant will to live meaningfully, that we have the responsibility to make the right choices in life, and that we are free to do so. Logotherapy is ultimately a therapy that encourages us to take responsibility and live life courageously with purpose.

‘Our approach focuses strongly on creating clarity and high levels of personal awareness for what life, or a situation, is calling for us to do. We use a coaching process to awaken the awareness and responsibility of what we ought to do or be, which typically begins by identifying what the individual wants to achieve (goals), insights into personal capabilities and uniqueness (personal reality), discovering areas of personal inspiration and motivation (voice of conscience), and by identifying tasks and activities to enhance personal development (tasks and action steps). Throughout the process we combine coaching with personal experiences and activities that offer impactful, sustained learning,’ Klasie explains.

Experiential youth development workshops

Streetschool’s workshops to India and Nepal are 11 days, and each day combines practical activities with personal reflection on one of the trip’s eight themes. ‘We’ve extensively researched and refined our Logotherapy model for application to South African youth and our programmes are coordinated with the Unisa Centre of Applied Psychology and the Viktor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy South Africa.’

Programmes vary, but the main services offered by Streetschool are:

• Youth development through experiential journeys to India and Nepal.

• Group coaching and themed workshops focusing on discovering meaning in life, purpose and personal branding.

• Experiential leadership development workshops in India.

• Individual coaching and mentoring with the emphasis on personal leadership.

Streetschool has facilitated 26 personal development journeys to Everest Base Camp in Nepal, and to the Tibetan exile community of Dharamsala, India, involving more than 300 participants of which the majority were students from schools such as St John’s, Roedean, St Stithian’s, Kingsmead, St Mary’s and Sacred Heart. Whereas the journeys to Everest Base Camp are more physical by nature, the trips to Dharamsala are more focused on community development.

The journeys are treated like workshops that are coordinated directly with the local communities. ‘In the case of the Tibetan experience to Dharamsala, we work directly with the Tibetan Government in

Exile. Participants get to interact with monks and others who have escaped from Chinese jails. We meet with government officials, participate in English teaching and conversation classes, and have discussions with Tibetan philosophers. Adults get the chance to do Yoga, meditation and attend cooking classes. We also visit places such as the temple of HH the Dalai Lama; GuChuSum, an organisation responsible for rehabilitating Tibetan refugees;and homes for mentally handicapped children.

Participating South African students qualify for the President’s Award Residential Gold when joining one of our programmes.’

The search for happiness

The Dharamsala trip is unashamedly about ‘what am I doing in this life and how can I make my life more meaningful’. Klasie explains that it’s about a search for more happiness and more peacefulness – it’s a foundation to creating a more meaningful and purposeful life.

‘We also focus on personal branding to create individual brand prints, statements or slogans for each student. They write their own statements, which in the past have included, “Just do it”, “I’m not done yet”, and “Being a voice for the voiceless”. We also create mood or vision boards that students keep as a reminder of their meaning and personal brand,’ Klasie adds.

‘Our programme in Nepal is treated like a gap-week and students get to work in small arts and craft factories, hotel kitchens, and participate in a sports day in addition to teaching English. We coordinate this directly with the

Bhaktapur Tourism Committee and students experience a home-stay as part of this experience.’

Film Week Bollywood

A new programme just being introduced is ‘Film Week Bollywood’. On this trip, students spend a week learning about the Indian movie-making industry and making their own movies in the slums of Mumbai.

This involves workshops on script writing, storytelling, conceptualisation and editing.

Learning through experience

From all trips, life principles are elicited from each experience, and Klasie facilities this process and helps people understand the meaning of life.

It’s also important to note that while time on these trips is spent with Buddhist monks and other spiritual people and visionaries, this is not about religion. ‘It’s about a philosophy – a way of life, or an attitude to life. Together with the fundamental teachings of Logotherapy – that life has meaning under all conditions, that everyone can discover their own unique purpose and avenues to meaning, that we have a defiant will to live meaningfully, that we have the responsibility to make the right choices in life, and that we are free to do so – this is a powerful combination of learning how to find meaning and happiness in life,’ Klasie concludes.

To read more about the extensive research in refining Logotherapy for application to South African youth, visit Streetschool’s website ( and download the thesis titled, A Study into The Relevancy of Logotherapy in the Modern Era and its Effect on South African Teenagers.

Sixteen - January to March 2018

Sixteen - January to March 2018

This article was featured on page 8-11 of Babys and Beyond Sixteen - January to March 2018 .

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