Alex Stone felt empowered upon returning home to the states after delving into his undergraduate studies abroad in South Africa in 2011.
The current Mercer Island resident was born with cerebral palsy and has utilized a wheelchair since he was 2 years old. Now age 37, the single dad was so moved by his traveling experience to South Africa and overcoming copious challenges along the way that he was keen on launching The Amandla Project to help others with mobility disabilities embark on a similar journey.
Stone noted that the project is a fully-funded, eight-week internship and leadership-development program in South Africa for US-based college students.
Joined by board member and good friend from South Africa Siv Ngesi, who struck up a friendship with Stone on his trip a dozen years ago, the duo will host a local event for attendees to learn about and support Amandla — which means “empowerment” in the tribal languages of Zulu and Xhosa — beginning at 6 p.m. on Oct. 7 at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center. The gathering will feature speeches by Stone and Ngesi along with others spotlighting the importance of travel for those with disabilities and National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October. For more details and to purchase tickets, visit amandlaproject.org/events.
“I think that the biggest benefits that I had from that experience were the friendships and the personal growth that I experienced on that trip,” said Stone of his South Africa sojourn, during which he interned for The Secretariat of The African Decade of Persons with Disabilities based in Cape Town. “I made really awesome connections in the office and had really great experiences professionally that I wouldn’t have been able to have had I interned for a company domestically.”
Stone’s confidence level reached new heights during and following that trip. Immediately after returning to Washington, he began working in the fundraising realm for Oak Harbor’s Summit Assistance Dogs. He connected with that organization because he relied heavily on a service dog at the time and discussed his dog-accompanied travels and studying abroad experience with others that he encountered during his work day.
Those chats played an integral role in Stone later penning his thesis about the Amandla program while working toward his master’s degree in international education at the SIT Graduate Institute in Vermont. A major element of his thesis was striking a chord with students with mobility disabilities, which he discovered through his research are drastically underrepresented in the field of education abroad.
During the curated experience, the students will also hear first-hand and insightful stories from a plethora of South African icons about the country, its political history and more to provide a leadership-development experience. The first group of four students will depart for South Africa this June. Stone hopes they will return brimming with heaps of confidence like he did.
Texas A&M University student Ashley Lindsey will join others on the trip, which is funded by individual donors and corporate support. Stone is handling all the Amandla details stateside and Ngesi is the project’s man on the ground in South Africa.
“I usually skip over opportunities abroad because finding anything accessible is impossible. When I saw that The Amandla Project was for people with physical disabilities, I was intrigued,” said Lindsey, who was born with an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) that ruptured at the age of 21 in 2020. A resulting hemorrhagic stroke occurred and required removal of half of her cerebellum.
“I moved back home at the time of my injury and all of my rehabilitation has been to be able to live independently. This is a great opportunity for me to prove I can be successful independently. It will also apply my education to the real world,” added Lindsey, who is majoring in biological and agricultural engineering with a minor in horticulture and will be featured in a video at the Oct. 7 event.
Ngesi, who is a high-profile actor, comedian, presenter and producer, has helped pave the way through his connections for Stone to bring Amandla to South Africa. He’s also been securing speakers and sponsorships for the project.
Joining in on a recent Zoom interview with the Reporter, Ngesi said the friends are trying to change people’s lives and perspectives with Amandla.
“For me, the magic of the friendship just shows you how if someone didn’t get to travel they wouldn’t have the potential to find friendships across the world,” said Ngesi about students mirroring Stone’s experience through their involvement in the project.
Stone moved to the Island this past February from Woodinville because it’s an ideal place to raise his 3-year-old son. He enjoys the community feel and parks and praised the city’s school system. He is set on connecting with Islanders and sharing the Amandla mission with them during the Oct. 7 event.
“I want to do as much as possible to encourage someone who might not otherwise travel to take that leap and grow with us,” he said.
For more information, visit amandlaproject.org.