During my stay in the United States of America (USA), I had the privilege to spend most of my time interacting with young African leaders from all over the continent. Like me, the fellows were invited to participate in the Mandela Washington Fellowship Programme under the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and I took that opportunity to listen to their unique stories.
At least 40 000 young people from all over Africa applied to be admitted in this program but only 1000 were selected - and that made me curious to know the uniqueness of the projects being done by the selected fellows.
YALI is part of the United States' wider commitments to invest in the future of Africa and was created out of a recognition of the critical role that young Africans play in strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, and enhancing peace and security in Africa.
TellZim News caught up with some of the participants:
Bethlehem Kiros Haileselassie from Ethiopia
Bethlehem Haileselassie has four years' experience coordinating a street-child rehabilitation project in her home city; Addis Ababa. Currently, she works as a freelance writer but she also volunteers in two organizations that work on child care and education. In addition, she is in the process of establishing a social enterprise which produces leather handicrafts to create jobs for impoverished single mothers. After completing the Mandela Washington Fellowship, Bethlehem plans to launch the social enterprise and establish its social wing, which will initially comprise a community day care and after-school program for children of the single mothers who are trained and hired by the business. Eventually, the project will reach out to other children in the community who live in difficult circumstances.
Samuel Gibba from The Gambia
Samuel Gibba has over two years of experience in various fields in community development, in particular designing and facilitating educational programmes and building eco-villages. Currently, he works as a marketing manager at Sandele Eco-Retreat and Learning Center. He also volunteers as assistant coordinator with the Peoples Coast Ecovillage Network, where the main focus is on working with 11 coastal villages ranging from southern Gambia to southern Senegal, building resilient communities with good livelihoods. Samuel holds a diploma in Marketing from the West African Insurance Institute in Gambia. Upon completion of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, he will continue to work with the Peoples Coast Ecovillage Network and strengthen the ongoing projects in his community.
Grace Chinonye Ihejiamaizu from Nigeria
Grace Ihejiamaizu is a Social Entrepreneur and Educator working to promote quality education and empower the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs. She is a Lecturer at the University of Calabar as well as the founder of iKapture Networks (formerly known as RYPE Initiative), a youth development organization strategically focused on providing afterschool services to students and out-of-school youth in Nigeria using creative learning methods and ICT. She is also the founder and chief editor of Opportunity Desk, one of the largest online platforms with over 500,000 visits per month, which shares relevant global opportunities for youth.
Her outstanding leadership skills have earned her multiple national and international awards and recognition including being named one of Google's 12 Brightest Young Minds in 2011. The change maker joined 59 other youths for the British Council Global Changemakers' Summit in Brussels, Belgium 2012 and was one of 11 outstanding speakers at the TEDxYouth event at Bukoto, Uganda, same year. In 2013, she was one of the Honorees of the Future Awards Africa Young Person of the Year Prize and has been recognized by many other organizations in Africa for her work.
Stephen Ofori from Ghana
Stephen has interest in biodiversity and environmental conservation and keen to see people act responsibly to conserve nature. Stephen has over 7 years training and working experience in the field of conservation and ecosystem health. As a Research and Conservation Officer for A Rocha Ghana, and Co-founder of EcoCycle Ghana, Stephen designs and implements innovative conservation projects at the grass-root, regional, and national level, all of which underpin Africa's environmental sustainability. Stephen holds Natural Resources Management Degree from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and Professional Certificate in Environmental Science (University of British Colombia) where he studied more about the nexus that exist between man and nature. Stephen is passionate about investing in the capacity of several young and/or dedicated environmental stewards to achieve environmental sustainability particularly in Africa. Importantly, Stephen envisions promoting his Culturally Sound Conservation Protocol (Conservation Evangelism) via scientific research; environmental advocacy and sound science with the goal of helping Africa achieve its Sustainable Development Goals.
Anne Eboso-Okongo from Kenya
Anne has over seven years of experience working with communities in areas of culture and literacy promotion. Anne is the founder of Chula Cultural Foundation, an organization which promotes and aims to preserve the Suba culture which is listed as endangered by UNESCO. She focuses on creating and designing programs, resource mobilization and production of an annual cultural festival in Rusinga Island. She integrates this cultural pursuit with literacy promotion through reading initiatives such as the boat library. Anne is also the CEO of All For Cars Ltd, a company that deals in genuine automobile spare parts from the world's leading OEM brands. A percentage of profits from this company is dedicated towards promotion of literacy, health, art and cultural initiatives. Upon completion of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, Anne plans to continue her work in cultural pursuit through empowerment of the youth and women with a focus on the creative economy.