Never Disabled

— By Omolara from Nigeria

Tunde is a visually impaired individual who lives in Lagos, Nigeria.


One fateful afternoon in July 2005, he was on his way from lectures during his final semester at the University of Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. 


He was strolling onto his street when he saw people running from his opposite direction. Immediately, he knew that some hoodlums must have started fighting again. He lived in a neighbourhood without peace. Day-in, day-out, it was one fight or another. Many young talents had been killed already. The worst part was that one never knew the reason behind the constant fighting in this neighbourhood, just the same as this faithful day.


Just as he tried to turn and run, he suddenly felt his eyes being stabbed. Tunde had been stabbed in the eyes by a stray broken bottle, thrown at him from afar by hoodlums.
When he gained consciousness, he was blind. Yes, in both eyes. This was the most difficult time in his life. He stopped his academics and lost his friends, his lover, and acquaintances.


Between 2005 and 2010, he began to keep himself busy by repairing the broken electronics in his house. Without his sight, he started by fixing torch lights, broken radios, and televisions. He had no friends, so he needed to make himself happy. Soon, he started to fix the mobile phones and computers in the house. His father could not believe what an extraordinary talent his son had grown to be.


According to him, “I didn’t know how he did it. Sometimes, they informed me in the morning that the TV in the house is broken. But when I return in the evening, it’s been fixed by Tunde.”


Tunde never gave up. Still without his sight, Tunde to date now fixes people’s cars. He has since gone back to school and is now loved and highly appreciated by many.

READ: The four letters that changed my life

Denis

— By Denis from Uganda

My personal story, the one that changed my life entirely, is about a habit. A good habit, reading. Reading, a thing I first learned from a person I would call a mentor. A well-known veteran TV journalist in Uganda, Bbaale Francis (RIP) was my lecturer during my first weeks in college.

In fact, it is in the middle of one of his lectures that he said: “Read. Keep yourself in the know by reading. This world is led by readers, readers prosper. Read expansively.” He pleaded, or at least his voice sounded pleading, to class members who appeared to be listening to him attentively.

In the back seat of the classroom, I sat in silence, trying to digest these words from an adored man whom many young journalists in the country aspired to emulate. I cannot speculate on the effect these words would have on the rest of the people in the classroom at the moment, but for me, they were metal, the magnet that is my brain attracted and grasped the words tightly.

His lectures, thereafter, never went without such encouraging words like ‘read expansively,’ which I noticed was his favorite phrase. He would list the numerous benefits of reading if one made it a part of normal life. (This was a few months before he died. He succumbed to cancer.)

Owing to his incessant advice, I had started reading, like he said; expansively. I read newspapers, surfed the internet to read long and short articles about anything and everything. I read inspirational books, wherein, I entered into the brains of the great people of the world. I got to know the different views people have on this thing called life. I would later start reading fiction for enjoyment. With reading, I travelled, was taken to places I have never been physically. I was driven to the past and given binoculars to glimpse into the future. I found it interesting and fun. I turned out to be an avid reader. My diction grew. Confidence and public speaking skills developed as well.

About six months into the habit of reading (in April 2015), I made a first attempt at writing. In life, I had never sat in a literature class. And besides doing exams, writing was not my thing. I was coming late to this craft.

I was approaching 21 years old when I happened upon writing, and not as a literature student but through sheer desire. I found it tough going at first. But I kept at it and refined my skills through trial and error. With dedication, I wrote, read about writing, and saw what other writers did. I learned rules, guidelines, and standards of writing.

I started visiting local magazines and websites and asked to volunteer as a writer, vague composition of sentences and a few grammatical errors notwithstanding. It was reading that would bail me out of the ditch. Interestingly, the first editors I approached echoed the same words; read. One said, “Reading is the raw material of writing, and every great writer is a great reader.”

The primary reason I share this story is: at 20 years old in 2014, before I started reading, I couldn’t even try to figure out where my life was leading. Today, only three years later, although I cannot confirm what life has in the bag for me, at least it gives me hope knowing I can combine words to make a sentence, and ravel several sentences to make a living.

I am an advocate for writing. I am a freelance journalist with the leading daily in Uganda. Writing, a skill I only learnt through reading, has taken me places and brought me to tables with important people. It has exposed me. Today, I continue reading not only to grow my skill, but to expand my knowledge on various issues. I am still learning, unlearning, and relearning.

Reading. It cannot be overemphasized. There are numerous benefits. READ.

The Diary of an Entrepreneur

— By Harvey from Malawi

Youth unemployment! Youth unemployment! Youth unemployment! These days, everywhere I turn, it seems that the topic of the day is youth unemployment. I swear, I think one day I had a dream with a theme of youth unemployment. So, as one of the jubilant concerned youths in Malawi, I decided to do something about it. I have done what almost every person is doing these days, and that is to venture into entrepreneurship. Myself and a fellow concerned youth residing in another city have decided to start supplying goods, which are available in some city cities but are scarce in other cities.

It was only the first day of work, but I had already sensed something peculiar. At 10:30 in the morning, I waddled into the local bus station to send my merchandise to one of the cities in Malawi which is in desperate need of such products. To my surprise, I found more people than normal at the station. For a typical, local Malawian bus station which usually has a multitude of people, more than normal basically means a stampede. The place literary resembled a mass exodus of refugees. Later, I found out that there were no buses heading to the popular commercial city of Blantyre, and nobody seemed to know why. This had never happened before in my entire life, and being a superstitious person, I started suspecting that the universe was conspiring against the entrepreneur spirit in me. Instead of using a local bus to ferry my goods, I had to contract with a courier agent, which meant more expenses for my new business.

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These are the sort of challenges that small scale business people are facing on a daily basis in Malawi. Every stakeholder preaches entrepreneurship without ensuring that there is a conducive environment to ensure that entrepreneurship grows to become a viable alternative to growing unemployment concerns. As the sun was setting in Lilongwe, Malawi, I found myself looking forward to more experiences as I undertake this entrepreneurship challenge. Save for the troubling, tattered shape of the bus that was going to ferry my goods, I was almost sure my merchandise will reach its destination. I cannot help but feel optimistic for the future that lies ahead.

The Day That I Became Fatherless

-Chinemerem

– By Chinemerem from Nigeria

On that Christmas day, we had just woken up, because my older siblings and I had gone to the Vigil Mass. We were going to cook rice and the chicken was ready.

I came into the room to get my sister’s phone and I glanced at him; he lay on the bed. I moved closer to him and touched his feet.

“It is well, dad.”

He didn’t reply. But this was very normal, because he hadn’t spoken in many months. In the last 14 months, he hadn’t moved either. We talked and read to him; we knew that he understood us, he just couldn’t reply. He was sick. He had been sick for years, but somehow, it seemed worse during that fateful Christmas holiday.

As soon as I left the room, my brother sent me to a relative’s house. I had to go return their basket.
I don’t remember how long I spent in my relative’s house, but by the time I came back home, a strange silence hung around the house. I didn’t want to go inside, so I stood outside and peered through the window.

A priest was bent over my father, whispering prayers and anointing his forehead with oil. This was it. He was giving my father the last sacrament – the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.

Yes, my father was going to die.

The priest put the eucharistic bread in his mouth. I saw him start chewing it with difficulty, and I saw him stop. His jaws stopped like something that was paused. His eyes suddenly went blank, and his legs gave a resigned shudder. He was dead.

I didn’t know what to do. It felt like the world itself had suddenly stopped. It was at that point that I realized that it wasn’t just the priest who was on that bedside. My mum, my older siblings and my uncle were there too. A few other close relatives were at the door.

Some had started screaming. Some wailed on the floor. I saw a man pull off his shoes and sit on the floor, a pained look on his face.

I saw my brother reach out, and slide my father’s eyes shut. I expected him to suddenly open them, and tell us that he was just joking, that he was just playing. But he didn’t.

I didn’t cry. My siblings and mum didn’t either. In my mum’s face, I could see resignation. It was as if crying was the last thing on her mind. Perhaps this was because she had cried enough. We had all cried enough all through the years he was sick and we cared for him.

There were days we would see my mum with a puffy face and eyes pure scarlet; she was obviously crying, but we never talked about it. We all had moments when we were so overwhelmed by his illness that we just cried. So now, the tears weren’t forthcoming.

Only a few hours ago, the house had been merry, with the carols my sister was singing in her horrible voice, the Christmas trees my brother had set up, and the talk of the food. The harmattan air had been so cold and dry, so pleasant on the skin.

But at that moment, while other families celebrated Christmas, taboo words could be heard in my own house. Words like ‘ambulance, embalming, coffin, burial, condolence, and death’.
The air suddenly felt hostile. I could hear relatives in the next house (they obviously weren’t aware that someone had just died, yet) and their laughter sent pangs of anguish down my veins. What could be so funny, when my father lies here, dead?

It’s been seven years since that day, but I can’t remember which memory gets me more emotional – the innocent look on my little brother’s face when he asked, “Why are people crying?” or the sight of my father’s lifeless body being put in an ambulance.

My motivation to join YaLa

sylvie

— By Sylvie from Cameroon

October 2016,

Lawyers dressed in robes marched the streets of Buea, the capital of the South West region of Cameroon, demanding an end to a gradual eradication of the common-law system by the civil law, an end to French-speaking magistrates being placed to preside over cases presented by English-speaking lawyers, and an end to marginalization of the English-speaking regions in Cameroon. This was met with violence, beatings, and imprisonment of most of these lawyers.

Like a trigger, the teachers were next calling for a sit-down strike; no schools and no classes until the government put an end to French-speaking teachers being recruited in masses to teach kids who only spoke English, an end to the closing down of Anglo-Saxon education structures, and a demand for better working conditions.

As the teachers and lawyers held their ground and needed the government to meet their demands, trade unions and political parties joined in demanding for a complete shutdown of the markets, banks, offices, and a return to a two-state federation of equal status between the English-speaking part of Cameroon and the French-speaking part, as was agreed during the unification.

This led to mass protests of teachers, lawyers, trade unions, political parties, and the entire population. As a response, the government sent in its military to intimidate protesters and maintain control with whatever means possible. Spraying of itchy water cans, mass arrests, and mass shootings characterised the months that followed in Southern Cameroon.

Sylvie4

With the YaLa project coming up, I decided to join to learn how I could help my people make their voices heard. With knowledge gained, I made a video teaching them how to use Twitter and hashtags to tell their stories. In a matter of hours, my video had above 45,000 views and the entire Southern Cameroon youth became citizen journalists. I called them twitter warriors and with pictures and hashtags, we told our stories to the world. This was eventually picked up by Aljazeera, CNN, and then BBC.

Fast forward a couple of months, the excess use of this medium led the government to shut down internet services in the entire region and we could no longer receive live streams about how the government was killing and imprisoning its own people who, after 50 years of marginalization, finally decided to demand equality in a country that they are meant to call home.

Activists were arrested, teachers were arrested, youth were arrested, and it was left to Southern Cameroonians in the diaspora to keep on pushing the Twitter warfare for their people back home who had no access to the internet.

Here we are, 10 months into the Southern Cameroon struggle, the issues are still there, pressure from international bodies led the government to restore the internet and now all young Southern Cameroonians are citizen journalists and they know how to use Twitter and hashtags and make their voices heard to bring justice and peace to their region.

Thank you, YaLa Academy; You didn’t only inspire me to make that video but you helped the millions who now know the power of Twitter for citizen journalists.

Press and Freedom of Speech in Eritrea

teclit photo (1)

— By Teclit form Eritrea

A tiny country in the horn of Africa, Eritrea is mostly known for their human rights violations, lack of freedom of speech, press, and dictatorship. Eritrea borders Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti and the Red Sea.

Press: In 1996, the temporary government of Eritrea announced a new law of press. Two years later, in 1998, private newspapers started to be published, and people started to follow and read them. Many critical articles were published, educators started to use these articles, and many youngsters, like students from the University of Asmara, started to work on these sites.

On September 18th 2001, the government announced that they would close private newspapers for the security of the country. Owners and writers started to be detained and kidnapped and we still don’t know where they are.

Not only them; even ministers, generals, military commanders, students, and religious people were detained when they demanded change and democracy.
I will always remember the journalists that sacrificed their lives for freedom of speech and press: Dawit Isaac, Amanuel Asrat, Fissehaye Joshua, Dawit, Temesgen, Matiwos, Mahmud, Sium Tsehaye…and many other unknown journalists are in prison.

Freedom of speech: In Eritrea, freedom of speech is not accepted. People can’t criticise events, things, or officials, and if heard, they are known as guilty in Eritrea. If you listen to a radio programme from abroad, you could be sentenced by security. At events, you are not allowed to speak unless you are in support of the government officials. Critics are not liked by the leaders. Many innocent people, like Asmara University students, are detained for more than 10 years. Some of them have escaped, while others have lost their lives in detention centers.

We Have the Say!

Cecil (1)

— By Cecil from Kenya

The 2007-2008 post-election violence that Kenya experienced was all due to ignorance, ignorance of the fact that we were, as citizens, just but pawns in the politicians’ game of chess. They manipulated our feelings, incited our animosity and fanned the flames of hatred that were drawn along ethnic lines.
In Kenya, there are around 43 tribes. What richness in diversity! However, with time, this diversity has morphed into negative tribalism where each tribe seeks to have the larger piece of the national cake.

In 2007, during our national elections, there was the resounding hope that the government would leave power. I remember that our entire extended family had camped at our house for three days as we awaited the results that we hoped would favor the opposition. Funnily enough, with the surety that those we supported would win, we bought a music system ready to welcome the results with celebration. When the results were contrary to our expectations, we were entirely gob-smacked. We felt like we needed to do something, but what?

As people went out on the streets to contest the results, an undesired president was sworn-in in the dark of the night as a ploy to ensure that the citizens would have to accept the outcome. Indeed it was justified that we as citizens, the people with the say, were angry and rather disappointed that in a ‘democratic’ nation, our views were still swept under the carpet in such a condescending manner. It was as if the elections were just a formality with a predetermined winner. It was as if we were automatons ordered to execute whatever our ‘owners’ instructed. However, the line was crossed when politicians who felt duped used their supporters to perpetrate crimes that bordered, or even were, crimes of madness.

Some politicians, from their podiums, were and are still heard echoing statements such as, “Use machetes on those who are against us”. Such statements fueled cruelties that range from the murder of over 50 unarmed Kikuyu women and children, some as young as a month old, by locking them in a church and burning them alive in Kiambaa village near Eldoret, to the cold blooded shooting of civilians who were protesting in the slums of Nairobi. Tribalism continued to peel off its mask and reveal itself in its rawest form when women were raped and their husbands killed in the Rift Valley regions, when looters broke into stores and made away with whatever valuables they found in deserted cities, and when the displacement of people occurred all throughout the country.

Schools were closed, workplaces shut-down, and most other Kenyans, including myself, were locked in their homes, in fear of stepping out to an embroiled and volatile environment. Life was indeed brought to a standstill! However, if we, as Kenyans, knew our worth, and realized that we could express ourselves in other ways apart from violence, we would not have caused the death, displacement, and heartbreak of many. We should realize that politicians could potentially use us as tools, but the line should be drawn when they want to use us as tools for evil.

The anticipation surrounding this year’s election is palpable. It seems to be a two horse race between, Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta, who are the children of the founding fathers of the nation. Their rivalry dates back to when their fathers, Jomo Kenyatta and Oginga Odinga, had differences on how power would be shared right after independence in 1963. Thereafter, Jomo became president and Oginga the leader of opposition. Seeing that the two were from the different Dholuo and Agikuyu communities, the ‘vendetta’ seems to have transcended generations and is at full swing once again this year. The unease in the air can be felt by all, as each of these and other language groups prepare to take their place on the political table, and if possible, snatch the highest seat. There is also the fear that what happened in 2007 will happen again. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission promises a free and fair election with the incorporation of digital voting, which we really do want. However, this time, if rigging occurs once again, we shouldn’t be used by politicians to accomplish their own self-centered desires, but in a spirit love, we should draw together as a nation and speak up for what we believe in….WITHOUT VIOLENCE.