The YaLa Miracle

Nobantu Modise — By Nobantu from South Africa

From November 2nd to November 5th 2017, 70 participants and alumni from the Aileen Getty School of Citizen Journalism travelled to Jordan together to partake in a weekend of learning, dialogue, and fun. This is Nobantu’s experience: 

There was a wise king who lived a millennia ago and was revered the world over. Among his treasured written works was a particularly poignant reflection on life, in which he said that there is a time and a season for everything under the sun. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to reap a harvest.

I will be the first to admit that I have been fairly spoiled as far as my time for experiencing the miraculous is concerned. I was born in political exile to a family of anti-apartheid activists, thereby inheriting a very rich and unique legacy. A miracle of its own. I grew up in a democratising South Africa, making strides to forgive and reconcile, as opposed to degenerating into the brutal civil war the world anticipated. A total miracle. I had the great fortune of going to brilliant schools and accessing opportunities which my toasted caramel skin would never have accessed pre-1994. Miraculous. Nelson Mandela was my President…epic!

As it would be,  November 2- 5 was my time to experience an unforgettable miracle which stretched beyond my republic into the arms of a borderless, loving family known as YaLa Young Leaders. Under a banner of progressive thinking, what the world would most likely deem an “unlikely set of fellows” converged into a well facilitated series of exchange and…well…fun! 70 bright young minds came from Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Kurdistan, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, to Amman, Jordan for Yala’s Alumni Citizen Journalism Conference. The program and set of lecturers were especially arranged to refine our skills in journalism, public speaking, writing and peace activism. More than anything, I wish we had an extra week, at the very least, to explore varying contentious issues related to peace building and peace activism, because it is a vast and delicate set of topics that cannot be rushed, whether approached from a Middle Eastern or African perspective.

Reflecting on my time in the Spring 2017 cohort, as well as in my time at this conference, I highly appreciate that YaLa has restructured, coloured, and animated a poorly cast image of a very special region. All I was exposed to before was the calculated assertions of academia and the impersonal generalizations of mainstream media. Now I have had the honour of being exposed to sets of narratives that few have done justice to. Having met my peers and counterparts, I see no difference between us. Whether South African or Middle Eastern, we have our set of introverts and extroverts. We are dancers, philosophers, mathematicians, business people, and the hilarious one or two who just shaved off 10 years from their biological age. *Wink* But ultimately, we are just people. People willing to care. People willing to do. People willing to navigate our way through landmines of trauma, religious sensitivities, and…well…you have to apply for the programme to find out the rest.

As fulfilling as it is to simply bask in the beauty of this miracle known as YaLa, and its network of astute young leaders, I cannot help but ask, “What are the odds?”

What are the odds that I would jet off from the southern-most tip of Africa to see young Israelis and Palestinians learning together, being vulnerable with each other…then bonding over Bamba? What are the odds that this unlikely collection of nationalities would be excitedly buzzing around a resort, simulating news rooms and generating content dissecting critical topics? What are the odds that from societies stubbornly set on continuing divisive tugs of war that there is a resilient, like-minded set of young people stirring a current to initiate change? What are the odds that most of us arrived not knowing a single soul but left a changed person? I expected to learn, but what are the odds that I would meet so many kindred spirits? What, indeed, are the odds?

Having grown up in the miracle of a democratising state has not, in any way, made me immune to recognising and cherishing a special miracle when I see one. More than anything, I see more clearly a time where my heart swells to replicate the miraculous. I see a time where a change-maker is no longer a lone wolf, howling into unforgiving winds, but part of a bold, eager pack – rabid to redefine what should be deemed acceptable. I see a time when inspiration and action are colliding to re-shape the world that we live in.

More than anything I see a season to exclaim: “Yalla…let’s go!”

 

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Overweight Botswana: How food security can determine a healthier nation

Mmabatho— By Mmabatho from Botswana

“Nooo man, you’re gaining weight.” -African Proverb

Thanks to global integration of human politicking, it has become taboo to speak on one’s weight or body image (well…at least it is frowned upon).

However, Botswana’s President Ian Khama disgruntled a few social media users in his last State of the Nation address, sharing that the 31% of the nation’s  population is overweight. Though notably, the government has a national nutrition strategy aimed at reducing malnutrition and diet related conditions such as obesity and being overweight, the percentage is a sharp increase from the previous year. In 2016, it was documented that 20,11% of the nation’s population is overweight, showing a sharp rise in an overweight population in Botswana.

While one can take the knee jerk reaction of subscribing over eating to an overweight population, many factor including mental health are contributors to being overweight. However the largest factor is access to nutritional food.

Studies have shown a relation between food insecurity and diet related health conditions. It has been hypothesized that lower income households are more dependent on high energy, inexpensive and highly palatable foods. There is a further to a cyclical relationship of having enough food at the beginning/ direct end of the month followed by food scarcity from mid-month towards month end. This is a determinant of access to nutritious foods which are typically set at higher prices based on demand and supply.

Environmentally speaking, Botswana has become a host to increased droughts and rainfall variability due to climate change. Low agricultural productivity and competitiveness in the country is a growing culture due to poor availability and access to markets and a lack of cohesive irrigational farming.

According to 2016 SADC report on food security and poverty eradication, Botswana’s history of insufficient and unsustainable financing and investment in agriculture by the private and public sector has led to constrained growth in agricultural GDP, fueling food insecurity and poverty.

While FAO has estimated a total of 1 million living in the country as food insecure, the country is facing a slow pace journey towards food security. While Botswana currently imports most of its food from South Africa (P595.5 million in as of February 2017), FAO suggests that the situation on food security is expected to improve between now and 2018.

Additionally, Minister of Finance and Economic Development proposed for the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security be allocated the fifth largest budget of P983.81 million, which is aimed at majoring projects towards improving food security. This can lead to better implementation of mitigation strategies that need to be rolled out to ensure our nation’s people as food secure.

While an overweight population does not directly determine Botswana’s state of food security, one cannot help but notice the relativity between 1 million of the populous being food insecure and of that fraction, those that are subjective to diet related illnesses. If the state of the nation’s dietary health is of national concern, implementing mitigation strategies to ensure food security is an easy top of the to-do list for the government.

The Revolution of Flowers

21175954_1498788570209917_871295268_n— By Harvey from Malawi

How much do you know about Malawi as a country? Probably very little. Experience everything about the country through Harvey’s eyes, a local who is traveling across the country, reporting for YaLa Africa Press. You just might like it!

Welcome to the booming Malawian flower industry. And as it happens, my newest biggest obsession. I mean, who on earth doesn’t like a flower? Flowers are pretty and by far the only thing in the world that best expresses all things good and beautiful.

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Area 14 suburbs, Lilongwe

As the country is experiencing rapid infrastructural development, project implementers are not holding back in making sure their new projects are completed with a nice natural finishing touch. Not only that, people’s personal priorities are shifting too, as most of them are looking to make their immediate surroundings look as fabulous as possible without having to spend a fortune doing it. Flowers are just the thing. This has resulted in an increase in demand for various assorted flowers – and the suppliers are responding.

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Flowers at a shop

Personally, I consider the flower industry in Malawi quite revolutionary, as it is a representation of people’s shifting attitudes, perceptions, needs, and wants. For a country that lacks good infrastructure and urban recreational parks/centres, flower shops are changing how different spots within the city premises look, and giving city walkers something pleasant to look at. For other countries, this might not be that big of a deal, but in a third-world country where people are used to seeing unpleasant sightings such as pollutants and poorly disposed garbage along public roads and within the city, flowers here are what can be considered as one of the few success stories to come out in recent times.

One of the people I bought flowers from this week, James, points out that the industry is quite self-sustaining. A person starts as an employee at someone’s flower shop, learns the ins and outs of the trade, and the next and final stage sees them setting up their own shop at a place of their choosing. Though there might be some competition, the flower industry keeps thriving because as a business it is less resource intensive. Places to set up shops are in abundance (usually along any city road), water for irrigation occurs naturally, and the owners use their own labour to mitigate operating costs.

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A new flower shop along the road

Accounting the monetary rewards as well as the aesthetic value flowers are giving out to the city, it becomes obvious that this new upcoming industry deserves all the support it can get. A little flowery advice: with the rainy season about to begin, this is the best time to plant some flowers!

Roads in Malawi

21175954_1498788570209917_871295268_n — By Harvey from Malawi

How much do you know about Malawi as a country? Probably very little. Experience everything about the country through Harvey’s eyes, a local who is traveling across the country, reporting for YaLa Africa Press. You just might like it!

There are very few things in this life that gets my blood pressure boiling. Non-does that more than the road networks in Malawi. For anyone thinking of visiting or even driving on Malawian roads in the near future, this piece is definitely for you. After traveling and driving on Malawian roads for close to three years, here is what I know:

— The general rule is that all motorists drive on the left side of the road section, but don’t be surprised when you see someone drive comfortably on the right-hand side, especially after last year’s massive rainy season. Many roads have chronic potholes, forcing everyone to drive as they please to ensure their vehicles don’t get injured.

— Most roads have no pedestrian sidewalk. A cautionary statement: if you see a pedestrian walking, or cyclist in the same road section as cars, do not be alarmed. Personally, I do not blame them – like the rest of the motorists, they too do pay taxes and deserve to be treated with a proper road experience.

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Devil Street, Lilongwe, Malawi

— Most minor road offenses can be remedied by cash. These include driving without a valid driver’s license, driving of a vehicle without proper documentation, driving vehicles that are not road-worthy, etc. (Disclaimer: don’t blame me if it doesn’t work for you). This is business as usual, cash for the permission of passage, especially with minibus drivers. So, if you are traveling long distances, prepare yourself to persevere multiple sessions of cop-driver diplomacy along the stretch. It’s not all that bad though, one gets to experience the true characters of men and themselves under these intense conditions.

— If you happen to own a car and reside in the ghetto like I do, expect to wash your vehicles hourly, as most low-middle class residential areas have super dusty road networks. This is not a good thing though, as it is perpetuating the wastage of clean water resources, which if I may add is already in short supply.

— Of course, keep a look out for goats, cows, dogs, chickens, and other earthly creatures on the road as you drive through the M1 road in smaller districts. They have a tendency to show up when you are least expecting them.

When the African Sun Goes Down

— By Charles from Togo

This project was completed as part of a special course on electricity in partnership with the Enel Foundation.

The sun is often already present at eight o’clock, and sometimes even earlier in almost all the towns and villages of Togo. The sun is energy, energy that allows every living being to move, work, and produce results. Can life continue after sunset?

Many parts of the cities of Togo and Africa are not electrified. These localities have primary schools, colleges, and sometimes high schools. For programs that require electricity, students in these environments are exempted. When evening comes and they have to learn, these students study mostly by streetlights installed along certain streets for those who are lucky to have one close. For those who do not, the exercises are treated, the revisions are done, and the exams are prepared with oil lamps or lanterns. This is not without consequences on their results. Today, there is a decline in the level of schooling in rural communities.

What about people living in areas without electrification? The night begins earlier and lasts longer. Part of the long night, which usually begins at 7 pm, could have been used to prolong the activities of the day and thus contribute to the economic development of the localities, the country, and even the continent. Moreover, the populations would be more flourishing with the diversity of entertainment activities. The lack of electricity is a brake on development not only at the local level, but also at the national and even the continental level.

“When there is a power cut, we stop production,” says a Togolese company official who produces organic chocolate. The problem of load-shedding affects most professionals: dressmakers, hairdressers, computer scientists, and companies. The peak period is from December to March. The energy used in Togo comes from hydroelectricity, but Togo imports the energy of its neighbors, Benin and Ghana. With demand being greater than supply, especially in the dry season, when heat is at its height (December to March), the load-shedding becomes untimely, leading to a drop in production and thus in income.

Fortunately, the affected people are looking for solutions. Many have turned to alternative sources, namely the generator, and some to renewable energies such as the start-up Solar Africano. Solar Africano offers a solar kit to the inhabitants of villages at a very affordable cost and its payment is spread over three years. The government has also embarked on a solar-based rural electrification project.

When the African sun sets, indeed everything stops. But with the technology and power of sunlight for up to 10 hours a day, more energy can be provided to raise the level of study in rural areas, development of economic activities, both in towns at the time of shedding and in non-electrified villages. We can make the African sun shine after it disappears from the horizon to make the smile last longer.

Redressing the Electricity Distribution Inequality in Uganda

Sam — By Sam from Uganda

This project was completed as part of a special course on electricity in partnership with the Enel Foundation.
Eight year old Irene Mirembe Rose is a Primary Three Pupil at Mother Manjeri Primary in Kampala, Uganda. Her mother, Sandra Namisango, wakes her up at 5:40 AM to prepare for her school. She takes a warm bath from a water heater, brushes her teeth, and dresses up to have her breakfast, which is quickly prepared on gas. Her school bus picks her up at 6:00AM. By 7:00AM, Irene is at her desk starting the day’s lesson, which lasts until 8:00AM, when the class closes for a thirty minute tea break. They resume from 8:30AM to 10:30AM, and then have another 30 minute’s break. Class resumes at 11:00AM, and stretches until 1:00PM, for a one hour lunch break.
The Afternoon Class begins at 2:00PM and ends at 4:00PM. Irene then spends thirty minutes revising and getting coached by her teachers before she is given homework. She is then given 30 minutes to play with her friends, and at 5:00PM, she boards the school bus for a thirty minute’s ride back home. By 6:00PM, Irene is done with her homework and is tuned in to her favorite TV Channel, Nickelodeon, watching Thundermans. At 7:30PM, she takes a warm shower, eats her dinner, says a prayer, and she is in bed by 8:00PM. Irene’s school is consistently ranked amongst the top 5 schools in Uganda for the past five years, and by 12 years, she will be through with her primary education with an assurance of excellence and a bright future.
Fifteen year old Rachel Namubali is a Primary six pupil at Namukubembe Primary School in Kantenga Village, in the rural District of Luuka in Eastern Uganda. Rachel wakes up at 6:30AM when the sun is starting to rise and heads to the garden to help out her mother with farm work. She comes back home at 7:30AM to clean up and prepare foodstuffs that she will eat while at school, because her school does not provide meals. Rachel’s class normally starts at 9:30AM, because her teachers have to first attend to their gardens too. Rachel’s school program depends on the attendance of the Teachers, but majority of them are inconsistent at school.
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Rachel gets back home at 5:00PM, and she has to go to the bush to look for firewood that her family will use for cooking, since it is a feminine role in her society. She is also supposed to collect water from the borehole that her family will use for the night and in the morning after digging. Rachel is expected prepare dinner which should be served by 7:00PM, before darkness sets in. By 7:30PM, Rachel’s household is in bed because the small kerosene lamp cannot provide them with light for a long time. Luuka District has consistently ranked amongst the worst ten performing districts in the Primary Leaving Exams, and should Rachel fail to pass, her family will either marry her off or send her to the city to work as a house maid.
Rachel’s household is among the 78% of the Ugandan population who live in rural areas. By 2014, only 4.4% of the rural households had access to electricity on the national grid and majority of them were relying on wood fuel and kerosene. Uganda’s biggest challenge has been lack of finances to extend the grid to rural areas, yet that is where the majority of the population lives.
Uganda currently has 850 Megawatts of installed capacity, of which approximately 645 MW is hydro and 101.5 MW is thermal generating capacity. The government is building more hydropower facilities like the 600 MW Karuma hydro and the 183 MW Isimba Falls hydro project, but less than 20% of the Population are on the grid. Uganda has one of the lowest electricity consumption rates in the world, and it was estimated to be at 8OKWh per capita in 2012.
Agriculture employs 69% of Uganda’s population and about 90% of the agriculture is done in rural areas. Lack of electricity in rural areas has greatly affected the farmers and as a result, the contribution of agriculture to Uganda’s GDP stands at just 26%, despite being the biggest employer. Many rural families waste a lot of productive time collecting firewood for cooking, their rural labor force ends up being semi-illiterate because they cannot progress far in education, many financial institutions that would have rendered credit to the farmers don’t want to set up in areas that don’t have electricity, and the biggest percentage of Uganda’s population has ended up being poor, thus Uganda’s position in the Low Income Nations.
Uganda needs to reverse the current electricity distribution pattern, which entitles electricity to only a few urban dwellers at the expense of the majority in the rural areas. Access to electricity will facilitate rural productivity and improves household welfare, which would lead to accelerated economic growth in Uganda.

The Spirit of Volunteerism in Malawi

Lena — By Lena from Malawi

It was a sunny Wednesday morning and I set out with my colleagues to visit some volunteers who are placed to work on a project called Support for the most Marginalised Children Education. This project is implemented by Centre for Youth Empowerment and Education (CYECE) in a rural area called Siya-Siya in Salima.  Having a clue of what these volunteers have been up to in this community, thus encouraging the most marginalised children to get back to school, it never occurred to me that these youth’s passion in helping others has grown so much that they were not only understanding this community better, but also proposing solutions that are sustainable. This made me realise how much youths would like to give to their communities, even though they might lack the platform and resources to do so.

Working for an agency called International Service that manages a Youth Volunteer Programme called International Citizen Service, funded by the UK Government, the programme engages youths between the ages of 18 and 35 from the UK and Malawi to volunteer in development projects. The Programme is aimed at developing the skills of the youth, regardless of their qualification or expertise, mentor youths to become active global citizens, but also expose them to unfamiliar culture and how they can manage in this cross-cultural setting.

The number of Malawian youths that apply to take part in this programme is so overwhelming that I for one felt most apply because jobs are scarce.  The youth and women  unemployment rate in Malawi is estimated at 27% according to http://malawi.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/resource-pdf/Malawi%20Demographic%20Dividend%20Report%202016.pdf. While this is the case, among the estimated 17.2 million population (2016 PRB fact sheet) of Malawi, 40% of the total population are youth under the age of 15. This means that if the youth age of 10-35 as provided for in the Malawi youth Policy 2013 is taken into consideration, youths in Malawi make over 50% of the population.

However, to the contrary, getting to Siya-Siya that morning, we were welcomed by the enthusiastic 12 youth Volunteers, 6 Malawians, and 6 Britons. Exposed to unfamiliar environment, one would expect them to complain about the environment they are living in, but they enjoyed being in this environment and took it as an opportunity to learn from the community but also identify issue affecting children’s education then propose solutions to these issues. Talking to each one of them, it was established that they at first took it as an opportunity to get away from home and fill the gap of idling at home, but to their surprise it has been a fruitful as they have had the chance to live a life in the rural communities which has changed their world view. For the Malawian volunteers who were not sure what volunteerism entails, said they would do it again as they will be satisfied that their contribution is helping someone who really needs the help.

Some of the activities these youths are involved in is identifying children that are not going to school, persuade them to go back to school and establish the reasons why they never went to school or dropped out. From what these volunteers established, despite primary school being free in Malawi, children have been sent back from school for not having a school uniform, having to walk very long distances just to access a school facility, some schools only having junior classes which meant if one is transitioning into a senior class, he or she must change schools. Some dropped due to bullying while other due to child labour and early marriages.