My YALI Experience

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— By Lena from Malawi

It was late afternoon on 3rd May 2016. Lilongwe was not as cold as it would be around this season. Being a Tuesday there wasn’t much work related pressure as most of the work was done on Monday. As usual, emails kept trickling into the inbox but this particular one caught my attention; “CONGRATULATION! YOU HAVE BEEN SELECTED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE YALI REGIONAL LEADERSHIP CENTER” was the title. Opening the email for more details, a deep content and proud smile that couldn’t go unnoticed was all over my face. The heading was self-explanatory, I finally got into YALI! I remembered having tried to get in the previous cohort but did not make it. However the motto “I will keep trying” helped me succeed.

The next day was colder, I envisaged South Africa being very cold this time around, but shoving the thought aside, I started imagining how fascinating this experience will be. I will finally meet 134 other young African Leaders from the SADC region. The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) was launched by President of the United States Barack Obama to invest in grooming strong, results-oriented leaders through bringing them together to learn from one another and network into fruitful collaborations that will assist their societies out of poverty, which will then replicate to an Africa that is poverty free.

Days passed by so quickly, it was already Sunday May 14th, the departure date. A few hours later I was in South Africa. The YALI banner was positioned, a tall, white medium sized lady was standing next to it. “Welcome to YALI Southern Africa” she said as she smiled and continued with a roll call. It turned out everyone she was expecting was there. Situated in Midrand SA was a 4 star hotel called Premier. A medium sized dark lean guy was waiting at the door, “Welcome to Premier hotel” he said, while signaling to a room where everyone was expected to register. As envisioned I thought it was sure going to be a roller-coaster ride.

The orientation room was packed; it seemed that almost everyone had arrived. Orientation took almost 2 hours. I noticed some air of highly achieved leaders and also some scent of competition. Self-introductions were coupled with selling oneself, the positions they held, boards they sat in, impact they have made in the community, their political positions and all the success that one could adorn themselves with. It was evident from the courage and the composure in the speech that these people were sure leaders in their domains.

It was Monday already; class day. The day was coupled with speeches and introductions and motivational talks. The day ended with a welcome Cocktail party where all were decorated in their African attire. They beauty of Africa was manifested in the people and their appearance. It was a day to remember.

The week continued with crosscutting issue i.e. Gender, HIV & Aids, and Leadership. In this week I went away with this phrase “think big, start small and act now”. This phrase motivated me and I ended up collaborating with a fellow fundraiser on a joint proposal. I also learnt that, only when I understand where one is coming from and what they have gone through, I can fully understand why they act in the way they do. For instance, I have always thought Nelson Mandela was a great leader but I was shocked to learn that South Africans think otherwise. From the reasons they gave I agreed with them that to some extent the media has really created a brand that most of us outside South Africa have found flawless.

Going into the second week to fourth week we had to disband into our respective Track choices. I chose Civic leadership track along with 44 participants. I learnt a lot of things and through sharing of experiences I gained more of it. It felt like I had been to all countries in the SADC region. I got to know different techniques of communication and fundraising, which I knew in theory, but since the program encouraged practicing I got to practice in groups. In fact, assignments started the first day; we were expected to make a group presentation for the day after. Too much work too little time was the order of the day. The intensity of the program meant teams work together almost all the time which made it easy to know each other in no time. This style of working also made me realize that big groups can be hard to manage, there were dominant characters who usually suppressed the ideas of the introverts.

In no time fourth week was here and it was graduation. I came out inspired, challenged and ready to bring out the best of my game. I was awarded a Certificate in Civic Leadership. An association called Youth Development in SADC (YODESA) which is currently in its last phase of registration but currently operational in all countries. Representatives were selected from each country with an executive committee taking lead. All in all it was very sad to see the new friends I had just made go back to their respective homes as I was coming back to Malawi.

My Lesotho

lealimo

— By Lealimo from Lesotho

Lesotho is a very mountainous country, blessed with rivers, waterfalls and valleys. Lesotho depends on water and animals, its our biggest economy.

I recently came back from my father’s home village, one of the remotest and very rural places in my country called Thaba-Tseka. It is about 8 hours’ drive from the capital city and then 2 hours ridding on a horse to get to the village since it’s inaccessible by car.
Before technology and everything else that comes with it, before “stilettos and make-up” and the current lifestyle, there’s culture and family, where I grew up and came from.

The pictures below portray a good story of where I come from. They represent culture and family. These young girls draw water from this spring each day for domestic purposes and the young boy herd sheep riding a horse. They are my cousins. They do all this chores after school, which is an indication that education is important to them. I am not an exception as I went through the same route. This woman is our grandmother and she prepares dinner for everyone while they also offer assistance to her.

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My great grand parents and I grew up in this village and under the same circumstances. The roundavels you see is the original plan of Basotho houses in rural villages made of mud. In the capital city the same house is built in a modernised way and its part of Lesotho’s emblem. The very same culture and family lifestyle moulded me to be a proud Mosotho woman who knows where she comes from.

Here are other picture from rural Lesotho, my Lesotho:

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Somali Heroes

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— By Adan from Somalia

Here is Somalia; a country located in the horn of Africa which experienced many years of political turmoil, corruption, and instability. These photos below are statues of some respected persons who were responsible the freedom of our country. I was told that, originally, there were human shape pictures (especially the Hawa Taka statue), but they got erased because of time and lack of repairing. Today only the buildings remain.

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This monument represents the Somali Youth League. It was a league of thirteen young men and women including poets, intellectuals and other elites, who fought against the colonization with words and written poems. They negotiated with the colonial leaders by telling them that it’s indispensable to let Somalia be an independent country. Simply if you ask any Somali guy “who led Somalis to their independence?” He/she will always answer: the Somali youth league

 

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This blue statue is for a great and brave woman called Hawa Taka. She was killed by colonial armies while she was fihting them.

 

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This statue is for Sayid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan. he has been fighting against the British colonial power fo more than twenty years. He was a mullah and poet. After many times that he defeated the enemy, he was eventually defeated himself, and died of malaria. What a loss!

Because of the struggle of these people, we got our independence on July 1st 1960, but the country had re-destroyed in 1991, when Mohamed Siyad was overthrown by armed groups. Starting from 1991 till today we live in insecurity.

Private owned cars can’t pass near these statutes. It was a bit risky to take these pictures that’s why they’re not perfect.  A picture you took while you are looking on your sides can’t be a fit, and the reason is that, these statues are near to presidential palace and the security forces are so in attention because of fear from opposition attacks.

Our former braves did great, but still we don’t live the life they wanted us to be in.

The Most Misunderstood Part of my Community

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— By James from Kenya

I am a Kenyan citizen with a keen interest in my country’s cultures. I come from the Kuria community which is found in both Nyanza province of Kenya and Mara province of Tanzania, thus falling within two countries. The Kuria community has many cultural practices; some commonly shared among African communities but some are uniquely Kurian.

For instance the way we give names to our children is quite unique. Our community has 6 distinct names reserved for first born. There are three names for the first born sons and three for the first born daughters. These six names happen to be our most common names. These names are Chacha, Marwa and Mwita for sons, and Boke, Gati and Robi for daughters. To this end you may think that anyone bearing any of these names is a first born. Hell no! The Kurians also have the practice of naming after their relatives. For instance I am called Marwa, an obviously first born name; which I am not. Actually I am named after my grandpa. My surname is Mwita because my father is my grandpa’s first born son.

Among the Kurians, it is also a normal thing for names to cross the gender boundary meaning you can find a boy bearing a traditionally female name such as Boke, Gati or Robi. Equally a girl may bear a traditionally male name such as Chacha, Marwa or Mwita. My younger brother is named after my grandma. Still following, Good so nominally, since I am named after my grandpa and my brother is named after my grandma; my brother is my wife! Yes. I know. It gave us a great deal of embarrassment during our childhood for older women would always refer to us using our grandparents’ relationship—husband and wife. Sorry I digressed. Back to our six names!

Due to our naming practices, the six names easily dominate other names. And as I move around the region, I always encounter a very curious question whenever I introduce myself to people: “Why is it that every Kurian name I know is either Chacha, Marwa or Mwita?” Should I be answering this question with the history of our naming practices? No! I always tell the askers that they should learn about the Kurian culture.
I tend to think that our naming practice is the most misunderstood part of my community—easily the most misunderstood until you encounter the Nyumba Ntobu.

PS: The Kuria community has thousands and thousands of other names 😉

Pawa 254 – Where Nairobi activism and art meet

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— By Millicent from Kenya

There is nowhere interesting like a place that brings out the giant in you. Pawa 254 is this place for me. A place that most Kenyans associate with human rights, activism, poetry and art. This is the office to one of Kenya’s renowned activist Boniface Mwangi. He is always on the forefront to fight oppression and through this place he has opened space for creative aspiring minds. This magnificent place shares the same road with where our president’s office is.

The main office which occupies the second floor is a work of art. The seats and the interior décor are creatively designed to give a warm welcome to visitors and work as a motivation to the people who work there daily. The office management has also invested in a nice conference facility. The rooms are vibrant and colorful and help spice up the meetings that are held there.

Pawa 254 is my favorite place but more specifically its rooftop has my heart. The rooftop is indeed a piece of artwork; graffiti on the walls will welcome you while, on the stairs before, the amazing view of Nairobi city steals your attention. On one of the walls, the graffiti is usually a picture of great people. The day I paid the rooftop a visit, the graffiti on the wall was for Mohamed Ali the great boxer.

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I felt that I was indeed connected to greatness and that I could do anything including flying from the rooftop. It felt good taking a picture next to it as how else would I document this moment? There is a small fish pond at a corner of the rooftop with a few fish in it. At the center of this pond, there is a fountain that supplies water to the fish. Looking at it while feeding the fish gives the feel of renewed strength. Sitting on this rooftop and marveling at the artwork is a great way to refresh one’s mind.

The view of Nairobi city is the highlight of this great place. Moving closer to one of the corners next to where Ali’s graffiti is, you perfectly see the city landscape. The architecture of the city buildings is clearly visible from this point with one being able to distinguish the tall ones from the short ones. The city skyline is also visible and beautiful from this point. Sunrise and sunsets are perfectly experienced from this place creating a perfect moment. Social environment in this place is so friendly that it is impossible to distinguish a visitor from the people who work here on a daily basis. People are ever happy and bubbly. On one corner you will see people cracking jokes and laughing hysterically while in another corner others will be discussing art and appreciating it.

Pawa 254 has a special place in my heart. I may not visit this place as often as I would like to but it is etched in my heart. It is my recommendation to anyone visiting Nairobi to pay the place a visit. It is open to everyone and without a doubt it is a second home.

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Reunited with Family after War

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— By Clare from Uganda

We are having breakfast at home, in Mpondwe, at the border of Uganda and Congo. The environment is so quiet, and all we can hear is our conversation and the sound of the birds in the trees surrounding our home. It is 1996 and I am only three years old; my elder brother Ronald is five and the younger one Kenneth, only one year old. Our parents are at school in Kampala, which is 346km from home. We are under the care of the house help, Betty and a cousin Janet, who are 20 and 17 years old.

At the time, there is an insurgence in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is said that the Allied Defense Force (ADF) rebels are planning an attack on the government of Uganda. Our home, being at the border of the two countries, is a potential target for the rebels.

As we enjoy our breakfast, Betty is telling us stories of how the rebels raid places. She is a refugee from DRC, who settled in Uganda. She tells us about how rebels attacked her home in Beni, in Eastern DRC and burnt their house to ashes. Her story is cut short, as we hear a loud bang in the back yard.

Within no time, unknown people surround our home. Some are dressed in leaves and others in rugs. Around their necks, they carry guns and other machines. Betty has been through this kind of situation before, so, she shouts; “Nibarebo!” meaning “They are rebels!” I am so scared to the teeth that I pee in my pants. Janet and her carry us to the house and tell us to hide under the bed in the master bedroom. As soon as we get there, the rebels start firing gunshots to our end. Some of the bullets land at our feet, but we cannot move an inch. A few minutes into the firing, Betty orders us to move to the next bedroom. The gunfire is intense outside the house, but the rule is no crying nor getting hungry.

It goes on for hours, but we just hang in there. Janet tells us to pray; but we tell her that the rebels will hear us. She insists that rebels are against God’s will, so they will not hear us when we pray. We start reciting the rosary. Within no time, darkness has fallen. We cannot sleep, but the light rays striking through the window indicate that it is a new day. Phewww! Thank God we are alive.

The goats are bleating and making big stamps, as if being released from their shed. Betty and Janet peep through the window and watch them being taken away. “One of them has a knife; he is slaughtering the fattest of them all.” Janet whispers to us. “Oh yes, that is the one which recently gave birth to twins!” Betty reacts. “Are they going to give us some meat?” my elder brother Ronald asks. We are very hungry, and Kenneth cannot hold it any longer. He crawls out of the bedroom. We try to pull him back, but he insists and returns with a dish of left over rice from the store next door. That is like finding water in the middle of a desert. We all take a bite and get some energy to keep us going. But while we eat, one of the rebels outside shouts “I think they are still alive!” We then hear a loud bang on the roof, this time it is louder than before. The next bedroom is on fire. There is so much smoke and we are all chocking. The place gets quiet again. We are wondering; “Should we move out of the house and surrender to these beasts?” “No we cannot!”

The wait is too long, we are anxious, so we decide to move out. The roads are filled with burnt tires, bullets and ash. We begin to trek, but where are we going anyway? We are not even sure whether it is safe to even walk around. As we walk through the empty streets, we find an old man seated by the roadside.
“My children, where are you going?” He says to us.
“We do not know where to go, but one thing for sure is, we want to go where other people are” says Betty to the man.

“I do not have the strength to walk, like you young people do. Because if I do, I will die, so I have decided to sit here and wait for the rebels to shoot me dead. But since you are young and energetic, please go to Kasese town. That is where everyone ran to when the rebels came. When you get there, pray for me also, as I pray for you my children” He said.

He hugs us and off we go. At that time, all I feel is joy and renewed strength. Kasese is about 55 kilometers away. We start our journey, as Betty narrates to us stories. She says you can never realize how long your journey is, if you converse. It is quite a peaceful journey until we reach the Queen Elizabeth National Park. Here, darkness begins to fall, and we wonder how we are going to walk through this danger zone filled with wild animals. As we wait in the dark for another morning to come, we notice a car approaching us from a distance.

It is our parish Priest Fr Augustine Kithendere. He asks us to enter his truck and says to us “I was with your father today; he is very weak because he thinks the worst happened to you. Oh thank you Jesus for keeping these angels safely.” Fr Augustine then takes us to the church in Kasese town, and we are reunited with dad. Dad has lost so much weight, but the joy of reuniting with his children surpasses everything. He cannot believe that he is seeing us again. To date, dad says it was because of patience that we survived.

I Was Simply Getting Ready for the Day…

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— By Adebisi from Nigeria

Some days seem hotter than others; especially in April when the morning sun is in a haste to beautifully display its radiance and cast its heated smile on everyone. That was the case that Monday morning. Until a big bang altered the day’s DNA. It knocked me out of the bed and woke me to a shaky building, the walls vibrating and the roof gnashed their teeth until its sound hit a crescendo.

I rushed briskly to the window, wondering at my own safety, but everywhere was calm the very second the blast ended. I overheard someone says it was a rock blast at a quarry site nearby, so I moved ahead with my day like nothing significant had happened. Hurrying to fix breakfast and get set for the day, I was barely done with any particular chore when my phone rang. “Hello, hope you are fine? I’m just checking up on you”. That was the voice of a very old friend. Then the phone rang again and it was my mother. Why is she calling again this morning after we already spoke last night? Then it was my dad calling; “We heard there was a bomb blast this morning, just checking on you”. He hung up. It was at that moment I realized the whole neighborhood was rowdy with everyone rushing to the scene of the bomb blast.

It was Monday the 14th of April 2014. A bomb had blasted in Nyanya, a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria and it was obviously the handwork of the dreaded terrorist group, Boko Haram. Looking up to the sky towards the direction of the scene (a few miles from my residence) was a gigantic cloud of smoke rising slowly into the heavens. Minutes later, images of hundreds of dead bodies, all burnt and blasted to death made headlines social media. Headless bodies mingled with shredded human parts. An arm lying atop a car, limbs across the culvert, a woman holding tight to her baby (both dead anyway), busted bellies, broken brains and a few survivors still shivering in an almost lifeless state. Then an unborn baby busted out of a pregnant woman alive, with the umbilical cord wrapped around the baby’s neck, lying in a pool of blood left everyone awestruck.

About thirteen luxury busses, then some smaller busses, countless private cars got caught in the blast. It was the worst attack ever, yet it happened so close to me. But that Monday morning had a lot more in store. As victims were rushed in their hundreds to hospitals and pharmacies, the telephone lines jammed as a result of the thousands of calls emanating from that direction. Over the news, the incident was reported mildly “A bomb blasted in Nyanya, killing about thirty people. Boko Haram has taken responsibility for it. Also over two hundred girls were reportedly abducted from a boarding school in Chibok; a small village in Borno state of Nigeria”.
The president came on air to condemn the act and consoled the family of victims while promising to take care of the survivors’ medical bills. Just as days went by, and the events were about to be swept under the carpet, a global movement began.

Everyone, demanded the President to “Bring Back Our Girls” and that was it; the birth of a new movement that continuously sat-out in public places and daily requested the speedy return of the Chibok girls. Then as this movement began gaining momentum, the news reported that no girls were abducted in Chibok on that morning and that this movement was politically driven, and aimed at destabilizing the government. That sounded believable and just as I was about to believe it, the news reported that seven of the abducted girls had been rescued by the military. Then I heard that a search party from the United States of America had arrived Nigeria to comb the Sambisa forest (a forest that lies along the Nigeria and Niger republic border) and rescue the Chibok girls. Then I heard silence, and again a series of rumors every once in a while about the rescue of some more Chibok girls.

The government through our local media agencies had at some point lied about the total reclaim of territories controlled by the terrorist group. The truth is only made known through international media agencies since the Nigerian government cannot influence nor have their report edited by the State Security Service (S.S.S) as they do with the seemingly largest television network in Africa before broadcast. What this implies is that the larger population is fed with lies and only those that can afford the high rate of subscribing to cable networks monthly have a chance of hearing the truth as it happens.