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.

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.

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.

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!