My YALI Experience


— 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.

Addiction to Activism


— By James from Malawi

He switched gears and immediately accelerated the motorcycle into high speed. This became problematic as he failed to see the sharp bended and twisted road towards Nkhokwe maize mill. His motorcycle soon crushed him into the water channel and he immediately lost consciousness. The terrible sound of the crush attracted the villagers who flocked to the scene. Even though it occurred during the middle of the night, they improvised for a stretcher and took him to the nearest hospital.

James was the name of the driver who was in the motorcycle accident. He was on his way from the end of the year party of the Namitembo mission trade school in 2012. Despite being late and not invited to the party organized by Namitembo trade school, his popularity within the school led him to the high table. He was sitting with the chief priest of Namitembo Catholic parish and the coordinator of the school. He quickly took glasses of various wine and alcoholic beverages without a pause as a way of reaching the same level as his other colleagues. Beer kept flowing to the high table and the VIP at the table were drunk. James began mixing beer and shouted to friends that he would come up with a unique mix drink that would be sweeter and filled with even more flavor. Some waiters tried to caution him but he ridiculed them. He relocated himself to the corner where the beer fridges were, so that he would not wait to have his beer refilled. Totally drunk and confused he came out of the urinal room where he was smoking cannabis, and asked the security guard the whereabouts of his girlfriend ‘Alena’. The guard suspected she joined the company of anonymous guys in the blue Mercedes Benz classic that had just left the place. He got angry and promised to track, fight them and take back his queen. The guard and some of his friends tried to convince him not to leave the party and wait for the mission duty vehicle to deliver him home as he was extremely intoxicated, but he denounced all the advices, jumped on his Honda XL125 motorcycle and raced to the high way. Just three kilometers away from Namitembo he experienced illusions and lost control. After two days in coma at Nkansala hospital, he gained consciousness and realized that his body was bloused. He screamed ‘How, why and when did this happen?” He was hysterical.

The nurse calmed him and he started narrating what he recalled from his tragedy. He explained how he found himself at the party after being called by the driver of Namitembo Parish up to how he received the good gesture of the high priest in the party to join them in the high table. He managed to recall the conversation he made with the guard and friends, from that point it was as if there was blackout and the camera went completely off, so that he could not remember what happened to him, or who took him to the hospital. He put all the blames to himself by being an addict. He narrated his previous life to the nurse as if he was confessing to God. She comforted him that he would recover and gain back his disfigured appearance. In a comforting way, she told him that he had a crotchet ligament tear of the left knee, he would not die but he would have permanent unstable knee, since the ligaments do not re-grow. James had a flash back on how he joined the company of drunk work mates, really had the picture how Joni and Alex lost the job due to absenteeism. He saw how Blez was killed on the road accident after being run over by a heavy vehicle while drunk and Zondi was paralyzed after falling from 10 meters high on the railway bridge on way home from the bar.

James recovered after his accident and he is now an advocate for peace and behavior change, he used his own experience as an instrument in counseling the youth on drug and substance abuse addiction and sexual and reproductive health.

James during his recovery


The Houses Down the Hill


— By Mcdonald from Malawi

Malawi is one of the countries in Africa which experiences disasters every year. Floods and draughts are great enemies to the country with interrupted developmental goals every year. In 2015 only, 146 people went missing and other discovered dead after heavy floods hit many districts across the country. Parts of the country known to be more vulnerable to disasters are those in lower shire in the South and some districts in Northern parts of Malawi due to their geographical position. But in 2015, an unusual phenomenon happened; some other districts that were not known to be disaster prone areas were also hit by fatal floods.

Among those new declared areas of disasters were Blantyre –where I live- and other districts in the Eastern region of the country. Blantyre is a commercial city of Malawi. Most of its topography is mountainous which makes it strange to be affected by floods.

Last year it was not floods on flat land that killed people but rocks, trees and other objects carried down from hills by running water. It was houses built on hills, along river banks and on foot of hills brought down and swept away by speedy water and rocks. In response to that catastrophic time, both national and international organisations, governments, individual and other groups pumped in millions in form of disaster relief support to affected communities.

A big question remains: Instead of splashing relief items to the so called ‘disaster victims’, shouldn’t these assistance bodies deal with what is actually causing these human made disasters?

This is 2016 and Malawi has already experienced disasters with the very first rains in some parts of the country. On November 17th  I had a chance to tour Bangwe community in Blantyre, where issues of deforestation is a major challenge despite some few nongovernmental organisations striving to promote reforestation in the area.

One of them is called Sustainable Rural Growth and Development Initiative (SRGDI). This organisation is working with members of Bangwe Community to address issues affecting the community as a result of deforestation. The community is comprised of two villages; Mwamadi and Wisiki. The villages are at the base of Bangwe Mountain that has lost its natural vegetation and beauty due to human activities. I think that the mountain is now retaliating by posing disasters on communities with floods, strong winds and waterborne diseases outbreaks.

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