A few months ago we were asked to participate as a host organization for the Young African Leaders Initiative for the summer. Intrigued, we agreed to host two fellows for four days in July. We had no idea we would be meeting some of the most passionate, dedicated, hilarious people we’ve ever met.
President Obama began the Young African Leaders Initiative’s Mandela Washington Fellowship in 2010 “to support young African leaders as they spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Africa.”
The Fellowship “brings 1,000 dynamic young African leaders, ages 25-35, from across the continent to the United States for 6 weeks of leadership training and mentoring at 20 U.S. universities and colleges in three areas: business and entrepreneurship, civic engagement, and public administration.” Fellows not only take classes but are partnered with local organizations, governments, and non-profits for a “followship.”
Our amazing fellows, Alhasan and Steven, spent July visiting various Schools Fund partners to get a sense of the larger network within which we operate. From Berkeley Repertory Theatre to the BUILD program; from sitting in on a BSV volunteer orientation to meeting with the Public Service Center on Cal’s campus, they were able to witness meetings, observe work, and network with many organizations.
Reading their bios, one can get a small sense of the work Alhasan and Steven do day-to-day back home:
Alhasan Bah, from The Gambia, has been teaching for seven years and is the deputy head of Kolior Lower Basic School. Currently, he coordinates the Balal Public Library, where students are exposed to leadership skills, reading, activism, and learning through sports. He is a volunteer radio presenter at Soma FM 88.8, and hosts the ‘Civic Hour Show’ with politicians and local authorities. He is the public relations officer of the Lower River Region Youth Committee. He created a Facebook page for his town, Soma, Gambia, where current issues are discussed. He is also the president of The Association of Working Children and Youth of Soma, an organization that promotes children’s rights throughout Africa. Alhasan earned a certificate in Education at Gambia College. Upon completion of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, he plans to continue his work as a children’s rights, girls’ rights, and youth activist through education, sports, and the media.
Steven Harageib, from Namibia, has more than 10 years’ experience in the nonprofit sector and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work. His company, Forte Belton, hosts workshops and seminars, and provides ongoing one-to-one coaching for young leaders. He currently freelances on radio and television, addressing a range of youth issues and current affairs. He co-founded a nonprofit organization in 2004, providing holistic support for learners who cannot afford tertiary education. In addition to his work with LifeLine and ChildLine, he provides continuous psycho-social support to diverse vulnerable groups. He is keen to tackle gender-based violence, a major social ill in Namibia, by focusing on men, to encourage youth access to education as well as to address the leadership crisis in Africa. Since young people are the strategic avenue for changing narratives, he continuously invests in the development potential of the youth.
But these bios only scratch the surface of what we learned about Alhasan and Steven, their countries, and their cultures. During our visits, which included tours of the Rose Garden, lunch at La Mission, and even a few dinners in our backyards, we were lucky to share food and stories with these amazing young men and their friends. Here is an excerpt from a mini interview we did with them:
Schools Fund: What has been one thing that has surprised you about studying and living in Berkeley this summer?
Steven: I have been surprised by the similarities the U.S. shares with Namibia. In many ways, we are dealing with the same larger issues of inequality in education, racism, the divide between upper and lower classes, and housing costs driving out marginal communities.
But I have also been surprised that everyone has been so hospitable and warm. I expected everyone to be very cold, but it has been the opposite. Though I know Berkeley is a sort of bubble, so perhaps I can’t judge the rest of the U.S. on that!
Alhasan: I have also been surprised by the issues going on in the U.S. I knew about racism in America from watching documentaries, but seeing it in real life shows me that it’s worse than I thought. The homeless (population) is also really surprising. People back home will never believe me when I tell them people are living on the street in America.
The innovation in this part of the world is also incredible. How will I tell people back home about some of the things I’ve seen? I will sound insane.
Schools Fund: What is one thing you want Americans to know about your respective countries?
S: I want Americans to know about Namibia’s beauty and peacefulness as well as the opportunities available for investment within the country. We have a different narrative than much of Africa, which is important to recognize. Also, Namibia is very dedicated to environmental conservation and taking care of our natural resources.
A: I don’t think Americans know much about the tribal culture in The Gambia. We have twelve tribes, and there has been little to no conflict amongst them throughout history.
We do have a very bad political system in The Gambia, but outside of the government, it has a very low crime rate. In my lifetime, I have only known about 1 civilian killing another. The government might kill people or make them “disappear,” but people outside the political system are very safe.
Also, if you are an American, Gambians consider you to be a guru. We love tourists and have an active tourism office as well as an international festival to encourage visitors.
A: How to network and collaborate with partners. And also how to raise funds. I now know that if you involve people who give, entertain them a bit, then you can better get what you want. I also better understand how to manage the resources you do have.
S: Relationships are key. We need to build partnerships cross-sectionally, beyond my own space and into different sectors. We need to built systems that work, that are continually evaluated to make sure things are working, and then re-examined throughout its stages. I also see the value in providing a direct service, as the Schools Fund does for teachers.
It has truly been a joy to learn from Alhasan and Steven. We have learned about the global power of education, especially for young women. We have learned new words, traditions, cuisines, and ways of seeing the world. And we have learned how to face obstacles with humility, determination, and a fantastic sense of humor.
Thank you, Alhasan and Steven for joining us for the summer and becoming major parts of the Schools Fund family!