An official website of the United States government

Being a Principled Leader? That’s Child’s Play
November 25, 2019

Maimouna teaching children at AfroKids
Maimouna teaching children at AfroKids

As a teenager in Dakar, Maimouna regularly babysat for friends and family.

She noticed that the majority of kids in her community weren’t exposed to Senegal’s rich history.

“They knew much more about countries overseas than they did about their own,” she says.

Maimouna, a 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow and founder of the children’s recreation center AfroKids, is committed to educating the state’s primary-school students about the multiplicity of African culture.

“I didn’t notice as a babysitter the impact I was having on children with the games I played,” she says.

In her current work organizing dance, painting and cooking classes, among others, Maimouna is priming children across Dakar to be better-informed, better-educated leaders.

“We need to build a strong generation that is proud of their identity and culture,” Maimouna says.

Photo from a storytelling workshop in 2018
Photo from a storytelling workshop in 2018

“And it’s through storytelling that we can model good behavior: how to live with your neighbors, how to be proud of your country.”

For Maimouna, breaking with the past starts early, and equipping children with powerful stories is key to ushering in a new order.

Though the arts are often undervalued, especially in the local educational system, Maimouna sees potential in creative play to bring to light social issues and set the stage for lasting social change.

“Art is always downgraded in the curriculum,” Maimouna says. “But when children start telling their parents about the culture and about the stories they’ve heard, it resonates with parents.”

“Through true playing, you can teach a lot to children,” Maimouna says. “When you have children who are recovering from surgery, those who have a playroom recover faster.”

As Maimouna explains, hers is a communal society and it’s up to young leaders to be similarly responsible for their peers.

“In my neighborhood, if something happens to one house, people just go around and help.

“We’re closely knit, we’re supportive.”

Maimouna’s insistence on personal responsibility comes through in her work and is central, as she insists, to be an informed community member and keep those in power accountable.

For Maimouna, an inspiring leader is just that: a person “implicated in her community’s issues.”

“If we want to build a world without violence, we need to think about the next generation and make them better.”

Interested in Maimouna’s work? Visit our YALIProfessionals page for more tools and resources to advance your career. 

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the Network or the U.S. government.