In 1956, revolutionary leader and poet Agostinho Neto—Angola’s first president—wrote a poem from prison entitled “Havemos de Voltar,” or “We Shall Return,” presenting an inspiring call to action for Angolans to reclaim their political, economic, and cultural independence from Portugal. In the poem, Neto describes his home country as “White with cotton / Green with maize fields,” full of its own “traditions,” “rhythms and bonfires,” and envisions a “liberated Angola,” noting: “To our beautiful Angolan homeland…We shall return.” While Neto’s dream of a unified, peaceful Angola was upended by a 27-year long civil war before the country finally achieved independence in 1975, Neto’s words still resonate as powerful reminders of the tenacity and resilience of Angola’s people.
Today, Angola is recovering from the political and economic legacy of its past, and has more hope for a peaceful future than ever before. Members of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Network have been a vital part of this rebirth and are helping Angola to thrive. That’s why we’re excited to name Angola the YALI Network #CountryoftheWeek! Keep reading for three inspiring stories from this week’s featured members.
In 2016, inspiring YALI Network member Hamilton Alberto co-founded YALI Learns Angola, a program that works to engage youth populations through various programs and events in communities throughout Angola with support from the U.S. Embassy.
“YALI Learns Angola brings together young people from communities, schools, and universities, and gives them the tools they need to learn more and to participate in community action,” explains Hamilton. “The program hosts workshops, trainings and organized boot camps on various topics, including education, leadership, entrepreneurship, human rights, and climate change to inspire the next generation of young African leaders.”
Since YALI Learns Angola began, more than 6,500 young people across 5 provinces have participated in activities and events.
Educating populations on pressing issues
YALI Network member Maria Rosa Segunda is another co-founder of YALI Learns Angola. As the Provincial Coordinator for the program, she helps to educate youth populations about the most pressing issues facing her country, including HIV/AIDS prevention, sexuality, women’s rights, and the importance of education.
Despite having little prior public speaking experience, Maria says she was inspired by the YALI Network to speak up about the topics that matter most to her. She has now given seven lectures for YALI Learns Angola at various universities and secondary schools. “In May 2017, I spoke for the first time in public to more than 300 people at Instituto Superior Politécnico-Huambo on the theme ‘How to Develop My Skills.’ The young people were very interested, and we talked about the YALI Network’s objectives and the Mandela Washington Fellowship Program,” says Maria. “I always dreamed of being a great speaker, but I was too scared to face the audience. I saw this as a great opportunity.”
Maria and other YALI Network members in Huambo have also collaborated to form the YALI Club, which meets every month to discuss topics such as climate change, entrepreneurship, and professional development. “The YALI Network was my lifeline,” Maria says.
Staring and managing charitable non-profits
In 2013, YALI Network member Wilson Miala co-founded Jovens Unidos para Actividades Sociais (United Youth for Social Activities), a non-profit organization that helps to feed orphaned children and provide them material items they can’t afford. During the Christmas season, the organization hosts a special event to benefit children without homes. “Everybody is welcome on this day, and anyone can donate clothes or toys so that we can give gifts to the children,” says Wilson. “We make a big, festive meal to give the children a beautiful Christmas filled with music, people, dance, and games. Everybody enjoys themselves and the children have a happy day.”