Country of the Week: Botswana

Botswana is one of the world’s most sparsely populated countries, home to just over 2 million people. But did you know that humans have lived there for more than 100,000 years? In Botswana’s famous Tsodilo Hills, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, more than 4,500 paintings, ancient rock art, and caves document an incredible history of human settlement.

In Botswana’s northwest region, lush landscapes and abundant wildlife draw locals and tourists to the Okavango Delta, a scenic oasis in the Kalahari Desert. In recent years, the country’s nature preserves and growing tourism sector, in addition to mining and cattle, have greatly contributed to its successful economy—now one of the fastest-growing in the world.

On the world stage, Botswana is renowned for its strong democratic tradition. Since gaining independence in 1966, the country has experienced more than four decades of uninterrupted civilian leadership and a consistent record of democratic elections.

This week, we’re celebrating all that makes Botswana special, including you and other members of the the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Network! Keep reading to meet three individuals who educate others and advance individual rights, and learn why Botswana is this week’s #CountryoftheWeek!

Education on the Environment

For active YALI Network member Rethabile Konopo, “recycling, reducing, and re-using is as easy as A.B.C.”

That’s the message she shared with children on Earth Day at Joyland Preschool in Gaborone. Her event, “Celebrating Earth Day with Kids,” aimed to educate local youth about the importance of keeping the environment healthy. “Learning is easier through fun-filled activities,” she explains, “and children can pass their knowledge to friends and family members.”

Rethabile Konopo demonstrates how planting trees can help the environment at Joyland Preschool.

Rethabile Konopo demonstrates how planting trees can help the environment at Joyland Preschool.

Rethabile believes that inspiring the next generation and encouraging climate activism are important for the future of Botswana—a country that could, in the coming years, see drastic change due to a shifting climate. And Earth Day, Rethabile notes, provides the perfect starting point to educate others and raise awareness: “It’s a great way to conserve, cut down on your household bills, and implement change and responsibility for your kids.”

In addition to being a champion for the environment, Rethabile uses her YALI experience to support women in business. She recently organized a networking session for thirty female entrepreneurs who gathered to share their experiences. The session, entitled “Celebrating Women Entrepreneurs,” covered such topics as “Creating Access to Decent Work for Africa” and “Bridging the Poverty Gap.” Now, the group has formed a network of women working towards the UN Sustainable Development Goal 8—sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth—and has given more women access to potential investors to grow their businesses.

Want to learn more about raising awareness and spurring action for the environment? Check out #YALIGoesGreen and YALI Online Courses such as Focus On: Climate Change to learn about all the steps you can take to help your community go green!

Advocating for People with Disabilities

Our next featured member, Betty Masego Rampana, comes from rural Mmathethe in Southeast Botswana. There, she’s collaborating with members of her church and community to empower and advocate for people with disabilities.

YALI Network member Betty Masego Rampana (right) welcomes attendees to Mmathethe’s Special Needs Day.

YALI Network member Betty Masego Rampana (right) welcomes attendees to Mmathethe’s Special Needs Day.

Betty has always had an interest in disability rights. After finishing a YALI Civic Leadership program through her Regional Leadership Center, she was inspired to take action. In July, she planned and organized a successful community day for people with special needs, in addition to a week-long campaign focused on educating her community about the challenges and concerns faced by people with disabilities. “The day’s main goal was to create opportunities for the hearing impaired, visually impaired, and those with special needs, and to ensure these individuals are treated equally,” explains Betty.

The event was a success, and gave rise to another exciting idea: to build a rehabilitation center in Mmathethe. “The Department of People with Disabilities asked my church to identify a plot of land where the Government of Botswana could construct a rehabilitation center,” says Betty. Thanks to her campaign, the government has agreed to fund the rehabilitation center, and community members are “anxious to see the center operational.”

Peer Education and Mentoring

The impressive range of YALI Network member Teko Kanasi’s work is an inspiring testament to her passion for her community in Ramotswa, Botswana.

Through her peer education and mentorship program, Teko visits schools to train and lead students in activities geared towards reducing common problems, such as teen pregnancy and alcohol abuse. She believes these trainings are both important and valuable for Botswana’s youth. Teko also mentors community health workers to facilitate services for orphans and vulnerable children, and she partners with local police and village development committees to run community-wide alcohol abuse awareness campaigns.

Teko Kanasi mentoring local youth and facilitating educational sessions on various topics, from alcohol abuse to effective parenting skills.

Teko Kanasi mentoring local youth and facilitating educational sessions on various topics, from alcohol abuse to effective parenting skills.

Currently, Teko is completing the YALI Network Online Course, Community Organizing for Action, which will help make even more of a positive impact in her community. Her educational program is now running in three schools, helping young people start their own businesses, reduce gender-based violence, and reduce alcohol abuse among teens. “My work has brought tremendous change to the community,” she says, “and the YALI Network has allowed me to meet other amazing members and see what a difference they’re making.”

If you’re interested in getting involved in your own community, like the YALI Network Facebook page, and access free online trainings, virtual events, and more by visiting the YALI Network website.

Country of the Week: Burkina Faso

This week is all about Burkina Faso, the YALI Network’s Country of the Week! Andrew R Young, the U.S. Ambassador in Burkina Faso has a special message for you this week:

It is a pleasure for me and my staff to acknowledge your achievement as Young Leaders and for the Burkina YALI Network to be featured this week.

As the world sets its eye on Burkina Faso, we have an opportunity: to demonstrate our civic engagement (#lecivismecestmoi) through which we support a stronger democracy and improved governance; we advance peace and security; and we promote equitable economic opportunity and social development.

As we also commemorate September 11 this week, it is crucial that we join forces in the fight against terrorism. Terrorism puts the brakes on development. It feeds on the despair of disenfranchised youth. But, in stark contrast, YALI networks show the true spirit of the continent, and YALI is a tool to raise awareness for African youth in general and Burkinabe in particular. Together we form an international network of young people with whom we share the same dreams and ambitions.

Throughout the year, you have dedicated your time and action to the wellbeing of your communities. You represent the conscious youth of this country #YALINETWORK. Everything you do counts, especially the work already achieved through your workshops, seminar accomplishments on Mandela Day, and all the other service days dedicated to YALI activities.

In Burkina Faso, the YALI network covers 23 of the 45 provinces, and with creativity and elbow grease, you will be able to reach all regions of Burkina Faso. The concept of YALI is to build bridges between young people from different African countries and from the rest of the world and between different generations, and we can be proud of the achievement so far in Burkina Faso.

The resilient Burkinabe spirit is just one reason we’ve chosen Burkina Faso as this week’s
#YALINetwork #CountryoftheWeek! Keep reading to learn how three members are improving Burkina Faso’s public health, inspiring civic engagement, and empowering women.

Empowering Women With Words Of Wisdom

Sylvie Tougouma has a way with words. Not only does she inspire young girls by sharing her experiences, she’s an encouraging mentor who empowers fellow women through poetry and performance.

After participating in the Mandela Washington Fellowship, Sylvie held an #Africa4Her workshop on entrepreneurship for women from the University of Ouagadougou. “I held a workshop about Understanding the Rights of Women and Girls,” she says, “along with two MWF fellows and other YALI Network members in collaboration with my church’s youth group.”

Sylvie Tougouma shares her experiences with girls from six different villages at the Let Girls Learn camp in Manga, Centre-Sud Region of #CountryoftheWeek Burkina Faso.

Sylvie Tougouma shares her experiences with girls from six different villages at the Let Girls Learn camp in Manga, Centre-Sud Region of #CountryoftheWeek Burkina Faso.

Sylvie has used her leadership skills and YALI trainings to encourage women’s’ participation in local politics, and has organized 35 training sessions for more than 500 men and women in two years, including for members of Burkina Faso’s transitional parliament.

These trainings, Sylvie explains, were eye-opening: “I realized how many women are constrained by their lack of access to education and confidence in themselves,” she says. “Stereotypes given to women by society limit their confidence, [and causes] them to feel that they will not do well in politics or that there is no room in politics for them.”

Sylvie has also collaborated with two other women to found a poetry performance group called Su Noong Koesse, which translates to “strengthening your talents with joyful words.” She’s now incorporated the group into the Peace Corps’ Let Girls Learn program, where she helps young girls “realize their dreams” through poetry reading and performance.

Says Sylvie, “The poetry group strengthens students’ public speaking skills through poetry performance, reading, and storytelling, and gives them a way to convey powerful messages to their audience. I was encouraged to see how creative they were when placed in an environment that enables them to reach their potential.”

And Sylvie’s impact doesn’t stop there. Since her return to Burkina Faso, Sylvie has mentored five other women who have also gone on to become Mandela Washington Fellows.

Serving Others

As an active member of the Burkina Faso Medical Students Association, YALI Network member Ismael Rachid Boro has organized numerous campaigns to raise awareness about HIV, Hepatitis B, cervical cancer, and cardiovascular health in his hometown, Ouagadougou. In 2017, he says, the Association collected 100 cartons of medicine and redistributed them to the local hospital for underserved populations.

Now, he’s using the #YALINetwork to protect other vulnerable populations, too.

Ismael Rachid Boro (bottom row, left) after leading a training about protecting human rights.

Ismael Rachid Boro (bottom row, left) after leading a training about protecting human rights.

To celebrate Mandela Day, Ismael Rachid organized a #YALIServes event in which participants learned about strategies for protecting human rights. “Over the course of the day,” he says, “we talked about human rights, their characteristics, and their importance.”

Ismael Rachid has also set the ambitious goal of completing all of the YALI Network Online courses, in addition to the seven he’s already taken. “These courses allow[ed] me to learn a lot,” says Ismael Rachid. “I can better organize and better serve my community. My desire to see change prompted me to organize activities for my community.”

Engaging The Next Generation

For YALI Network member Ibrahima Yaro, civic engagement matters. After completing five YALI Network Online Courses focused on civic leadership and business, he hosted three successful #YALILearns events to share his passion for the democratic process and to explain the importance of civic engagement to local community members.

Ibrahima Yaro (bottom row, fourth from the left) with members of the Youth Democratic Organization of Burkina Faso following a #YALILearns event.

Ibrahima Yaro (bottom row, fourth from the left) with members of the Youth Democratic Organization of Burkina Faso following a #YALILearns event.

At his most recent #YALILearns event, Ibrahima gathered more than 1,000 people in Sourou Province’s Lanfiera village, including members of the Youth Democratic Organisation of Burkina Faso—a national youth organization he leads. “We discussed democracy in Burkina Faso and talked about [how important it is] for community members to get involved in the country’s democratic process,” he says. “We showed them how they can control the actions of the local government.”

Now, he says, “people in Lanfiera are better organized and they have regular meetings with local community leaders to discuss issues they face in their community.”

Applying to be a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow: 9 Application Tips

Are you thinking of applying to the 2018 Mandela Washington Fellowship? The application season is fast approaching, so begin to prepare now! The YALI Network Team interviewed 2017 Mandela Washington Fellows and asked them to share their advice on putting together a successful application.

  1. Advocate for Yourself. When you are timid or shy, you don’t fully explain what you have accomplished through your activities. You are not demonstrating who you really are and how you’re a leader in your community or within your organization. Your written application needs to be able to stand out in a large pool of applicants.
  2. Reach Out. Don’t wait for someone to come to you and give you advice — take initiative and seek it. There are many Mandela Washington Fellows looking to help prospective applicants. Look up past Fellows and find their contact information, send them an email, or drop them a Facebook message and introduce yourself.
  3. Visit When filling in their application, current Fellows found the online blog posts and FAQ page very helpful.
  4. Take Your Time. Start early and familiarize yourself with the application questions. Do not rush your application or try to complete it at the last minute.
  5. Be Specific and Truthful. Narrow down your focus. It’s great that you’re interested in a lot of different projects, but make sure to emphasize your expertise on a certain topic. Know your projects, know your passion. Don’t pretend to be interested in something you’re not.
  6. Be Resourceful. If internet access is scarce or expensive, find a place to print out the application forms and fill out the answers directly on the form. This also gives you a chance to reflect on and refine your responses. Once you have finalized your answers, go back online and fill in the application based on what you already wrote.
  7. Ask For Help. Find someone (or a couple of people) to review your application and provide feedback, especially if English is not your native language.
  8. Take a Chance! If you’re reading this list, you’re already a step ahead! You’re here because you want to better your community — believe in yourself and what you can do, and apply!
  9. Stay Cautiously Optimistic. Applying for the Fellowship doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it. (Last year there were more than 64,000 applicants!) Having realistic expectations can help you articulate your goals and what you would hope to achieve through the Fellowship. Keep in mind that there are a lot of other opportunities open to you under the YALI program aside from the Fellowship — like the Regional Leadership Centers and YALI Network courses and resources.

Country of the Week: Liberia

A month from now, on October 10, Liberians will head to the polls to begin to elect a new president, who will be sworn in in January 2018. When this inauguration takes place, it will mark the first time in 70 years that a living, democratically elected president will pass power to another. As the peaceful transfer of power draws nearer, each Liberian has been asking him or herself how to ensure a peaceful electoral process. The 14 years of devastating civil war remain fresh in many people’s memories despite the fact that now as many years of peace have passed as there were of war.

Liberia’s population is incredibly diverse. Sixteen ethnic groups comprise about 95 percent of the country’s population. This multiethnic, multicultural demographic weaves together the distinct tapestry of Liberia’s rich history and culture that was officially born 170 years ago this year on July 26 when freed American slaves established Africa’s first republic in present-day Liberia.

Thanks to the work of people such as the members of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Network, Liberia continues to rebuild its economy while investing in its education and health care systems. The nation has also made great democratic strides, including the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf—Liberia’s current president and Africa’s first-ever elected female head of state.

The positive contributions by YALI Network members are an important part of Liberia’s development towards peace and prosperity, and we are proud to feature their work while Liberia is the YALI Network #CountryoftheWeek!

Keep reading to see how three incredible #YALINetwork members are working to end poverty, encourage civic engagement, and save lives throughout Liberia.

Working to End Poverty

Local community members meet with leaders of the Gbor Clan Farming Union and Rural Early Learning Program.

Local community members meet with leaders of the Gbor Clan Farming Union and Rural Early Learning Program.

In 2010, Brocks Pokai was visiting Liberia’s rural Grand Bassa County. While there, he witnessed some of the country’s most pressing social issues: lack of access to adequate health care, extreme poverty, and insufficient childhood education.

“I watched a woman give birth to a baby in a wheelbarrow about a one-hour walk from her nearest health facility,” says Brocks. “Local children weren’t attending school, and farmers were living in extremely poor conditions. I wanted to help change that.”

That’s when Brocks came up with the idea for Growing Liberia Democracy, or GOLD, a rural development program designed to improve the economic and social wellbeing of rural citizens in Liberia. By identifying and measuring the various challenges facing rural farmers, as well as encouraging civic engagement, GOLD aims to address the underlying causes of social inequality, increase small farm holders’ incomes, and eradicate extreme poverty.

Brock’s programs are already making a measurable impact. So far, GOLD’s Help Farmers Fight Poverty and Child Abuse project has organized over 50 local farmers into a farmer’s union. Based on traditional Gbor clan values, the Gbor Clan Farming Union works to empower farmers by offering training in organizational leadership and modern farming techniques. GOLD has also piloted the Rural Early Learning Program, which now provides education to over 50 children in Liberia’s Gbor District.

Encouraging Civic Engagement

Losene Talawally speaks to a group of young people in Voinjama City, Lofa County about the importance of civic engagement in advance of Liberia’s upcoming presidential election.

Losene Talawally speaks to a group of young people in Voinjama City, Lofa County about the importance of civic engagement in advance of Liberia’s upcoming presidential election.

A student at the University of Liberia, Losene Talawally says that the YALI Network has inspired him to succeed academically and has helped him recognize his passion for volunteerism: “Because of my work with YALI,” he says, “I want to motivate and inspire young people to achieve academic excellence and ensure that the next generation receives education…no matter their tribal or religious backgrounds.”

To do that, Losene hosts events focused on educating young people about the significance of elections and civic engagement. “It’s critical that young people understand the importance of choosing good leaders and participating in government,” he says. “I want to inform people about their responsibilities as citizens.”

With help from the YALI Network, Losene has the tools—and the support—to stay motivated to follow his career path, and to inspire others to do the same

Saving lives throughout Liberia

In the summer of 2014, Liberian YALI Network member Yassah Levalah had just finished participating in the Mandela Washington Fellowship program when she received an intriguing offer from the US government: stay in the US.

“At the time,” Yassah recalls, “Liberia was being ravaged by Ebola, a deadly and highly contagious disease for which there’s no cure. But as one of the only nurses from Liberia trained in treating the virus, I made the decision to go back and help. All major health facilities were shut down or overwhelmed, so I returned home to ensure that our local clinic remained open.”

As it turns out, Yassah’s incredible self-sacrifice would save hundreds of lives.

Yassah Levalah from #CountryoftheWeek Liberia demonstrates how to use protective equipment and other emergency tools in a midwifery training session.

Yassah Levalah from #CountryoftheWeek Liberia demonstrates how to use protective equipment and other emergency tools in a midwifery training session.

Yassah had originally applied to the YALI Mandela Washington Fellowship in order to pursue courses in entrepreneurship and to establish a community midwifery center to address Liberia’s high rate of infant mortality. But when she returned home to Liberia, she began working at the country’s only Ebola treatment unit and as a field supervisor for the Ministry of Health, while also operating her own community clinic. Additionally, she conducted several workshops and lectures on disease safety and prevention, helping to ensure that her community stayed Ebola-free.

And when the community’s clinic was on the verge of closing due to lack of supplies and protective equipment, her friends at Notre Dame University—where she had spent six weeks as a Mandela Washington Fellow—stepped up to provide critical support. Members of the Eck Institute for Global Health mobilized a university-wide fundraising campaign alongside Notre Dame’s Initiative for Global Development (NDIGD) and the Kellogg Institute’s Ford Family Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity, ultimately raising more than $26,000 for the clinic.

“We were in dire straits,” explains Yassah. “Then, news of my situation spread throughout the Notre Dame campus. The fundraising effort helped supporters purchase enough medical supplies to fill a 40-foot container, which was delivered to my clinic in Paynesville. These supplies saved hundreds of lives at my own clinic and helped us keep other smaller health facilities open.”

Today, the clinic is thriving: “We’ve trained more than 85 traditional midwives who are currently assigned in the community as infant and maternal health ambassadors, and they receive a regular supply of equipment from the clinic,” she says. “With support from the YALI Network, I have purchased land and have raised enough money to begin constructing a 25- bedroom clinic that will house Liberia’s first midwifery center with a focus on sexual reproductive health and preventing infant and maternal mortality.”

That’s not all—Yassah was also recently admitted to Harvard University’s Master’s Program in Global Health Delivery and Social Medicine. She credits the YALI Network, as well as the YALI Network Online Courses and #YALILearn events, for providing the valuable guidance and training required to advance her career and transform her community.

“As a result of my work with YALI, more people in my community are seeking health education and care regardless of financial barriers,” says Yassah. “We’ve been able to transition over 35 young girls back to school—many of whom had dropped out due to teenage pregnancy. And our community now has trained midwives available for emergencies who can also provide sexual and reproductive health education to the 80 percent of residents living below the poverty line.”

Want to get involved in your community? Like the YALI Network Facebook page, and access free online trainings, virtual events, and more by visiting the YALI Network website.

Tasimba Mhizha expands his knowledge and network through YALI Network Online Courses

Tasimba Mhizha got a tip and a link from a friend saying he should check out the YALI Network Online Courses. After reviewing the list of courses and taking a few that he deemed “relevant to him,” Mhizha says the courses “hooked him in.”

They were “bite-sized chunks but very comprehensive,” says the musician, bioentrepreneur and 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow from Zimbabwe.

Man speaking to group in room (Courtesy of Tasimba Mhizha)

Tasimba Mhizha hosts a #YALILearns event at his home. (Courtesy of Tasimba Mhizha)

Mhizha is passionate about sustainable energy innovations, public health, mentorship, philanthropy and music. And he is open to meeting new challenges and expanding his network, something he was able to do by sharing the YALI Network Online Courses.

A course on understanding human rights was one that Mhizha initially found “out of his scope,” but he felt he could still learn from it and make a difference. Later Mhizha organized a #YALILearns session and barbecue with some fellow musicians and taught the course. He screened the lessons, used the provided discussion guide, and used the #YALILearns toolkit on how to organize a program. “It came in handy. I just had to get the people together,” he says. “I also asked some of the other guys to help lead the discussion.” Using their mobile phones, attendees at his event then went online and took the quiz.

“I got excited that my small steps and small contribution could make a difference,” he says.

Mhizha says that the YALI Network Online Courses and resources allowed him to start networking with other YALI Network members in Zimbabwe and that he got to participate with others who had been working in those areas. “It became easier to host events and get together because of the collaborative energy from other peers,” he says.

Once Mhizha started taking the courses and posting about them on his social media pages, he says, he had people reaching out to him. “Someone might post a comment [to one of my posts], and I would go and see what they’re doing. People noticed what I was doing, and one action would trigger something else. I realized we can actually work together.”

“Every time I take a quiz, I post my certificate online and challenge others to take the course. I had one person who was skeptical but took a course and said it was really great. They then wanted more information about YALI.”

Mhizha says that the course Understanding the Rights of Women and Girls had the most impact on him. “These [unfair] things happen around us, but it’s easy to become desensitized, and things become normal.” This course and the other one on human rights helped him “realize he didn’t have to be an activist to make a difference,” he says.

Next up for Mhizha is business school, with the eventual aim of setting up a business in Harare. His long-term interests are in combining business, academics and long-term training.
He says he has a part to play to inspire others to dream and to draw them out. And he wants to help link others to the resources they need.

Tasimba Mhizha is on Twitter at @TasMhizha.

Country of the Week: Côte d'Ivoire

Did you know that Cote d’Ivoire is the world’s largest producer and exporter of cocoa beans? Cote d’Ivoire is also the fourth-largest exporter of goods in sub-Saharan Africa, following South Africa, Nigeria, and Angola.

The country’s long coastline and dynamic trading history contribute to its substantial economy, as well as its vibrant culture. Nearly two thirds of the population currently engage in agricultural work, which plays a key role in transporting goods to neighboring landlocked countries. Musical genres in Cote d’Ivoire can vary from talking drums—an instrument constructed to mimic the tone and prosody of human speech—to strong, vocal textures consisting of multiple melodic lines.

Cote d’Ivoire continues to prosper because of you, and other dedicated members of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Network. Your efforts are shaping peaceful and positive change, which is why we are excited to announce that Cote d’Ivoire is the YALI Network #CountryoftheWeek!

Keep reading for three inspiring stories from this week’s featured members.

Women’s Education and Training

Woman presenting in front of a class

Murielle attends a conference at the Institute of Women’s Education and TraininMurielle Aizan’s dream is to serve her community. // Cette photo à été prise le 9 mars 2017, lors d’une conférence que je dormais aux filles de l’Institut de formation et d’éducation féminine, mon but était de leur fais comprendre qu’elles étaient capables de beaucoup de choses.

As a leader in Cote d’Ivoire, she credits the YALI Network for providing accessible resources and helpful races. “The YALI Online Courses helped me understand that I am a woman with potential, who has rights, who has the determination and will to be a leader,” she explains.

In addition, Murielle hopes to empower young women who struggle with self confidence. “[I want] to help young women understand that they are capable of many things,” she says, discussing a conference she recently attended at the Institute of Women’s Education and Training. Most importantly, she wants to share her own resolve to be an effective female leader with girls in her community.

Murielle, a YALI Network member in Abidjan, said:
“I have not yet worked with the YALI network, but it is my dream to do so, simply because I like to serve my community, YALI courses have allowed me to understand that I am a woman with potential, with rights, who are leaders and that all I need is determination, self-will. This day I give it to the girls in my community. “

Elle a pris beaucoup des cours de YALI Network et a participé en #Africa4Her 2017.

Encouraging Entrepreneurship

Kinanwlély Roméo Koné is deeply invested in his country’s development, encouraging men and women to create and build small businesses.

YALI Network member, Kinanwlély, speaks about Cote d’Ivoire during a presentation at the RLC training.

YALI Network member, Kinanwlély, speaks about Cote d’Ivoire during a presentation at the RLC training.

His own experience working in the private sector, as well as studying entrepreneurship at the Network’s Regional Leadership Center (RLC) West Africa, taught him to believe in Cote d’Ivoire’s youth. “I learn[ed] that young people can participate in their [country’s] development by creating businesses,” Kinanwlély says. He notes that with proper mentorship, young businessmen and women can achieve their goals.

Kinanwlély often speaks about how young people can make Cote d’Ivoire a better place and how the YALI Network can help people learn through a practical curriculum and useful resources. “I had the opportunity to share my YALI experience(s) with … participants, encouraging them to apply to the program and to get [involved] … through online courses and activities,” he says about a recent event he attended in Abidjan. “[Many] opportunities [were] offered to me thanks to the YALI Network, and, in return, I always encourage friends and people to become YALI [Network] members themselves.”

Online Learning

Yao Williams visits the US Embassy of Cote d'Ivoire to take part in a Human Rights conference.

Yao Williams visits the US Embassy of Cote d’Ivoire to take part in a Human Rights conference.

Yao Williams Kouassi is passionate about sharing knowledge with other young leaders. He enjoys participating in YALI Network events where he can meet men and women with similar ambitions and interests.

Yao loves learning about human rights and gender based topics—two meaningful subjects featured in YALI Network Online Courses. “The [N]etwork permits [me] to read and watch videos about the issues I am interested in.” He and his peers share and discuss the courses and resources, while expanding their professional network. “It is a rich network in terms of knowledge acquisition.”

At a recent event, Yao and other members attended a workshop where they learned about their personal rights and connected with other young leaders. “It [was a] fabulous and awesome … day.”

Man teaching a group of students in classroomJacmen Kouakou has completed 11 YALI Network Online Courses covering topics from Focus On: Understanding Climate Change to Leadership: Strategies for Personal Growth and Development.

Jacmen focuses on sharing knowledge with his local community, and he has hosted several #YALILearns events. At his events, he brings awareness to issues like climate change, gathering nearly 50 young people to discuss the harmful consequences of a heavy ecological footprint. He also lead discussions about solutions, such as tree planting, which can mitigate the effects of climate change. “These events benefitted the participants, as they all engaged themselves for the betterment of the environment,” he notes.

During the first #YALIGoesGreen event, Jacmen hosted a group of people from his district as seen in the adjacent photo. “I [explained] the drawbacks on climate change and [gave] solutions to mitigate climate change effects.”

If you’re interested in getting involved in your own community, like the YALI Network Facebook page, and access free online trainings, virtual events, and more by visiting the YALI Network website.

YALI Voices: Why I love community service

Contributed by Mitiku Gabrehiwot, 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow, Ethiopia
Blind kids studying
One afternoon in 2006, I decided to walk home from school. As I was walking, a small group of kids playing traditional music in a poorly fenced compound captured my attention because of the condition of their play area. The next day, I went back to the school for a visit and have been visiting ever since. I feel blessed to have met those remarkable kids that day, who are now responsible adults!

Starting young

I believe that community service comes in different forms and shapes and is triggered in many ways — for me, it was seeing the children playing in the schoolyard. Some of us give our time, some give our hearts, and others give in kind. Some people learn to give; some learn to feel. Some do it at young age, some at old age, some do it all the time. Some provide when they have leftover, some contribute from what they have or have not; yet it’s not the amount of services or the depth of love one gives that counts, it’s the act by itself that matters the most. A true act of community service is humble, devoid of pride, and that is where the lesson begins. However, the best time to start community service is at an early age, because by starting early, you gain more return in social capital throughout your life.

At 14, I was a member of the Ethiopian Red Cross Society Gambella Branch, where I volunteered in schools, clinics and festivals as a first-aid provider. At age 16, I was able to help in dispatching food aid to flood victims and interact with refugees from South Sudan in the remote villages of Gambella, western Ethiopia. In university, I became addicted to volunteerism and community service — I found the more I gave services for free, the more I understood the needs of my community.

Learn, live and lead by example

I have learned that community service is not only admirable, but “addictive” as well. The more you serve your community, the more you want to do. The Mekele Blind School I was introduced to 11 years ago had 96 visually disadvantaged students, about 36 of them girls ranging from 6 to 17 years old. The kids were living in an “urban island” on the outskirts of Mekele city, northern Ethiopia. While they had food and shelter, they were deprived of love and human contact. The kids lived in the city, but were effectively cut off from city life. The blind kids love to touch, feel and understand through physical and mental experiences. Over the years, I helped them raise funds to construct a wall, build a library, develop a Braille literacy program and provide sanitary materials for the girls. I also raised awareness in the surrounding area about the school, which contributed to the betterment of others in the disadvantaged segment of my community. What is stuck in my heart and mind is the priceless friendship of the kids and people I met as a result of volunteering.

Ever since I was introduced to the children, I have continued to socialize with them. I am proud to say that some of the kids are now lawyers and teachers, and some are married. I believe community service is inborn and can only be nurtured through practice. We all have the best of humanity inside — if we are able to harness opportunities life presents us with, we can all learn to love serving our communities; and it starts now!

Mitiku Gabrehiwot is assistant professor of medical anthropology at Mekelle University Department of Anthropology. Currently, he lectures in courses on anthropology and related fields and is actively engaged in community service. As a Mandela Washington Fellow, he went to the University of Arkansas in 2014. Find more photos from Mitiku on the YALI Network Facebook page. If you have questions for him, he can be reached via Facebook or email at [email protected].

Country of the Week: Lesotho

Lesotho is the southernmost landlocked country in the world with a uniquely cool climate due to its high altitude and mountain terrain.

In recent years, Lesotho’s exports sector has transformed its economy; however, agriculture is still a valuable source of income for many Basotho, with nearly 50 percent of the population cultivating informal crops or raising livestock.

In addition to economic developments, investments in education continue to advance the nation, and Lesotho happily holds one of the highest literacy rates in Africa. As Lesotho continues to grow, you and other impressive members of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Network are shaping peaceful and positive change. Because of your dedication, Lesotho is the YALI Network #CountryoftheWeek!

Keep reading for three inspiring stories about breaking gender barriers, enhancing civic engagement, and leading community events throughout Lesotho.

Breaking gender barriers

In a male dominated industry, Relebohile Monethi boldly champions Lesotho’s agricultural market.

Relebohile rears broilers and grows peppers as a female farmer and the owner of Morali’a Monethi Farms — an uncommon profession for a young woman in Lesotho. “I am a firm believer that any person, both male and female, so long as they continue to have the desire to learn, can succeed in the agricultural industry,” she explains.Woman wearing bright jacket

Her positive demeanor and hopeful attitude is captured in an interview with The Post Newspaper in which she states that “[t]he most important step is to start, and the rest will fall into place along the way. Instead of procrastinating, wake up and do what you want to do.” While growing her abilities as a farmer, she also refined her entrepreneurial skills, for which she credits the YALI Network Online Courses as a tremendously helpful resource. “One should not be afraid to be a risk-taker or to stand alone from the crowd in order to make it in life.”

Relebohile’s farm requires constant dedication — a trait she extends into all her endeavors — as she encourages other young women to follow their dreams. “I hope and plan to work closely with the ministry of education in Lesotho to impart [my] knowledge, skills, and passions … to women and girls.” She believes that farming is not only economically viable for her country as a whole, but also a rewarding and achievable profession for individuals, especially women.

Enhancing civic engagement

Lieketseng uses two YALI Network Online Courses to train Butha-Buthe urban council youth.

Lieketseng uses two YALI Network Online Courses to train Butha-Buthe urban council youth.

Lieketseng Sakoane is a motivated woman living in #CountryoftheWeek Lesotho, who after completing the YALI Network Online Course Understanding Elections And Civic Responsibility became determined to engage her community in the election process.

As a snap election approached, Lieketseng found that the course content was “very relevant and necessary to … Lesotho youth and all other citizens.” She notes that the course helped her spread awareness about how the election process functions, as well as one’s civic responsibility.

In addition to her civic duties, Lieketseng also refined her public speaking skills by studying YALI Network resources and acting on her own initiative. As a result of her hard work, she says her presentations were marvelous, and she earned a promotion at work. She has even been able to build her business skills with the resources she accesses from the YALI Network, and she makes sure to share her knowledge with the youth in her community.

Leading community events

Pontso joins local farmers, cultivating relationships between suppliers and growers, while helping to harvest crops.

Pontso joins local farmers, cultivating relationships between suppliers and growers, while helping to harvest crops.

“I have realised how important it is to take cognisance of my surroundings and [the] people I live with; we are social beings and there is power in our unity,” says Pontso Tsoeunyane. “My dedication to my community has improved ever since I joined the YALI [N]etwork in 2015.”

Pontso currently lives in what she describes as a “vulnerable” village suffering from land erosion. “I have taken action as a leader to rehabilitate this land,” she states. “I’m currently working with the community, local authorities and the relevant ministries to control and reclaim this endangered land, while writing proposals to the relevant agencies for further support.”

As a local leader, Pontso believes that the “essence of inclusion,” especially in regards to young girls, is vital to creating future leaders who value and promote environmental and social rights. In addition, she works with over 30 projects across Lesotho, engaging diverse communities in ways to better society as a whole. “I volunteer with Youthworx on a self-enrichment camp for over 200 youth … [helping equip them] with life skills, self development[,] and outdoor experiences. I’m also part of the GCG community that offers support to orphanages through friendly visits, counselling, [and] food packages.”

If you’re interested in getting involved in your community, like the YALI Network Facebook page, and access free online trainings, virtual events, and more by visiting the YALI Network website.

Country of the Week: Mali

Mali’s capital city, Bamako, is one of the fastest-growing cities in Africa, and the country’s total population is expected to double by 2035.

The nation’s unique and culturally diverse history contributes to a dynamic population, and during this exciting period of expansion, Malians hold steadfast to shared goals of strengthening democracy and reducing poverty through economic growth.

Thanks to young, positive Malians like you, this sustained growth and progress can be seen in many areas, such as health and education, and because of your hard work and dedication, we’ve named Mali this week’s #CountryoftheWeek!

Keep reading for three inspiring stories of YALI Network members who are encouraging ecological citizenship, promoting the benefits of social media, and fighting climate change throughout Mali.

Encouraging ecological citizenship

Hoping to better her world, Aissa Traore from #CountryoftheWeek Mali spreads awareness about climate change to young students.Group of people standing, holding a sign reading "Projet <<Eco-citoyen>>

Aissa works with an environmental organization called Association des Jeunes pour la Citoyenneté Active et la Démocratie (AJCAD), leading the “Eco-citoyens” project. She helps young students develop communication techniques to discuss issues related to climate change and ecological matters. “This project allows young school participants to know about the challenges of climate change, for a better world,” she says.

As part of her climate change training, Aissa encourages students to spread awareness among their peers, in addition to the general population. “This project has brought about a very practical change of behavior in the lives of beneficiaries,” she notes. “[It] has helped raise awareness of the issue of climate change and the ecological citizenship.”

Thanks to her efforts, Aissa’s students began hosting speaking engagements about the benefits of nature preservation.

Promoting the benefits of social media

Man teaching a group of teens about social mediaAbdoulaye Sangho doesn’t just share the benefits of social media with his students, he also stresses the incumbent responsibilities of contributing to public conversations on the internet and various platforms.

After launching ASEET+30 with several friends, Abdoulaye provides guidance to Malian youth on a variety of topics from social media to health and reproduction to education. His work teaching students about the benefits of social media has been a great success in developing leadership skills and confidence.

“We want through this project to make sure that students master how to utilize Internet and social medias in [order] to benefit them … [and] to warn about consequences,” Abdoulaye explains. In addition to this project, he also hosts regular debates and meetings where he teaches the YALI Network Online Courses. “I have completed 4 courses and all are usually involved in our association projects to make sure we are making other lives better.”

Fighting climate change

Inspired by the YALI Network Online Course Understanding Climate Change, Hamidou Moro hosted a #YALILearns event with several peers to spread awareness about protecting the environment. “Together we … organized … a serie[s] of training[s] about climate change, after [which] we planted trees in [a] public place to close the event,” he says. Man kneeling to plant a tree and looking up

Hamidou happily notes that while the event took place in the past, the trees he and his community planted continue to benefit Mali. He also appreciates that being an active Network member has allowed him to meet many other impressive, positive individuals who invest their time towards a better future for Africa.

Hoping to apply his leadership skills, Hamidou wants to create a program on “ ‘climate change Education in the community’ to educate, prevent, guide, and support people about climate change.”

If you’re interested in getting involved in your community, like the YALI Network Facebook page and access free online trainings, virtual events, and more by visiting the Be Involved page on the YALI Network website.

Problem Solving Through Community Action: An Interactive Chat with Jeff Franco

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead

Jeff FrancoAnyone can think about serving their community, but putting service ideas into action is when real change happens. Jeff Franco of City Year Washington, DC and instructor of the “Attracting and Motivating Volunteers” lesson joined us at the U.S. State Department to discuss his views and offer advice on community action through a Facebook Live video chat.

Franco, originally from Cleveland, Ohio, moved to Washington 20 years ago to further his studies and eventually found his place at City Year DC. In his role as vice president and executive director, Franco advocates for youth involvement in the education of children in underserved communities. Participants aged 17–24 take a year to volunteer in schools as friends and mentors in order to close the gap between what students need and what schools are able to provide. Not only is City Year’s work beneficial to the students and school districts receiving the assistance, but also to the volunteers, who strengthen their social awareness and build leadership skills during their rigorous year of service.

Being Authentic Leaders

Man standing in front of screen teaching lessonResponding to a request from the online audience for advice to young leaders in community service, Franco talked about the importance of being authentic in your work, especially so in leadership and community service positions. Finding an intersection between your passion and the needs of the world is absolutely necessary to be successful. He described a leader’s work as a “beautiful struggle,” pointing out the hard work and dedication that is needed to be rewarded with the change you want to see in the world. He went on to emphasize the importance of an authentic leader to provide continuous inspiration to volunteers.

Young volunteers have a special aptitude for being authentic leaders. According to Franco, most people have a desire to serve, but youth especially have the energy necessary to act on that desire. City Year’s role is to harness that energy and organize it into a channel for education services.

Interacting with the Community

One obstacle you will need to overcome is how to get involved in a new community. Different cultures may exist or the community members may not always be welcome to your mission at first. It’s important to understand the different cultures throughout the community and listen to what their needs are. Franco advises volunteers trying to start in a new environment to take the time to understand the problems the community faces first and ask them what they need from the organization. This shows that the group cares about the community and is there to serve. One mistake City Year made was trying to implement goals in different schools without listening to the requirements of each school system. This clash of ideas strained the relationship between the two groups but also helped City Year learn how to improve their system for starting in a new place.

Passion for service is a wonderful thing, but Franco points out the need for “humble swag.” This concept illustrates the balance needed between sharing your organization’s accomplishments and having a genuine interest in helping others. Your desire to make the community better should outweigh the need for recognition, but it is important to further your organization’s good work by promoting events and ways to get involved.

Overcoming Challenges

There are many obstacles that people can face, especially when trying to start a new nonprofit organization. Not everyone may be receptive to the work you are trying to do, and failure along the way can set you back. Franco said that if there are people who do not agree with your mission, try listening to them and understanding their needs. There may be room for compromise. He also emphasized that failure is important because it can help you and the organization improve. Always remember to return to humility and the basics of why you want to serve the community, then listen to the critiques and the voices in your community and use those to improve your service techniques and strategies.

“Failure is a beautiful thing in the long run, as long as you get back up.” -Jeff Franco

Learning from mistakes and failures is essential to improving your nonprofit. City Year uses surveys to learn from each service opportunity as well as self-critique from employees and volunteers about what went well and what could be improved upon. This is essential in providing the best service to your community. Constant evaluation will move your organization forward.

Woman interviewing man in a newsroom

Moving Forward

“Where do we go from here?” Franco advises young leaders to use the resources available, such as free tools like social media and building coalitions within your network of people who believe in your goals. Take advantage of young people who have the desire to make a difference in their communities. Above all else, you must stay committed to your goal. You must have the desire and commitment to create change, because it will be a struggle, but it is a beautiful struggle.