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My YALI Experience - Zainab Faal



Article courtesy of Standard Newspaper( First Published 5th October 2016)

Author: Zainab Faal Journalist and YALI Alumna

It was one of the hot sunny days when I got an alert from my email and upon clicking to view content, I saw “Applicant Accepted”. I wanted to shout to the top of my voice with excitement but kept calm and while smiling, I uttered these words of praise to the Almighty God ‘Alhamdulillah 3x”. I got accepted into the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) leadership training in Accra, Ghana—President Obama’s flagship initiative for the next generation of African leaders. From that moment on, thoughts started chasing each other in my mind with one more confusing than the other. What’s my first flight experience going to be like? Who are the people that I will meet from other countries across West Africa? And so on. I was excited and the same time nervous for my first flight experience. Just when the day was closing by, I kept asking people how it’s like to be on the flight for the first time. I got crazy answers on when the Aircraft is taking off, landing and when there’s turbulence (whatever that means at that time to me). And here comes the D day… After checking in with my team, we waited for 4 hours before the ‘mighty’ Arik flight finally arrived when we were supposed to wait for only 2hrs after checking in. And finally we boarded, after the usual safety demonstration by the cabin crew; the captain was now ready to take off. I started reciting all the verses in the Quran that I memorized, but I was lucky that Mariama Dumbuya, one of my team mates from the Gambia was seated behind me and she was very helpful in keeping me calm being a regular traveler she is. I can still remember her sweet and calm voice “Zaii you gonna be fine, I’m right here”. It helped a lot. Let me not bore you with my timidity, I know Sukutarians reading this must be laughing out loud because I am from Kombo Gunjur and we share a joking relationship. Finally the Aircraft landed safely in Accra Kotoka International Airport and the view while it was descending was beautiful and fascinating. And all my hopes flared up that I was going to have a wonderful time in The Gold coast. Team Gambia was the first to arrive at Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) where we were hosted for the entire 5 weeks. The Campus is big and the environment so serene and immaculate. The opening ceremony was spectacular as all delegates from nine (9) countries in total (122) wore traditional outfits and each country had a representative to introduce or sell their country. The traditional attire that stood out from the lot was that of the Cameroonians. Everyone was like ‘Wow’ and the interesting thing was, it was their debut appearance at YALI West Africa. I am telling you with authority that they were amazing. We had amazing facilitators from the US, Ghana and across the globe. They took time to identify our individual strengths and weaknesses and helped us work on them. What I love most is the team work, it enabled us to work collectively and agreed on a common goal after everyone had the chance to express their independent views. And the Mount Everest simulation exercise has taught me great lessons after been given the opportunity of being the leader of the climbers. It was a daunting task but the aim was achieved after successfully reaching the summit. (Those familiar with the exercise can attest to this). The lesson I have learnt for the whole exercise is that, for one to be a successful leader, you have to be able and willing to hear from those you are leading. Some decisions require the opinions of your followers which when you fail to do can classify you a dictator or even worse. I have learned that leadership is not about self but how and what impact you have on the lives of people. And if you want to go fast, you go alone but if you want to go far, go with people. It was refreshing and inspiring to hear the success stories of young Africans in their various countries and how they were able to overcome the challenges faced along the way. It was evident from the various testimonies that Africa indeed has leadership problems and the younger generation can transform the continent if given the opportunities to explore and have a voice in decision making. The poster presentation is one interesting activity I can’t go without touching on. We were tasked in groups to do posters on the problems Africa is facing and the solutions to those challenges. But the common things that appeared in all groups ranged from dictatorship, corruption, poverty, conflicts, health constraints and lack of quality and accessible education, etc. Oops! Almost forgot the heated debate between gents and ladies regarding corruption in Africa. And the topic paraphrased goes like this “Are women in leadership position less corrupt than their male counterparts? And is the solution to corruption having more women in leadership positions than men”? I think this should be open to the public for debate. Some very interesting revelations were made by gents but you know what, the ladies won, and don’t tell me the judges who were two gents and a lady were bias. And here comes the creative nights where each river group presents a play on one of the topics each week, it was entertaining and educative. Africa is indeed blessed with talents but the issue of brain drain is setting us back due to poor leadership. If I am to write all the experience I had in Accra, I might end up writing the size of a university thesis… lol Every young person out there and contributing in your own modest way to better the society in which you live in, I implore you to apply for YALI. Your life will change forever as you will be presented with opportunities to unleash your full potentials in the areas of Public Management, Civic leadership and entrepreneurship. And the network you will build will go a long way in serving your endeavors. I had the opportunity to visit the Komenda Cave where we were told used to be the hiding place for the queen of England during the World War II and the Almena Castle where slaves from other parts of West Africa were kept before finally sailing to the Americas. And finally finally, I love the Ghanaians and Ghana but love the food most… My mouth starts watering as I am writing this… My favourite was Banku… (Local dish made from fermented corn flour with okra soup) Do you want to hear about my 3D movie experience and Kakum National Park Canopy walk? I bet you don’t. The Sukutarians will create a nick name for me If am to narrate those experiences. When it was finally time to say goodbye, I could not help but cry. I cried because I have had family in Ghana and seven (7) other West African countries. They made my stay memorable and have immensely contributed to my intellectual growth during the 5 weeks. I cried because I will miss them physically but knowing technology has made everything possible now to cement relationships, consoled me. I cried because of the responsibility on my shoulders upon my return home. I owe it to my people and to the organizers. I have promised myself to positively impact as many lives as possible in my little way. I vow to be among the next generation of young African leaders that will make our continent great again and make Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s dream come true. Thanks to President Obama and the American government for investing in the next generation of African leaders. Editors' note: This article was published by Standard Newspaper and the original article can be seen here:

My YALI Experience - Zainab Faal


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