Last week I went to New Jersey for a reunion of the first two classes to graduate from the African Leadership Academy. The school sponsored a conference on leadership and economic development of our continent. They wanted those of us in the first class to share our experiences at college in America with the class that just graduated in order to help them prepare. The purpose of the conference was to keep us focused on our mission: playing a leadership role in the transformation of Africa.
It was great to see my friend and hear what they up to these days. They are all doing well, and they are happy to have finished their first year of college. Several friends are working as interns at investment banks. Their experience will help prepare them for the task of economic development in their own countries. One of my other friends was working with a team that is developing a phone program for education use. The program that he was working could be used for online learning in areas that don’t have access to schools, teachers, and books. When he was telling me about his work, one of my former teachers overheard, and he mentioned a recent article he had read about online learning. My teacher was interested to hear from us if phone-based technology can be applied to Africa. We talked for an hour to find the way to incorporate online learning into the existing educational system. I told them that I am working in a machine shop and learning computer aided design. When I explained that I am also preparing for my upcoming fall classes, they laughed, but they appreciate how difficult college can be, especially for people who are far away from home. I told them I was also having some fun and learning how to swim.
Apart from seeing friends, it was great to participate in the leadership conference. We did some activities together that encouraged confidence, leadership and teamwork. I had to walk across a rope that was five meters off the ground with a partner, hanging on to his hand and using my other hand to hang on to another rope. It was scary to look down, but I felt safe and secured holding on to my partner. This activity was to develop trust and teamwork. One of the other activities we did was called “Cross the Swamp.” It was fun, but also full of leadership education. The game was to make the group of people to cross “the swamp” with limited resources. The swamp was ground. The resources were 3 long boards and concrete blocks for risers. You weren’t allowed to touch the ground while you built a bridge. At the end of the game I learned the importance of teamwork. We needed to work together as a team in order to cross. Going forward I will be using these skills back at school, but more importantly, when I return to Malawi.
The message from each of the speakers at the conference was that we are agents of positive change. They emphasized the need for us to return to Africa with our new knowledge and skills and work to improve the lives of our people. The conference was amazing. Listening to the speaker made me to feel that I’m part of the people who are responsible for developing Africa. I felt that any small contribution I can make to Malawi would be better than just watching. Often when people are in trouble they just sit and complain when they really need to wake up and start doing.
It is like my windmill, “I just tried, and I made it happen.” After the conference I was “pumped” to come back to Dartmouth and learn more, gain more skills, and prepare myself to go back and play a leadership role in transforming my village, Malawi, and the whole continent.