The YYAS ‘Bacteria Culture-like’ Experience
There was just so much to take in. Meeting 149 other scholars, all from different backgrounds and countries, was a dream come true. I call my YYAS episode at Gashora Girls’ Academy of Science and Technology the ‘bacteria culture-like’ experience. This is because, like a bacterium, I began with the lag phase: getting to know the place.
Gashora Girls has a welcoming environment. It is a certified Microsoft Showcase School. At seven years old, it still retains its original beauty. It has a banana and groundnut plantation and the institution produces its own peanut butter. The greenery and unique architectural-style building scenery made it the perfect destination for YYAS.
The initial stages of my experience comprised making a few friends. At first it was difficult for me to remember all of my new friends’ names. I then began asking them to tell me the first letters of their names and country—it became my code for easily remembering their names. I became so good at this that I knew almost three-quarters of the people. I especially got to know two scholars with whom I shared common interests: Lincoln from Zimbabwe and Michael from Ghana. This was hopefully the start of a lifelong friendship.
Lincoln and I shared similar career ambitions in technology while I shared the same love of travel and learning about diverse cultures as Michael.
I met scholars speaking Arabic and Spanish with their various dialects and learnt of the different ‘unnamed’ dances of East Africa— from Kenya and Ethiopia specifically—during the talent show. At no point did I think that I would meet so many people across Africa with whom I shared the same values despite our different ethnicities. My friends from Tanzania would teach me how to greet in Kiswahili, which I would forget by the next morning. This was the same with most other tongue-twisting languages!
The diet consisted of a fully balanced meal. Little did I think I would ever have cooked green bananas for dinner, also known as plantains. My favorite snack was the deep-fried dough locally known as ‘fritters’ or ‘vitumbuwa’ in Zambia; but here they are called ‘fresh mandazi’.
After a regular tight-scheduled day came the extra-curricular activities. We would play football in the basketball court from 9:00pm to 10:30pm, even though the ball wasn’t visible at times. But this didn’t matter. For if the ball disappeared, the keeper dove and we heard a bouncing sound coming from the wall behind the goal post, which was considered a goal, and the crowd would cheer. In all the matches, I was the referee. Overwhelmed by the flow of the match, I would sometimes use Nyanja or Bemba to get everyone’s attention. I would use phrases like ‘alo mverani’ for ‘please listen’. In most cases, I was addressed as ‘refa’—a name whose origin I knew nothing about, probably from ‘referee’. Nevertheless, the matches went on smoothly. My red shirt was the red card and my yellow pen was the yellow card.
The Yale faculty and instructors were extremely friendly and each was really passionate about YYAS One of the leadership staff members, Dagan, knew each and every person at YYAS, including their name and nationality. During the program we had a university showcase fair and universities from France, Abu Dhabi, and the U.S. represented their respective institutions.
During seminars and enrichment activities, we mainly discussed many different types and roles of leadership, including a presentation on ethics by Yale’s Director for Africa Eddie Mandhry as well as the four directions of leadership. I also learned about the real problems faced by Africa, mainly in health and economic sectors, and what political anarchy can lead to if not checked. I also finally had a way of tackling the SAT reading passages with the help of the SAT tutor Ms. Esther.
The exponential phase of my experience made me feel at home at Gashora. If YYAS could lead to such strong bonds, what about the Pan-African movement? Africa can unite and develop. Co-operation is possible. If a Zambian Mbunda and a Nigerian Yoruba can play on the same football team and speak one language, I believe we as youth can inspire that change.
The respect for each other’s values is what made YYAS a success. At YYAS, there was no Zambian, Moroccan, or Ghanaian; there was just the ‘young African leader’.
Having reached a certain rate at which point the experience was getting steeper and rapidly growing, YYAS came to a sudden end. Unlike a normal bacteria culture, however, there was no stationary or decline phase in my YYAS experience.
I can mathematically illustrate my experience at YYAS in Rwanda as:
Finally, thanks to Our Moon, Yale University, and Higherlife Foundation, I am delighted to say that I am a proud young and upcoming African leader—I am a YYAS alumnus. With gratitude, I will share this never-ending-impact experience with my fellow Zambians and peers from across Africa.