‘The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) is a signature effort to invest in the next generation of African leaders. Nearly 1 in 3 Africans are between the ages of 10 and 24, and approximately 60 percent of Africa’s total population is below the age of 35. Former President Obama launched YALI in 2010 to support young African leaders as they spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Sub-Saharan Africa.” (Official Website, Young African Leaders Initiative).
You may have read about Eric Gisairo on one of our previous blogs. Eric, who works in the area of child protection with Hold the Child, is a Play For Peace trainer with Play For Peace South Sudan. A few weeks ago, we caught up with him to ask him about some of the other initiatives he works with.
Eric is part of the YALI family: the Young African Leadership Initiative. Founded in 2010 by former U.S. President Barack Obama, YALI supports young Africans by providing training, networking opportunities, and other occasions for leadership and professional development. There are four YALI Regional Leadership Centers: East Africa, South Africa, West Africa – Accra, and West Africa – Dakar. Residing in South Sudan, Eric works with the East Africa branch, headquartered in Nairobi, and covering fourteen countries on the continent.
Toward the end of 2016, Eric applied to and was selected for entry into the YALI Regional Leadership Center East Africa program, under the track of Civic Leadership. Applicants are selected on merit, on the impact they are having within their community. His acceptance brought him to Nairobi early this year to participate in four weeks of training. There, participants were given information about Africa, design challenges around community problem-solving, team building and networking exercises, and training on the habits of highly effective people. “We came together as a team during the training, and at the end of the day,” recalls Eric, “Participants are awarded certificates upon completion of that training, and then join the rest of the YALI alumni family. Participants can then go back to their own countries, join the Country Chapter with other members who went through the same program, and discuss strategic issues within the community, nation and Africa as a whole.”
During the team building portion of the training, Eric was surprised to find that, through team building sessions, facilitators used games similar to those used in PFP. This was an opportunity to share his PFP experiences, and build on those experiences with other YALI participants.
“I brought to this training the knowledge of PFP. I use it in my other initiatives as a strategy for peace-building: how to help and transform others. Currently I look at what is going on in South Sudan. People are not in good relationships. Many are homeless, some are still in IDP camps, and thousands have fled in poverty, having lost their relatives. At the end of the day, this has resulted in a lot of hatred and mistrust. But using the knowledge of PFP, we go into communities, we pray together, we love together. We find that these methods are working.”
After the training, participants were given a challenge to figure out how they can impact idle youth and transform their lives. Many places in Africa have issues of unemployment. YALI members look at how they can help youth heighten their role in the community. “I’m working in South Sudan,” says Eric, “it’s one of the youngest countries in Africa, and has many challenges: insecurity, instability, inflation, and so on. You find that if you are a youth, you don’t have anything to do. Perhaps you do not feel useful within the community. So how does one get motivated, despite these challenges?” Youth forums, where leaders can discuss youth issues, and how to deal with conflict in the community, is one way to begin this process. Meetings with youth in the community are also common, where YALI members try to build youth resilience.
When Eric was asked for an example of the kinds of projects YALI graduates undertake, he shared a recent story. On July 18, Mandela Day, he and some of his YALI Colleagues went to the Alshabaha Hospital in Juba. Focusing on child patients and their mothers, they decided to contribute, from their own funds, money to help children born on July 18th. They bought various supplies: sugar, tissue papers, all in celebration of Mandela Day.
Although Eric has completed his training in Nairobi, he says that there are more resources available. Members can apply for particular project funds, or take online courses. Eric himself was involved with some recent online courses and training, and was granted a certificate for Transparency and Good Governance and Human Rights: Girls and Women. His growth in the organization, as well as in PFP, is always ongoing.