By Brian Bright (YES 2011-2012, Kenya, hosted by PAX in Cheboygan, MI)
YES alumni workshops are always exciting to look forward to because they are always a great learning opportunity, as well as a great excuse to bring YES alumni together under one roof, enabling wonderful reunions as well as a chance to grow the YES alumni network. YES alumni in Kenya were very excited to hold a regional YES forum in June. The workshop was attended by forty alumni from Kenya, Ghana, Mozambique, South Africa and Egypt, and focused on changemaking and strategic planning.
The workshop also enabled YES alumni from Kenya to explore possible avenues towards setting up an association. Visiting alumni used this as a chance to learn from their Kenyan counterparts, share updates on their respective alumni associations, compare notes and borrow ideas from each other.
To better understand their role and expectations of them, the forum began with an overview of changemaking and strategic planning. The former helped the alumni understand what it means to be a change-maker while the latter equipped them with skills to develop practical and sustainable projects for the community—all essentials to enhance impact the alumni will have in their respective communities.
That afternoon, we had the first in-depth session on change-making, facilitated by a consultant working with Ashoka East Africa. The session focused on identifying characteristics of a changemaker and what makes a changemaker under three main components: cognitive empathy, new leadership and teamwork. Cognitive empathy is the ability to embody intellectual intelligence to better relate to the problems and people in our communities and come up with practical and plausible solutions. This will also help mobilize the community for successful implementation of a project, as it creates a sense of ownership among the members of the community. New leadership focused on the ability to bring people together to embrace and appreciate critical elements of the community. The emphasis here was on servant and ethical leadership.
After the changemaker training, YES alumni Chandni Khan (YES ’11), Stella Tiyoy (YES ’13) and Twaha Rashid (YES ’14) conducted a session on digital storytelling, based on earlier YES trainings they had attended. Digital storytelling is an important skill for alumni to effectively share stories about the impact they have made on their respective communities through various programs and projects.
The next day we had an intensive, hands-on training on how to develop a strategic plan for our various alumni associations. Later that afternoon, we participated in a site visit to the Kibera slum of Nairobi, which is Africa’s largest slum settlement. There, alumni were introduced to community projects to learn how they operate and their positive impact in the community. This served to inspire alumni to create new projects and sustain already existing projects in their communities.
We owe the success of this workshop to the US Department of State, the YES Program, AFS USA and AFS Kenya, as well as our YES partners in Africa. We look forward to more fruitful collaborations and partnerships within the region and beyond.