By Royale Anne Kodio (YES 2016-2017, Mali, hosted by AFS in University Heights, OH)
"When you think positive, good things happen"- Matt Kemp. This quote perfectly explains YES Alumni Association of Mali’s recent English Spelling Bee! On Saturday, April 14th, YES alumni in partnership with another association named Youth For Change-Mali (YFCM) hosted an English Spelling Bee. During my stay in Ohio, I participated in a Spelling Bee organized by the Cleveland Heights High School's Board of Education. I came in 5th place and loved the experience. Once back into Mali I talked to my fellow YES alumni and with my peers we decided this event would be one of the activities we would host this year in our community. We wanted to organize this activity for the principal reason of getting to know the high schoolers who live the furthest away from our sectors and make them aware of the YES program - who we are, what we do, and our vision.
This fun activity also has many benefits that we wanted to emphasize. Learning grammar and enhancing vocabulary were the top two benefits we wanted students to gain. Participating in a Spelling Bee will encourage students to learn more about the English language and develop skills in order to excel at reading and writing in English.
To prepare for this event we sent invitationals to several high schools and asked that they nominate two students who have strong English skills. The other association, YFCM, was kind enough to find a big classroom in a public university, Institut Universitaire De Gestion, that we could use free of cost. We were able to share posters advertising the Spelling Bee on our WhatsApp stories so people could come and assist at the event.
After a lot of preparation the day of the Spelling Bee finally arrived! We started by doing an ice breaker activity with the candidates. They all introduced themselves and talked about their high schools. The presidents of the two organisations (YES Alumni Association and YFCM) made quick speeches and tried to make everybody comfortable. Royale even made the audience clap in a funny way so that fear and stress would no longer be present in the room.
We started the contest by giving each participant two easy words. Each participant was called forward and asked to spell a word. They had 10 seconds to think and then they had to write their answer on a piece of paper. Participants could ask for the meaning of the word in French but they would lose one point. After many rounds we identified the top three participants. All the participants received a certificate of participation signed and stamped by the YES Program. We gave the top three participants dictionaries, books, and school supplies.
A special story about this event is that before the beginning of the Spelling Bee, I was stressed out because a lot of participants were missing and I thought that it would have been impossible to do the Spelling Bee without them. Fortunately, my friends from YFCM were there and they helped me stay calm by telling me to just focus on the moment because everything was going to be fine. They taught me something that day: unexpected issues happen to everybody and they can make the event better. We were expecting 16 students but only eight showed up. The day of our contest was the same as a bigger one within Bamako so a number of our potential participants prefered to go somewhere else. As the event was going by, I realized that eight participants was fine. It took us two hours in order to make them spell the words, deliberate and rank the top three.
Another interesting thing is that we, the alumni and audience, learned how to write a word differently. We learned that "gray” and “grey" were the same. When our candidate spelled GREY as GRAY, we had doubts and talked about it for 10 minutes! We had to check the dictionary in order to give the student credit!
This event is my favorite one so far because first we were able to partner with another association that taught us a lot. They were very different from us and we all loved the contrasts between our two associations. All the participants told me that they will continue to learn the English language and give it more importance. They were interested in the YES program and I hope to see some of them as candidates at the YES program in following years.