Shirley West, Asante Africa Foundation’s US-based volunteer scholarship coordinator, has been in the front row seat of the Leadership Incubator program since it began in early 2010. She has experienced what most of us have only read about. Read her interview below as she shares her thoughts, and the transformations she has witnessed as a result of this innovative program.
What was one of the most common goals of the students at the Leadership Incubator?
A few wanted to be engineers, doctors, teachers, but most wanted their own businesses. One of the guest speakers was a man with only a 7th grade education who was able to start his own furniture business. This was very inspiring for many students who may not be able to afford tuition to go to university, but still want to be successful.
Other than mapping out a future and plan, what other life skills do the kids learn?
Students learn about health, their bodies and sexual maturation. A lot of girls do not know that sexual abuse is not normal because it is so common in some areas where they are from. They also learn about the risks of childbirth. Many students have not been exposed or educated on these subjects and it is an important part of the program that can help them make safe choices.
What transformations did you witness in the students over the course of the weeklong program?
During the week, I saw the shyest students make friends with complete strangers and in a short time take charge of a project and become the leaders of their group. I saw them learn to “think outside of the box” as a group to solve problems they were given. I saw how the knowledge they received during the week, empowered them, and at the end of the week they were able to get up in front of the group, and give a speech about their dream and how they were going to achieve it. Students shared how they were going to take their new found knowledge and “pay it forward’ to their family, fellow students and adults in their community. We have seen numerous students start their own Leadership programs to share their knowledge. They have become teachers and mentors.
Why do you think the Leadership Incubator is so important or helpful for these kids?
This program gives students the tools and skills to help them start visualizing their dreams, while building their self-confidence. It allows them to bloom and develop ideas. Students learn to “pay it forward” and spread the word about the importance of education and goals. Many students are talented and have the potential to be leaders, but they lack confidence. The program exposes them to other kids from different backgrounds and cultures, but who share similar desires and interests. This helps build friendships, a network of support and a comfortable environment so they can develop confidence in their future aspirations.
How do you know this is an effective and impactful program?
I have seen it with my own eyes. Samson combines leadership lessons in his adult education classes. Silvia held a 2-day leadership seminar in her community for young girls. Lepilali is teaching leadership skills at his school. Dopoi and Juma are demonstrating their leadership skills by teaching and mentoring in their community’s primary schools. And I am sure there are many others that we are not aware of.