Reflections From My Time in Zimbabwe

A Story of Passion and Determination – The Birth of Ahaspora
May 19, 2016

“There is no competition among lighthouses, we are all trying to show the way”

From Harare to Connecticut, Ghana to England, 21 education development professionals, with a heart for everything education ACCESS, met between April 12-14 to deliberate on how to improve higher education ACCESS to high achieving, low income (HALI) high school students in Africa. Here is my personal take on the amazing experience:

Everyone who knows me, knows that I am strong believer and proponent of the phrase IT ALL STARTS WITH EDUCATION… so when the invitation came to represent Ahaspora Young Professionals in this conference (as a result of an in-progress partnership with the Yale Young African Scholars program – story for another day), I was very excited.

I must say, however, that this workshop blew my mind in all positive ways possible… For me, it was a true depiction of the importance of collaboration as opposed to competition; building synergies instead of divergence… A true depiction of UBUNTU – I am because you are.

The sessions mainly focused on the various challenges that African HALI high school students face, and possible solutions that we can promote individually, but better yet as a committed group.  In the conference ‘room’ were veterans in the Admissions and College preparation business, as well as newbies to the industry. The amazing part was that everyone was given a voice, and very important inputs – from personal experiences to professional escapades – were deliberated upon. Every session was invigorating, and our hands shook vigorously as our pens inked away all the important information shared.

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I could not write about this experience without sharing the atmosphere… it was simply PERFECT: We were cut off from the world in a resort called Chengeta Lodge, about an hour and a half outside of Harare, Zimbabwe. Being right in the middle of nature (literally) we were all reminded of how beautiful our continent is, and how important it is for us to share the positivity of the African continent, that are rarely highlighted.

Naturally, for a 21st century young professional who wears many hats, I was a bit nervous about how I would let go of technology for three days, but decided to enjoy the experience instead. Our first lovely surprise was when we drove into the resort and as our bus parked, right there and then… LIONS!!! REAL LIONS!!! Oh my! Was I elated! A few of us brave souls walked up to see them, star struck, and our cameras clicked away! Till one Alpha Male got annoyed that we were in his space and charged towards us – that was my reality check! even the fence couldn’t take away my fear, shock, trepidation, all mixed together.  I got no pictures as I run backwards, but we had a good laugh! The next morning, we went on to see more lions, zebras, giraffes… it was magical!

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Back to the amazing meeting itself –  As we went over topic areas including financial aid; autobiographical writing; recommendation letters; life in college and post-graduation, but all focused on giving access, I was simply blown away by the amount of knowledge and experience in the room.  I could go on and on, but I’ll keep it short so not to bore you too much!

Below are my favorite quotes from the gathering:

  • “A leader is someone who will do things that others don’t want to do”
  • On writing recommendation letters: “The American system tends to reward in a ‘forward-looking’ process; while the rest of the world is more on what you’ve achieved…” As such, recommendation letters should demonstrate potential justifying why an investment should be made in a student…
  • “Leverage your networks” (reaching out to others working in the industry is invaluable)
  • “There is no competition among lighthouses, we are all trying to show the way” (for me, this portrayed the essence of the entire event)
  • “A student’s SPARK (aha moment), is mostly identified in their essay”
  • “If you want to go fast, go alone… If you want to go far, go with people”
  • “Write from your heart!”
  • “I would like to see the HALI network represented at the African Union”
  • “We have to document our stories, no one else will tell them for you!”

There were so many real moments, so many connections, so many deep conversations. While there were many key takeaways, as an African patriot, my overall satisfaction was based on the meeting’s ability to demonstrate the importance and power of like-minded individuals coming together to share ideas in the spirit of promoting a common cause.

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The three days went by too quickly! The journey has only begun as we’ve all headed back home to take in the richness – both nature and nurture – that came out of the HALI INDABA. Watch this space for further updates on the work we will be doing individually and collectively.

Let me wrap up with a moment that personified how we all felt about this amazing learning opportunity – on the last night, when we completed our story-telling by the fireside and our convener said, ok we’re done… and then for a full couple minutes, no one moved, no one wanted to go, everyone remained seated and beaming with smiles in silence – that was it! We wanted more! It was just awesome. Two hours later, we were still hanging out in small groups, talking about everything possible. A bond had been formed, one that will effect positive change for a very long time!

Special thanks to the HigherLife Foundation , an African Philanthropy organization founded by the Masiwa family for funding this meeting. Founded in 1996 out of the personal convictions and heartfelt compassion of the patrons Mr. and Mrs. Masiyiwa, who understands what it means for Africans to lead the effort in developing Africa through education and other social projects.

A major thank you to two powerhouse women whom I met for the first time, and now have a lot of respect for, Rebecca Mano and Rebekah Westphal for a fabulous ‘all-ts-crossed-and-‘I’s-dotted’ event.

LionandSun

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. -Nelson Mandela

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