After three weeks, the first phase of our MILEAD journey finally came to an end. On August 1st, we woke up with mixed emotions. Twenty-eight young ladies from different backgrounds, yet sharing a common goal were set for the world, armed with extra knowledge and skills to enable them effect the change they yearn for in their societies. Despite the clouds in the sky and the threats of a heavy downpour from the heavens, we trudged on to the Yiri Lodge with huge smiles on our faces, ready for graduation. The ceremony was a moderate one, graced by the graduating fellows, their family and friends who could make it, partners of the Moremi Initiative for Women’s Leadership in Africa, volunteers, resource persons and other well-wishers.
In our bid to lead by example, we decided to start the ceremony on time, even though most of the guests had not yet arrived. Dr. Juliette Tuakli, the chairperson, was the only member of the high table present at the time. I shall always remember this moment as it was loaded with a lot of messages we all could learn from. The ceremony started beautifully, as we (the fellows) broke into our favorite song, ‘We are one’! We would eventually sing at various intervals all through to the end of the program. One would think we were all blessed with the most angelic of voices but this was not necessarily the case. However, the unity in our voices and the feeling we gave to our songs were enough to send any choir into hiding.
Guests started arriving as we went up to the high table to receive our certificates. This, to me, was one of the most significant moments of the whole experience. It marked our initiation into the MILEAD Network, getting us into partnership with fellows from the past three years. Each fellow was awarded a certificate and given a chance to share a few words about their experience in Ghana. One could read the emotion in each face and the sadness that lay beneath the smiling faces. Each one of us was ready to go back home and start work on our projects, but it was difficult to part ways after three weeks of building strong bonds and sharing great ideas. Walking up to receive my certificate, all I could think of was the pride of representing two nations that have played a huge role in my life: The Gambia and Morocco. I knew I had done it to the best of my abilities and was sure I had not let my people down.
When I moved on to speak, I could feel my tears threatening to fall and was grateful for the short time each one was allocated for her speech. I shared some inspirational words and prayed that we all would meet again very soon.
The guest speaker Mr. Albert Ocran, then rose to speak and had me wishing we had received him as part of our training. I have met many great people who inspire me in speech and deed, but this gentleman ranks high on my list now. He had the audience clinging to every word he said from the beginning right on to the end. He shared his experience rising through the ranks on the entrepreneurial ladder, encouraging us with his tips and dedication to his plans. When he finished, we were all on our feet, applauding a well-thought and equally well-presented speech!
Before the final remarks by the chairperson, Mawuli Dake and Maame Afon, co-founder and Board member of the Moremi Initiative for Women’s’ Leadership in Africa respectively, rose to speak. My admiration for these two knows no bounds and I’ve grown to respect them in the three weeks we spent together. Walking into the MILEAD class, one would think they were fellows too. Mawuli and Maame mingled freely with everyone and would take part actively in all the lectures and discussions we had.
Maame had this contagious energy that would make you want to rise and face the world each time she spoke! That, coupled with her angelic voice and her great personality, helped present her idea of a whole woman to us. Mawuli has become one of the reasons why I will always stand by the belief that we can never really reach our goals for women’s empowerment if we do not partner with the men. In his speech, he expressed his satisfaction with this year’s selection, asserting that each fellow truly deserved her place in the class. He challenged us to exploit our potentials, rise above the challenges and capture our dreams. The farewell note was very solemn and once again, we were hit with the reality at hand when Selma from Sudan, bade us goodbye to catch her flight. Shortly after that, Roseline from Cote D’Ivoire also left and we couldn’t hold back our tears as we hugged goodbye.
The MILEAD journey has just begun for each one of us. In the three weeks we spent in Ghana, we were exposed to new cultures, personalities, dreams, visions, ideas, knowledge, skills etc. We received training on various issues ranging from Human rights concepts and theories, African Women’s Political Participation, Advocacy skills and Economic Justice to Pan-Africanism, Personal Branding, Resource mobilization etc. We also benefitted from a practical training on the construction and use of solar-powered cookers as well as production of goodies from used plastic bags. At the end of this training, we were divided into various groups and each one constructed a solar cooker.
We also had visits to various partners of Moremi including the African Women’s Development Fund and the World Bank, Ghana Office, where we had productive meetings with the officials. Our visit to the House of Parliament had to be cut short as a session was ongoing when we got there. Despite the tight work schedule we had, the group always squeezed in time for some fun. This came in the form of daily Team-Building exercises and weekend visits to the beach and other historic places in Ghana. We visited the Kakum Forest Park and walked over their famous canopy and had a tour of the Cape CoastSlave Castle in Cape Coast. The famous Akosombo Dam was also one of the places we visited and it was amazing discovering these places I had only read about. The few visits to the mall and the markets also helped to give us a feel of life in Ghana, outside the campus walls. The experience was really enriching and I would do it over and over.
I’m back home in The Gambia after a very rough journey, which I wouldn’t even emphasise on. I brought back knowledge, skills, more energy and determination and a resolve to implement my MiChange project as soon as possible. Most importantly, I came back home with the gift of networking. I can proudly say I’ve got a sister in each of the countries that were represented at the MILEAD 2012 Institute. I’ve also made friends outside of the class and these bonds I wish to cherish and strengthen even as the years go by. I even got to meet up with a friend I’d made on Twitter and another I’d made in Morocco but had only spoken to on the phone and I’m grateful for the both of them.
I miss the friendly nature of the Ghanaian people. I miss the great food Aunty Mary always served us and how my partner Franca and I would attack it with full vim (Ghanaian slang). I miss walking on the streets of campus, chattering happily with whatever group I found myself in. I miss the interactive sessions we always had. I miss the laughter that filled the room each time something funny or ridiculous came up. I miss waking up to my room-mate’s laptop blasting Rihanna and Drake’s ‘Take Care’. I miss having Ann from Kenya save me loads of coated nuts, because she noticed I loved them. I even miss walking in the streets and having people throw all sorts of comments about my size. Bref, I miss every single moment of the Ghana experience and I can’t wait to be back there again.
When I left The Gambia for Ghana, I was told I was going in for a life-changing experience. I would have to agree with those sentiments, for my life has obviously been changed to a certain extent. It’s time to forge ahead now. I’ll catch you all soon with more updates from The Gambia. 🙂