It’s been a couple of years since I went to the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. The blog posts I wrote about my experience there still drive a lot of traffic to my blog. So today I’m gonna write about a frequently asked question about YALI. Is it worth it? Has it changed my life?

And the answer to both questions is yes!

There’s a college in town that has a bad reputation for wayward kids and low pass rates. When I discussed it with my cousins who went there, they simply said, “you get out what you put in.” That was mind blowing for me because even these schools with a high pass rate will have people who failed. It’s never 100%. So, using this analogy, going to America on the YALI program is the same thing. You get out what you put in.

There are people who go there for the sake of getting an all expenses paid trip to the States and that’s a win for them. And there are the people who take the whole experience seriously and immense themselves in the workshops, site visits and mentorship. These people usually get more out of the whole experience. They build strong relationships, learn new things and soak up the culture.

Before we left for the USA, we had an induction workshop at the Embassy and they encouraged us to participate actively even when the activity doesn’t seem obviously related to our tracks. It wasn’t until I got to Nebraska that I understood why they said this. I learnt a lot about farming and agriculture. As a digital storyteller, that was off track for me. But you know what, I think about the principles I learned from those agricultural visits a lot.

An opportunity won’t walk up to you and introduce itself as an opportunity. The connections I made not only with people in the US but other African countries and within the Zimbabwean YALI Alumni are still helpful to me today. Most of the grants and funding opportunities encourage collaborations as YALI alumni. Most donors want organisations to cross-collaborate and not just YALI ones. Collaboration seems to be the new buzzword when it comes to the the way we work now.

As someone who grew up in Bulawayo, I have changed the way I do/see things since I moved to Harare. Being in a new city taught me new things, new ideas and gave me new experiences. This “exposure” can’t be quantified and fully expressed into words. You have to live it to understand it. That’s why I encourage Bulawayo youth to come and experience Harare at some point in their lives. It’s the same with being in the USA. The exposure to a new country and how they live and how they do things is inspiring. It’s nothing like how they portray it on TV.

Being a part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship was an opportunity of a lifetime which led to even more opportunities. It definitely changed the way I think and the way that I work. The ‘Strengths Test’ helped me to understand myself better and to optimise the way that I work. One trait I picked up from the Americans is being honest and straight to the point (being blunt). It saves everybody some time.

I’m curious to hear from the YALI alumni that had to do the fellowship remotely about their experience.