The Language of a Better Africa: How One Student is Ready to Take on Pollution, Addiction, and Women's Issues

08/08/19
 
Patrick Vandi has done many things that he never dreamed of being able to do: he is in university, he’s applying for law school, and this summer, he was selected to attend a prestigious leadership conference.
 
Not many children who grew up amid the challenges of rural Sierra Leone have the chance to visit another country, or to ride in an airplane. Patrick did both on his way to the Young Africans Leadership Initiative Regional Leadership Conference (YALI RLC) in Ghana. 
 
Because of generous people like you, Patrick has had the chance to do things he never dreamed of while growing up in Sierra Leone!
 
Patrick wrote about his experience in Ghana, and we want to share his journey with you. After all, Patrick wouldn’t be where he is today without the help of people like you!
 
We hope you enjoy reading about his experience in his own words.
 

 

 
On 8th of June 2019, at exactly 2:45 pm, I journeyed out of Sierra Leone. It was the first time I did a lot of things. The first time I ever sat in a plane and the first time I saw my home country from above the ground. I felt several emotions at a time and I discovered so many things about myself. I felt fears I never thought I had, met people from different walks of life and understood the essence of culture from within other cultures.
 
. . . On June 8th, I arrived at the Kotoka International Airport in Ghana. The atmosphere was different. A bus was made available by the YALI team to transport participants to the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), specifically the Executive Conference Centre where the training was to take place. Upon arrival, I met people from eight other West African countries who were also there for the onsite training. 
 
We interacted and laughed over a meal like we had known one another for years. There were over one hundred participants from eight countries and several cultures within the same space, yet it felt like family. There was a colorful opening ceremony where the nine countries present displayed culture in the most beautiful way you can imagine. To my amazement, I realized that there was really oneness in culture as most of the cultural elements overlapped.  
 
Patrick studied public policy management at YALI. He learned about problem solving, teamwork, and how he and other young leaders can take on the big issues facing West Africa.
 
. . . We had several group exercises where we were tasked to find solutions to problems that we had identified. . . . My group presented on mitigating tramadol (an opioid) abuse among West African youths. Some solutions were to engage in robust awareness on the effect of tramadol abuse, and the advocacy for strict regulations on tramadol. This was a challenge and it taught me how to summarize problems and pitch solutions within the shortest possible time.
 
The second challenge was to brainstorm a problem and present solutions to these problems. My track chose the problem of value addition (refining and processing natural resources to sell them at a higher price) to primary produce in Africa, specifically cocoa. We presented a think tank solution for policy formulation to help meet this challenge. I was actively involved in the research process and used my passion for technology to help my team. 
 
The simulation group exercise, which was the most intensive one, opened me to knowledge on Burkina Faso and the issue of single-use plastic waste. As a team, we worked during the day and burnt the night candle to prepare a drama and presentation. This exercise crowned the training as we saw professionals from various fields peruse our work. It was an amazing journey that opened me to people of different cultures with several ideas and I got to see other people make a home out of my country as they spoke about Sierra Leone as though it was their home as well. It brought alive the spirit of togetherness and the love for Africa as a continent.
 
Patrick and his cohorts at the conference
            YALI brought together some of the brightest young minds in West Africa! 
 
Amidst all of the hard work, we enjoyed a fun trip to the University of Ghana gardens where we enjoyed many thrills and chills. I faced my fear of heights when I had to walk on a canopy walkway that was high above the ground. They say men do not know fear, but I realized this was a cliché. Also, I had the opportunity to interact with several others beyond the classroom and opened myself to several conversations on a variety of topics such as food, language, currency, transport, technology, and many others. We laughed over food and gathered memories through photographs. 
 
Amongst the many first things that I experienced was a field trip to the Tema Sea Port of Ghana where we took a tour, guided by officials of the Ghana Ports and Harbors Authority. We were educated on the activities of import and export of the Ghanaian economy. There was also a ride on a war vessel where we took a 45-minute sail on the sea. It was a beautiful adventure yet my body reacted negatively to the motion of the ship.
 
The three weeks onsite came to an end with an exciting yet emotionally provoking closing ceremony as many cried. Bonds were formed, friendships developed, and families evolved. As part of the training, we were tasked with eight weeks of post training activities i.e. four weeks of mentorship and four weeks of community service in our home countries. For me, this has been a great learning experience as every day I experienced different things. 
 
How do I wish to help my community with this knowledge? Apart from my community service with my Sierra Leonean team, which is on cleaning and sensitization of the Rogbala community and youths, I wish to start a project that is on awareness of young females on menstrual hygiene, as I have observed this is a major issue in my community. Most of these girls have limited access to sanitary pads and the issue of hygiene during menstruation has not been given adequate attention. In my community, the selling of sanitary towels is done predominantly by pharmacies, and there are only a few pharmacies in just the big towns. As such, it is a major challenge.
 
Patrick
Patrick has big plans to use the skills he learned at YALI in his community in Sierra Leone. As a service project, he wants to make sure women have access to sanitary products. 
 
In all, this has been and continues to be a mind-broadening experience. I have built social relationships, learnt the need of giving back to my community in my own small way, seen the light in Africa, and I have been empowered to do more. I experienced the much spoken about Ghanaian hospitality and the passion for development has been ignited in me. The opportunity to take part in this initiative has been a life changing one and I hope to impart that change in my own little way. Amidst the variety of accents, we spoke one language, the language of a better Africa.
 

 

 
Patrick would not be able to attend the YALI conference without your support. You, and many others like you, made sure that Patrick did not stay trapped in poverty in Sierra Leone. You gave him food, clean water, and an education. You supported Patrick as he attended university and made sure he could achieve his dreams!
 
In the fall, Patrick plans on attending law school. He hopes to apply the skills he has learned from YALI to become a lawyer and end corruption in Sierra Leone.