My excitement mounted as I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 4 to be greeted by Mike King, a fellow member of the HALI Access Network, representing Ashinaga. It was good to see him after a year; we had a lot to catch up with.
The HALI Access Network is the brain child of Rebecca Zeigler Mano, from Education Matters in Zimbabwe, an organisation that helps high achieving, low income (HALI) students to access university education abroad, and Rebekah Westphal, then an admissions officer at Yale University. Over a coffee one day about five years ago, they talked about how wonderful it would be if they could connect similar organisations so that collectively we could help more needy students, raise awareness across Africa of the opportunities available and advocate for these students in America, where many of their students go.SMXLL
Less than a year later, the first Indaba (it is an African term for meeting place or conference) was held in Zimbabwe. Fourteen organisations attended, of which Our Moon was one.
This was the fourth conference. Each has taken place in different countries on the continent. From our small beginnings, we now have 38 organisations from 20 countries. All organisations have an objective to help HALI students access university places abroad. We have different programmes and different approaches, depending on the needs of the countries and the philosophies and funding of our organisations. Some are volunteer led with few resources but a lot of enthusiasm; others have multi-million £ funding. We also have a strong ‘Friends of HALI’ network including universities who are sympathetic to our students and Duolingo, the language app and English testing service.
The Indaba this year in Ghana (sponsored very generously by Higher Life Foundation) was a resounding success. When we consider our motive for the work that all our organisations do every day, it is to inspire young Africans, through education opportunities – those we give them on our programmes and those they have at the incredible universities they go to – to contribute to Africa’s development. And what I realised during my reflections on the plane, is that what we saw in front of us at this Indaba for the first time, were many articulate, well-educated, passionate young Africans – some even from our own organisations! – giving back to their countries and continent, inspiring many more Africans.
Yes, the Indaba felt different. It was bigger than before and maybe a little less intimate and more unwieldy. But by the end, sitting in the conference room, I had to pinch myself to make sure that I wasn’t just dreaming about this transformation. There were so many people in that room representing many African countries. We are from an array of cultural, religious and social backgrounds, with a wide range of ages sharing the same goals. But most importantly, the Indaba itself and our organisations are giving African youth a chance for leadership and for the world to hear their voices.
I have returned home, re-energised both for Our Moon and for HALI Access Network where I am chair of the Communications Committee. We have a lot to do, but a great team to help us keep moving forward.