Friday, June 20, 2014

Catching up with Ruth Danjuma, alumna of Pan Africa Youth Leadership program

The Pan African Youth Leadership Program is U.S government sponsored three-week intensive exchange program for high school students between the ages of 15- 18 who have demonstrated commitment to leadership and community service. It offers high school students and adult educators from up to 38 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa the opportunity to explore the themes of civic education, youth leadership development, community engagement, and respect for diversity.

This year, 3 students from Nigeria, Ruth Danjuma, Fidelis Nzekwe, and Amidu Mohammed, joined 21 students from Zambia, Kenya, Namibia, Malawi, Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe for the exchange program in the United States in April.

They have since returned from the program and we met one of the students, Ruth Danjuma, who is currently a social prefect at her school, Government Secondary School Tudun Wada.  This was during a one day leadership workshop, organized by the American Corner Abuja in collaboration with Junior Achievement Nigeria and Action to Yield Aid to Hopeful Adults and the Young (AYAHAY).  The workshop was for prefects of Government Secondary School Tudun Wada and Model Secondary School Maitama, and we could not pass on the chance to hear about Ruth’s experience.  Here are excerpts of our interaction with her.
Q: I’m really excited to be talking to you today. Last year you were interviewed for the Pan African Youth Leadership Program, and this year you were selected to represent your school and Nigeria at the Pan African Youth Leadership Program for three weeks in the United States. Tell us about your experience in the United States.

A: It was very interesting. Altogether we were 24 students from 8 Africa countries—t hree students from each of the African countries and one adult mentor from the four African countries.

We were divided into four groups, team blue, yellow, red, and green; a cross country group, we were able to learn new things from other members of the groups.  We shared our ideas and we learned a lot of things. They taught us a lot about leadership skills, social entrepreneurship, and how we can be good leaders.

Q: And you had a great time?
A: Yes, I had fun.
Q: What were some of the cities you visited while in the United States?
A: We went to Washington, D.C. at first and spent five days there, then we went to Indianapolis and each of us spent two weeks with an American family that was meant to build mutual understanding between Africans and the Americans.  After that we moved to Chicago, where we did the wrap for the program.
Q: How was life living with an American family; how was the experience different from what you are used to?
A: It was different than expected.  With the families you have gender equality, the fathers cook and the mother can cook. Here in Africa, they feel that women are supposed to do the household chores.  However, the husbands in the American family can ask the wife, “what don’t we have at home” and he can go to the supermarket when he’s coming back from work and bring it back. It was so different how they interact with their children; they are so free with them, they talk to them. But here in Africa, in Nigeria, there are some ways you talk to your parents, and they feel like you are disrespecting them.  The children are able to call an adult, even old people, by their first names.
It was also surprising to see that they had the Museum of African Art [at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.] . That shows that Americans treasure African art. We visited the Museum of African Art.  Most of the exhibits were from Nigeria—Yoruba people, Edo, Hausa, it was very fascinating.
Q: What is the key take away from this experience that you hope to implement now that you are back?
A: Since I had the opportunity to work in a team, I now consider team work to be very important because I learned how to tolerate other people. I learned to share new ideas with them, and I learned to be open.

I plan to start a bead-making project as a way of alleviating poverty. I want to start with 10 students from my school and slowly grow the business.  I also plan on attending an awareness campaign on the importance of eradicating poverty.
Q: So do you know how to make beads?  Will you be the one teaching the students how to make beads?
A: Yes, I know how to make beads, though I am not perfect.  If the need arises, I will go to the market and call someone to come and teach us.
Q: How will you work with your school in implementing this project?
A: I am a member of the SAGE Club—Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship. Bead making is a form of entrepreneurship, so I already have a foundation.  I will work with the members of the SAGE club and also recruit new members.
Q: Why the focus on bead-making?
A: I just want to start with beads because women love beads.  Here in Nigeria, the native wears [clothing] are very common, and women like beads that would go with the colors of their dresses.  So I want to start with bead-making; as time goes on I will add more items.
Q: What will you say to other students, how will you encourage them?
A: I will encourage them to be good leaders, to take every opportunity seriously because for me I wrote that essay last year, but I never knew I will go to America. When I went there and I came back, I was like, is this me or am I dreaming?  So my advice is that they should take every opportunity seriously. It doesn’t matter how people look down on them as [long] as they know what they are doing is right.

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