Pursuing Educational Access One Workshop at A Time

On July 6, 2019 CAMA stepped into the warm embrace of Kigali, Rwanda to host its first College Readiness Workshop (CRW). CAMA’s CRWs represent a key development in the organization’s development. While CAMA’s Virtual Program remains the hallmark of the organization, CRWs aim to increase interaction with information and foster partnerships with organizations and schools on the ground. The July 2019 College Readiness Workshop (CRW) was a collaborative feat between CAMA, three secondary schools in Kigali and enthusiastic CAMA facilitators. One of the key co-ordinators was Cynthia Mulindi. As a member of CAMA’s Global Team, Cynthia spearheaded the Kigali workshop, ensuring spreadsheets and checklists were translated into an intensive, hands-on college readiness workshop. As we forge ahead with our virtual mentorship program for the 2019-2020 academic year and plan future workshops, we take a moment to reflect on the lessons our students and our team learned from this endeavour, which is best described as an educational adventure.

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Interactive. That was the adjective students used when they gave feedback on the workshop. We were thrilled that we managed to strike a balance between equipping students with information but also tossing the figurative microphone around the room to allow each person to share their own knowledge and opinions about important topics such as Writing Personal Statements, Parental Involvement in Financial Aid and Ethics in College Admissions. 

As recent graduates and current university students, we know that effective workshops are driven by student curiosity, individual reflection and dialogue. In the workshop, students were encouraged to use their bodies to vote on how ethical an admissions scenario sounded. They wrote their doubts and fears about the college process on the walls, determined to cross them out after the workshop. Students were encouraged to move through the space and interact with peers. One student reflected on their experience, “I enjoyed every single thing about the workshop … [the facilitators] explained everything well about applying and the difference between scholarship and financial aid”. Another student commented that the workshop “was fun… and the people who spoke to us were kind.” Compassion and commitment are two values that underscore CAMA’s mission and the reflection our students offered was a testament to these values and the relationships they quickly fostered with our exceptional facilitators.

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Building Capacity. Our invitation for the workshop extended not only to students, but to their teachers as well. CAMA used the workshop as an opportunity to connect with teachers eager to provide support to students in their classes applying abroad. A perceptive and concerned student made a comment that “it would be better if [CAMA] came to schools so that [CAMA] could share [information from the workshop] with [other students], more than we can tell them.” We hope that training teachers will bridge this discrepancy our student pointed out as these teachers use their experience to sow knowledge into current and future classes.

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Charting The Future. One of the tips we shared with our students during the workshop was to start planning early. In our upcoming Future Pathways workshop in Accra, Ghana in partnership with a non-profit venture called the Bowney Initiative, we are honing in on this idea of proactive planning by supporting the career exploration process of young girls. Exposure is key and CAMA intends to help the girls question the single path laid before them and instead, design their own roads, underground tunnels and airways. 

CAMA is immensely proud of our first CRW and the important development this represents for the organization. However, our strongest emotion is gratitude, to all the advisors, partners and facilitators with whom, none of our efforts to close the higher education gaps would be possible.

CAMA at the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference 2018

More than 800 student leaders from over 80 nationalities gathered at the University of Chicago campus in Chicago, Illinois to attend one of the most inspiring annual student conferences that took place from 19-21 October, 2018. The Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) Conference invites students who are pioneering their own solutions in the fields of education, health, poverty and the environment, to network with each other and established professionals in order to gain the skills and contacts to grow these initiatives. Students also attend plenary sessions in which the panelists include the Clintons, past CGI U students and directors of non-profit organizations that tackle gun violence, discrimination and education equity.

This year, CAMA was honoured to be selected as one of the initiatives that was represented at the conference, joining other students who are passionately working to demolish education barriers. The leadership team was represented by Vongai Mlambo, a member of the advisory board, who participated in all the activities at the conference with a keen interest in learning how to refine and grow the organization. “On a practical level, the conference helped me brainstorm about how the CAMA team can increase its organizational capacity and make long-lasting partnerships so that we can continue serving the students we set out to support. On a more philosophical level, the conference added fuel to my fire: to see the profound belief that all these adults have in us was overwhelming in the best way because it created a sense of urgency, a need to act.”

This message was exactly what the last day of the conference imparted to all its participants as they engaged in community service with local Chicago organizations working with underprivileged in Chicago and around the world. Notably, under the guidance of the organization Rise to Hunger, the students managed to package 75,000 bags of food that will be sent to food-scarce communities. “The food packaging process was the best metaphor of how we will succeed as a global society,” Vongai shared. “Each person has an ingredient that they needed to contribute to the bag and without their input of that item, we could not seal the bag. Or if we did, the bag would not supply enough nutrients to its recipient. Similarly, the solutions that will really be transformational in health, education, poverty or the environment, are not found in a single individual or even single organization. The solution emerges from the synergy of contributions from everyone dedicated to the cause. Only then can we nourish the world to a healthier state.”

As the CAMA team reflects on this experience, they cannot help but think about their fellow African peers who are pursuing projects for social change, some of whom Vongai had the pleasure of meeting during the conference. “I was very thrilled to meet the diversity of movers and shakers on the continent. One of the past CGU I members who was featured as an exemplary leader is from Uganda. He started an initiative for Ugandan youth with business ideas to receive mentorship and funding from a network of established business professionals. I loved how he was giving young Ugandans a platform to act on their ideas.”

Our CAMA network is no doubt engaging in amazing projects. If you are one of these individuals, we highly recommend applying for next year’s CGI U conference or other conferences like this around the world so that maybe, next year, CAMA will meet you at the conference!

Have a project you are working on? Share it with us and we can feature it on our Facebook page and blog!

 

CAMA in FOCUS: Pan-Africanism in Practice: Raising Awareness for the African Passport

College Admissions Mentors for Africa (CAMA) aims to provide access to higher education for African high school students through peer-to-peer mentorship. One of CAMA’s secondary aims is to generate content related to projects and initiatives that demonstrate the power of collaboration, entrepreneurship, and social change. Through “CAMA in FOCUS” we begin a series of articles featuring students and groups who are passionate about using their education to advance their communities. While advancement is often taken to mean the implementation of developmental projects, it can also be realized through passionate advocacy for progressive ideals.

For June’s “CAMA in FOCUS”, meet Victor Okoth, an NYU Abu Dhabi junior studying Civil Engineering. Originally from Uganda, Victor is on a mission to spread awareness and interest for the African Passport. Initially launched for heads of state and senior officials, the African passport is part of the African 2063 agenda to reduce restrictions across borders.

On Africa Day, May 25, 2018, Victor began his three-month journey starting from Uganda and will navigate across the continent on a motorcycle, with Dakar, Senegal as his final destination. However, Victor embraces the unpredictability of travel and accepts that his ultimate destination may change.

While Victor’s journey is a bold and a symbolic step towards his Pan-African vision, he emphasizes that Pan-Africanism can be practiced and intertwined with individuals’ everyday lives. Victor says:

[Africans] ought to do their utmost best in whatever occupation or field they are engaged in. Teachers must teach as best they can, tradespeople must trade as best they can…The cumulative effect of so many people doing their very best is what will drive Pan-African unity forward. On a political level, they must hold those people and institutions that have been entrusted more than others with driving Pan-Africanism forward accountable.

Over the course of his trip, Victor hopes to “gain an even more sophisticated appreciation of the diversity on the continent and how we can leverage it to drive the Pan-African Agenda forward.” He endeavours to celebrate the differences among African nations and demonstrate that this difference a productive rather than divisive force.

Victor will be documenting his highlights and challenges through social media outlets and blog posts. Aside from social media, Victor also hopes to engage with the local community on a more personal level through radio show appearances or talks at educational institutions.

Although the ethos of a more united continent associated with the passport is generally lauded, the administration of the passport remains challenging. Victor tells us, “I think the most salient issue is that national parliaments really haven’t taken this as a priority. If they did, we might have made so much progress. In my opinion, it is imperative that positions on Pan-African goals become an important topic in elections deciding who goes to Parliament in the different states.” Others note that many Africans are undocumented and would not benefit from the expensive, administrative restructuring that would need to take place to implement robust biometric systems. Furthermore, as Victor noted, open borders may “spur massive migration that would heighten pressure on infrastructure and jobs” in wealthier countries such as South Africa, Seychelles or Botswana.

Finally, as someone who will be beginning his senior year in the fall, we asked him what advice he would give to students who are navigating their own dreams and aspirations. “I’d say we young people should take whatever opportunities are available to us and make the most of them. In pursuing those dreams, it might help to realise that we aren’t pursuing them for ourselves alone, but also for the communities of which we are a part. If you’re dream is entrepreneurship for example, lots of people will depend on your business for a livelihood. So, you gotta do it to the best of your ability.”

For more information on CAMA please visit our main website at camaafrica.org.

Retracing the Origins of CAMA: Steering the Way to Success Through Mentorship

In Spring 2017, a group of seven NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) students met to discuss the  re-launching of College Admissions Mentors for Africa (CAMA). The program was initially started in 2015 by six NYUAD students whose passion for educational access propelled them to develop a free and open mentorship initiative.  Applying to U.S. universities can it be daunting – it requires knowledge of the Common Application, SATs, and resume building – and navigating these steps can sometimes feel overwhelming and stressful. Although the program had been successful at the beginning, NYUAD student Christopher Luwanga (Class of 2017) gathered a small meeting and shared his commitment to re-activating CAMA before his graduation. Christopher was motivated by the fact that CAMA addressed a need that he himself had had.  

Luwanga emphasized the importance of mentorship, noting that, “… the supportive hand that CAMA offers will help somebody finish their application on time, make a clear headed decision about college, and possibly change their whole life trajectory because college is rather pivotal in life.”

After a summer of actively recruiting students and NYUAD mentors, CAMA launched its 2017-18 Mentor Program and welcomed 19 mentees from across the continent. As we come to the end of the 2017-2018 mentoring cycle, we wanted to reflect on the visions and ideas that brought CAMA into being. To do this, we briefly interviewed two of the original founders to get insider knowledge about who they are, what they are doing now, and their vision for CAMA as a mechanism to strengthen collaborations and ensure that knowledge about the process was made available.

Meet Derara Hailegeorgis, a Math major from Ethiopia, who currently serves as a Climate researcher at NYUAD. Derara saw CAMA as way to share knowledge about the college process and invest in the next generation of young leaders and problem-solvers. He told us, “I believe Africa is in a desperate condition…educated, thoughtful, and good willed youth are needed… to take on important roles …and …[to] enlighten a knowledge-deprived society…

Many of the founders have used their career paths as a way to build on their dedication to equal access.  Abdoulaye Yeyoba Ndiaye, an Economics graduate from Senegal, is currently a Research Assistant at the Center for Technology and Economic Development (CTED) and hopes to use his knowledge to

“unlock the economic potential of small rural communities by providing easier access to information and technology.” When asked why he thinks mentorship is important, he explained that “your mentor is basically your co-driver in a rally racing car. It is still your responsibility to… step on the gas and reach the finish line, but your mentor is there to help you manage the road pits and curves you’ll encounter on the way.”

As CAMA continues into the next admissions cycle, we are minded that mentorship is both an exchange of ideas and information, but also the development of relationships.

“I believe that having a mentor helps the mentee in ways they may sometimes only begin to appreciate much further down the road” says Luwanga. We hope to continue to see this idea unfold in the CAMA cycles to come.