June 30, 2021

Rebuilding Communities in the Wake of the Pandemic

With COVID-19 continuing to have an impact across the world, the role that exchange alumni play in helping their communities has taken a critical turn. Through grants from the U.S. Department of State’s Alumni Rapid Response Fund (ARRF), alumni of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Regional Leadership Center (RLC), and Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) program are making an impact. Here are 10 of their inspiring stories:

Alhasan Bah has drawn on his exchange experience by working to improve the reliability of health information surrounding COVID-19. By engaging health experts, religious leaders, and border communities across the country, Alhasan has reached 10 communities through more than 28 radio programs to educate nearly 200,000 listeners on protecting themselves and their communities from the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, the team has dispersed medical supplies, including 28 hand washing buckets with soap, shirts, and face masks to audiences of these programs, and an additional 500 masks to communities and schools across the region. 

YALI RLC alumna Tendai Chidzero led a similar initiative in Malawi, with an aim to sensitize and empower rural masses to engage in COVID-19 preventative procedures. With an understanding that the rural demographic is critical in helping to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Tendai’s team was able to ultimately reach 12,000 people in the Blantyre district and provide access to accurate, timely information around the pandemic, using radio interviews, jingles, and fliers to combat misinformation in the region. 

Alfred Kankuzi, a 2017 MWF and founder and CEO of Status Innovation Limited has been combating the spread of the pandemic through the creation of his own app called ‘Covid-19 NEBA’ – also known as “Hey Neighbor.” The app works by enhancing access to fact-based information and preventative behaviors from trusted sources such as World Health Organization (WHO), Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the Ministry of Health (MOH). Offered in several local languages, the project’s impact has exceeded the team’s initial expectations by reaching 648,000 citizens, equipping these users with critical information on the importance of hand-washing, wearing face masks, and maintaining social distance. 

And in Nigeria, one alumnus is tapping into the creative potential of its own youth to combat the effects of the pandemic. Led by Olakunle Adewale, a 2015 MWF alumnus, Art Responders Healing Project is drawing on art, music, and dance to provide psychosocial support to young adults who are struggling to cope.The project drew in 400 participants selected from six local government areas in Lagos. The project ultimately aimed to showcase empathy and community resilience through art, with the goal of supporting healthcare workers on the frontlines as well as youth and young adults. Results of the project can be found here

Sherifah Tumusiime, who organized a master class to increase the participation of women in the economy and to help them gain the skills needed to take on greater leadership roles in business and entrepreneurship. Zimba Women Master Class has engaged over 50 women owned Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and provided dedicated COVID-19 impact analysis and contingency planning, leading to the implementation of these business resilience performance improvements across all companies.  Zimba Women held its program graduation ceremony this summer, with all 50 students completing the program. 

Across Zambia, MWF alumni have provided basic supplies to the Little Assisi School for Children with Learning Disabilities. Following the government's decision to open learning institutions after a prolonged school closure due to the pandemic, items requested would go directly toward nourishing its students and included maize meal, eggs, rice, cooking oil, washing soap, and linen for the production of facemasks. After these materials were delivered to 66 vulnerable and marginalized youth with learning disabilities, the alumni also identified a need for professional support, and organized volunteer opportunities from within the Zambia-U.S. Exchange Alumni Association (ZUEA) to provide mentorship to students at the school. 

Nkosana Mazibisa is building on his exchange program in Zimbabwe by improving access to professional development resources. With many citizens having lost their jobs or been otherwise affected by the economic crisis that came with COVID-19, the need for readily accessible support is greater than ever. Nkosana created the Asakhane BisaWork electronic platform to provide users access to virtual offices, entrepreneurial resources, digital marketing tools, and an e-commerce market during the COVID-19 pandemic. The platform has been incredibly successful since its launch last year, spurring the creation of a number of other companies and networking opportunities. 

In Kenya, a podcast called the Podcast Leadership Development Series has taken off, offering an educational platform and source of inspiration for Kenyan youth to stay productive and continue to make a positive impact amidst COVID-19. Since its inception, the podcast has been downloaded 460 times in 22 countries and expanded across Amazon, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. It has also garnered 866 followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The most recent episode featured Magdalene Chepkemoi, who offered a glimpse into the Great COVID-19 Innovations challenge – and the episode reached 181 people on social media and across podcast platforms. 

Ian Banda has called on his government to do more to protect the rights of persons with disabilities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the founder of Youth in Action for Disability Inclusion, Ian, who himself is a person with a disability, believes that having a disability often poses a higher risk of infection because of inherent underlying conditions that may exist. He added that the disabled community is often marginalized and live in overcrowded settings, which further puts them at risk. “The government should provide accurate, user-friendly, accessible, and timely information about the disease, prevention methods, and services,” he said. Through Ian’s advocacy, others are calling for change in their governments as well, with the hope of effecting long-term change in disability rights. 

The work of these alumni is an example of the important role international exchange alumni play in their communities everyday; from helping to rebuild the workforce, to improving access to critical public health information, to tackling misinformation, and more.