3. Not a Handout, but a Hand Up: AAI Scholar Empowering Tomorrow’s Leaders

Not a Handout, but a Hand Up: AAI Scholar Empowering Tomorrow’s Leaders

Emmanuel, a visionary Ashinaga Africa Initiative (AAI) Scholar from Burkina Faso, shares a compelling narrative of resilience and determination. He is a student of International Relations and Peace at Asia Pacific University in Japan; his interest in politics, peace, and democracy stems from the impact of political changes on his family, which led to educational challenges and economic hardships. Due to those political changes, Emmanuel’s childhood was marked by financial struggles and personal sacrifices that compelled him to live with another family. These early hardships inspired his ambition to create positive change in his community.

In 2019-2020, Emmanuel founded the organization “Children’s Smile” in Ivory Coast, aiming to support children in street situations, orphans, and those from disadvantaged families. Motivated by a rainy-day encounter with a young boy without proper clothing, Emmanuel explains, “We formed Children’s Smile with like-minded friends to make a difference.” Through his transformative Kokorozashi project, Emmanuel actively champions marginalized youth, aiming to break the cycle of poverty and social exclusion. He emphasizes that his Kokorozashi (lifelong dream) is not just a handout but a hand-up, driven by the belief that “every individual deserves a chance to fulfill their potential and contribute meaningfully to society.”
Despite financial constraints, Emmanuel and his team persevered, providing vulnerable children with clothing, food, and emotional support. He notes, “We pooled our resources and sought additional donor assistance to carry out our mission. ‘’

The Covid-19 pandemic has profoundly shaped the organization’s trajectory. The pandemic’s onset prompted a shift to digital operations due to safety measures, compelling Emmanuel and his team to adapt their working dynamics. Regarding the difficulties faced in conducting field activities, Emmanuel notes, “It was very challenging, since we needed to assist the street kids, whose living conditions worsened during the pandemic.” The pandemic also introduced a financial strain, as Emmanuel explains: “Our main funding came from donations from the local community, which were also affected by the pandemic.” In response, the team pursued innovative strategies, as Emmanuel describes: “We integrated a professional training program for the members to create value by ourselves and support raising money for the project, As the founder, I started a small business selling perfumes during the same time to gain extra money to reinvest in the organization.”

This experience reflects the organization’s resilience, showcasing its ability to navigate challenges and find innovative solutions amidst the complexities introduced by the Covid-19 pandemic. Looking back, Emmanuel reflects, “I will say that time taught us resilience, but also the importance of the work we do and how many people’s lives depend on it.”

Participating in AAI, especially following the Covid-19 challenge, has played a crucial role in shaping Emmanuel’s leadership vision. “The AAI program has been instrumental in defining my goals and honing my leadership skills to recover from the Covid-19 setbacks,” he says. Emmanuel emphasizes that AAI is more than just a scholarship; it is a comprehensive leadership and learning experience that provides ongoing support for individuals to evolve into impactful leaders.

Emmanuel’s experience in Japan contributed to his personal growth, teaching him patience and self-reliance. He appreciates the kindness and gratitude he encountered in Japan, which has left a profound impression on his outlook. Encouraging aspiring leaders to apply for AAI, Emmanuel asserts, “If you want to grow and make a real impact, AAI is the place for you.”

Emmanuel’s story exemplifies commitment to lead positive change and determination to surmount the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, inspiring the next generation of African leaders. The AAI continues to pave the way for young individuals, nurturing their potential and empowering them to create positive change in their communities and beyond.

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