If I am to describe my experience at African Leadership Academy (ALA) in one word: cataclysmic.
In 2012 my teacher called me into her office and asked if I had ever heard about the African Leadership Academy. I told her that it was the school that two of my former school mates had gone to. I also knew that it was a two year A-level program where you got a scholarship to study for two years and that it was located in Johannesburg South Africa but besides that I knew nothing. She advised me to apply and said that she thought I would be a good fit, she also advised me to go online and look up the school.
I went online with my phone and Googled African Leadership Academy. What I found was that this school was a world class boarding school that was looking for young people who displayed a strong passion for Africa, a strong entrepreneurial spirit and displayed tremendous leadership potential. The students would be required to do A-level subjects of their choice but they were also expected to do the core ALA subjects: African Studies, Entrepreneurial Leadership (EL) and Writing and Rhetoric. This school also was very expensive but this was not a problem because you could apply despite your economic standpoint and you would receive a scholarship that would be enable you to attend the institution for two years. However, what caught my eye whilst going through the different tabs was the fact that this school enrolled children from all over the African continent. I kept on going through the tabs and then I saw the enrolment statistics, out of an average of 2500 applicants the school only took a maximum of 100 students each new year. It was then that I knew I would not be attending ALA.
However my teacher urged me to apply and I did. I was rejected. And I was not even surprised in the least bit. In 2013 my father advised me to apply again and I did. I was accepted. I was surprised. What baffled me was that in 2012 around 3000 people had applied and in 2013 4500 people had applied, I was shocked as to how I had made it the second time around but all the while excited that I had made it. The application process was tedious, I remember coming back from school and having to write long essays about my passion which I was not entirely sure about. Questions about my academic life, extra-curricular, family life and my hopes and dreams for the next ten years stared at me for many a night. I remember the day I got the phone call that I had been accepted into ALA, I was in the school bus falling asleep. At first I thought I was day dreaming until I realized that I was not. I was ecstatic and could not help but smile all the way till I got home.
When I arrived at ALA in September of 2013 I had always been a solid B student on good days. I suddenly found myself in class with students who were A students on a bad day. At first this scared me, intimidated me even, but I remember that my Literature teacher said to us in class, if you are doing your subjects because you enjoy them and love them then the grade will show but if you are not the grade will also show. It is then that I began to think about what I really enjoyed and what I wanted to devote my time and energy to. I had been a science student strictly my whole life but I had not chosen the sciences, they had been chosen for me. At ALA I found a place where doing subjects was not a matter of how smart you are, or which subjects will land you in the field that has high earnings, I found a place where learning was something that was supposed to challenge you but also intrigue and interest you as individual but most of all, build towards your passion as an individual.
I did not know much about leadership before arriving at ALA. I knew what leadership meant and I knew leaders (presidents, CEOs and Headmasters) but I did not know what it meant to be a leader and to live leadership. My EL classes taught me that leadership is not a position one holds but rather it is how an individual thinks, sees and approaches the world and its problems. I remember that through the various teams I worked in I found myself learning something new about myself and also about people. In my last year, I worked with four amazing young women and together we started our own student enterprise which we called ‘Arts4Activism’. What I enjoyed most about our enterprise is that what brought us together was our passion to bring about social change through the use of the arts. We were all artistic individuals who believed that the arts were truly a medium that could be used for change especially in Africa. Practising how to run an enterprise was probably one of the things that made me sleep late or come back to my room stressed. It was not easy but I enjoyed it very much and I saw that a leader is only as good as the individuals he/she is working with.
The best thing for me at ALA was the people. I know so many of my peers have said this to point that I think that it has become an ALA cliché but like all clichés they all hold tremendous truth. I am fortunate to have met smart, driven, ambitious, loving, caring, kind individuals who love me, support me and push me in all that I do. My friends are people who ran with me in the rain, danced with me to Davido and prepared me for the most important moments of my life. They are people who I boast about when they come out on TV or feature in big magazines, but they are also people who I will call at midnight and tell them all my insecurities.
Through my friends, education and company I met at ALA I have learnt that what should drive you as a person is your passion whatever it may be. What should guide you in moments you are unsure are your values. What should bring you joy are acts of selflessness and kindness. What should inspire you to constantly do better are the people around you and what should haunt you always, is remembering to give back and supporting others like you in any way you can.
I do not regret taking two extra years of learning in high school because now I cannot imagine how my life would be like without the people and the experiences I gained from ALA.
Main image taken from emeritusky.wordpress.com