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An Interview with the First Cohort of UWC Amala Changemaker Foundation Programme Graduates​​​​​​​

26 November 2021

The UWC Amala Changemaker Foundation Programme celebrated its first cohort of students to graduate from the Programme in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya in July 2021. The Programme was launched in partnership with Rise and was built through a collaborative effort between UWC and Amala. It aims to give young people from refugee backgrounds the opportunity to develop skills in leadership, conflict resolution, problem analysis, innovation, wellbeing and critical engagement through a 20 week Programme they embark on together with other young changemakers from different backgrounds and parts of Kakuma Camp. As part of the programme, the students designed, prototyped and implemented a project for social good with the aim of continuing the project long after the course finished. 

We spoke to a group of these graduates about the motivation that propelled them to apply and continue with the course despite the other hardships they face in their day-to-day lives, the learnings that they have so far taken from it and their ambitions for their futures as the first generation of UWC Amala Changemaker Foundation Programme alumni. 

As refugees we find ourselves in the camp because of war and because of the absence of peace. I fell in love with the UWC mission to make education a force for peace and a sustainable future. I saw in it the opportunity to develop the skills I need to bring about the changes that our community needs.” - Malou from South Sudan. 

The words of Malou, now an incoming UWC-USA scholarship student, summed up what all students expressed as their deep motivation to enrol in this Programme: to tackle the challenges they face as refugees and to positively impact their communities so that the next generation does not have to face the same adversity that they had to face. 

Embarking on the Programme, it was also the type of education that the course offered which made it particularly attractive to the students. As Maboko from Burundi, who has since been announced as a 2021 Rise Global Winner, explained: “It’s so different from normal school. At most schools, the system wants you to learn from it. But in this programme, the system wanted to learn from us. The facilitators wanted to hear our different perspectives and opinions. It was a chance to express what is inside us, to reflect on what we really wanted, and to explore and discuss what problems we saw around us. In the process, we were able to start our own projects to tackle those problems in sustainable ways. Amala made us be part of the solution. The entire process was amazing.” 

Agreeing with Maboko, Falastin from Somalia added: “The programme not only taught us to become responsible for coming up with solutions for our communities, it helped us start projects for people who really needed them. At most schools it's all about books, grades and cramming. Amala is all about thinking, it's about your mindset and asking yourself how you will become the person you want to be. It really opened up my eyes.

Learning together with other students from different backgrounds, points of view and communities in the camp was another eye-opening factor for the students. In the words of Malou: “If you want to work together with other people, you need to understand where they came from.

As many of the UWC Amala Changemaker Foundation Programme students come from conflict backgrounds, this aspect of the course took on an additional significance. As Maboko reflected: “In my home country, many of our problems stem from intertribal violence. So being able to study together with different people from different cultures and different tribes has been very impactful. It has helped me to understand how to bring different people together and also learn from different cultures, different beliefs and different ways of living. It really helps us to learn how we can go back to our community and try to lead our people. And beyond the learnings it brought, we also had so much fun learning about other people’s cultures and (trying) to also learn their languages.” 

We also discussed the challenges that were involved in the course. Not all students were able to complete the course, with most of those unable to continue having to drop out due to family matters and other reasons beyond their control. So what was it that motivated and enabled these young changemakers to continue? 

For Falastin, it was her determination to prove wrong the people in her community who had lost hope that change was possible: “One of the challenges was convincing our community that we really were going to make a difference. During the prototyping stage of our projects, we had to go around to test and discuss our solutions with the communities we were trying to help. But with many of the people we interviewed, they were sceptical. They said that people had come to interview them before but then nothing actually changed. This made me determined to actually make a difference. I told them, I'm not just coming here to do the interview, I will make a change.

One of the projects that the group has embarked on together is Project 21, which aims to empower local communities in the camp and break the cycle of poverty. One of their first goals is to offer 50 women living in Kakuma a 5 month course in tailoring in order for them to develop in-demand skills that will help them secure a long-term job. Once the women have been trained, they will be encouraged to multiply the impact of Project 21 further, by training other women in the camp to tailor too. 

As one of the girls on the programme, Falastin’s determination to continue with the course was also fuelled by her desire to change the perceptions that many people held of her as a young woman: “They would tell me, ‘A girl can’t make change.’ People in my culture really believe that. So I wanted to prove them wrong by making change happen. When they saw what I achieved, they were really amazed. They started saying, yeah - a girl can do something, something better than a man can.

Another girl on the programme is Margaret, who is Kenyan born but originally from South Sudan. For Margaret, it was also the people around her who she wanted to complete the programme for: “My father died a long time ago and I was raised by my single mother. I wanted to pay her back for all that she has done for me by completing my education and by making a difference in my community. I know there are a lot of people looking for opportunities like this. It was worth fighting for.

For Maboko, it was the people he met on the course itself: “These are amazing people. They are like family to me now. We are a community of changemakers: my fellow students and the teachers and facilitators who inspire, teach and help us. It made me feel like I was home, in the place that I was supposed to be and where I need to be to strive and to flourish. This really pushed and motivated me to keep going.

The students all agreed though that the amazing community they had found as part of this course only makes up a tiny fraction of what Maboko coined “the hidden strength of young people.” Their plea? “This programme must continue and it must be opened up to even more young people. There are so many young people with potential here in Kakuma - and they all deserve the same opportunities we had.

Turning to their futures, three of these graduates are now preparing for the next step on their UWC journeys at a UWC school. Maboko will be gaining lifelong support as a 2021 Rise winner in the form of scholarships, mentorship, funding and career development opportunities. He will also be eligible for seed enterprise funding to address issues in his local community - which may prove to be a huge help for the projects the group have set up together, such as Project 21. All other graduates will receive funding to complete their secondary education at Kakuma camp. 

We ended the conversation with some of the students sharing their own visions for their futures as UWC Amala Changemaker Foundation Programme alumni: 


"When I see my future self, I can see that I am somebody who can solve problems in my community with the skills and confidence that I have acquired and the determination I have to achieve my goals"

- Malou, South Sudan, Incoming UWC-USA student


"This course gave me a purpose. I am from Burundi, which is among the poorest countries in the world where only ¼ of children are able to complete primary school. Others drop out because of hunger. This gives me my motivation to work hard, to stand firmly in my passion and my vision, and to use the tools and knowledge I have developed towards my future. To teach other people in my community. And I understand it’s a process. But I'm very excited because I am no longer waiting for the future, I am already starting it now. I have started doing what will make me happy in the future."

- Maboko, Burundi, 2021 Rise Global Winner

Learn more about the UWC Amala Changemaker Foundation Programme.