Whitman empowering youth in Sierra Leone

Molly Smith

Youth Development Initiatives (YDI) has big plans for the future.   The group wants to continue their national development work in Sierra Leone while expanding their development model to address other nations.

Members of YDI outlined the group’s goals for the upcoming year and beyond at a Family Weekend presentation.
A completely student-run and student-funded organization, YDI is in its second year at Whitman. Founded by senior Musa Kpaka in July 2007, YDI has grown from a one-man show to an organization with a growing number of members.
YDI aims to empower young people to take an active role in national development by challenging them to design and implement small-scale community service projects that will improve the lives of those both in their community nationwide.

Kpaka’s inspiration for YDI came from a national empowerment conference he organized in the summer of 2007 for youth in his native country of Sierra Leone with a grant he was awarded from the Kathryn Wasserman Davis 100 Projects for Peace program.

Student attendees were encouraged to take an active role in community development and they learned the skills to develop and implement their own community service projects. They were challenged to create their own project proposals and the winning proposal received a grant of $500 to put their proposal into action.

Last year, YDI raised enough funds to send Kpaka, senior Carole Wilson and junior Claire Lueneburg to Sierra Leone this past summer to host a second youth empowerment workshop.

Wilson describes her experience as “absolutely phenomenal.”

“It put such a perspective on my Whitman education,” she said. “Volunteering abroad is a great chance to see why it’s important to be in school and why our education does matter. It’s sometimes easy to lose perspective of that when you’re here in Walla Walla.”

The three-day conference was held in Kpaka’s hometown of Bo, Sierra Leone and was attended by 104 high school students and 17 teachers from 17 schools. The conference emphasized the importance of teamwork and collaboration in community development and students networked with community partners and learned the skills of writing project proposals and applying for national and international grants. The students also set up community service clubs at their schools.

Similar to the previous conference, attendees created project proposals. Proposals included those for community beautification, waste removal, water sanitation, and gender sensitization.

YDI’s first goal for this year is to raise enough money to fund the five best projects from this summer’s conference. They hope to completely fund one project through Whitman’s annual Alternative Gifts Fair in November.

They are also raising money to send other YDI members back to Sierra Leone in the summer of 2009 to organize a third youth empowerment workshop, which for the first time will include homeless youths who are currently not in school in addition to high school students.

YDI’s ultimate goal is to pioneer and fund one youth-development project in each of the 14 districts in Sierra Leone. From there, they envision using their progressive, youth-centered style of development to assist other developing nations.

For those interested in becoming a member of YDI or making a donation, contact Musa Kpaka at [email protected]