The Journey to YALI Regional Leadership Training at ASCON Badagary – CHE George NEBA
It all began on May 15th, when a friend of mine informed me through text message, about the YALI West Africa Cohort program. Then she went ahead to state that if I were interested, she would forward the link to me. After having sent me the link, she told me the application deadline was 17th May. And because I was preparing for the defenses of some two end-of-course diploma exams to come up in the following week, I wanted to hesitate (due to lack of time). But because she too was in for the race, she went ahead to encourage me to give it a try; that the process wasn’t complicated, and could be completed in one day.
• Scheduling of interview date/time
Buried in the heart of academic work, in prelude to the two exams I was preparing to write in June/July, coupled with unstable internet lines in my locality, I didn’t have access to my mail box as often as would have been the case. So, meanwhile I had received a mail on July 4th, having as deadline July 6th, to pick an interview slot that would schedule me for interview later on (and because I noticed this mail only after 6th July), I didn’t meet with the stipulated deadline. And because I already knew how rigorous the process would be, I concluded that, that was definitely the end of the journey for me. So I gave up!
• Actual interview
And as God works in ways we cannot see, on Thursday 14th July, around 5pm local time (after having spent the entire day in the parlour, fine-tuning the PowerPoint presentation of my project idea: one of the prerequisites for the written exams I was preparing for), I received an unexpected call from the YALI Regional Leadership Centre (RLC), West Africa, Accra, Ghana. After introduction, the lady in question sought to have an interview for about 10 – 15 minutes with me. The opening questions where: to confirm my name, date and place of birth; and then to know whether or not I had a passport, and when it would expire. Further questions were on issues like: the qualities of a leader; what I had done for my community that demonstrated leadership; why I was interested to be part of the Cohort; etc. I noticed that the interviewer asked some of the questions over and over at different moments, even after I had given a previous response to them; and that some persons were talking in the background, may be as a panel, I predicted. At the end, I was asked whether I had any worry seeking clarification, which I did.
When the interview was over, I had a mixture of feelings. I was happy and felt honoured that despite not having chosen an interview slot, I had been given a second chance; while equally pondering aloud on whether I was really convincing enough on phone, as I would have been if I had my interview on skype; because in my opinion, I would have been better-off writing, than expressing myself in the phone interview. And since the phone interview took place under the watchful eyes and listening ears of my mum, my mum consoled me, reminding me that something that belonged to me could never be taken away, and that I should stay thankful to God and hopeful till the end! She went ahead to bring to my notice that, just by going the extra mile to trace me on phone, despite not having heeded to due procedure, indicated that things were to my favour, and that I had something unique to offer, which could be reckoned with.
• Notification for selection
From then, it downed on me to regularly check on my mail. On July 22nd, I received a mail from the YALI RLC, titled “congratulations.” I suspected something marvelous was about to happen. I eagerly perused the mail, and truly, that was the magic moment! And at long last, I said within me, “thank God!!!” The next thing was that, those very gentle and assuring words of encouragement from my mum, which rekindled that glimmer of hope in me (when after the phone interview I was in a dilemma and my faith was fading out); reverberated on my mind. When I returned home from school that day, I didn’t break the news immediately. I freshened-up, ate, and then unleashed it. It was all joy back home!!!
• Travel arrangements
I kept the online communication alive with YALI RLC, Accra, Ghana, with respect to my travel arrangements. I was asked to scan and forward my passport. Then later, we were sent information on certain basic necessities to carry along. The draft copy of my ticket was also forwarded for me to confirm my travel date, spelling of names, etc, which I did. About three days to traveling, the final ticket was sent to my box, but I didn’t find it different from what the draft I had been sent. So I sent a reply message requesting for clarification, to no avail. A day to traveling, in further quest for clarification, I stumbled on the phone number of another participant from my country, who enlightened me. The actually had different numbers assigned to them.
• Actual travel experience
I first traveled for over 7 hours by road from Bamenda, North West Region (my base), to Buea on Monday 12th September, for final preparations. Because I had to use the Douala Airport, which due to traffic jam is about 2 – 3 hours drive from Buea; including the fact that my flight was scheduled for 8:40am, I travel to Douala on Thursday to spend the night, before departure on Friday 16th. And the person with whom I spent the night equally had to travel early that morning for work, so I arrived at the airport an hour earlier, for the checking-in exercise. It was successful, till we boarded the plane to Nigeria. When we arrived at Murtala Airport around 10am, we couldn’t figure out who would take us to ASCON from there, so we enquired and came across Messrs. EBONG and AHMED who did that for us. But because the flight of Messrs. Joshua and Philemon (YALI RLC facilitators) from Ghana had delayed, we tarried at the airport till 12pm for their arrival. Then we left for ASCON, and arrived around 2:15pm.
• Meeting other people/participants
It was always fun and excitement to meet and know each other, especially people of different backgrounds. Some persons were surprised that Cameroonians could also speak English: as they thought Cameroon was entirely a French country. I met people of different walks of life, some of whom were either: very warm, welcoming, calm and reserved, intelligent, innovative and ambitious, culture-conscious, hospitable, courteous and helpful, or loved debating, among others.
• Experience of first week at Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON)
Likes: The campus is well-planned and neat, with modern infrastructure and logistics, a standby generator, on-campus sports facilities e.g. gymnasium, located in a serene environ, with beautiful flowers and cosy lodging facilities (having spacious and well-equipped modern rooms), and above all, the professionalism and courtesy of the ASCON staff and attendants/facilitators, etc. In fact, ASCON is a one-stop citadel of learning. Since arrival, I have relished some delicious meals for the very first time, like moi, kéké, sémo-vita, amala, wheat fufu, etc., among other meals that I am familiar with. I particularly appreciated the treat we were given through a welcome dinner, and the opening ceremony we had the following day, during which we were given opportunity to display our specific country cultures, through our traditional outfits. I also liked the barbeque and leisure session we had at the club house during the weekend.
Dislikes: The absence of internet supply at the start made communication difficult. Other difficulties were: erratic power supply/frequent power outage, no available weekly timetable to participants, lack of information on the availability of a gymnasium on campus, or that we should bring sports wears like booths, delay in paying the stipend as promised, etc.
• Most fascinating moments
It was exciting upon my arrival at the airport in Lagos, to meet a female police officer who was perfectly bilingual in both the English and French languages. Out of curiosity, she made me know that she was trained in Nigeria to teach French in secondary and high schools. That was amazing to me. During the first days at ASCON, it was equally intriguing to identify some Nigerian participants who were equally very bilingual, and since then, we communicated often in both languages each time we met. During the welcome dinner, the dancing competition, and the heated debate about which of either Ghana or Nigeria “jellof” rice was better, was mesmerizing. The display of cultural outfits and regalia from different West African countries during the opening ceremony, together with the success stories of achievements made so far by some previous Cohort members was inspirational. African dishes.