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Future Africa Leaders Award: Sierra Leone Gendemeh Emerges 2023 Star Prize Winner

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Future Africa Leaders Award: Sierra Leone Gendemeh Emerges 2023 Star Prize Winner

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By; MIKE ODEH JAMES, Kaduna

The Future Africa Leaders Awards (FALA) 2023 Grand Finale which held in Lagos, Nigeria, saw the emergence of 23-year-old Mariam Gendemeh from Sierra Leone as the star prize winner of the year.

She came tops out of thousands of entries reviewed from all 54 countries on the continent.

The yearly event recognises and empowers young Africans between the ages of 16 and 23, who have effectively initiated multifaceted projects and initiatives, that have brought about positive change and innovative advancement in their communities throughout the continent.

The top 10 finalists for the year 2023 announced at the grand finale include Katleho Mojakisane Queen from Lesotho, Grace Lamane Fatime from Chad, Alieu Sasay from Liberia, Annick Bado from Burkina Faso, Clinton Arko Agyemang from Ghana, Emma Kwaje from South Sudan, Lyna Bossa Tchydre from Togo, Matilda Kahunde from Uganda, and Wissal Rida from Morocco.

The 10 finalists were awarded a grant of $10,000 each, while the Star Prize Winner, Mariam Gendemeh, was awarded an additional $25,000 for embodying the highest standards of visionary leadership in 2023.

Speaking on her emergence as the Star Prize winner, a thrilled Gendemeh declared that winning the award was not only a personal achievement but a testament to the greatness of her home country, Sierra Leone. “It means so much to me and my country because we have suffered so much”, she stated.

Held under the distinguished chairmanship of Nigeria’s former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, the event saw the likes of Rt. Hon. Jemma Nunu Kumba, Speaker of National Legislative Assembly, Republic of South Sudan as a guest and former President Republic of Malawi, Dr Mrs Joyce Banda, as Special Guest of Honour.

At the grand finale, the President and Founder of the Future Africa Leaders Foundation (FALF), Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, D.Sc, D.Sc, D.D asserted that “Every nation has young people and investing in the young people is investing in the future. Every nation must recognise this. Our efforts in this regard have helped train, inspire, and motivate young people worldwide.”

Pastor Chris Oyakhilome also acknowledged the challenges and problems that Africa has faced in the past, stating: “If we will chart a new course for Africa, we must do something about Africa’s young people. Our young people have done amazing things throughout the continent, inspiring others and contributing to their countries, communities, and generations. Tonight’s award further serves to encourage our young people; we realise that they hold the future in their hands.”

He encouraged young people to intentionally live beyond themselves and make a difference in their world. “You can do a lot about your country, community, and the world. When you look beyond yourself and live a life beyond yourself, you really begin to experience your inner greatness because in each one of you is a seed of greatness.”

In his remarks, Nigeria’s former President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, emphasized the need for peace, stability, and security of lives in Africa and the world. He opined that Africa’s future lies in the people of Africa, particularly the youths of Africa. Speaking on the ongoing wars in the world, he opined that “we must all embrace a world of peace, security, harmony, and love. Without peace, there can be no development; without development, there is no progress.” He charged all the award recipients to view the recognition as a challenge and a call to duty rather than a reason to rest of their oars. He encouraged all African youths to; “not be despondent about the situation on the continent, their countries, communities, or the world at large. Things are getting better. There are leadership qualities in each one of you, bring it out. That’s what this award is all about. Inspiring and empowering you to bring out those leadership qualities to make Africa, the great continent God intended it to be – a land flowing with milk and honey”.

Similarly, Rt Hon Jemma Nunu Kumba, Speaker of the National Legislative Assembly, Republic of South Sudan, averred, “Africa has all the resources it needs to position itself positively on the global stage. We have the brains, the resources, and the knowledge of our situation. We need to continue praying, collaborating, and building the capacity of our young people, men and women, to take a lead in that. Only Africans can solve Africa’s challenges because we are the only ones with a vested interest in making the continent the best it can be. Any other party claiming concern for Africa may have exploitative agendas. Therefore, we must learn to rely on ourselves and use our resources effectively to provide services to the African people. Thus, this award focuses on young people so they can have a different attitude towards development, providing services to the people and not self-centred leaders focused on lining their pockets.”

Dr. Joyce Banda, former Malawian president, opined that her years of leadership have taught her that “leadership is a love affair. You must love the people you serve, and do things that will make the people fall in love with you; this will make you serve, or work beyond status. Young people in Africa are suffering, and it’s the duty of every one of us who finds ourselves in leadership positions to create opportunities for them to thrive. We are failing our children, and that is why this award is a unique programme.”

Addressing the young awardees, she declared, “there is hope for Africa; we need more young people involved in the peace processes.” 

The Future Africa Leaders Foundation has been instrumental in identifying, honouring, empowering, and mentoring young Africans from all parts of the continent over the past 11 years. These individuals have voluntarily taken on leadership roles in their local communities and have successfully launched various grassroots initiatives to address some of Africa’s most pressing challenges through innovative and indigenous solutions.

Since its inception, the Foundation has awarded over $1.4 million to 123 youths from 30 African countries. The event, hosted by the Chris Oyakhilome Foundation International, underscores the Foundation’s unwavering commitment to nurturing the next generation of African leaders and accelerating Africa’s systemic change by fostering a spirit of innovation, responsibility, and service among young leaders.

Mariam is a farmer, philanthropist, and the Executive Director of Fresh Veggies Agro Company Limited. A platform she founded when she was 19 years old, to be a powerhouse for her multifaceted initiatives focused on uplifting and enhancing the lives of women, children, and young girls. She secured funds through personal savings, donations, and grants from NGOs to fuel impactful projects spanning Agriculture for food and income, Advocacy, Capacity Building, Food Support to malnourished kids, and Scholarships for vulnerable school girls.

In its inaugural year, her company generated $1,200, created job opportunities for 15 young people, and directed 40% of the funds toward community feeding programmes during the Ebola outbreak.

She has a 50-hectare rice farm and the largest vegetable farm in Kenema. In 2022 and 2023, Mariama’s rice cultivation resulted in a harvest of 850 tons. Her company’s Food Systems Resilience Programme has impacted over 1,300 members, earning her the title of the YOUNGEST MASTER FARMER in her district and the entire country.

Mariama’s “Save the Malnourished Kids” project, in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Community Health Centers, has helped over 10,000 malnourished children annually in the Kenema District. She also initiated the Orange Fresh Sweet Potatoes programme, which has benefited 12 women groups in six communities, providing a sustainable food source for school feeding programmes.

Mariama has also spearheaded several outreach programmes in 110 communities, providing essential sanitation materials, soap, and education on protective measures. Through her advocacy, she and other female leaders successfully championed a 30% inclusivity of women in governance in her country, resulting in crucial appointments and wins during the 2023 general elections. She also organized a SHE LEADS Summit in her country that empowered 500 girls with leadership skills and catalyzed mentorship platforms in six schools, reaching 400 girls. Mariama Gendemeh truly deserves her win and serves as a stellar example of the incredible potential of the African youth.