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Young African Leaders Volunteer at Southwest Key’s Mobile Food Pantry

It is 3:00pm on a sweltering Friday afternoon in July at Southwest Key Programs headquarters and 25 young entrepreneurs from 18 African countries are lined up at the monthly mobile food pantry to pass out food in east Austin. These volunteers are part of the Young African Leaders Initiative launched by President Barack Obama in 2010.

Two Volunteers Posing at Southwest Key’s Mobile Food Pantry

The goal of YALI is to help foster the entrepreneurial growth of young, African leaders in order to strengthen democratic governance, peace and prosperity across Africa. The twenty-five YALI participants volunteering at Southwest Key this day are recipients of new fellowship that connects Fellows to leadership training opportunities at some of America’s top universities including the University of Texas at Austin where these volunteers were assigned.

Young African Leaders Volunteer at Southwest Key’s Mobile Food Pantry

“I want to take my experience from Southwest Key back home and encourage young Africans to volunteer,” says Kolu Kamah who is currently the Acting Hospital Administrator and Director of Nursing Services at Eternal Love Winning Africa (ELWA) Hospital in Liberia where she manages 60 midwives and nurses. Kamah hopes to start a private school to give Liberian youth access to quality education.

The YALI entreprenuers were connected with Southwest Key thanks to the company’s strong relationship with the International Office at University of Texas in Austin. The same entity that helps to bring Fulbright scholars to visit Southwest Key’s headquarters each year. Since the YALI experience is about young Africans gaining leadership skills for their own communities, their visit to Southwest Key was a natural fit.

“Southwest Key is always looking for ways to connect with partner organizations whose work aligns with our mission of opening doors to opportunity,” says Joycelyn Jurado, Community Projects Manager at Southwest Key Programs.

Two Volunteers Poing for Picture Together at Southwest Key’s Mobile Food Pantry

Thanks to the experience, Southwest Key staff was able to learn about different cultures within Africa and students from East Austin College Prep were able to work side-by-side with YALI participants at the food bank. They witnessed firsthand the importance of giving back to the community. “For EAPrep students to see a group of people giving back to another community that is not theirs really highlights leadership for these young students,” says Kristan Silva, Youth Services Coordinator at Southwest Key Programs.

Angolan entrepreneur Dizando Norton Mvemba says, “When you help people, you receive two times what you put in—give your time, spend your resources, and you are a winner because you have a new point of view.” Myemba plans to create a sustainable business and provide mentoring on digital entrepreneurship when he returns home.

Young African Leaders Volunteer at Southwest Key’s Mobile Food Pantry

“It was an opportunity to share not only the work we do but to learn about what they are doing in their countries,” says LaKesha Pope, Director of Operations at Southwest Key Programs. Pope led the group in a tour around Southwest Key Programs headquarters and East Austin College Prep. Pope learned that the needs in Africa are similar to ours but they have a different cliental. “The group was very progressive and professional. They are working to build a strong community within their own countries.”

Adds Pope, “This was a great opportunity to live out the diversity that we value at Southwest Key.”

Food Pantry Volunteers Posing for a Selfie