Young Africans on a Mission: Chasing International Scholarships, Facing Systemic Hurdles

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<Fatmata narrates her story>

Across Africa, a flow of young minds burns with the flame of ambition, yearning to transcend their borders and pursue international education. From Sierra Leone’s Fatmata Kamara, a brilliant high school graduate who dreams of studying law abroad to champion social justice, to Ghana’s Eden Kwesi, an environmental activist aspiring to tackle climate change at a renowned university, their stories weave a tapestry of shared hope, ambition, and the complex realities they face in their quest for scholarships.

Navigating a Maze of Obstacles:
Fatmata’s initial foray into the world of scholarships wasn’t a walk in the park. With limited internet access and unclear information, she navigated a labyrinth of eligibility criteria and application processes, feeling like she was “wandering in the dark,” she admits. “There were so many different scholarships, but it was hard to understand which ones I was even eligible for, and the application forms seemed overwhelming.” Eden, meanwhile, faced the daunting financial burden of studying abroad, coupled with the fierce competition for coveted scholarship opportunities. “I knew I had the potential, but the financial costs were intimidating, and the application process felt so competitive,” he shares.

Their stories resonate deeply with countless Ghanaian and Sierra Leonean students who yearn for international education but face similar hurdles. According to the International Trade Administration and the US Department of Commerce, the number of Ghanaian youth seeking higher education is on the rise, with nearly six million people aged 15-24 in the country in 2020. Many, like Eden, choose to pursue degrees in the United States, with data from the Open Doors Report for 2023 showing that 37 Sierra Leonean students studied there in that year. However, limited information remains a critical barrier. Low internet penetration rates and the absence of dedicated guidance counselors leave many students unaware of the vast array of available options, creating the perception that international education is an unattainable dream.

Beyond Individual Struggles: A Systemic Issue:
Veronica Adebayo, a Nigerian woman who persevered to self-fund her Masters and postgraduate studies, highlights a deeper concern: the lack of transparency in scholarship award processes. “Rumors of nepotism and political influence overshadow merit-based selection,” she explains, her voice laced with frustration. This resonates with Mr. Tijjani Mukadda, a respected educator and founder of the Transition to School Initiative, an NGO working on inclusive education in Nigeria, who emphasizes the urgent need for reform in Nigeria’s system to ensure fairness and opportunity. “The current process is riddled with systemic issues that disadvantage deserving students,” he emphasizes. Similar concerns are echoed by Veronica, who describes the scholarship process as “a demoralizing maze,” discouraging many from even attempting to apply.

An AI-generated image of an open book on a window sill.

A Signal of Hope: An Arras of Opportunities:
Despite the challenges, numerous scholarship opportunities exist, offering a beacon of hope for ambitious young minds. Programs like the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program empower underprivileged students like Fatmata, while prestigious awards like Fulbright and Chevening open doors for diverse academic pursuits, from undergraduate studies to postgraduate research. However, the limited information barrier remains a crucial hurdle. Scholarship organizations and universities must step up their outreach and marketing efforts, leveraging online platforms and engaging in community partnerships to bridge the information gap and ensure equitable access.

Beyond Individual Efforts: A Collective Call to Action:
The pursuit of international education is often seen as a path to escape poverty and build a brighter future. However, the phenomenon of “brain drain” raises concerns about the impact on sending countries. Addressing this complex issue requires a collective effort that goes beyond individual initiatives:

•Raising Awareness: Scholarship fairs, online platforms, and community outreach programs can play a crucial role in disseminating information about scholarship opportunities to students across the continent. Initiatives like the African Union’s Youth
for Peace Africa program are already making strides in this area, organizing workshops
and mentorship programs to guide students through the scholarship process.

•Equipping Educators: Training school counselors and educators to effectively guide students through the application process can significantly improve their chances of success. Organizations like the Institution can play a vital role in providing such training, equipping educators with the knowledge and resources to support students effectively.

•Financial Aid Programs: Establishing scholarships, grants, and financial aid initiatives specifically targeted towards underprivileged students can level the playing field and create a more inclusive scholarship landscape. Governments, international organizations, and private donors all have a role to play in supporting these efforts. Initiatives like the African Development Bank’s Girls’ in STEM program are already making a difference, providing scholarships and mentorship opportunities to young women pursuing science and technology careers.

•Promoting Digital Inclusion: Expanding internet access and promoting digital literacy programs can empower students to actively research and apply for scholarships online, breaking down barriers to information. Initiatives like the World Bank’s Digital

In summary: Despite facing limited information, financial burdens, and concerns about transparency, young Africans are driven by ambition to pursue international education. Scholarship programs offer a beacon of hope, but systemic hurdles persist. Increased awareness through outreach initiatives, educator training, targeted financial aid, and digital inclusion are crucial for equitable access. While addressing “brain drain” concerns is necessary, collaborative efforts can ensure a brighter future for both individuals and their communities.

Conclusion: A Journey Worth Taking:
The road to securing an international scholarship is undoubtedly challenging. Yet, with the right support and resources, young Africans like Fatmata and Eden can overcome these obstacles and achieve their academic dreams.

The tapestry created by the dreams of young Africans who desire social justice and international education, such as Fatmata and Eden, shows that the continent has great potential. However, there are obstacles in the way that could damage this, resulting in incomplete and smashed threads.

But this is not a story of defeat. It is a call to action, a clarion call for collaboration to dismantle these hurdles and unlock the full potential of a generation. Let us not simply be bystanders, watching dreams fade due to limited information, financial constraints, or opaque selection processes. Let us become architects, weaving a new narrative where ambition is met with opportunity, and potential is nurtured into reality.

Imagine a future where scholarship information flows freely, accessible to all through digital platforms and community outreach programs. Imagine classrooms where educators, equipped with knowledge and resources, guide students through the application maze, transforming confusion into clarity. Imagine a world where financial aid bridges the gap, ensuring that socioeconomic background does not dictate access to education.

This future is not a mere dream; it is a concrete possibility waiting to be realized. Scholarship organizations and universities must lead the charge, stepping outside their ivory towers and engaging with communities, creating a true ecosystem of support. Governments and international organizations must join hands, investing in targeted financial aid programs and digital inclusion initiatives. And let us not forget the educators, for they are the weavers who thread the dreams of young minds onto the tapestry of the future. Equipping them with the necessary knowledge and resources is an investment that yields exponential returns.

About Mariatu Kabba

Mariatu Kabba is an experienced radio trainer and advocate for women and girls’ empowerment. Over a decade, Mariatu has played a crucial role in many transformative development communication projects, including the BBC 50/50 Equality and the BBC Media Action Girls’ Education and Empowerment (EAGER) Project. Through EAGER, Mariatu trained more than 200 local journalists on gender-sensitive radio programming. Her outstanding work earned her the prestigious “Fifty Most Influential Sierra Leonean Women” Award in 2021. Mariatu is the founder and executive director of Strong Women, Strong Girls Sierra Leone. This nonprofit organization provides mentorship opportunities for underprivileged young women and girls in rural communities in Sierra Leone. She holds a BA in Mass Communications from Fourah Bay College and a Civic Leadership Certificate as a Mandela Washington Fellow from Rutgers, State University of New Jersey. As a Humphrey Fellow, Mariatu aims to enhance her understanding of women’s leadership in a global context and the role of media technology in gender transformation in the US, with the possibility of implementing similar strategies back home.

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