Gilbert with elephants

CCI Alumni: Making a Difference in their Home Communities, Part II

This summer, the Community College Initiative (CCI) Program will release a series of videos that showcases the impact of CCI alumni projects and contributions in their home communities.  Over the past several months, a small team of filmmakers from StoryCenter have been making their way around the world to film and share a few CCI stories.  The team most recently traveled to Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, and South Africa.

Environmental Conservation and Eco-Tourism in Kenya

In Kenya, StoryCenter visited 2014-2015 CCI alumnus Gilbert Sabinga Lekalau. Gilbert grew up in a Samburu village in a semi-nomadic, pastoralist tribe. After failing as a goat herder, he was told he was not clever enough for the task and that he should go to school instead.  Gilbert ended up becoming the first person in his family to read or write. He was also selected for a CCI scholarship to study information technology—specifically, Geographic Information System (GIS) technology—at Houston Community College.

With his new skills in GIS, he returned to his job with Save the Elephants in Kenya, put his knowledge into practice, and earned a promotion with higher pay. Today, Gilbert is a manager and GIS Technician for Save the Elephants and uses the GIS technology he learned while studying in the United States to track elephants in Samburu National Reserve in northern Kenya. The data he collects helps prevent poaching, and he works with his team to develop innovative ways to use the technology. CCI also inspired Gilbert’s spirit of entrepreneurship and philanthropy.  Gilbert has started his own nature tours safari company (Samburu Bush Expeditions) and his own foundation (Friends of Samburu). Gilbert credits the networking skills he gained in the United States, particularly through his internship at the Houston Zoo, for enabling him to establish Friends of Samburu and give back to his home community by digging wells to provide clean water, covering school fees for kids, and improving local schools.

Gilbert with elephants

CCI alumnus Gilbert Sabinga Lekalau helps track elephants with Save the Elephants in Kenya.

Gilbert shows GIS technology

Gilbert explains the GIS technology he uses to track elephants at Samburu National Reserve.

Safe Spaces for Youth in Cote d’Ivoire

In Cote d’Ivoire, StoryCenter visited 2014-2015 alumna Koffi Philomène Kouakou. Philomène is from the small, rural town of Fresco, and she had a vision for the underserved elementary school children in her town.  She wanted them to dream, read, and experience engaged learning. She wanted to design a children’s community center.

During her CCI Program year, Philomène studied business at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson campus and learned to write grant proposals.  One of her grant proposals was successful.  In 2015, she was selected as a Resolution Fellow through that year’s Social Venture Challenge of the Clinton Global Initiative University at the University of Miami.  Her project, “The Children’s House, a Recreation Center to Empower Elementary School Children,” was chosen as one of 15 winners to receive funding and a project mentor from the Clinton Foundation.  That was the beginning of The Children’s House—one of the few places in the region where kids can find books to read.

With the help of volunteers who Philomène organizes in her own free time outside of her full-time job in Abidjan, The Children’s House fights against the high rate of school dropout among youth in Fresco.  This community center—with a library and computer lab—provides a safe space to support education for about 30 students.  The children take computer classes, learn English, compete in spelling bees and read-a-thons, practice math through games, and they sing and dance.

Philomene with a The Children's House student

CCI alumna Koffi Philomene Kouakou talks to one of her students in The Children’s House, a children’s community center that she developed in Cote d’Ivoire.

Childrens House students

Thanks to CCI alumna Philomene’s children’s community center, students at The Children’s House eagerly participate in spelling bees, read-a-thons, and other learning activities.

Improving Agro-Business and Sustainability in Ghana

In Ghana, StoryCenter visited 2014-2015 CCI alumnus Abdul-Razak Banyanifu to film the work he’s doing to bring sustainable agriculture and agro-business to the northwestern region of Ghana.

As the son of a farmer, Abdul was eager to learn about U.S. agricultural practices so that he could share new technologies and techniques with his home community.  Through Tisung Farmers—a project he started in July 2015 upon his return home—Abdul introduces farmers to the benchmark sustainable farming practices he learned during his CCI year studying agriculture at Santa Rosa Junior College in California.

Abdul trains local farmers, principally women subsistence farmers, on best practices for planting new seeds and on how to identify, remove, and avoid invasive species from crops.  He also provides demonstrations on how to prevent food spoilage through proper storage.  As a result of Abdul’s Tisung Farmers, the people in the community are noticing significant increases in their crop yields.  Instead of barely growing enough food to feed their families, they now have a surplus that they can sell at the market.  They use this extra income to improve their homes and to pay for their children’s school fees.

Abdul also teaches about crop rotation, soil analysis, and water conservation and adds new courses based on what he learned in the United States.  He plans to add courses in composting and business skills in the upcoming year.

Abdul-Razak leads a workshop

CCI alumnus Abdul-Razak Banyanifu (right) leads a workshop in Wa, Ghana on benchmark sustainable farming practices.

Enhancing Entrepreneurial Opportunity in South Africa

The final destination for StoryCenter’s second leg of their CCI travels was South Africa, where they filmed the work of 2011-2012 CCI alumna Mokgadi Sharon Rapetswa. Sharon studied applied engineering at Edmonds Community College during her exchange year and since returning to South Africa has started a social venture company called “Triple Shine.”  Triple Shine offers microfranchising business opportunities to women who are unemployed.

Triple Shine has several different refillable detergents and other products, and local women can either buy the franchise at a minimal cost, or Sharon gives them the franchise on a loan basis with a payback plan.  As a result, these franchise participants are now earning their own incomes.  In addition, Sharon offers trainings on finance, accounting, and sales and marketing to support the women as they develop their small businesses.

Sharon also hopes that her business will make an environmental impact by developing sustainable products and reducing the amount of plastic consumption and waste.  She recently received a JP Morgan Chase grant and business mentorship to help her develop her own formulas for green products.  Through these opportunities, Sharon aims to contribute to the economic development of her home town Limpopo—where there aren’t many jobs or industries—by building a factory that would hire local community members and keep more money in the province.

Sharon training

CCI alumna Sharon Rapetswa (right) enhances entrepreneurial opportunities in South Africa by helping community members start their own microfranchising businesses.

Sharon training group

Sharon Rapetswa trains women who are interested in starting their own micro-enterprise with Triple Shine detergents and cleaning products.

CCI Alumni Connections

In addition to filming alumni projects, former CCI program coordinator Allison Myers has been hosting informal CCI gatherings for all alumni in each country.  CCI alumni have been excited to reconnect and network with each other and share what they have been doing in their home countries since their CCI experiences.

CCI Alumni in Kenya

CCI alumni in Kenya gathered together in Nairobi to reconnect and celebrate 10 years of the CCI Program.

CCI alumni in Cote d'Ivoire

CCI alumni in Cote d’Ivoire gathered together to reconnect and celebrate 10 years of the CCI Program.

CCI alumni in Ghana

CCI alumni in Ghana gathered together in Accra to reconnect and celebrate 10 years of the CCI Program.

CCI alumni in South Africa

CCI alumni in South Africa gathered together to reconnect and celebrate 10 years of the CCI Program.

Return to our blog in April to learn about StoryCenter’s next stop in their journey to film CCI alumni impact around the globe.

Posted in 10th Anniversary, Alumni.