My 2020 story



For the first time, I never had something to write about the year, and this is because life happened to everyone differently. However, this is the year I am most grateful for everything. Even when I think, I lost it; God showed me mercy and grace in multiple ways. I could recall having to deal with many rejections in 2019 and having to turn down a tuition fee scholarship and living expenses covered (£11000) pounds for the Fellowship-in-Residence role at Peace First. The fellowship changed my life.

I often used to feel I am out of place, but Peace First showed me where I truly belong. Not only the young people that I work with inspire me, but because I found what I love doing. Helping young people, connecting them with opportunities and providing them with a platform to grow, thrive and be the best version of themselves. 2020 is one of the years I have worked the hardest. From staying up to respond to young peoples project and complains to conducting coaching calls, and just being on a lookout for what they will create next. There were times I got tired as well, but it’s not possible to be tired working with Peace First.
I had a few ouch moments, but they didn’t matter any more. In 2018, I made it to the interview of the Global Shapers membership selection process (Lagos Hub), but I did not make it. Maybe because I was not elite enough to be a shaper and I would rather not say I wasn’t qualified. I applied again in 2019, never made it to the interview. I concluded it doesn’t take a platform to be a global shaper. I am a shaper already. A few months later, now 2020, I got an invitation to the Chevening interview and got the best recommendation letter from my supervisor at Peace First Fish Stark and Dare Akinfosile from the Nigerian Red Cross. I prepared for my interview, and I would say this helped a great deal. I read everything on the Chevening website. Watch videos and spoke to previous scholars that I can talk to and my closed friends. We practice questions together, and I could recall pitching to everyone that I met. I knew every bit of my application, and until now, I still have it in memory. I could remember waking up early on the interview day and got there like around 8:00 am for an interview of 10:00 am. I also held a copy of my book “The Africa I Dream to See” getting into the interview room. I was asked tell us about yourself. It didn’t take time to tell my story and end it with how I created a Pan-African book to inspire African youths. I answered all the questions without bulging. They asked me more and more questions, and I was answering. I could recall sharing how I combine volunteering activities with studies. Previous work helped me. I spent an hour in the room. I saw the smiles on their faces, and their notes were filled. I knew I was in. I forgot my bag and lead interviewer called me to pick it up graciously. I was walked through the door, and it was one of the best I have had. I don’t know, one of the interviewers said “I will check your book on Amazon” I smiled. The interview process showed me how far I have come in the process of being. It was an opportunity to learn about my self and tell my story.
I took the energy to the University of Edinburgh MasterCard scholarship interview. Fish Stark also provided the recommendation, and I had a great time. The same preparation was similar to Chevening.
All these happened some weeks before the lockdown and first week of the lockdown. Even I never expected Covid-19 affecting many things. Part of it was not being able to attend the StartingBloc fellowship program in Johannesburg. Maybe someday I get to participate in in-person when it is free to do so as we can live to attend a program some other day. I missed some other opportunities. I was supposed to co-facilitate in a learning summit in India and connect with other Peace First Fellow-in-Residence, and my visa took ages. I missed the trip. However, I am grateful I lived and breathe. This is one thing I learned from 2020.
I also did a launch and learn for the Africa I Dream to See, and it’s one of the best moments of my life. The love I received from people was massive. I could recall living on the returns of the book. If there is anything I have learned from the event, is by doing good. People would always find a way to pay back. However, we do not do good so that we expect something in return. We do good because it’s the right to do.
And in April, I got the email from MasterCard Foundation at Edinburgh that I have been selected for the scholarship. The acceptance rate for the scholarship is 0.05%. Over 4000 applied from Sub-Saharan Africa and competed for 22 slots. I am currently studying MSc, Africa and International Development at the University of Edinburgh. The University ranks 1st in Scotland, 5th in the United Kingdom, and 20th globally (QS Ranking, 2020). It never happened that a young man born, raised in the slum would study in one of the best learning institutions in the world. But the MasterCard scholarship Programme showed me that yes I can!
I also got selected for the Chevening scholarship as well, and it was a hard decision but a very good decision. From 9 rejections to winning three prestigious scholarships.
I thought I would not be able to travel due to Covid-19 restriction. Still, the MasterCard team did everything to get us in-time from arranging the accommodation, travelling, passports, visas, and I felt the love of being a scholar. As much as I know that I have done the work, I noticed I am privileged to have made it. I completed my Fellowship with Peace First, jumped straight in into academic life at Edinburgh. I was humbled again because everyone in my course and class is at the top of the game. I realized I knew just a little. Although, I have the field experience to my advantage. I started practising and brushing up my academic writing skills. Thanks to Prof. Dominic Leah for nurturing me. I made new friends connected with my lecturers. I also had a low score in one of my short assessments and spoke with the tutor in charge, which changed many things.
I also ran for the MasterCard scholars representative and lost to a friend who is very remarkable. I later joined the communication team and finding a way to always lead and give back.
Despite Covid-19, we made some remarkable impact at KLCI, reached about 500+ beneficiaries. We created an online resource for teenagers, teachers and guardians. We also launched a new project Teachers-in-Training Boot camp where students teachers are empowered to develop education solutions in rural communities and provide 100,000 Naira grant to one participant. It’s been lovely reading their success stories. We also on the verge of deepening our impact with Skill2Rural by connecting with our previous beneficiaries to help them in advancing their career. However, all these would not have been possible without our team. They have their jobs, work and cause but still stayed true to the cause. I am not sure if I am able to achieve anything without them. I was recognized for our work in different ways, but every recognition goes to the team.
I also spoke at several virtual and in-person programs, and I will lose count of hours spent at the event. I am just always grateful for the opportunity to speak to people and hear from them. I also won the First Baba Isa Award as the “Man of the Year” and I don't know if I live up to the expectations, but I am looking forward to be more present in the coming year.
2020 was a good year, I have learned that when it’s your time which I don’t still consider mine has come yet. But when it’s your turn for greatness, even crisis cannot stop you. I wrote my goals for 2020 somewhere, and I could not find it, but I am sure I smashed it. And it would not have been possible without amazing people by my side. It is people we need most when we are faced with crisis such as Covid-19.
This is still not the best, and this is not the time to rest. I hope my story inspires you to dream and to believe that anything is possible. That you should not shrink yourself to the corner but to be a light.
In 2017, I said consistency was the key. In 2018, I noted having access to platform was the key. In 2019, I said people were the key, but in 2020, process and time was the key; committing to doing the work and showing up when opportunities present itself.
Although I am not sure about my next adventure, but I am not done yet. I am a moving train, oozing into the next year with bigger dreams.
I hope you enjoyed my Ted talk, my friend
Josiane Atallah
would always say this after her presentation.
Hammed Kayode Alabi (2020)

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