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AAI Building students for the 21st century

Dr. Horace Mann Bond and Professor William Leo Hansberry had no idea the impact they would make in tens of thousands of lives when they started The Africa-America Institute (AAI).  Established in 1953, AAI is

Dr. Horace Mann Bond and Professor William Leo Hansberry had no idea the impact they would make in tens of thousands of lives when they started The Africa-America Institute (AAI).  Established in 1953, AAI is a U.S.-based global organization devoted to improving capacity of the African people and fostering the continent’s advancement through higher education and skills training.

President of AAI, Amini Kajunju, believes that the concept the founders had more than sixty years ago is still important today.  “The vision that they had back then, is still relevant today,” she said. Part of that vision she said was that blacks in the United States and the people of the African continent need to work collectively. “Dr. Bonds and Professor Hansberry believed that African Americans and Africans needed to figure out a way to work together,” she said. We see the push in this engagement between the two continents recently when Barack Obama becomes the first sitting president to visit Kenya and Ethiopia.

Both of the founders were heavily involved in education. Another area of interest that Dr. Bonds and Professor Hansberry had was that they felt there needs to be more educational activities between American Universities and those abroad.  “African Americans should be able to go to Africa and work within Universities and Africans should be able to come to the United States to study and build their capacity here as well,” Kajunju said.  For decades, AAI has done just that. The company has brought thousands of Africans to the United States to study and receive their bachelors, masters, and PhD’s.

Nevertheless, AAI has recently switched gears and stared a scholarship fund to give African students an opportunity to study in their own land. Kajunju says that AAI is doing this to try to uplift the educational system in Africa.  “We are increasing the capacity of an African young person and we are attempting elevate the African University,” she said.  AAI has partnered with top performing Universities to identify students that need assistance financially. “We look for individuals who would have never had access to those schools because they can be expensive,” she said.  “This is AAI’s small way of making a contribution in order to seek out potential bright students who would have never had an opportunity,” Kajunju added.  Also, AAI hopes to build a new way of thinking in the minds of people that Africa could be a worthy place to go to school.  “We want parents to know that they don’t have to think about the US or the UK for good universities, “she said. This Kajunju said will help parents have some peace about where their child is going to school.  “Many Africans are actually afraid of sending their children to America because of what they see on the media such as all these school shootings and get arrested for no good reason,” she said. “There is a safety issues that people are struggling with,” she added.

Obviously all that AAI has and achieved and is trying to achieve cannot be done on their own.   Therefore, they have joined forces with local governments with African nations to so that they can discuss on how they can work with them with the issue of education. Last year, AAI reached out to these representatives and showed them what they can do to improve capacities in these countries. “If your country needs nurses, we can reach out to Universities here that teach the course have them invite individuals from your country,” she said.  “Or if you feel you country needs expertise here in the United States, we can send them to your country,” Kajunju added.  She also explained that AAI sent out more than one hundred mailings requesting to meet with them but very few responded. “There are 54 countries in Africa and we sent out 108 packages, one to Washington and one to UN representative here but only got 6 responses,” she said.  Kajunju bevies the reason why many people didn’t respond is because the security issues in their country are so deep that they can’t handle issues regarding education. She also explained the importance of the Second Annual State of Education in Africa conference in Lagos, Nigeria. “We want to evaluate the development of education at all levels in Africa and identify opportunities and challenges in education on the African continent,” she said. The State of the Africa conference is our attempt is to elevate the education conversation. Because we believe that if we don’t do some serious work around education, we will not get very far,” she added.

”We will have five panel discussions; early childhood education and science and technology in Africa. We are going to take a look at the African university and the vocational technical training. We have a panel on global practices in Africa. For example, what are the best global practices on how you create and educational system that is effective and we are going to have a panel on teacher training and what environment are they working with.  The conference is not just opened to policy makers and professionals, but it’s opened to the average Nigerian. We want everyone who is able to come, to come because education affects all of us, “she said.

In addition to helping students gain entry to universities, AAI also help Africans become effective leaders. “The transformational leadership program was a Coco Cola Africa related foundation initiative program around leadership and management,” she said.  Kajunju says that Africa is not deficient in able bodies and supplies but they are without leaders with integrity.   “We are not lacking in people or resources but we are lacking is visionary leadership and good accountable management of our people and our resources, “she said. AAI was able to do a lot with the financial support from the popular company. “With the money we received from Coco cola, we we’re able to train, 370 nonprofit leaders in Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, “she said. “It’s a small number but it’s a powerful beginning, into an area that I think is very key. These nonprofit leaders were able to receive world class training in leadership and management. They came out of this training on how to better run their nonprofit company better. A lady took training in Nairobi. She had limits to what she can do because of her gender. She didn’t listen to those naysayers.  As a result of the training, she gained confidence.  She gained in sight. As a result of that she was not only able to build her institution but she became one of the women who wrote the new constitution of Kenya. She was able to say she has a voice. She has something to offer to the country,” she said.

“We met a 27 year woman in Nigeria; she took the class on how to figure out how to run her organization. She goes to the dustbin area of Lagos where people live on trash. I was there physically and saw it. She gathers some of the children and brings them into her home every day and provides them with preschool and primary education. She has mini library where the kids can read books. She feeds them. About 150 students and then. She also takes these kids to well established areas in Lagos so that the kids can see other areas.  That’s the contribution we made. Coke stopped this funding but we are continuing the program because we know it’s important, Kajunju said.

AAI also aims to break barriers between genders and those with different economical class in the workplace. ‘We want to bring men and woman together. When men and woman are in an education environment, it helps to get rid of their prejudices.  All of our classes are inclusive even with defend social economics, “she said.

A native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ms. Kajunju is the first African to ever serve at the helm of AAI and because of her African background; Kajunju says she is able to bring something new as a leader. “I have this duality, I’m African, I know very well the African reality’s because I’ve lived them and I see it in my family and in my community. But I have also lived in America for a very long time. So I know what America is about.  By job is to bridge the gap. My job is to take what’s good about Africa and elevate it and strengthen it.  Take all that is good about America and bring it to Africa. And take the good that we see in Africa and bring it to America and because I can speak both languages culturally, I believe that it helps me to get into places with people who don’t have my profile can’t get too,” she said.

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