By: Sharifa Kalokola; Originally posted on The Citizen
The author, Sharifa Kalokola, is a Women Deliver 2013 conference scholarship recipient. The article features two of Women Deliver's 100 Young Leaders from Tanzania, Florence Mwitwa and Maureen Anyago Oduor.
It turns out that being voted a class monitor, prefect or student leader in primary, high school and university might actually be a good predictor of one’s success later in life. For many world leaders today, leadership did not come when they already had grey hair – it all started in school.
Academic achievement is part of the success story, but it’s not the whole story.
This is the wisdom that drives Florence Mwitwa and Maureen Anyago, two 27-year-old university students, who were recently selected to represent the country in the 2013 Women Deliver conference Malaysia later in May.
For the two, their belief in the power of extra curricular activities in college in shaping students’ destiny has paid off earlier. Their life-transforming journey to the Asian nation will see them join 100 global young leaders, including heads of state, during the third global conference organised by the international advocacy organisation.
“We see ourselves as up-and-coming and vibrant young leaders, who have a lot to offer in the efforts to make a positive change in Tanzania and Africa at large,” says Florence Mwitwa, a fifth-year medical student at the Catholic University of Health and Allied Sciences (CUHAS-Bugando) in Mwanza.
Women Deliver is an organisation that brings together voices from around the world to call for action to improve the health and well being of girls and women.
This conference is expected to be the biggest yet, with more than 5,000 attendees from across the globe, including heads of state, policymakers, youth, media, corporate representatives, health workers, academics, and advocates.
But what made these two students attain international recognition are the things they do to the community besides studying.
Florence currently works with the International Federation of Medical Students Association (IFMSA) as a development assistant for the African National Members Organisation.
When he was in his first semester, he was not happy upon realising that there was very little or no social interaction at all among students.
“I felt that someone needed to change that. Students can do more than just studying and going out to the clubs to drink and dance,” he tells Success.
To some, Florence is not a new face. Television viewers may recognise his face after he participated in the Zain Africa Challenge, a televised academic competition among students in African universities.
“I believe life is more than what we get from books. What is happening in the community is different from what we get in classrooms,” he says.
In 2009, he joined the Tanzania Association of Medical Students (Tamsa), the national organisation for medical students that promotes excellent medical training and education, as well as community involvement.
Through Tamsa, he got a chance to attend his first international conference at Moi University in Kenya on ‘Reproductive Health in Sub-Saharan Africa’.
“At the conference, I was impressed to see first-year students expressing themselves with a lot of confidence. They seemed to know many things,” he recalls.
He also got the chance to meet and chat with the International Federation of Medical Students Association (IFMSA) African regional co-coordinator.
When he returned to Tanzania, he shot up the Tamsa leadership ladder to become the organisation’s chairperson at Bugando.
He was selected to be president between 2010 and 2011. Some of his major achievements at the helm of Tamsa is getting new members from all medical universities in Tanzania, and making the body a member of IFMSA.
Florence has also travelled around the world in different international conferences.
One of the proud moments of Florence is December 2012 when he was the president of the organising committee for the 8th IFMSA Africa Regional Meeting, held in Arusha, which discussed the ‘Health Crisis in Africa.’
Florence, whose family is based in Mwanza, wants to be a gynaecologist. He is a peer educator promoting sexual and reproductive health, and has organised several forums that address maternal health.
“Women are powerful beings. They raise and nurture everyone. They play a big role in eradicating poverty in the society. So, we need to take care of their health,” he says.
The young leader is currently conducting a quality assessment research on the provision of antenatal care in Misungwi District, Mwanza Region.
He decries the fact that in the rural areas, the quality of hospital services for women is very poor.
“Many women are also dying when delivering at home because they are not aware of the necessity of delivering in the hospital,” he explains.
He urges university students to engage in voluntary activities and the government to make use of medical students to spread the information of reproductive health.
“There are many students who are willing to volunteer when it comes to disseminating information to the public,” he says.
Florence admits that extracurricular activities can be demanding, but he says having a routine makes things easier. The young man aspires to be a leader in the future but with a more practical approach.
His colleague, Maureen Oduor, is pursuing a Bachelor of Development Studies at the Kampala International University in Dar es Salaam. She is one of the most famous students at KIU, since she is the representative of the development faculty.
Apart from focusing on her studies, she helps young people to take care of their sexual reproductive health, and she does that with a grassroots organisation called The African Peace Ambassadors of Tanzania (APAT) as the adolescent’s sexual reproductive health regional coordinator.
Just like Florence, Maureen has travelled around the world attending different international conference on development.
Born and raised in Kenya, her passion to help young people developed when she was 16 years old and in secondary school in Kenya.
“I witnessed three students dying because of unsafe abortion. And then I thought that, if only these girls had been taught to take care of themselves, their lives could not have ended up like this,” she says.
So, she underwent training on peer education and counselling.
After finishing high school she co-founded Tembea, a community-based youth organisation, which became a successful story.
She then embarked on youth mobilisation at Kisumu Medical Education Trust in Kenya, a leading grassroots reproductive health advocacy organisation and healthcare provider in Western Kenya.
“With that experience I decided to spend most of my free time specialising in women development issues,” she tells Success.
When she came to Tanzania, Maureen joined APAT in 2009. Then she was in her first year at the university. Her work is based in Muheza Tanga.
In Tanga, Maureen is proud that she has helped girls to raise their self-esteem when it comes to expressing their sexuality problems.
“I have seen many girls lose control of their sexuality just because of culture that made talking about sex and personal life a secret,” she says.
Granted doing such work and studying is difficult. But for her, planning is key.
She says: “I value my time, I plan everything ahead of time,” she says.
Her future plan is to uplift the standards of living for underserved communities.
“After I finish studying, I want to go back to the community and assist them. Poverty is the main concern and it affects women and girls,” she says.
Maureen says she is not in a hurry to go back to Kenya because what she is currently doing Tanzania is very important.
“I am not losing anything by working here. I take Tanzania and Kenya as one village. I enjoy working here but I may go back to Kenya when needed,” she says.
Flickr photograph via millenniumpromise.