"You do not volunteer if you are afraid of the unknown, you volunteer for the unknown that reveals you with yourself."

This statement of mine is so simply put yet so profound, don’t you think? I am SEFANDE Michael Issohatè and I recently completed my service as an AU Youth Volunteer where I was deployed to work as Translator and Interpreter within ACALAN/AU based in Mali/Bamako also known as ‘’la ville aux trois caïmans’’. Working within Académie africaine des langues (African Academy of Languages) was to be inundated with tremendous pertinent aptitudes to cruise through. Looking back at my year's travel and my accomplishments, I can certainly say I have developed so much in such a brief period, and my CV can scarcely oblige the genuine development. The African Academy of Languages, ACALAN is the African Union Specialised agency charged with the promotion and development of African languages as a means for fostering continental integration and development.

At that time, I was not in an environment that talked about or stimulated volunteering, but I saw volunteering as something that could help the community and me. My view of volunteering changed when I started university and joined some organisations in my country, such as the US Embassy in Benin, where I was president of the Reading Club as a volunteer. The most important and life-changing volunteering experience for me came in 2018 when I decided that volunteering locally was not enough anymore and I took the opportunity to volunteer as an African Youth Volunteer facilitated by the African Union.

In a nutshell during my year AU-YV service, my most important achievements were related to  providing, clear faithful interpretation during various conferences of ACALAN meetings using precise and accurate language -In charge of translating documents, ensuring the highest standard of accuracy and maintaining the spirit, context, quality, technical language and nuances of the original version, using precise, clear, and proper terminology. In charge of reading manuscripts with an editorial eye, giving attention to syntax, and grammar.

During my journey working at African Academy of Languages as an AU Youth Volunteer as Translator and Interpreter, I had the honor to interact with thousands of  people from all across the globe who hail from both worlds, the decision-makers of Africa continent when it comes to linguistic policy and I have visited multiple African countries. My journey as an AU-YV has opened an array of opportunities for me: career and personal development, and most, especially increasing my knowledge and fine-tuning my perception of Africa. Through AU-YV, I have met persons from different socio-cultural origins. Those academicians, scholars I met, shared their passion, spirit and drive to be the change they want to see. Moreover, they create spaces to ensure the development of African languages as a factor of African integration and development.

What I knew of Mali upon my arrival I had gleaned from a collection of stories by former Volunteers serving in different towns of Mali. Living in Bamako is a unique experience to be treasured and enjoyed. If you know what to expect before you arrive at the bustling Bamako-Senou airport, you will fall in love with this laidback, magical city. The beauty of this place is the people with beautiful hearts. They are quite friendly and helpful. The local language here is Bambara but French is also spoken here. When i came here, it was difficult for me to communicate with the people, as I could not speak Bambara. It became a challenging task for me to make them understand what I want to say. Gradually, I have started Bambara class, an opportunity offered to me by ACALAN. I am thankful to the lovely people of Bamako and my Boss Dr Dampha Lang Fafa the Executive Secretary of ACALAN for giving me this opportunity to learn this language.

One of the first tasks of our Bambara language training was to learn how to greet properly, and within that greeting, we honored surnames. The Bambara greeting was extensive, and in other parts of Mali, where one might speak Dogon, Fulani, or Tamasheq, the greeting process was lengthy. In Bambara, it might look something like this; imagine two people meeting:

I ni sogoma! Good morning!

Nse. I ni sogoma. (I acknowledge you.) Good morning.

Here sira? Did you have peace last night?

Here doron. Only peace.

I ka kene, wa? How are you?

Tooro te. No problems.

I bamuso ka kene? How’s your mother?

Tooro t’a la. She has no problems.

I face ka kene? How’s your father?

Tooro t’a la. He has no problems.

I ka mogo bee ka kene? How are all your people?

Basi t’u la. They have no problems.

Ala k’a here chaya. May God/Allah bring peace.

Amina. Amen.

Ala k’a here d’i ma. May God/Allah give you peace.

Amina. Amen.

Ala k’a nyogon ye nogoya. May it be easy to see one another again.

Amina. Ala k’a dubaw mine. Amen. May God/Allah answer the blessings.

Amina. Amen.

I Samake. You are Samake.

Nse. (I acknowledge you)

I immediately judged this process as inane. I continuously regarded this as dull merriment utilized earlier to get into the meat of an issue, like a respectful thump on an entryway instead of a freight boat in. Seldom do we answer these questions honestly. However, just like the loyal understudy I had continuously been, I learned the welcoming through gritted teeth.

The AU Youth Volunteer Programme could be an inspiration for other organisations to emulate, as the information, skills, induction and commitment I have gained will enable me to move into roles that are more senior. My energy for volunteering is more entrenched so to speak and I have seen its importance through my individual AUYVs and the colleagues I have worked with who are developing volunteering. I saw the control of the number of individuals who really needed to work at the grassroots level and have a big impact.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that becoming an AUYVC is a dense and indelible experience that has considerably enhanced my professional and interpersonal skills, as well as my network across institutions and borders, enriching my life and nurturing the pan-African spirit within me. I am grateful to have benefited from this experience and look forward to seeing where my professional career will take me as I keep volunteering in different capacities and engaging more young people to experience the world, accept others for who they are and learn from every encounter. I am ever more determined to encourage our young people, my fellow youth and the next generation to improve their communities with the tools at their disposal while they develop themselves so that they can further support their communities and become the heroes they can be. This programme definitely ignites the stalwart that resides in young people and sparks a fire that, if it were dormant, would blaze with ideas, passion and conviction for development.

Stories Youth Volunteer

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