Since its inception in 2003, a Gambian had never reached the final stage, not to talk of being awarded the prestigious Mandela Rhodes Foundation postgraduate program.
However, the narrative has just changed thanks to Isatu Bokum. The film maker, women’s and girls rights advocate made her breakthrough into the program after successfully completing a “rigorous and competitive” application process which started in March 2020. As the world battles with a pandemic that has upended lives this year, Bokum challenged herself to give a shot at being the first ever Gambian Mandela Rhodes scholar.
With the expressed mission and vision to build exceptional leadership capacities in Africa, the Mandela Rhodes foundation is one of Nelson Mandela’s three legacy organizations. The foundation provides postgraduate scholarships for youths across Africa to study in south Africa and participate in a leadership program.
This year, the class of 2021 includes participants from 12 African countries with The Gambia and Liberia participating for the first time.
The Sisters Show began by asking Isatu Bokum to share what inspired her to apply for the program and her expectations:
THE SISTERS SHOW: WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO APPLY FOR THE MRF PROGRAM?
BOKUM: I wasn’t really particular about applying at first, but after going through the Mandela Rhodes Foundation website, I felt it was something that resonates with me i.e. their aims, objectives and particularly their values. Right there, I knew I wanted to be a part of it and have what it takes to at least try. So that same week, I started my application. It was a rigorous process. A whole lot of questions to answer and documents to provide. Even though I had a tight schedule, I made time for it. I was committed to getting on the list and changing the narrative for my country and young people.
THE SISTERS SHOW: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING SELECTED?
BOKUM: I feel great! Like I said before it wasn’t an easy process. It was extremely rigorous and competitive. So many young people from different parts of Africa applied. So being a part of the final 30 is an unexplainable feeling.
THE SISTERS SHOW: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE JOURNEY?
BOKUM: The journey wasn’t easy at all. I mean I have been on the process for months,since March. I had to go through three stages during the application process before making it to the Interview stage. When I passed each stage and got informed, it was hard to believe knowing the number of applications they must have received. I also didn’t know I was the only Gambian that made it to the final stage until during the interview. One of the Interviewers told me and for a second, I couldn’t breathe.
THE SISTERS SHOW: WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THE PROGRAM?
BOKUM: I am truly looking forward to meeting new people,especially young leaders like myself from other countries. There is just a different feeling when you converse with other vibrant leaders, share ideas, motivate and challenge each other to build the continent.
I also can’t wait to experience the country (South Africa) and also the university I will be doing my postgraduate at. All my life, I have studied here in the country. So, a change of environment wouldn’t be bad at all (laughs). Did I mention that aside from school activities, The MRF also hosts leadership training for all scholars during our stay in SA? I can ‘t wait for that too.
THE SISTERS SHOW: AS A YOUNG AND ACTIVE GAMBIAN YOUTH, HOW WILL YOU SHARE WITH YOUNG GAMBIANS THE EXPERIENCE YOU WILL GAIN FROM THE PROGRAM?
BOKUM: One thing I want is to see more Gambian Mandela Rhodes Scholars. I believe this opportunity will open the doors for more young people to partake in 2022. I will always be available to guide anyone interested through the application for next year.
I am always on Social Media. Everything about myself, work and school is posted which means I will share my experiences on my platforms always to let other young Gambians know all the benefits they will have as Mandela Rhodes Scholars.
THE SISTERS SHOW: WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE TO SOMEONE WHO WISHES TO APPLY FOR THE PROGRAM?
BOKUM: My advice would be that they are honest all through their application. That is one important value of a leader and MRF takes it seriously. Make sure everything written and presented is yours and not plagiarised. Also, it is key to note that you have to be committed to it. This application process takes almost a whole year. So, one needs to ensure that they do not give up and give it their all through out.
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