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Helping to inspire young minds

OUT AND ABOUT: Youth Learning Network students during a visit to the British High Commission in July 2011

AT AGE 15, Yvonne Nagawa was a shy teenager who needed help with maths and English. She also suffered with self confidence and was uncertain of her direction in life.

But that changed following her enrolment at the supplementary school, Youth Learning Network (YLN) which, among other things, organised for her and other pupils to go on a trip to Ghana in West Africa in 2010.

“We received so much more than I expected,” she told The Voice. “It was not just about education. We learned so much about confidence and life skills. We had people come to give us talks and we learned how to handle our money.”

Now the student, who is in her second year of Law at Kent University, is one of several volunteers giving back to the school that inspired her to follow her dreams.

“I feel I benefitted so much for Youth Learning Network and this is my way of giving back what I received,” said Nagawa, 20. “Our trip to Ghana was pretty much life changing,” she said, explaining that visiting Ghana’s former slave selling outposts and local schools helped her realise she had to take better advantage of her opportunities in the UK.

Transformation

Nagawa is only one of many whose attendance at the YLN led to a transformation. Attending the supplementary school also boosted “all of my confidence,” Nagawa said. “I was really shy before I joined Youth Learning Network and Kwame was one person who motivated me and empowered me to speak up and be more confident in myself and I feel that’s one thing that has led to me to believe that I could pursue the career I want to go into.”

The outstanding work of the YLN in transforming the lives of countless children has been recognised. In December, at the British Museum in London, the YLN was awarded the Gold Quality Framework Award by the specialist support body, the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education (NRC).

The award recognised the high quality of work done by the school, which has two centres at the Goose Green Community centre and in East Dulwich in Southwark, south London.

“[The award] is inspirational. It is recognition that the work that the directors, the teachers and the students have been putting in is being given recognition that we are doing something better,” said the Youth Learning Network founder, Kwame Ocloo.

Ocloo said he was inspired to set the school up in 2005 because he wanted to give African and Caribbean children more than the classroom experience. That is also why he teamed up with British Airways to fund trips to Ghana.

“I was a school governor for 13 years and one of the problems I had to deal with every day was going to meetings and conferences on education and always been lectured that ‘Oh the Africans, the Caribbean students, boys are not doing well’” Ocloo said.

This motivated him to act. “I did not want to sit down and complain about failure. I wanted to do something.”

As a result, he set up the supplementary school for children aged five to 17 and said he made sure it covered African history, finance, motivational talks and youth leadership residential workshops alongside math, science, English and information technology classes.

“Our children need more than the classroom,” he said. “The children we are talking about are children who haven’t seen their past so they don’t know where they are going,” Ocloo said. “(So) one of the motivations was that when this project started, the key element was to deliver what I call a heritage project so they must go to Africa every year and by going there, to go and see with their own eyes where they are coming from and how their ancestors also lived.”

This includes taking young people on field trips to the British High Commission, the British Museum and other institutions. Additionally, the project since 2009 has been taking groups of young people to Ghana, as part of helping to shape young minds by having them interact with history.

This year will be no different as 12 young people will be going to Ghana from July 30 to August 13, 2013. Ghana, Ocloo’s native country, was chosen because of its abundant history, which ranges from having former West African empires to being a key point where Africans were captured and sold into slavery.

Resources

Despite its need for more funding and resources, Ocloo said the programme has made a big difference, not only to the 48 pupils who have since graduated, but also to the 172 students who currently attend the school.

Some of the YLN former students went from being de-motivated and excluded in mainstream schools to gaining acceptance at top colleges and universities, such as Cambridge University, Ocloo said.

“It has helped transform their thinking and ideas,” he said, adding that the programme has also helped young people head to the United States to pursue entrepreneurship.

“People who have left are taking their GCSEs and also more than half of them are in universities and higher education. A lot of them are doing really well,” noted Ocloo, who has made securing more funding for the school’s priority for 2013.

Ocloo added that organisations such as Southwark Council and other donors such as BBC Children have assisted in the past, but “now we are currently looking for other funders to support us.”

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