Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders: Abbigal Muleya

In May we were approached by Tulane University and asked if we wanted to work with and mentor two of the Fellows they were receiving through the Young African Leaders Initiative. We were, of course, thrilled to be a part of that program.

The Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is the flagship program of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) that empowers young people through academic coursework, leadership training, and networking. Fellowships provide outstanding young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa with the opportunity to hone their skills at a U.S. university, and with support for professional development after they return home. -Young African Leaders Initiative website

Across the entire continent of Africa, 50,000 young leaders applied for this program and only 500 were accepted. The program was said to be more competitive than a Harvard scholarship. For the last seven weeks we have been working with two of these Fellows, one from Zimbabwe and one from Tanzania, and we wanted to give them the opportunity to tell their stories.

Abbigal introducing herself and her beliefs to the American Business Women's Association of New Orleans.

Abbigal introducing herself and her beliefs to the American Business Women’s Association of New Orleans.


My name is Abbigal Muleya, I am from back of beyond. I hold a bachelor of Honors degree in African Languages and Culture- a degree that I did not acquire because my parents were able to send me to school, but because of the well-wishers and Associations that identified me from the deep rural areas of Binga district. I was given this opportunity because I had excelled at my primary level grade seven results and my parents could not pay for my fees for me to advance with my studies. This is not because they did not want to, but because they were not employed and there was no viable economic activity from the land. Wild animals have infested the land. In fact the residents were forcibly relocated to this land upon the construction of the Kariba dam- the major electricity generator in the region. These and other factors contributed to the underdevelopmennt of my community. Most girls and women with the potential, who did not have the ‘favor’ I got in life, are drowning with their capabilities.

Because I was sponsored by a girls’ scholarship organization, I consider this my way of giving back. I am being driven by the fact that once I am able to facilitate the process of women empowerment, the women will be able to start up economic empowerment activities and consequently support their children, and particularly the girl child who is usually given secondary preference in my community.

To bring women together for self-empowerment, we set up economic empowerment programmes in consultation with the rural women beneficiaries. The focus of each individual program depended on the predominant natural resource to the area Some of the projects included fishing:

Fishing - Zimbabwe

Basket weaving from the ilala palm tree:

Basket Weaving - Zimbabwe

Gardening by the women’s forums:

Gardening by the Women's Forums - Zimbabwe

There is also the utilisation of marulla and baobab fruit trees and value addition of these. Recently, the women have embarked on ecotourism as well as fish farming projects. Out of these, the women have sent their children to school and paid for their school fees as well as stationary. Some have sent the children even up to advanced levels in education- I feel so good. Decent meals are being enjoyed as well.

Women now have access to valuable resources. They also have ownership of the valuable assets that they have acquired during the empowerment process. Some of the valuable assets include land and cattle and they even have control over these. They have gained respect from their husbands and the community at large. As a way of appreciating this, and encouraging other women, I join with the women and others in commemorating big women’s days such as the International Women’s Day as shown below:

International Women's Day

I have managed to impact on over 1,000 women on these programmes directly, and indirectly more than 2,000 other women, men and children have benefited as well. I am so happy that I managed, and still manage to impact on other young women’s lives.

Apart from what I do at my organisation, I also run a small profitable shop where I sell salon products and also run a salon and a barber at the same time. What inspired me to do so was the fact that each time I talked to the women about entrepreneurship, I felt like I was just making noise because I did not practice it myself. I told myself I must lead by example and live my talk.

Right now the women visit my shop and get inspiration in the process. Even the elite women have learnt from my business. They have learnt from my passion on education as a liberating tool especially to a woman.

When you educate one, you educate the whole nation!!!

Abbigal showing a girl how to carry a jug of water at the Girl Scouts Louisiana East STEM Extravaganza.

Abbigal showing a girl how to carry a jug of water at the Girl Scouts Louisiana East STEM Extravaganza.

Because I am a leader in my community, both men and women respect me and ask me to speak on my road to success. I feel so humbled. I have managed to attend tertiary education- something very difficult coming from such a community. I have managed to set up a non-profit and a for-profit at the same time. I am currently a fellow in Barack Obama’s Young African Leadership Initiative, a program that was “more competitive than applying for a Harvard scholarship” according to the US Ambassador in Zimbabwe and I am dining with queens and kings.

I am seeing myself shining more and transforming a lot more lives of women mostly, but also men, boys and girls. I wish many more women from my community will join me. That is my passion, this is my cry, and this is my daily prayer: to see complete liberation of women in my community.

I am Changemaker. I am a Catalyst!