By: Jon Victor, Staff Reporter for Yale Daily News
The Office of Undergraduate Admissions put together a three-day conference this week for leaders from educational nonprofit groups in Africa — the first-ever event of its kind.
In partnership with Education Matters, a Zimbabwe-based nonprofit organization, the Admissions Office hosted representatives from 21 organizations dedicated to providing mentorship and guidance opportunities for high-achieving, low-income students from across the continent. At the HALI Indaba, which took place from April 12 to 14 in Harare, Zimbabwe, leaders from the organizations discussed program design, selection criteria for the individual programs and how to write strong letters of recommendation for colleges in the U.S., among other topics. This year, the organizations are supporting 871 African students through the college process, nine of whom were accepted by Yale.
“The Yale Admissions Office is incredibly excited to be part of this gathering,” Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said. “As part of our deepening commitment to bringing the most talented students from Africa to Yale, I have hopes that this summit and future collaboration will help strengthen college guidance and support for students coming to the U.S.”
Director of International Admissions Rebekah Westphal attended the conference, which derives its name from the acronym HALI — short for “high-achieving, low-income” — and “Indaba,” widely used in Africa to mean “gathering.” Westphal also served as one of HALI Indaba’s head organizers along with Rebecca Zeigler Mano from Education Matters.
Some of the participating organizations included Bridge2Rwanda, Akwanya and Our Moon Education. These programs vary in their length and degree of support for students, with some providing monthslong mentoring opportunities and others focusing more on short-term SAT workshops and college applications advice. The organizations in general aim to prepare students for their transition to life at an American college by giving the students rigorous instruction in English, going over cultural differences and explaining what the expectations for students will be once they arrive in the U.S.
Admission to these programs can be extremely competitive — sometimes even more so than acceptance to Yale. Bridge2Rwanda, for example, accepted 40 students out of over 1,000 applicants, according to Westphal.
“For most graduating seniors in high school, it is a dream to be a Bridge2Rwanda Scholar,” said Chaste Niwe ’19, who participated in the program before coming to Yale. “Applications forms get shared on social media, people talk about it, and it is hard not to learn about especially for students from the main cities.”
Niwe said Bridge2Rwanda guided him through all aspects of the application process, from helping him improve his English and providing SAT classes to paying the fees for each application. He added that he was glad organizations like Bridge2Rwanda were coming together to share ideas for their work, as they have the ability to change the lives of individuals and families.
The HALI Indaba was funded by the Higherlife Foundation, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to creating educational opportunities for children in Africa. The Higherlife Foundation has also given funding to the Yale Young African Scholars program, a five-day academic and mentorship program for high school students in Africa. The program was inaugurated last summer and will be running this summer in Ghana, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. Erin Schutte ’12, the director of Yale Young Global Scholars, which administers YYAS, attended the HALI Indaba as well.
“This is a fantastic example of how Yale can act as a convening power of like-minded organizations across the continent who are dedicated to educating the next generation of African student leaders,” said Ted Wittenstein ’04, who oversees YYAS.
Westphal said the HALI Indaba was directly related to Yale’s increased focus on Africa in recent years, which University President Peter Salovey affirmed with his announcement of the Yale Africa Initiative in 2013. The Yale Africa Initiative seeks to expand scholarship on Africa, increase the number of African students at Yale and establish partnerships between the University and African institutions.
According to Westphal, the number of students admitted to Yale from Africa jumped to 25 two years ago from its historic number of around 15.