AYANA

By: Mahika Halepete

Poverty , Believer

We're revolutionizing humanitarian work by allowing youth members of developing communities to speak for their own needs and identify the most effective solutions.

AYANA is a nonprofit initiative dedicated to transforming the futures of communities in developing countries by empowering youth to design innovative solutions to local issues they identify. Developing countries face issues from discrimination against girls to lack of knowledge about sanitation, and these issues affect us all as a global community. Youth understand problems in their communities very well and want their societies to move forward, but are often not involved in changemaking or decision making processes in their communities. Our impact is in both empowering youth and allowing them to realize their potential as entrepeneurs and changemakers, and also to directly transform communities with critical programs ending poverty, empowering women, and creating educational opportunities for all.

The AYANA Youth Innovation Lab is a weeklong program designed to empower young people in developing countries to create targeted solutions to issues facing their communities, using the design thinking process to better understand those affected and create a unique, sustainable solution. Over 300 youth have participated in the program in Tanzania, Kenya, Cameroon, and South Africa, which has led to a diverse portfolio of innovations by young people to improve their communities.

(ABOVE) Students in Moshi, Tanzania build a WASH Center at their school. This project was designed at a Youth Innovation Lab program, by a 14-year-old to curb diseases transmitted as a lack of adequate hand-washing facilities.

Prior to starting AYANA, I spent a long time doing research. What I found was that development projects often don’t involve the beneficiaries in the ideation, construction or maintenance — therefore 2 years after a water station is built, it could already be no longer functioning because the communities had no vested interest nor training to maintain it. I truly believe in the power of youth to solve many of the prevalent problems our world faces today. So, I wrote a curriculum that would teach young people in developing countries about the Sustainable Development Goals and the principles of human centered design/design thinking — so that, instead of foreigners telling them what they need, they would be empowered with the skills to design and implement their own development projects. I reached out to nonprofits working in developing countries which had existing youth empowerment programs to see if, and how, the curriculum I had designed could be integrated. I received feedback to make the curriculum both simple to adapt for partnering organizations and most impactful on the participants. The main premise is sustainability — in terms of the issues we’re trying to tackle (related to the SDGs) and in the nature of projects, in which beneficiaries are involved every step of the way. We have reached 200+ youth through our Youth Innovation Lab program and over 2,500 individuals through project execution.

Team Members

  • Mahika Halepete

    Founder and Executive Director

    ​Mahika Halepete, 15, is the founder and Executive Director of AYANA International (www.ayanainternational.org), a nonprofit initiative which she created to harness the power of youth innovation to solve global problems. She is passionate about creating sustainable solutions to issues stemming from global poverty and utilizing purposeful, human-centered design in developing nations. It was her interest in this issue that drove her to design the framework of the Youth Innovation Lab, a program for young people in developing countries to realize their potential as changemakers, tackling local problems through the lens of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Through AYANA, Mahika has worked with young people in developing nations to help them refine, ​brand, and budget​ their projects for maximum impact. AYANA has empowered over 200 students through Youth Innovation Lab incubator programs in five African cities and reached thousands of community members through funded projects designed by youth. Through grants and donations from individuals, AYANA has funded projects in Moshi, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, including two innovative library models, a hand-washing station, and a youth-led clean up of a section of Africa's biggest slum, Kibera. Mahika​ i​s​ ​also an award-winning writer and student journalist, having won recognition in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Additionally, she works part-time as a music teacher, where she ​instructs students ​in pre-school group classes to private vocal lessons. As a singer-songwriter, Mahika has recorded original and collaborative pieces in studios in San Francisco and in Austin, through the One Village Music Project. Mahika has a deep love of learning and ​enjoys​ traveling to explore and ​better​understand the world; she has been to five continents and 25 countries. She lives in San Jose, California, where she continues to focus on expanding AYANA's reach to improve the lives of as many people, in as many communities as possible.

Impact

Projects We've Funded

April 22, 2018

Thousands of people have been reached through youth-led projects stemming from our Youth Innovation Labs in Tanzania and Kenya! Learn more and see photographs on our website at www.ayanainternational.org/projects!

Kibera Clean Team

The first clean-up launched in April. The project started at Katwekera, Kenya. The students plan to sustain it by distributing a dustbin at every plot and collecting the trash thrice a week, cooperating with the local waste management company to collect our trash. They will be visiting schools to educate students and pupils on how to maintain cleanliness.

Peace of Mind Pop-Up Library

This project was designed to implement a quality community pop-up library called Peace of Mind Pop-Up Library with a mission to impact students from the slum of Kibera in Kenya. The students’ aim is to create a conducive learning environment to all learners. Students of all ages benefitted from the inaugural pop-up library in April

Counseling & Comp. Sci for Girls

This project entails educating young girls from poor backgrounds who have dropped out of school. The students will visit different local areas and offer trauma healing counselling and a computer science and entrepreneurship training program. This will help them to acquire skills to better their lives even though they have dropped out of school.

Majengo School Hand-Washing Station

Almost half the Tanzanian population lacks clean water. So, it's no wonder that, during our Youth Innovation Lab workshops, with all participants under the age of 18, one participant decided to choose the issue of a lack of sanitation and water treatment facilities as their focus. Bringing students' ideas to life means improving the lives of the community members while also changing stereotypes, particularly maintained in developing countries, of youth as helpless to create change. Disney and YSA agreed with our methodology on harnessing youth innovation in developing countries to create sustainable, localized change. Through the Be Inspired grant, AYANA worked with our partner, Tanzania Rural Empowerment Organization, to fully fund a project that would support the principle of WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene): The Majengo School Hand-Washing Center.

Kilimanjaro Mobile Library

This mobile library concept is a way to strengthen literacy and education in communities where such developments may not be as heavily stressed. The mobile library holds a variety of books, and is transported to different schools in the area of Moshi, Tanzania. This cart has created a space for independent learning, allowing students to explore their interests through literature. We hope this project will empower the youth to take ownership of their education, and stimulate their desire to learn about the world.

We have even more projects that need funding!

  • A Reading and Writing Program in Cameroon
  • A Fruit Tree Planting Program in Tanzania
  • An Entrepreneurship/Vocational Training Program for Young Mothers in Cameroon
  • A School Community Garden in Tanzania
  • A School Latrine Project in Cameroon

To contribute, visit www.ayanainternational.org/donate!

Majengo School WASH Center | Moshi, Tanzania

Dec. 8, 2017

Almost half the Tanzanian population lacks clean water. So, it's no wonder that, during our Youth Innovation Lab workshops, with all participants under the age of 18, one participant decided to choose the issue of a lack of sanitation and water treatment facilities as their focus.

At the conclusion of our first two Youth Innovation Lab programs in Moshi, Tanzania, we had several incredible ideas, but a few in particular stood out. Bringing students' ideas to life means improving the lives of the community members while also changing stereotypes, particularly maintained in developing countries, of youth as helpless to create change.

Disney and YSA agreed with our methodology on harnessing youth innovation in developing countries to create sustainable, localized change. Through the Be Inspired grant, AYANA worked with our partner, Tanzania Rural Empowerment Organization, to fully fund a project that would support the principle of WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene): The Majengo School Hand-Washing Center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Tanzania, 38% of water points are not functional. Hygiene Behavior Change is critical to achieving the benefits of improved WASH system; moreover, sustainability depends upon proper planning, stakeholder involvement, and understanding of the need and processes for maintenance. So, how have we covered all those bases? This project was designed, implemented, and used by youth. This is the future of sustainable problem-solving!

This hand-washing center is an incredible improvement from the previously used system of the Tippy Tap (a stick laid on top of two other sticks, with gallons of water tipped by a pedal at the bottom), which. While effective in areas where more innovative, effective systems of hand washing would not be available, certainly had room for improvement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We've been hard at work this past month to prepare materials to brand the center, prepare budget plans, create models prior to construction, and more! But this week, students at the school began using the purchased materials to begin construction of the center. Full completion of the building is expected within a few weeks. But it doesn't end with construction. Consistent with the philosophy of "Kuosha Mikono Ni Kwa Kila Mtu" ("Hand-Washing Is For Everyone"), young people will be instructing their peers and members of their communities on proper WASH practices.

These students are so excited about getting clean water (therefore avoiding illness that can keep them out of school) and they've helped in all stages of pushing for a project like this and building it. Therefore, we at AYANA know that this isn't just short-term. It's a model for a series of projects across the globe that involve real community members in the ideation, implementation, and maintenance processes. 

ADVICE FOR MY PEERS

Oct. 9, 2017

​Find an issue you care about. Look up the UN Sustainable Development Goals and find the ones with which you identify. Looking at all of the world’s problems can be overwhelming. It can be helpful to narrow your focus down to a certain area. Start small, and grow that. Try not to start or be involved in too many different projects to the point where you’re not able to fully commit to each one.

Take time to develop your ideas. Write down every idea, as you never know where it could lead. Build on the ideas by taking into account budgets, roles in a project, a scale of viability, other organizations working toward a similar mission, statistics, etc. Take time to develop your ideas. Ask the big questions. (Why is this the best option? How can I learn more? Whom can I talk to?)

Be informed. Stay on top of your city’s recent policy measures and stay updated with the news. Be a voice of truth. If you find a fact, double check it. “Fake news” may be used jokingly by friends, but it is more important than ever to know what’s out there and not distribute false information.

Get help. Seek out experts and mentors in your field of interest. Understand where the limits of your understanding are, and talk to professionals so that you are as well-versed as possible, but still understand your worth. Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Find a team. Reach out to people you find inspiring. When you have an idea, don’t be afraid to run it by a few people! Feedback is integral to making sure projects are as successful as possible. Be sure to speak with people whom your project will impact.

Believe in yourself. Some adults may be condescending about your age, but, once they see your capability, you will find they are pleasantly surprised and even more willing to support you. Your age is just a number. It does not prohibit you from creating big change!

Go for it! After you’ve done this, dive in and start working. Do so fearlessly. Do not be afraid of failure. Failures will happen, but these are learning experiences you can build on. Analyze the situation and determine what the best steps would be moving forward, as well as how you should act or plan differently in the future.


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