Working with Michelle Obama on Africa’s Future

by Esther Soma

I was one of three students from my school, African Leadership Academy, who were selected to be among the seventy-six delegates at The Young African Women Leaders Forum with Michelle Obama. It was truly one of the best things that happened to me this year. This is not only because I met The First Lady of the United States of America, but also because I met some of the most phenomenal women on this continent, women who in the face adversities have been able to transform their communities in extraordinary ways.

On Tuesday 21st June, we met the elegant and stunning Mrs. Obama for the first time. After taking a group photo, she delivered a brief speech and allowed us to ask questions. Asked about how President Obama feels about her, she calmly replied “One thing about a strong man is that he is not afraid of a strong woman” a response that made all the women in the room cheer in jubilation and reinforced what would be the theme of our time with her.

On the second day, Wednesday the 22nd June, we worked with Michelle Obama to seek solutions to Africa’s problems. The day began with the seventy-six African women leaders sharing the privilege of attending Regina Mundi church in Soweto with the First Lady as she delivered an inspiring speech. I loved the way she drew a connection between the number 76 and its significance to America as the year it got independence, the year which South African youth stood up in defiance of the Apartheid regime and the number of Young African Women delegates attending the forum, a group I was proud to be a part of. Mrs. Obama emphasized the importance of the young women of Africa in the development of the continent, reminding us that the future of the continent would be shaped by our leadership.

The afternoon was characterized by the Young African Women sitting in groups of 25, discussing various continental issues such as the place of women in education, investment and mentorship, and coming up with concrete solutions on how the US government could lend a helping hand. The First Lady worked with each group, helping us think through our ideas and encouraging us to be bold and creative. After that, we were all privileged to receive a warm hug from Michelle Obama. As she came to give me that motherly reassuring hug, I could not help but whisper a prayer that I would grow up to be a charismatic, courageous, powerful yet humble lady like her.