ALA Students Awarded Top Prizes in News Decoder Global Storytelling Contest

Three ALA students were awarded top prizes in the bi-annual News Decoder Storytelling Contest – making it the first time that three students from a single learning institution win prizes in the same contest. 

This mark of excellence shines bright through first-year student Varlee Fofana ’20 who was awarded the first prize.

Fofana is a Liberian who lived in Kouankan, Guinea, as a refugee during the Liberian Civil War. From this experience, he became inspired to write stories. He is one of 10 scholars in the SMART Liberia Educational Advancement College Readiness Program and an alumnus ambassador of the Yale Young African Scholars.

His account of growing up in a refugee camp won First Prize in News Decoder’s 8th Storytelling Contest.

Varlee S. Fofana, in white next to the woman on the right, at the Kouankan refugee camp in Guinea. © Varlee S. Fofana

Runners up Adayé Sosthène Yvan N’guettia ‘20 from Ivory Coast and Nigerian storyteller Joy Chinaza ‘20 have us beaming with pride. 

N’guettia’s story shed light on youth activists in Ivory Coast, and Chinaza’s focused on police brutality in Nigeria

Journalism at its core: ALA’s involvement with News Decoder 

African Leadership Academy forms part of 19 partner schools that News Decoder works with around the world and is also currently News Decoder’s only partnered school in Africa. This crucial storytelling work is led by three brilliant student ambassadors who are currently Year Two students, and they are: Marouane El Bahraoui ’19 (Morocco), Michelle Hadebe ‘19 (South Africa), and Eugenia Rogers ’19 (Sierra Leone).  

Eugenia Rogers ’19, Marouane El Bahraoui ’19 and Michelle Radebe ’19

Their roles as Student Ambassadors for News Decoder include helping organize informative workshops and webinars and strengthening student engagement by encouraging and supporting ALA students to submit stories of their own. 

This involvement with News Decoder forms part of ALA’s growing journalism hub, which involves This Week in Africa (a continental news bulletin that is produced by ALA students), and the soon-to-launch ALA newspaper. Students are building this department with the support of faculty members Maya Schkolne and Thomas Lessafre. 

When asked to reflect on the importance of ALA’s involvement in programs like News Decoder, ambassador Eugenia Rogers says, “As the only partnered school in Africa, ALA helps to remove the shadows that still loom over our African experiences. Such a great, global platform offers ALA the chance to showcase its students’ brilliance and creativity and receive great recognition for these.” 

What’s been the most powerful lesson Marouane El Bahraoui has learnt through his involvement with News Decoder? “Given that I participated in more than one role, is that whenever I am writing a piece, whether it is an academic or journalistic article, I should put myself in the reader’s shoes and see if the message is clear and well transmitted. This also involves multiple drafts until the piece is achieving its goal.experiences are what give our voices the power to speak on the issues that matter to us,” he says. 

Finally, what does this group of ambassadors hope to leave behind for the next cohort of students who will continue to fly the ALA flag high once they move on to the next chapter of their lives? “I hope to pass on the culture of vocalization to the next group of students in News Decoder. This is a practice of writing and reporting even the smallest of issues that you think are important to you because they could educate, enlighten and inspire many other people to be vocal. One empowered voice empowers many other voices.” says Michelle Hadebe. 


News Decoder is a global educational news service that connects young people across continents to discuss global issues and produce articles that inform and empower readers, with the help of renowned editors. This service was founded by former Reuters correspondent Nelson Graves.

Find out more about ALA’s involvement with News Decoder here

Follow  This Week in Africa for your weekly dose of news from the African continent, by Africa’s storytellers.