Ask any alum, and they’ll tell you that ALA changes you – in ways you could not have imagined. Oh, sure. There’s the obvious: you’ll learn things you didn’t even think you needed to know. And you’ll learn how to do things you wouldn’t have considered trying before.
And if alumni stories are anything to go by, you’ll learn so much more about yourself, too.
Daniel Semphere did. In 2016, the young Malawaian student arrived at ALA as a loner. “I call myself introverted, because prior to ALA I was not sociable; even now I generally gain a sense of energy when alone, and feed off my solitude,” he explains.
Yet his peers may not agree, he concedes. “Around people I talk a lot, to them it seems I love being sociable. Growing up I was passive in social settings. I kept to myself a lot and I had only had a handful of friends. I wasn’t aware however that a lot of this was based on the way I perceived the world around me.
It was only when I came to ALA that it became apparent that my perspective was pivotal to my ALA journey (and life experiences).
Daniel also had no idea what direction his studies would take. “Academically, I was one of the well-rounded students; I didn’t have sense of direction but my parents always emphasised the importance of education, and encouraged me to pursue a wide variety of subjects. So I excelled in multiple areas, and consistenly received Merit awards – that’s something that was almost an unsaid expectation.”
Daniel has two older sisters: one, a medical practitioner in Malawi, the other, ALA alum Priscilla Semphere, who recently graduated in women and gender studies from Smith College. “Priscilla has been my motivator; she really pushed me in ways to achieve things I never thought I could, even apply to ALA – I didn’t think I was good enough; I thought it was beyond my capacity,” he says.
Outside the classroom, Daniel’s passion was for sport, epecially football. “I played it a lot – it was a huge part of my life,” he says. Hailing from a deeply religious family, Daniel was also very involved in his church – and that’s where he started developing another love: for photography. “I would take photographs at community events, and share the content on Facebook. My photography skills were birthed in that space and encouraged by my parents, as it was within a space they were comfortable with and for a cause that they supported,” he explains.
A Fully fledged Freelance filmmaker
It was at ALA that Daniel’s growing interest in photography took root.
“I had started in 2014, with cameras and crossed over a year later. But most of what I would do was me sitting in front of the camera, or taking social pics or videos of us hiking, and montage compilations. At ALA house or sport events, I would borrow someone’s camera and go around recording stuff, and a couple of people approached me for images. But it was Yaseen Kalfali, a second year student from Tunisia, who helped me refine my work; there were not many people who were doing it at ALA, so it was a skill in demand, and he was the go to guy. I learned a lot from him. He encouraged me to start using much more professional software, and pushed me out of my comfort zone.”
The various clubs and societies on campus helped, as well. Daniel had joined the photography club, and ALAMAU, amongst others, which expanded his opportunities to pursue his burdgeoning craft.
The breakthrough came when he was drafted as Associate Director of Multimedia for MAU in 2017; in Year 2, he served as Senior Director of Multimedia for MAU, responsible for video, marketing and promoting videos for social media, compiling summary and highlight videos and overseeing rented equipment, including submitting budgets to the Director of Finance.
By this time, he was also fully fledged freelance event photographer and videographer for ALA, contracted to capture various events and launches, including a video screened at the Decennial Assembly, the first Youth in Blockchain summit, the Decennial Indaba, and more.
By June, when Daniel graduated, his future was decidedly less hazy: he will be studying multimedia at Rochester University in New York, and is already making inroads into his own personal mission: “I want to tell the story of Malawi – a country that is generally not heard of and when you do, it’s not a holistic narrative. I want to work with other storytellers, and get that narrative through different mediums. My personal goal in life now, for the continent as a whole, is to reach a point where I can create a pan-African media hub… a storytelling exchange,” he says.
WATCH Daniel’s vlog on the importance of storytelling in Malawaian culture below…