Five Ashinaga US students participated third annual Kenjin-Tatsujin Conference

On March 2nd, Ashinaga hosted its third annual Kenjin-Tatsujin Conference in the historic city of Kyoto. The Kenjin-Tatsujin (KT) Council is an advisory board comprised of 109 members — politicians, businesspeople, musiciens, and academics from around the world — who are invested in the success of the Ashinaga Africa Initiative (AAI). About fifty KT members came to Kyoto for the conference and over the course of several days, they heard updates on the progress of the AAI and lent their expertise in charting its future direction. Ashinaga USA was proud to have five brilliant, dynamic student representatives at the conference.

The three seniors — Joseph Ssengendo from Villanova University, Daniel Kibuuka from Pepperdine University, and Hilda Nalwanga from Smith College — also known as the “Pioneers,” are on track to become Ashinaga USA’s first ever college graduates. They introduced themselves to the KT members, with Hilda giving a short speech. They are on the precipice of post-college life: Joseph is an aspiring mechanical engineer strongly considering graduate school, Daniel has already started a film company in Uganda, and Hilda is now applying for education-related jobs on the Continent. We think their futures are bright, and we are grateful that the KT members had a chance to see that as well.

Alex Wagikuyu was one of only three Ashinaga Scholars selected to present their Ashinaga Proposal to the KT members. Alex is a sophomore studying Political Science at Clark University and is using his Ashinaga Proposal to understand how poor math and science preparation in Kenya inhibits access to higher education. After presenting his project to the KT members, he reflected that “it was a privilege to get very positive as well as challenging feedback… that will help in driving my project to maturity and full realization.” He plans to spend this coming summer in Kenya researching and developing his Proposal.

juniourJuniour Kandimire earned her way to Japan by winning the Louis Schweitzer Poetry Prize for her poem I am that girl. Ashinaga’s Poetry Anthology Project solicited poems from current Ashinaga students, and Juniour — a sophomore studying Sociology at DePauw University — was the only AAI Scholar to win an award. After Mr. Schweitzer presented her with an award certificate and a copy of the anthology, the two posed for a photo and then it was Juniour’s time to be that girl: she delivered a powerful rendition of her poem to the audience. Upon her return from Japan, she reflected on the cultural similarities and differences that she experienced: “Even though we are different geographically, there are always similarities. The Japanese culture reminded me so much of home and the African traditional religion.”

The KT Conference was a success on many levels. Joseph reflected on the professional benefit, saying that networking with the KTs was “brain boosting,” citing a particularly impactful conversation with Mr. Lassina Zerbo about the role of persistence in achieving success. Hilda reflected on the solidarity she felt with other Ashinaga students, saying that she “was SO proud to be an Ashinaga scholar, to see how much my family has grown to now include not only Ugandans but so many other young African people.” Daniel summarized the experience well: “I think I grew a couple of years’ worth in the four days I stayed in the Land of the Rising Sun.”