Yahya Kandeh was born on the 29th of April, 1984. He was raised in Cha Kunda, a village in the Central River Region of The Gambia with his two older brothers, sister, and one young brother and two sisters from his father’s second wife. Even though his parents valued education, they like many others in the community never had the opportunity to go to school because they spent their days farming. No one in the family was literate, until Yahya.
When Yahya was just four years old he approached his father about attending school. His father was sympathetic but feared that Yahya was too young to make the 3.1 mile (5 kilometer) trek to the nearest primary school on his own and told him to wait until he was a bit older. Yahya was determined to get an education, so when he was only six years old he joined classes designed for adult illiterates in his community, but at which other interested parties were welcome. Yahya took the classes very seriously. He performed so well that he caught the attention of his instructor who approached Yahya’s father and convinced him to allow his son to attend primary school.
Yahya impressed his head teacher at Sare Sophie Primary School so much with his knowledge of basic numbers and letters that he was advanced from the first to the second grade after just two weeks in 1991. After completing third grade, Yahya was advanced directly into fifth grade. He went on to excel at Brikama Junior Secondary School (1997 to 2000) and Armitage Senior Secondary School (2000 to 2003). Throughout his studies Yahya struggled to find school fees, but his father was now his greatest advocate, doing all that he could to keep Yahya in school, including helping to find financial sponsors for Yahya’s studies.
From an early age, Mr. Kandeh was inspired by the services rendered by health workers in his community. He was most impressed with preventative health services and majored in science in Senior Secondary School. After completing Senior Secondary School, Mr. Kandeh went on to pursue a higher National Diploma in Public and Environmental Health in the School of Public Health at The Gambia College to become a Public Health Officer (PHO). Upon completion in July 2007 he was posted to the Chamen Health Centre in the Central River Region. His position seemed like a dream come true.
Serving as a PHO from 2007 to 2010, Mr. Kandeh gained his first experience with community service work. He assisted with immunizations and health education, trained local community groups on health-related issues including HIV/AIDS, and reported on diseases and their spread. Mr. Kandeh prepared monthly health statistics for his district and engaged in food and water supply inspection and the registration of births.
In 2010, Mr. Kandeh began a Bachelor’s Degree program in Public and Environmental Health in the faculty of Public Health at the University of The Gambia. Not long after gaining admission to the program, Mr. Kandeh saw an advertisement for a job as a Community Health Mobilizer for the BMZ Water and Sanitation Project of the West Coast Region. He was pleasantly surprised when he was given the position. While touring schools in his capacity as a Community Health Mobilizer, Mr. Kandeh noticed that students were not washing their hands properly due to the lack of basic materials to do so. Unclean hands were leading to diarrhea and preventable absenteeism from school.
Wanting to make a positive difference in the education of others the way his father had done for him and being part of the Generation Change initiative of the US Department of State, that encourages youths to take control of their own destinies, Mr. Kandeh wrote a grant proposal to the US Embassy to help ten schools with proper hand washing materials. His successful proposal enabled Mr. Kandeh to provide water kettles, wash hand basins, and soap for a full academic year to the schools. The initiative achieved its goals. School heads reported that absenteeism related to diarrhea was virtually eliminated within six months and Mr. Kandeh was recognized with an award. In 2013, Mr. Kandeh completed his work as a Community Health Mobilizer and graduated with his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of The Gambia.
After graduation Mr. Kandeh was employed by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) as a Field Monitor Assistant. His position involved reviewing food deliveries, food storage, transport and distribution, verifying whether food had been received in good condition, conducting regular meetings with cooperating partners, and making suggestions for program improvement. Mr. Kandeh left his position with the WFP in December 2014 to accept a position as a Program Development Officer with the community-based organization Eastern Foni Federation, which is affiliated with ChildFund in the Gambia. Since January 2015, Mr. Kandeh has developed educational programs for 5 schools and 22 focus villages through his new position.
Mr. Kandeh is also giving back to his own village of Cha Kunda. As the first member of his village to earn a university degree, Mr. Kandeh automatically serves as a role model, but he also is the founder of the Cha Kunda Youths Education and Development Association. The Association holds monthly cleaning activities in the village, coordinates weekend classes for school children, and provides mentoring to students. Its aim is to engage and empower youths.
Mr. Kandeh continues to pursue his educational dreams and desire for self-development. In November 2015, Mr. Kandeh was among 105 participants selected out of 9,000 applicants from 8 countries to participate in a five-week training program on public sector management through US President Barack Obama’s Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) at the YALI Regional Leadership Center, West Africa in Ghana, Accra. In 2015, Mr. Kandeh also gained admission into the University of Queensland in Australia to pursue a Master’s Degree in Integrated Water Management. He was offered a partial, not a full scholarship, and has deferred his program’s start until the 2017-18 academic year by which time he hopes to be offered a full scholarship. It is Mr. Kandeh’s community work, and desire that people have access to safe and clean drinking water that has inspired him to pursue the advanced degree.
Based on the literature on international development and personal success, why has Mr. Yahya Kandeh been so successful in his undertakings?
Some key characteristics come to mind:
Mr. Kandeh has a PASSION for education and for community service. He WORKS HARD and has learned how to work with people from a range of backgrounds.
Mr. Kandeh has valued ROLE MODELS, including his parents (his mom also has been a big supporter and has strongly encouraged him whenever he has had self-doubt about whether he could complete difficult tasks). Mr. Kandeh has been steadfast in his focus to achieve his aims and has sought to be a role model for others.