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BreakingNews 27/3/16 - Tessie Udegboka Speaks On How She Walked A Dream To Receive Invitation To President Obama U.S. African Leadership Initiative

BreakingNews 27/3/16 - Tessie Udegboka Speaks On How She Walked A Dream To Receive Invitation To President Obama U.S. African Leadership Initiative

[ Masterweb Reports ] - Tessie Nkechi Udegboka is the Executive Director of Whispering Hope Africa Initiative (WHAI) – a nonprofit organization that caters for poor women and people living with HIV (PLHIV), among other endeavours. Masterweb reporters on learning of Tessie Nkechi Udegboka’s selection as one of the participants in President Barrack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI),  met her at her Obosi, Anambra State base for a chat. Below is her story on the YALI:
It started in 2013 when I came across the YALI, Young African Leaders Initiative launched by President Barrack Obama. I went online, studied the initiative and application details, and then started working on the application questions. It took me not less than 11 days and some sleepless nights to complete and put finishing touches to my application. I submitted my application with the track on Civic Leadership focusing on my non-profit project activities.

My hope was high; I was counting days and hallucinating of been selected unlike my typical self, when I submit applications or proposals, I forget about them. Six months gone; I was neither shortlisted as a semi-finalist nor the finalist. It was highly disappointing and frustrating considering the number of days and sleepless nights it took me to work on the application.

In 2014, YALI announced its application opening again. Taking into account the bulk of work I have at hand then, the wakeful nights to work on the application which at the end won’t be shortlisted, I refused to apply. I shared the application links on the social media and encouraged every qualified youth on my network to apply. Though I didn’t apply in 2014, I followed and celebrated those who were selected.

In 2015, the US government announced the opening of Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) application submission. I hurriedly shared the link to my email contacts and on social media pages and encouraged youths to apply. Three youths on my network list did apply. They sent me their application draft for editing. Despite my busy schedule, I made out time, over two weeks to work on and edited their application answers. Though discovered they didn’t meet up with the years of experience required, I didn’t discourage them, rather was happy they attempted to apply.

From editing three people’s applications, I started getting inspirations, the track to go for and ideas on how to apply for mine. The deadline was fast approaching, yet I haven’t started the application process, rather was busy putting finishing touches to other persons application. A fellow Tech Camper and lecturer at Olabisi Olabanjo University (OOU), Ogbomoso, Akande Noah commented on the YALI application link shared on my timeline. He said the program is for me, hoping that I had applied. I replied not yet, that he should apply first.

Three days to the deadline, I started answering the essay questions that required deep thoughts and brain storming. I changed from Civic Leadership to Business and Entrepreneurship track. For 3 consecutive days, I worked on my application; got fresh new ideas daily on how best to answer the essay questions. Each day I see a new meaning to the same question and kept re-writing as the inspiration comes. So please do not be straight jacketed in answering such questions. I finally submitted few minutes before the application portal closed.

Typically, I do not submit/apply for opportunities and put my mind on them. I got engaged with the numerous other projects, activities and writing facing me and forgot about everything about YALI.

One certain Tuesday afternoon while at work with my staff, an SMS came in with an unknown MTN; “You are invited for an interview … ” I laughed and told my staff “see 419 message". I immediately deleted the message, admonishing them to be wary of such fraudulent messages inviting people for job interviews. There was MWF on the text but can’t figure out what it meant.


I’m a known unbeliever of dreams. Close friends and family know I don’t believe or act based on my dreams. I do dream but trash them immediately I get up from bed whether good or bad, I don’t bother praying over a dream I had. None of my dreams has come to fruition ,thus never put my mind on any.

After the Tuesday I deleted the ‘419’ SMS. My step-mum on Thursday morning called me and shared a bad dream she had on Wednesday night about something negative. I laughed over it and asked her I also had a rubbish dream last night; a nonsense dream I wouldn’t share with anyone but because she has shared hers, let me share mine.

I had a dream where President Barrack Obama invited me to USA. He took his time teaching me in a room after which we moved to another classroom, showing and teaching me things. While the president was busy and serious with what he was teaching me; I was busy looking for someone to take a photo of I and President Obama. I tried, couldn’t get anyone take us pictures and in the process of still searching, I woke up and sadly nobody took a photo of us.

I laughed and told my step-mother is a nonsense dream so has trashed it. That was on Thursday and the following day, Friday, at the close of work, got an email from asking me to confirm immediately my availability for MWF/YALI interview the next Tuesday, congratulating me for been shortlisted as a semi-finalist.

I ran to my co-workers who where there when I deleted the SMS on Tuesday that it wasn’t a fraud; is real and that the e-mail has confirmed it. I looked at myself; I shortlisted? What did I write that will warrant this village woman from the semi-urban and working in the rural communities been shortlisted? I grabbed my laptop to get a copy of the submitted application form. I searched and searched my system, not seeing the copy of my application, rather saw the three I edited for others. I continued with the random searching on my laptop and lastly found it.

The next day, Saturday, something flashed through my mind and linked this YALI interview news to the dream I had about I with President Obama. I quickly picked my phone and called my step-mum, informing her about the interview and the dream I shared with her two days ago. I told her I’m scared for I don’t believe in my dreams and none has come to pass but let’s watch and see.


I prepared well for the interview except for the dress code. I wear and dress African, so I don’t have any corporate wear to put on and late for me to look for one. I visited and liked YALI Facebook page. Read blogs and shared experiences of past MWF semi-finalists. I got good insights which helped me know what the interview looks like.

I got to the interview venue, Barrack Obama, American Corner, an hour before the time allocated to me. I met three other applicants waiting for their turn. I was given an attendance sheet. Scanning through the sheet, I realized the day was for the applicants from Anambra state and there were about seven of us. None of the applicants communicated a word to each other. A video documentary was been shown on the TV screen which wasn’t of interest to me. However, whenever, it ended, it was been replayed again and again. A second thought crossed my mind: how am I sure some interview questions won’t come from this documentary video? I forced myself to pay attention to understand the documentary.

A staff of the US Embassy came in and asked if I’m Udegboka , I said yes, and noted something on the paper he had at hand. I observed that applicants, who went in for the interview, don’t come out again and so it strategically planned that interviewed applicants leave through another route and wont cross path with yet-to-be interviewed ones.

As my own time approaches; I said a short prayer, asking God to put words into my mouth, knowing I’m not good at verbal communications. I write well but may not verbally communicate well what I’ve written down. Next, I was called in. I met the interview panel of 4 US embassy staff, 3 Americans and one Nigerian. I was greeted with, “Congratulations, you were one of the 600 shortlisted out of the 10,500 applications reviewed, so congrats for making it this far” They introduced themselves and asked for my identity card. “We would like to know more of what you do, but please be brief with your answers as we have more others to interview and there is stipulated time to spend with you”, I was told. Then, the questions started flowing which I discovered; they have copies of my application form /essay answer handy with them.
How did you come about working with people living with HIV (PLHIV) and the stigmatization issues surrounding it?
In my application, didn’t mention of been a public health nurse. With the question, I seized the opportunity and shared my experience as a Couple/HIV Counselor under the then GHAIN Project of Family Health International (FHI). I reeled out relevant challenges, terminologies, acronyms and activities of the project, which they nodded in affirmation. I also shared my achievement and breakthroughs I had while working in the sector.

How come you are now into entrepreneurship and tell us more about HBSK.

ARVs are provided free for the PLHIV, however some of them find it difficult accessing the treatment. No organization then caters for their welfare. I looked at myself, not financially buoyant to be giving them money, so I thought of establishing a venture that will offer sustainable income to the people. I came across a product 80% of African women consume; been produced in USA where only about 20% women there use it. I travelled to Ghana, Burkina faso and Malawi discovered same one brand from USA serving the African countries. Since majority of Africans consume this product, why can’t we produce it here?

This led me into Research and Development (R&D) and discovered two of the raw materials used are been gotten from Africa. I relocated to the slums, formed a working team and HBSK is 50% ready to hit the market but lacked investors. Most potential investors asked I import the product from China to make quick money, I stubbornly refused. The idea of the venture is to impact the African economy and satisfy my passion of creating direct and indirect employment to PLHIV and unemployed semiurban residents, contribute to the labour force and nation’s economy. Asked if I have patented the kit, I said no but have already enquired from the Ministry of Trade and Commerce but yet to begin the patency process. They advised I patent it first.

I established a Resource Center, where semi-urban/rural residents walk in to get equipped for free and through which I mentor, train women and youth groups on information technology, personal and career/entrepreneurship developments.

In three words, how would your staff and colleagues describe you?

I paused for long, not sure of what to say. I stammered to say something as I forced words into my mouth. Next thing I heard was, “it’s ok, our time is up”. I was ushered to leave the room; however, I refused to leave and requested to ask some questions. “Oh! Sorry, please go ahead with your questions”. I had three questions to ask but respecting I have been told my time is up, I asked one: Why is it that investors do not like investing in a social enterprise? They took their time to explain. I quietly left the room unhappy that I have messed myself up for stammering to answer two of the questions asked. People asked me, how was the interview, fine but the best 600 have been interviewed, so I can’t really say I have performed well.

I was in Abuja for PoizeMedia training sponsored by Google and on the 22nd of March 2016, I had another dream. My Governor, His Excellency Willie Obiano, in company of his Principal Secretary paid an unannounced visit to my place of work.
A minute after they arrived, I came in. I didn’t let them in into the office; rather, we stood outside and was having a chat. I told the governor how I raised N10M to establish a venture, he was not happy and satisfy with that, rather asked it is not enough, he is concerned about my capability and skill to manage the venture. His Secretary whispered I tell the Governor about my selection into the President Obama’s Initiative.
I quickly responded before the Governor that I have not been finally selected, so can’t talk about it. All the while we chat, had my phone on my hand waiting for the time to have a photo with my Working Governor. Time to take the photos, I can’t find my phone any more, looked and searched around; I woke up and find my hand stretching round on the bed looking to grab my phone to take a shot with the Governor.
I said to myself, what a funny dream? I scripted the dream, less I forget it and later in the day shared it with the Governor’s Secretary. The only question he asked me was; “When was the last time you treated Malaria?” I said I have never been ill of malaria, thus don’t treat it. “So, it’s likely is malaria this time, please go and treat it” he said.
In the evening of the same day while in the Google training class, an SMS came in, now with customized name, ‘US Embassy’ notifying me I have been finally chosen to participate in the 2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship. I became disorganized in the class and kept mute to myself and others the rest of the day, meditating and reflecting on these entire scenarios shared.

Are dreams real? Should I start believing in my dream?

*Photo Caption - Ms. Tessie Nkechi Udegboka