Adama Sylla is a powerful voice and role model for encouraging youth – and particularly young women – to actively engage in strengthening democracy across West Africa.
In 2010, Adama’s work earned her a place at the first Young African Leaders Forum in Washington, DC, hosted by President Barack Obama and the U.S. State Department. Along with 115 other young activists and leaders from across sub-Saharan Africa, she debated issues of leadership, youth empowerment and good governance. Adama’s central message was that the future of her native Guinea and the West Africa region is in the hands of its young people: they have the collective power and will to resist calls for political violence – and they have the collective power to build an open and democratic society.
The 29-year-old activist came to this realization years earlier, when she started as chairwoman of her local chapter of the Forum for African Women Educationalists, a pan-African NGO dedicated to empowering women and girls through education. In 2004, she became involved with the Mano River Union Youth Parliament in Guinea, an initiative organized by NED grantee West African Youth Network (WAYN).
Today she chairs the four-person advisory board that guides WAYN, which has members and country teams in 11 West African countries. The organization was established in 2003 by four young Africans to build networks among youth in West Africa and to promote their full participation in governance and issues affecting their countries’ development. WAYN is underpinned by the conviction that if key actors from youth and government are given the opportunity to interact in a non-confrontational forum, they will better understand and appreciate their shared values, and be better prepared to work towards their common goals.
Today, with NED support, WAYN conducts specialized leadership workshops for youth leaders that build and hone their skills in negotiation, consensus-building, conflict resolution, and non-confrontational advocacy.
“I believe as human beings, we have a voice, a voice to speak out against the ills of society and be heard — if we stop doing that we will lose sight of our responsibility.”
Adama’s involvement is driven by her belief that fundamental change is possible. “Conflicts arise in the minds of adults, but materialize through the arms of the young,” she observed.” By reaching young people with the values of democracy and tolerance, the cycle of violence can be replaced by a cycle of peace.”
Her favorite quote, from Martin Luther King, Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” drives her to speak out about poverty, violence against women, and peace and conflict. “I admire the courage of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks who stood out against injustice in the US,” she said. “I believe as human beings, we have a voice, a voice to speak out against the ills of society and be heard — if we stop doing that we will lose sight of our responsibility.”
(Creative Commons licensed image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/americagov/4862570979/in/set-72157624520023055)