Bryan Nakambonde

Bryan is a guest contributor for Ashoka U's Student Changemaker Stories campaign. He is a current scholar at Watson Institute in South Florida and founder of Umwe.

The Decade-Long Question that Brought Me to Watson Institute

This blog is part of Ashoka U’s Student Changemaker Stories: a campaign bringing together diverse student changemaker perspectives to shift the narrative around what it means to be a changemaker and who can be one – on campus and beyond. Each story concludes with a note of gratitude and call-to-action from the author.

I’m five years old during a weekday morning like any other in Oshakati, Namibia.

On this day I’m out of school with a stomach bug and in this memory my parents are arguing. Every second of their argument numbs my stomach pain.

There are increasing hand gestures flying, the argument is brewing, and each thing I’m observing feels like a punch to my gut. Suddenly, my dad is rushing to get something and I soon realize: he is holding my mother at gunpoint.

I am the only other person there. “What should I do?” 

From Childhood into Adulthood: My Changemaker Journey

For a boy who couldn’t yet tie his shoes, this was quite the situation for a young child. The most interesting effect of this experience 15 years ago has been the recurring question: “What should I do?” 

It was hard for me to come to peace with my mother almost dying and my inability to help. Fortunately, through deep reflection, conversations and reconciliation, I no longer place that burden on myself. I have grown to be relentlessly driven to help during seemingly impossible situations. 

Hearing stories of other Namibians and Africans has provided evidence that many youths are experiencing trauma similar to my experience, or worse. I’ve learned that the ecosystem of support for families and young people is also failing – a lack of positive mental health culture and appropriate health facilities, the influence of corruption, and lack of prosperous governance across Africa. 

“What should I do?” has come up in my personal life and in my studies again and again.

This question has grown to clarify my intention with change-making : To find an aggregate solution to the many social, cultural and political issues of Africa. 

Early Stages of Changemaking – African Teen Voices Magazine

My first action as a changemaker was starting an African, youth-focused online magazine called African Teen Voices in 2015. The magazine featured articles from African youth voicing opinions about issues they’re facing. A year later, the magazine transitioned into a website, Essays From The Youth, with a renewed global purpose – it shared youth stories across Africa, Europe and Asia and it was entirely operated by United World College (UWC) students. 

The online store team called “PC GROWceries” from Pearson College.

This project evolved when I attended Pearson College, a pre-university school in Canada with students from over 150 countries, all focused on creating peaceful and sustainable futures. At Pearson College, I decided to take a different change-making approach to finding an aggregate solution to a multitude of issues facing youth across Africa.

I developed an online “everything store” to make shopping easy for residents of Pearson’s remote campus. The proceeds were donated to vetted NGOs across several countries. My journey with this store led me to pursue a social entrepreneurship degree with Watson Institute in South Florida – the training ground of next-generation entrepreneurs. 

Revisiting my Guiding Question 

At Watson I had the tools and community support to realize that the “online store model” wasn’t a significant solution in the complex web of African issues. Here I have grown to better understand the connection between Essays from The Youth and African Teen Voices

I now realize these weren’t just “cool projects.” I’m meaningfully connecting their purpose, recognizing the skills I’ve learned, and realizing that I’ve been guided by a bigger personal mission all along. 

As a Watson scholar, I have full permission and the environmental support to explore the question of my life: “What should I do?”

Umwe Logo and Motto

During my studies at Watson, I’ve been steered to find a more effective expression of my change-making abilities. The aggregate solution to African issues has become Umwe: a youth-focused media NGO, delivering news and information in ways that actually grab the interest and attention of African youth. Our innovative content aims to foster better-informed worldviews and conversations that will lead to solutions. 

Trusting the Process

Getting to this point has been a journey of trusting each answer to “What should I do?” as it came along.

Throughout all phases of high school, I lacked clear guidance and resources to learn to turn my passion and vision into impact. Today, I am grateful to be a Watson Institute scholar. Watson provides frameworks, mentorship, and dedicated space for me to work on my calling – to embrace my change-making in its full expression.

It has been astronomically easier to ask questions and discover answers in an environment with people aiming to protect my courage – a core value at Watson.

In protecting my own courage, I now find fortune in my journey since witnessing my mother at gunpoint. I see the connection of this life event to everything that’s followed. As complex and difficult as this work is, may we all uncover our relentlessly strong will to participate in change-making, no matter what sparks that will into existence.

Closing Words from Bryan

Interested in reading more student changemaker stories? Jump back to our full list of stories and contributors!