The African Youth Leadership Experience (AYLE) is an intensive educational and leadership program for thirty East African youths aged 15-19 from six schools in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. Located in a region with limited community focus on individual capacity development or “the development of self,” AYLE provides a unique opportunity for youth participants to cultivate and sharpen skills in self-awareness and self-care, civic and environmental education, social entrepreneurship, and community engagement. These tools empower participants to lead efforts for peace and change when they return to their home communities.

With emotional intelligence and creative expression as a foundation, participants explore and develop skills in social entrepreneurship, critical thinking, environmental awareness, community building, and collaborative problem solving through challenge course, games, experiential workshops, direct service, dance, and performance. As a capstone experience, student groups from each school work together with AYLE staff and their teachers to identify a challenge in their school or community, such as absence of proper waste disposal or lack of safe drinking water, and come up with practical solutions to those challenges using the tools they learned at AYLE.

The accompanying teachers are the main advisors to the projects upon return to school. Students report to their teacher on the progress of their project and they have the opportunity to seek help and guidance from AYLE throughout the period of the implementation of their projects. Not only do these students’ projects change their communities for the better, they also inspire other youths to start acting in their capacity as peace agents.

Peace, for AYLE, is not simply the absence of violence; it is also the continuous intentional cultivation, presence and celebration of authentic connection to oneself, and to others within community. Communities that intentionally cultivate and celebrate such authentic connection transform human hearts and minds away from isolation and violence amongst fixed notions of identities towards openness, engagement and social justice.

As such, transformative Learning is the grounding theory of AYLE’s work. According to educator Edmund O’Sullivan, “Transformative learning involves experiencing a deep, structural shift in the basic premises of thought, feelings, and actions. It is a shift of consciousness that dramatically and irreversibly alters our way of being in the world. Such a shift involves our understanding of ourselves and our self-locations; our relationships with other humans and with the natural world; our understanding of relations of power in interlocking structures of class, race and gender; our body awarenesses, our visions of alternative approaches to living; and our sense of possibilities for social justice and peace and personal joy. ”

AYLE seeks to provide a transformative learning experience for the youth participants in which they will cultivate authentic connection with themselves and with their peers of different backgrounds within an art-based experiential learning context.