The Covid-19 lockdowns worldwide dampened many hopes, and created a sense of uncertainty.
I had just returned from my University of Michigan African Presidential Scholarship, where I had overstayed by three months because Entebbe International Airport was closed for both arrivals and departures because of Covid-19-induced restrictions. Several months after my return, there was an advert for the Chevening Africa Media Freedom Fellowship, targeting media practitioners, trainers or policymakers.
A little search showed this was only the second time it was being advertised! Unfortunately, even the first cohort had not travelled to the University of Westminster for the Fellowship because of the Covid-19 restrictions. At that time, no one knew exactly when the restrictions would be lifted and if Covid-19 pandemic would actually be defeated.
I spoke to a few close friends and they encouraged me to apply. I am not sure they were convinced anything would come out of it. There was a little more time during the lockdowns, and getting some time to draft an application was one of the things one could easily do. I submitted my application, not paying much attention to the outcome, but putting my best to the process.
And there came the first surprise, that I had been among the few selected from the first stage to proceed to the second stage. The second stage was supposed to be a physical interview with officials from Chevening and the British High Commission in Uganda.
The briefing was clear, but as is the case when preparing for interviews, you can never really be sure about anything. The day of the interview was when my hopes for the fellowship dampened further. I met more senior journalist colleagues, with more experience and exposure.
I needed to fall fighting; so, I convinced myself that I needed to do my best whatever the outcome. The interview questions came from many aspects, and I had to swim in the wide pool to come out alive. And then comes a surprise email. I was among the two Ugandan applicants selected for the CAMFF 2022 at the University of Westminster!
This was worthy a celebration, but the fellowship was dependent on the Covid-19 restrictions being lifted in the UK. I kept my fingers crossed, and got in touch with the other fellow, to share plans for the fellowship. Since I was part of the second cohort, and the first cohort had not gone yet, I really never knew how big the whole Chevening business was.
Finally, the restrictions were lifted and we were allowed to travel for the fellowship. It was at our send-off at the High Commissioner’s residence that somehow I met a few former Cheveners – accomplished names in the different fields, and from different popular universities in the UK. Well, they wished us well, gave us tips on how to survive there and benefit from the fellowship, and off we went.
During the fellowship, there was a lot to learn, sharing of experiences with media professionals, regulators and trainers in the UK, as well as other journalism professionals in Africa. The visits to places such as the BBC, Oxford University, the British Library, the trip to Liverpool, the 17th Century palace, among others, were phenomenal experiences.
Networks were created that have changed many things about my personal and professional life. The friends I met there have got me doing work in the Gambia and South Sudan, and there is still more in the offing.
Upon return, there was to be another surprise. We were officially members of the Chevening Alumni Association of Uganda, and had to be initiated to it. It was then that the whole picture of Chevening fellows changed. Many Ugandans in their hundreds, from all walks of life, have benefitted from the Chevening fellowships – from short courses, to Master’s, to PhDs!
The interaction with these alumni tells of stories of people who would be different without opportunities offered by Chevening. Many of these examples show how scholarships and fellowships offered for Ugandans in the UK by Chevening emphasizes excellence and hard work, and people who have got these opportunities have excelled in their fields.
The skills, knowledge, experience and networks created helped them to take on the world and succeed. Besides, it is hard work and excellence that get rewarded in offering the scholarships. It does not matter what one’s background is, and where one studied, but the potential they exhibit.
One needs no connections or having worked with a specific organization to get these opportunities. It is opportunity and excellence at their best. This year, Chevening celebrates 40 years of existence, with the Chevening Alumni Association of Uganda having a series of activities such as a community outreach, public talk and a dinner, among others.
It is a moment to reflect on the achievements of Chevening, and to learn from its work to educate people from different continents, and give them a platform to build themselves into enterprising change agents around the world.
The writer is a former student of the Chevening scholarship programme