Studio Samuel Student Invited to US Global Leadership Conference, Denied Visa


Her Profile: Not yet 18yrs old, lost both parents at a young age, has transitioned between homes of extended family, and has known poverty her entire life.

Beyond her Profile: A shining light who believes in herself, sees the harsh reality of her future if she remains stagnant and has therefore committed herself to education to change her world.

This drive and determination landed her in a Global Young Leaders Competition. She’s one of 50 students to secure a seat at the table from over 3,000 applicants around the world.

It’s likely she was the only applicant working on her case study by candlelight during power outages and facing loss of internet while conducting required online research for the competition. Between school and her workload at home, she was already putting in 12+ hour days, yet she met application deadlines by finding another 5-6 hours after others went to sleep each night. Or, she would slip away to our computer lab under the guise of running household errands because education for girls is not supported in her home.

A case study was required of each applicant; highlighting a need in his or her community and finding a solution. As she progressed through each stage of the competition, her uncertainty turned to hope. She began embracing the idea that her voice mattered, her work mattered and that she actually had a shot of winning. Her proposal to tackle infrastructure in a community so divided by rich and poor was noticed. Not only noticed, but selected – by experts in their field. Her case study was deemed both feasible and vital to her community. She WON!

Young Global Leadership Retreat, 2016

She was offered an all-expenses paid trip, which would be chaperoned by our Country Director, ensuring her safe travels to and from the US and offering general assistance along the way. At the one week long US retreat, she would share her case study with the 50 other winners and be matched with a mentor and key group of young leaders whom she would work with remotely over the course of the next year. During this period, the teams would be implementing their case studies within their communities around the globe while remaining in touch.

Logistics were in place; including passport in hand, her agenda with the U.S. Studio Samuel team and her visa appointment was scheduled. Knowing this would be no easy task, we secured letters of support from key community members, the competition organizers and more.

It was the day of her visa appointment and at 3amEST, my What’sApp message came through from our Country Director. I heard the notification and butterflies swirled in my stomach before opening my eyes. This was it. This meant they had left the US Embassy in Ethiopia and were issued a decision. A girl’s future rested on securing this visa and I didn’t know if I was prepared for the outcome.

A common sight in the community, when girls are denied an education.

“She was denied. We are both very, very sad.” It ripped me apart inside.

No US retreat. No year-long leadership program. She will not meet colleagues who will become lifelong friends. She will not have a mentor to guide her through the crucial years of teen to young woman.  She won’t be there to share her case study that would have created great impact for her community.

Looking at all she gained through the application process, soaking in every experience like a sponge, I don’t doubt for one moment this strong young woman would have broken her cycle of poverty – and that of a few community members – with this opportunity. She has overcome obstacles a young girl should never experience and because of her strong will, has made these challenges her motivators.

I suppose because of this, she will be fine but I don’t want to accept ‘fine’ for her. She is so much more.

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