YaAdam Fye Starts Foundation to Help Refugees

HARTFORD, CT (10/10/2011)(readMedia)-- University of Hartford's Hillyer College presented YaAdam Fye '06, '07 with its seventh annual Outstanding Young Alumnus Award during a ceremony in Wilde Auditorium on Sept. 22. The auditorium was packed with Hillyer students who came to hear Fye's story, as well as many of Fye's former professors.

In October 2010, Fye and her sister founded the Mhina Tumaini Foundation, an international nonprofit organization committed to improving health and increasing access to educational opportunities for at-risk young adults in the U.S. and Africa. During its first year of existence, the foundation has already established a tutoring program at a Maryland high school; collected more than 1,000 books to create a library for students in a rural village in Ghana; and developed a leadership development program for teenage girls in Rwanda.

"You have described your efforts as 'small,' and yet you have accomplished more in global relief since your graduation than most have in a lifetime," Hillyer College Dean David Goldenberg said in presenting the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award to Fye.

During the award ceremony, Goldenberg announced that Hillyer faculty and staff have committed to collecting 1,000 books, to help Fye's foundation establish another library in rural Africa. If you would like to contribute any books to the collection, you can drop them off in Hillyer 111 between now and Oct. 31. All kinds of books are welcome, including textbooks, children's books, and books for all ages.

Fye was born in the western African nation of Gambia. She came to the U.S. at the age of 7 when her family was driven out of Gambia following a political coup. Fye's parents both worked for the World Bank, and the family settled in the Washington, D.C. area. When she arrived at Hillyer College in the fall of 2004, Fye said she was "terrified" of being away from her family for the first time.

But she quickly found guidance, support, and inspiration from her professors, first at Hillyer and then in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S). She encouraged the Hillyer College students in the audience to really get to know their professors and advisors, and seek as much guidance from them as possible.

Fye became especially close with Associate Professor Bilal Sekou, her advisor at Hillyer College, and Associate Professor Emeritus Harald Sandstrom, her advisor in A&S. Both Sekou and Sandstrom attended the Sept. 22 Outstanding Young Alumnus Award ceremony, and expressed their pride in Fye.

Fye earned an associate's degree from Hillyer College in 2006, and she graduated a year early from A&S, earning her bachelor's degree in political economy in 2007. After graduating, Fye's interest in world affairs led her to an internship in Ethopia with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and a position as a junior consultant with the Gender and Development Consulting Agency in Tanzania. In between her foreign assignments, she earned a master's degree in nonprofit management from New England College.

It was in Tanzania, where Fye witnessed devastating poverty, that she developed the idea for a foundation devoted to the ideals of improving the health and education of young people in low-income areas in the U.S. and the developing world. The Mhina Tumaini Foundation is named in honor of Fye's grandfather, John Mhina. "Tumaini" means "hope" in Swahili. Fye and the other administrators of the Mhina Tumaini Foundation all volunteer their time – none are paid for their work with the organization. Fye earns an income working for AmeriCorps, but she hopes to be able to secure enough financing for the Mhina Tumaini Foundation to eventually be able to work for the foundation full-time.

"There have been many challenges in getting this foundation established and running and I am sure there will be many more challenges, but I believe Hillyer prepared me to face them all," Fye said. "I walked away (from the University of Hartford) knowing that with great support and a vision, anything was possible."

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