Mark David Okecha, winner of the Commonwealth Shared scholarship at the University of Portsmouth, UK discloses in this all-telling interview with AfterSchoolAfrica, what it means to be a scholarship winner after three attempts.
So are you gearing up to move over to UK for your Masters?
Oh yes. I’ll be pursuing my Masters in business and management, that will start on the 17th of September this year. Actually, it was all about enduring and trying. I started this journey way back in 2016. A friend who had got a chance through the same process introduced me to Afterschool Africa, same Commonwealth scholarship. He actually introduced me to this website in 2015, after that, in 2016, I had to subscribe for the scholarship newsletter update.
That very year when the Commonwealth was advertised, I applied to the University of Liverpool and I was selected as a reserve candidate, unfortunately I wasn’t offered the scholarship that year. Then in 2017, I never gave up, I gave it a second shot. That time I applied to the University of Nottingham, Trent University for Masters, though Science in International Business, Single Honour, but still I was selected as a reserve candidate and that very year still I was not given the scholarship because no one could afford to defer an offer. I never gave up, this year in February I gave it a third trial and it was successful!
Awesome! You have already given a summary of the whole discussion we are supposed to have. Having gone through these different processes three times and getting this, what was the feeling like?
On the 14th of May, around 19:04 East African Time, I checked my inbox only to find out I had received an unusual message from one Mr Mark Owens, University of Portsmouth and the subject of the mail was “Congratulations”. After seeing that subject, I was very inquisitive. So I read the content of the message and it said, ‘Congratulations you have been chosen as one of our candidates to be awarded a scholarship’. I was so happy that what I had been struggling for had come to pass. I was really happy and excited about it so because of this excitement and knowing where I got this knowledge from, I immediately said, ‘no, since this opportunity came through AfterSchoolAfrica, it is my obligation to make the team at AfterSchoolAfrica know that one of their subscribers has also gotten a positive response.’ So I was really happy, because it was a very joyous moment for me and my family.
Tell us a bit about your family
Let me start by giving you my complete biography. I’m called Mark David Okecha, a 29 year old male from Uganda. I hold a first class honours bachelors’ degree in Records and Archives Management from Macquarie University, Kampala in Uganda. I graduated on the 29th January, 2014 with my First degree and soon after my graduation and given my outstanding performance in class, I was outsourced by one university called Great Lakes Regional University to go and offer a teaching service.
So in my first job, I served as an assistant lecturer. I’m not officially married, but I have a partner, I have a family with two children; a set of twins and soon, I will legalize the marriage. So after serving between 2014 to 2017 in Great Lakes Regional University, I had to apply to one of the government parastatals for a job at Uganda Revenue Authority and I was happy that they offered me the job and the appointment. So currently I’m serving as an officer in the Uganda Revenue Authority in the customs and in the Corporate Service Department as an officer.
Apart from excellent results and persistence, what other qualities made you stand out to win this scholarship?
I remember the application form and the key areas that the reading committee put interest in which is the home country benefit; that section where they ask ‘what will you do or after being awarded a scholarship and getting the degree, what will you do?’ I looked at the situation in Uganda with regards to personnel and business management, vis-a-vis the professionals that were available. I saw there was a gap and I realize there is need for capacity building in such a section. So to me I felt that if I go training in that area and after a year I come back to my country and implement what I studied, I had a feeling that I would be an outstanding person. Given my ability, I would cause a serious transformation in business and personal management. So that’s why I believe the strong answers I gave in that area maybe gave me the opportunity to be an outstanding candidate.
Are there other qualities you think also contributed for instance, a lot of scholarships and possibly the Commonwealth shared scholarship, give preference to students who have leadership abilities, who have volunteered in community service, things like that?
Another quality that perhaps could have made me an outstanding candidate, is my leadership ability. Well, I have an array of leadership abilities, which started way back in primary school because if I recall, in 2001 while I was in primary school, I served as a prefect for finance in my primary school. When I graduated to a secondary level, I didn’t look back. I carried on with my leadership ability. So in 2003 I served as a minister in charge of health and sanitation in my high school. Then in 2008 while in my advanced level of education, I served as a minister of Information and education.
After joining university, I did not leave behind my leadership ability, I carried it forward. So I served in the students council as the Minister of Finance at Macquarie University. So putting all these together, I think all these put me in a better position to win the scholarship. Asides that, I’m also an active community volunteer. For example, I am a Youth Volunteer with the Uganda Red Cross Society, an activity that I’ve carried on since 2009 till date.
Also, after seeing the challenges in the community and gathering a lot of experience, I decided to form a local NGO which is still under process or registration with the aim and target of promoting education, community empowerment among the youths, peace and unity. So I believe these skills and experiences could have played a lot in making me one of the best candidates for the scholarship.
Which came first? Your admission or the scholarship?
One of the conditions for application was that a candidate must have applied to the university. So I applied first, put the Student Number. After securing the Student Number I was given a conditional offer. The conditional offer had a condition that my status or admission would be upgraded to unconditional on the condition that I had paid a deposit of 2000 British pounds that is an equivalent of around 15 million Ugandan money. So after getting this communication, immediately my status was updated to unconditional and then I had to say thank you God. That meant they had already paid the deposit so currently I have an unconditional offer.
So what do you think a student who wants to get to where you are now should be doing today to qualify for the scholarship tomorrow?
The opportunity is outside there. Infact we live with the opportunity around us and we have all it takes to explore and use the opportunities around us. We have the smart phone, we have the internet, we have everything, but how do we use the Internet? Can social media make me get this scholarship? ooh….can I use the bundles that I bought to search important websites like AfterSchoolAfrica? So my advice to students is that all of us have equal opportunities and all of us have chances to get whatever or wherever we want to be but the point is how do we use that opportunity?
First, one has to be very resilient, never give up. You have to keep on trying, keep on trying, keep on trying. I have always one belief that the fall of man is not the end of him. When you fail this time, never give up. When you’re down, stand up clean yourself and begin running. Perhaps when you fall down, you realize at that point that you begin to find the reasons as why you failed. So when you realize the reason, in the next step you make, you make it carefully.
Secondly, I also advice prospective students to be very consistent. Do the same thing repeated time and again, time and again. There are those colleagues who tried once after failing, they gave up. They’re never consistent. For me, I was very consistent one year after another and imagine being selected two times as a reserve. Consistency matters a lot.
The next thing is, I also see that After School Africa is there to help the public. I would advise people to subscribe to their newsletter because they would always recieve updates whenever opportunities are available. I don’t know how I can describe the kind of information. I don’t know how I would describe well sorted information from the right source. That’s what you always give the public, but people are not aware of that. So people need to know that After school Africa is there to help us to get what we didn’t know.
Thank you for that. So again, how can African Students, because the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship is opened for developing countries, including countries outside Africa, be more competitive in terms of getting this scholarship?
Now the competitiveness does not start after someone has completed an undergraduate degree. It starts from the point when you join year one in the university, so a lot of effort must be put. Get good grades because one of the things they look for is good grades. If you have good grades, a good write-up, I don’t see any reason why the selection committee will take your application as trash. So good grades, good write up, creativity, being creative and being realistic, one needs not to lie. You have to speak the truth. Speak who you are, it will set you free and lead you to the next level. So that’s what I think can make African students competitive enough and beat others, and beat people in India, beat people in Pakistan and other commonwealth countries.
Okay. So let’s talk a bit about the essay part, you talked about being truthful and being authentic. What tips do you have on essay writing for scholarship applicants?
First and foremost, and something which I feel should be made very clear to applicants is that they should avoid any form of Plagiarism (copying and pasting someone’s work). I believe it is a criminal offense. Also once they realize that you copied and pasted someone’s work automatically they will dump your application in a trash.
Secondly, you need to make adequate research, research extensively about the course you’re going in for. Research extensively, the importance of that course in your country. For instance, if you get the knowledge, how will it help you to transform your community or the country? Then also one has to research extensively about the university. So basically those can help one to be successful, to write a very successful and impressive essay.
Another issue of concern is you should know the objective, the reasons why you are applying for that scholarship. Now, very many people think about such scholarships as associated with benefits, like the stipend allowances. Someone telling you that my target is if I get this scholarship, it will help solve my financial problems. No, this scholarship is not to solve your financial problems. It is meant to empower you with knowledge so that you can go transform your community. So one has to know the short term, the long term and the lifetime career that they would be pursuing after this scholarship. That’s what I think would be very important.
How do you think winning this scholarship is going to impact your life and career going forward?
First and foremost, it is going to create wealth for career change because I am an information scientist. So now winning this scholarship, it’s going to allow me pursue Masters in business and management and create a path for career change. Two, I’m going to get professional knowledge from one of the best teachers around the world that will make me a very good practitioner in business and personnel management. The next is, it will also give me opportunity for capacity building and training others with the knowledge that I have got. So this knowledge will be very transformative in nature. I know I will get the knowledge as a person, but I will use it to transform the organization in which I work, to transform my country as a Ugandan, to transform the community where I was born. I can’t go without mentioning that this scholarship will create open grounds for networking with new people who will be very useful in my life even after scholarship.
What final piece of advice do you have for African students who are hoping to get scholarships?
My advice to those who are hoping to get scholarships is that they should be resilient, be consistent, and never give up. Keep trying, keep trying, keep trying until when you hit, you hit it correct. Never give up. Never lose hope. Man lives on hope, when you lose hope you die. So never lose hope. Never give up. Keep trying.
We love the enthusiasm, your zeal to share your knowledge and the fact that you let us know. We love it when we get these success messages
Actually, the second winner, who is now my friend is from Nigeria. We will be going over to Portsmouth under the same Program. Thank you very much for the good work that you’re doing. Without After School Africa I wouldn’t have known about this scholarship. I appreciate your work. Keep on serving your community. In the next few years you will see a changed Africa. Development is based on the accumulation of knowledge and you cannot acquire knowledge from corridors, you cannot acquire knowledge from slums, you can only acquire knowledge from institutions of learning (universities). So if we acquire that knowledge, we will transform the community. I highly appreciate what you’re doing. I want to see other people win. I need to see my fellow Africans win and get this offer. This offer shouldn’t go to China, this offer shouldn’t go to India, It shouldn’t go to Japan, it should remain in the African continent because when an African gets the offer, it means that that person is going to come and transform our continent even if it’s not in east Africa. If he does the changes in Nigeria, when Nigeria develops, they say Africa is developing.
Thank you and we are doing it together. I mean you are going over there to acquire knowledge and bring it down here to impact your community and people. It’s a collective effort. We are all doing what we can to make Africa what we envision it to become, so we appreciate you. Congratulations once again. And I hope you make the best of this opportunity
Okay. Thank you very much and thank you for what you’re doing to help us out here. Because you think of how you can help people, that is the kind of humanity that Africa needs if we are to progress.