Mandela Washington Fellows: Being A Young African Leader in Their Own Words

Originally posted on State Department blog, Dipnote.

If given the chance, I want to change policy and speak for the voiceless. -Martin Nduati Wangari, Mandela Washington Fellow, Kenya

From failing, I’ve learned that persistence is key. -Sim Cele, Mandela Washington Fellow, South Africa

Martin and Sim are two of the 1,000 inspiring Mandela Washington Fellows from sub-Saharan Africa who attended the Presidential Summit of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders in Washington, D.C a few weeks ago. I had the opportunity to interview several fellows during the three-day summit. With my camera in hand, I witnessed these fellows sharing ideas and building networks amongst themselves and also with U.S. government, private sector, and civil society leaders.

President Obama addresses the Mandela Washington Fellows at the YALI presidential summit.

 

As I interviewed several Mandela Washington Fellows, I was moved by their passion and drive to shape the future of Africa. Each of them shared stories of their lives back home, their work, and even their favorite “American” dishes (the majority loved tacos in my unscientific poll). Their individual backgrounds, languages, and countries were vastly different, but I could see the bond they formed with each other throughout the six weeks that they spent developing skills at institutions of higher education across the United States. I was honored to share a few of their journeys on our Instagram, @ExchangeOurWorld. Here’s just a glimpse into what I learned from these amazing leaders in their own words:
Titilayo Nadia Fafoumi, who traveled from Benin to participate in the Business and Entrepreneurship Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

[Caption] “My father was not that happy to see me in entrepreneurship at first. He changed his mind when he went with some of his friends to a restaurant, where they sold him the product I’m making. I’m a fruit juice manufacturer. So when they got there and they ordered fruit juices and all the fruit juices were mine. He recognized the brand, he was proud, and he told all his friends, ‘My daughter is making this.’ When he came home he told me he was proud of me.”
Georgina “Gina” Mumba, who traveled from Zambia to the Public Management Institute at Arizona State University.

[Caption] “I remember the first week when I got this wheelchair, I took a stroll around the my campus. Later in the evening I just sat and tried to reflect between my home experience and the American experience in just those few days and I just became so emotional, I cried. I was thinking, ‘I went on the road today, I crossed the street on my own, this is something I don’t do at home. I can’t even imagine doing that back home.’ There was nothing special about this place. I just rolled through with the traffic lights, people like you and I, we were just people. Why can’t we make that happen for my own people? So for me, it felt like a lot of emotions coming through, looking at everything I’ve been through, all the pain I’ve carried all my life, in that moment it washed away. This is what I’ve always wanted—just this small sense of freedom. It’s just a mundane thing, crossing the street, but it is the small things build up to big things.”
Martin Nduati Wangari, from Kenya, attended the University of Delaware’s Civic Leadership Institute.

[Caption] “I was initially brought up in a different town. My Mom, she was working for the government then, and she was the sole bread winner of our family. At some point the government was doing retrenchment, which was not based on merits, or how good you were at your job, they did random selection of people. But somehow maybe it was based off someone you knew. Unfortunately for her she didn’t know anyone. Then we lost everything. Now she didn’t have a job, she couldn’t sustain us. We as kids gave up our privileges, we moved from towns to the rural areas. That has been an anger in me. Why has government that is supposed to give you security, why have they messed it up? If given the chance I want change policy and to speak for the voiceless.”
Zola Songo, from South Africa, also attended the University of Delaware’s Civic Leadership Institute.

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