This weekend marked the culmination of a six-week institute for The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts.
“It is tremendously rewarding to work with this group of young African leaders through a well-rounded institute focusing on leadership development and public management,” Wing-kai To, assistant provost for Global Engagement and senior international officer at BSU, told The PIE News.
To and his team welcomed 25 accomplished African professionals from 20 African nations, all between the ages of 25 and 35 and have demonstrated leadership and innovation in their home countries.
While at BSU, the fellows participated in an intensive program, which included leadership seminars, course work, community service, social events, and meetings with government leaders, including state and US senators and the governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker.
“Meeting senator Markey and governor Baker [were] highlights of their experiences, but equally impactful has been their grassroots engagement with the BSU community in networking sessions and community service,” To acknowledged.
Some of the service projects included combatting hunger and homelessness during a visit to Father Bill’s and Mainspring in Brockton. The fellows also made dresses with members of the Dress a Girl Around the World Foundation. In this program, dresses are sewn by volunteers, undergarments are placed in the pockets, and the dresses are shipped to developing nations.
“To have a brand-new dress that was handmade especially for you, means more than just the dress itself. It’s also a sign of hope,” Evie DeLutis, the Dress a Girl co-ambassador and Bridgewater community member, told The PIE.
Fellow Elizabeth Horton, program coordinator for the Chief Medical Officer in the Ministry of Health in Liberia, said she was eager to take part in the dress project. Horton is also the co-founder of the non-profit Urmonae Health Liberia, through which she organised the Pads in Bathrooms Campaign, a program to ensure the availability of sanitary products in schools and public places.
“No girl should have to miss school because she does not have necessary supplies, and that is a reality in Liberia,” Horton asserted.
Oritoke Modupe Aluko, a neuroscientist and professor, has also created an initiative for young women in her home country of Nigeria. “It’s not enough for girls to read about role models in books. I bring in role models to my laboratory to meet with them in person. These are women in the top of their careers. This way, the girls can see role models in their own community, and know they can do it too.”
In addition to the health, education, and STEM sectors, the fellows also represented law enforcement, governmental, legal, and political fields. Yet coming from varying nations, working in different professions, and speaking diverse languages, the fellows quickly bonded.
They connected over food, traditions, music, and dance, and were united in their shared passion for being agents for change, and for leaving the world better than they found it.
“Meeting my fellow fellows from the continent, believe you me, we are equally different,” said Buumba Siamalube, an economist working for the British Council in Zambia. “I am learning from different people from different backgrounds.
“They have collaborated and supported each other like a family”
“What I hope we all get out of this fellowship, is seeing the world from a different perspective so we can approach problems with that new perspective and make sustainable change,” Siamalube added.
To also commented on the deep connection the fellows made with each other in just a short time, as well as their unwavering commitment to activism.
“They have collaborated and supported each other like a family,” he said. “They are all extremely distinguished in their professions, and share a steadfast commitment to fostering change and combating injustices in their countries,” To concluded.