Mandela Washington fellows from Africa sharpen leadership skills in Boise, Idaho

Doctors, lawyers and public servants from Africa are in the City of Trees for six weeks.

By Shirah Matsuzawa

BOISE, Idaho — What could be learned in Boise and brought back to Africa? Twenty-five young African leaders are in the City of Trees to find out.  They’re here as part of the U.S. State Department’s Mandela Washington Fellowship. 

The goal is to exchange ideas and perspectives with each other and Americans in hopes of taking that knowledge back home. The program began in 2014, but this is the first time fellows have come to Boise.

“This year Boise State University applied for a grant to host 25 fellows and we received it,” said the Mandela Washington Fellowship Community Engagement Coordinator, Maya Duratovich.

A total of 700 individuals from 49 Sub-Saharan African countries were selected out of 38,000 applicants. For six weeks, the fellows will participate in academic sessions, service projects and meet with various organizations that do similar work in their communities. 

“The fellows chosen are all established leaders in their communities and looking to learn more about the fields they are in, so they can go back and make a bigger impact in their communities,” Duratovich said. 

Obed Mambwe is an interpreter from Zambia. He wants to better help the deaf community in his home country. 

“I hope to learn how I can run an organization for interpreters and how to help the deaf community, especially the education system and how it can be improved,” Mambwe said. 

For many of the fellows, this is their first trip to the United States, let alone Boise.

“I work with government back home and our country is trying to make a lot of progress and get ourselves out of poverty,” Liya Tmamo, a fellow from Ethiopia said. “I’m hoping to learn a lot of lessons that the United States public sector has succeeded on and take back what I can and contextualize it for my country and make a difference.” 

Some past fellows have gone back to Africa and created a water-less toilet. While another fellow found a way to use byproducts from bees to make soap. 

The fellows still have four weeks left in Boise and they will be working with various organizations and companies including: Saint Alphonsus, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Women’s and Children’s Alliance.

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