By SaraRose Martin
A group of 25 young Africans with passions for journalism, human rights, law, gender equality, peace and nonprofit work stayed in Williamsburg the past two weeks for an exchange of ideas on civic leadership.
They are part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. The program that started in 2014 invites 700 leaders, ages 25-35 from 49 Sub-Saharan African countries to the United States each year.
For the sixth year, William and Mary hosted 25 fellows who work in civic engagement. During their visit, the fellows took classes on the issues and impact associated with civic engagement and topics such as social entrepreneurship and the culture of volunteerism.
The six-week program empowers young people through academic coursework, leadership training and networking, according to the fellowship’s website.
Yannick Ndayisaba, a fellow from Burundi, is a journalist for Jimbere Magazine, a media platform that explores social issues that youths and women face in his country.
For Ndayisaba, the fellowship is an opportunity to network with people doing similar work and learn from the challenges others face.
“For me, a fellowship is one of the ways one can look at the outside world and try to meet different young people who are doing the same things and look at how they respond to the challenges they meet in different areas,” Ndayisaba said. “I wanted to be exposed to that network.”
The fellows also engaged with local community service programs such as Child Development Resources and Habitat for Humanity and they visited local government agencies and spoke with community leaders.
The fellows made visits to local agencies such as Williamsburg’s police and fire departments. They also took a look at local community service programs such as Child Development Resources, Habitat for Humanity and Grove Christian Outreach Center. (The Presidential Precinct)
Eric McDonald, the vice chair of the Williamsburg Community Foundation which supports local causes, met with a group of fellows about his nonprofit work. He also has 25 years of global trade experience and was able to talk about economic development.
He said the fellows had a great deal of interest in the foundation, how it works in the community, how grants are given and donor relations.
“They were so energetic, so open to ideas, so receptive to new (information) and also reinforced information that they will be able to go back to their respective countries and go, wow I heard about this going on in Virginia, or I was told that a new project is happening in the United States, how is that applicable to my own work,” McDonald said. “I think (there will be) a lot of future development possibilities for each and everyone in the group.”
Claire Sambou, a fellow from Senegal, works as a social entrepreneurship program manager with OAFRESS, a francophone civil society platform. She advocates for a stronger healthcare system and promotes vaccination efforts in over 18 African countries.
She said she hopes she can learn from existing systems in the United States to improve access to health care and immunization in Africa. She also hopes to gain more communication skills that will allow her to spread information and educate the public on these issues.
“So how can we learn from other existing systems to build our civil society?” Sambou said. “I’m starting to have a clear vision of what I can do when I go back. Working together, working with communities but also working with ministries. I need communication skills, I need to know myself, my value. It’s not easy to work with civil society. I am a woman, I am young and most of them are old men… I really need to have clear strategies to work with them in a collaborative way.”
In the fellowship’s opening ceremony on June 21 they heard from Levar Stoney, the mayor of Richmond, on new perspectives on leadership. The group will go on to visit William Short’s Morven, James Monroe’s Highland, James Madison’s Montpelier and the University of Virginia.
All of the institutions make up the Presidential Precinct, a Virginia-based nonprofit consortium which acts as the official host institute for the program.
The fellows also have the opportunity to attend two events in Washington, D.C. with other precinct fellows.
They will end their stay with the annual Africa Ideas Summit, this year held at UVa, where they have the opportunity to present the work they do in their home countries.
In the program, which is sponsored by the U.S Department of State, 27 colleges and universities in 20 states across the country were selected to host the 700 fellows in the program this year. Fellows were put in groups and attended certain institutions based on their work in public management, business or civic engagement.