Starting June 16, Wagner College will welcome its fourth annual cohort of Mandela Washington Fellows for 6 weeks of study, service, fun and fellowship. The 25 young people (ages 25 to 35), who hail from about 20 nations in sub-Saharan Africa, are up-and-coming community leaders in their home countries — which is why they were selected by the U.S. State Department to participate in the highly competitive Young African Leaders Initiative.
In total, the YALI program will place 1,000 young business, technical, government and community leaders in 40 institutes at 38 colleges and universities this summer across the United States.
Last summer, local journalist and YALI mentor Claire Regan took half a dozen Mandela Washington Fellows under her wing, familiarizing them with the American news business as well as the shops, restaurants, government services and civic agencies that make Staten Island such a vibrant, close-knit community.
Below is the news story written by Regan about her YALI comrades, published in the Aug. 7, 2016 print edition of the local daily newspaper, the Staten Island Advance.
Visiting African leaders enjoy a warm Staten Island welcome
by CLAIRE M. REGAN
For Evelyn Kpadeh, a native of the West African country of Liberia, a recent visit to Lifestyles for the Disabled in Willowbrook was a transformative experience.
“Back home in my country, 80 percent of people with disabilities have no hope and they are left to roam the streets each day looking for what they can catch to survive,” Kpadeh shared.
At Lifestyles, Kpadeh and 24 other African citizens visiting Staten Island for six weeks this summer learned about the agency’s programs for the developmentally disabled and enjoyed lunch prepared by program participants in the Lifestyles Caffe.
“It was an experience that continues to move in my mind, learning how an organization sees the value in people with disabilities and empowers them with skills,” Kpadeh added.
As a participant in the Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship program of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), Kpadeh and 24 fellow Africans stayed at Wagner College on Grymes Hill, one of 38 institutions throughout the U.S. selected to host the State Department program. Wagner has been a host institution since the initiative was launched in 2014.
More than 40,000 African leaders between the ages of 25 and 35 applied this year for the opportunity to study, train and network in the U.S., and only 1,000 were selected. Their goal is to apply what they learn on American soil to the projects they direct in their homelands.
Wagner-appointed hub leaders and host families arranged events and facilitated connections that would best meet each fellow’s professional interests and help them feel at home on the Island.
SIMILARITIES ACROSS 7,000 MILES
YALI fellow Butholezwe Kgosi Nyathi is programs manager at Amagugu Heritage Trust in Zimbabwe, where visitors learn about their culture through demonstrations of basket weaving, wood carving, leather tanning, nature walks, traditional games, dance and music.
It’s no surprise then that a meeting with Ed Wiseman, executive director of Historic Richmond Town, followed by a tour of the historic village, was a highlight of Nyathi’s Staten Island stay.
“The tour of Richmond Town was closest to my hut,” Nyathi said, using an African expression. “The operations and activities there have a strong resemblance to those of my cultural center. I was exposed to traditional American art and culture and was inspired to keep doing the cultural heritage preservation work that l do in Zimbabwe.”
Wiseman took away insights from the meeting as well.
“His very perceptive thoughts helped me frame our institution in a way I never imagined. It was a gift hearing from him and seeing through his eyes,” Wiseman said.
Nyathi was joined by another fellow, Juby Peacock of Botswana, for a visit to the Staten Island Museum in Livingston where they met with executive director Cheryl Adolph and her senior staff to discuss marketing, public relations and fundraising strategies.
GIVING BACK TO THE COMMUNITY
Akosua Afriyie Osei-Appaw of Ghana and Abdul Karim Kabia of Sierra Leone volunteered their time on a Sunday afternoon to sort donated clothing and serve dinner at the Assumption Church soup kitchen in New Brighton. The Rev. Terry Troia, executive director of Project Hospitality, which runs the program, stopped by to thank them.
Osei-Appaw joined Mark Kaweesi of Uganda for an outdoor reading of the Declaration of Independence led by Beth Gorrie, executive director of Staten Island OutLOUD, on the Fourth of July at historic Fort Wadsworth.
On the Wagner campus, guest speakers included directors from The New York Foundling, Samaritan Daytop Village treatment center, IlluminArt Productions and Camp Good Grief for grieving children and teens. Rep Dan Donovan also gave a presentation to the YALI fellows.
There were dozens of trips into Manhattan for visits to foundations and tourist destinations, and an excursion to Toms River, N.J., to learn about the Oceans of Love non-profit organization dedicated to helping children with cancer.
But it was the everyday Staten Island experiences that made lasting impressions on many of the African visitors: A smoothie and a Whopper Junior from the Burger King in Meiers Corners, a shopping excursion to T.J. Maxx in New Dorp, a stroll along the South Beach boardwalk, a haircut at a local barbershop in Park Hill.
“My favorite spot on Staten Island is the barbershop down the hill (from Wagner),” confided Butholezwe Kgosi Nyathi. “Strange, l know, but I had two of the most pleasant haircut experiences in my 30 years of life on Mother Earth!”
Before heading back to their countries earlier this month, the Wagner College cohort joined the 975 other YALI fellows in Washington, D.C., for a three-day summit highlighted by a town hall meeting with President Obama.