For one Mandela Washington Fellow, her visit to the United States of America is guaranteed to be the one that won’t be soon forgotten.
Georgine Auma Obura, a dedicated disability rights activist for deaf people in Kenya, will represent Wagner College’s 2015 Mandela Washington Fellows at the Young African Leaders Initiative Washington, D.C. Summit when she delivers a talk on equality next month.
President Barack Obama’s Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders brings 500 young men and women to study business, government or civil society at one of 20 colleges or universities throughout the United States each summer. Wagner College’s MWF cohort consists of 25 young African leaders from 20 sub-Saharan countries who are studying community and nonprofit organizations.
The three-day Washington summit, which marks the end of the six-week Mandela Washington Fellowship academic experience, will be attended by President Obama, other top U.S. government officials, and prominent leaders from different sectors of society.
Each Fellow at Wagner College joined in a spirited competition to determine whose 5-minute Ignite talk would be presented at the summit, but it was Obura’s emotional pitch that convinced everyone she was the right candidate for the slot.
“It was very emotional. I almost cried,” said Mandela Washington Fellow Marta Tsehay of Ethiopia after Obura’s touching talk. “It shows her emotional connection to the issue she is championing. That’s how she won everyone’s support.”
Speaking about her experience, Gina (as Obura is affectionately known by her friends) said, “I didn’t even expect that. The moment was extraordinary. My selection taught me that it’s not about my disability, but my equality — and that’s exactly what I wish the whole world could embrace as an ideal for social inclusion.”
Obura said that she has learned a lot during her stay at Wagner and will use the knowledge and insights gained here to chart a new vision for her community and her country, Kenya, where she coordinates studies for the deaf.
“Following robust sessions on civic leadership led by different resource persons at Wagner, I have developed new perceptions about what civic leadership means in terms of bringing real social change to communities. I am itching to apply my new knowledge back home,” she said.
The Washington summit may prove to be a very important stepping stone for Obura, who sees it as a potential opportunity for advancing and mobilizing support for her work.
“Social inclusion and equality are very important issues in the modern development discourse which require collective efforts,” she said. “That is why I hope to build new connections through my talk.”
Apart from sharing her Ignite talk with 500 Mandela Washington Fellows, Obura stands a chance of introducing President Obama when he meets the young African leaders at the summit next month.