UNL welcomes Mandela Washington Fellowship to Lincoln

For the first time since 2019, 17 African countries sent 25 of their brightest young leaders to UNL’s campus.
Published: Jul. 19, 2022 at 1:46 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - For the first time since 2019, 17 African countries sent 25 of their brightest young leaders to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s campus. Together, they are a part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, a six-week program dedicated to leadership and civic engagement.

“One thing that drives them is their care and love for some specific issue or a variety of issues within their home country and in their town,” said Susan Burton, the academic co-director of the Mandela Washington Fellowship. “So every single one of the fellows here have some specific impact they’re hoping to make that is both very local to them, but it’s also global issues as well.”

The fellows were brought to UNL after an extensive selection process. UNL is one of 35 institutions from across the nation that has the Mandela Washington Program. It’s been held on the campus for five years, except for when COVID-19 cancelled it in 2020. The experience was held online last year.

This summer, the participants stayed on UNL’s campus with varying occupations and passions, from journalism to law practice and technology to gender equity.

Taku Mutezo, 29, is from Zimbabwe, and she farms garlic, spinach, tomatoes, lettuce, onions and butternut squash.

Mutezo joined the fellows for many trips across the state, and her favorite trip was to the apple farm at Arbor Lodge in Nebraska City.

“They’ve really created a sustainable ecosystem for people to love nature and care about nature and also help the environment,” Mutezo said.

As a service project, the Mandela Washington Fellows spent a day exchanging their cultures with the Lincoln Littles Program.

“There we got to kind of play with little children and as well, it was that notion of cultural exchange,” said Fredy Mashate, 30, a science communications worker in South Africa. “And I remember as we left, I had about three kids that were holding my hands all sides, not wanting me to leave.”

The Mandela Washington visitors played games, sang songs and told stories from their home countries with the Lincoln Littles children. Mashate said that what he appreciated the most was the culture of “Nebraska Nice.”

Another highlight was the trip to the Winnebago tribe, where they learned about the Winnebago’s journey of rebuilding their economy. The Mandela Washington Fellowship visited the State Capitol building and traveled to Polk County to examine the agricultural business.

Throughout the program, the members listened to many speakers and politicians about the importance of civic engagement in Nebraska.

Phuluso David Tschidzumba, 25, is an environmental activist in South Africa. He is also the executive director of Save Our Limpopo Valley Environment Committee. He was interested in learning our Nebraska’s methods to conserve bodies of water.

“The province that I come from is almost similar to Nebraska. It’s huge on farming,” Tschidzumba said. “It kind of speaks to some of the problems we have back home in terms of managing our water resources.”

The Mandela Washington Fellows grew closer with each other as well.

They created quilt squares with photos exemplifying who they are as individuals. The fellows also arranged a Spotify playlist as a way to share their cultures. And after each speaker, they said goodbye with a chant organized by Ruth Abunaw, 34, a gender and development activist from Cameroon.

Despite their different backgrounds, the Mandela Washington Fellows grew closer throughout their six-week stay in Lincoln. Before the experience was over, they asked themselves, “What are we going to do together from here?” From there, they exchanged contact information and ways to keep the experience going.

This week, the Mandela Washington Fellows presented their experiences at a virtual Summit with fellows from other institutions across the U.S. They left this Friday, bringing what they learned back to their home countries.

“In Africa, we have this saying called ‘ubuntu’ which is ‘I am, because you are,’” Mutezo said. “And it’s all about the fact that you’re not alone,” said And I found that ‘ubuntu’ in Nebraska so far away from home.”

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