The Journey of an evolving Civic Leader - Mandela Washington Fellows Series
From Wagner College up to the Center of Civil and Human Rights. By Joel Tchombosi
On March 23, 2015, I received an exciting letter of congratulations from the United States Ambassador in Angola, Mrs. Helen La Lime, for my selection as a 2015 Mandela Washington Fellow. The Fellowship for Young African Leaders is the flagship program of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and embodies President Obama’s commitment to invest in the future of Africa. Through this initiative, Young African Leaders gain the skills and connections they need to accelerate their own career trajectories and contribute more robustly to strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, and enhancing peace and security in Africa.
On July 19, I was welcomed with great honor and excitement by Wagner College representatives (in New York) for my Civic Leadership Intitute. During six weeks, I was exposed to reflective practices, practical experiences and connections, multidimensial perspectives, and flexible leadership abilities necessary to adapt, lead, and succeed in an ever-changing world.
In the seventh week, I participated in the presidential summit together with 499 other Fellows from nineteen different universities across America. We all converged in Washington D.C. for the Presidential Summit with none other than the quick-witted and charismatic Barack Obama.
Three days of highly intense activity was kicked off by a reception attended by ambassadors, staff from the White House, and U.S. Department of State staff amongst others. This was followed by the much awaited Town Hall Meeting with President Barack Obama. Seminars, break out sessions, presentations and powerful talks followed in quick succession. Small group meet-ups allowed Fellows to discuss a wide range of topics.
The crisis simulation with each Fellow playing the role of an official from either the Department of State, Defence, Homeland Security or Health provided a feel of decision-making in a rapidly changing environment armed with limited information. Our recommendations were then presented to White House staff.
The summit rounded up with a partnership expo, regional meetings, a closing ceremony, presentation of certificates signed by President Barack Obama, and a talent show. Three days flew by like three hours because they were packed with experiences and lessons.
Under the auspices of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African leaders, I had the privilege and honor to be placed at The National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Inc. for the Professional Development Experience. This center’s work relates well with my professional interests and goals and it will offer me many unique opportunities while in the United States by empowering me to take the protection of people with albinism’s rights personally. The Center is also encouraging me to gain a deeper understanding of the role the American Civil Rights Movement leaders and contemporary human rights activists play in helping to protect the rights of all people today.
Joel Tchombosi is serving as a Portuguese and English teacher at a public university in Angola and the Founder of Fraternidade Albinista, an organization that equips children and young people with albinism with essential life skills, keeps them in school, and also helps them discover and nurture their talents so that they can be successful in their personal lives, as well as in their future careers. His organization also advocates for people with albinism and educates the public on albinism in order to diffuse existing myths that often lead to discrimination. During his internship at The Center, he will be writing weekly blogs about his experience.