African scholars at FIU to join Obama’s Washington Fellowship

College program empowers young adults worldwide

Ashley Montgomery | 7/10/2014, 9 a.m.
In the next few weeks, 25 students from Africa will call Florida International University home. In conjunction with President Obama’s ...
Twenty-five African scholars participate in a six-week program. African students participating in Obama’s Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. Robyn Nissim

In the next few weeks, 25 students from Africa will call Florida International University home. In conjunction with President Obama’s Washington Fellowship for Young Leaders, the visit will provide students with leadership training that will help them become better advocates for human rights. They will also learn how to access information on education and water sanitation.

Eric Ngondi, 29, is a water and environmental engineer who is no stranger to “touching lives.” Three years ago he lost his vision in an accident. He has since become an advocate for his community and people with disabilities.

Ngondi owns and operates a consulting company in Nairobi, Kenya.

“I want to be visible,” he said. “I want to motivate and inspire others, just touch their lives. I want to show the community how a person with disability or blindness can participate in daily activities in an office, school or church.”

The 25 scholars are working to accomplish their work through governmental offices, ministries and non-governmental organizations. According to President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative’s (YALI) website, the flagship program provides “outstanding young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa with the opportunity to hone their skills at a U.S. university” with professional support.

“I work for the government in Africa — I’m a policy analyst,” Kopa Gary Mapila, an African scholar said.

The scholars all have a common goal — to help those in need.

“I used to volunteer with the Rwanda Women Network, which helps women genocide survivors who were raped or got HIV/AIDS during the genocide,” Doreen Karake said. “We educate them on their rights and basically teach them skills on how to survive.”

Universities and Colleges around the country were chosen by the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) through a competitive process.

Clark-Atlanta and Yale University were among other campuses to host the Business and Entrepreneurship sector of the program. Rutgers University and Tulane University were among the chosen Civic Leadership Institutes.

“FIU has a deep commitment to international research projects, including our Global Waters for Sustainability Program (GLOWS), which created visibility for our work in several different African countries,” Andres Gil, vice president for research at FIU.

The scholars are all looking forward to meeting President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State, John Kerry at the end of the program.

“I hope they take away comprehensive — as comprehensive as you can get in six weeks of FIU and Miami,” Susan Webster said. “I already feel there are certain parallels that some of the participants are making between their experience in Africa and here in Miami and we are hoping that they become better leaders and have an affinity at FIU.”