The 2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship presidential summit wrapped up part of this year’s program Wednesday in Washington D.C, with a final address of the 1,000 fellows by President Barack Obama.
The fellows were very excited when President Barack Obama was introduced by Mandela Washington fellow Emmanuel Odama of Uganda, and almost immediately they started to sing happy birthday to Mr. Obama, whose 55th birthday is Thursday.
President Obama said the Mandela Washington Fellowship was one of the highlights of his legacy. He said the fellows represented the true meaning of a cultural exchange.
“And while I’m going to leave it up to historians to decide my overall legacy, one of the things that I’m really proud of, is my partnership with young people like you.
“So years from now when you’re running a big business or doing a great non-profit, or leading your country as a president or prime minister, or minister of finance or something, my hope is that you can look back and you will keep drawing from the strength and experience you got here,” added Mr. Obama.
Reacting to holding a town-hall with Mr. Obama, Zimbabwean fellow Freeblessing Murahwa, a community-based dentist, said the experience had changed his life.
“You know I never thought I’d be sitting in the same room with the big man himself, so-to-speak, but it’s just an inspiration to hear him talk about leadership,” said Murahwa..
Murahwa, who has been chosen as one of the fellows to remain for another six-week internship, said his experience will boost the work he does in rural Zimbabwe.
Fellow Tinashe Basa, coordinator of an orphan day home Zimkids Orphan Trust, said this fellowship represented a moment in his life he never expected.
Basa was able to shake the hand of President Obama, who made rounds after his townhall.
Basa, who never completed his secondary school, said he will return to Zimbabwe and show children at Zimkids that anything is possible in life.
“Education is the key to success. It’s very important, but it’s not about getting your degree but just getting education. Just basic education will get you by.”
Nosipho Bhebhe, from Victoria Falls who is a woman activist, said it was Mr. Obama’s statement on dreams that she will carry for the rest of her life.
“And that statement says ‘if your dreams are not scary, then they are not big enough,’ that statement is going to stay with me for the rest of my life,” said Bhebhe.
Bhebhe said she hopes young and older people really push their dreams and explore their potential.
“Often we think inside the box, we’re scared to go outside of the box and explore and see our full potential. Everybody was born with potential, its up to you as a woman, as a man, as a mother and a father, and a child to cash from that cash-box that you were given.”
Along with Murahwa, two other Zimbabweans Feri Gwata and Nyasha Mharakurwa will remain in the United States for another six weeks for internships.
Other Zimbabweans including Collins Nyamadzawo, Nobukhosi Ndlovu, Chipo Chikomo and Kudzai Sakajera were given grants from USAID and CITI Bank to boost their respective projects.