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2015 Mandela Washington Fellowship Program Ends

Zimbabwean Young African leaders set to participate in the Mandela Washington Youth African Leadership Fellowship. (Photo: U.S. Embassy, Harare)

The 2015 Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders participants officially marked the end of their 6 week program in the United States Thursday and many trickled back home to share their experience with their peers.

The 500 fellows, including 30 Zimbabweans, capped off their program with a closing ceremony Wednesday where they were addressed by Under Secretary Richard Stengel of the Department of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Assistant Secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Africa Affairs.

Thomas-Greenfield told the VOA the 2015 program was a huge success.

“It’s been so exciting it’s been so electrifying watching all of these young people who are working to change the world and contribute to their countries success. It gives me so much hope,” said Thomas-Greenfield.

She said she has great expectations from the young leaders, adding they have so far proved that they are prepared to hit the ground running upon their return back their homes.

“My expectation is their expectation I hope that they are successful, I hope that they go into the communities that they came from and they help to contribute to people’s lives being changed.”

Speaking on the one million dollars awarded to 40 of the Mandela Washington Fellows by the United States Africa Development Fund, Thomas-Greenfield said judging on the projects of the Alumni class from 2014, the young leaders will make a significant impact in their communities with their 25 thousand dollar grants.

Zimbabwean Andrew Chikomba, one of the 40 Fellows to receive the grants from USADF along with his Zimbabwean colleagues Kudakwashe Makuzwa and Farai Chizengeni, felt honored to be one of the recipients.

Chikomba, who is currently the managing consultant at Gemwitts Enterprises, a green solutions company he founded in 2012, said he will use the money to expand a project in which he’s working with rural youths.

“We are empowering the youth by training them on entrepreneurial skills and helping them to set up their own businesses within the local communities, so that they can sell solar products and also conscientize the public in their communities about the benefits of solar.”

Chikomba, who returned to Zimbabwe on Thursday, said his experience in America with the YALI program has been beyond empowering, both at personal and professional level.

“We’ve meet a lot of people who have given us advice, mentored us. In some instances some partnerships and deals have been struck so, there’s a lot of new projects that you’ll see coming up over the next few weeks,” said Chikomba.

His sentiments were echoed by Roselyne Sachiti, journalist and features editor for The Herald, who said she is proud to have represented Zimbabwe on the grand stage of YALI.

“I’m happy that we came here, we represented our country well and we told the story of Zimbabwe from a different perspective that we don’t usually see from the international media and we also got a lot of information from America.”

She noted professionally, she has been able to grow over the past few weeks.

“One of them is the issue of design thinking on how, and also people like us who are interested, can use the skills we have learnt here to empathize with communities to define what communities really need when we want to give them a product.”

Sachiti and Chikomba along with 26 other Zimbabweans returned home Thursday after their time here in the States. Two Zimbabweans, Yvonne Jila, a film maker and Tinodiwa Zambe Makoni, an animator and graphic artist, will remain in Atlanta Georgia and Washington D.C., respectively, for an additional six week internship with companies in their sectors.

And speaking to his fellow Mandela Washington Fellows and young Zimbabweans back home, Chikomba summed it up by saying:

“It’s time for people to step out of their comfort zones, do not be afraid of failing, you just need to fail first, get up move on and chase your dreams. Anybody can make it, we all have the potential, and I believe that the time to do it is now,” said Chikomba.