Mandela Washington Fellows hope lessons learned at Texas Tech will be catalyst for change in their home countries.
A trip to the U.S. can be a life-changing experience for young professionals from another country. Twenty-four Mandela Washington Fellows from Africa were hoping for this kind of experience as they completed six weeks of academic and leadership training through Texas Tech University's Office of International Affairs (OIA).
The Mandela Washington Fellowship was established in 2014 through the U.S. Department of State in conjunction with the Young African Leaders Initiative to cultivate leaders between the ages of 25 and 35 from every Sub-Saharan region of Africa. Texas Tech has been a part of the program since 2017.
For the first time in two years, fellows were able to venture to the United States to experience the program in person following the global COVID-19 pandemic.
We followed two of these fellows throughout their journey at Texas Tech; Haruna Danamiji Osman, a medical doctor in the department of general surgery from Ghana focused on improving medical access to the underserved and Naima Idris Usman, a medical doctor and reproductive health expert from Nigeria.
“I applied for the fellowship because I needed to develop my leadership skills and gain networking opportunities to enable me to canvas support to improve access to surgical care in rural Ghana, said Osman. “My initial thought was this would serve as a leading light experience that would enrich both my personal and professional path.”
Idris, too, came into the Mandela Washington Fellowship with what she said is an “honor to be among the chosen ones.”
With expectations of leadership development as well as expansion of knowledge at the core of all fellows, we asked Osman and Idris to document their experience in their own words.
Here are their stories.
Haruna Danamiji Osman
We were picked up from the airport by university officials. We were so happy meeting them. We had a warm reception and took several pictures, and it was as if we had already known each other for a while. The Red Raider bus is so beautiful that we had to take pictures by it!
Before my arrival in Texas, I had heard the weather is so hot, I didn't bother getting heavy clothing and low and behold I arrived to find out it was true! The weather here is quite better as compared to where I come from, where temperatures could range between 32 - 42 degrees Celsius (89 – 107 degrees Fahrenheit).
My first cultural shock was when I was introduced to a restaurant on campus where I couldn't decide what to eat. I kept tasting almost everything, but I finally discovered that tacos were my newly found happiness!
A day at the Lubbock Lake Landmark was superb. I had the opportunity to learn about the historical animals and hiking was refreshing to me because I hardly get the opportunity to hike while networking with other fellows.
Naima Idris Usman
The process for day one directly offers insight into how to better execute outreach programs, participate in community building and make connections with leaders and policymakers to ease access of medical care. I got to understand the peculiarities of market structures for every society, how the policies affect them and how to work around them to achieve goals.
These were all life-changing and re-orienting experiences for me. The Lubbock County Sheriff's Office came with a wave of surprises and educational discoveries. I got to experience the actual structure and operations of a correctional facility there, and it was an eye-opener. The order, the reintegration and educational programs for inmates, the designated walk paths for different people and the overall facility structure were overwhelming to consume at a time.
The Innovation Hub at Research Park was impressive and commendable. The effort, resources, and time invested into harnessing ideas and innovation alongside investors and tutors is mind-blowing for me.
The digital integration of systems at the Lubbock County Court House and their efficiency was like none I have seen before.
I learned a whole lot from the network I have built. Interacting and spending time with people from different cultures and climates helped me learn and unlearn things. I got to see things from different perspectives and adjust in areas where I needed to. I got to sharpen my ideas, get better perspective about my career direction and improve strategies towards my goals.
Seeing the Palo Duro Canyon was eventful and satisfying because I got to see nature from a whole new perspective. The Panhandle Plains Museum carries important artifacts, cultural items and historical items spanning centuries. Physically witnessing such items in close proximity is a privilege not to be forgotten.
The musical “TEXAS” redefined stage performance for me because it was nothing like I have experienced. Everything worked in sync from the music, lighting, costume, stage set, effects and props usage.
The hike through Palo Duro Canyon was adventurous and exciting, and yes, it was a bit surprising. During our hike, we bumped into a deer that was really terrifying but the overall experience was amazing.
The meals have been good and enjoyable, but the one that sticks out is The Big Texan Steak Ranch. It didn't seem like what I thought it would be like traveling to Texas. It was a completely new experience, and I enjoyed every bit of it!
Cadillac Ranch is incredibly amusing from the first glance because it's bursting with creative and aesthetic appeal. The colors, presentation and freedom of expression on them make it more unique.
We had the opportunity to experience Juneteenth for the first time. Having it recognized as a federal and national holiday is a big step towards progression for humanity and the American people, as it points towards how far the country has gone towards integration. It also provides a legitimate reason for a group of people to celebrate and preserve their cultural identity.
Haruna Danamiji Osman
A visit to the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) was inspiring to me as a physician because I had my medical training in a developing country (University for Development Studies, Ghana) and we cannot boast of some of the basic state of the Art equipment at the TTUHSC uses for training health care providers.
While on the tour, there was one thing that kept running through my mind, and that is, how I wished I had the opportunity to learn with this equipment. I was perplexed by the digital anatomy table, the laparoscopic trainer and the various simulators in the center. Africa, with its limited resources in health care training, has produced prominent physicians for the U.S. and some are currently working in the health systems of Texas. So, I believe that if our government invested in this type of facilities, it would help Africa achieve more in its human resource for quality health care delivery.
Being grateful to the people of Lubbock community, the best opportunity to give back to the community was through a voluntary service project at the South Plains Food Bank, the GRUB Farm and the Lubbock Meals on Wheels. We were so excited because we contributed our quota to alleviating hunger and giving hope to the hungry by helping the staff package food items to be delivered to clients.
At the Texas Tech Therapeutic Riding Center, horse riding is used to address the physical, emotional and social wellbeing of individuals with special needs. Riding the horses made some of us feel relaxed and elated. We also had the opportunity to groom the horses at the center.
Besides the academic activities, we often make good use of the Robert H. Ewalt Student Recreation Center. We undertook various sporting activities including playing a soccer match to celebrate the birthday of one of our female fellows. Her team won10-8.
In all the practical and educational sessions this week, I noticed that lack of education is one key factor that affects human behavior, and I would therefore advocate for more prudent policies and educational reforms that would improve literacy in Africa and this would go a long way to help improve health outcomes.
Naima Idris Usman
One major takeaway from the week is city governments play a vital role in the development and growth of their communities. By understanding the regulations and policies that are in place, businesses and residents can better promote their city and make it a desirable place to live, work, and play.
We had personal coaches who served as guides for our projects. My project was focused on health, the girl child, and leadership development. I worked closely with my personal coach to explore my project and its long- and short-term relevance to society.
The visit to the mayor's office turned out to be more fun than expected. He gave us a warm and receptive welcome and maintained a high sense of humor all through the visit. Being granted honorary citizenship was surreal and a memorable milestone for me. It further validated the importance of the entire process for me.
We had the opportunity to put up cultural presentations on African ethnicities and it was quite enlightening and educating. It provided a moment for pure appreciation of culture in its artistic form and celebration.
I also had dinner with my assigned host family. It was even more interesting when I found out the woman had been to Africa and had pretty good knowledge of our society and norms. We discussed cultural perceptions from a more relatable perspective because she understood a couple of things from the place I came from.
My first take on the National Ranching Heritage Center is applause to the management for the preservation of these buildings and structures across decades and locations. I learned buildings could be relocated and preserved for this long while maintaining their original structure and appeal. It's a wonderful and unique experience.
I did attend the First Friday Art Trail. My favorite part was the art exhibition. I got to explore so many amazing artistic pieces by different artists and expressions.
We had a chance to be a part of the Ignite Talk presentations this week. I had already been exposed and was aware of programs like that, so it wasn't a new concept, but it helped me launch into public speaking on a platform like that.
Haruna Danamiji Osman
On the Independence Day we had the opportunity to observe the 4th on Broadway Parade. In the evening, a group of Fellows gathered at Mackenzie Park where we witnessed an interesting musical performance and later a fireworks event. It was a joyous event because it was first time witnessing an Independence Day celebration in the U.S.
The group traveled to Austin within the week to join the other fellows at the University of Texas (UT). This was an interesting event because we had the opportunity to see other cities within Texas and to network with others whom we would never have had the chance to meet.
Austin is bigger city with high-rise buildings and greater population. We had an interesting time in Austin. We attended sessions together with the Fellows at UT, including the community service activity we undertook at Central Texas Food Bank. It was a satisfying experience as we got to package food in boxes. We helped to provide 617 boxes, 18,510 pounds, which translates to 15,425 meals. This was a similar experience compared to our activity at the South Plains Food Bank in Lubbock.
My favorite food in Austin was from a Halal Restaurant, where I got to eat rice with beef which is similar to food from my country.
Naima Idris Usman
This week we visited Breedlove. The cause is noble and about eradicating hunger, and I'm amazed about the hygienic methods while producing the food and they give room for improvement.
We were part of a virtual summit during the week with Fellows from Washington, D.C. and many other places. While I would have preferred a physical summit, I understand it had to be virtual because of the COVID-19 wave. But regardless, I was still able to network with some fellows and get acquainted with NGOs I might work with in the future.
My overall thoughts on the experience majorly rest on the positives, the impact on people's lives and its relevance to global integration was unmatched and made me affirm my need and eligibility to be here. It met and exceeded my expectations. Every experience comes with either culture shock or activities way beyond expectations.
Having observed and experienced the operational structure of Texas, I'm taking back home ideas and practices around government policies, advocacy, and how to be strategic and dedicated in one's pursuit or mission. I will definitely recommend it to everybody who's interested in personal and professional growth and exposure.
Haruna Danamiji Osman
The final week began with mix feelings of anxiety, sadness and excitement due to thoughts of going back home to meet loved ones and at the same time missing the wonderful people of Lubbock who have now become a family. All the same, we sail through the week, day by day as the clock kept ticking.
We allocated an appreciable time of the week buying gifts for friends and family back home while finishing with our focus project and sending farewell emails to contacts we made during our stay in Lubbock.
We had a two-day virtual summit in the final week and we had the opportunity to listen to various presenters and network with top U.S. government officials. We wrapped up the fellowship program getting to know the various funding opportunities and alumni groups in our various countries. This fellowship was just a immersive experience to help enrich our career paths as we wait for greater collaboration and partnership.
The institute officials have been awesome throughout our stay, especially in the latter when we thought they should have been exhausted. We had a well-organized graduation ceremony where we got to interact with each other, University officials and invited guest. We had a doughnut breakfast and a farewell brunch where we got to play games and deliver farewell messages to the great Texas Tech community.
Special thanks to the entire team especially Elizabeth Trejos-Castillo, Michael Johnson, Stephanie Lara, Kathleen Cade-Gerzon, Elizabeth Roberts, Ian Lértora, Darren Hudson, Conrad Lyford, Reagan Ribordy and the entire team and members of Lubbock community for contributing enormously to our development as leaders.
The entire experience at Texas Tech has exceeded my expectations and one thing I will take home from this fellowship is the spirit of volunteerism among the American people.
I admire that a lot and I would encourage young people back home to inculcate such attitudes.