Noluthando “Noli” Duma has fought for almost 10 years to help orphans in child-headed homes in KwaZulu Natal, her home province in South Africa.
“I started by collecting food with some friends from church, and then distribute it to different homes,” Duma, 29, said. “My dream is to get a structure. I want a place where children can find solace and information.”
Duma’s dream seems closer to becoming a reality after spending six weeks at Florida International University as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.
The fellowship brings 500 young leaders from all 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa to the United States for six weeks of academic coursework and leadership training at 20 different universities all over the country.
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The program concludes in the first week of August with a presidential summit in Washington, D.C.
The program, founded in 2014, is the flagship program of President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative to empower a new generation of young African leaders who are shaping the continent’s future.
Obama, who in July became the first U.S. president to address the African Union, met with all the fellows on Monday.
The program focuses on young people for a reason: nearly one in three Africans are between the ages of 10 and 24, and approximately 60 percent of Africa’s total population is below the age of 35.
Khontile Kunene, senior technical advisor in the pharmaceutical sector, is eager to share her experience with others back home in Swaziland. She hopes to improve health outcomes for people by ensuring that only medicines of an assured quality are used in Swaziland.
“We’re in the process of updating legislation policy to establish systems for improved access of pharmaceuticals,” she said.
After the summit in Washington, about 100 fellows will stay for another six weeks, interning for nonprofit organizations, private companies, or governmental agencies that relate to their professional goals.
Eldine Chilembo, who works in the maritime industry back home in Angola, has been advocating for women’s empowerment within the industry.
“I’ve been trying to raise more awareness,” she said. “I hope to someday create and influence policies.”
Chilembo, who will soon intern with the U.S. Transportation Department, hopes the experience will help her continue efforts to encourage women to take up leadership roles in the industry.
FIU was selected for a second time to host 25 young leaders between the ages of 25 and 35, and was the only university in Florida hosting. FIU received 25 fellows interested in public management. Other focus areas included business and entrepreneurship, as well as civic engagement.
Rodney Quatre, who works for the Seychelles National Parks Authority, hopes his training at FIU will help him enhance current efforts for the conservation and sustainable use of marine ecosystems and resources in the Seychelles.
“We need to change the way we look at things,” Quatre said. “Coming from a developing country, seeing how others do things develops you further.”
For the first time this year, the fellows were matched up with peer collaborators — young leaders in Miami working in similar interest areas.
Duma, who works at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, was able to refine her project with the help of her mentor and peer collaborator.
“They taught me I need to walk before I run,” she said. “Now I feel more strengthened. They made my dream feel more tangible.”
After six weeks learning about other nonprofits and public entities, Duma is taking back the practical experience to improve her organization, Nal'uthando Rejuvenation Center, by seeking funding from donors or investors.
“What drives me is the value Ubuntu — human kindness,” Duma said. “I cannot do it alone.”