If not just a euphoric mood for opportunity to travel to the United States, then the 25 fellows of the 2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship will have much to impact Liberia as they have returned with great vigor and promise to share their experiences and fully exhibit what they learned at the six-week fellowship.
The 25 Liberians, who left the country in June this year to participate in the fellowship with other Africans from across Africa, returned earlier this month with new skills in various areas of study including Business Entrepreneurship, Civil and Public Sector Management, Human Rights and other disciplines.
Speaking on behalf of the group at a reception program organized by US Ambassador Christine Elders on August 23 in Monrovia, Patience Coleman-Beyan said, “We have returned with great vigor and experience, because during our stay for the six weeks in the United States, we saw people leaving their jobs during weekends to come and help us just by volunteering and we were inspired a lot.”
In reference to the experience, Coleman-Beyan called on fellows to continue networking and liaise with one another in implementing any program a fellow wants to undertake, noting, “We are a team now; we should not let each other to go alone, but we should use the skills we learnt.”
Coleman-Beyan, who works at the Civil Service Agency (CSA) as Director for Civil Service Reform Directorate said the training gives her the courage to take a new dimension by working with those in the public sector to reach the communities so the ordinary people will feel the impact of their work.
She said she and her colleagues have decided to organize palava hut meetings to inform citizens on how government works, stressing that one challenge in the society is that people are not able to engage government and therefore do not know its functions.
She added that ethical and moral challenges facing the country today are based on the roles of leaders.
According to her, there are challenges in the United States just as there are in Africa, but when leaders are accountable to their citizens and setting good examples by their lives, Liberians will be able to deal with ethical issues.
In an exclusive interview, one of the fellows, Daniel Riche said his experience in the United States showed him the importance of voluntarism as a way to promote community development.
“Voluntarism is one thing that makes America great. People will volunteer their services to clean their cities on a weekend, and this helps the city authority to have the kind of city they want,” said Richie, who studied Civil Leadership during the MWF. “But in Liberia, we always want something in exchange before we volunteer our services.”
Using his Civil Leadership training, he said he will be reaching his peers and others in his community to share his experience and embark on community projects through voluntarism.
Expressing her excitement, US Ambassador to Liberia, Christine Elders, said the partnership between the Liberian Government and the Mandela Washington Fellowship is quite encouraging, and she was delighted to have the 25 fellows in the United States to share their experience and acquire another experience.
She disclosed that some of the fellows could not return because they are there on internships and securing other project-related opportunities before returning home.
She stressed that networking is essential to the program, and that fellows should always be reminded about getting together to network and share experience so as to meet the central objective of the Mandela Washington Fellowship.
She said beneficiaries of the program were double during the 2016 fellowship, expressing the hope that it continues in successive fellowships to allow more Liberians to participate.
The program began in 2010 under the name, “Young African Leaders Initiative” (YALI) during the first Administration of US President Barack H. Obama.
At the 2014 edition, during a town hall meeting with participants, President Obama renamed the program, the “Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.”
During that occasion, the charismatic President inspired the fellows to use the training to network and bring the change they want to see on their continent. He told them not to politically challenge their leaders, but share ideas and innovatively design programs that will help to develop their communities and families as well.