Mandela Fellows host awareness campaign at FIU

The Mandela Washington Fellows taught FIU students about African styles of dance and music on International Mandela Day, July 18, 2016.

The Mandela Washington Fellows taught FIU students about African styles of dance and music on International Mandela Day, July 18.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” –Nelson Mandela

These famous words inspired a commemorative event at FIU marking International Mandela Day, hosted by a group of visiting scholars and professionals from across Africa.

The event—held in the Graham Center Pit on July 18, Mandela’s birthday—aimed to raise awareness about the former South African president’s impact on the world and about the diversity of African cultures.

The visitors are members of the 2016 cohort of the U.S. Department of State’s Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders (YALI). This year, YALI brought 1,000 young visionaries from Sub-Saharan Africa to the U.S. colleges and universities for professional development in the areas of business, civic leadership and public management.

FIU is currently hosting, for a third time, 25 of the Mandela Washington Fellows looking to hone their skills in public management. The fellows stay here for six weeks, participating in academic study, community service projects and local cultural events designed to give them a deeper understanding of how management in the American public sector works. After their stay at FIU, the fellows will travel to Washington, D.C. for a presidential summit.

While participating in various community service programs at FIU, the fellows are tasked with developing a service project of their own. This year’s cohort decided to commemorate International Mandela Day, established by the United Nations in 2009, with a day of cultural learning and activities designed to teach students about the anti-apartheid revolutionary and champion for education.

“The basic aim of the day is to give back to humanity in some way,” said Suntosh Pillay, a Mandela Washington Fellow from Durban, South Africa, who led planning for the event at FIU.

He said back home in South Africa, people usually give at least an hour of their time on July 18 doing something charitable; but the fellows wanted to leave more of an impact on students here.

So they turned their sights on educational programming, which included: leading dance and music lessons from the Congo, South Africa and other African regions; teaching about Mandela’s crusade against social injustices in South Africa; and informing students about the vast diversity of cultures, languages and countries in Africa in general.

“We wanted to do something that was a bit more sustainable,” Pillay said. “We felt that education was a more sustainable intervention.”

Kagiso Pitso, a fellow from Schweizer Reneke, South Africa, said he thinks of Mandela as a father figure for his country, which is why it’s important to spread awareness of his legacy.

“It should not end here,” Pitso said, “because when you teach someone one thing, that person is going to pass it to another. So it’s going to have a replica effect, and it’s going to spread. So people will be more aware of who Mandela is and what he stood for.”

For more information on the Mandela Washington Fellowship programming at FIU, click here.