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Arizona and African leaders make a permanent impression on each other

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On June 14-15, 2014, 25 young non-profit and business leaders from African countries were welcomed in the Hospitality Suite of Taylor Place at Arizona State University in downtown Phoenix. There were mixed emotions: though happy to be part of ASU’s Washington Fellows program, some were nervous, apprehensive, hesitant, or anxious because of concerns they had heard from friends or relatives, or what they had seen on television about Arizona: a place not welcoming to outsiders, where people openly carry guns, where there are very few Black people. On July 25, 2014, 25 confident, comfortable and empowered African leaders, ASU staff and faculty, and community leaders gathered in the AE England ballroom to say goodbye. Again, there were mixed emotions, but this time: sadness about leaving, excitement about new friendships and cooperative projects which have been initiated, and lasting positive impressions about Arizona and Africa and the people who live there.

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The African leaders were selected to attend the six-week training institute led by the College of Public Programs at Arizona State University. They represented many countries throughout Africa. ASU was chosen as one of only 20 American universities to serve as an academic institute for the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, part of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative. It was a great opportunity for ASU’s new College of Public Programs. Its six-week summer program was directed toward young Africans who serve the public through non-governmental organizations, community-based nonprofits or volunteerism.

While in Phoenix, the African leaders attended seminars on everything from healthcare to environmental issues to technology, and workshops of leadership, collaboration and advocacy. As importantly, they toured the state, visiting businesses and non-profits, meeting government and community officials, and learning about Arizona’s environment and culture. In return, they shared information about their countries’ human, environmental and political situations, challenges and successes.

At the close-out, nine attendees were chosen to represent the group via talk, visuals and poetry, in presenting the follow-up initiatives being proposed to address Africa’s greatest concerns: civil conflict, terrorism/organized crime, and gross human rights violations. The common thread in the proposals was to focus on disadvantaged youth through skills-based education reform, literacy, job training, mentorship, and business development. They also emphasized the need for social equality and curbing violence against women. Specific suggestions included a Multi-Country Leadership program, mobile libraries, Dream Hub (to assist abused women), and Wheels of Change (behavioral change program). They described concepts like “adibu” (education for all children) and “yehwu ku mo” (the rich provide for the poor).

The African leaders will take many new ideas, tools, and new impressions back to their countries. Hopefully, the Arizonans they encountered this summer learned as much from them, can recognize that these same problems exist in Arizona, and think about how they can apply some of these initiatives here.