Friday, November 18, 2016

My Once in a Lifetime Golden Opportunity

by Anthonia Bisola Abayomi-ojo 

On 23rd march, I got the phone call to congratulate me on my selection as a 2016 Mandela Washington fellow. I must have said thank you more than 10 times. I was totally euphoric.
I had chosen the civic leadership track and my fellowship was at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The first two weeks of the program focused on US culture, leadership skills development, human rights and writing elevator and ignite speeches. I never knew I could summarise my work in 1 minute. For me, this one of the most vital skills I learned.

Week 3 and 4 were on religion, mindful and ethical leadership and business and entrepreneurship. I learned how to make ethical decisions that might not be popular but reflect my integrity.

It was so refreshing to learn how the US operates the separation of Church and State and I got to understand the importance of this as an essential referendum to ensure the rights of all people are protected and the critical role it plays in development, which gave me a renewed love and respect for the US.

The focus of the last two weeks was on healthcare including community health and healthcare for persons with disabilities. This included site visits to a women’s hospital, a children’s hospital, family health centre and a centre for persons with disabilities.

However, there were networking meetings, host family dinners, community development exercises and weekend recreational activity during the period.  These were really educative as I got to meet young people in leadership positions and many directors of non-profit organisations.

Informally, I learnt to understand other Africa accents and I made friend with fellows from 17 other African countries.  I thought I knew so much about Africa but this fellowship helped me to know Africa and Africans for who we really are, an amazing race too often misrepresented by the media.

The Presidential summit was the climax for the fellowship, we arrived in Washington on the evening of the 31st of July, but what I wasn’t prepared for were the memorial pins made for all fellows to remember John Paul Usman (RIP), I tried not to cry but I broke down. John Paul died due to an accident while hiking near Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, where he was studying civic leadership as a 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow.

I kept seeing him smiling as I told him see you in Washington at the end of our pre-departure orientation in Abuja which never came to be.

The 3 days of the summit were informative, educative and interactive; I got to meet about 50 more people from about 20 more countries. On the last day of the summit, I got to see and hear my legend, President Barack Obama and I was forever inspired.  When I was given the autograph signed by him saying ‘all the best’ tears came to my eyes.

After the fellowship, I plan to continue my work as a developmental disabilities manager and work towards the elimination of malnutrition as a major contributing factor to developmental delay and infant mortality rate through advocacy programs in rural communities, showing them how to make the baby formula I designed, made from local grains that costs less than a N800 or $2 to feed a child a month.

The depth of gratitude I feel for the opportunity of this fellowship cannot be put into words. I am forever grateful because this fellowship came at a time I was at my lowest and now I have been inspired.

Thank you President Obama, you are my Legend!

I promise to ensure all that was invested in me through this fellowship is not a waste.

From an immensely grateful fellow,
Anthonia Bisola Abayomi-ojo

Anthonia Bisola Abayomi-ojo was part of the Nigerian cohort to this year’s Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.  She was on the Civic Leadership track.

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