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"To the wise education is unlimited": Mandela Washington Fellowship 2017

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Ibrahim Conteh.jpg
Ibrahim Conteh, Sierra Leone

I am a social and development worker from Sierra Leone with experience with several international non-governmental organizations (Save the Children, Action Contre La Faim, All terrain Services Group, Restless Development). Presently, I work with Save the Children International as an Assistance Program Officer for the Food Security and Livelihood program. We provide cash assistance to vulnerable household heads directly and indirectly affected by Ebola in order to increase their access to food.

My journey to the Mandela Washington Fellowship in the United States was difficult due to the competitive application process and the cultural adjustment when I arrived. When I landed at Detroit Airport in Michigan, everything was peculiar to me: landscape, weather, language, food, dress code, values, and customs. It was an entirely different environment with different behavioral norms and expectations, but I was ultimately able to adjust to American culture and enjoy the intensity of the program.

One thing I particularly enjoyed about the Fellowship is that it gave me the opportunity to meet with different government entities and officials. My program began with six weeks in Ohio, where I was fortunate to visit the Attorney General’s office and meet the Mayor of Bowling Green. I was fascinated to hear from these individuals how they include youth at the center stage of decision making.

I then went to Washington D.C., where it was very interesting to see all 1000 Fellows from across Africa converge for a three-day presidential summit. We heard from many motivational speakers from different countries, but what I enjoyed most was the “Got Talent Show,” in which every American host university was given the opportunity to perform. It was a real African thing, and a great way to see the different African cultures.

After the summit I proceeded to Colorado Springs, also called “Olympic City, USA,” for a professional development experience with El Pomar Foundation. Because the city is lively with a variety of recreational facilities, restaurants, café shops and sport activities, my stay in Colorado was happy and interactive. One of my favorite memories of Colorado Springs is bowling for the first time with El Pomar’s Empty Stocking Fund team. Even though I wasn’t good at it, the game was fun and exciting. As a fun joke, we were even awarded with trophies for being “the least good team.”

During my time with El Pomar Foundation, I was involved in several projects and participated in various leadership development trainings. I also received special coaching on grant writing and resource mobilization, and was able to visit nonprofit organizations like Care and Share Food Bank, United Way, and the Center for Nonprofit Excellence in Colorado Springs, as well as Africa Development Promise, GrowHaus, and the Global Livingston Institute in Denver.

My professional development experience with El Pomar will play a great role in my leadership trajectory and my work towards my ultimate goal of establishing a Community Base Organization in my country. Most of all, the knowledge gained with El Pomar inspires me to continue to learn. As the saying goes, “to the wise education is unlimited, it makes, it made and it shall be making.”