Exchange Program Builds Ties Between US, Africa

20 March, 2017

The United States is working with a non-profit group to send 26 Americans to Africa to teach and connect with people there.

The U.S. State Department's Reciprocal Exchange program is part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. It was started in 2014 by then President Barack Obama as part of his Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).

YALI will send 1,000 young people from African countries south of the Sahara Desert to the United States. They will spend six weeks this summer at a U.S. college or university.

President Barack Obama is welcomed by the Young African Leaders Initiative in Washington, August 2016. The program is bringing hundreds of young Africans to the U.S.
President Barack Obama is welcomed by the Young African Leaders Initiative in Washington, August 2016. The program is bringing hundreds of young Africans to the U.S.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship is the main program of YALI. It is based on the idea that exchanges of people and knowledge are needed to build ties between the United States and young Africans.

The State Department has partnered with IREX, a non-profit group, to help support cooperation between 27 Mandela fellows and 26 American professionals. The program will take the U.S. citizens to a total of 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa this month.

One of those Americans is Brian MacHarg. He is director of academic civic engagement at Appalachian State University in North Carolina.

Twenty-five young African leaders visited Appalachian State in 2016. Now, MacHarg has been invited by two of those young leaders to travel to Niger and Benin to take part in workshops.

"We had spent six weeks talking about the connection to the community so this is an opportunity for those fellows to share with their communities," MacHarg said.

In northeast Benin, he will join Abiona Jean Bamigbade, a Mandela Washington Fellow. Bamigbade started Education for Development, an organization that supports girls' education.

MacHarg's specialty is helping professors use experience-based learning in their teaching plans and building connections with the communities in which they teach.

He hopes to meet with community leaders during his Africa visit. One of his goals is to work with heads of non-governmental organizations to increase communication about civic responsibilities.

Another invitee is Rudy Hightower. Hightower, a former U.S. Naval officer, is a doctoral candidate at Ohio State University. He is traveling to Ethiopia. There, he will work with Dr. Enque Endeshaw, a psychiatrist who wants to improve mental health care services for migrants and refugees.

The two will use computer software models to develop what they call "scenario planning." They said the models will help policymakers decide whether a country needs to increase training for psychiatrists or give dietary supplements to refugees. They will also consider issues like high rates of stress and violence in refugee populations.

The United Nations estimates there are 700,000 refugees living in Ethiopia.

"We're going to try to build some models to kind of better explain what's going on so that policymakers can make better decisions on how to intervene and how to make things better," Hightower said.

While the research may be useful, Hightower said contact between people may be equally important.

"I hope I bring something a little bit new in the way of research methods and decision-making tools, but more importantly I'll let them know that Americans haven't changed," he said. "America has a lot of compassion and caring for countries throughout the world."

I'm Mario Ritter.

Salem Solomon reported this story for VOANews. Mario Ritter adapted the report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

reciprocal – adj. an arrangement in which two groups do something similar for each other

civic – adj. related to the responsibilities involved in being a citizen or in citizenship

migrants – n. a person who goes from one place, or country, to another, usually in search of work or better living conditions

scenario – n. a description of something that could possibly happen

workshopn. an educational program for a small group of people

professionaladj. of or relating to a job, skill or career