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  • Naa Dedei Tagoe, UMaT

My Mandela Washington Fellowship Experience

Updated: Jan 3, 2021

Hello, my name is Naa Dedei Tagoe, a Geomatics Engineer by profession and a Lecturer at the University of Mines and Technology in Ghana, where I mentor and advise the UMaT YouthMappers chapter. This summer, I had a unique opportunity to participate in the Young African Leaders Initiative's (YALI)

Mandela Washington Fellowship program at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

The Fellowship has been inspiring and transformative experience which far surpassed my expectations. The opportunity to meet twenty-four energetic and like-minded fellows from fifteen African countries was a great privilege and I have learnt a lot from them. Amidst the unpredictable Lubbock weather, I learnt a lot, experienced American culture, built powerful networks and made life-long friendships. My leadership skills have been enhanced tremendously. Today, I feel more exposed to a leader’s responsibilities toward family, community, country, and the continent at large.

As fellows, we spent six weeks participating in lectures and discussions about Innovative Problem-Solving, Leading Transformative Change, Ethical Decision-Making and Public Policy. We had “ride alongs” with the Lubbock police officers and toured United Way and Breedlove Foods Inc. We had the opportunity to give back to the Lubbock community through voluntary service projects at South Plains Food Bank, GRUB Farm, the Guadalupe Parkway Community Center, and at Meals on Wheels. We visited the central detention facility as well as the Talkington School for Yong Women Leaders, and the Covenant and UMC hospitals in Lubbock. We visited Texas Tech’s Therapeutic Riding Center, where horses are used for hippotherapy and therapeutic riding for persons living with disabilities. We had the opportunity to travel to several in-state destinations such as Palo Duro Canyon, Texas Tech’s Junction Center, Fredericksburg, and Austin. In Austin, we celebrated the Mandela Day on July 18 with twenty-five fellows from the University of Austin doing community service at the Food Bank.

It is worth mentioning that we had the opportunity to engage in an interesting and insightful political discussion with Lubbock City Council members Shelia Patterson Harris and Juan Chadis and were subsequently invited to one of their City Council meetings where we received honorary Lubbock citizenship.

A very interesting aspect of the fellowship was the ‘Mapathon’ hosted by the YouthMappers program director Dr Patricia Solís. The Mapathon brought together Mandela Washington Fellows at Texas Tech University and Rutgers University, students from the newly formed YouthMappers chapter from my home University who joined via Skype, and YouthMappers from across the African continent as part of a larger series of mapathons held at YALI Regional Leadership Centers and at universities with active YouthMapper chapters.

Often, these Mapathons are organised to support the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in humanitarian projects that focus on increasing food security; preventing diseases such as malaria; and responding to natural disasters. In our case, we were privileged to contribute to a project in Kenya that is focused on eradicating malaria. The mapping activity which basically involves digitizing map features such as roads, water bodies, houses, and schools from high resolution imagery is done in real time and requires no prior experience. The student mappers from my Home University are excited that their efforts are building into a synergy with other mappers in creating resilient communities. They are looking forward to collaborating with other YouthMappers to address important developmental issues such as illegal mining and food insecurity at the local and national level.

The YouthMappers from the University of Mines and Technology are excited that their efforts in mapping are building into a synergy with other mappers to strengthen vulnerable communities. For students doing the Bachelor of Science project in GIS, they see this as an end to their struggle of access to spatial data. They are looking forward to collaborating with other YouthMappers to address similar important developmental challenges such as illegal mining at the local and national level.

As a Faculty Advisor for the newly formed YouthMappers chapter, I feel well equipped to embark on my future journey to become a catalyst for the transformation of vulnerable communities into sustainable ones. I am so thankful for the opportunity to have participated in this extraordinary fellowship program. Upon my return to Ghana. I hope to empower younger people to become leaders mapping risks and sources of resilience in their communities.

Speaking with Diana Atieno, an Agricultural Engineer from Kenya and a Mandela Washington fellow from the same cohort, she tells me” What can be more exciting than being given a part of the solutions we are looking for as a Young African Leader? I got to learn practically the basics on mapping, before we started, I thought it was going to be hard but after the first illustration, I found it very easy and so much fun as I could pin point my primary school location in Kitale-Kenya from the screen seated in class at Texas Tech University”.

I will take this opportunity to thank the many people who have facilitated my trip and stay at Texas Tech University. Notable among them are Ambassador Tibor Nagy, Dr. Amy Boren, Dr. Matt Baker, Dr. David Lawver, Dr. Ian Lertora, Reagan Ribordy, Nitasha Misra, Ejike Uzoije, Prof. David Weindorf, Dr. Patricia Solís, Marcela Zeballos, Nwasinachi Menkiti, Dr Comfort Pratt, Dr Jorge Salazar, Pape Momar Sow, Sophia Afriyie, Sophia Bosompem, Ambassador Robert Jackson, Sarah Shabbir, and Ruky Essel. Finally, to the colleague fellows, it was great meeting and spending time with you. It will always be TTU.... One Family!! Let’s stay in touch Red Raiders! .... Wreck ‘em Tech!!

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