, NAIROBI, Kenya, 10 June – Rachael Wainaina, a former hawker who was once arrested by police for selling commodities along the streets of Nairobi, is among the 2014 Mandela Washington Fellows from East Africa who were attending this year’s East African Edition of the Fellowship.
In her words, becoming a Fellow, has been life-changing.
“From the very first interview that got me into the fellowship, to the University I trained at, to finally meeting President Obama, my life, especially career-wise, has literally changed,” she explained during the just concluded 2015 Fellowship in Nairobi.
Wainaina is not your ordinary youth, just like the hundreds of young people who have gone on to become Mandela Washington Fellows. She, like her peers, all have leadership qualities that span across different sectors such as public service, business and entrepreneurship and civic engagement.
For Wainaina, her strength lies in business and entrepreneurship, which helped her land the opportunity of becoming a Fellow.
“I studied Journalism with a specialization in Film Production,” she says. Her entrepreneurial side is therefore duplicated in Chanzo, a social entrepreneurship project that she has started with the aim of making films about African children for African children.
The yearly Fellowship is a flagship programme of US President Barrack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) which was launched in 2010 with a commitment of US$ 120 million from the US government and contributing organizations such as USAID.
Divided into three regions, the programme admits 500 Africans aged between 25 and 35 years into a six weeks leadership training and mentoring at twenty universities and colleges in the United States.
Regions include the Southern Africa, West Africa and the East African region. There are 14 countries in the last region which include countries in the East African Community, Central African Republic, Somalia and Ethiopia among others.
According to Young African Leaders Initiative Senior Coordinator Christopher Runyan, getting admitted into the program is simple, requiring only the applicant to demonstrate a commitment to be in Africa and use their leadership skills and training for the benefit of their community and country at large.