Sunday, 28 August 2016

Ati Kenneth Kengkeng Returns From The Mandela Washington Fellowship In The USA

From Makurdi, Nigeria to and fro Boone, North Carolina, it’s been wonderful, exclusive and exhilarating. As I meandered through the cities, towns and villages, I deliberated with myself and asked rhetorically but relentlessly: What is wrong with Africa? I enquired to be informed of the pathway through which America as a whole sits atop Africa in technological, infrastructural and many other wise; Or better still, why we have failed to follow suit in quick succession.

Half-way through my bewilderment, I got to realise that there is no land, climate, brain cell or capacity that exists in America that is in short supply or not obtainable in Africa, Nigeria in particular. This made my worry deeper and more intense.

However, the essence of my worry was the exact reason why I was in the US; Experience America, learn the American style, tailor it to suit Africa and fix this continent by improving on your skills and work. This message was recieved in very clear and unambiguous ways as I was exposed to classic examples of excellence in civic leadership through volunteerism, civil disobedience, political activism and community service.

I consider myself honoured to have visited the Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro. It was an inspiring outing as I saw and read from individuals who created a permanent impact in the community through civil disobedience and community service.

The practicum with Community Housing Solutions in Greensboro was golden as I had to engage with folks in the build up to a community service that involves painting their houses. Discussing with officials of the State of North Carolina was a very welcoming experience. We received snippets of how the State works with non-profits in the development of North Carolina. Working on a farm at Valle Crucis on Nelson Mandela day remains an irreplaceable experience. As a farmer, I had the opportunity to re-ignite my passion and learn specifically, new ways to improve on my work. Fun time had me balling at Discovery Place and the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte. Here was I, live in an IMAX theater for the first time. It was breathtaking. Moments later at the headquarters of the motor racing giants NASCAR, I had numerous toys at my disposal to further fuel my love for driving. Caldwell County Yoke Fellow in Hickory and the Hunger and Health Coalition in Boone are two Non-Profits that give out free food, medicine, clothes and household items to less privilege folks. It was an honour to release hours of volunteer service to them and to shop in the thrift store at Hickory. Hospitality Home in Boone caters for the homeless and grows it’s food in a garden behind the building . I was roundly inspired by the number of lives they touch in the community on a daily basis.

The outdoor gathering at Valle Crucis park was a memorable event that exposed the reality of my community. This is an event where members of the community gather to play, listen to music, sing, dance, talk, eat and make merry. Underneath this activity lies the goal of engendering the community spirit. Similar to this is the music nights at the Jones House in Boone. They serve as perfect examples of how to get a community together to achieve noble heights. This is one thing I intend to and will do in Makurdi inevitably. I desire to bring the communities together for interaction and fun, hence breaking the barriers of individualism. The indelible footnote is that we are stronger when we are together.

Kate and Kevin Patterson, Cathy and Steve Ziegler were my home stay hosts in Boone. They tailored our weekends to match my taste with utmost exactitude. I am yet to recover from the pleasure of this experience. Following the indelible moments we had during the weekends I stayed with them, I’ve been given express permission to barge in and out of their homes at will. This is a prized takeaway for me. I have another home in their homes.

President Obama was the icing on the cake. Need I say more? He wowed us all at the presidential summit and charged us to be the change that we want to see.

The town of Boone is home to me now. The Mayor of Boone was on ground to receive, tutor and send us forth. What a blessing he was! Appalachian State University was a perfect host and the staff of the Office of International Education Development were outstanding. I don’t know how else the program would have been packaged for I am convinced that I had the best. Kudos to Jesse Lutabingwa, Brian MacHarg and there rest of the team. Sitting through the lectures, seminars, site visits, dinners, networking sessions and hands-on experiences, I’ve been emboldened by the depth of exposure I gained through the weeks. Grant writing, Non-Profit Board Management, Social entrepreneurship, Media and Democracy, Leadership and Mentorship and Sustainability are some of the topics that exposed my capacity and deficiency. Having spotted some red flags, I can only demand a higher level of excellence from myself that I may improve on my work and community. Added to that, I have a large network of fellow Young African Leaders with whom we can sharpen each other and synergise for impact. I owe myself and the entire world a service through this investment that has been made in me. My gratitude knows no bounds.

Ati Kenneth Kengkeng is a 2016 Fellow, Civic Leadership Track, Appalachian State University Boone, North Carolina.

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