What it means to be selected as a Mandela Washington Fellow
by Akosua Afriyie Osei-Appaw, 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow
From a distance, I heard ‘ding!’ I had just received an email. “This better be good,” I said to myself. I took my phone and yes, I had received an email. I saw in the subject line ‘2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship…’ The rest faded. I put the phone down and decided to find something to eat first before opening the email. Truth is, I was almost sure I had been refused. I mustered courage and opened the mail. The first word was ‘Congratulations.’ I remember seeing my phone flying around in the air somewhere and my pillow being a surrogate ‘hugger.’ My own screams hurt my ears but I didn’t even care.
Breaking the news to my family was not a problem. My mother took care of that. I hatched up a plan to tell my friends. I decided to take the easy way out and waited patiently for my profile to be published on social media.
Voila, perfect plan! The congratulatory messages flooded my timeline from all angles. I felt like a celebrity and this was very humbling for me. I was particularly drawn to statements such us “you’re an inspiration to me,” “you’re leaving footprints in the sand,” “you’re my role model” to mention just a few. In as much as I was enjoying all the attention, I was deep in thought about such statements. What does it really mean to be an inspiration to someone and a role model? How do I live up to expectations? I felt overwhelmed. As a matter of fact, I’m still overwhelmed.
With every day that followed, I saw a little change in myself. Truth be told, I’m not a morning person and I have a special relationship with my bed. I can wake up at 7a.m. and lie in bed till 11a.m. just lazying about. I’m not proud of it though. But recently, I cannot afford to lazy about in bed. I still lie in bed for longer hours but this time, my laptop doesn’t leave my side. I think my bed is getting jealous. I find myself increasingly documenting my thoughts and plans no matter how jumbled they are. With every word I put down, I feel energized to reach more people and make an impact in the lives of both the young and old.
Personally, being selected as a Mandela Washington Fellow has made me more humble. I can only imagine the thousands of people who applied. To be part of the selected few is not only something to be proud of but also something to be humble about. I have no intention of blowing my horn. On the contrary, I’ve learnt how to be modest.
I’m trying to prepare myself to meet and interact with 999 other talented, ambitious and highly motivated young leaders from all over Africa. Having access to this incredible knowledge base is just amazing. Already, I have made new friends from Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Senegal, Kenya, etc and we’re thinking of collaborating on exciting projects. The possibilities are endless. The other fellows from Ghana are equally awesome. In as much as it is about learning from each other, it’s also about having fun as young responsible leaders and leaving footprints wherever we find ourselves.
The icing on the cake is that I get to meet and hear President Barack Obama speak. Whoever thought a small town girl from Koforidua would get the opportunity to see and hear none other than the President of the United States of America? Do you now understand why I keep saying I’m humbled? I imagined taking a selfie with the President, but I’ve been told no selfies would be allowed. How sad!
As a Mandela Washington Fellow, I’ve learnt a few things and I hope to learn more. First thing, is to take risks. The next thing is to follow and cultivate my passion no matter the risks involved. I left a very prestigious job to follow my passion. This was something most people did not understand but I still pursued it. Thirdly, live a good life and help people with your calling. You never know who is watching. Be a role model no matter where you find yourself. Lastly, stay humble. Your ability to learn and be a better person depends on it.