It was my first time to travel to the United States of America, a dream that turns into reality for many around the world. Thanks to President Obama for granting me, as well my African young mates, with such an opportunity. Of course, also to the team of the US Department of State (USDS) in Washington, Maputo and throughout Africa as well as IREX and their partners, who have given their efforts for the successful realization of the event.
President Obama launched the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) started in 2010 to recognize and support the flourishing critical and increasing role of young Africans in strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, and enhancing peace and security on the continent (USDS & IREX, 2016). On the other hand the Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) begun 2014, as the flagship program of YALI, empowering African youth, like me, through academic course work, leadership training and networking. This year, we are 1000 Young Americans who got the opportunity of attending the program (ibid). This happens in a special year, with the end of President Obama second and thus last term, which raises allot of expectations over continuity of the program.
Alright, after a long trip from Maputo, the capital city of the Pearl of Africa (that is Mozambique) I thought the first thing I would do in Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) was to take a sleep, fixing the sequels of a long journey, but also the jet lag. Although, that would kind of make sense, there was no such a chance to do so. Right from the Pittsburg Airport, the Duquesne University (DU) staff was promptly awaiting and ready to give a bit of the taste of their hospitality. Leaving the airport, along with other two young fellows (Ese and Anthonia) who arrived from Nigeria, Mirielle (a Rwandan DU student) and Katie (an American lecturer in the DU) both assigned duties for the program, let us involved in profound and close friendly conversation about several issues. It didn’t last longer until we all were talking as if had been travelling together from Mozambique or Nigeria in the confortable van transferring us to the University.
My eyes wouldn’t stop contemplating the wonders offered by the marvelous landscape of Pittsburgh even if the conversation was so intense. The mixture of several types of plants along the hills would amazingly welcome to anyone passionately. I mean, as if nature was singing in different tunes words of ‘welcome to your new home... stay well and comfortably’. In a short we entered a tunnel, after which boooommm... in front of us an amazing town, with uncountable steel bridges, tall bright glass buildings emerged. The fleshing of waters of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers, the boats floating over, the trains running one side and another were all like ‘hey dude, you have reached the place made for your best’. Like Louis Armstrong would say ‘What a wonderful world’!
As it seemed normal to me, I was expecting to have a stop by a fence with security guards, who after confirming our identities, at least for the vein, would let us in the premises of 600 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15282, United States. None of that, without noticing we were already within the campus of Duquesne University, a wonderfully integrated architecture, embedded in the beautiful and relatively busy town, private Catholic institution founded in 1878. Duquesne has a rich and varied history in community engagement and service, ethics, sustainability, environmental management, and leadership development, rendering it a driving force for the 2016 MWF president Obama´s YALI and ranking in the 2016 edition of Best Colleges in the United States.
Once in the Des Places Building (nº 1365, Seitz St.), actually where all Duquesne 2016 YALI fellows are comfortably accommodated, the staff of the International Programs and African Studies such as Rachael, Hajie, Oben, Larissa, Romeo, as well as the Director of the DU International Programs, Prof. Joe DeCrosta, all from several countries and backgrounds were ready to welcome us. Since education at Duquesne is not only about academics, but the cultivation of their Students ethics, morality and spirituality, prayer facilities are provided within. Not only for the Catholics, as not to force anyone in a single faith direction, facilities have been created for other faith practitioners such as Muslims like me. Being not enough, a document with addresses of different religious institution was provided, to facilitate a much free worship to all YALI.
As I am a disability rights advocate, I made a quick assessment of the premises of the university. Guess what! I was impressed, at first sight with the level of efforts put into place to ensure accessibility to women and men with disabilities. Bath rooms, elevators, doors, sports fields, roads crossovers fantastically equipped to the greater comfort of persons with disabilities. I fell in love when I came to learn, from the University President Charles J. Dougherty, that the disability accessibility in the DU is an integral part of the University’s Administration Policy (TAP) as for the commandment of the US Federal Disability Act.
Honestly, I feel incompetent to choose appropriate words to formulate any tanking sentence to the wonders I could, and still am, enjoying within the campus of Duquesne University, Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. But the truth is DU and Pittsburgh bought my heart!!!