July 30, 2020

A Volcano of Hope – Mandela Day Inspires Alumni


Nelson Mandela in Philadelphia in 1993, waiting to receive the Liberty Medal. Source: Library of Congress

Nelson Mandela believed in spreading social justice and freedom, embodying service leadership. In honor of Mandela’s birthday on July 18, we’re sharing stories of service and leadership by our Exchange Alumni from the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders (MWF) and YALI Regional Leadership Centers (RLC), as well as members of the YALI Network, in celebration of Mandela’s spirit and principles.

In Liberia, Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) alumna Thelma Teetee Ahamba leveraged her fashion brand, Ahamba Clothing, to address a need for access to more comfortable, well-designed face masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Drawing on her entrepreneurship, leadership, and business experience, Thelma came up with a more fitted and comfortable mask design that allows people to talk and breathe freely.  Through partnerships with Mandela Washington Fellows and others in both Liberia and the United States, Thelma’s team of six have supplied more than 2,000 masks to individuals, institutions, and communities – helping to combat the spread of the virus while promoting brand awareness.

Elsewhere in Liberia, 2019 YALI alumnus, Abdurahman I.A. Fofana, has been increasing career opportunities for Liberian youth through free computer training, encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation, providing support and supplies to underprivileged students through his organization, Liberian Youth Foundation, which has helped 4,000 students with his tech program alone. He says his work would not have been a success without his international exchange experience.

“I strive for quality education for all children and young people and promoting justice, freedom, peace and equality in this community and country at large,” Fofana says. “Nelson Mandela’s legacy means a volcano of hope, courage, compassion and motivation to me as a young man from a slum community and a victim of the brutal Liberian Civil war.”

Mandela Washington Fellowship alumnus Brian “B-Flow” Bwembya is a Zambian hip-hop phenomenon, promoting peaceful elections and increased HIV/AIDS funding. Selected for the program due to his activism through music on anti-gender-based violence, anti-child marriage, and HIV/AIDS prevention, B-Flow continues to spread his message in Zambia and South Africa.

During his 2016 trip to Durban, South Africa, he partnered with Queen Latifah and AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) to lead 5,000 marchers advocating for more HIV/AIDS program funding. B-Flow performed alongside other artists at the “Keep the Promise Concert” to remind world leaders to continue funding HIV prevention and treatment.


2017 YALI alumnus Goto Cooper promotes hand washing in his efforts to combat COVID-19 in his community through his organization, Educate the Future -ETF Liberia.

Goto Cooper, a 2017 YALI alumnus, has been promoting good education and gender equity through his organization Educate The Future Liberia - ETF Liberia, particularly by empowering adolescent girls through high-quality tutoring and social entrepreneurship training, as well as through mentorship, testing prep, and other opportunities. Mandela’s legacy, with its establishment of “common values” and interconnectedness has inspired that work, he says.

“We should forgive, serve, and lead the change we want to see in our country and Africa,” Cooper adds. “The international exchange experience has given me the opportunity, platform and network to serve my country and inspire young Liberian leaders to realize their potential and achieve their dreams.”

In Madagascar, alumni are carrying out a range of activities in service of Mandela’s legacy, and to support the dreams and futures of people in their communities, like Fulbright Program alumnus Hoby Randrianimanana, YALI-RLC-Cohort 9 alumnus Ando Razafiaritsara, and YALI RLC alumna Ony Andriamarofara Andriamasinoro.


YALI alumnus Tsiry Randrianavelo's non-profit, Move Up Madagascar, has brought together over 250 young people in a recent project for sustainable development projects in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar.
Fabien Randriamananjara takes this part of Mandela’s legacy to heart: wisdom and humanity. The cartoonist promotes education and equality through his drawings to those who are illiterate. He credits his international experience for influencing the youth of his community to develop their skills and talents with an eye to the future.

Youth-empowerment is at the center of Ando Razafiaritsara’s work as well. She believes Mandela’s legacy is caring for others and, as the co-founder of the youth organization, African Leaders for Africa (ALFA), along with other YALI alumni, she addressees concerns like education, health, and youth empowerment.

“I feel so glad and honored to work with different alumni I met during my international exchange program,” Razafiaritsara says. “Together, we are aiming to bring positive change to our community.”

Ony Andriamasinoro established Cercle de Mo, a donation platform benefitting orphans and sick children, as well as a local fokontany, or sharing box, to distribute clothes, books and other items to those in need, inspired by the empathy of Mandela’s legacy. She looks up to Mandela’s resilience and humility, but she also stresses that his example was embodied and able to inform her work through international exchange.

“Mandela’s legacy reinforces mutual understanding for a mutual development and common peace,” Andriamasinoro says. “Every single people I have met during my exchange experience was a treasure because from them I have become better in every part of my life.”

With COVID-19 leaving a lasting impact across the world, the role that exchange alumni play in helping to rebuild their communities has taken a critical turn. Through grants from the U.S. Department of State’s Alumni Rapid Response Fund (ARRF), alumni of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Regional Leadership Center (RLC), and Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) program are making an impact. Find out more through 10 of these inspiring stories. (hyperlink: https://alumni.state.gov/highlight/rebuilding-communities-wake-pandemic)

Notable work by other #ExchangeAlumni

2016 Fulbright alumna Sitraka Rabemanjakasoa cooks and serves lunches at a local primary school and disburses HIV/AIDS information and advice in her community to combat the rise in HIV/AIDS cases.

SUSI 2016 alumna Vatosoa Raharinosy has been the volunteer school counselor and advisor for students at Lafayette Initiative for Malagasy Education (LIME), enabling underprivileged students to study in the United States, abroad, and at local universities.

Fulbright 2012 alumna Mirana Francoise Razafindramboa fights poverty through the State Department Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund-winning project, Halt Poverty.

2019 Mandela Washington Fellow Christallin Lydovick Rakotoasy collaborates with the Peace Corps not only to teach English and promote literacy to the youth in Vavatenina, but also to encourage them to continue to higher education.

2012 Fulbright Alumna Aristide Emmanuelle Tinahy is a coach and mentor for young people and communities with a risk for poor health through the One Way for Change (OwC) association, among other activities.

YALI alumnus Tsiry Randrianavelo founded the non-profit, Move Up Madagascar, for youth empowerment through sustainable development projects, bringing together over 250 young people in a recent project in Fianarantsoa and impacting over 20,000 people in four regions.

Finally, YALI-RLC-Cohort 1 Alumna and non-profit co-founder Vony Randrianonenana, celebrates Mandela Day by making a positive impact on community development with her non-profit Clair de Lune Madagascar by organizing sustainable development-focused volunteering, donating, workshops, and capacity-building events, and has impacted 3,000 individuals with the organization’s projects.