A Lifetime Experience

Patricia Ndagano has more than five years’ experience in NGOs working in conflict and post-conflict zones in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She currently works as the senior program assistant at Management Sciences for Health, a USAID implementing partner.

For as long as I can remember, I have always had a passion for what is conventionally known as “changing the world to make it a better place.” My younger self was caught up in the grandeur of this notion – growing up in a conflict armed context , I wanted to do something positive in my community and my country and dedicated my efforts to making other people’s lives better.

Patricia Ndagano. (Photo by Meagan Doll)

When I heard about the Mandela Washington Fellowship, I realized that this could be a great opportunity for me to meet with other young persons who have the same vision as mine. I was excited by the idea of meeting great minds from around Africa and learning from their experience!

Now that I had that opportunity, I can say that my time at the University of Wisconsin – Madison has shown me how people’s power is a force worth reckoning with, and that there are a number of strong, like-minded individuals who are dedicated to changing the world—my fellow friends, who are incredible future leaders of Africa, are the first I think of!

Thinking back to when I packed my bags to travel more than 7100 miles away to my destination, I had a never-ending list of things to do in my mind. Bursting with passion and zeal as I landed at the Chicago International Airport, I realized that I will cherish these weeks for a lifetime.

Upon my arrival, Madison and the U.S. were a culture shock for me; it was not like the everyday life I was used to. Like a flip of a switch, I was expected to be fluent in English instead of French, my everyday language. To my surprise, the people were so friendly and made me feel welcome and confident in my English expressions. This made me adapt so easily and I was able to express myself in this language that I was speaking for the first time for a whole day.

The orientation program during Welcome Weekend and the first week got me excited about the days to come, and I knew that it was going to be a Fellowship full of magnificent experiences. And as I entered into the third week, things just kept getting better – both academically and personally.

It has been an incredible experience full of new insight about global health, education, environment, etc. and leadership as well as learning about new cultures from nineteen African countries and exploring an amazing country. It has been what we call a lifetime experience!

The first thing that struck me the most is the open environment in which I found myself. People were so open-minded and wiling to serve and help others. Creativity, innovation, motivation, and dedication cannot be forced. These are intangible elements that are fostered by inspiration from open environments where people interact freely (encouraging individuals to achieve personal breakthroughs through exchanging ideas and challenging one another).

In my view, Mandela Washington Fellowship at Madison is a great example of this because I believe it is a hub of inspiration, excellence, and growth – comprised of both academic and social aspects in equal measure. The program generates a friendly space to discuss and exchange ideas. It gave me the opportunity to know wonderful people, share knowledge and improve my skills of communication and collaboration.

Furthermore, I observed and comprehended many of the problems that each of us was facing in our countries, and it was very nice to see how everybody helped each other to better understand the challenges.

On top of everything I made new friends from around Africa and the world – friendships that will last a lifetime, for sure. I will also be endlessly grateful to the amazing peer collaborators with whom I have shared great moments and interesting discussions.

And in most people I have met, there is another level of pride and confidence; something that is necessary when it comes to changing things and moving forward; I have to say that all the persons I met inspired me to keep going on. These friendships, connections, discussions, and cultural diversity made me a better human, introducing me to individuals with ambitious desires to change Africa.

It may sound like a cliché, but relationships are everything and can truly facilitate your life and whatever missions you have in it. That is something I experienced once more. As my mother always say back home: “ Mutu ni Batu na Umoja ni Nguvu.” These Swahili words mean “one person is defined by the relationships he has and unity is strength.”And President Obama knew this before developing a well-thought program that creates a strong network that will result in moving Africa forward.

Now that I have come to my last week of the program, I realize that my objective of gaining more experience was accomplished and my leadership skills improved upon each week. The whole experience leaves me with a great feeling about the future and even if I feel sad to see my Fellowship come to an end, I’m very excited to take my experiences with me and share it with the youth communities in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Finally, I cannot finish without mentioning the great time I spent biking along Lake Mendota with such a beautiful sunset. Yes, my love of Madison, an amazing place to live, is unconditional and biking was one of the great times I had. As someone passionate about it, I took advantage of the many miles of bikes paths and went for a ride almost every evening. I really enjoyed doing this!

I will be forever grateful to President Obama and the United State for taking the step in creating this program. And, I will be forever grateful to the African Studies Program at UW-Madison for the transformation that began in my heart within that brick building.

Special thanks to the best coordination team ever: Meagan, Anita, Daniel, Tess, Kyra and Aleia.

We can change the world if each one of us is involved in his own expertise, as long as we remember that we are not alone.