2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship, UW collaboration continues through Reciprocal Exchange Award

by Meagan Doll

In the professional world and especially in academic environments like the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the value of networking is not unspoken. While students may grow weary of this charge to nurture professional relationships, a recent partnership between 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow Sicily Mburu and UW Hospital nurse clinician Susan Gold shows this advice checks out.

The pair was recently awarded a Mandela Washington Fellowship post-exchange award which grants up to $5,000 in funding to support ongoing projects between Fellows and American professionals they met during the Mandela Washington Fellowship in summer 2016.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, begun in 2014, is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). MWF brings 1,000 leaders from sub-Saharan African to US universities for academic discussion, leadership training, and community engagement.

Through these competitive post-fellowship awards, 27 Fellows – out of 1000 Fellows who participated in the 2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship – will host 26 Americans traveling to 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa for up to two weeks in 2017. The Reciprocal Exchange Awards will support diverse projects that address a wide array of global and community challenges.

2016 Mandela Fellow Sicily Mburu of Kenya (right) networks with Nicole Brice, executive director of the Hovde Foundation at a Peer Collaborators Networking Social organized by the UW-Madison African Studies Program during the 2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship. (Photo by Meagan Doll)

Gold, a registered nurse at UW Hospital and an expert in HIV/AIDS training says the partnership was a “right place, right time” collaboration. Sicily Mburu, a Kenyan Mandela Fellow, spent six weeks on the UW-Madison campus along with 24 other established young African leaders to participate in the 2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship. In addition to service opportunities and cultural activities, the Mandela Fellows participated in a variety of academic sessions during the six weeks, which provided space for intercultural exchange between African Fellows and their American counterparts.

It was one such session that sparked Mburu and Gold’s collaboration. After a July afternoon discussion on shared public health goals between UW global health personnel and the Mandela Fellows, Mburu and Gold connected over a mutual interest in HIV prevention and education.

Mburu works in public health in Kenya, most recently with Family Health International 360 focused on maternal, new born, and child health.  Mburu is also the co-founder of the one-year-old AIDS No More initiative.

“The AIDS No More initiative was born to initiate conversations on HIV/AIDS,” Mburu said.  “My cofounder and I hoped to reduce stigma and create safe space to engage.”

Mburu says the idea came to life after a series of youth home visits. On these visits, Mburu and her co-founder noticed gaps in knowledge about HIV and it determinants, gaps that they believed were a result of the sensitivity and stigma often associated with the HIV virus. In response, Mburu’s team went online to social media and other messaging platforms hoping to reaching young people where they felt safe and comfortable to share their stories and experiences.

Susan Gold (left) poses with global health students in Kenya in 2014. (Photo by Theo Loo)

Like Mburu, Gold is not new to HIV education work. In fact, Gold has worked on HIV/AIDS topics in Kenya before, leading UW-Madison global health field courses to Kenya since 2003. In 2007, she spent nearly a year there as a Fulbright scholar working with HIV-positive adolescents in community-based clinics in Nairobi.  Through her work, Susan has created a non-profit Talking Health Out Loud. The organization’s goals are to create accurate curriculum to teach youth about HIV, create a safe space to talk about HIV and train trainers to do so as well.

“Kids need to know the truth and then use their own values to make decisions,” Gold said, emphasizing that this need has not been met well enough in the past.

In addition to preventative education, Talking Health Out Loud also aims to engage kids who may already have the disease. This area is especially important, Gold says, because “no one expected them to live,” and there are few resources available for these young people. Gold and Talking Health Out Loud also equip trainers and adults to talk about HIV/AIDS in effective and sensitive ways.

Through the Reciprocal Exchange Award this spring, AIDS No More and Talking Health Out Loud will work together, providing training through a developed curriculum on HIV/AIDS to nearly 60 young people, including the youth ambassadors at AIDS No More.

“When the opportunity to invite an expert came along, I was happy to reach out to [Gold],” Mburu said. “We hope to set a precedence and provide open and safe space for young people to be interacting on HIV/AIDS.”

The first step, Mburu says, is to help youth feel comfortable enough to say that they went with a friend to get tested or that they know their status.  Mburu says that with the knowledge and expertise provided by Gold, AIDS No More will create more trainings and invite trained ambassadors to reach out to more young people.

“We hope to create a cascade of events where young people own their health, know their status and are continuously discussing correct information on HIV/AIDS,” she added. “We at AIDS No More could not be more excited.”

Gold is equally excited about the opportunity to create a safe place to talk with young people and disseminate accurate information, as well as to equip new trainers and foster collaboration.

“Anytime we can share our expertise and lead a training, we should” Gold said. “After all, what is the Wisconsin Idea?”

Related Resources

“Americans and young African leaders address global challenges,” International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX), 12/15/2016.