Reciprocal Exchange Stories: Nurses Karen Lied (Wisconsin) and 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow Maxwell Kumbeni (Ghana)

As the 2019 Mandela Washington Fellowship cohort kicks off their third week here in Madison, it is only appropriate to take a step backward and explore the opportunities and connections available to the Madison community through this incredible program.

When Karen Lied first met Maxwell Tii Kumbeni, Maxwell was spending his summer in Madison as a part of the 2018 UW-Madison Mandela Washington Fellowship.

Maxwell, Karen, and students (Photo courtesy of the Mandela Washington Fellowship Association of Ghana).

Maxwell is a nurse with Ghana Health Service and has a deep interest in community and public health, an interest which Karen shared given her experiences as a nurse for Kettle Moraine Middle and High School in Dousman, Wisconsin. The two connected at one of the many public events in which the Fellows participate each year and maintained that connection into the fall, when Maxwell and Karen first began to discuss the potential for a collaborative project in Ghana.

In implementing their project, the two took advantage of the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) Reciprocal Exchange Awards. These awards are offered to former Mandela Washington Fellows and the professors or community members of their hosting institutions to promote continued collaboration between the African and North American continents.

Maxwell and Karen used this award to fund a two-week educational and technical program discussing menstrual hygiene and sexual and reproductive health in rural Ghanaian schools. For each community they visited, the two met with a wide variety of community health and education officials and gave presentations to students, teachers, and mothers. Maxwell was essential to making this project a logistical reality, Karen noted.

“I had never been to anywhere in Africa before,” she said, “And I knew nothing about Ghana. Maxwell was aware of the different channels and obstacles we would have to go through to complete this project, and the tactics we could use to explain these sensitive topics to students and parents.”

Karen would recommend collaborations with the Mandela Washington Fellows to any interested parties in the community.

“Anytime you can travel and observe a Fellow, the comparison illuminates your own practice,” she said. “It expands your horizons, seeing how your practice works in an entirely different context. My advice is to just show up and meet the fellows. See what connections you have and what projects you can pursue. The doors are wide open!”

Visit the African Studies Program calendar or subscribe to a weekly newsletter to learn more about upcoming events and engagement opportunities.

For additional information about the Mandela Washington Fellowship at Wisconsin or to get involved, contact Meagan Doll at

The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is a program of the U.S. Department of State and administered by IREX. For more information about the Mandela Washington Fellowship, visit or join the conversation at #YALI2019.

Written by Rebecca Hanks