Mandela Washington Fellows reflect on meaning of Mandela Day

Ass Lo of Senegal (Submitted Photo)

Last Thursday, July 18, was Nelson Mandela Day — an international day of celebration to honor former South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela through a day of volunteering and community service. We asked the 2019 Mandela Washington Fellowship to reflect on what Mandela Day means to them.

“For #MyMandelaLegacy,” writes Ass Lo of Senegal, “I pledge to help the youth organization ‘Africa Up’ keep reducing illiteracy among young uneducated Senegalese boys and girls. By helping them become capable of reading and writing either in Wolof, English or French, I hope to encourage education in local communities.”

Kevin Gnagne of Cote d’Ivoire said: “Mandela’s legacy is really a part of my life and my daily work. I always involved all the different stakeholders in my job to enforce the environmental laws, and I’ve always believed that this will allow us to achieve our goals. I’m embracing being in the Mandela Washington Fellowship because it’s important to me to change and impact my country and the continent of Africa. Knowing that there is a legacy to preserve doesn’t put pressure on me, but rather makes me proud and gives me the strength to achieve my goals.”

Kevin Gnagne of Cote Ivoire volunteers at the UW-Madison Arboretum (Submitted photo)

“As a Mandela Washington Fellow and a young African,” says Christina Van Hooreweghe of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, “I am concerned about positive change in Africa. On this day of July 18th, 2019, I am paying tribute to Mandela for giving us the example of perseverance for a cause that seems right to us. He has taught his people and the whole world the importance of forgiveness, tolerance and love to building sustainable peace and development.”

Gloria Bitomwa, also of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, added: “Every time I try to understand this man called Nelson Mandela, I am impressed. He had time to analyze deeply all aspects of life despite being raised in such a poor environment, and he was strong enough not to allow fear interfere with what he decided were his goals.

Gloria Bitomwa (left) and Christina Van Hooreweghe (right) of DRC (Submitted photo).

As a conservationist, his speech on how we must not forget protected areas is an important message about the power of combining social, economical and cultural services to fight climate change. Nature is a gift, and protected areas must become centers for solutions to achieving a just, fair, and sustainable world. I am redeemed, I’m hopeful, and I feel engaged and committed to pursue and share my passion of nature protection.”