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The international nature of Rotary was on display as Lincoln’s downtown Rotary Club 14 hosted 25 guests from Africa during the club’s regular meeting July 23.

The Africans are participants in the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Mandela Washington Project. They are from 18 different countries across the African continent. They’ve been in Nebraska for five weeks as part of a program that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has hosted for three years.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative, empowers young African leaders through academic coursework, leadership training, mentoring, networking, professional opportunities and local community engagement. Since 2014, the U.S. Department of State has supported nearly 3,700 young leaders from 49 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa to develop their leadership skills and foster connections and collaborations with professionals in the United States.

“I’m just thrilled that our club was able to host these young men and women,” said Mailani Veney, Rotary 14 president. “Rotary is such an international organization with more than 30,000 clubs throughout the world, working together to create lasting change across the globe. Our club here in Nebraska is involved in a number of international projects, including some of the countries represented at our meeting on July 23.”

UNL's involvement in this program is coordinated by Linda Major, director of the UNL Center for Civic Engagement, and Maegan Stevens-Liska, director of the UNL Office of Global Strategies. For the past five weeks, they’ve led the Mandela Fellows through a busy schedule of hands-on experiences focused on leadership, entrepreneurship, civic engagement, opportunities to take part in civic engagement activities, visits to many of Eastern Nebraska’s popular destinations, and even coordinated mentor matches with Nebraskans. Some members of Rotary 14 served as local mentors, including Topher Hansen, executive director of Lincoln’s CenterPointe, and Randy and Jan Bretz.

During the Rotary 14 meeting, two of the Mandela Fellows shared their personal stories. Thembise “Lucil” Magajana of South Africa and Christallin Lydovick Rakotoasy of Madagascar each gave details of how they are working to help others in their respective countries. Magajana helps coordinate coding workshops for the disadvantaged and works to help provide computer programming for township and rural areas of her country. Rakotoasy teaches English and French in a high school and seeks to encourage the students to attend college so they can obtain better jobs and improve their country.

Veney opened the microphone for club members to ask the Mandela Fellows questions, and they asked about how people are serving in Africa. Service above self is the Rotary motto. Two of the Mandela Fellows are members of Rotary clubs in their home countries. Austin Okorodudu of Nigeria talked about his club’s efforts to help children attend school.

“There is hope for Africa, because we see how these students are working so hard,” Okorodudu said.

“My club has joined with others across our country,” added Lilian Kamla Kaivilu of Kenya. “We’re helping provide clean water for villages and also planting trees to help the environment.”

Typically, as the club adjourns at 1 p.m., members rush back to their jobs. But on this July afternoon, the room didn’t empty immediately. Instead, club members engaged in conversations with the Mandela Fellows, exchanged business cards and posed for photos. The Africans are headed to Washington D.C. this weekend for the final few days of their time in the United States. There, they’ll meet with nearly 700 others who have participated in similar programs during July, then return to their homes to reunite with families and seek to serve their communities and countries.

Rotary 14 is one of the oldest and largest clubs in the world. The club is currently engaged in projects in several African countries as well as encouraging members to serve in a number of Lincoln organizations. In just a few weeks, they’ll host a Sunday afternoon picnic for international students from UNL, Nebraska Wesleyan, Union College, Doane University and Southeast Community College. And, undoubtedly there will be email and Facebook exchanges with the Mandela Fellows who visited the club July 23. After all, the Rotary mission is to provide service to others, promote integrity and advance world understanding, goodwill and peace through fellowship of business, professional and community leaders.

To learn more about the Mandela Fellows project, see eca.state.gov/mandela-washington-fellowship. For further information about Rotary 14, visit rotary14.org.

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L Magazine editor

Mark Schwaninger is L magazine and Neighborhood Extra editor.

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