Fellowship Alumni

#ADA30 #AccessforAll

Fellowship Celebrates Disability Inclusion Milestone

On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in the United States.  This landmark legislation, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life including employment, education, transportation, and other public and private places open to the general public.

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) at the U.S. Department of State is committed to including persons with disabilities as exchange program participants and to advancing disability rights in the United States and abroad.  Since the inception of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, disability inclusion has been a high priority for the program, with 5% of the Fellowship’s nearly 4,400 Alumni self-identifying as having a disability.

Learn more about some of the Fellowship’s outstanding Alumni with and serving people with disabilities below and join the celebration on social media using #ADA30 and #AccessforAll.

Women with disabilities need to be included in everything because women and girls with disabilities have a voice and they have rights. They have the talents and gifts to participate as citizens in any country.”

Lois Auta, 2014 Mandela Washington Fellowship Alumna
Lois Auta, Nigerian woman in wheelchair, speaks on stage on a panel
Lois Auta, Founder and Executive Director, Cedar Seed Foundation, Nigeria; Young Global Leader speaking during the session “Regional Strategy: Infrastructure” at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2019. Copyright by World Economic Forum / Greg Beadle

Advocating for women with disabilities in Nigeria

Lois Auta, 2014 Alumna, advocates for people with disabilities through her Cedar Seed Foundation in Nigeria. Last year, she contributed to Nigeria’s landmark disability legislation. Learn more about her work.

Obed Mambwe, black man in a white suit, signs on a television program.
Obed Mambwe signs on a television program in Zambia.

Increasing access to information about COVID-19

Obed Mambwe, 2019 Alumnus, saw a critical need to convey information about COVID-19 to vulnerable populations in Zambia.  As a sign language interpreter, he used his country’s experience with Ebola and produced several videos communicating important information about coronavirus for the deaf community in his country.  Learn more about his work.

Grace Jerry speaks at the 2015 Summit. She wears traditional dress and is in a power wheelchair.
Grace Jerry speaks at the 2015 Summit.

Promoting awareness of COVID-19, diverse abilities through music

To raise awareness about COVID-19 in vulnerable groups, Grace Jerry, 2015 Alumna of Nigeria, produced a song called Take Responsibility, which outlines in English and sign language important steps for people to take to remain safe and healthy during the global pandemic.  Learn more and watch the music video.

Additionally, Grace produced a song called Unstoppable in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the ADA.  The song is an uplifting anthem inspiring all to make the most of their lives regardless of their abilities.  Learn more and watch the music video.

Alieu Jaiteh speaks at a microphone; background is blue; subject holds sight cane.
Alieu Jaiteh speaks during the closing session of the 2019 Summit.

Increasing opportunities for people with disabilities in The Gambia

Through his organization Start Now, 2015 Alumnus Alieu Jaiteh creates opportunities for visually-impaired people to find employment opportunities in The Gambia.  With the support of the Holman Prize, which he won in 2019, Alieu will implement new programming that will provide rehabilitation to blind people in rural areas.  Learn more about his work.

Vital Sounouvou stands in front of a graphic recording depicting pledges from the #MyMandelaLegacy campaign; black man wearing a blue tunic and black beret, holding a cane.
Vital Sounouvou stands in front of a graphic recording of pledges from the #MyMandelaLegacy social media campaign.

Bringing Africa to the world through e-commerce

Exportunity, founded by 2014 Alumnus Vital Sounouvou of Benin, creates access to new markets for small African businesses to increase their profits.  Through his Fellowship experience and the partnerships formed in Austin, Texas, Vital hopes to open a branch of Exportunity in the United States in the coming years.  Learn more about his work.

2016 Fellow Nyasha Mharakurwa poses with a U.S. Paralympic Athlete during his PDE at Ability360.
Nyasha Mharakurwa poses with a U.S. Paralympic Athlete during his Professional Development Experience (PDE) at Ability360.

Paralympian promotes inclusion in Zimbabwe

Nyasha Mharakurwa, 2016 Alumnus from Zimbabwe and founder of NM Foundation, uses sports to build self-confidence and increase education and inclusion among young people with disabilities.  After his Fellowship, Nyasha developed a social entrepreneurship program that provides professional training and employment opportunities for people living with disabilities.  Learn more about his story.

A group of people stand in the middle of a demonstration, smiling with a sign that says "#Disability Trust Fund Now"
Bonface Massah (right, with sign) and friends at a demonstration.

Resilient Leadership in Disability Rights

Bonface Massah, 2018 Alumnus from Malawi, is a disability rights advocate, with a particular focus on advocating for the rights of people with albinism. This year, he took the Resilient Leadership course on the Fellowship Portal, and he is applying what he learned to his work promoting human rights. Learn more about his reflections on the course and how his work is benefitting people with disabilities in Malawi.