Mabéty Soumah of Guinea came to eastern Iowa as a Mandela Washington Fellow in the summer of 2022. Since returning to Guinea, she has been busy with a variety of activities, including using her skills as an author to raise awareness about the importance of sexual education and rights. In addition to advocacy through writing, Mabéty has been visiting schools to talk with young girls about their health and has founded an NGO dedicated to promoting education and sexual health in Guinea.
“In my view, sexual rights are just as important as any other human right, and it's crucial that young people - especially girls - have access to accurate information about their bodies and their health. By educating girls about their puberty and menstruation, we can help prevent them from missing school or even dropping out due to pregnancy,” said Mabéty. “I'm proud to say that my book ‘En attendant la lune’ has been a valuable resource in these efforts, helping to spread awareness and empower young people to take control of their own sexual health.”
Between formal business training and networking opportunities, her time in Iowa had a significant impact on multiple aspects of her career. Additionally, as a non-native English speaker, immersion in an English-speaking environment helped improve her language skills.
“I learned about leadership, business, and social entrepreneurship, which have been particularly helpful in sharpening my business skills and the creation of new projects, supporting others in their initiatives,” said Mabéty. “I have been able to apply these skills in my career, which has been beneficial.”
Volunteering for local organizations Central Furniture Rescue and Matthew 25 solidified her passion for community service and reinforced her desire to continue working in the community development field.
“[Volunteering] was an emotional experience for me, and I was thrilled to be able to offer assistance to those in need,” said Mabéty. “It was inspiring to see the impact our work had on the community and to work alongside other volunteers who were also dedicated to making a difference.”
Another fond memory of Iowa was sharing food with locals during Iowa Table Dinners.
“Those moments of sitting around the table and enjoying a meal together were truly special to me, and I appreciate the hospitality and warmth that those hosts showed me during my time in Iowa.”
However, her time here was not without culture shock.
“In my culture, it is not customary to ask someone to leave, even in a polite manner. We always allow the guest to indicate when they are ready to depart. However, in Iowa, I had an experience where someone asked my fellow and me to leave after dinner. This was a shocking experience for me, as it went against what I had always known in my culture. It taught me that cultural differences can manifest in unexpected ways, and it's important to be open and adaptable to new experiences," Mabéty said.
Overall, Mabéty saw a significant impact from her time in Iowa, both on her career and on her as a person. She was inspired by the culture of volunteerism and passion for difference-making she saw in Iowa and will carry the experience with her throughout the rest of her career.
“This experience instilled in me a deep sense of civic responsibility and a desire to continue contributing to the betterment of my own community. Overall, my time in Iowa was a transformative experience that taught me the importance of collaboration, hard work, and a deep sense of social responsibility. It gave me a new perspective on the world and my role in it,” she said. “I'm grateful for the opportunity given to me by the US Government, Guinea US Embassy, and IREX to have had this experience.”
About the Mandela Washington Fellowship
In collaboration with the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, Global Ties Iowa has had the privilege of hosting the Mandela Washington Fellows annually since 2016. This fellowship sponsors young leaders from across sub-Saharan Africa to spend six-weeks of the summer studying business, civic engagement, or public management at United States universities. Their time spent here is incredibly transformative, with the impact being clear soon after the fellows return to their home countries.
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