The home of some of America's founding fathers is hosting more than two dozen Africans who are building better societies for their countries.
The University of Virginia kicked off a program Monday that will end in a summit with President Obama. UVA, William and Mary, and central Virginia's three presidential estates are welcoming the young African leaders. The partnership is called the Presidential Precinct.
From the nearly 50,000 who applied for the program, the U.S. State Department selected 500. Of those, 25 will spend the next six weeks studying government and leadership here in Virginia.
The choir from Mount Zion First African Baptist Church welcomed a group of young African leaders to Charlottesville Monday. Among them was Irene Ikomu, who traveled more than 20 hours from Uganda to take part in the Washington Fellows Program. She runs "Parliament Watch Uganda," an online watchdog for her country's government.
“We want to create a bridge where people can be a part of such processes and maybe then they can want to participate more in other aspects like elections because apathy rates are going high,” she said.
Ikomu and 24 other emerging leaders in Africa will spend six weeks working with American scholars, business owners, and government leaders.
“These fellows will be bringing in an essential question or a challenge they face in their own home country, and we'll be working with them and their peers to build plans to apply back in their home countries,” said Neal Piper, director of the Presidential Precinct.
President Obama launched the initiative. “He feels like this could be the bridge between the continent of Africa and the United States,” said Evan Ryan, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs.
Senator Tim Kaine says the efforts of these grassroots leaders will benefit U.S. relations with their governments back home.
“They will be effective and successful in what they do to the degree that you engage and share with them your views for the futures of your countries and your continent,” Kaine said.
The fellows at UVA come from 18 African countries.