I wish all of you could have met Chol Duang and Zikhona Miso.
The two came to The Christian Science Monitor’s offices last month as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, a six-week leadership program for African participants run by the U.S. State Department. The visit was meaningful simply for the relation that the Monitor had to Nelson Mandela, who read the Monitor while imprisoned in South Africa and visited our headquarters the year he was freed. But it was even more meaningful for the time some of us shared with Mr. Duang and Ms. Miso.
These two journalists – from South Sudan and South Africa, respectively – brought with them the best hopes of the profession. They want to make the lives of their fellow citizens better. They want to be a force for honesty and compassion and fairness that moves their countries forward. And they came here to fuel that hope.
Today, programs like the Mandela Washington Fellowship can be a touchy subject. Trends ebb and flow, but at the moment, Western nations are being much more cautious about any responsibilities to people other than their own citizens. Think Brexit and “America First.” President Donald Trump has often asserted that many countries that receive foreign aid do “nothing for us.”
To be sure, there is a robust debate to have around foreign aid. As a reporter in Afghanistan, I saw examples of Western aid workers throwing money at a problem from behind the high walls of a Kabul compound rather than doing the necessary – but more dangerous – work of engaging with communities to build real stability and safety. That inefficiency is part of the skepticism.
But it’s equally important to meet Mr. Duang and Ms. Miso and see plainly the good that countries can do beyond their own citizens. The genius of the Western world during the past 70 years is that, at its best, it promoted values that have demonstrably helped to spread wealth, freedom, liberty, and equality across the world. That expansion has absolutely been in the West’s interests, from enlarging influence to creating new markets for products. But the work is far from done. Who will continue to expand these mutually beneficial values?
Mr. Duang and Ms. Miso, to name two.
The fellowship brings together “the best of Africa,” says Mr. Duang, a leading television news reporter. And through the program, participants are seeing the best of America in many ways – including the conviction that in helping Africa reach its potential, America is strengthening itself.
“There are so many things to take home and to apply,” Mr. Duang says.
For Ms. Miso, also a broadcast journalist, there’s no question that “the U.S. gains 10 times more than it puts in.”
“The people in this program are game changers,” she says. “The resilience and commitment is amazing.”
Supporting that commitment to expanding freedom, equality, and justice is the most important thing the West can do for the world. When done honestly, the benefits far outweigh the cost.