Cashmere Streater, who grew up in New Haven, had never met anyone from Zimbabwe, let alone an African businessman developing power plants there.
She asked Taurai Chinyamakobvu if there were internship opportunities in his country. Not many, he said, but it’s a good idea that should be worked on.
Then they traded contact info.
That entreprenuerial exchange took place Wednesday afternoon at a block party convened at the Stetson Branch Library.
There young New Haveners—many with an entrepreneurial spirit and wanderlust for the world like LEAP counselor Cashmere—met two dozen African leaders and entrepreneurs between ages 25 and 35.
The guests at Stetson were among 25 New Haven visitors, from President Obama’s Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, whom Yale is hosting this summer.
Click here to read all their inspiring bios; one is a Rwandan genocide survivor now heading the country’s largest news media site, another, a Zambian tech innovator establishing partnerships with Google.
The fellows are in their fourth of a six-week program of academic study at Yale combined with getting-to-know-the-local-folks experiences, such as the block party, and trips to venues like Wall Street.
About 20 university-based sites across the country are hosting the young African leaders, grouped by theme of their interests and careers. That makes about 500 studying at 20 American universities out of a total of 50,000 who applied.
Yale’s theme—entrepreneurship with a focus on social justice—was on display Wednesday as the Africans danced, and shared food and experiences beneath a festive tent set up behind the library.
Chinyamakobvu told Cashmere, who grew up in Dixwell and Fair Haven and is now a rising junior at Bennett College in North Carolina, how he’s an independent contractor representing Japanese firms.
Those firms are interested in investing and/or building power plants on the African continent, especially Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their investment so far is modest, but the potential is great, he added.
“There’s a lot of sun,” he said, but the cost at this point is far greater than in Europe.
Cashmere was interested in the Africans’ impressions of Americans and New Haveners.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘Do you see wildlife from your bedroom?’” he said with an ironic tone, because he doesn’t.
Nearby, Chinyamakobvu’s countryman Moses Nkomo, an attorney specializing in intellectual property law, spoke with friends he’d made, including Murendeni Mafumo, from South Africa, and Kwasi Gyeabour of Ghana. They’re all visiting the U.S. for the first time.
Mafumo is developing math and science access programs for at-risk kids in his country. Gyeabour’s business distributes solar lighting systems to non-electrified areas of Ghana.
Just Like Home
Nkomo said four weeks ago, when he first arrived in New Haven, one of his first experiences was being asked for money on Whitney Avenue. “Just like home,” he said.
“You see America [before you visit] as a country of abundance, but we see two worlds here. America is like Africa. The poor are extremely poor and the rich extremely rich,” said Gyeabour.
Lessons to bring home: “The support for start-ups [especially in New Haven] from government is great, and important,” said Mafumo. He’d like to see more of that at home, he asaid.
Cashmere asked Nkomo if he ever thought of emigrating. “Would you want to move here?”
“For me home is the best. I’ve had opportunities. I’m an attorney by training. But I believe my destiny is there,” he said.
Then Nkomo and Chinyamakobvu took Cashmere to a map of Africa that people were pastel-chalking on the asphalt.
“There is South Africa. And there is Zambia, and above that Zimbabwe,” he said.
He told her if she visited she must see Victoria Falls too: “Bigger than Niagara Falls.”
Then these fellows joined other fellows in a big circle dancing, with some Cashmere’s kids from LEAP’s Wexler-Grant site. They swayed and shoutedto Barbados musician Rupee’s “Jump.”
Sheick Omar Bittaye (pictured), a Gambian who assembles mobile phones and teaches young people how to repair and sell them, seemed to be having a particularly good time.
No, they don’t have the concept of a block party in his country. “I’ll steal it,” he said, entrepreneurially