Making the African Connection

Josephine at Greentek

Josephine with Ethan Gilbert, CEO of Greentek Recycling.

International House had the honor of hosting two cohorts of Professional Fellows from Zambia and Zimbabwe this past year. Our most recent delegation featured 6 dynamic young entrepreneurs who spent three weeks with us in October. They enjoyed staying with their Charlotte home hosts and made the most of their time in the Queen City by networking and connecting to other entrepreneurs, business executives and academic scholars.

One example is Ms. Josephine Takundwa who runs ‘Earthlink Technologies’ in Zimbabwe. She distributes power surge protectors and IT Hardware throughout Southern Africa. During a meeting and site tour with Ethan Gilbert, CEO of Greentek Recycling, Ms. Takundwa learned about the business of IT hardware recycling. This is a service that is currently not provided in Africa, and she was able to broker a deal involving shipping containers of used IT hardware from Zimbabwe to be recycled by Greentek right here in Charlotte. Josephine also met with top executives at Duke Energy facilitated by our Board member Mr. Jose Merino and also toured the IT network system lab at CPCC, thanks to a meeting set up by Dr. Maha Gingrich, another IH Board member. Another member of the delegation, Ms. Misozi Mkandawire, who is starting a micro financing venture in Zambia, also found an interested investor at an entrepreneur meetup in the South Park area.

International House partners with the U.S. State Department and other national agencies to bring scores of emerging global leaders to Charlotte every year. These international guests are leaders in the government, business or NGO sectors in their home countries and are seeking to connect with their professional peers in the United States. This is “soft diplomacy” at its best. “People to people” connections break down barriers, build understanding, and promote prosperity and peace. Our Citizen Diplomacy program is an important part of how International House welcomes the world to Charlotte!

Getting to know the “Girl Next Door”

Nina Davuluri, recently crowned the first Indian-American woman to win the Miss America Pageant, was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal about her experience. Davuluri spoke about her feelings of elation and pride, as well as her sadness at seeing the racist tweets that followed her crowning. She also talked about her response to a tough interview question during the pageant:  “So that’s why I said what I did, about always viewing Miss America as the ‘Girl Next Door,’ and that the girl next door is evolving as the diversity of America evolves. She’s not who she was 10 years ago, and she’s not going to be the same 10 years down the road.”

At International House, we believe that the “Girl Next Door” has many faces, and they are all beautiful. Our society is enriched by the diversity of cultures that are part of the fabric of who we are as a nation. This is why America is the country we have chosen to feature at our 25th Anniversary Gala. As Martin Luther King put it, “We may have come here by different boats. But we are all on the same boat now.”

Immigrants and international guests are a valued part of our community. Miss Davuluri won her pageant by celebrating her own roots. She ran on a platform of “diversity through cultural sensitivity,” performing a Bollywood dance during the talent competition.

“I grew up watching Miss America for years and years, and as the daughter of immigrants, I always thought to myself that I could never be that — because I didn’t look a certain way; I didn’t fit the model of what was up there on that screen,” Davuluri said. “And it shouldn’t be about race, it shouldn’t — but it is. To be able to stand up there, and be an example for other little girls that America is now a very different place, that’s everything to me.”

America is a different place, but unfortunately, racism and anti-immigrant sentiment is still very much with us. Just last week, one of our distinguished international visitors, a jurist from Africa, was enjoying lunch with the rest of his delegation at a local restaurant in a small shopping center. He decided to go outside and stroll around but was accosted by an angry man who told him that he looked “suspicious”. The man then proceeded to call the police. Although the police were apologetic after they arrived (and our international guest was extremely gracious), it was still an ugly incident. Fortunately, our guest also experienced the hospitality and generosity that is the true nature of the Queen City, so we believe he left with an impression that was generally a favorable one.

Here at International House, we want to showcase the best of American spirit and values: tolerance, freedom, welcome, and respect. We work hard to help Charlotte’s newest citizens successfully integrate into their new community, and we also strive to build international understanding and appreciation for cultural diversity. “The Girl Next Door”, and her brother, are some of the people we see every day. And we are glad they are our neighbors!