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Journey to a new oasis: AWARD Fellows share their experiences at NMSU AWARD: How did you feel when you learned that you had been chosen for this opportunity?
Chikondi: I was over the moon! My family and I were so excited, and I just couldn't wait to get there. I was wondering, Why me? What are the expectations? What I am going to learn?
Anabela: I was surprised and very happy to be one of the AWARD Fellows to participate in this program, where one of the objectives has to do with my field of work, technology transfer.
Meaza: I thought that New Mexico State University was in Mexico. During the visa application process, I learned that it is in the U.S.A., but I still assumed that part of the course would be taught in Mexico. When I traveled through Atlanta, El Paso, and finally arrived in Las Cruces, New Mexico, I kept repeating to myself, I'm actually in America!
Esther: I realized that any dream can come true. When I applied for AWARD, I understood that further training might be available for some fellows. I wanted to be one of them, and I focused on doing my best. I know I can achieve anything I dream, as long as I am dedicated, committed, and passionate in my career.

AWARD: What top things did you learn from the course as a whole?
Anabela: The importance of extension methodologies for adoption and diffusion of innovation and the evaluation of extension programs. I also learned how to better develop follow-up. I realized the importance of coaching through leadership in the workplace and in life.
Chikondi: I learned how to carry extension messages to the farmers, with their best interests in mind. I also learned who I am and how I can have an impact to the best of my ability that I have the power to do everything I want. It all begins with focus and organization, just like the people we met there, who were so organized and focused, and yet very down to earth.
Esther: I understand more now about the strong link between farmers, extension workers, university researchers, and specialists (nutrition) from the national level down to the state, county, and beyond, and how that is vital for program implementation progress with timely and good results. I also learned that the SLW program came about as a result of good networking, integration, and coordination between various university departments, specialists, and national and international organizations. I can apply this more in my role at work. During the course, we watched a documentary on Wangari Maathai documentary and I saw that Nobel Prize winners, and other people who have contributed greatly to making a better world, started out very simply, like me. If they did it, I can do it too.
Meaza: Everything I learned was tops, including visiting the NMSU Agricultural Science Center, seeing large- and small-scale farming and extension systems in New Mexico. They have strong linkages between research and farmers, and the researchers are very relevant to the existing situation. The extension outreach is quite practical: farmers can easily access scientists, and vice versa.
Chikondi: I realized that Africa has powerful women, but they are not empowered. Being an empowered woman means taking responsibility to see others become empowered as well, so we are now left with a huge responsibility to change other peoples' lives.

AWARD: What surprised you most about university and life in America?
Meaza: I liked the style and method of education very much. It is very interactive and simple, and the teachers are so supportive and collaborative. The issues discussed as problems are quite different from ours. The number of male students in the class is quite small; the opposite is true in Ethiopia. Students are creative: the posters and campaigns I saw are witness that those in the young generation are concerned about their community and their country. The culture is very democratic; there is no thinking of what someone would say about me if I do/dress/drink this or that.
Anabela: I was surprised by the facilities, organization, and commitment, as well as Americans' friendliness, warmth, and spirit of volunteerism.
Esther: And the professionals at the university are just so passionate about what they do. I was surprised that the terrain and climate in New Mexico is no different from the Karamoja region in Uganda, where I work.
Chikondi: I expected to see big buildings and busy people with no time to talk to us, but everyone was so nice. I felt at home and settled in quickly. I was surprised that the university is very much part of rural agricultural extension and how involved it is with farmers. We learned a lot about how their system works.
Meaza: I found it very easy to meet and talk with top people. There is no hierarchy of leadership. Women are educated and well-respected, and men are supportive. That is the secret I found for development. I noticed that the word "fun", which we do not have in my language, is commonly used in the U.S. I can't remember what I do for fun at home, but I have to start making it a part of my life.

What contribution do you believe you made to the staff and students at NMSU? What did they learn about your culture and work?
Anabela: I believe that by sharing my work experience with them, they were able to understand the agricultural system in Mozambique better. I also increased their knowledge about the linkages between research and extension, and how it functions in my country. My most important contribution was talking about the role of women in agriculture: women are involved in all stages, but they don't make decisions or own land. They don't benefit from the revenue from what they produce, and are disadvantaged compared to men, due to cultural factors, which influences life in Mozambique and in Africa in general.
Chikondi: Yes, the presentations we made were really an eye-opener for people at the university because, in most instances, they had no idea how things really are on the ground in Africa, and how we work to overcome this.
Meaza: It would be better if people at NMSU answered this question. However, I shared about my country, the work I do, how culture and poverty are linked, and was a voice for women in Africa.

AWARD: Tell me about Linda Stout. What impressed you about her?
Meaza: Although Linda is born in the U.S., she is a mother to Africa. I was touched by her life; she is a leader. She is so humble that she drove us to the campus every day; ours is a less punctual culture, whereas she is from in an "in-a-hurry" culture. I found her exceptional: motherly and understanding. She is professional, beautiful, intelligent, talented, well-organized, passionate, and has an eye that sees what God sees. She is Mama Linda.
Anabela: She is a very special person with a big heart. I'm impressed by her vision, based on Wangari Maatha's work and legacy. She left us with the responsibility to make Wangari live forever, driving us to turn our life purpose goals into a reality more quickly and in a more focused way.
Chikondi: Linda was just outstanding; she stayed with us and put herself at our level. I learned a lot from her inspiration. She is just an angel.
Anabela: Yes, Linda is the donor of this program, but didn't act like a donor. She was always there for us and with us, eager to share her knowledge about leadership. She was a mother for us, helping to understand American culture, calling our attention to best practices and behavior in the U.S. Dr. Brenda Seevers, who is the program coordinator and a professor, was also fantastic and always present for anything, making our stay easier. The way she organized the program, putting facilitators, mentors, places to visit, and people to meet all together in such a professional manner was very impressive. This compliment goes also to Mark Gladden, Mick O'Neill, Connie Padilla, and my mentor, Tom Dormody, and all those who were involved in this program. Thanks, too, to the faculty, the staff, as well as the NMSU President who supported the program.
Esther: I was so humbled to learn that such a kind, humble woman was behind this very important, excellent program. I was touched by the love and compassion that I was shown by so many people at NMSU and AWARD when I suddenly lost my sister, and had to return to Uganda after the first week of the program.

How have you changed? What are you going to do differently in your work and life now?
Anabela: I see institutions' performance and the technology transfer process differently now. I have already started introducing the knowledge acquired on diffusion of innovation. I'm also working on constructive dialogue, which we learned about, as a way to deal with many of the situations I face at work and in life.
Meaza: I am changed for good. I can never be the same person again. I am empowered and a change agent. I am more conscious about time management, the best way to diffuse innovation, and the networking. I feel more responsible for Africa, and I now have an international view and outlook.
Esther: I am more convinced than ever that I can achieve all of my big dreams. I will continue working hard knowing that I have mentors and wonderful people around the world willing to help me grow and achieve my life goal.

Is there one thing that you would change about the course should it be offered again?
Anabela: Yes, I would increase the time for the workshop on adoption and diffusion of innovation. This is one of the main issues of working with rural communities if we want to bring change. I would also suggest more visits to small farmers to enable us compare to our farmers' situations, as starting point for change.
Meaza: I would extend the time by a few weeks. We were overloaded with lots of marvelous experiences and we didn't always have time to digest them all well. We packed a lifetime of learning into four short weeks.
Esther: I agree. The course should be three months long in intervals. One month is too short to learn so many important things.
Chikondi: I wouldn't change a thing, because I benefited from it all. This course made me feel empowered and has inspired me to do more. While we were there, Wangari Maathai the inspiration behind the course-passed away. To me, she passed on her spirit to us, and I am challenged now to be the best that I can be.

To view a photo gallery from the trip, visit http://aces.nmsu.edu/slw/photos-2011.html