I am super excited to share with you my first-ever experience in the United States in Washington DC, where I did my fellowship program for three months which started in September 2022 and ended in December 2022. 

The Community Engagement Exchange(CEE) Program is a dynamic global network of innovators working with communities to address critical 21st-century issues. CEE equips dedicated visionaries with the expertise, skills, and resources to develop multisector approaches and build healthy and engaged communities in over 100 countries.

My Trip Experiences

My first experience started in Kenya when I traveled by airplane. Traveling in an airplane was my first experience, and this was an adventure of a lifetime. From Kenya, I traveled to Ghana’s international airport. I will never forget the experience I had. What I hated the most at the airport was the fact that I had a seven-hour transit and indeed the spicy food I ate there.  And finally, when I arrived in the United States, I landed in Michigan, where i was excited to meet more than a hundred co-Community Engagement Exchange fellows coming from eighty different countries to participate in the program. We had fun and got to know each other and meet everyone in person who was involved in the programs such as mentors, coaches, advisors, and the entire CEE team. After staying in a hotel for five days in Michigan for our orientation sessions, I traveled to Washington DC where my host organization was based. When I came to DC, right away when I arrived, I believe my life changed tremendously because I learned many things not only from the organization but also from society.

My Experience Working with MEANS Database

Before I go deeper, allow me to explain what “MEANS Database” is MEANS stands for Matching Excess And Need for Stability. The name was created by co-founders Maria Rose Belding and Grant Nelson in 2014. Food businesses sign up as donors and create a post whenever they have extra food available. 

Basically, when nonprofit users sign up, they tell the team where they are and what type of food they need. When any food donation fitting those parameters becomes available on the system, users get an email or SMS text message about it. If interested, they can claim the donation, and they receive the contact information of the donor, and the donor receives the contact information of the nonprofit to coordinate delivery. Should you have any questions or concerns, visit the website here.

Now, let me dive into sharing my experience working as an IREX fellow at this impactful organization.  I have been focused on environmental protection in Kenya for the past two years. However, working with MEANS Database I have learned that protecting the environment is not all about planting trees, organizing clean-up campaigns, or collecting waste plastics, but also getting to understand how harmful the food we consume daily in our normal life can cause crisis when wasted and how excess food can play a role to end food insecurity. It is not just about collecting extra food, but also about giving it away to people who need it. Food recovery is hard work but rewarding when you know that your efforts are helping those in need.

Cheers to the MEANS Database team for this great initiative. You are truly heroes and I am really grateful to be part of the team.

Challenges with Working Remotely During my Fellowship

Since MEANS Database operates remotely,I found working remotely takes work. But if you are someone who doesn’t like working under the pressure of a boss like me, you will find it interesting as I do. You need to be organized and disciplined, self-motivated, and have a good work-life balance; you will learn a lot in the process. This role require a high level of commitment and a bold heart for learning with I found learning tio work remotely a process to be challenging and required a lot of patience, because I was new to the United States.

I  needed to learn about different cultures, customs, and values that cannot be learned from any book or website alone. I had to rely on my own observations and experiences

throughout each day as well as during meetings and sessions hosted by my

co-workers. In addition, it took me time to understand the U.S. work culture and my co-fellow Jeffrey from Ghana. Along the way, once all our efforts had been completed successfully then our efforts together paid off when management approved our work. 

The Learning Process

I am very happy with my experiences working with MEANS Database. The team was very supportive and helpful, which made it easy for me to get into the flow of things. 

When our group worked together, we made it seem like less work because everyone helped me in many ways. Working with a team allowed me to learn and work with different digital platforms, how to work as a team, how to collaborate, how to do research, how to prepare reports, and how to write grant proposals as well as how to create partnerships with other organizations. Please keep in mind that the process was not easy, but it is worth it if you are determined and motivated. This is the case for me, and I think it’s also true for most people new to working remotely with their organizations.

My Takeaway Skills

As a person who has been in the U.S. for three months now and working with such a big organization here, I can say it is very challenging but worth it. The skills I have acquired are amazing. However, if you want to work in America then there are many things that you need to know before doing your internship, fellowship, or work. 

The most important thing is communication skills because all organizations or companies are looking for someone who knows how to communicate well with other

people from different backgrounds and cultures. Also, time management plays an important role when dealing with people from different backgrounds since most workers have very busy schedules which means that we might not be able to meet them during lunch break or after work hours.

To sum up, I learned so much about food rescue during my fellowship at the MEANS Database organization. I feel that the experience has given me a better understanding of my career goals and what it takes to get there. It’s not easy doing a fellowship in the U.S. but I am happy I had an incredible organization and am looking forward to networking and collaborating with the team in the future.