Women in Diplomacy – TrailBlazer Sarah Furaha


Happy Friday!

We made it through the first week of social distancing!

Thank you to everyone who has continued to show up for Citizen Diplomacy by reaching out to your international friends. In these times of global crisis, I have been comforted by all your stories and knowing there are so many wonderful people out there working to change the world.

In that spirit, I am delighted to share a beautiful update from one of our Mandela Fellows, Sarah Furaha, Thank you to David McDonald, Citizen Diplomat and Sarah’s host, for passing this along and brightening my day.

Sarah is a passionate leader with Village Health Action, an organization in Burundi that advocates for mental health services.

From 1993 to 2005, Burundi went through a brutal civil war, during which over a quarter of a million people were killed and nearly a million others were displaced. A failed coup in 2015 sparked a further wave of violence, intimidation and displacement. These war traumas are compounded by the scarcity of trained therapists and the stigma of mental health issues. Sarah’s goal is to fully integrate mental health services into Burundi’s primary healthcare system.

For David – and me – it was a delight to receive an email from Sarah with well wishes and an update on her life after the fellowship.

Sara shared:

“I have been thinking fondly about the moments we had together. I can say I’ve got two other families in the U.S.

Things have not been easy for me when I came back home; I was experiencing the reverse cultural shock. They had warned us about that, but I could not imagine I was among those who were to go through that process.

In addition to that, I was somehow afraid because of that huge responsibility laying on my shoulders. I had completed the Mandela Washington Fellowship program. It was a lifelong dream coming through. I had to make sure I stay true to myself and be proud of the best version of the leader I had become – or I was becoming. I was selected among thousands and thousands of people throughout sub-Saharan Africa. I didn’t’ take it for granted. I didn’t want to mess up that unique opportunity.

Though it was not easy, I decided to stay on the track. I was able to organize many activities within my organization. As I told you, I strive to improve the life of people suffering from mental disorders. That is what I have been working on since I came back home.

Many people’s lives have been changed as they were encouraged and empowered. I am just at the beginning. 2020 is the year to give my best so that I can fully live my passion.

I would like to hear from you too. I hope all is well with you.

I miss you all so much. I hope I will see you again someday.”

Best wishes,


Sarah is one of many women around the globe showing what it means to lead. Since returning home to Burundi, Sarah has organized a global Surgery, Anesthesia and Cancer symposium and speaks regularly on issues facing those with mental disabilities in her community. Her fellowship allowed her to brainstorm new strategies with peers that she could take with her to Burundi.

A smile can make all the difference. A simple dinner makes a difference. Thanks to changemakers like Sarah and Citizen Diplomats like David McDonald, Carol Larach, David Feingold and Heather Peters, lifelong bonds are made.

This is what diplomacy truly means. If you haven’t already, I hope Sarah’s story encourages you to reach out to an international friend. I’m sure we can all use something to smile about.

Take care,



“I’m sure that the way that I am using arts will be improved and that I will make someone smile every dayI want to show love where there is hate. Things are hard in my country. But what matters is making people feel like they count.”

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