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Mandela Washington Fellows visit Ability360

Holinianina Rakotoarisoa smiles at the camera in front of Ability360

Holiniaina Rakotoarisoa

By AnnMargaret Haines

After experiencing difficulties growing up, Holiniaina Rakotoarisoa came to America to be part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program.

“It cannot stay like this. The situation must change,” Rakotoarisoa said.

Rakotoarisoa, a woman from Madagascar living with partial sight, struggled to receive education growing up because schools did not want to accept a visually-impaired student.

Although it took time and much effort, Rakotoarisoa was able to successfully complete her schooling through the university level. She then became active within the area of social entrepreneurship, and in 2003, became the Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind. She now holds the title of the Vice President of the National Federation of Women with Disabilities. Rakotoarisoa founded and became executive director of the organization Merci in 2010, a non-profit that promotes the social inclusion of people with disabilities.

During the first six weeks of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program, Rakotoarisoa studied at Cambridge College. Now she is making connections with many different organizations through Ability360.

“My specific goal is to learn from the Ability360 experience,” Rakotoarisoa said.

When Rakotoarisoa returns to Madagascar, she hopes to share her experience at Ability360 through the media and make a plan to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Rakotoarisoa feels she has an “obligation” to her country because she was chosen to participate in this influential program.

Her vision for the future of all people, both typical and disabled, is simple.

“What I want is not only for people with disabilities, but that the community will be an inclusive community.”

Nyasha Mharakurwa smiles at the camera in a Ability360 Sports and Fintess Center shirt

Nyasha Mharakurwa

By Ellanna Koontz

Nyasha Mharakurwa is a 33-year-old Mandela Washington Fellow looking to make social change in Zimbabwe through sports.

Mharakurwa’s primary involvement in his community has always been through sport activities. Mharakurwa does not only give the people an opportunity to play sports, but uses that platform to empower people with disabilities.

Mharakurwa, a full-time wheelchair user, said when he played sports it gave him opportunities he would not have received otherwise. Not only did he travel, but he also learned to be more independent and confident.

When this program came onto his radar, Mharakurwa said he knew it would be another great opportunity to network and learn.

After experiencing disability resources in Arizona, Mharakurwa began contacting his peers to work on getting the “extra stuff he is getting now, back home.”

“I am very fortunate because I am able to get myself around without much assistance, but when you look at my peers that might not be in the same position, it is very difficult,” Mharakurwa said. “You come here and you see people with similar impairments being able to do things that other people don’t. You start realizing how limiting our environment is.”

Mharakurwa hopes to form an organization where “lawyers and non-lawyers advocate for the rights of the disabled.”

“I am hoping… the people that I interact with [gain an] understanding of not only the world where I come from but also of how beyond our little spaces, our communities and countries, we can partner and collaborate in different aspects going forward,” Mharakurwa said.

Contributor Section

AnnMargaret Haines smiles at the camera in a burgundy long sleeve shirt.

AnnMargaret Haines
Ability360 Marketing Intern


Ellanna Koontz smiles at the camera in a teal t-shirt.

Ellanna Koontz
Ability360 Marketing Intern