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MasterCard Foundation Scholars from Africa hope to return home to make a difference

Patrick Munyurangabo from Rwanda and Maureen Gitata from Kenya want change for the agricultural sector in their home countries, they tell the author of this article, UBC's Heather Amos.

Patrick Munyurangabo was just an infant when up to a million Rwandans were killed in a genocide that lasted 100 days. Many in his extended family didn’t survive, leaving his mother to raise 25 children. Over the last two decades, he has seen how past atrocities altered the world around him but he also has witnessed the country work to rebuild and reconcile.

“We are now successful in being peaceful and living together,” he says. “In Rwanda I feel like we have the potential to be whatever we want.”

Last fall, Munyurangabo was one of the first five students to arrive at UBC through the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program. The program supports academically talented yet economically disadvantaged students from Africa as they pursue degrees at some of the world’s top universities. A key component of the program is that they return home to lead change in their communities.

“Africa doesn’t need money, it needs people,” says Munyurangabo, who is entering the second year of the Food, Nutrition and Health program in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems. “It is the land of opportunities. You can do anything you want and be successful.”

His goal is to transform agriculture so that more kids can complete their education. About 95 per cent of Rwandans are farmers, he says, but they aren’t making enough income to put their children through school.

Over the next nine years, more than 110 exceptional students like Munyurangabo will receive an education from UBC through the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program.

Working together in the future 

Approximately 9,300 international students from 145 countries attended UBC last year, a diversity that gives both international and domestic students an edge in the globalized job market. It’s a new world economy that will see scientists, business leaders, lawyers, and other professionals from every corner of the world working together.

The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program and UBC’s own international scholars program, which has supported more than 250 students since 2000 through the International Leaders of Tomorrow and the Donald A. Wherung International Student Award, bring students from a wide variety of different backgrounds to UBC.

These students offer their peers unique perspectives and the opportunity to build connections that can last long after graduation.

Adjusting to a new life

This year UBC welcomes 16 new MasterCard Foundation scholars including five graduate students. Maureen Gitata, who is from Kenya where agriculture dominates the economy, starts a Master’s in Food and Resource Economics this September.

Gitata grew up in a town called Nyahururu with a population of 36,000. Many in her community, including her parents, are subsistence farmers, growing enough food to feed their families with a little left over to sell.

“I saw my parents struggle to put my siblings and me through primary and high school,” she says, adding that she was accepted to the Alliance Girls High School, a prestigious but expensive school in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. “I knew that I would need to get a scholarship to go to college.”

She earned a scholarship to study economics at St. Lawrence University in New York and then worked in finance in Boston, Massachusetts for a year.

The first couple of years in North America were a challenge. It took some time to establish a network of friends and get used to new food and culture. Her hometown of Nyahururu is a very tightly knit community; they care deeply for one another and are part of each other’s lives in a way that differs from many North American communities.

“I don’t just belong to my family, I belong to my community,” says Gitata. “Mastering in Food and Resource Economics will help me make a difference in their lives.”

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