In Swahili, the word for gift is “zawadi.” It is also the name of Dr. Susan Mboya’s African Education Fund program, based upon the belief that each child is a gift and that there is no greater gift than education. Over 200 Zawadi students currently attend institutions in the U.S., including Ivy League schools and Hillsdale College.
Mboya’s father, a key political figure in Kenya’s attempt to gain independence from Britain, organized a student-airlifts program in the late 1950s, providing American educations to promising Kenyan youths intent on developing their own communities.
Mboya continued the program into the new century, focusing on the education of female students
Zawadi hopefuls apply for consideration to join the program and, if they qualify, undergo an extensive interview process. Then they select and apply to an affiliate school in the U.S. that evaluates them by the same standards as any other student.
Upon arriving at Hillsdale, Zawadi students are immersed in unfamiliarities including the weather, food, people, and squirrells, but waste no time in taking advantage of the opportunities available.
Zawadi student and senior Rose Okeyo is a member of Sigma Alpha Iota and Hillsdale’s Math and Science Honoraries. In addition, she is the cofounder of her own non-profit organization with senior Samantha Gilman.
Their non-profit project, Tujelimu, supports disadvantaged high school students in Okeyo’s hometown of Rarieda, Kenyat by providing them with essential resources for school.
“We are also mentoring students to help them pursue their dreams. Our first beneficiary was Wang’arot Secondary School in Rarieda … So far, we have bought books for Wang’arot and are currently supporting four students through donations from friends, family and well-wishers,” Okeyo said. “We are in the process of registering Tujelimu as a non-profit in order to get more donations for our cause.”
As a biochemistry major, Okeyo plans to earn her PhD in pharmacy and then, fulfilling the central requirement of the Zawadi Program, return home to improve the health standards in her community.
“I wish to practice in Kenya,” said Okeyo. “On the side, I am thinking of having a health program, maybe another non-profit, that will offer assistance to disadvantaged patients in obtaining quality healthcare, which would otherwise be unaffordable to them, by covering some costs of treatment and drugs, holding free health camps … and visiting homes with volunteers to promote wellness by giving the people healthcare tips.”
Fellow biochemistry major and Hillsdale freshman, Diana Adala shares Okeyo’s desire to benefit her native country in the medical field.
Once graduating from Hillsdale, Adala aspires to attend Johns Hopkins School of Medicine to conduct cancer research and acquire the skills necessary to return to Kenya and make a positive impact in the worldwide fight against cancer.
“I have seen the pain and suffering of so many people with cancer, the most compelling example of my grandparents, that I wish to be able to alleviate this pain,” said Adala.
Gladys Anyenya, ‘12, also has big dreams for her native country once she finishes the 5-year doctoral program at Colorado School of Mines (CSM).
At Hillsdale, Anyenya majored in Math and Physics, ran track and cross country, and was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, the Math Honorary, and Catholic Society.
Anyenya plans to research biofuel cells and alternative energy systems after school in order to develop less fortunate parts of the world, especially the areas of rural Kenyan too undeveloped to access an electric bridge.
“I went to boarding school in the country, and the people around there lived in conditions where they didn’t have electricity or power to get water,” said Anyenya. “It has been my passion to make power accessible to them, which would lead to clean water if they had power to pump it from the river and purify it.”
Fellow 2012 graduate, Cynthia Nyakeri, is following her post-Hillsdale passion at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Nyakeri double majored in Economics and French, which she plans to use by helping low-income earners sustain themselves through small-scale businesses.
“I would like to pursue a career in International Development, focusing on improving the livelihood of many in the developing countries,” said Nyakeri.
In her time at Hillsdale, Nyakeri was also a member of KKG, in addition to being involved with Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and the French Honorary. Nyakeri pays tribute to the Hillsdale community for her success.
“I am doing what I am passionate about, and that would not have been possible if it were not for the people at Hillsdale who were with me every step of the way,” said Nyakeri.
Anyenya also greatly appreciated Hillsdale’s community.
“Being in a different part of the United States now, I realize Hillsdale is really different from the rest of America. I’m glad I got to experience that,” said Anyenya.
Okeyo agreed that this community was her favorite part of attending Hillsdale.
“The administration takes care of its students,” she said. “Professors here are more engaging and more concerned about the welfare of students. They challenged me in terms of thinking, my character, and perspective on life. I now believe in myself about whatever I set my mind to.”
Though focused on math and science for her majors, Anyenya was also very thankful for the proessors who encuraged her diverse education in history, english and the arts.
“I can join in any conversation. Someone will say something, and I’ll be like ‘I know about that.’ I’m not just a science nerd,” she said.
While these women are the recipients of gifts from the Zawadi program and Hillsdale College, they serve as an inspiration to fellow students and citizens by using their talents to give others education, clean water, power, and the gift of hope for the future of underdeveloped countries.