For incoming first-year Amira Ali Abdulkadir, from Kenya, receiving an acceptance package from Hobart and William Smith Colleges this spring was surreal.
For most of her life, college was simply out of reach. The fifth in a family of nine children, Abdulkadir homeschooled four of her siblings while carrying her own course load because her family could not afford to send all nine children through formal school. Now, as a Zawadi scholar, she will attend Hobart and William Smith Colleges on a full scholarship and carve out a future that once seemed inconceivable.
“The Zawadi scholarship and my being accepted to HWS is a dream come true. I feel like all doors of opportunity are now open to me. In fact, it is an answered prayer.” says Abdulkadir.
The Zawadi Africa Educational Fund is a non-profit organization that seeks to help academically gifted (in the top one- to two-percent of their peers) but economically disadvantaged girls from Africa achieve a higher education. Zawadi Africa partners with colleges and universities worldwide. The colleges provide scholarships while program donors cover transportation costs. Students are expected to work on campus to pay for their own incidental expenses.
Local businessman Arthur Santelli, of Santelli Lumber, will provide room and board for Abdulkadir during her four years at HWS. Santelli approached the Colleges about participating in the Zawadi Scholars program after seeing the organization’s President, Susan Mboya, on C-SPAN, addressing a college in the Midwest.
“I thought it was a great program that I wanted to be involved with; giving back to society is part of my service ideal,” says Santelli. He contacted Mboya to see how he could sponsor a student and how do it locally. He approached HWS to see if the Colleges would be willing to participate because he was impressed with President Mark Gearan’s past experience as Director of the Peace Corps and because of the Colleges’ emphasis on service.
“I think President Gearan has done a great job at the Colleges and I’m really pleased we’ve been able to add this program to its civic engagement efforts,” says Santelli.
Gearan agrees The Zawadi Africa Educational Fund fits well with the Colleges’ ideals. “Art Santelli embodies the ‘power of the idea’ that we will celebrate this academic year. He was moved to reach across the globe to make higher education a reality for a stranger and we’re honored and thrilled that we can be part of that experience.”
To be selected, the young women must have strong academic credentials, be active in extracurricular activities and have demonstrated leadership skills. They are recruited through high school guidance counselors and community leaders. The Zawadi scholarship is highly-competitive; a selection committee screens approximately 30 students for each opportunity, and then narrows the list down to the top six candidates, each of whom applies directly to the specific college or university partner.
In her high school, Abdulkadir was active in Junior Achievement, First Aid Club, World Youth Alliance, Debate Club and Students Against Drugs Club (SCAD). She was also a member of the basketball team, and house captain and chair of the Muslim club. She also volunteered in school, assisting Muslim students.
Numerous letters of support and reference for Abdulkadir cited her industrious nature and her well-developed leadership skills. “Her maturity, confidence and eloquence were exuded,” wrote one of her teachers.
Abdulkadir predicts that her greatest challenge might be adjusting to the weather. Despite that, she is eager to arrive. “I look forward to an exciting academic adventure, new people and an incredibly fulfilling future,” she says.
About The Zawadi Africa Educational Fund
The program is designed to provide scholarships to academically gifted girls from disadvantaged backgrounds from Africa to pursue higher education in the U.S. It is based on the highly successful Kennedy/Mboya student airlifts of the 1960’s, pioneered by Tom Mboya, of Kenya, and President John F. Kennedy. The original airlift program was highly successful, providing a pool of graduates that went on to become the leaders of the young governments in East Africa. According to Zawadi Africa, more than 80 percent of East Africa’s immediate post-independence leaders were graduates of the student airlift program, including Dr. Wangari Maathai SC.D.’94, P’94, P’96, Africa’s first Nobel Peace prize Laureate, who received the Elizabeth Blackwell Award from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 2008.
In the photo above, Abdulkadir visits with Santelli on the Quad.