Whether they want to reduce environmental pollution, improve diagnostic tests for cancer, or create a health insurance plan for the elderly, these AUB students all have two things in common: they want to make a positive difference in the world around them and they are the first cohort of MasterCard Foundation Scholars.
The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program is a $500 million education initiative that provides talented yet economically disadvantaged students from developing countries – particularly from Africa – with comprehensive support for secondary and university education. The program gives young people access to financial, academic, social, and skills-building support. It also generates a peer network of alumni who share a “give-back” ethos.
The first cohort of 15 MasterCard Foundation Scholars arrived on campus in fall 2012. They were selected from among 187 applicants based on their academic standing, financial need, and commitment to public health values and community service.
Recruitment efforts for the 2013-14 academic year are already underway and the deadline for applying is March 29, 2013.
This year program officer Maha Haidar Makki is targeting students in a more focused way, by visiting not just schools but community stakeholders as well. "We are visiting people in different communities who can help identify and encourage the right candidates to apply."
The MasterCard Foundation partnered with AUB’s Faculty of Health Sciences in November 2011 for an eight-year, $9 million program to provide 60 full undergraduate scholarships to students living in Lebanon majoring in medical laboratory sciences or environmental health.
Makki is visiting Lebanese as well as Palestinian, Syrian, and Iraqi refugee communities that are most in need, across the five regions of Lebanon – some of which have ties with FHS through research projects and other public health initiatives. This year however she is focusing a little more on the North, which was a bit underrepresented last year, due to severe political instability.
Strong FHS links to communities across Lebanon and the faculty’s commitment to social justice were key reasons it was chosen as one of the first partners in the program.
Inspired by her father’s long battle with cancer, Lucienne Nader, from a Beirut suburb, would like to improve diagnostic tests so that patients can have access to better medical care. “If it weren’t for this program I would not have applied to AUB because I cannot afford it,” said Nader, who will study medical laboratory sciences after she completes her intensive English preparatory course.
“I hope I will change my society in the way I have dreamt for a long time,” said Yassmin Lawzi, who is studying environmental health. “I see that this scholarship will open many gates for me and help me improve myself and give back to my society and my family.”
Lawzi is eager to improve the open-air market near her home in Tripoli. “It is supposed to be only for perfume and spices, but instead there is garbage piled everywhere─garbage mixed with animal bones,” Lawzi said of the market. “And there are all sorts of vegetables and meat there too. The market is over-crowded and full of bacteria. I want to help my generation change this souq and other places like this.”
Mohamad Ali Amer Abdul Aziz from Sibline watched his grandmother’s fight with chronic diabetes and it instilled in him a desire to develop a health program for the elderly.
Majoring in medical laboratory science, he hopes to use his acquired knowledge to establish a health care program for the elderly and the needy. “I also hope to develop other programs to improve the quality of health in my country,” he added.
Makki believes that the FHS degree programs will equip scholars with the right hands-on skills and academic knowledge to be able to help and make a difference. Makki is dedicated full-time to the program and coordinates recruitment efforts as well as follow-up with the scholars.
“These young adults are full of promise. The program provides them with academic, financial and psychosocial support as well as training in 21st century skills to ensure their education is completed successfully. It also prepares them for the challenges they will face after graduation by offering career guidance and counseling,” said Makki.
Dr. Michael Kalash-El-Khoury, psychologist and lecturer at the Department of Health Promotion and Community Health at FHS, is the program counselor, and dedicates time on a weekly basis to engage to ensure the wellbeing of the program’s students.
Scholars are required to spend one summer working on a collective community project that is expected to strengthen their motivation to give back and to reinforce links to their communities.
“The MCF award is a major achievement for the Faculty of Health Sciences and AUB,” said FHS Dean Iman Nuwayhid. “I see this award as an opportunity to transform learning within the FHS undergraduate programs, strengthen our community partnerships and commitment to underprivileged communities, and connect us to a global network of first-rate universities that are jointly exploring the impact of transformative education on individuals and people with a focus on Africa”.
The other universities in the network include Arizona State University, Duke University, Michigan State University, Stanford, UC-Berkeley, and Wellesley College in the United States; the University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, and McGill University in Canada; Ashesi University College in Ghana; and EARTH University in Costa Rica. EARTH University also targets students from Latin America, while AUB focuses on Lebanon. Secondary school partners include Camfed in Ghana and BRAC in Uganda.
Makki notes, “We have a lot in common with these institutions as we share a commitment to the scholars and to what we call ‘education for social transformation’.”
The benefits of the scholarship are not limited to contributions to the field of public health; those interviewed said they are impressed by the culture of respect at AUB. The young scholars also feel enriched by the various activities and the diversity they encountered on campus.
Even in the first few weeks of school, Lawzi immediately noticed how professors and employees respect students. “This impressed me since Lebanon needs this way of dealing with others, especially in government departments,” she said, adding: “Living alone in a different city and away from my family was a huge challenge, since I had never left home before, but I have started to adapt and everything improved day by day. Sure I will always miss my family, but I am a mature girl now and I will take responsibility for myself.”