Scholarship programme supports youth with big dreams

A scholarship programme targeting bright but disadvantaged young people is giving them a chance not only to succeed academically and professionally, but play a long-term role in uplifting their own communities.

Today Denis Smith Akejo holds a degree in chemistry and works as a quality control technician at the National Water and Sewerage Corporation, a Ugandan public utility charged with water supply and sanitation.

Securing such a good job took years of hard work and self-sacrifice. A competent learner, he worked as a laboratory assistant during high school. He gained entry into Kyambogo to study for a diploma in 2011 and struggled financially until he managed to secure a Wells Mountain Initiative (WMI) scholarship, which effectively changed his life.

“The Wells Mountain scholarship was like a life saviour to me. WMI helps the very vulnerable and poor people who may otherwise not complete higher education,” says Akejo.

Founded by Thomas Wells, the institute offers scholarships which target academically sound, financially needy students who want to stay in their countries and give back to the community. For the duration of the scholarship, beneficiaries are required to give 100 hours of documented community service every year.

Needs-based scholarships

“To achieve a WMI scholarship, a young individual must demonstrate strong academic talent, have a significant financial need, and be deeply dedicated to improving one’s community," says Jordyn Wells, managing director of WMI. She said the needs-based scholarship targets applicants who are already in schools but can't complete because of lack of finances, yet they are the smartest kids in the village.

Wells said the process of awarding the scholarships is highly selective. In 2017, WMI received 1,100 applications and only chose 73 new scholars.

Established in 2006, WMI has supported 288 scholars in 38 countries and accepts 50 new scholars a year. Half of the 288 have graduated and 84% of these are employed with 96% of these in their field of study. The largest group are in clinical medicine.

One such student is Prossy Alanyo Owiny, a second-year undergraduate student of medicine and surgery at Kabale University in Uganda.

“I had prayed for years. When I got the scholarship I knew my dreams would come true,” says Owiny who volunteers with the Watoto Church in Gulu and with the “Keep a Girl in School” programme through Rotary Gulu where she promotes health awareness.

Balancing a medical course and volunteering is challenging, but it has its advantages: “It is empowering and develops the community. I am giving back. We are change agents,” she said.

Besides providing tertiary scholarships, WMI also emphasises leadership, networking, and skill-building to empower beneficiaries to achieve their lifelong goals and influence transformational change in their society. It offers grants for scholar-led community improvement projects related to education, healthcare, the environment and technology.

Community-based development

Many scholars have launched their own community initiatives and started new non-governmental organisations and community-based organisations.

Wells says micro-grants are given to WMI graduate scholars ranging from US$100 to US$1,000, to start or significantly expand a CBO or NGO, business, community service project or event.

Beneficiaries have used their micro-grants to provide primary and secondary level education programmes, vaccination clinics, agricultural empowerment projects, and peace and conflict resolution programmes.

For example, WMI graduate scholar Mthokozisi Moyo from Zimbabwe started a programme focusing on safety for children and adults working underground in the gold mines of Silobela, Zimbabwe. But the youngsters who were working alongside their families to contribute to the finances were not wearing protective gear. The WMI-funded project is now operating in partnership with the Youth Mining Institute and Resources Management Trust and Bulawayo Integrated Youth Survival Alternative Project.

Dream Big Conference

Jordyn Wells says WMI encourages local solutions and local leadership development. Earlier this year, from 27 June to 1 July 2018, they held the ‘Dream Big Conference’ in Uganda, providing over 100 university scholars from 14 African countries (and three other world regions) with skills to help them become business and CBO or NGO leaders.

The five-day conference is held every three years and has dozens of leadership training workshops to help scholars to achieve their dreams and become community change-agents.
Workshop topics ranged from motivational leadership and public speaking to planning for your new business or community organisation, to marketing and measuring your impact, and much more.

“We want WMI scholars to envision their dreams, learn to collaborate with each other and with experts, and leave ready to take positive action in their careers and communities,” said Wells.