From Kenya to California

Growing up in western Kenya, Lilian Kabelle had always dreamed of going to Berkeley—only 10,000 miles, an acceptance letter and the means stood in her way. Now, as a MasterCard Foundation Scholar, Kabelle is attending Berkeley at no cost as part of a $500 million education initiative to provide full scholarships for students in developing countries who exemplify a “give back” ethos.

Back in Kabelle’s hometown of Kisumu, along the shores of Lake Victoria, poor infrastructure and rough roads lead to hazardous conditions and frequent accidents. Flooding is common and often sweeps away homes. Kabelle wants to change all this.

“Someone has to do something, and if no one else will, maybe I will try to do something,” says Kabelle. While she sees many international engineers helping out, she feels Africa needs to become more self-reliant.

Lilian Kabelle: “It is a dream come true for me to be here because I am being taught by the best professors with all of the best technology I would never get to see in Kenya.” (Photo by Daniel McGlynn)Lilian Kabelle: “It is a dream come true for me to be here because I am being taught by the best professors with all of the best technology I would never get to see in Kenya.” (Photo by Daniel McGlynn)Now in her second semester and majoring in civil and environmental engineering, Kabelle feels a part of Berkeley, despite the cultural shift from Kenya to California. She is living in a “Women in Science” themed residence program and has joined the steel bridge team.

“She’s always looking at how she can contribute and get involved,” says Martha Saveedra of the Center for African Studies at Berkeley, who also co-leads the MasterCard scholars program. As one example, Saveedra relates that when Kabelle heard of the refinery fire in nearby Richmond last fall, she decided to attend a city council meeting, where she learned about implementing safety measures—and she was also impressed with the transparency of the process.

“She’s not only interested to pitch in and participate for herself, but to contribute to the larger good,” adds Saavedra.

This is what the MasterCard Foundation looks for in its students: someone not only willing to give back, but, like Kabelle, also willing to stand up and be a leader, encouraging others to contribute as well.

Currently, there are seven students from sub-Saharan Africa attending Berkeley as part of this scholarship. Over the next few years, the foundation will continue to greatly increase the number of students attending Berkeley and several other public and private universities. Not only does the MasterCard program provide tuition, board and food; it also covers an internship back on the continent where the student is from. This internship is to help the student reconnect with his or her home country and foster the giving back ethos that is central to this program.

“It is a dream come true for me to be here because I am being taught by the best professors with all of the best technology I would never get to see in Kenya,” says Kabelle. “I am eager to work hard, get the best out of Berkeley and return to my country.”