Reflections on our Graduate Scholarship Programme

a personal view of the scholarship programme and our visit to South Wales

Karen Eveleigh, October 2021

We are very lucky in our Rotary district to host many Rotary Scholars each year. The majority of scholars that we host are funded by Rotary Foundation Global Grants from their home Rotary district. Around half of the clubs across our district host the scholars, and while the host clubs do not provide any of the scholarship funding, their involvement is both essential and very welcome. Essential since a global grant needs two Rotary clubs across two countries, and welcome because scholars are invited to attend the club’s meetings and events and they build up life-long friendships with the Rotarians who they meet.

In our district, since 2017, we have funded scholars in a slightly different way. We took note of the comments from some Rotarians that they often only saw scholars from wealthy countries and they wondered about students from lower income countries who were missing out on the opportunity of Rotary support. So we changed our approach. Instead of continuing to support one scholar who lived, worked or studied in our district and wanted to study overseas, we said that we would support a student from a low to middle income country to come into our district for their graduate studies. There are many advantages to this approach in my view: we have an opportunity to promote the Rotary scholarship through our local universities; we receive many more applications from candidates than we did when we advertised an ‘outgoing scholarship’; and we have many more opportunities to engage with the scholars while they are studying in our district for a year or more. 

Following this change we supported Emilia from Mexico studying for a PhD in International Development, Sarah from South Africa studying for a Masters in Psychology, and Jelka from Serbia studying for a PhD in Experimental Psychology.  

After our first three D1090-funded scholars all studied in Oxford, we decided to focus on the other universities in our district. We contacted Brunel and Reading Universities and worked with them to identify a few courses at each that would fit with our Areas of Focus and that attracted students from low to middle income countries. One aim of this new approach was to give the Rotary clubs near to the universities an opportunity to build on their links to them. 

For the 2020/2021 academic year we hosted Bandana Adhikary from Nepal and Faith Jimmy from Kenya. Bandana has just completed her course in Anthropology of Childhood, Youth & Education at Brunel University and Faith has just completed the course in Environmental Pollution at Reading University. While the pandemic obviously affected the activities that we could run for our scholars during the year, many of them were able to speak to clubs over zoom and there were over 70 speaking engagements by our 2020/21 cohort. Some clubs even invited members of the club and district from the scholars’ home country to join the meeting, so there have been a few advantages of our new meeting style.  

There were a few occasions during the year when the scholars could meet up with Rotarians. These included a walk around the grounds of Blenheim Palace and walk around Witney learning about the history of blanket making in the town. 

Our final visit of the year was to South Wales, to Brynmawr Rotary Club. Each Global Grant funded Rotary Scholar has two sponsor clubs – one host club and one international club. Since we in District 1090 had selected our scholars we needed to find two international clubs. After lots of discussion we were very lucky to secure the support of Brynmawr Rotary for Bandana’s scholarship and Crieff Rotary in Scotland for Faith’s scholarship. While it wasn’t possible during the pandemic to organise many visits, we did secure one fantastic visit to Brynmawr Rotary in August. 

The Welsh Rotarians were fantastic hosts to five of us who visited for a lovely weekend. We were treated to a busy schedule that included visiting a pit museum, a football club, a formal dinner, and a multi-faith service. We also visited Cardiff Castle en-route to Brynmawr. At the football club we heard about the Rotary art project that had just been completed. Local children were invited to produce art work to represent their time during the pandemic, their local history & heritage and sport & leisure. These were copied onto huge panels that will be hung up around the football ground.  The Rotary club is going to repeat the project with its two community Interact groups. 

We heard about so many amazing projects that the club has run, before and during the pandemic. 

Bandana was the guest of honour at the dinner and spoke passionately and brilliantly about her love for education and how she had learnt about many different teaching styles in the UK compared to her home country Nepal. 

When asked about their favourite moments of the weekend Bandana described the hills and the friendly welcome: 

“The hills there made me feel close to my country….. The people were very kind, they were so friendly, they made you feel like part of their community, they treated us so well…. The people there and the hills is what I’ll take in my memory for ever.”

Faith enjoyed learning about the local history:

"There was so much history – and the way that people narrated their history, we felt like part of it. The history was preserved in a way that it cannot be lost."

"I also liked the hills. This part of the UK (around Reading) is really flat, I was wondering - how will they manage flooding when it happens?”

And she loved the live music at the Saturday evening dinner:

“Before coming here, someone told me how each country is known. England has football and if you want to hear music you have to go to Ireland. I will now have to withdraw that statement, after listening to live music in Wales.”

Last week we welcomed our new cohort of Rotary Scholars. 29 students, 28 in Oxford, one in Reading, 18 on Masters courses and 11 on PhD courses, from 11 different countries and with scholarships under 5 of our areas of focus. Our D1090-funded scholar Jackline is at Reading University studying Applied International Development. She is from Uganda and since we have many clubs in our district that support projects in Uganda, I’m sure that there will be much interest in speaking with her about her studies and her plans for the future. 

Thank you to all the clubs and Rotarians and the Rotary Scholars in our district that make this a Rotary programme of which we can be incredibly proud. 

We will shortly be relaunching the Rotary Scholars website and collecting contributions from Scholars past and present. Please contact Karen Eveleigh if you would like to contribute – as a Scholar or Rotarian. 

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