Annet is an Ashinaga Africa Initiative (AAI) Scholar from Uganda and soon-to-be graduate of Tsukuba University with a degree in Biological Sciences. She will be attending The University of Oxford to continue her study towards a Master’s degree. Annet is the first AAI Scholar to be accepted to Oxford. In addition, she was selected as a recipient of the very competitive Commonwealth Scholarship, which is a fully-funded academic scholarship for her postgraduate degree. The Commonwealth Scholarship for Masters or Ph.D. programs only have about a 1.5% acceptance rate. Unfortunately, COVID-19 travel restrictions may affect when her first day is, but she is looking forward to getting to the “new normal” on campus.
The first time Annet heard of Oxford, she was in her fourth year of primary school. At that time, she had the best marks in her year. As a reward, her uncle gifted her an Oxford Dictionary. She recalls, “I didn’t know it was a university, I thought it was just a book. At that time, the only university I had heard about was Makerere University in Uganda.”
“I got the Commonwealth Scholarship information from Ashinaga staff and applied. I messaged everyone I could for help, but also out of excitement. I was doing all my research about the course and realized what I was studying fit their requirements directly,”
After beginning her studies in Japan as an AAI Scholar in 2016, Annet says she had the opportunity to learn about many universities around the world from Ashinaga interns and staff. About a year later, during one of the classes in the university laboratory, she came to learn about the f4/80 antibody, a 160 kD cell surface glycoprotein that was developed by the University of Oxford. “I was astonished that people were making these things, and they were being used by the entire world for research,” she recalls. Though intimidated by the reputation of the university, she read through the program requirements and realized she would fit in well. That summer, she decided to apply. “I got the Commonwealth Scholarship information from Ashinaga staff and applied. I messaged everyone I could for help, but also out of excitement. I was doing all my research about the course and realized what I was studying fit their requirements directly,” Annet remembers.
At this turning point in her life, being admitted with a full scholarship to one of the most prestigious universities in the world, Annet has had a lot of time to reflect back on her journey. “The AAI was a gamechanger. Studying in extreme poverty is the worst thing I have ever experienced. I always thought that if I get a chance, I will study, finish, get a job, and take care of my family. That has changed. I now consider caring for everyone (not only family members) who needs help as my responsibility. I have done bokin (street fundraising) many times and I love it. It touches my heart that people will just come to you and give money and say ‘gambatte’ (good luck). I have a feeling that I can change a lot in my country with what I have learned.”
“The AAI was a gamechanger. Studying in extreme poverty is the worst thing I have ever experienced. I always thought that if I get a chance, I will study, finish, get a job and take care of my family.”
AAI Scholars conduct research and put together a proposal to tackle a social issue in their local community as a part of the program. This project, together with career training and participating in quality internship experiences on the African continent, makes the Ashinaga Africa Initiative an incubator for future leaders like Annet. During her studies, she did two research internships. One in Uganda and one in Rwanda, both in hospitals doing cancer-related research. When she got back to Japan from the internship in Uganda, she was inspired to make a positive change in the community she had worked in. Internalizing what she had learned during bokin in Japan, and the encouragement of an inspiring professor in Japan, Mr. Louis Irving, she organized a fundraiser to renovate a school near her temporary home during the internship. She raised ¥63,500 (about $635) to make a blackboard, cement the building, buy five desks, two balls, and a handwashing facility. She says, “I think I became empathetic after studying abroad where I met my kind friends and professors. If I didn’t come to Japan, I wouldn’t have had this kind of mindset. Not just one should succeed in a community, but we should help each other. For the proper development of the community, we have to move together, and not as one.”
Looking to the future, Annet is sure of a few things; she wants to be at the forefront of cancer treatment research, and she wants to educate her community about health, environment, exercise, nutrition, and reducing risks of cancer. She believes that access to healthcare is a human right, and education about preventative measures is crucial to improving living conditions.
Ashinaga’s President Tamai, or Tama-chan, talking about ‘on-okuri,’ the concept of giving back to your community, resonated with her. “If I didn’t work so hard to get here, how would I be able to think like this? I wish everyone could have access to quality education. And I hope those who have a chance to have it can discern that it is a great gift a person can offer to them. I have changed a lot, and I look forward to change in the future.”
Ashinaga could not be prouder of where Annet is headed. Again, congratulations.