Student from Tanzania committed to changing her country through education, public policy

Irene Kinyanguli

Irene Kinyanguli practically danced through the airport in Tanzania as she departed for the United States and the promise of higher education at Arizona State University.

“I couldn’t believe it. It was a life-changing moment,” she said. “At the airport, there were about 30 people there to see me go. It was a happy moment for me and for my family.”

Kinyanguli is attending ASU through The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program. The program provides scholarships to academically talented, yet economically disadvantaged young people who have demonstrated a commitment to benefitting others with their education. The goal is to equip students to lead change and make a positive social impact in their communities.

Making Tanzania a better place, especially for young women, is one of Kinyanguli’s goals. Many times girls marry at a young age in her country and end up in poverty since they have children without having a dependable income, she explained.

“If we can build a stable family, we can build a stable nation,” she added. “There is a lot of unemployment. We don’t have a lot of entrepreneurs making changes.”

Encouraging young people to attain their dreams through education is another of Kinyanguli’s goals.

“I want to motivate youth to be what they want to be,” she said. “I want to go back and make people feel like the government is there for them by changing policies. I know I’m just a single person. It’s not going to be easy, but I want people to enjoy living in their country.”

Attending ASU is a dramatic difference in education from her public grade school experience in Tanzania, where the “teacher could come when she (felt) like it.” Her mother is the headmistress of a public school in her home country, where teachers live difficult lives.

“No one wants to be a teacher,” Kinyanguli said. “Many public school teachers have to work two jobs to get enough money to survive.”

In stark contrast, ASU offers what she described as an “amazing” vibe because it is comprised of people from a variety of backgrounds, including fellow MasterCard Foundation Scholars who are all committed to returning to Africa and shaping the future of their countries.

“I meet people here who are going back and are going to make a change. It’s just amazing. Some of them already have projects in Africa that they are giving back to. It gives me energy,” said Kinyanguli, who is majoring in public service and public policy.

Kinyanguli also described her transition to ASU as an exercise in becoming used to the “hottest place I’ve ever been,” and appreciating the beauty of the people and the Downtown Phoenix campus.

She was first motivated to study hard and come to America after discovering a talk-show celebrity from the United States. “I had the desire to come to America when I was in second grade. I saw Oprah and said, ‘I want to go there.’” Her parents encouraged her to work hard so that she would be able to continue with her studies.

Kinyanguli did exactly that and received a scholarship to attend a private school in fourth grade. It was an environment where value was placed on teaching and learning.

“Teachers are there for you. I could talk to the teachers,” she said. “I worked hard.”

Attending an international high school in Tanzania through a scholarship she earned provided a valuable precursor to interacting with people from other countries and allowed Kinyanguli to become proficient in English. She was able to complete her high school education through the scholarship.

“Each year, the school sponsors five students from Tanzania. It was competitive,” she said.

As the first person in her family to go to college, she is blazing an educational trail that she hopes her siblings will follow.

“Girls in my country are viewed at different levels and thought of as not smart,” she said. “I had battles with boys on an intellectual level in school. I wanted to make my mom feel proud. I feel that I can make it.”