Under normal circumstances, recipients of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America college scholarships for international women meet once a year in Chicago to network and share ideas. Everyone has a plan to help their home countries, said Naomi Mbise, a third-year Cal Lutheran student from Tanzania.
The cancellation of recent gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped ELCA International Women Leaders (IWL) from forging bonds. Mbise, for example, is partnering with two 2021 graduates on a proposal to help low-income girls in Cameroon and Tanzania finish high school and pursue their dreams.
“I don’t know how we formed a connection, but we just still did,” said Mbise, referring to her “sisters” from Cameroon who attended St. Olaf and Concordia colleges as part of the scholarship program. Even though their home country and Tanzania are thousands of miles apart, she said, “we all share the passion that we want to see women in our societies being able to access formal education and to have opportunities for international education, as we did.”
In the last four years, Cal Lutheran has welcomed young women from Palestine, Tanzania and Poland under the IWL program, which is one of the benefits of the university’s affiliation with the ELCA. The Chicago-based group identifies scholarship candidates through Lutheran churches in low-income countries. After a competitive application process, the ELCA contributes $20,000 per student each year, plus some expenses for books, visas and flights home.
Even with a considerable balance remaining for students, including food and housing, said Dane Rowley, Cal Lutheran’s director of international admission, the university’s investment is still greater.
The IWL program offers “a layer of support for students that no other scholarship program provides,” Rowley said.
Tamar Haddad ’21, the first IWL scholar at Cal Lutheran, is a Palestinian from Jerusalem who graduated with a degree in music. With her can-do, entrepreneurial spirit, she has modeled in many ways what the IWL program is about.
While a student, Haddad wrote and published a book, The Future of Palestine: How Discrimination Hinders Change. She participated in Model United Nations and spoke at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Working with Cal Lutheran’s Hub101, she launched a leadership training program for Palestinian youths.
She now works in Ferndale, Washington, as a Lutheran youth minister and children’s choir director. She travels each year to teach leadership skills to high school students in Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
Haddad and Mbise became fast friends, then roommates, in 2019. Mibse is pursuing degrees in political science and theology and Christian leadership, and co-founded an African Students Association on campus. A third scholarship recipient, Julia Raszka of Poland, is a first-year student majoring in theater and psychology. The university plans to bring an IWL scholar every two years to keep up the peer mentorship.
Since childhood, Raszka wanted to be an artist on a stage. In southern Poland, she sang with a gospel choir and played piano and clarinet before discovering a community in musical theater. Through her Lutheran church, she learned of the opportunity to attend an ELCA college in the United States on a full scholarship. That was exciting news even though the name of the program made her wonder if it was the right fit.
Eventually, she recognized she’d begun developing leadership skills as a stage manager and performer, and the Young Life club has asked her to lead Bible study. She hopes to use her musical theater skills on returning to Poland, perhaps by coaching young performers and creating plays of her own.
Cal Lutheran’s interim pastor, the Rev. Mark Holmerud, said Mbise and Raszka have had a profound impact.
“They are making connections with people who have no idea what life is like outside of California, and much less the United States,” he said.
Visit elca.org/Our-Work/Global-Mission/International-Leaders for information on the IWL program. For details about international admission to Cal Lutheran, visit CalLutheran.edu/admission/international.html.
Kevin Matthews is a former editor of CLU Magazine.