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Mystery Donor Sends Interns to Africa
For years, students addressed letters to "Mr./Ms. X," thanking the philanthropist for providing what were truly transformative experiences that helped them clarify career aims and test their mettle.
At last, the donor has been persuaded to "go public," revealing himself to be none other than Professor Emeritus David Abernethy, the political science expert known for his mentorship of many undergraduates since he joined the Stanford faculty in 1965.
Tumisang Madigele, '13, is one of the beneficiaries of the internship program. An international relations major, Madigele returned to her native Botswana this past summer to work for Kagisano Society Women's Shelter Project. She says helping the organization offer a safe haven to women and children suffering from domestic abuse opened her eyes.
"I've learned that abused wives are the most vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS because their spouses tend to have extramarital relations and refuse to use condoms," Madigele says. "The internship helped me figure out where my interests lie, most likely in women's rights and HIV/AIDS prevention. That's what I'll focus on when I go back to my country after graduation."
So far, the internship program has enabled nine students to work with local NGOs in seven African countries. Madigele is among three undergraduates from Africa to participate. In 2011, an additional student served in Nicaragua.
The nine-week summer sojourns have touched on issues such as the status of Sudanese refugees living in Egypt, apartheid history and racial reconciliation in South Africa, AIDS education and government accountability in Tanzania, and women's education and safety in Rwanda and Botswana.
No longer do the students have to wonder who is behind their overseas experiences.
"David Abernethy is a philanthropist in the deepest sense," says Suzanne Abel, senior advisor at the Haas Center, which administers the Abernethy internships and numerous similar opportunities. "He's a remarkably engaged faculty person who has given of himself generously to students for more than 40 years, stretching well beyond his retirement in 2002."
As an undergraduate at Harvard in 1958, Abernethy spent the summer in Nigeria with Operation Crossroads Africa, a precursor to the Peace Corps, learning about that country’s political and economic concerns. "That experience was critical in affirming for me what I wanted to do in life. I established the NGO internship fund to help other students have the same kind of opportunity," says the sub-Saharan specialist. His wife, Susan, worked in the Stanford Office of Development for 28 years.
For Abernethy, stories like Madigele's validate his gift. "I'm particularly delighted to help Stanford enhance its scholarship aid to students from developing countries, because many of these countries' problems will only be solved from the 'inside,'" he says. “When international students return home during summers to do socially useful work, they have the obvious advantage of knowing the culture and language firsthand, so they can get right to work."
"Being a benefactor is tremendously gratifying when you find out what a large impact even a modest amount of money can have in a student's life."