An 18-Year-Old Living in a Kenyan Refugee Camp Is Among 100 Teens Awarded Lifelong Support to Foster Global Change

Christian Maboko hopes to bring about change in the world. Burundi’s 18-year old, Christian Maboko, lives in Kenyan refugee camps and co-founded an organization to alleviate poverty. He will be receiving a lifetime of assistance from a new program for philanthropic support to foster talented teenagers around the world starting Monday.

Schmidt Futures has announced Maboko as one of 100 Rise Global Winners. This is part of a $1 Billion program that was funded by Wendy and Eric Schmidt. Eric Schmidt is the former CEO and executive chairman at Alphabet Inc. The program aims to foster collaboration and new projects from young people to help solve the world’s thorniest problems
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Maboko plans to use Rise’s financial support to further his work in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya and go to college, even though only 1% of high school graduates in the camp do so.

“I’m trying my best to be among the 1%,” he told The Associated Press.

Rise recipients will have lifetime access to career development, scholarships and funding for projects for public benefit. In addition, they will be invited to an annual summit for three weeks with fellow winners. They’ll also have mentorship opportunities and intern opportunities in the fields that interest them. The prize awarded to each winner will differ due to the differences in college costs around the globe.

Rise will notify winners Monday.

“We think talent around the world is distributed evenly,” Wendy Schmidt said. “But opportunity isn’t.”

Schmidt Futures and The Rhodes Trust asked teens to describe how they plan on addressing an issue, or what problems they have already addressed. Over 50,000 teenagers from 170 different countries applied for the scholarship last year.

Maboko created a program for his application to educate girls in refugee camps about reproductive health, and how important it is that they stay in school even after getting pregnant.

“I don’t want to see my younger sisters dropping out,” said Maboko, whose family has been unable to return to Burundi due to political unrest. “So I had to come up with a solution and do it for the community.”

The wide variety of global problems that Rise applicants want to tackle — from sustainable farming to female representation in Irish mythology to making shopping more accessible to those in wheelchairs — surprised the Schmidts, who expected an emphasis on scientific projects.

“When I look at this group, I can see the pandemic generation,” Wendy Schmidt said. “These kids have been growing up at a time when almost every system in the world that they knew about was failing. If that doesn’t give them an opening for creative solutions to some of these really big, hairy global problems that we face, nothing does.”

Eric Schmidt explained that Rise hopes to demonstrate several theories concerning supporting teenage students. Unlike other programs that support individuals rather than organizations — such as the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius grant”— Rise selects its winners mainly on potential and takes numerous criteria into account, including intelligence and overcoming adversity.

“There’s a lot of intuition that you can identify exceptional, creative, powerfully important people at 16 and not 14,” he said. “Now, that’s still a question, but I believe it to be true. And I think the cohort that has been selected is illustrative of this.”

Ella Duus is another winner who wants to decrease political polarization. Huntsville, Alabama’s sixteen-year-old created an online tool to determine how biased the information a Twitter account provides.

“Social media algorithms get people stuck in feedback loops,” she said. “This ultimately leads to a lot of radicalization of people, which can be a danger to the public.”

Duus took down her tool after it was so well-received that the cost of hosting it on a server became prohibitive. Her inclusion in Rise Global Winners will make that possible. This will allow her to continue her passion for diplomacy, national security and international relations when she returns to college.

Jennifer Uche, 17, of Boston, another winner, said the application process strengthened her writer’s voice and she hopes to encourage her peers to raise their voices as well. Her application included a podcast she produced about mutant teens that are discriminated against and who then become heroes in their local community.

“I wanted to really make something interesting out of the idea of advocacy,” Uche said. “And I wanted youth to see they have a voice and they can do something.”

Her podcast was combined with an internet forum where people could discuss art advocacy, how different works of art can inspire them to do more in their lives.

Uche hopes to utilize the Rise support to further her podcast and forum as well as to continue college studies in film and computer sciences.

Applications for next year’s class of Rise Global Winners will be accepted until Dec. 22 from those who will be 15 to 17 as of July 1, 2022, through the Hello World Network smartphone app.

The Rise Global winners also include:

— Irfan Ayub, of Afghanistan, who started a tutoring center in his rural community.

— Adam Dhalla, of Canada, who developed a machine learning algorithm to classify the locations of proteins within cells.

— Valentina Barrón García, of Mexico, who built a hydroponic system for growing fruits and vegetables.

— Lydia Ruth Nottingham, of the United Kingdom, who convinced her school to invest in reusable masks.

— Aryan Sharma, of India, who made a diagnostic app that scans X-rays for abnormalities.


Lilly Endowment supports the Associated Press’ coverage of philanthropy. All content is the sole responsibility of the Associated Press


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