It took only five minutes, the conversation in which Prof. Anne van den Ban offered to sponsor her Bachelor’s study, recounts Dr Rose Mongi on the phone from Tanzania. “I asked his advice on how to further develop my skills. Out of the blue he said: do you need to study? I can support you. He said it just like that.”
Van den Ban, founder of the rural extension science in Wageningen, sponsored Mongi’s Bachelor’s study in the early nineties. The befriended Wageningen alumni Van den Ban and tropical agronomist Gerard Kerkhoven subsequently established a fund to support students from developing countries, now known as the Anne van den Ban Fund. Mongi is currently the national wheat and barley lead scientists in Tanzania. Last year she obtained a PhD in plant breeding in South-Africa.
“I met professor Van den Ban in 1990 when I was working as a technician at the Uyole Agricultural Research Institute which is under the Ministry of Agriculture, livestock and fisheries,” Mongi says. “It was my first job and I had to work hard; planting trials, conducting field assessments, harvesting. I had attended the two-year college for agriculture after high school, as I wanted to improve the situation of smallholder farmers. Van den Ban worked as extension consultant and would always visit our field to discuss the trials and harvests.”
“One day, I talked to some European friends who were volunteering at the research institute about getting into higher education, as I could not afford the Bachelor’s school fee in Tanzania at that time. They encouraged me to obtain Van den Ban’s advice. I was scared to do so, him being a foreigner, so senior and knowledgeable. But I mustered up and talked to him. It took only five minutes. To my great surprise he offered his full financial support. I rushed out to my colleagues, wondering if this had really happened. Although we all knew this straightforward answer matched his character.”
Mongi believes that his offer rooted from the hard work he used to find her doing. “Van den Ban believed in working hard while delivering good results to the farmers.” Mongi finally got herself enrolled at the University of Missouri, Columbia (USA) in 1991. She worked hard and finished in 2,5 years; 1,5 years early. “Then my study advisor recommended me to a collage at the University of Idaho, who had a Master degree in plant science assistantship in his project. The university accepted me because of my good grades and the project covered my tuition fee and living expenses.” Upon graduation Mongi was offered a PhD position a next university. But she decided to return home. “Every single day I would hear professor Van den Ban saying: remember to go back and work for your people.”
She is still very happy with her decision. She brings together breeders, agriculturalist and extensionists for agricultural development and has developed four wheat and three bean varieties. “For example last year I worked with 500 wheat farmers who were able to raise their harvests from one bag to fifteen bags of hundred kilograms. I’m passing on my knowledge like Van den Ban used to do.” She also takes care of the school fees of other than her own three children. “Van den Ban did not know me, he was not even from my tribe. But he nevertheless supported and encouraged me. Supporting someone’s education has more result in the long term than any other gift. It ensures someone to stand on his own feet.”
Van den Ban and Kerkhoven formalized their support to students in a tax-friendly way in 1992 by establishing the foundation Sharing responsibilities for students (SRS). At first they were the sole sponsors, later other joined them. The foundation’s main goal was to stimulate development in developing countries. Next it supported the development of a more international classroom in Wageningen. In 2005 the foundation got renamed for promotional reasons as Anne van den Ban Fund.
Mongi found out about the foundation in 1993, on her first and only visit to Wageningen. “Professor Van den Ban picked me up at Schipol airport when I flew home to Tanzania and we had dinner with the board. Keep working hard, he told me, and that is what I did. It was unfortunately the last time I would see him. But we stayed in touch by e-mail. He was so nice. He offered something from his heart, without expecting anything in return.”