By: Christa Meland
When Vanessa Kambi was a young child, she suffered from malnutrition. It greatly impacted her sense of self-worth—and it propelled her to study agriculture in hopes that other children in her community would never have to face food insecurity.
“If there was enough food on the table, I wouldn’t have grown up with low self-esteem and thinking I was not good enough, not beautiful enough,” said Kambi, who lives in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “When I understood how that affected me...I felt the best way I could help was getting food for everybody.”
Project AgGrad is helping Kambi in that pursuit by funding her education at the University of Minnesota, where she’ll soon begin working on her master’s degree in applied plant sciences—focusing on marketing and communications. Kambi is the ninth student that Project AgGrad has supported since its inception. Now in its 36th year, Project AgGrad is a mission program of the Minnesota Conference that addresses the root causes of hunger in developing countries. It selects promising students from those countries and supports them as they pursue an advanced degree in agriculture production; upon completion of their degree, the students return home to share what they’ve learned and help their nation’s farmers feed more people in a sustainable way. Project AgGrad funds the students’ fellowship expenses through gifts from local churches and individuals.
Since completing her undergraduate degree in Zimbabwe, Kambi has been working with local farmers and community organizations, providing training around land management, crop rotation, use of pesticides, and other farming best practices.
“I love helping farmers understand that farming isn’t only about putting a crop into soil, but you also need to have marketing skills to know: Is it good for this market? Is it the right season for the crop? Are people willing to buy it?” Kambi said. “You have to communicate about the crop you’re bringing to market and be able to market it.”
When Kambi returns to DRC after her studies, she hopes to teach agriculture classes in a university setting.
One of the challenges she faces at home is working in a field that’s primarily been occupied by men. She recalls situations in which men weren’t engaged in training she led or even questioned what she could possibly teach them. She overcame some of that skepticism by proving herself in a very visible way: She planted and successfully harvested onions and soybeans in a town where farmers had mostly grown tomatoes. All of a sudden, they had questions and were interested in what she had to share.
So far, Kambi is enjoying Minnesota—but she’s missing her family and the cultural food she enjoyed at home, like cassava.
Being a person of faith isn’t a requirement for Project AgGrad students, but Kambi is a lifelong Christian—and she’s looking for a Pentecostal church to attend while she’s in school.
“God is always there,” she said. “God is inside of me. When fear comes or even when I’m angry or things aren’t well, I pray about it. I always say ‘I will cry but Lord, I will cry in your presence.’”
Eric Forsberg, Project AgGrad’s chair, said what he appreciates about Project AgGrad is that all of the money given to the ministry supports students and enables them to obtain an incredible education, which they then use to make huge difference upon returning home.
His hope for Kambi: “that she have success in her academic career and personal life and be able to return to her home country and achieve the goals she set for herself.”
Project AgGrad’s eight graduates have collectively taught 6,246 undergraduate students and 601 graduate students. Additionally, they have directly influenced 1,190 farmers in their home countries, authored 139 peer-reviewed articles, and organized 117 workshops.
Many congregations in the conference support Project AgGrad through financial contributions. The cost of the fellowship for students supported through the program is approximately $50,000 per year—so contributions are always needed.
Learn more about Project AgGrad by watching this video. Contributions to the program can be made online or sent to the Minnesota Conference office (122 W. Franklin Ave, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55404); be sure to write “Project AgGrad” on the the memo line to ensure your donation goes to the right place.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church