Hannah Ahamedi
Trudeau Centre, Munk School

PCJ Graduate Heads to Cambridge with a Gates Scholarship

Until a year ago, Hannah Ahamedi, a 2022 graduate of the Peace, Conflict, and Justice (PCJ) program at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, had never flown anywhere further than Boston. That’s about to change, along with her future.

In June, Ahamedi is heading off to Middlebury College in Vermont on a Kathryn Davis Fellowship for Peace to study Arabic at one of the world’s most renowned language schools. In September, she’ll follow that up with a journey to the University of Cambridge where she will work toward an MPhil in African Studies on a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. It’s a journey that first began at the Munk School when Ahamedi was a high school student.

“I took part in the Global Ideas Institute where we had to come up with an innovative idea to address a critical issue,” Ahamedi says. “I’d never been exposed to the global problems that often fuel human rights abuses, which really provided me with a new perspective on how human rights violations are created and perpetuated.”

Her experience with the interdisciplinary PCJ program forced her outside of her comfort zone, but challenged her in a positive way.

“My professors became pretty close mentors,” Ahamedi says. “I value them and their research. They changed my perspective on what it means to be an effective leader and I realized that I also could contribute to academic research on my own terms and with a critical standpoint, even if they are niche topics.”

Ahamedi took a break after graduation to work full-time with R-SEAT (Refugees Seeking Equal Access at the Table) and consider her future. She realized that she wanted to attend graduate school and began searching for programs that dovetailed with her interests. She narrowed her list down with Cambridge, Harvard and Stanford at the top, and was accepted at all universities.

“It took months to do the applications and apply for scholarships,” Ahamedi said. “Thankfully, I had a lot of support from my professors, mentors and friends.”

In November, Ahamedi applied for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, even though most of these scholarships go to PhD students. While sitting in a work meeting during her first trip to Europe in February, she received an email inviting her for an online interview.

“I was trying to contain myself while sitting in the meeting,” she says. “I prepared for a month for the interview and two of my mentors, Rie Kijima and Michael Widener [of the Reach Alliance], put me through mock interviews.”

In mid-May, Ahamedi received and email offering her a place as a Gates Cambridge Scholar and she cried for joy.

“I had decided earlier to attend Cambridge and was planning to go into debt to do so,” Ahamedi said. “I already had signed my loan documents and had a co-signatory lined up.”

Instead, with all expenses paid, she’s off to Cambridge in September for a one-year intensive master’s program in African studies that comprises language training in Swahili, classes and research for her thesis. Ahamedi plans to focus on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programming. Her interest stems in partly from her PCJ program and partly from her own background, which is part Kenyan and Yemeni.

“I’m interested in peacebuilding and how to integrate local feminist perspectives into the conversation,” Ahamedi says.

“I am still trying to wrap my head around all of this, and I don’t even have words to describe how grateful I am. It may sound cliché, but I would tell others not to give up. You just need to go for what you want and seek the discomfort of it all. At the end of the day, it will get you where you want to go.”