Education Was Her Dream — Now She’s Funding Scholarships for WomenDecember 09, 2013
During this season of giving, we’re sharing stories about how AAUW’s programs affect real women and girls all over the country. The following story originally appeared in the 2013 AAUW annual report.
As a child growing up in Peru, Gabriela Canepa understood the value her parents placed on getting a good education. “It was very important to my parents,” Canepa recalls. “My father used to say that an education for his children was the best inheritance he could leave.”
And so in 1988, when Canepa was invited to pursue a master’s degree in public administration at Harvard University, the question was not whether she would accept but rather how she would make this educational dream a reality. At the time, Harvard did not offer aid to midcareer students, so Canepa had to come up with her own tuition.
While researching funding possibilities, she came across AAUW’s International Fellowships program.
“I already knew about AAUW’s mission, work, and commitment to the advancement of women,” explains Canepa, whose robust professional career before Harvard had been dedicated to developing women leaders and promoting women’s reproductive health, mental health, and economic well-being in Peru. “I felt so proud that the work I was doing qualified me for an AAUW scholarship and will be forever grateful to AAUW. Its support was invaluable and helped me achieve a dream and a goal.”
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“After graduating, Canepa set to work to improve the conditions of low-income Latina women and children in the United States. She designed an education program to help Latina immigrants develop the skills and self-confidence they need to better shape the course of their lives and contribute more actively to their communities. The program — which became known as Breaking Barriers — began in 1998 as a small pilot project within the national Education Development Center; it focused on teaching English-language development, job readiness, social skills, health, parenting, and self-esteem to 20 immigrant women living in Waltham, Massachusetts. Today, Breaking Barriers has helped nearly 2,000 women and men and has grown to be an integral part of the community.
“Breaking Barriers would have never existed if I was not given the opportunity to attend Harvard,” Canepa notes. “I have always felt that the scholarship I received was a sort of loan from AAUW and that the time would come when I would be ready to repay it.”
A few months ago, Canepa says, that time finally came. She contacted AAUW and expressed her desire to give back the full amount that she received for her fellowship in 1990 — and to encourage other past fellows to do the same or to give however much they could. Canepa’s 125th Anniversary Alumnae Fund will form a new chapter in AAUW’s long and distinguished history of providing fellowships and grants to graduate women.
“I want to motivate other women who have received AAUW scholarships to give back when they are ready, so other women can benefit as we once did,” says Canepa. “And if more former scholars commit to giving back, then AAUW will be able to leverage these resources and expand its reach so more women from different walks of life and in different parts of the world can build their own, better futures through education, leadership opportunities, and activist work.”
Related video: You make dreams come true.