Science - June 12, 2008

Dinner with a wise man

A relaxed dinner by the river, with the friendly old man who made their study in Wageningen possible: that was how ten international students spent a sunny Sunday afternoon last weekend. ‘I was surprised at how friendly and cheerful Anne van den Ban is,’ commented one.

Anne van den Ban shares dinner and conversation.
The Anne van den Ban Fund awarded twenty-five scholarships this year, supporting students from abroad who are doing agricultural, food or environmental studies. At eighty, the former Wageningen professor Van den Ban still takes an active interest in educating students and in world matters. He and the board members of his fund like to get to know the students they support, so they organise a dinner each year. Rowing club Argo was happy to host the dinner; as Van den Ban still rows most weekends.

Because of commitments elsewhere – fieldwork and excursions – only ten students were able to attend. But those present were flattered by the interest in them. ‘I was afraid the occasion would be quite formal, but it was a great pleasure to meet the person who helps so many students,’ comments Justyna Lukasiak who is doing a master’s in Biotechnology. Moses Sila Matui from Kenya first got sponsorship while studying at Larenstein three years ago, and is now studying International Development. ‘I sometimes meet the professor cycling, and once in a while we stop and have short conversation. He’s down to earth, and if you want you can visit him at home. I admire that simplicity and his commitment to a better world.’

It is through Van den Ban that she understands that learning is a life-long activity, says Shoa Shuyi. Van den Ban also shares copies of The Economist with the students, reveals the Chinese student of Management, Economics and Consumer Studies. ‘He told me that he likes to keep up with global events, but once he’s read the magazines they are just waste paper. So he thought maybe others would like to read them, and a few days later he dropped an envelope in my mailbox.’

Without the scholarship, the students would not have be in Wageningen. ‘I couldn’t have afforded to study here,’ says Justyna. After graduation she would like to return to Poland and work in biotechnology, which is on the rise there. Moses Sila is interested in developing commodity chains for indigenous plants like baobab and jatropha. ‘I want to stimulate rural entrepreneurship and generate alternative sources of income to reduce poverty. After my study here I believe I can get a good job.’

Besides the great weather and the good company, the food was also good. ‘And it was the first time I’ve seen a rowing boat,’ says Shuyi. It made Moses Sila wish he had more time for such activities.

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