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U.S. students, graduates see value in community service

April 3, 2007

University vacation is traditionally a time students spend catching up on school work, relaxing and, at times, pursuing attachments in order to learn job-related skills.

Not so for Zimbabweans studying at U.S. universities and colleges. Many have taken lead roles in community initiatives both in the United States and at home to benefit the under-privileged, pioneering a renewed sense of Zimbabwean volunteerism common in the culture of the United States.

Rumbidzai Sithole (22), a student of the College of Saint Scholastica in Minnesota became involved in the community she adopted at college. During her college days, Rumbidzai immersed herself in voluntary work with an organization in Minnesota that advocated for economic, social, and housing rights for Sudanese refugees. She also actively volunteered with two American non-governmental organizations, the American Association of University Women and Africa Action.

Rumbi took a semester off from college to come home to Zimbabwe for nine months and volunteer with a non-governmental organization providing support for the care, treatment and support of pediatric HIV+ patients.

“This way I learn a lot about issues pertaining to human development. I would like to pursue my post-graduate studies in the area of child-centered health policy. My hope is to work in Zimbabwe and directly contribute to my country’s development through ensuring that everyone’s health; social and political rights are honored,” she says.

Tafadzwa Muzhandu (25), a graduate of Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, mentored five children of a Somali refugee family in the US. She currently works as a program manager at Tariro, a small non-governmental trust that provides financial support to orphaned girls to pursue further education.

“My passion is economic development and education and my aspiration is to work in an organization that allows me to shape policy in this field,” she says.

Another student, Tambudzai Shamu (22), will be graduating in May with a degree in Biology from Viterbo University in Wisconsin. Tambu (pictured above) has spent her school holidays in the US volunteering with homeless communities at Catholic Worker Houses and as part of the clean-up effort in Louisiana after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. This year, she came home for a semester to join research initiatives on HIV and AIDS at the local offices of the Center for Disease Control based at the U.S. Embassy in Harare.

“I have a strong interest in HIV/AIDS research and have been using my time here to discover more about the disease, its prevalence and work being done on it. I have been introduced to several HIV projects supported by the U.S. Government in different areas and have taken the time to explore areas of interest that will be helpful when I further my studies,” she says.

The United States, which has one of the best and most comprehensive system of higher education in the world; has a strong tradition of volunteerism and Zimbabwean students, who themselves are highly rated by many American colleges, assimilate these values.

“Schools and universities encourage youth to find ways to assist their communities. Across the United States, colleges and universities provide opportunities for students to participate in voluntary service projects, often integrated with their academic studies,” says Rebecca Zeigler Mano, Educational Advisor at the U.S. Embassy, Harare.

 “It is inspirational to witness the majority of Zimbabweans studying in the United States taking advantage of community service opportunities to promote positive social change in both the communities they join in the US and their home communities in Zimbabwe. Some raise funds for projects and school fees here in Zimbabwe, others have created websites for local NGOs without the capacity to do so and some, like the young women mentioned, come home to immerse themselves in community work.”

Several colleges have programs that place students in needy communities to perform volunteer community service. They take on a wide variety of challenges from helping neighborhoods ravaged by natural disasters rebuild homes to working in homeless shelters.

Statistics from the Open Doors study by the Institute of International Education show that in 2005- 6, there were 1,704 Zimbabweans out of 564,766 international students studying at colleges and universities in the United States. Zimbabwe ties South Africa as the fourth largest student sending country in Africa to the United States. Only Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana in Africa continue to send more students to study in the U.S.

Note: The United States Embassy’s Public Affairs Section houses an EducationUSA certified Educational Advising Center which provides the only source in Zimbabwe of comprehensive, accurate, current and unbiased information about higher education opportunities in the United States. The Educational Advising center is located on the 7th Floor, Gold Bridge in Eastgate in Harare and opens Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday between 1030am-1230 and 130-430pm.