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Zimbabweans step up to help students

James Salley introduces Grace Muradzikwa as an “outstanding fundraiser” during an Africa University recognition dinner. A UMNS photo by Vicki Brown.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Sept. 15, 2009 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

Africa University was established by The United Methodist Church in 1993.
A UMNS file photo by
Mike DuBose.

Grace Muradzikwa is a successful executive in Zimbabwe.

But it was her mother’s heart that responded when she heard more than 300 Africa University students didn’t have the money to go back to school.

Muradzikwa turned to the business community of Zimbabwe and raised $100,000 for scholarships in a country where the economy has collapsed and many companies are only operating at 25 percent of capacity.

The effort gave some 60 students the opportunity to continue their education, and showed how a nation could come together to provide a better future for the next generation, Muradzikwa said.

“I have three children who are currently attending university,” she said at a recent Africa University advisory development committee meeting. “And I couldn’t imagine what any mother or parent must be facing if they had a child in the middle of their studies but did not have the money to let them complete their education.”

Education first

More than 300 students have not been able to register at Africa University for the 2009-2010 academic year. Rampant inflation in Zimbabwe, where the school is located, made Zimbabwean dollars worthless.

In 2009, Zimbabwe switched to a currency of U.S. dollars and South African rand. Africa University can only accept U.S. dollars and many Zimbabwean parents have no means to pay for their children’s education. The cost for sending a student to Africa University for one year is $5,400, while the average salary for a worker in Zimbabwe is $100 to $200 a month.

As the chief financial officer for Nicoz Diamond, the largest insurance agency in Hurare, Zimbabwe, Muradzikwa has ties to the business community. As a board member of the Africa University development committee, she also has ties to the United Methodist-related institution.

She said the chaplain of Africa University called her to discuss what Zimbabweans could do to help their children.

“We then agreed we would start a fundraising campaign within the Zimbabwe community mindful of the fact many of the Zimbabwean businesses were also going through very difficult times,” she said. “They were also battling with the new currency, trying to restart their operations. But we had faith that since this was something that had to do with the education of their children the business community would be responsive to such a call.”

Africa University is located in Mutare, Zimbabwe. A UMNS file photo by
Mike DuBose.

Muradzikwa printed photos and bios of the students in need and took them to companies, where she asked the firms to adopt “two, three or 10” and commit to seeing they completed their degrees.

She found many companies recognized they also were making an investment in their own future.

“One company was particularly interested in students pursuing accounting degrees. Some of the mining houses were interested in engineering students, some others in agriculture students,” she said.

The response was “absolutely awesome.”

“We would walk out of an office and they would say they would take five—it wasn’t an argument, it was just a question of how much they could do.”

Generous response

Muradzikwa’s also organized a fundraising event held in conjunction with the annual Nicoz Diamond charity ball. The event was held in the Nicoz Hotel and the Nicoz family donated a three-course dinner for $15.

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“It was a lovely three-course meal—you just don’t get that in Zimbabwe,” she said. “We sold the plates for $50 so we were able to make a profit of $35 on each plate.”

Everyone involved in the event from decorators to musicians donated their skills.

With the money raised from the various efforts, Muradzikwa said, 30 students who were in their final year of study will be able to finish and about 30 other students in their third year will be funded.

"I have always said as Africans in Africa there are pockets we can tap into. It is not all about fundraising in the U.S. and Europe,” she said. “We have Africa University day in our churches and collect a special offering. I think if all churches in Africa were to do this it would go a long way toward the funding requirements for the university.”

*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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