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Zambian woman realizing health care dream


1:00 P.M. EST April 28, 2010 | MEMPHIS, Tenn. (UMNS)

Mukanyanga Muzyamba 
walked 12 miles daily to attend secondary school in Zambia. UMNS photos 
courtesy of the Memphis Annual (regional) Conference.
Mukanyanga Muzyamba walked 12 miles daily to attend secondary school in Zambia. UMNS photos courtesy of the Memphis Annual (regional) Conference.

As a fourth-grader in a remote village in Zambia, Mukanyanga Muzyamba figured her desire to become a doctor was next to impossible.

The people in Sichibeya were subsistence farmers, and their only school ended at the fourth grade. The school serving children beyond the fourth grade was six miles away.

Clinging to her hope of becoming a physician and buoyed by a strong faith in God, 10-year-old Muka chose to make the daily 12-mile round-trip walk on a footpath winding through the bush to attend fifth grade.

For the next few years, Muka had to rise by 4 a.m. to finish her chores before starting her long trek to school.

Muka tried to finish her work by 5 a.m. in order to arrive at school when classes started at 8 a.m. Some days, by the time she finished her work, she had to run, rather than walk, in order to avoid being punished for tardiness. When the school day ended at 4 p.m., Muka would begin the long walk back, arriving home about 7 p.m., giving her nine hours to eat, bathe and sleep before doing it all over again.

Despite this exhausting schedule, the intellectually gifted Muka excelled in school.

Seventh grade is a pivotal year for Zambian students. Only students scoring in the top 20 percent of a national standardized test are allowed to continue to eighth grade. Muka was the only student from her village allowed to continue her schooling.

She went on to high school where she again passed a nationwide test that eliminated 50 percent of the 11th graders, and she graduated with top marks.

Mukanyanga Muzyamba 
strives to improve Zambian health care.
Mukanyanga Muzyamba strives to improve Zambian health care.

Memphis church helps

About this time, Mullins United Methodist Church in Memphis was adding classrooms to the school in Sichibeya. After learning of Muka’s achievements and dreams, they agreed to provide financial support to help her attend college.

The options for higher education in Zambia are limited; the number of qualified applicants vastly outstrips the enrollment capacity of the nation’s few universities, causing a wait time of about two years before new high school graduates are admitted.

When Muka was finally able to begin classes at the University of Zambia, she was disappointed to learn there was no opening for pre-med students; the only opening available was in the teacher education program.

Her sponsors at the Memphis church urged her to start classes at the Zambia school while she looked for another college that offered a pre-med major. Unfortunately, University of Zambia faculty went on strike the week before final exams to protest the government’s failure to pay them what was promised in their contracts.

Since students could not complete their courses and receive their credits without their final exams, Muka and the rest of the students were left in limbo while the strike dragged on for weeks.

Africa University

Meanwhile, God opened another door. A relative of Muka’s with friends in The United Methodist Church learned about Africa University and urged her to apply to the Zimbabwe school. She was accepted and started classes in August 2007.

Since Africa University does not have a medical program, Muka chose the next closest course of study available. She will graduate this June with a bachelor’s degree in health services management.

“My life from childhood has not been easy, full of struggles, but I thank God that through these struggles I have been made strong in my faith,” Muka said. “The purpose of sharing my faith with others is to encourage those who are discouraged or hopeless, due to financial and social instabilities, that there is a God who does more than we can ever ask or imagine, as long as we remain faithful to him.

Muka says she will use her training in health services management to help provide quality health care.

“My prayer is to make a difference in my country by ensuring that health resources are managed effectively and efficiently.”

After her graduation from Africa University, Mukanyanga hopes to attend graduate school at the University of Memphis, and someday she would like to run her own medical center.

She told her Memphis sponsors that a master’s degree in public health in a developed country would give her “strategies for improving the system in my own country.”

The Memphis church is currently seeking sponsors who will enable Muka to complete a master’s degree in America.

For somebody who walked 12 miles a day to finish elementary school, crossing an ocean to finish her college education seems a fitting last step in a long journey of faith and hard work.

*Gray is a member of Mullins United Methodist Church, which sponsors Mukanyanga.

News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5489 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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