By Proud Dzambukira, Co-founder of Bhlasen.com, Washington DC
"There will always be hope, hope never dries up."
Five years ago, in June 1998, I delivered the above words with the innocence of the child I was. I was being interviewed by David Moricca and Eric Farmer, who were shooting video footage for a documentary, Meet Zimbabwe's Young Scholars, as part of the Zimbabwe Educational Outreach Project. They thought I had a remarkable story to tell. And I did. It was a tale of hope renewed. The memory of that day, which I have come to look back on as a milestone in my life, though still fresh in my mind, has a dreamlike quality to it. It is accentuated by the memory of the thunder of water plunging down the deep chasm of the Victoria Falls in the background and the misty spray that swirled around us.
In 1996, during the final year of my primary school education, my world collapsed around me. I suffered the same fate suffered by so many children in Zimbabwe today. My Father, the sole bread winner in the family, passed away. With his passing, died my hope of proceeding with my education, died my hope of being the sole architect of my own future and I was in danger of being trapped in the vicious circle of poverty that so many in my family had the misfortune of being held. In Zimbabwe, education is the key to prosperity and happiness. I had not just lost a father; I had lost the key to unlocking the door to a happier future for my family and myself.
My hope was resurrected by Students for Students International, a student organization based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which was formed to provide scholarships to promising, financially disadvantaged children in Zimbabwe so that they could continue with their education past the primary grades. In 1998 I was at a well renowned secondary school, trying to mould a better future for myself, my family, and in turn, for my community. I was very grateful and optimistic.
That was my story then. Today I have an even more remarkable story to tell. It is a tale of my journey since then, and the articulation of what the story I told five years ago meant for the future. Of course I did exceptionally well in my studies - I had to. Not because I was particularly intelligent, but because I understood only too well the value of the education that I had almost been denied. My studies took me, at no expense to my family or myself, halfway across the country to one of the best schools in the region for the last two years of my high school education. There my eyes were opened to a wider world of opportunities, which deepened my gratitude and heightened my appreciation and outrage at the disparity that exists between the rich and poor. I started growing up then. My resolve to make the most out of the opportunities available to me was thus steeled, but more importantly, I defined what, for me, has come to be a life statement: to balance the scale, to reach out and make available the same opportunities that I have had to children in circumstances similar to mine in 1996.
In 2002, during my final year of high school, my march into the future quickened. I was chosen to be a participant in the highly selective United States Student Achievers Program (Usap) that is funded by the US Embassy. Each year this program assists about thirty students from around the country to take advantage of the educational and personal growth opportunities available at some universities in the United States . I applied and was accepted into Harvard University on a full scholarship.
This is my story today. In the fall of 2003, I traveled halfway around the world to Cambridge, Massachusetts to begin a new chapter in my life. It is impossible to look ahead into the future without pausing to reflect on the past. Seven years ago my life, my hopes and my dreams lay broken at my feet. Today the future is full of boundless opportunities. The happy contrast is humbling and gratifying. However with the gratitude always comes the reminder that my happiness is not universally shared. So many people around me are still trying to put together the broken pieces of their hope.
Story written in January 2003
UPDATE: Proud has since graduated from Harvard College and is now living and working in Washington DC