I grew up on the dusty streets of Sakubva, an old township in Mutare, Zimbabwe’s third largest city. My father was a bus driver at a local bus company, but then he got retrenched following a severe hyperinflation in 2008. Ever since, he has been hopping from one menial job to the next to make ends meet. My mother, on the other hand, operates a small market stall, where she sells an assortment of second-hand clothes, potatoes and vegetables. She’s the most hard-working person I’ve ever known and to some extent, I think I inherited her work ethic. Being the first child in a family of five children, I’ve had to set good precedents for my younger siblings to emulate. I vividly recall taking up part-time jobs in the neighborhood on weekends or during school break, to help my mother put food on the table. I also paid my own tuition (and my siblings’) through selling beverages and buns every day after school. Being the oldest child has a different meaning altogether in the African context. It means preparing meals for the whole family, helping your parents raise the younger kids and in some instances, as in my case, help bring in income. Juggling my academic work with my “fatherly” responsibilities (he sometimes just disappeared) was no easy task. It required a lot of hard work and unparalleled determination. But I had a dream. I knew that I wanted to learn in the States, and I guess that’s what pushed me to work harder than my peers, who were from more privileged families. At some point in my life, I just came to the tired realization that, armed with a liberal arts education and a bold dream, I could fortify our liberty against abject poverty.
My hard work paid off when the United States Student Achievers Program (USAP), which we humorously dubbed “the Harvard of Zimbabwe” because of its selectivity, recognized me as one of the best 35 students in Zimbabwe. This was my turning point—my launch pad to glory. Needless to say that I’d almost dropped out of school due to austere financial challenges (I actually stayed at home for almost a month!). USAP assisted me to apply to several colleges in the United States, something my mother’s meagre earnings couldn’t have afforded. My USAP journey was arduous and demanding, but ultimately, I prevailed.
17 March 2016 had great news for me—I’d been accepted to Carleton! I can’t describe the feeling that came over me as I read out loud the acceptance letter to my whole family. It’s that bubbly feeling that grips the once-upon-a-time-beggar who has finally hit the jackpot, and knows with lucid certainty that the days of suffering now belong to the trash-bins of history. With this Carleton letter, came a chance to get even with fate and prove my worth! Several acceptances poured in the following week, but I’d already made up my mind—Carleton was to be my new home for the next four years. What particularly drew me to Carleton was its commitment to undergraduate teaching and its small tight-knit community. My academic advisor at the USAP program, knowing the passion I have for the liberal arts, also played a paramount role in swaying me in the direction of this school. “Honey, this is one of the best liberal arts schools in the U.S., go for it! You’ve finally achieved your dreams!” she beamed on the other end of the telephone.
I’m glad to say I’ve found a second home at Carleton. I’ve found a place where I can work towards my dreams, one chilly day at a time. It’s a lot of work, a lot of trade-offs and compromises, but it’s worth it. What struck me most about Carleton when I first got here that hot September night was the warmth of the people. The people were so nice that I suspected they were up to something! It’s a very supportive community that has given me an opportunity to thrive and easily establish my presence as an international student. I’m more than grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had here, and it has helped me to grow as an individual and as a young African leader. Sometimes you can truly appreciate something when you’ve been at a point where you have nothing at all. I know what it’s like to go to bed on an empty stomach, and then walk 9 miles to school the next morning (without breakfast). I know what it’s like to brave the cold cement floor on a chilly winter night. Imagine my reaction when I first slept in my own bed here. I know what it’s like to sleep on the streets on a rainy night under the cover of cardboard boxes. This is what motivates me to wake up every day with renewed energy and work towards my dreams one more time. I strongly feel that I’m being prepared into a global, holistic citizen, who’ll go back to Africa at some point, and help kids like myself.