There are multiple true life stories of the power of education to lift a talented young person from poverty and powerlessness to a point of making a major impact on his or her family, community, even nation. We may watch these stories in movies, read them in books or discover them online. However, once you meet an empowered young person whose eyes sparkle with the possibility of their dreams, you truly believe. Education does matter.
Sixteen years ago, I started out on an amazing journey. Having just been hired part-time to provide educational advising services at the U.S. Embassy, I noticed that only those students who felt entitled by wealth or connections thought they could apply to study in the United States. Having taught at and been exposed to a variety of schools in Zimbabwe and in the United States, I knew that wealth had no automatic correlation with talent, ability or determination. With the support of my then boss and later Ambassador, Bruce Wharton, I founded the United States Student Achievers Program to go out and find the best and brightest students, bond them as a “USAP family” and help them access opportunities through which they could explore their talents.
Fast forward fifteen years and USAP has enabled hundreds of students, not only from Zimbabwe, but also in countries as far flung as Mongolia, Malawi, Brazil, Ecuador, Uganda, Colombia, Zambia and Nigeria, to secure full scholarships and study at top colleges and universities in the United States and elsewhere. I have watched USAP students grow to be student leaders on their campuses, address major conferences, and whether here in Zimbabwe, elsewhere on the African continent or still in the United States, make a tremendous impact. We joke that #USAPRocks and yes, indeed it does.
We live in a country and indeed in a world dramatically divided by income level. In Zimbabwe, those fortunate to have been born into situations of wealth enjoy amazing private primary and high schools, teeming with high levels of technology, trained teachers and resources to promote not only academics, but also arts and sports. However, the vast majority of young people grow up in rural villages or in high-density townships, dreaming of such resources. Those who are most determined exert incredible effort and tenacity to follow the only path they believe can unlock their future dreams – that of education.
Education does matter. We are here to help students’ realize its potential and in that process, realize their dreams, too. We invite you to join us on the journey.