FOR 17-year-old Abel Gumbo, things couldn’t be better. Only a few months ago he was among more than a thousand students at a high school in Harare. Today he is rubbing shoulders with future leaders at Atlanta’s Morehouse College in the United States.
Gumbo is one of 10 African students who have been awarded full ride scholarships to Morehouse, beginning this year. Everything is being paid for by billionaire Strive Masiyiwa, Zimbabwe’s richest man, according to the 2011 Forbes list.
The telecom tycoon has committed $6.4 million in scholarship dollars to send 40 African freshmen to Morehouse over a four-year period. This year’s intake comprises of two teenagers from Burundi and eight from Zimbabwe.
“It’s been an experience,” said Gumbo, who is studying for an undergraduate computer science degree. “I have left everything behind to gain an education in America. Computer science is technologically more advanced in the States and I am learning a lot about people from different cultures.”
“My life has been transformed,” said Prince Abudu, 17, from Zimbabwe, who is also studying computer science. “Morehouse has taught me the spirit of brotherhood and to strive for success.”
The 10 students, who arrived in Atlanta last month, are the first class of the newly-established Ambassador Andrew Young International Scholars program. The international scholarships were set up by Capernaum Trust, the education arm of Masiyiwa’s Higher Life Foundation.
Higher Life advertised for students throughout Zimbabwe, Burundi and South Africa to fill the highly competitive 10 scholarship slots. More than 500 of the brightest students from across the region applied.
A team from Morehouse flew to Zimbabwe to interview 20 finalists in June. Ten were selected and the others received scholarships to a South African university.
The winners were chosen on the basis of their high SAT scores, gruelling face-to-face interviews and a written essay.
Indeed, Masiyiwa has high hopes for the recipients of the scholarship. His vision is to develop young talent to become future leaders who will return to work in their native countries.
“My dream is to become an ethical leader,” said Abudu. “I want to be a morally conscious person, who can develop my country through entrepreneurship and business.”
Both boys are from modest backgrounds. Gumbo became an orphan at 10 years old and Abudu is from a single parent household, where his mother struggles to keep the family afloat since his father died in 2004. What makes them stand out is they are driven and academically talented.
“He himself (Strive Masiyiwa) from a very early age, when he was still in Zimbabwe, had heard about Morehouse College and had always wanted to come here,” said Petronella Maramba, executive director of Zimbabwe’s Capernaum Trust, in a recent televised interview with CNN.
“So when the opportunity was afforded to establish a relationship with Morehouse College to further a vision that he’s always had. To develop, young, bright, orphaned children in Africa,” she said.
“To help them develop into leaders who are able, after having obtained a good education in the United States of America, to go back to Africa and give back to the community and develop it further than what’s already been done in the past.”
In May Morehouse awarded Masiyiwa an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters in recognition in recognition of his philanthropic and humanitarian work across the African continent.