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home : opinion : perspectives

6/15/2017 9:00:00 AM
South African grad dedicates success to Albany Catholic Worker community

(Editor's note: Mpume Zondi, another South African woman, lived at Emmaus House -- Albany's Catholic Worker house -- in 2002-03 while taking courses and teaching classes at The University at Albany. When she returned home, the Catholic Workers paid for the education of some children in her village, KwaNdebeqheke. One of those young people was Phumla Mnyandu, who just earned her social work degree. Ms. Mnyandu shared her story.)

I am from KwaNdebeqheke, a rural village in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Today, 11 May 2017, I graduated as a social worker at the University of Zululand.

I still cannot believe I have made it this far. I am on a journey of breaking down a cycle of poverty that has surrounded my family for generations.

It began 14 years ago, when Professor Zondi ("Aunt Mpume," as we fondly call her) and her son, Nhloso, returned with good news from their year-long stay in Albany. I was 10 years old then and in the fourth grade.

My single mother, Thembisile was struggling to put food on the table for my older sister and me. She was a domestic worker, something she still occasionally does, despite her ill health. There were times when she stayed home for long periods because she was out of work.

Mpume said an amazing family that had opened the doors of their home to her and her then-nine-year-old son while in the U.S. was going to support some children from our village in attaining an education. I was one of them.

We knew the family as "Emmaus House Catholic Worker Family." In 2011, we met these wonderful people when they came to visit South Africa. Diana Conroy, Fred Boehrer, Rev. Bob Longobucco, Freddie Boehrer and Helen and Carol Conroy shook hands with us and we shared a meal. I will always cherish that experience.

I had backpacks before, but the one I received when they came to visit was special, because Father Bob gave it a blessing. I always think that is why I had good results for my last year of high school: I carried my books in a backpack in whose blessings I had participated.

They had brought more than 100 backpacks for the scholars of my village. All the kids were excited. I still keep the prayer card that came with my backpack.

Emmaus House took care of my educational needs until I graduated from high school. From there, I did some little jobs to earn money to register at the University of Zululand. However, I continued to receive support with stationery and backpacks.

I began my university studies in 2012. It was God's grace that, in the same year, Mpume took a position at the same university as associate professor in the department of African languages and culture. This woman has been a blessing to my entire family and to our rural village. She employed me as her research assistant so I could earn a stipend while developing academically. The stipend helped me buy basic needs.

Growing up knowing people like Mpume and her mom made me realize that there is more to life than being comfortable in your own space. I have learned that what matters most is reaching out to those less privileged than you to help them become better. The Zondi family is like that. Having also struggled through life, they do not want to be the only people in the village who are better. They have done a lot to contribute in alleviating poverty in KwaNdebeqheke.

When I hear of the works of mercy that the Emmaus Catholic Worker House is about, I think there was a purpose in the meeting of the Zondi and Emmaus House families. Besides my achievement, there are families today who thank the Zondi family for tap water in their homes - an Emmaus House-funded project. Young kids from Imbalenhle, a local day care, continue to receive educational toys and Christmas gifts made possible by Emmaus House.

I am glad that they saw fruit of their work when they came to our country. I can see myself contributing to making this world a better place from the example I have learned from the Emmaus Catholic Worker House and the Zondi family. I believe that I am speaking for other children who have benefitted from Emmaus Catholic Worker House in KwaNdebeqheke and elsewhere.

We are also aware of all the support that people and organizations such as Father Bob's St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish in Schenectady have given Emmaus House in order that our lives may become better. May God bless them abundantly. It has not been in vain.

Last but not least, I thank God for having surrounded me with wonderful people: my family, friends and lecturers. I hope you can all rejoice with me, because my journey to poverty alleviation has just begun.

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