From Maamba to Cambridge

A Year of Pressure and Pride for Harvard’s Only Zambian

Yanick Mulumba, Harvard's Only Zambian
Jacob S. Beech, Ethan G. Loewi, and Jennifer R. Rolfes

Kabungo Yanick Mulumba ’15 speaks with a rich accent, a result of years of speaking Sub-Saharan Bantu dialects such as Nyanja, and wears a bright, easy smile that belies an inner seriousness.

“I knew Harvard is big,” he says, “but when I stepped on campus, the magnitude struck me. I could see it is very different from the largest university in Zambia.”

To say that Mulumba has had more to adapt to than the average Harvard freshman would be a major understatement—in fact, it is hard to imagine two cities with less in common than Cambridge, MA, and Maamba, Zambia, the small mining town in the southern region of the country that he calls home.

Mulumba is the only student from Zambia, a country of almost 13 million people, currently enrolled in the College. As there is only one other Zambian enrolled at Harvard, a student at the Divinity School, Mulumba’s journey, and motivations for embarking on that journey, stand out as remarkable even on a highly diverse and multicultural campus.

“My long term goal is to become a specialist, most likely a neurosurgeon,” says Mulumba, and his ambition to become a doctor is far from unique among Harvard students. But unlike most of his fellow pre-meds, Mulumba hopes to practice in a Zambian hospital, putting his practice in a Zambian hospital, putting his newly acquired skills to work in a setting where he feels they are urgently needed.

While in 2010 the World Bank named Zambia one of the world’s fastest reforming countries in terms of its economy, its health care situation remains dire. The county’s per capita GDP is around $1,500, according to the International Monetary Fund (compared to about $45,000 in the U.S.), making it very difficult for the average citizen to afford private care. And according to the British Broadcasting Company, the country’s doctor-to-citizen ratio is approximately one to 14,000, as opposed to one to 600 in the United Kingdom, for example.

But inspired by the example of his father, a doctor in Zambia, Mulumba hopes to use his Harvard education to combat the health problems that pervade his home country.

Mulumba’s journey to Harvard and post-graduation ambitions embody the University’s goal of attracting a highly international and globally conscious student body, composed of individuals who bring their unique cultural viewpoint to Harvard, and know first-hand just how much the developing world needs their help.

THE ODYSSEY

Making Mulumba’s story even more uncommon is the fact that two years ago, he had no intention of studying in America. Mulumba, like many international students applying to college in the U.S., experienced many logistical challenges, such as immigration and visa procedures, in addition to SAT and application fees that can be prohibitively expensive.

Despite being a star student at one of the most prestigious high schools in Zambia, volunteering extensively in a hospital, and leading his local Red Cross Club, Mulumba’s road to college in America was long indeed.

A critical ally along that road was the United States Achievers Program (USAP), an organization that works with the U.S. Embassy to help top students in economically disadvantaged areas apply to American colleges.

The Zambian branch of the program, though only operational since 2009, is already flooded with interest—last year it was able to accept only 16 out of 160 applicants.

“Students like Yanick are what Zambia really needs,” says Patricia Madigan, director of USAP Zambia. “Harvard’s system is hugely welcoming to international students, and getting these kids a U.S. education really enables them to be leaders.”

Mulumba, the second of five children, says his family supported his weighty decision and is extremely excited that he is at Harvard, despite missing him.

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