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Journey of a Young African in STEM

Mazvita Manzai is a Zimbabwean final-year medical student at Cardiff University in Wales. Traverse her journey with her here...

“I applied to study in the United Kingdom because it was my dream to do so - emphasis on dream. I didn’t believe I would be offered a place because of the overwhelming challenges associated with studying medicine in any country, let alone a Western one. I didn’t believe I could beat the odds, or that I would shine through amongst the thousands of students that apply for the 300 places offered at Cardiff. However, through faith, hope, determination, and hard work I secured my place to study at the prestigious red-brick university.

This joy was short-lived as the financial burden of studying medicine soon dawned on me. International medical tuition fees range from £20, 000 to £65, 000 with the lower end only applying to the first two to three years, and rising to over £35,000 in the last two years. For Cardiff, the precise figures are £20, 000 a year for the early years and £35, 000 a year for the later years. This is the main reason why there is poor representation of African international medical students here, as well as the fact that scholarships are hard to come by.

Despite this, my mother was determined and hopeful. She was employed at the time and guaranteed that 60% of my tuition would be covered by her company. Unfortunately, this all suddenly changed soon after I started my first year, as the political situation in Zimbabwe went downhill. This had a devastating impact on our family both personally and financially. My mom is a prayerful and tenacious woman, so she immediately changed vocation and became an entrepreneur. She worked in farming, poultry, and even hired out her car. However, she still struggled. From a country with a crumbling economy, she was supporting both me and my sister who also studies medicine but in Hungary. My sister and I both worked and still do, but with the academic demands of a medical degree, it is exhausting.

The COVID-19 pandemic was the nail in the proverbial coffin. It significantly affected the Zimbabwean economy and the life of entrepreneurs, such that my mother could no longer cope. In the beginning of the 2021/2022 academic year, I reached out to the university, and I was faced with the reality of financial support available to international students. It’s virtually non-existent. The university was aware how difficult the year had been for me and my family and they committed to supporting in any way they could. Unfortunately, my tuition was well overdue since my third year, and I was likely to be de-registered. This is the harsh reality for many of us. At this point I reached out to my personal tutor, Dr Simon Noble. He was deeply compassionate to my situation, and reached out to the medical school directors and finance team. The only solution available was that I take a year out. I did not want to do this as I had already started the academic year and I would lose my student visa if I was not in full time education. Several friends and family wanted to help, but didn’t have enough to make a dent in our financial needs. This is when I realised, if all the people who wanted to help came together, then we could make an impact, so I decided to start crowdfunding.

I’m a Christian and I knew I needed to pray about my decision as well as really seek out support before I opened our family to wide scrutiny. Once I made my decision, I posted my video on Instagram asking for £24, 000 which would cover the overdue fees as well as that for the first semester. I was overwhelmed by the response. My personal tutor posted on his personal Twitter account, and together with all the support from friends, we had raised over £5,000. Then a reporter from Wales Online reached out wanting to write an article about me – this was all within the first six hours. I decided to post videos to keep everyone updated on the progress, and in three days, we had over half the money needed. On the sixth day I was praying, thanking God for the overwhelming response and I thought, my faith believes God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh. We had raised all the funds in six days, and surely on the seventh day, we had more than enough; and not only that, I was also featured on BBC Wales Radio, BBC 3CR Radio, and had three articles written on the success of my crowdfunding by BBC Wales News, ITV News and Wales Online.

I had also connected with a friend’s mother who is a consultant doctor in Newport, Wales. She in turn connected me to a wider community of Zimbabwean women who live and work in Wales. Through their organisation, ‘Madzimai Pamwe’ (Women Together), we decided to work together to fundraise for my fifth year of medical school. We started with a hike in Brecon Beacons, with many more fundraisers to come.

My story has inspired me to really think about the impact of being an international medical student and how unique our experiences are. I felt alone and isolated in my struggles before I found the community that surrounded me. As an African student in the UK, there is little support for us, partly because there are so few of us. But also for many other reasons. I hope to one day, as well as being a doctor, I will start an organisation that brings us together to provide financial and social support for each other.

Maz, as she is known, is now raising funds for her fifth and final year. To date, despite all the financial pressures, she has passed all her assignments and has never had to resit any exams.


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