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Roosevelt in the World: Zindaba Nyirenda Fights for Equality

Zindaba Nyirenda
Training and Development, MA ('10)
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Zindaba Nyirenda

Zindaba Nyirenda — a 2010 Roosevelt University graduate and Zambian princess — has dedicated most of her career to the recognition of equality in Africa, and fighting for the rights of women and children in Zambia and around the world.

Nyirenda, president and founder of the non-profit organization Light on the Hill for Africa, thinks one of the most important problems for the African people is the “brain drain” that men and women like her represent. The dispersion across the world of well-trained students and workers from Africa makes the situation comparable to a diaspora phenomenon. She said

“Africa is missing leadership because of this,” Nyirenda said, “and we need to have a voice.”

Born as an Nkhosikazi princess of sixth generation Shaka Zulu ancestry in Zambia, Nyirenda said, “The title there really doesn’t give you anything. It’s a symbol. It’s a status. It just indicates that I come from a royal family.”

Despite that, she is trying to use her title to help change her country through the Parliament, using the knowledge she acquired during her education.

Nyirenda studied public administration at the University of Zambia in the early 1980s. At that time, she noticed the stark disparity between men’s and women’s opportunities in her country — just 10 percent of the total students were girls, and less than a tenth of them were in engineering schools.

Later, when her two younger brothers died, Nyirenda realized that her first-born sister was deprived of her right to be the leader of her tribesmen and didn’t enjoy the same access to power afforded men. “Just because we are women doesn’t mean we cannot be leaders recognized as capable in our country. Women, too, are just as capable,” she said.

Nyirenda graduated from the University of Zambia in 1985, the same year she moved to the U.S. to follow her husband, who had an opportunity to further his education here. For 20 years, she dedicated herself to raising her three children and did not work outside her home, though she did establish a non-profit organization she ran from home, and managed her own bridal shop, a small retail business that afforded her the flexibility to care for her children. However, when her youngest child got to high school, Nyirenda recognized the great timing and opportunity she had put on hold to attain her master’s degree.

“After the kids grew up, time opened up for me to go back to having the career I had put on hold,” Nyirenda said. She enrolled at Roosevelt not only for its social justice mission, but also because the training and development program offered courses relevant to her quest for knowledge. Another advantage was Roosevelt’s online course availability, allowing her the flexibility to study anywhere at any time. Consequently, it opened her eyes to the possibilities technology affords.

Critical thinking was one of the main attributes of the program for her personal development, and the online teaching and application offered learning technologies and possibilities to educate the world beyond borders. “Why then are some countries still lagging behind in education?” she wondered. “Roosevelt raised my quest to the next level, creating a world of possibilities where no child needs to be left behind.”

It was during these years of “training” that she wrote a book about the “inequality issues” that are prominent in the world economies, and Africa suffers the most in comparison to the rest of the world.

In Ta-Lakata: The Tears of Africa, Nyirenda describes her life as a princess in Zambia and how, despite her wealthy upbringing, that wasn’t enough to avoid the tragedies that impacted her family as well, ones perpetuated by poverty-stricken economies with poor or inadequate health care systems. Her parents both died of preventable illnesses, and through these difficult experiences Nyirenda tried to make the case for what it will take to make a difference and improve lives in Africa.

“Being in the U.S., I realized how poor our economies were and how far behind we lagged,” Nyirenda said. This conflict inspired her to earn her degree that could help her understand how to solve these complex problems of needless poverty, given that most of Africa’s countries were very rich in natural resources.

“We are truly not that poor. We have diamonds, gold, copper, uranium, oil and animals. Why, though, do we have such immense poverty? We must find practical solutions together to alleviate immense poverty and suffering,” Nyirenda said. “I have to use everything I have learned to make a difference for all people.”

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