Victoria Ruzvidzo Managing Editor
Two young Zimbabwean men enter into the lobby of a hotel in China. They are smartly dressed in suits and look quite confident in their step though a bit unsure of who they are going to meet and the nature and form of the conversation. The word journalist has a way of subduing even the most confident of interviewees but Brian Tawanda Chimboza and Evans Muchinguri quickly gather themselves up. They are conversant in both Chinese and English languages and feel they are in their space.
These young men are part of the 99 Zimbabwean students who have benefited from the Presidential Scholarship Programme launched in 2015 by Hengshun, a Chinese partially state-owned multinational corporation head-quartered in Qingdao China and the Government of Zimbabwe.
They have heard of President Mnangagwa’s State visit and are curious to share their story.
Brian belongs to the first intake of 2016 which enrolled into the Ocean University in Qindao City in the Shangdong Province while Evans has been there for six months as part of the 2017 intake. The former is pursuing a degree in the Chinese language while the latter is doing Computer Science.
Other students under the programme have enrolled into such fields as Information Technology, International Trade, Business Management and Chinese Language through the 100 percent scholarships offered by Hengshun.
Brian and Evans told a story of how the Presidential Scholarship has transformed their lives and turned what was more of a pipe dream into reality.
Brian is the Zimbabwean Students Representative at the university and speaks passionately about how this life time opportunity has changed his life and that of others under the programme.
“When I finished my Advanced Level studies I could not proceed to university because my father had retired. I struggled very much at that time until in 2015 when I heard about the Presidential Scholarship, I applied and I got a place. What a huge opportunity this has been.
“My life has been transformed in an amazing way. I did not look like this before . . . I did not dress like this before. I was a troubled young man and look at where I am today,” said Brian, looking visibly happy with life.
“I never imagined in my life that I would come to a university in China. I was struggling to get fees for a local university back home so coming here appeared far-fetched or unthinkable for me, thanks to Hengshun and the Government of Zimbabwe who made it possible.
Evans said as much.
“I grew up in a rural set up where I attended primary education. I then went to high school at Ellis Robins in Harare but when I finished high school I faced serious hardships and could not raise funds for college. My heart broke because I really wanted to proceed with education.
“But my breakthrough came when I applied for the Presidential Scholarship and got a place to come here. Life at the university has been great for me. I even look healthier and happier than when I came here. My life has been transformed,” said Brian.
Brian and Evans said they were raring to go and were confident that they would excel in their studies. After two years and one year in China respectively, they had now adjusted to the culture and language.
“Initially my friends and some family members were a bit sceptical about China. The previous misconception that the Chinese left people at home with doubts but they took comfort in the fact that the Government was part of it all. In fact they all now believe that indeed it is a great privilege and a life-time opportunity that I am here.
“The quality of life that we are leading and the education we are receiving is of a high standard. In my case, with the allowances that I receive here I have managed to venture into farming back home.
My father now has a farm in Kwekwe and I have bought seven cattle and my mother is engaged in poultry production. I have managed to fund her business and I also send her information on poultry farming from here.
“The thing is that one can spend their allowances on luxuries but in my case I decided to help my family back home. I take care of my siblings too.
“Even in my church (United Family International Church), Prophet Makandiwa teaches us to start businesses even with one dollar. He says we should make use of it. Some of my friends here laugh at me but I feel my future comes first. I cannot, therefore, spend all my money on luxuries.”
He sees a lot of opportunities to pursue after he graduates. “I see many opportunities with my degree. Everywhere you go there are Chinese investors and they need people like us to interpret for them. I also hope to venture into Chinese Law or the business side of things,” said Brian.
Evans said the culture days held at the university help students understand the Chinese culture while educating the Chinese of the Zimbabwean culture.
“It’s quite a different experience from home but we never faced difficulties here. The environment allows us to express ourselves and the Chinese education system is the best because they believe in giving you the skills. It’s not just theoretical but we get skills that we can apply.
“I am dreaming of employing my technical skills back home when I finish university so that I can help build a better nation.
“I believe Zimbabwe will be the China of tomorrow. China is moving very fast and everyone dreams to be here,” he quipped.
The university gives them high priority in terms of boarding and tuition due to the commitment made by the company and the relationship between Zimbabwe and China.
Qingdao Hengshun Zhongsheng Zimbabwe managing director Shanel Liu said the scholarship programme was born out of President Mnangagwa’s visit to China in 2015 where he baptised the deal for Hengshun to fund and support the Presidential Scholarship Programme, the first by Zimbabwe in China.
The company has so far invested at least $6 million into the scholarship programme for a four-year study period for each student.
“The programme was motivated by the realisation that excelling students from marginalised communities often fail to further their studies. So this opportunity empowers them with knowledge and exposure that they can apply upon return.
“It was the vision of Hengshun’s former chairman Mr Jia Quan Chen who hoped to facilitate education development in Zimbabwe. Hengshun has committed itself to shouldering responsibility and obligations in education with its capabilities, making greater contributions towards the nurturing of international talent for the development of Zimbabwe.
She said this co-operation cemented China and Zimbabwe’s friendship that was upgraded to the highest level following President Mnangangwa’s State visit to that country two weeks ago.
She said her company provided airfare, tuition, accommodation, stationary, health, a monthly allowance and other needs by the students. She stressed that as a strategy to grow Zimbabwe’s economy, after graduation students will come back home and her company has pledged to employ top performers.
This first group is expected to graduate in 2020.
“A good education is vital to childhood growth, and plays a very important role in promoting the socio-economic development of a nation. In this regard, Zimbabwe’s continuous commitment in the education sector reflects this and is highly applauded,” said Ms Liu.
She said for China, the programme had consolidated diplomatic ties through South-South Corporation and China-Africa relations, a vision that was espoused by Chinese President Xi Jinping after his visit to Zimbabwe in 2015.
“This programme allows the two countries to facilitate business to business contacts, tourism, and broadly has an impact on other sectors as well. At grassroots level, the programme allows for cultural exchange, exposing the Chinese community to the Zimbabwean culture. This builds relations not only at government level but at individual level too,” she said.
She said President Mnangagwa’s commitment to being open to investors inspired confident that the students would find employment upon return.
More Chinese companies are now set to invest in this country and students fluent in both languages will benefit immensely.
For Brian, Evans and 97 other students studying at Ocean University, the future looks bright.
Successes registered during President Mnangagwa’s recent state visit to China gives them the impetus and hope that the future can only be brighter.